Graduating is a Lifelong Practice

Single Path 0313We graduate from one moment to the next. Every breath we take has a beginning and an end, and what occurs between that beginning and end is a lesson in living.

From the intake of the breath and all that it holds–the experience of it–to the release of the breath as the moment unfolds is an exercise we practice all the days of our lives.

Graduation is neither success nor failure but a series of milestones, markers of where we were, indicators that we have gone on to what comes next. Sometimes, that is only the next breath. Other times, graduation is a moment of accomplishment, of adding another tool to the toolbox that we carry through life.

Life is its own school, with assignments unique to each one of us. Always, there are questions; always, there are options.

I get up every morning determined to both change the world

and have one hell of a good time.

Sometimes, this makes planning my day difficult.

E.B. White

Graduation does not guarantee changing the world or having a hell of a good time but it does get us from one point in life to the next. It is a reminder that breathing is always an option. For the rest, we have our ever-expanding toolbox.

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Throughout our lives we make choices. It is indeed a milestone when we are thoughtful in our word, taking nothing and no one for granted, doing our best not to take things personally. This moment of graduation is available in every moment we live. Its lifelong tool is awareness.

Awareness helps us sort our options wisely, carefully, especially when our choice is one difficult path or another. Awareness reveals the hollowness in magical thinking for no decision made with heart ever rings hollow.

Many times, we approach crossroads that seem so familiar that we are sure we have been in this same spot before yet life does not afford us that luxury, not quite. We are not the same as we were, and neither are our options. Each moment in life is as unique as each breath. We graduate from one decision to the next.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

(“The Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost)

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Graduation requires we immerse ourselves into life with our head below our heart so that we do not leave the difficult choices to someone else while we wither in weakness. Rather, we lead with our heart as we stand, perhaps alone, for what we know is right.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

Martin Luther King

Our graduation from the womb to the outside world is the first of many, the beginning of miles of stone markers of the path traveled, the one that made all the difference.


Life as a Juggler

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.

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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.
Corita Kent

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.

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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.

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