Sunday, January 29, 2012

Practice, practice, practice!

Having a practice is a beautiful thing… sometimes.

Granted, in a world of hyper-stimulation, instant gratification and rampant addiction to a perpetual state of comfort, it’s hard to imagine making time for a contemplative practice of any kind.  In a world where busyness, sleep deprivation, over-work and excesses of all kind are par for the course, it is tough to imagine having any kind of energy left over for practice at the end of the day, week or month.

So, let’s suspend disbelief for a moment and just imagine…

We all practice

First off, weather we think it or not, all of us practice and are practicing all the time.  We all live with varying degrees of sameness and newness as part of our lives.  Therefore, our practices are those of navigating routines and alternately, responding to new forms of stimulation.  We practice what we do for work, the way we transport ourselves, the way we interact with the homeless guy on the street corner, our boss, our mom, our lover.  We practice the way we shop, prepare and eat our food, the way we entertain ourselves, the things we chose to learn and how much sleep we get.

With this understanding, all of us can begin thinking about practice by asking some really simple questions:
What do I currently practice?
What am I practicing so much of that I’m becoming great at it?
Are these things increasing or decreasing the quality of my life and the life of those around me?
Do I want to practice something else?
Am I practicing what I want to be? what I want to become?

What we practice

I believe that we practice two things:
We practice actions: we act in the world. 
We practice qualities: the ways in which we act.

Now, there can be value attached to both, that much is clear. I want to choose my actions carefully but I also want to pay close attention to quality.  It is possible to practice yoga with force, violence and self-hatred.  If I practice these qualities as I act out yoga poses, as healthy as these poses may be, I’m becoming more proficient at force, violence and self hate.

Action is a bit more obvious but quality, while more subtle, is huge in informing what it is we practice.  Quality can also be a powerful bridge between a formal practice and the rest of life.  This is because when I infuse my yoga and meditation practice with the qualities of ease, compassion and openness, these qualities become easier to apply to any challenging situation I experience in any other aspect of my life.

Choosing what we practice

So, we all practice both actions and qualities.  What happens then, when we begin to chose? When we bring light to those things we do?  When we practice both action and qualities consciously?

Well, it isn’t always easy, that’s for sure and that is where it becomes useful to think carefully about weather or not a formal practice is for us and what we want that practice to look like. 

What do I look for in a practice?

For me, practice becomes really effective when I commit deeply and practice often. It is crucial to choose a practice that I love.  It is equally crucial, however, to gently return and practice on days when I don't really want to. 

I want my practice to help me become better at using intuition and logic.  From this perspective, I continually tweak things to find a balance between formal structure and space for play, fluidity and the possibility of the practice changing and evolving.

I want my practice to be keenly linked to my tendencies.  I work to learn how to ride tendencies when they’re helping me become great and to reverse them when they’re hurting me.

When I commit to my practice, I am committing to myself.  To this regard, I’ve chosen a solitary practice, one that I practice alone.  This has been a huge gift!  I’m offering myself the opportunity to spend time alone, each day and to garden the landscape of my body and my mind… to watch myself evolve.  Sometimes, spending time alone is hard and challenging.  Looking inside isn’t always easy and requires a great deal of self-honesty.  The rewards, however, are a deep sense of peace in knowing that  while I will make mistakes, I will screw up and go off on useless tangents, ultimately, I will continue to show up and practice.