I was listening to a program on the BBC about how artists and regular folks in Helsinki are coping with the ongoing and unnerving Russian military aggression so close to their home. When the host asked for a show of hands for who feels the tension in their lives, only a small number of hands went into the air. One audience member explained their lack of worry and it struck me as especially poignant: in a crisis "if you know what to do, you don’t worry; you just do it." It got me thinking about the value of practice.
I just spent a couple weeks out of town for a variety of reasons: work conference, Taiji workshop, and my cousin's wedding. Each event had a completely different vibe and took place in very different locations. Some things about my regular life are hard to practice while traveling, like eating food that I'm not at least a little bit allergic to, or getting decent sleep without my pillow. Other things are much easier, like wearing a mask in public indoor spaces and working out in the surprisingly well-equipped hotel gym.
Even as I adapted to each set of new surroundings, I tried to seed my adaptation with the same intentions I use at home. Start the day with qigong. Eat leafy greens. Move my body. Show appreciation for the folks facilitating the many facets of my experience. Occupy my whole personal space. See the fullness of other people's humanity. Help if I can. And all those things are much easier to live-out in unfamiliar surroundings because they are so well rehearsed.
I didn't get to make my signature kale smoothy every day, but I found some kind of salad. The conference hotel had an amazing workout room, so I put on my mask and got to lifting, pressing, and sweating. There are any number of humans taking care of logistical minutia at any conference or hotel, so I had no shortage of opportunities to doll-out thank-yous. I asked for food accommodations for my allergies and said no to activities out of line with my desires or current Covid protocols. And I helped a couple more privileged folks see with a little more compassion the struggle of some other folks clearly living on the streets.
Even though the specific things I did were completely different manifestations, most things felt like the usual stuff I get up to. And it felt for the most part like I was continuing to cultivate things that are important to me. I especially enjoyed spending most of last week recharging my Taiji practice with a visit to my teacher for our annual whole-system camp. It was several days of taking really good care of myself and resting-in to deeper awareness and presence.
My Taiji practice in particular is extremely valuable. Feeling maximally centered and grounded makes absolutely every other part of my life experience richer and more rewarding. Not to mention the increased resilience and ability to better manage stress. If I don't practice every day in both small and big ways, my ability to be present for whatever comes my way is instead encumbered by the chaos and tragedy of living in tumultuous times. I want my experience of life to feel meaningful. And being present for whatever is happening allows that.
It's important to acknowledge the current iteration of my groundedness didn't just pop into existence one day. I built it slowly over time and out of many deliberate actions. I practiced being this way. I did small things in the beginning, just thinking about doing my qigong and showing up inconsistently to actually do it. Then I did it more regularly and for a little longer. Eventually I began to pay more attention while I did it and incorporate it into the rest of my daily life. As I grow, so does my practice. It is where it is today, and whatever I give to it will be what it is in the future.
I saw a short video in which a fitness coach told the story of a client who showed up at the gym, changed, put their stuff in a locker, spent 5 minutes exercising, then packed it all in and left. On its face, that 5 minutes doesn't seem like it will make a noticeable impact on that person's strength or fitness. But the fitness coach recognized that client was practicing the skill of showing up and commended that client. All other fitness and gym skills are built on top of that foundation, so it was the first and most important thing to practice.
Finland has been named the happiest country for several years running and people in the know seem quite keen to explain the sources of all that contentment. At its root is what the Finns are practicing. Over time they have built societal systems that ensure everyone's basic needs are met and every has access to health and education. Some of those systems, like education-for-all, began half a century ago and they persist today because individual Finns participate in maintaining those systems.
Recently I have been yearning for a significant shift in some parts of my life. Like a lot of people I am trying to figure out who I am and where I fit in to this not-quite-post Covid world. This week I realized I was looking for too big a change, so I missed all the fine detail of what my life is actually constructed from. Instead of asking whether I should go back to college or relocate to a new area, it will be much more valuable to consider all of what I am practicing. By examining all my intentional actions and unconscious defaults I can identify whether those practices are growing the life I want to live.
We are what we practice, both the things we knowingly and actively do and all the things we cultivate unconsciously. As a society we've done quite a lot of world-building unconsciously. We could all stand to be a little more aware of what towers we're constructing as we lay down each emotional and cultural brick. If enough of us pay enough attention enough of the time, we can build sparkle castles in the sky. So keep practicing what keeps you the most human, and continue to ask if those practices are serving the outcome you’re after.
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.