What is practice?

What is practice? January 23, 2013

A practice is anything you do regularly that nurtures you. You can probably think of a dozen forms of formal practice off the top of your head: prayer or meditation, lighting candles or incense, ritual, chanting or singing, dancing.  All of these are ways that practice can happen.  Creative work can be a practice: writing, painting, collaging, taking photographs.  So can exercise or daily tasks, done with intention.

You probably already have dozens of practices of varying levels of intention.  Do you brush your teeth?  Say “I love you” when getting off the phone with your mother or partner?  Read for ten minutes before bed?

One of my simplest practices is saying a three-line prayer when I wake up in the morning.  My alarm clock actually scrolls the first words across its face when I hit snooze, so my early-morning brain doesn’t have to work too hard, and yet I open my day with my focus on connection.

At its core, though, practice is a way of carving a channel.  Like water over rock, a little trickle wears a groove and then a ravine.  Then when life comes in floods instead of trickles, our deep channels have room to hold all of that intensity.  Intention is the key that lets us carve the channel in the direction that we desire.

Here’s another truth about practice: for most of us imperfect humans, we won’t always love our practice.  It will not be fireworks over the altar every time.  Sometimes it will feel great, and other times it will feel bad, and often enough, it will feel boring.  This is okay.  The word “practice” means “to do over and over again,” which means we get a lot of chances to have the practice we want to have.

I hope that you’ll join me here to talk about practice and also — in a way you’ll see in just a few days! — to practice together, here in this imaginary online space.  Welcome to Leaning Into Mystery.

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