- Regular, ongoing, routine. Working with the same thing repeatedly over time, coming back to it again and again. Compulsory, something you show up for no matter what. I’ve heard it described as digging a well — you don’t dig for a bit in one area and then move to another spot of ground and start to dig again, but rather you keep digging in the same spot until you hit water.
- Without agenda. Cultivating an attitude of nonjudgement and nonattachement, you drop criticism and striving. You stop comparison with other or self — past, present, or future. Let go of both fear and hope. Show up with an attitude of open curiosity, without evaluation, dropping any story you have about what’s occurring.
- “Only don’t know.” Have a beginner’s mind, again that sense of open curiosity, like a wobbly, awkward toddler learning to walk. As Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki said, “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few.”
- Skillful means. The intention to learn, to transform, to develop mastery and wisdom.
- Mindfulness of the present moment. Connection to and curiosity of your immediate experience. Your mind and body in the same place, at the same time.
- Done from love, in pursuit of joy. In Austin Kleon’s new book, Show Your Work, he defines being an amateur, a state we cultivate in practice, this way, “the enthusiast who pursues her work in the spirit of love…regardless of the potential for fame, money or career.”
- “Not too loose, not too tight.” Learning to continually balance your effort with ease. “Wobble turns to sway and sway turns to balance. Never get too comfortable, relax where you are.” Pema Chödrön describes it this way,
My middle way and your middle way are not the same middle way. For instance, my style is to be casual and soft-edged and laid-back. For me to do what usually would be called a strict practice is still pretty relaxed, because I do it in a relaxed way. So strict practice is good for me. But perhaps you are much more militant and precise. Maybe you tend toward being tight, so you might need to find out what it means to practice in a relaxed, loose way. Everyone practices in order to find out for him- or herself personally how to be balanced, how to be not too tight and not too loose. No one else can tell you. You just have to find out for yourself.
- Making friends with yourself. Spending time with, being gentle and present, observing without judgement, showing up no matter what. My friend and meditation instructor Susan Piver describes it, in the context of meditation, this way,
I encourage you to relax self-judgment, especially when it comes to your meditation practice. Our practice, rather than trying to get meditation “right,” is about relaxing with ourselves just as we are. Instead of critiquing our every move, we extend the hand of friendship. This, it turns out, is the way to find our innate, pre-existing wisdom which is always there.
- Obstacles are path, are practice. They aren’t simply something to be removed. “What stands in the way becomes the way,” (Marcus Aurelius). What arises is what you work with.
- Post practice is also practice. What you learn, what you are working with, who you are follows you off the cushion, mat, page, leash. Eventually you realize it’s all practice.
- All dharma (truth), all practice instruction can be distilled into one word, a single concept: relax. Soften, be gentle, slow down. Go ahead and try to stump this one, disprove it — so far, I’ve failed.
- Keep your heart open, no matter what. Beautiful or brutal, tender or terrible.
- Practice is clearing a space, experiencing spaciousness and clarity.
- Transforming habitual patterns and discursive thinking, changing or removing that which no longer serves.
- Preparing for death. Cultivating an awareness of impermanence, peace with this state, practicing nonattachment, letting go, surrender.
- Seeing reality naked, stripped of it’s storyline, of our agenda.
- Cultivating confidence and courage. As Susan Piver defines it, “Confidence is the willingness to be as ridiculous, luminous, intelligent, and kind as you really are, without embarrassment.”
- Surrender. Giving up perceived control and habitual resistance, awareness and acceptance of “this is what is, now.”
- Being in relationship. With ourselves, with our suffering and that of others, with our shared experience, with reality, with basic goodness — fundamental wisdom and compassion.
- Showing up is essential. Stop waiting for something to happen and just happen. Take your seat. Begin. Let go and begin again. Start over. Take the “half step that will change your life.” According to Susan Piver, the number of fresh starts available to you is infinite.
- What you practice is your choice, specific to you. For me it’s yoga, meditation, writing, and dog. For others it’s running or ikebana or parenting. As long as it embodies the qualities of practice, it is practice.
Do you see, kind and gentle reader, why I said I could write a whole book about practice? ♥