Friday, April 23, 2010
Practice makes perfect
The concept of practice keeps coming up for me. This past week I've had the phrase "practice makes perfect" stuck in my head and I have wondering and worrying it to death. Of course I understand it refers to doing something over and over again in order to master it. I've thrown the word practice around quite a bit when it comes to my life and I am left wondering, what is it I am hoping to perfect?
In terms of yoga practice - and I mean the real practice, the foundational principles (yamas and niyamas), meditation, awareness, energy control; the whole shebang and not just the postures - the more accurate statement might be "practice makes more practice." Or a spin on a Buddhist saying - "after practice, more practice."
Why do I practice? Yeah, I know I am dodging the What here, but I think I will get back to that. I practice in order to not lose me in the busyness of life. I practice to strengthen habits, reactions, attitudes that I believe are healthy and positive so that I may be less likely to fall into reflexive patterns of thinking, behaving, being. I had a long day yesterday. What was to be a routine check up for my mother at her doctor's office turned into 3 hours at the medical center with Cowgirl in tow. And a return trip this morning. A pretty normal response would have been to come home, bury myself in comfort food and retreat to the basement for television. Instead, I poured myself a glass of wine, went down to my art space, put on some music and worked in my journals for an hour or so. I was consciously aware that I was moving against the tide of old habits, but the resistance quickly dissipated and I know the next time I have this choice, it will be easier for me to choose that which gives me energy rather than that which depletes it.
I am very actively practicing a creative habit. I have set up days and routines for creative play and I stick to them even if my writing day involves some stream of consciousness scribbling while sitting in the doctor's waiting room. Practice is another way of saying I commit myself to something on a regular basis. That it is important to me and so I am giving it this space and time no matter what.
But back to the Perfecting part. My life is my practice. Or rather, how I engage with my life constitutes the components of practice. I practice being present in my life. What this means for me is pausing repeatedly to notice my breath. I have become familiar (through practice!) with the signs that I am spinning out of my center. My mind races, I feel antsy and edgy and I become snappy and snarly. My temper is short and there is a desire to flee. In those moments if I can pause to notice my breathing, generally I find I am holding onto my breath much like I am holding onto some negative emotion or thought. I exhale and let go of my breath and magically the hold whatever emotion or thought has had upon me loosens as well.
I also practice returning to the sensations in my body. When I am stressed (usually about time; since becoming a mother, I am always running late for something) there is a knot and a sense of heat in my solar plexus. My throat tightens and my facial muscles harden. When I can attend to these sensations, breathing and relaxing them, I can bring myself back into the present moment. A traffic jam may have me obsessing over being late, stressing about how I will juggle everything that has to get done in less time, thinking should I take an alternate route and generally being everywhere in my mind but the car. When I return to my breath and my body, I am back in the car with my daughter. I realize I cannot change the traffic, but I can change my attitude. I can turn the music up and we can sing; I can appreciate this extra time to be with Cowgirl and ask her to tell me a story because she tells the most wildly wonderful stories where I am Mommy Hulk and she is Spidergirl and Moose is Batdog.
I practice slowing down. This is one of the hardest things for me to do. The compulsion to multitask is strong even though I know I never can pull it off. I end taking more time to clean up the spills, mistakes and missteps because I tried to do too many things at once. Slowing down means doing one thing at a time and attending to each detail. Cleaning the floors, ironing a tablecloth (yes, I just did that!) can be tedious tasks when my mind is filled with all the other things I want/need/hope to be doing. But when I pay attention to my actions, how my body feels and my breathing, there is a soothing quality to the work. My mind relaxes and a sense of spaciousness fills the space previously occupied by all those thoughts.
The greatest benefit to slowing down and paying attention is I notice and remember all the details. I firmly believe life is the details. Lately Cowgirl has loved having us tell her stories about her past. We talk about when she was a baby with us in China (she was almost two, but she was our new baby) and even stories from 2 years ago are like classic myths for her. Last night I was recalling the first birthday party I took her to and how there was an ice cream cake with a poodle on top and the birthday girl made another girl cry when she scooped up the poodle's head and ate it. I remembered that Cowgirl ate her entire humongous piece of cake after I told the other moms she wasn't much of a sweet eater. She painted a ceramic kitty blue and we have him up on her nightstand. She loves hearing all the details of her life and it is important that I have paid enough attention to remember them all.
Through practice I recognize each moment offers me an opportunity to choose how I wish to react. And I practice in order to form a habit of choosing what will strengthen my connection to living in Truth and Love. I practice so I may learn to relax into my life rather than resist what is offered to me. I practice in order to reaffirm through my actions, words or thoughts my connection to love, unity and abundance and to weaken the hold of fear, doubt and the sense of smallness that robs me of power. I practice not to perfect Me, because I know I am and you are already perfect. But I practice in order that I might come to believe that truth.
I cultivate an attitude of practice because it reminds me I have a lot still to learn. I can and will mess up and that's okay. I am practicing. In reality, there is no perfecting ... just simply being. Which isn't all that simple! Practice provides a rhythm, a structure that allows me to be engaged with my life in a proactive way. I have a choice: be here, awake and practicing, or be lost. What's at stake is coming to know and embrace my authentic self and that is worth the commitment of a lifetime.
"Behind all one's pursuits, the basic problem that remains unresolved is the feeling of inadequacy .... It is the problem faced by Arjuna, a warrior-hero of the fabulous achievements and disciplined intellect, who was nevertheless overwhelmed by personal conflict and a feeling of helplessness. Lord Krishna taught him how to know the adequate self. When he knew it, all his conflict and sorrow were resolved. This is the subject matter of the Bhagavad Gita." - Swami Dayananda, The Teaching of the Bhagavad Gita