Although I’ve had a personal meditation practice since 2004, it began as a solo habit. I sat cross-legged on my bed with instrumental music on my CD player. Yes, CD players were still being used.
In 2009, I began attending a weekly meditation session. I tried three different ‘types’ of sessions and ended up sticking with the ‘Creative Meditation and Buddhism’ group because it mixed the practical meditation guidance with information about Buddhism and more local knowledge of how the local Buddhist Centre worked.
Across the next 4 years, I learned a ton, but one of the early lessons still impacts me today. The concept of practice.
The Practise of Practicing
One of the most profound Buddhist lessons for me was the idea that every task and event and day is a practice for future events.
This moment? It’s practice for the next. This job interview: practice for future job interviews. This moment of embarrassment, it’s practice for when I do my TED talk in 10 years' time. This driving lesson, practice for the next one.
Nothing is a waste.
Especially for those of us who might feel pressure to do well, the perfectionists or potential seekers. This is a concept I use to help ease the pressure, but also stop myself getting too relaxed about my goals. To consider how what I do affects who I am.
The concept is useful for those moments when you’re stressing out.
When I thought I’d failed my reverse-around-the-corner on my driving test, I assumed I’d failed, but still obviously tried to drive back to the center safely (no reason to endanger other people, you know?). I no longer felt stressed out, because I’d failed.
No point getting all perfectionist over this last parking manoeuvre.
If I do it, great.
If not, meh.
The rest of the test was a lot less stressful in my head after that moment. The moment when I mentally decided that this would just have to be driving practice rather than my accomplishment.
As it was, I passed my test (with some minors but a pass is a pass, damn it) and I recognized the gift I had given myself in this idea of letting this experience add up as ‘preparation’ rather than failure.
I have also used the reminder that everything is practice in job interviews and public speaking. It really can help you feel grounded in the reality that this moment will pass.
Every moment is Practice for the next.
The flip side of lowering unrealistic expectations is to encourage progress on goals and habits; focusing your time and attention in the right place. It’s kind of the ‘fresh start’ idea in action.
If you chose to eat a biscuit, after deciding to not eat biscuits… well, the next moment is a new moment. The next decision is a brand new decision. Will you have another? The choice is yours.
Equally, if you usually write 3 pages of the journal each day, but today you only managed one before your brain got distracted, or the cat threw up… you can choose what practice you use for the next moment. Will you return to it, move onto the next morning routine item, or ‘give up’ on the whole morning routine?
New Year is a common time for this theme to emerge: the all-or-nothing thinking, and the need for a whole fresh day, week or month. “I failed, I’ll start trying again on Monday.”
What if you took this moment’s lesson and made a new choice for the next moment?
We are what we regularly do.
This is especially interesting when coupled with the knowledge of neuroscience; where practice really does make progress. Our brains only become more connected, grow effectively, communicate efficiently purely by doing things over and over. The things we do often have pathways covered in a special sheath which makes it easier and faster for brain areas to work together.
There is something useful in every moment if you can be mindful in the moment. And none of us are mindful 24/7 (or at least, I’m not.) Yet, if we feel something is a ‘waste,’ it’s a little trigger to go “huh, what am I experiencing from this moment?”
What neuronal pathways are you growing? Or, in more human terms, who are you becoming through your actions?
“Everything is Practise.”
As my old Buddhist teacher would say “it’s all practise.” Every moment in life is practise for future life moments.
What are you practicing today?