The chef prepares her mise en place.
The t'ai chi master bows.
The batter touches the corners of the plate with the bat, spits and adjusts his privates.
It is ritual.
Before something important, we do that thing, that little dance.
It's more than a physical tic, more than a superstition, more than practical preparation.
It is a form of worship. It is a dance with fate, with the potential of the moment to come.
It is The Creative's Prayer.
During the private, quiet moment before we create, what do we tell ourselves?
How do we prepare when — at last, after months of formal preparation — we are out of time and the preparation is now limited to its final moments?
For me, the ritual has come down to this.
Immediately before teaching a class, or giving a speech, or stepping onto the stage, I embrace this routine.
I am filled with dread, the respect for the situation and the potential for transforming myself and others — and the contrary potential for missing the opportunity at hand.
The ritual begins:
- I understand my place. I measure the scene like a nurse sterilizes the work area, making sure I consider the aspects of the environment I can control: the lights, the microphone, the chalkboard, the platform or area on which I will stand.
- I prepare for distractions. Like a bank robber cases the joint, I note the exits, the hum of the HVAC, the potential for surprise.
- I start the flow of blood. Where no one can see me: ten quick jumping jacks. And I make a series of faces — small face, big face, small face, big face — to make sure I can form all the facial expressions in between.
- I utter an incantation. "Not for me, but for them." I learned this from my teacher, Danny Maseng, who says this (as I now do) during the moments beneath the tallit, before entering prayer in a community. "[What I am about to do is] not [solely] for me, but for them [, the members of my community]." It is a literal reminder: I devote my energy and skill to the benefit of others, not to myself.
How do you prepare, during those final moments of dread and potential?