I recently wrote about Dynamic Care — a balanced way to think about how we can use practice to help ourselves and each other.
How might this work in real life?
The following practices were submitted by all of you. I’ve organized them into four quadrants. Real life, of course, doesn’t have compartments. Our practices blur lines – any one practice may simultaneously be both active and restful, may benefit both ourselves and the world. Nevertheless, I think it’s useful to name these quadrants, if only to broaden our understanding of the full spectrum of care.
The community is the teacher.
QUADRANT 1: ACT / CHANGE SELF
These practices are about deliberately modifying the self. They’re about learning new skills, and building supportive habits, and generally staying responsive and awake to the changing world.
Walking with a Cane I’m blind, so I travel with a white cane. Before I leave for work in the morning, I take a second to run my hand along it, reminding myself how elegant and sleek it is, and how quickly and freely I can move through town with it. Laying these thoughts on my cane like this before I go, sets up a kind of sphere of calm around me. It doesn’t stop people from grabbing me, or shouting directions at me, or asking me stupid-ass rude questions. But my magic calm sphere gives me a moment to breathe before I respond, choosing how I will react. When I get to work, I’m not quite as pissed off at humanity … and a little readier to be present for my students and colleagues. – Sheri Wells-Jensen
Building Jigsaw Puzzles I recently read a book by Daniel Levitin called Successful Aging. One of the takeaways was the suggestion that, as we age, we must work at keeping our mind active by challenging it to do new things. My choice has been jigsaw puzzles. They help me focus. I often have “monkey brain,” and boy do you understand what that means when you’re attempting to find a single puzzle piece among literally hundreds of choices. I find I’m more focused after doing my jigsaw puzzle than either after a strenuous workout or a meditation. – J. B.
Learning to Paint I started four years ago with no experience since grade school. Like meditation, some days it’s easier and some days it’s harder, but it’s always rewarding. At best, it’s a mental cleanse with my mind getting a vacation from it’s more typical uptight, verbal existence. At these times, I swear I can feel the shift from doing to being. It’s also pretty cool that sometimes I end up with something to hang on my wall or give to someone. I think this is helping me learn to be a more balanced person, to trust my intuition, and to embrace my creativity. – Robin Westacott
Drinking an Entire Quart of Water When I worked in restaurants as a chef, which was terribly exhausting, I’d get reactionary to every tiny issue that came my way. My breath and focus would spiral uncontrollably. Then I figured out my water practice. I’d put the [quart] container to my lips and not pull it away until the container was done. This forced me to focus on my breath, like someone that was snorkeling. One breath in, through the nose. One breath out, through the nose. I eventually learned to focus my gaze on the water for the whole practice, instead of the stimuli coming from the kitchen. Now when I do this practice, I focus on Bruce Lee’s quote “Be the water.” – Rob Velazquez
Examining My Whiteness I’ve been going through Layla F. Saad’s Me and White Supremacy 28-day challenge workbook. Each day I read Saad’s prompts and write a journal response. It’s been interesting. I once thought of “racism” as a single monolithic thing that didn’t relate to me as a “good white person.” Saad challenges this by revealing a whole topography of white behaviours, assumptions and strategies – from white fragility to tone policing to “optical allyship” – that, sometimes, do relate to me. There are many practices here: seeing what once was hidden, learning to tolerate my own resistance and discomfort, and finally thinking about how to adjust my words and deeds to better support Black and Indigenous lives. “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public,” Cornel West famously said. Saad calls this “Love work” – the practice, in her phrase, “of becoming a better ancestor.” – Jeff Warren
QUADRANT 2: REST / ACCEPT SELF
All practices change us; the ones below are no exception. The difference is … they aren’t trying to. They’re not trying to improve or accomplish anything – that’s the point. These practices are about enjoying the simple restorative pleasures of being human.
Listening to Records I’ve always been a huge fan of music and vinyl. Since Corona I’ve been taking time to listen to old and new records, sitting in front of the record player and paying a lot of attention to the music. Just like I used to as a kid. – Cinderella Baksa-Soós
Napping The one thing I do extremely deliberately – when my schedule allows it – is nap. I don’t mean a quick power nap in the middle of the day, but a proper 2 hour nap in my PJ’s. This practice helped me stay on track with writing my PhD and it has helped me during the current lockdown. It is the single biggest reason why I’m more productive with work activities than I would be on a normal day at the University. Taking naps helps me manage migraines, work more hours in a day (productively — without drifting off to Facebook), and it gives me more energy for workouts. I could talk about napping for hours. – Petra
Walking in the Woods When I walk through the woods I feel “embraced,” “contained.” I feel safe and protected by the trees … I never feel alone, although I am almost always by myself. I am calm. I smell the earth, hear (and sometimes talk to) the birds. I look for new shoots, trees budding. In this act, I am lifted out of whatever anxieties I came into the woods with. I may not solve a bunch of problems, but I can at least accord myself some time in the day where I don’t have to ruminate or worry. And this calm builds on itself. It is strength. – Heidi K. Wiedemann
Playing I’m playing more with my kids outside — crazy games my husband has made up, like this wacky ‘jazzminton’ game with paddles and a weighted feather ‘birdie’, kicking the soccer ball around … the play has been the nicest surprise, brings a real hit of joy and an unexpected release of tension. Plus it’s just fun! – Erin McCarthy
QUADRANT 3: ACT / CHANGE WORLD
I think deliberate practice has a net-positive effect on the world: rest practices restore our energy; active practices express it. Here are contemporary versions of what in Hinduism is known as Karma yoga – practices serving people, serving causes, serving organizations, and serving cats.
Protesting Last week, I attended a protest for racial justice. I marched with thousands of others; we raised our signs and our voices together in support of Black lives and to oppose police brutality. Our common purpose and sense of community was strong, and I felt the connection in my body as I marched. The protest finished outside our city’s courthouse, where we continued to stand together. We listened to Black leaders share their stories and hopes for the future. Towards the end, a Black woman got on the microphone and told the white people (like me) to walk over to a Black person and face them. I turned towards a Black man standing behind me. As the woman instructed, I looked into his eyes, paused, and said “You are my brother.” He paused, looked into my eyes, and said, “You are my sister.” My whole being filled with joy; our shared humanity became a felt sense. After some silence, both of us still looking at each other, he said “Thank you for being here.” I said “There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.” There was such truth and clarity in that moment. I realized: that is the practice. – Brooke Thomas
Making Documentary Films Sometimes my films deal with big themes and ideas – but my filmmaking process always depends on observational attention to detail, to the present moment. One thing I like to do when I’m shooting is choose a frame that’s interesting, set up the camera, start rolling, and then just wait. I wait for something to happen – for something to enter the frame, to cross through it, to bring movement into the frame. As opposed to chasing after “everything that moves”, always being a step behind, trying to catch up with the action. Lewis Hyde wrote, “The gift moves toward the empty place.” Creating that space and stillness for something to appear – much like the practice of meditation. – Robin McKenna
Sewing Masks I’ve turned my tiny garage in California into a sewing studio and I’ve been meditatively sewing PPE masks to donate to farm workers. I have sewn and donated more than 200 face masks to vulnerable communities around the Bay Area and also just sent a batch of face masks to the Northern Diné Navajo reserve in New Mexico. Making masks for others provides me with an extraordinary practice of self-care and the feeling of fulfillment that I’m helping others who need it the most. – Michelle Jones
Improving Teamwork I help teams diagnose what’s preventing them from doing their best work, and then I prescribe simple remedies and rituals and practices. Some of these practices help colleagues solve tough problems, some create trust and psychological safety, and some clear up misunderstandings and conflict. I love doing this work. When it clicks it feels like alchemy, like 1 + 1 + 1 = 3.5. We get bigger together. – Matt Thompson
Writing Handwritten Letters I enjoy writing handwritten letters to people. There is a stillness and contemplative aspect to it that slows me down while reaching out to someone else. In this busy world of fast technology, writing may be “old school,” yet I’ve found it to be therapeutic. It helps me live. – Julie Merrick
Petting Cats My practice is petting my cats with such love that my body and mind shift to a noticeable healing mode. The singular attention on my pets inspires heightened awareness naturally, because the love for them makes it easy. As I do this, I’m effortlessly cultivating skills of focus, kindness, and clarity for other parts of my life, and I feel more open to whatever the day brings. That “practice love” for my cats spills over to my world. All this is more possible because of the scaffolding of sitting meditation skills and experiences. – Jill Badonsky
QUADRANT 4: REST / ACCEPT WORLD
This may be the hardest form of practice, especially for change-makers. These practices are about adapting ourselves to what’s happening, rather than forcing what’s happening to adapt to us. They’re about pausing, and listening. What are we being shown?
Searching for Beauty I call it “searching for beauty”. Often it involves looking up and noticing details, like the composition of branches against a sky, or the movement of leaves or the colours in the sky or shapes in the clouds. At other times, it means looking deeply, which involves stopping and examining the pattern of bark or the interior of a flower or the striations in broken wood on a fallen tree or the whorl of grasses on the earth. Often I capture the beauty with a photo. Most of my searches for beauty take place while walking my Dalmatian! – Toozie
Exploring Geneaology I practice researching my family history at least once a week, often every day. The process of researching my ancestors and learning about their lives grounds me and reassures me that this moment that I’ve been given is to be treasured and appreciated. – Sherri Taggart Ahmadzadeh
Gardening I love cultivating life, nurturing it, and I enjoy watching the lifecycle of a plant unfold before my eyes. It’s a good reminder of the impermanence of things. When the conditions are right, my vegetables will grow. When the conditions are right, this virus will pass. So, just like with my garden, I’m patient and I wait. I enjoy the everyday beauty around me: the breeze in my hair, the sun on my skin, the scent of spring flowers. I’m grateful for the slow down, the newfound time to focus on and bond with my family. – Kenzie Fox
Just Looking I’ve made it a daily practice, often several times a day, to simply “see out” anytime I am walking outside, whether it be in nature, or walking on Bloor Street, as I do frequently. Seeing the sky and clouds is usually the trigger. I take a pause to pay close attention to the whole visual field, as widely as possible and to repeat a Ram Dass mantra: “I am loving awareness” many times. And I look momentarily for who it is that is seeing. Often I seem to meld into the visual field. I find it consistently awe inspiring and feel grateful for being part of it all. It helps me answer Ramana Maharshi’s basic question: “Who am I?” – Bob
Listening to the Wind Every night I go outside before bed, sometimes I have so many clothes on I wobble out. I sit in a deck chair and make sure all the lights are out. I live in the country, so it can get pretty dark. I sit for at least 30 minutes and listen to the wind. It makes me focus on something transient to impress how ‘a moment’ feels. The wind at first seems very simple. But the more you listen, you can feel how multidimensional it is … volume, speed, direction … what’s in it, rain or leaves, where it’s going, up into the universe, with my thoughts, or maybe skimming the surface of the land, loud with other beings. It has life. It is life. I breathe the wind. When I started this practice I was just aiming to sit still, then it developed to sounds around me, and after a few months … hours would pass! I am connected to life. – Pam
Thank you to the many generous readers who’ve shared practices with me. Reading these practices puts an existential highlighter under our lives: ‘you mean, that’s a practice? I can do that.’ Or maybe: ‘I already do that.’ In different ways, they connect us to what matters.
For a deeper dive into creative practice and “being your own teacher,” my friend Dan Harris recently interviewed me about all this on his Ten Percent Happier podcast, here.
PS – The Practice of Mutual Aid. From Jia Tolentino, in The New Yorker:
“When I asked Rebecca Solnit about the evidence that disasters have prompted lasting civic changes, she pointed me to a number of specific organizations, and described their histories, but she also emphasized something less tangible, something she “heard over and over again from people,” she said. “They discovered a sense of self and a sense of connection to the people and place around them that did not go away, and, though they went back to their jobs in a market economy and their homes, that changed perspective stayed with them and maybe manifested in subtler ways than a project.” She added, “If we think of mutual aid as both a series of networks of resource and labor distribution and as an orientation, the former may become less necessary as ‘normal’ returns, but the latter may last.”