Life is Practice
I was doing tai chi this morning. It's a really fun and helpful practice especially for working through the mind-body connection. After I finished I started to think about how tai chi and yoga are referred to as "practices."
I think it's because they aren't geared toward a specific competitive goal. I also think its because the idea is that you just keep "practicing" so that you can grow as a person and the process is also the destination.
Then I started thinking that this mindset is actually really helpful for life in general. I mean, in a way isn't every moment both the goal and the process of practicing for the next?
You can "practice" in this moment what you will become in the next and then in that moment you "practice" for the next and each moment is both the goal and the process of preparation for the next goal.
I think that this mindset increases a sense of responsibility but also decreases a need for perfection in carrying out that responsibility. This increase/ decrease makes life both harder and easier.
If every moment is "the" moment that you become who you are and also a step in the direction that will take you to the next "the" moment then there is a lot of pressure to use each moment in a way that is appropriate for your personal goals, desires, and growth. It makes you wonder who you are becoming in each moment by making the choices you make. Choosing to act or not act, rest or not rest, play or work or anything else-- none of which are bad (except the obvious destructive things like murder, robbery, or generally tearing someone down for the sake of power, hatred, manipulation or fear)-- is preparing you for what you will become in the next moment. Every decision you make is your responsibility (even if it is a decision not to decide). Who you are in this moment is a result of who you "practiced" being in previous moments and is also "practice" for who you will become in future moments. It's all on you. So, are you the person you want to be? If not, what do you need to "practice" to become that person. This is not to say that we should all strive to be the same person. Who you want to be is not necessarily the same as who I want to be? What you value doesn't have to be what I value, etc. It also doesn't mean that you should always "work" at being something. Maybe you want to be a person who values relaxation or is able to play. Maybe you want to be well-balanced. In these cases working all the time is actually not allowing you to "practice" being who you want to be. Regardless of whether you want use your time for work or play, acceptance or discipline, or a little of both who you "practice" being is ultimately your choice and if you aren't paying attention you will likely respond to unexpected changes based on what you have been "practicing." If you don't like your response, you can always start small and change how you practice living.
Some people like perfectionism. Cool. If you do then go for it. I personally don't like how I feel when I get stuck in that mindset. It makes me feel stressed, scared, helpless, restless and tired. While the term "practice" increases responsibility because it forces you to acknowledge that you do have control over how you respond to your life, it also decreases the need for every choice and response to be perfect. Why? Because it's just practice. You are working on becoming who you want to be. Every day, every moment, you make choices about what that means. You don't wake up and say today I'm going to be a world-renowned athlete (for example) and then go compete and expect to win. You put in the practice. Every day you practice whatever you need to do to become that athlete. You don't have to feel the pressure to compete everyday (even though I've heard some athletes say that helps them) but you need to put in the work. You are practicing so that when you get a chance to compete you can succeed, but even that competition is just a more intense version of "practice" for the competition that will come after it.
Not everyone wants to be a world renowned athlete (I know I don't). But I think most people have an idea of who they want to be or what they want to be like. Maybe that is someone who is authentic to your true feelings, maybe it is someone who is hardworking, or creative, or smart, or anything else (usually there is more than one characteristic involved). Cool. You know how you get to be that person? You practice. You don't have to be the most hardworking, creative or intelligent person in the world, but you choose to work hard. You choose to explore creativity. You choose to learn. And making those choices will inevitably take you closer to your goal.
Practice is both the outcome and the goal. When I do yoga, for example, I know that I'm not going to get the form correct (I am neither flexible nor strong) but I'm going to make an an effort and guess what, I'm stronger and more flexible now that I would have been if I hadn't tried. For me it's worth it. So yes, thinking of every moment as "practice" for every next moment can be terrifying but also liberating, because it is essentially a way of giving you power over your life.
There are no excuses. You don't get to say "I can't do yoga because I'm not flexible," if you are just practicing to increase your flexibility. You don't get to say that you can't run because you aren't athletic if you are practicing building endurance. You can choose not to run. You can choose not to do yoga, but "can't" isn't a valid excuse anymore-- which really is kind of cool because it means that in time, you "can" do just about anything. If you are willing to "practice" it.