Make of your life a practice –

IMG_0792  Practice seeing, seeing the first blossoms of spring

How can I live my life as a practice, a practice of whole-ness, a practice of connecting with the infinite, the Holy, the Universe?

There is only this: practice, practice, practice…

The sages of all traditions knew this.  the Mother knows this, the monks in their cells in the hidden corners of the earth know this.  It may be that the person in the next cubicle knows this.  And you know it, too.  There is only practice, from one moment to the next, from one day to the next.

What is your practice, today?  In my life, my practice has often changed.  For a time, I spent hours every day in my car, driving from small town to small town in rural Wisconsin.  Then, I began this practice, this practice that has become my life.  I talked to God.  I talked out loud to God, crying sometimes, laughing, sometimes, and sometimes shaking my fist at God.  And I began to observe my life in its unfolding, as if I was looking at my life from another perspective.

Sure, I have had to make the choices we all make.  I have had to decide whether or not to go on to school, where to live, what to do on Friday night, whether or not this person was my friend – or not.  All of the external choices have been the same.  On another level, though, I have discovered that life is a constant of only this:  practice.

Practice is only my own way of connecting the Divine, to the Holy that is in me and is in you.  I have not been limited by my practice; rather, my practice has broadened my life, my experience, and even my mind.  Through my practice, I have learned to question everything I have been taught is true or real.  There are no limits to my practice.  Like the sea, which rolls onto the beach and roils into the deepest depths, my limits are limit-less.  Through my practice, I have questioned my deepest beliefs, and I have discarded some, and still question others, continuing to wonder what is true, what holds to be true not only for me, but for all of humanity, and all of creation.

I have learned that the Holy can hold all this, all my faltering practices, all my failures, all my ignorance, all my less-than-loving self.

I have prayed, an ever-changing, evolving prayer.  I have meditated, and I still do, two times a day, most days.  I have walked my prayers.  I have talked to the grass and the trees, and to my cat.  I have cried.  I have laughed.   I have nodded into a sky that does not answer, and yet is shouting  to me.  I have sniffed the sweet, wet earth, and smelled the sweet fragrance of lilacs and rosemary and lavendar, riches.  I have visited holy places.  I have worshiped in unfamiliar places, and I have honored those whose practice I have been privileged to encounter, although theirs might not be my own.  I nod to their Holy One, who may seem different than my own, but is not.  I honor that Holy One, by whatever name.  I have visited dark places, and I have arrived into another morning, giving thanks for nothing in particular, but for it all.

I have not only “tried” many ways to stay connected to All; I have practiced many ways to stay connected.  Some of the ways I carry with me now, like a bag filled with spiritual practices instead of groceries.  I reach into the bag and take out the one I need, now.  In any day, I use my practices to stay connected to Something More, Something Whole, Something Holy – something that is in me, that is me, and that is greater than I am.

Through my practice I have learned this:  I do not have to be good.  I do not have to do things perfectly.  I do not have to work to be worthy.  I do not have to know what is right or correct in any or all situations.  I do not have to understand to accept.  I am complete, here and now, just as I am.  This is what I have learned, what I am learning.

When I remember, I can still feel my little girl’s body on the seat of my first two-wheeled bicycle.  I can feel the strength of my Dad behind me, holding onto the seat, pushing me along the sidewalk, pushing me, holding on, and then, in some moment, letting go, until I felt the freedom of that ride, that long ride that has taken me to this time, to this moment, to this day.  Then, I was practicing.  Then, I had the safety of Dad’s strength and love and joy until I took off on my own.

As we get older, what we face is different than what we faced when we were younger.  What I have faced in my life – the choices, the decisions, the moments, the sadness, the losses, the small and great griefs – is changing.  It has always been changing, although now I am more poignantly aware that my choices are changing.  And I can honestly say that the only thing that has gotten me through, the ever-changing practices I have gathered and practiced and discarded, and even those I continue today, are the cornerstone, and the one constant.

Make of your life a practice.

Four Rules for Living, #3, Tell the Truth

The anthropologist and spiritual teacher, Angeles Arrien is credited with these 4 rules for living:  Show up.  Pay attention.  Tell the truth.  Don’t be attached to the outcome.

***

Tell the truth…  that’s something we were taught as children, wasn’t it?  I know I was.  I remember vividly one of the first times I did not tell the truth – to my mother – as a child.  I was playing with neighbor kids, far enough to be as independent as I could be at that age – about 5 – and close enough for Mom to keep a watchful eye out the front screen door that led onto the porch on our upper flat.  At some point, I slapped a little girl in the group.  I don’t know if it is a memory trick, or if it happened this way, but I saw my mother at that moment, checking to see that I was safe on the street.

When I got home that day, Mom asked me whether I had hit one of my playmates.  I said no, that it must have been another little girl who looked just like me.  Mom  must have been stunned – at my creativity and at my sense of being right – because I saw – and vividly remember – a look of enjoyment and understanding cross her face.  Nothing more was said.

We assert our independence as children by not following the rules our parents taught us, and if we are on the path to grow into conscious adults, we continue to assert our independence from our parents, over the course of our lives.  And as we assert our independence, hopefully, carefully, and with great discernment, we discover what is true, for us, for who we are, separate from our parents and what was true for them.

Telling the truth is not easy.  First of all, it means that one has come to know that we often do NOT tell the truth.  We remember and speak what was true for others.  We hide our feelings.  We ignore feelings we do not want to feel – are in the habit of not feeling – and so we cannot tell the truth of what we feel, in this moment, now.

Sometimes, if we are on a journey, and for awhile, we say someone else’s truth, because we do not yet know our own.  “I have to be positive,” we say to ourselves, and so we ignore what is true for ourselves and instead say what would go over well with our latest self-help guru.  Or we quote scripture, without having questioned its meaning, without having considered how and if it might apply to me in my own circumstances.  It’s easy to get stuck here, to not grow any more, because we think we have found “truth.”  All along, we still do not know what is true for ourselves.

In my own life, I remember coming to the place where I began to know and to feel – as if for the first time – my own feelings in response to something that happened.  I remember learning that I had to trust what I knew in my body as much – perhaps even more – than what my roiling thoughts were telling me.  I remember that when I first began to truly know what was true for me, I often could not say that truth without raising my voice.

Sometimes, I’m like that now.  Maybe I have to speak loudly enough so that I can hear!

But sometimes now, I speak truth that is truth to me, in this moment, in this circumstance, with this person, in this particular situation.  What is true is not some long-remembered “rule” from my childhood, or my religion, or someone I admire.  What is true is what is true for me.  I have learned that I can speak what is true quietly – very quietly – because what is true is what is meant for me, only.

And when I speak my truth, I can walk away without caring about how the other person responded.   Telling my truth is not about changing someone else’s mind.  When I “tell the truth,” I am complete.  I am not concerned about changing someone else’s mind – they have their own journey to the truth for themselves, after all, and I cannot know what that journey may be for them.  I am complete simply because I have honored truth, my truth, I have spoken it well, and I am complete.  When I speak my own truth, I respect myself, and I respect the other.  In fact, if I have honored my own truth, I can listen more fully to someone else’s truth.  I can listen for the deeper truth beneath the words, as I have done for myself.

***

I love these 4 rules for living.  I know it is not easy to live these rules.  Sometimes in life, I come across some idea or some short thought that fits.  I like to say that one could live their whole life, turning that thought over and over again, trying it on, seeing when it fits and when it does not fit.  These 4 rules are like that for me.  This is not the only truth I have held inside, turning over inside myself like one turns a stone over in the palm of one’s hand; one favorite for me, that I have returned to many times is this:  “give thanks in all circumstances.”

But these 4 rules for living are good, solid rules.  I like them because they are not easy.  They are not easily won, as if they can be honored without questioning our own thoughts and our own lives, as if they can be lived without hard work.  But they are good rules.

Next, “Don’t be attached to the outcome.”  (oh, noooooo!)

 

“Practice makes perfect!” – Miss Schmidt, 3rd grade teacher

chalkboard

“Practice makes perfect” was Miss Schmidt’s mantra.  Miss Schmidt, third grade teacher, white-haired and in her navy blue dress with white polka-dots, black shoes.  Thank you, Miss Schmidt! I got the message, internalized it, translated the message to my own liking (we all do that), and lived a long time trying to be as “perfect” as I could be.  Thank God, “practice makes perfect” only lasted so long, and then?  Then, it “fizzled” out in my mind, and in my life.

Oh – freedom!

The first time I challenged my wanting to get things right was in a class I took for several years:  “Aikido as Spiritual Practice.”  The class was a combination of movement and dharma talks (The Intuitive Body: Discovering the Wisdom of Conscious Embodiment and Aikido [Wendy Palmer]).

We started each class on the mat, after we had entered the room, removed our shoes, and bowed to the gathering class, teacher and students.  Barefoot, we faced the mirrored wall, our teacher facing us, and moved together through a series of simple practices.  For some reason, “let’s practice,” the words spoken by the teacher as she led us through our warm-up, was in my mind on that one particular day.  I moved awkwardly, furtively watching the teacher and the other students.  Was I moving correctly?  Why did she look so graceful?  Can I do it like him?  Above all, am I doing it right???

I felt – awkward.  Check this out for yourself:  feeling awkward is a heavy thing.  It weighs you down.

Then, something snapped or switched or jerked in my mind.  I stopped watching the others, and I began to “practice” from the inside, rather than the outside.  I began to feel the movements.  I was free!  In my mind, I was 5 years old again, fully myself, my little girl legs dancing and thrashing, and it all coming out – perfectly!  I could feel that little girl, sense her insides, my insides.  I was free!

I have not forgotten that moment, that moment in time when I broke free from Miss Schmidt’s mantra:  practice makes perfect.  I expect that in many ways, Miss Schmidt was right.  But we all have our own translation of what we hear, of what comes into us, of what we remember, and value – or remember, and discard.

Practice means that:  simply practice.  When life is practice, we become free.  When life is practice, there is not getting it right or wrong.  When life is practice, there is movement.  When life is practice, we can move from one practice to the next, allowing what does not work, what has not worked, what will not work to freely move along.

We talk about spiritual practice.  Spiritual practice is like that, too.  Practice is only practice, not perfection.  There’s a  difference.  There are no perfect feelings, no perfect objects brought to completion.  What is perfect quickly loses its shine, and that’s part of life.  So – practice.  Don’t practice to become perfect.  Don’t wait for the perfect time.  Don’t expect to not have feelings that aren’t “perfect,” or “good,” or positive.  Just practice.

Make of your life, this:  practice.