What is “practice,” anyway?

September 9, 2013

I was thinking about what we call “practice.” We generally think of that as the time spent in silence, in meditation or prayer. And I do know that most people who have a contemplative practice are practicing not just for the fun of it, or even for the goal of some sort of relaxing or blissful experience during practice or on retreat, or even to be in greater contact with God. They are practicing because they have noticed that things are different when they are not practicing.

But really, where the rubber meets the road is what happens when you walk down the street and pass by someone with their hand out? What goes through your mind when a co-worker (one who might actually annoy you) comes up to your desk? What do you feel at the end of a long work day? What happens when you have gotten angry at someone, or what are you going through when you flip the switch on the election machine? What thoughts are in your mind when you look at yourself in a mirror, or hear something critical?

I almost might argue that we should reframe what “practice” is. Unless one is an incredibly extraordinary person, we are not going to be perfect. We are not going to approach ourselves, or others, with compassion or approach situations with equanimity each and every time. We’ll make mistakes, we’ll falter. It’s almost as if that everyday stuff – that’s the practice. The sitting in silence stuff is almost like preparation for the practice.

I started a new contemplative practice over the past week. For months now, I’ve struggled with a lot of restlessness when I sit in silent prayer or meditation. It’s kind of like my legs have a life of their own. Sometimes, I can be equanimous about it, and just go along with the restlessness. But mostly, I resist it, and wish it would go away. Now, instead of my time sitting in silence, I spend at least 15 minutes in contemplative, mindful movement. I don’t know why it took me so long to figure out that was what my body was telling me to do all this time! I’ve done contemplative dance/authentic movement in the past, and loved it, but somehow it took until now for me to figure out that I should add it to what I do each day.

Practice comes in all forms, and opportunities for practice come at us fast and furious. The challenge is our willingness. Are we willing to be as diligent in looking at what happens in our daily moments as we are in our contemplative practice each day? Can we look at them as all part of the same whole?



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