Do you have any conscious habits or something that you’re practicing regularly? Not the absentminded kind of habit, like biting your nails. Something positive and purposeful, something you’re trying to cultivate. I’ve been working on a few things recently and thinking about the word practice often.
For a while I had wanted to have a nicer start to my days, to be more intentional about how I begin my waking hours. For years I had been a snoozer. When my alarm went off, I’d hit the snooze button and steal ten more minutes, and ten more minutes, and ten more minutes, until sometimes nearly an hour would go by. You know what I could have done in an hour?! And it’s not like I was even really sleeping restfully during that time. Actually sleeping for another hour might have been a good use of time. And then when I finally did get up, I often felt discouraged because I had wanted to be up earlier and here was another morning that I didn’t do it. Feeling discouraged from the second I get out of bed isn’t the nice start I was imagining. This year, I decided that enough was enough. When I began this new year witnessing the sun rise, I decided to make that a regular occurrence. I set my alarm for 5 am and at this point I have been up before the sun every day for more than two months. It wasn’t very pleasant at first. I was tired. So I tried to make it a little more comfortable. Before I go to bed, I put something warm to drink in a thermos on my nightstand. I keep a cozy blanket on the chair in my bedroom. I slip from bed to the chair and I start with something nice to read. Right now I’m working my way through Mark Nepo’s ‘The Book of Awakening.‘ Now my early wake up call has become a habit and I often open my eyes a few minutes before the alarm sounds. (Isn’t the human body amazing?!) And on clear days, I get to peek out my window and witness some beauty. Not as scenic as the beach, but still miraculous every time.
During my early mornings, I’m also beginning to practice meditation. Oh my God! This is not an easy thing to do. I’m trying not to use words like ‘struggle’ and ‘chore’ to describe this act because I don’t want to set it up in my mind as something that’s so hard, but just is what it is. So the goal is to be present, concentrate on your breath or maybe a mantra. But my mind, as minds do, strays. Here are just a few of the thoughts that got me distracted one morning this week: “Do they allow use of electronic devices during takeoff on all flights now? Where’s the power button on the ipad again? Should I turn that thing off more often? I need to charge that keyboard. Who was that celebrity who got in trouble for refusing to turn his phone off because he was playing Words with Friends? Why am I even thinking about this? I’m not even flying any time soon. Breathe. Observe your body breathing all on its own. Here and now, here and now, here and now. Who did take my shovel off my porch last night? TWICE! At least they replaced it. But I don’t want a different shovel. I want my shovel. It doesn’t matter. It’s just a shovel. At least you have a shovel. At least they replaced it. That was kinda nice actually. For a thief! I wonder if we’ll have school today. Breathe! Breathe! Here and now, here and now, here and now……” This is where thinking about the word practice is helpful to me. I love that the word practice can be used as a noun and a verb. It’s something we do repeatedly with a goal of improvement. Not perfection. I used to work for a wonderful principal who taught the kids at our school to rephrase that old saying, so they learned, “Practice makes improvement.” Some days my practice is better than others. None of them are perfection. Yet maybe all of them are.
I think of my meditation time as a practice and I’m trying to think of other things I do as practice too. Like this writing thing. I committed to myself (and my writing buddy) that I would write one post a week. But this week, I had trouble coming up with an idea to write about. I faced a blank screen. I came up with ideas and rejected them. I wondered who would care or even notice if I didn’t post this week. And then I remembered the word practice. All I have to do is show up and give it a good try. It’s kind of strange, but framing something as practice takes the pressure off -AND- helps me be fully present and ‘all-in’, all at the same time. Does that make sense? Since I’m not blowing it off, but I’m not expecting it to be perfect, I’m freed up to give it all I’ve got. And if I practice enough, it starts to become a habit requiring less task-minded effort. Does that make sense?
Anyway, I’m off to practice something else…