In one sense, meditation is like practice for life. It is a chance to take a “time-out” from the normal rush of sensations, impressions, interactions, and connect with your still center. It is easier to find this place when you are not busy navigating the world. As your practice deepens, it becomes easier to return to this place during the rest of your day. Gradually, you realize that there is an abundant amount of space and grace available to you that you had previously overlooked. The small practice of sitting for 20 minutes a day snowballs into a deeper shift.
I love to take this same concept of “practice” and apply it off the cushion, in daily life. To practice an inner quality, there are generally four parts: identifying an area for growth, affirming your commitment to growth, recognizing small, manageable opportunities to practice, and then actually doin’ the good work.
Let’s take an example. I recently realized that I sometimes have a tough time receiving from other people. This issue comes up in various ways. Maybe I do not feel safe, or I get worried that I am being taken advantage of, or I belittle the offering of the other person, or I act strong when I am not. Seeing these trends in your life is the first part of growth–you have to figure out what is calling out for your attention.
Once you hear the call, the second step is affirming your commitment to growth. I want to be better able to receive. Or even better, state it a la Louise Hays, in the present tense, as if it is already true. “I am open to receive everything life has to offer.”
Even though you have identified the trend and affirmed a commitment to a new way of being, does not meant that the trend will instantly reverse. Our bodies and minds are habitual creatures. So to help invite change into your life, you can find small ways to practice in your every day life, in situations where you feel comfortable enough to try new things.
This morning, for example, I went to a Zumba fitness class. Within ten minutes, I was thinking: “This class is too slow. The instructor is not keeping up the pace.” I asked my body what was really going on. It felt closed down, tight. I realized this was another time when I did not want to receive.
This is the third step: identifying moments to practice. The best way to stay attuned to these opportunities is to stay in close touch with your body. The moment you feel tense and uncomfortable, drop down and see if you can figure out why. If it puzzles you, file it away later. It may later reveal itself to be part of a trend. If it matches with some resistance you have already identified, you have a moment to train! The fun part is that it turns even the smallest, mundane activities into a potential opportunity to practice some soul skills.
So in the Zumba class, I was able to match up my body discomfort with a larger “trend” I had already identified. Because I had a already made a commitment to being open to receive, I welcomed this moment as a great time to practice my receiver skills. So that is what I did. I consciously chose to receive whatever this guy had to give. I relaxed my body. I inwardly thanked him for showing up. And I let my expectations go. Gimme what you got!
I ended up having a great time in the class. It was not the world’s best workout, but it was fun and upbeat. More importantly than my sweat level, there was a moment when I was shaking out to some salsa that the instructor flashed me a smile. I smiled back. I realized I was happy I was supporting his efforts to put on good class. That heart connection would not have been possible if I was caught up in wishing I was at the treadmill class instead. I viscerally felt the joys of being open to receive. So even small practice can lead to measurable rewards, which act as incentive for more practice.
Most importantly, this experience also affirmed my own capacity to grow. I already have the ability to receive, if I just take advantage of life’s opportunities. I have the choice of how I show up. And I had the power to do it the way I would like.
You can practice any number of skills. I read a fantastic blog post from Jonathan Fields (actually a guest blogger Emilie Wapnick–both of them former lawyers no less) about how she took “mini-risks” to practice courage and help her business. Using the exact same concept I am describing here, she tackled a “trend” she noticed of fear and self-doubt. By practicing speaking with strangers at a coffee shop, she nailed an important job presentation.
So have some fun with this. Remember to check in with your body. Ask it what is is feeling. Identify trends. Affirm your commitment to a new state of being. Then find small ways to practice the soul skills you wish to have. Gradually, you will find the strength to practice these skills in more difficult or intense situations.