Practices Are Habits We Choose

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 many 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 choice, we shape how we experience our minds, our bodies, our life. 

I think practice, however strange or mundane a particular one may seem on the surface, is one of the keys to mental and emotional health. As such, I think our practices can support us to make positive change on the planet. I think any practice that we commit to with intelligence and heart will train many of the same skills that get trained in sitting meditation. And I think all practices, over time, teach us important things about ourselves and the world.

The journalist in me has been delighted by the inventiveness and range of people’s practices. 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.” She explains: “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 any of these humans, who share a range of creative practices, ones that benefit both ourselves and the world.

For myself, practice has been an indispensable part of my life. From my swimming practice, which helps manage my energy, to various awareness practices, which help manage my sanity. Even this writing and sharing is a practice, part of a deliberate strategy I use to work out creative ideas.

What’s your practice?  

I love hearing how different practices work for different people, the many ways they train us and teach us and change us. Some good examples here.

It’s exciting to think of practice this way, as a creative medium every human shares, whose ‘works’ we can (and should) pass around and try on for ourselves. There’s no hierarchy from this perspective; no special artist over here, or enlightened person over there. We all have something to teach each other about being human.

So: go practice something!

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