The Other Side of the Hedge: The Power of Daily Practice

The Other Side of the Hedge: The Power of Daily Practice March 5, 2017

We see people do incredible things, and we think, “I could never do that.” But we’re all capable of some incredible things. Take something as prosaic as driving a car. The first time we do it, it’s awesome and terrifying and awkward. There’s no training I’ve found that prepares anyone for guiding a two-ton hunk of machinery.

"Hadouken" by Polly Peterson. Used by permission.
“Hadouken” by Polly Peterson. Used by permission.

So how do we learn to drive? We just start slowly and carefully, following the rules. Within ten years, we know exactly what a car can do, when the engine feels rough, and how to use the micro-maneuvers of other drivers to anticipate what they’re going to do.

How do we learn these skills? We find a teacher, we take a class, we read a book, we watch others do it. But in the end, we learn by doing it every day.
Spiritual mastery is no different.

That you do it is more important than what you do

When I was young, I struggled with daily spiritual practice. I wanted to be the guy who had that discipline, but ‘no dice.’ I beat my head against a wall that was inside of me.

For years, I tried and failed. Life was just too distracting. A couple of years after college, I found some introductory practices. It doesn’t really matter what they were. What mattered was that they were simple, basic, and clear.
Looking back, the true secret was that I did them every day for whole a year. Each day I would get up, and go through the routine. I was very proud of myself at the time, and that was natural. I showed them off to friends, and looked like a fool doing so. But I did them.

That discipline alone changed my mind. It changed the way I related to myself. This was not something I did for someone else, like work. It was a sustained, disciplined practice. It changed who I am.

Protip: That whole “mornings are good for you” is a pernicious lie. Find the time of day that works for you. There’s no reason to make daily practice harder than it needs to be.

What you do is secondary (but still important)

Pick a practice that sustains your spirit. It doesn’t matter if your spiritual expression is performing the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram (LBRP), archery, or folding origami cranes; it just needs to be something that you can do each day.

 [Photo: Zen Archery with Master Jean. Photo by Polly Peterson

Zen Archery with Master Jean. Photo by Polly Peterson
When we first start daily practice, we have a lot of ideas of what it might look like. A lot of people tend to be overly concerned with what we ‘should’ do. For me, it was like, “I should work out. And do these martial arts exercises. And these spiritual exercises as well.”

My original practice ended up being about an hour each morning, and it was too much. Ten minutes is about right. After all, you’ll probably do more throughout the day. But realistically, a self-promise of ten minutes a day is less likely to get discarded.

Set a time for completion. Create a daily practice that lasts for a year. Know that you’re going to miss days when things come up. Just pick up where you left off. And when you complete it (have faith!), maybe pick regimen, unless you really like the one you have.

Protip: If you have, or find, a “work out” partner it can be motivating. But never, ever, ever allow your practice to be dependent on someone else. It’s the surest way to get derailed.

Self-mastery is the goal

Daily spiritual practice will change your relationship to yourself, your spirit, and your life. Yes, it is a difficult thing to do. But so was learning to drive a car.

Mastering the spirit is no easy task. Self-mastery is not something that we’re born with, and it’s not something that we get from wishing. In the end, we learn a little every day.

Protip: Keep a private journal of your practice. Keep entries simple, but make an entry for each day. An entry can be as simple as, “July 8, 2016, 8:45 AM: LBRP complete.” You’ll appreciate the work later.

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