Recently I began a food regimen that is designed to wean me off of my addiction to sugar.
And this means that I can eat certain foods and not others if I want to achieve this goal of no longer being a sugar slave.
The number of tasty nuggets NOT on the allowable foods list is relatively small. There’s certain things that I just can’t eat while I’m going through this exercise. Period. So the whole process is not complicated. It’s really quite simple.
But the hard part is actually doing it. Because it’s not just a one shot deal. It’s something that I’ve made a commitment to for 30 days (and hopefully the rest of my life) which means that I need to make the choice to eat in a particular way many times throughout the course of a day. And then do it again the next day. And the next and the next.
Which made me realize that the choice to do this is really the choice to take on a practice. And got me thinking about what it means to have a practice of any kind. So I came up with a list of a few qualities and attitudes that are critical to the process of creating a robust and living practice.
DEVOTION + CHOICE
One aspect of ANY practice is that it involves devotion to something that you value and cherish and want to cultivate. And always invokes the element of active choice.
The thing I realized in exploring this idea of practice, is that we are always practicing something. But you need to be clear that you are devoting yourself to something that you really WANT to be practicing.
If I come back to the food issue, I have been a devoted sugar and refined carbohydrates disciple for many years now. I worshipped daily at the altar of chocolate and bread and cookies and crackers.
I valued and cherished the shadow comfort, as my friend and author Jennifer Louden would call it, that came from eating these types of foods.
This was definitely a practice, but one that was also in direct conflict with other values near and dear to my heart like my physical health, genuine self-care and feeding myself with things that TRULY nurtured me.
It was also a practice that I did not consciously choose. It was something that I just fell into doing, and in fact it came from a place in me that was kind of numbed out and brain dead. And it did not make me feel good about myself. It was a practice steeped in shame and “day after” remorse.
A true practice expands your sense of yourself… not your waistline. It allows you to feel more awake and alive. More connected to what is good and true and beautiful. It is fed by the power of devotion. So you need to take devotion very seriously. And be very clear about where you focus that precious energy of your capacity to devote yourself to something. Making sure that it is the absolutely right-for-you something.
INTENTION + ACTION + EFFORT
A practice always begins with an intention.
And then the practice AMPLIFIES that intention through action. A practice isn’t a practice if all you do is think about it. You need to actually DO things to bring it alive.
A true practice is something that you decide to do and it usually requires more than a bit of effort to achieve. And there are going to be times when you don’t want to make that effort. But you have to do it anyway. That’s what makes it a practice.
There are a million different reasons to not do your practice. The forces of entropy are legion. Quite often, resistance shows it face as things like forgetfulness and busyness.
As the whining “I don’t WANT to’s”.
The pouty and petulant “This is getting to be all HARD and stuff!!”
And of course as the ever popular, uber-rebellious “You can’t MAKE me’s!!”
Your practice is always a commitment to you. And a commitment to the highest and best version of you. It’s not a commitment to only doing it when it’s easy or convenient or when you feel like it. It’s something that you do EVERY day… and preferably multiple times a day.
For it to work it needs to become your life.
THE CONTINUAL CHALLENGE OF STAYING AWAKE
The purpose of a practice is for you to become more awake, more aware, more conscious.
To fight against the tendency we all have to go to sleep to ourselves and to drift along through our lives on automatic pilot. Because that default pattern of falling asleep is SO strong, we need to make sure that our practice doesn’t just fall into a drowsy habit.
A practice is a living thing. Which means our practice needs to grow as we grow.
For example, I have a daily practice of compassion and empathy. And I began that practice with my students and clients. Which was actually pretty great because it was like being PAID to do my practice.
Over the years, my compassion muscle in those circumstances became very robust. And relatively automatic. And no longer the same sort of challenge that it once was.
So I’ve expanded that original practice into something that I learned from one of my mentors and shamanic teachers Jose Stevens … something that he learned from the Huichol Indians … recognizing EVERYONE on the planet as another me.
When I take my daily hikes out in my local nature park I practice seeing each person I walk past as “another me.” This has opened up my heart in some brand new ways. Because when I see other folks as another version of me I FEEL them not just see them. I find myself saying things as I pass them like “ Oh wow… other me seems really sad today. Or… Other me is AWFULLY cranky… or scared. Or… So cool. Other me is wonderfully filled with joy today.”
I get inside of them in a whole new way. And find it difficult to be as annoyed or judgmental as I would normally be when I see these “strangers” as separate from me. It has increased my compassion immensely and given me a greater feeling of connection with a much larger and diverse group of humans than the ones who come through my studio doors.
Once this practice becomes more entrenched, I will turn my sites on having that same kind of compassion for other drivers when I’m in my car. Something I’m not particularly looking forward to because I know that one is going to be ESPECIALLY demanding.
A practice is designed to shift energy. And to also open you up to greater, bigger and more expanded energies.
In my workshops and retreats we have a rhythm of daily practices that amp up the energy of creativity. We have a daily dance party. We breathe and move and express ourselves through our bodies. We make playful non verbal connections with each other. We paint for hours a day. We listen to our intuitve promptings and take action based on what they are telling us. We make a point of becoming more mindful of the inner critic and how it’s trying to run the show. We sit in sacred circle and speak our truth into a container of love and trust and compassion.
At the end of my retreats folks are often literally BURSTING with energy. With joy. With a deeper connection to the core of their being. With a clearer sense about who they are and what they need to bring into their lives that will allow them to be happy and satisfied and fulfilled.
Oftentimes this energy is difficult to tolerate because it feels so unfamiliar.
It’s one of the main reasons that folks have a hard time continuing with a practice. We learn to identify with our smallness. Our limitations. Our sense of diminishment. And when that identity gets challenged… when we start to experience ourselves as someone so much BIGGER than we thought we could be… we freak out and STOP doing the very things that support that sense of expansion.
So when you start shutting down to your practices it’s important to remember that this means you are choosing to devote yourself to smallness. To habit. To old outmoded stories. And ultimately to fear.
THE PRACTICE IS THE PRIZE
I was recently asked how to live a life that is based on love instead fear.
And I responded by saying that what I do is to CONCENTRATE on love. When it speaks, I listen. I do what it tells me. I don’t argue with it or try to dodge it.
I cultivate it. Become devoted to it. Make it a priority. Love is where I FOCUS MY ATTENTION. As much as humanly possible. I don’t waste as much time on fear because it’s NOT VERY MUCH FUN.
I emphasize what has energy and juice and aliveness for me (some other names for love). I notice what is calling to me from my heart and my soul. And then I do those things. I follow those threads. Every day. Multiple times a day. No matter what.
And the more I take action around what has energy for me, the more it feeds on itself. That’s where the practice comes in. I simply do those things that feed love. I don’t do the things that feed fear… at least most of the time. So the love gets bigger. And the fear gets smaller.
It seems like magic. But it’s only the hard work miracle of disciplining yourself to keep your eyes OFF the crap and on the prize.
There is a concept that I love that comes from the Sufi tradition where they talk about the dance between what they call self forgetting and self remembering. And self remembering is all about coming back again and again to the truth of the radiance of who you REALLY are. And you do that through the practice of remembering.
Practices develop a momentum, which means that over time the practice becomes easier because it becomes a part of you. You begin to identify with the practice.
When it comes right down to it, your practice IS your life. And your practices create who you are.
If you practice love, you become love. If you practice courage you become courageous. If you practice wisdom, you become wise.
While it’s not at all easy, it really is that simple.
So the question is always this. Are you willing to allow yourself to be that big. That amazing. That full of gorgeous magic. That identified with love. That gloriously alive.
That full of yourself in the best possible way.
If the answer is YES …. Then it may be time to embrace and re-commit to whatever those practices are that will support you in nurturing what is most true and essential in your being and your soul. Time to step into your full power and radiance. And time to live your life from the hugely gorgeous luminosity that you were always meant to be.