Creative Practice: Rhythm & Recurrence

Our most vital repetition is the breath and the heart beat.

All art practice is based on repetition as we attain mastery. It’s practice, right? Music, dance, theater, visual art, and writing. These are called “disciplines” of course, because they require discipline. Repetition is how we get there.

As musicians we practice scales. As artists and writers we show up in the studio each day. As performers in theater and dance we attend rehearsal after rehearsal until opening night.

Repetition also brings release into spirit.

The structure and composition of arts involve rhythm and recurrence: repetitive chants in poetry and prose, motifs that repeat in dance and music and so forth.

Repetition in art often is the goal itself, and makes a statement. Many modern artists (especially women) have incorporated this element into their work.

Quilting is an example of repetition of stitching and piecing that is highly labor intensive. My friend Lucy Arai who incorporates Sashiko (a traditional Japanese quilting form) into her art pieces has to guard against carpel tunnel syndrome. Lucy also has told me that she uses the repetition in the techniques she uses as spiritual practice.


A writer who rides horses shares:

Yes, definitely riding. I remember the first time I rode my mare, the dear departed Cherie, who was schooled in dressage up to third level, I realize halfway round the ring, trotting, her pace was steady as a metronome. Very reassuring.

Repetition and recurrence seem female to me at a deep physical level—the regularity of menstruation, the contractions of labor, the necessary repetition of nursing, of daily chores, of cooking, of children’s needs. There must be a longer list. Ah yes! The tides of the sea with their relationship to the moon, that other trope for women, but a vexed one in so many ways.

When I was teaching, I somehow got involved in a writing-across-the-curriculum project with architecture students. Their assignment was to design a building for a women’s studies center and to come up with trope to hang their design ideas on. The professor gave them a visual to begin from, the Greek statue of the Three Graces.


A poet and dancer says:

I use dance as my primarily form of renewal–especially when life is too demanding to write. I carry myself with more grace and poise through whatever the daily demands are.

I think the sheer repetitiveness of a form like belly dance nurtures me in some way, rather like the rocking a baby needs. Also when I can’t unwind from my night teaching, if I put on a belly dance DVD and the repetitive movements and music will have me off to sleep in about 20 minutes. I feel a bit weird about this, as I feel I should be meditating instead, but whatever works: go for it.

My work in art school was filled with labor intensive work. Building in clay is labor and time intensive by definition. The larger the scale of the work the more magnified this becomes. I made a 5-foot boat made of hand-pulled sheets of paper that took weeks. We all have our stories.

Meditation explicitly relies on repetition. You need to do nothing more than dance or ride horses as your spiritual discipline if that works for you. Release the idea of “meditation” as a separate activity.

Many daily tasks such as peeling potatoes, walking, rocking the baby, petting the cat involve rhythm and recurrence and can lead to comfort and even spiritual growth and transcendence. Our view of creativity as a society tends to be far too narrow.

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