A couple of years ago, in a moment of frustration/inspiration, I grabbed a permanent marker and wrote on the wall in my sunroom. “Life is Practice,” I reminded myself. I was in the middle of parenting, writing, partnering, thinking about the meaning of it all, and trying to make time for practice in the midst of the chaos. It was around the same time that I placed the shelf with the children’s toys on it directly below my own shelf of sacred objects (among them a statue of the Buddha, a bowl for alms, a carving of the triple goddess, and a Galilean thermometer.)
But as true as this was, it didn’t negate the need for time on the mat, on the cushion, and alone with my thoughts. The “practice” of daily life is to apply the practice of… Practice. It’s like daily life is the performance, and the time for intentional Practice is the warm up, the rehearsal. The scales, if you will allow me to continue my musical metaphor.
“My life is not busy, it is full.” A new friend reminded me of this the other day. It echoes the words of another friend/teacher of mine, who said when I commented on her heavy bags at the farmer’s market, “No, not burdened. Laden.”
This is the fruit of Practice. The mind leaps to new places, develops new tracks, new default ways of framing experience. We are able to think different things, having confronted, relaxed with, and integrated the things we thought before. In my case, Practice leans heavily on Buddhist meditation and yoga… although I’m exploring the subtleties of those. I’m starting to realize that they may not be strictly compatible in terms of foundational assumptions about the world. Nevertheless, they provide useful ways of working with the mind. “Skillful means,” in the words of the Buddhists.
This is an approach that works with my engineering/scientific training. On the one hand, I am very interested in how things work… but on the other, I am equally contented to explore whether they work, whether we understand the mechanism or not. I understand that I may therefore be doing things that are not necessary. Perhaps someday we will be able to trim this all to the bare essentials. I am down to following the breath while sitting on a comfortable cushion on the floor, though, so there isn’t a lot more to trim down. Not in the ritual, at least. Notice the thought, label it thinking, come back to the breath. Such simple instructions, such a difficult thing to do. Some days my labeling sounds like this: “Thinking, thinking, thinking, th, thi, th…”
But somehow, it translates into a calmer mind. I find myself in the midst of frustration spontaneously labeling: “Thinking,” I think, and sometimes the quiet comes. Sometimes only for a moment, but sometimes… sometimes it just works.
It didn’t used to work.
The goal in meditation is not to stop thinking, not to quiet, control, dominate the mind. Not in this tradition, at any rate. It is the doing, the being, that matters. So many people I love tell me, “Oh, I can never meditate. My mind just runs on and on and on…”
“Yes,” I want to say, but I am their friend, not their teacher. “That is what minds do. And then they catch themselves. And come back to the breath.”
Oh, beautiful ones, that is why it is called practice. Not performance. Not perfection. Just… Practice.