Thursday, January 31, 2013

Practice makes progress

Through my dabbling in Buddhism a great love of the idea of practices and practicing emerged.

When I was first exposed to the idea of mind training as a “practice,” I was really opposed to it. It was a visceral reaction and when I explored it further, I realized that my aversion was stemming from an idea that the actions and behaviors that have become habitual for me were “natural.” I thought that practicing a different way of being, thinking, and behaving was going against what was “naturally Mary”.

Then I had to ask myself whether I loved all of my thoughts and behaviors and thought they were effective to achieve the ends I was seeking. You can probably guess what the answer was.

I decided to give some of the Buddhist practices a try. One simple, but nevertheless difficult to execute, practice was to not kill anything. I’m not a natural born killer by any means, but I was in the see-a-bug-and-stomp-on-it camp for a while. And, what’s worse, I did it totally unthinkingly. Especially if it was a spider. Get the shoe. You know what I mean?

But then I became one of those people who does spider and bug relocation. I don’t love spiders so it took some self-control to remain calm at first. I had to practice reacting in a new way. Now it’s second nature.

Relative to some other practices we can adopt, spider relocation is easy. Try practicing non-judgment or flipping negative thoughts in an effort to shift your perspective. Try practicing kindness.

Really. Try it. Since it’s a practice it is also:
a) experimental, b) set for a finite time, and c) allows for you to screw up over and over again. After all, you’re just practicing.

So you could feasible attempt to practice kindness for the next hour and never get it “right”, and still feel like you accomplished something. That something is awareness. Which is sort of like the Buddhist “get out of jail free” card. (I kid.)

It’s helpful if our practices are specific. So it would be even more feasible to practice smiling and maintaining eye contact in every interaction you have with a co-worker, family member or store cashier for the next hour.

It’s also helpful if our practices are framed as “do’s” instead of “don’ts” or “won’ts.” Because you can’t do a “don’t.”* If you say I won’t be mean, but you’re accustomed to being mean, what will you do instead? If it’s not already your established habit, you’ll reach for something in a good-faith effort to practice your practice, but you may not find anything if you didn’t establish possibilities for new behaviors when you set your intention. Thus, the suggestion to offer a smile and maintain eye contact, rather than saying, “don’t be such a jerk to cashiers, Mary!”

What are you (inspired to begin) practicing?

*Hat tip to Marshall Rosenburg for this idea.

Photo Credit: Bill Hails

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