What is a “practice”? You may have heard this word before and wondered. People these days will talk about something that they do as being part of their practice. Your practice is anything you do mindfully and intentionally.
In the same way that you have to practice playing piano to get better at it, you have to adopt a practice for life to get better at it.
The interesting part is that there is not just one way to practice. Anything you choose mindfully can be your practice. You can have several practices and they can change over time. You don’t have to keep the same one. In fact, when your practice becomes stale is a good time to reexamine it. It may be time to change it. It may also be time to stick with it and dig deeper.
There are just as many practices as there are people. Gardening can be a practice. So can walking outside. So can painting, drawing, and writing. Eating vegetarian, or raw, or local can be a practice. Being part of a group class at the Y is just as valid a path as exercising at home alone to a video or making it up yourself.
The only constant to a practice is that it must be intentionally chosen. It can’t just be something you do because that is what you’ve always done. It can’t be something you do when you are bored. It has to be the exact opposite of an addiction.
How do you pick a practice?
First, think of where you want to go. If you don’t have a goal, you aren’t being intentional. Now, your practice may be the goal. You may find yourself opening up and growing just by adopting a practice.
A practice is like a map that gets you there. If you want to go to Cleveland and you have never been there you’ll either ask someone who has or you’ll get a map. The same is with a practice. Ask people who are good at what they do and enjoy it. Ask people you admire, either friends or experts (the two can be the same thing) what they did (or do) Read a book or twelve. Pray for guidance. Ask God/Source/the Divine to show you what direction you should go.
Then pick something and do it. It will be awkward at first. Give it some time. If it doesn’t feel like a good fit for you, try something else. You can’t get there if you have on the wrong shoes. Sometimes the practice works for someone else but it doesn’t fit you. That is normal. It doesn’t mean you are wrong. It means the practice is wrong for you.
Your practice may be to fully participate in your religion. Practice doesn’t have to be something new, it can be something old. You don’t have to take up a new habit or hobby. You can just do what you already do, but more mindfully.
You can find enlightenment through almost any path. Even doing a jigsaw puzzle can teach you a valuable lesson. Being open and childlike is essential. If your practice becomes like a job, then it isn’t a practice anymore.
It helps if your practice helps others. Sure, you need some inward focus too. You can’t help others very well if you are broken. If you are off balance and you try to catch someone else who is off balance you will both fall. But a practice that is all self-focused will be tight, like a flower bud that isn’t open. Flowers are made to open and be delightful. So are we.