It has now been a full one thousand days since I last missed my daily practice. The narrative of this path of cultivation has also been the story of my recovery from cancer. We all know in the backs of our heads that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed for anyone. But it is one thing to think this, as an idea, and another thing to have it become so real.
Not every day of my practice has been easy and graceful. Sometimes it has been rushed, and some days I have had to limp through with injuries that should have stopped me.(1)
There have been days I wanted, maybe a little, to give up. Still, keeping a constant rhythm to my practice has been easier than rebuilding from scratch after losing my focus.
One day missed makes it easier to miss the next day. In the same way, one day’s success makes the next day’s victory that much more certain.
A Thousand Times
Just as much as daily practice is a habit, it is also a skill. It reshapes our relationship not only with ourselves, but also with the entirety of the outside world, from land to the sky.
A commitment to a thousand days means learning to corral the mind and plan around life’s unpredictability. It means being able to look at your whole day and decide where there is some give. Sometimes it means knowing your limits.
It is easy to think, I’ll take a quick nap and then get to it. But that means setting an alarm, finding someone reliable to wake you, or foregoing the rest. It means knowing what you can do, and then finding ways to extend that as necessary.
Spiritual cultivation is not just some ungrounded, separate practice. It is also practical growth and development. Those same skills of planning and focus are worth developing for their own sake. Certainly, my practice has improved my performance at my day job, where I can see upcoming challenges long before others have started looking.
The path is not about simply doing more. The thousand day path also requires negotiating some time for yourself. Sometimes this can be the hardest part. It can also mean cutting out things that are not, or no longer, needed.
There is a trick to this. The things that we think are “unneeded” are rarely actually the things we don’t need. Maybe I don’t need that 3:00 snack at work, but I do need to do something to manage the natural dip in energy that happens at that time of the day. I “need” the snack until I come up with a better plan.
The hard part is figuring out what we actually need in our lives, and then meeting those needs efficiently. This is usually best accomplished through trial and error — lots of error.
For me, I had the opportunity while fighting cancer to assess my habits of mind and see if they really served me. I hope that you can find a less dramatic way to transform your life.
Change Is Good
Daily practice does not always have to mean doing the same thing every day. Over the course of days, months, and years, my practice has grown. It has changed over time as my life itself has transformed. While I started back in July 2017 with only the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram (LBRP), that is now just a small part of my commitment.
In February 2017, I added more practices, purifying the body and the spirit. That April, I added incantations that were paired with each of my physical practices.(2) Commitment to those practices carried me through the rest of 2017.
And then, at the beginning of 2018, my wife and I began training in a rather intensive three-year clergy program. That has added bulk to what I do each day, but it has also given me a partner in the enterprise of cultivation.(3)
The Tally Thus Far
My practice, as it has shifted and grown, has become rather extensive.(4) As it has done so, I have kept careful notes of what I have been doing. This is not simply for bragging rights. It gives my everyday mind something to focus on, and motivation not to get in my way.
In other words, there is a value both in the practice of keeping records and in sharing them. And for me, the accountability matters. You see, I was not born an organized, disciplined person.
And yet, once a day for the last thousand days, I have performed the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. On top of that, it has been eight hundred and forty-seven days since I started spirit-cleansing exercises and eight hundred and forty-four since I added some qigong-related practices.
It has been five hundred and eight days since my wife and I started our new training. We have meditated together every day except one. That day I was pretty sick, and we meditated separately. Sure, the exercises sometimes vary, but the practice itself remains solid and steady.
Daily Practice Will Change Your Life
People come to the Path to change their lives. When we choose to begin, we might give a thousand different reasons, but those are all beside the point. The only thing that matters is that we begin.
After all, if we didn’t want to change, there are much more exciting and entertaining ways to spend our time.(5) But just because we choose to start, that doesn’t mean that we will automatically succeed.
In self-cultivation, there is no grade inflation. Pats on the head are few and far between. Often, there is only progress or giving up. At least half the time, it is hard to tell if anything is even working.
This is why many teachers will suggest to new students that if they can imagine doing anything else, they should do that. Cultivation is not for everyone.
But it is for some people. If you pursue this path, then over time your life will change. And not just your own life, but the lives of people around you as well.
I know, from an everyday perspective a thousand days seems like a lot, even impossible. But in the scheme of a lifetime, it is not that much to ask. Making the commitment, and following through, might just bring the change you have been looking for.
(1) Just as an example, at one point this year I pinched a nerve and was unable to lift my right arm. Now, if you are familiar with the LBRP, you know that that is a showstopper. Which arm we lift is at least symbolically important. In the end, I resolved this by using my left arm to support my right, as if it were a puppet arm. As an added bonus, this motion happened to solve the pinch, and by the next morning I was right as rain.
(2) Pairing each of my body practices with a related incantation was designed so that if and when I ever end up back in the hospital, immobile and fighting for my life, I will be able to call on those practices with words. As a bonus, it has also been an excellent exercise in getting over my aversion to memorization.
(3) While it is more or less true that we cannot control falling in love, the flip side is that it is important to know who we are before we make commitments. I am blessed to be bound to a woman who is every bit my equal and my partner. Now, that doesn’t mean we do all the same things. While there is common ground, we both play to our strengths with our own work as well.
(4) To be fair, when I say that my practice has become extensive, that is really only true for someone who is not a full-time cultivator. I probably average no more than an hour a day. Still, that is an hour more than nothing, and it is enough.
(5) In my estimation, this is why cultivationists of all varieties like to argue on the internet so much. Commitment to the work is harder than arguing about the right way to do it. In the long run, doing the work is more rewarding than talking about it.