Lately I’ve been thinking about the word “practice”. It’s been rolling around in my mind and running under my thoughts. Meditation practice, artistic practice, piano practice, sports practice, therapy practice, work practice. Whatever. Both established practices lots of people do – yoga, tennis, active listening – and weird customized practices people invent – visualizing success, pretending to be a tree, or darning moth holes while listening to Amy Winehouse.
My working definition of practice is any activity or way of being that we engage in regularly and deliberately. We all have habits that creep up on us and get in our way: the popular habit of procrastination, for instance. Practices are the habits we choose. In that choosing, we shape how we experience our minds, our bodies, and each other.
I think practice, however strange or banal a particular one may seem on the surface, is one key to being happier and supported enough to make positive change on the planet. Although a practice may begin as just some activity we do, if we stay with it, something very interesting can happen: the practice starts to teach us about ourselves and the world.
The journalist in me has been flabbergasted by the inventiveness and range of people’s practices. I’ve begun collecting practice stories firsthand from people I meet. For example:
Mary, a writer. Mary has a practice of holding eye contact with animals, even – in her words – “a guinea pig I recently taxidermied (it died of natural causes).” She explains why: “The act of looking deeply into a face tells my nervous system that I’m not alone. In the purest, non-narrative way, it reminds me of the shared experience of being alive.”
Or Richard, a limo driver. For hours on end, he drives. It’s a job, but also, it’s not a job. “I call it ‘windshield time’,” he says. “No radio, no talking, just me and the road.” He needs this time, he says. “It gives me peace.”
Or myself, a meditation teacher. I have many, from my running practice, which helps manage my energy, to various awareness practices, which help manage my sanity. Even this sharing of ideas is a practice, part of a deliberate strategy I use to work through creative problems.
So: what’s your practice?
It’s exciting to think of practice this way, as a creative medium we all share, whose ‘works’ we can pass around and try on for ourselves. I like the idea that we all have something to teach each other about being human. There’s no hierarchy from this perspective: no special artist over here, or enlightened person over there. We all engage in some kind of practice. We can learn for ourselves what happens when this becomes more conscious.