~ awake in this moment, at home in the world ~

All Life is Practice

March 16, 2020
Hello, my friends -

I hope you are faring well. I hope you are acclimating as best you can to this new world turned upside-down. I hope you are pausing each day to take a few deep breaths, to listen to the birds, and to remind yourself that life is manageable.

Difficult? Probably. A little scary? Likely. Unpredictable? For sure. And manageable? Yes!

It has to be. What is the other choice?

It looks like we are in for a long haul ahead. We need to gird ourselves for not just days or weeks of being homebound, but likely for several months. This will be our spring. Possibly even our summer. And when we come out the other side, life isn't going to pop right back into place. Chances are good that we will be "in recovery" for a long while ahead.

We need to have a plan. We need to build our strength and stamina. We need to put our time and energy and spirit to good use. We need to take this wide open space before us and turn it into something meaningful, something manageable, something useful to the world.

What is the alternative, anyway? An endless stretch of Netflix and Facebook? Ugh.

In my spiritual tradition, teachers like to say that "all life is practice." Every joy, every sorrow, every delight and every devastation offers us a chance to practice. Everything we face offers us an opportunity to grow, to learn, and to stretch into our fullest selves, on behalf of not just ourselves but the whole wide world.

Life as we know it has been obliterated, at least for now. At this moment, it seems, the rules of life, the patterns of our days, the rhythms that guide our lives, have been blasted into bits. We have very little right now to hang onto.

Somehow we have to find our footing again, if we don't want to be swept away by the tsunami of struggle heading out way. We need a plan, a path, a strategy. We need a life raft, perhaps, to carry us forward and keep ourselves afloat.

These last few days, when I have had the wisdom to turn off the television and turn my gaze inward, I have found myself running headlong into the spiritual practices I know and love. On a good day they feel like a cool breeze. On a bad day, they are a life-saving grace.

I climb onto my yoga mat and my breath immediately releases. I stand tall like bamboo in my qigong practice and sense  strength and vitality surging through my bones. I sit in meditation like a mountain in utter quiet, and find my way back into the still waters of peace and faith within.

I've pulled my poetry books off the shelf. I've stood outside and gazed upward at the true blue sky. Much to my kids' dismay, I've turned up the music and raised my voice and, um, well, maybe even danced a bit from time to time.

A practice is a refuge. A practice feels like coming home. A practice restores you. A practice leaves your head feeling clearer and your heart feeling brighter. A practice can be your bedrock, your steadying force, your good friend to lean into as you face uncertain times. A practice reminds you that somehow everything is going to be all right... even when you suspect it won't ever be the same again.

And you? What has been saving you? What are the practices that keep your boat afloat? Now is a good time to get really clear about what and who you are going to rely on in the months ahead. Prayer. Worship. Chanting. Singing. Nature. Friendship. Movement. Service. Silence. The world's faith traditions provide us with ample resources in that department.

Maybe you have other practices in your life that are a little less formal but just as effective. Laughter. Baking. Gardening. Knitting. Random acts of kindness. Hanging out with loved ones. Walking down the street with a friend. Running. Tai-chi. Painting. Studying. Getting lost in a good book. Cleaning. Creating.

Perhaps after mulling over the possibilities, some time today you might like to pull out a slip of paper and write "ALL LIFE IS PRACTICE" across the top. And then you might start your list. Don't get too caught up on whether something officially counts or is somehow "spiritual" enough to add. Think out of the box. Write it all down. Anything that brings you strength and light, anything that lifts you up, anything that rekindles your loving heart - it all counts.

You can probably guess my list...  Yoga, meditation, qigong. Poetry, knitting, writing, a good book. Nature, birds, the back yard, the boys, blue sky. Jasmine tea and deep rich chocolate. (I told you all life can be practice!) And best of all, love. Family to lean on and good friends to see each other through.

I have taped my list to my bedroom wall, so I can remember to practice in every way I can. And when I am feeling scared or anxious or just plain restless in the coming days, I will return to my list and the nourishment it points me toward.

Care to join me? I would love to learn what your practices are. When you look at your list in a certain light, doesn't it almost seem like poetry?

You won't be surprised, perhaps, to know that I have a few suggestions to add to your list of possible practices. Yoga, of course, and more. I have lots and lots of yoga practice ideas - and even guided audios - on my website, so feel free to seek them out. In addition, I have a few more possibilities to get you started.

If you haven't yet, please give qigong a try. This simple and enjoyable movement practice is one of my very favorite forms of mindful movement. (I explain why here.) Curious? Start with this practice for stress, energy and anxiety by Jeff Chand, my favorite qigong teacher. And if you are intrigued, join his site to gain access to dozens of accessible practices.

Do you just want to lie down and close your eyes? That's a practice, too! Yoga Nidra is a deep relaxation practice is part restorative yoga, part meditation, part philosophical inquiry and part nap. If you love yoga's savasana, or final relaxation, then please give this practice a try. Here's a page of guided iRest yoga nidra practices. If you like what you find, you can buy this audio and practice with it every day.

And you don't have to look far these days to find a wide range of meditation apps, videos and online courses. Meditation was made for moments like this. For starters, here's a guided meditation shared this week by longtime teacher Jack Kornfield. Please give meditation a try, and even if you think you've failed, try again. Day by day the practice will be come a good friend, a bringer of peace, and a life boat that sails you steadily across the stormiest seas of life.

Please take care. Please stay in touch. And please practice with all your heart!