The act of living, breath by breath, is our practice, unique to each one of us and universal to all. Our practice is what we do with the life we have. In some form or another, this idea has always framed the way I live.
There were the decades that I brandished about the label of 19th century romantic, comfortable in believing that life is in the striving and the arriving is secondary. It was my variation of Emerson’s “life is a journey not a destination.”
For me, however, arriving was important. It meant goal accomplished, an item checked off my list. Age has shown me that the value of a list is in its items. If the items reflect our practice, every day is a fresh read of our life list.
These days, my list is limited to four: compassion, loving-kindness, joy, and equanimity for all in all things. This universal list is inherent in every major spiritual tradition, eastern or western. They are not items to check off but to practice in every experience I have.
What we give to the world is our daily practice; it reveals how we are doing. At the age of 90, cellist Pablo Casals said he continued to practice, “’because I think I am making progress.’” Practice is personal first and public second.
To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.
I came late to practice and its heart, discipline, but I arrived. My daily practice of meditation and yoga bring me to my list of compassion, joy, love, and gratitude every morning. Some days, I can see progress but there are many days of practice for its discipline.
Discipline helps me as a writer and as a chronically ill person, as my life not only constantly changes but expands in ways I never imagined. Yet, the list that guides my life stays the same. No longer interested in striving or arriving, I perceive my life through perspectives new and bold. My discipline is not manipulating my state of being but being in my life as it unfolds.
My life and my list differ from yours yet it is the practice of our lives that connects us. Together, we are coloring existence for every other form of life.
In my life practice, meditation is more than a matter of sitting in stillness. It really is a matter of “changing postures,” as Ajahn Chah called it, bringing stillness into the chaos of every day as life unfolds, moment by moment, nanosecond by nanosecond.
I am learning to juggle rather than to struggle, no matter how many balls are in the air. I need only watch one at a time to keep all the rest in the air, allowing attention to each in its turn. It is my practice of the list that is my life.