The barking began at dawn. It continues even now. It’s not unusual; I have a neighbor with a dog that barks any time it is left outside, which is… often. It is frustrating and annoying, and incessant. The neighbor has received many complaints about the dog and the barking, and the reply is generally the same, “Well, I’ve tried to teach him to stop barking, but it doesn’t work. Dogs bark.” I gave that some thought, at the time, and even during the six months that I was home every day, I don’t recall ever seeing that neighbor working with their dog, at all. I wondered then, and this morning, what exactly my neighbor “tried”. I don’t see anything going on that looks like practice or training.

Dogs can indeed be trained not to bark (at the moon, at shadows, at strangers, because they are lonely…), it requires practice. Do the thing. Do it again. And again another time, and again after that. Then repeat all the practicing. Begin again, again. There are verbs involved, and a practice is not a noun, however much it may seem to be based on its function in a sentence. It requires consideration. Awareness. Intention. Will. Did I mention the practicing?

I’m sure my neighbor would be irked with me to hear me suggest that she isn’t actually making any particular effort to train her dog not to bark every hour of the day it is left outside. No doubt she believes her internal narrative that she “tried everything” and “nothing worked”. Haven’t we all said as much to ourselves – and our friends and loved ones – about something? Is it really the true literal truth in fact? Have I indeed “tried everything”? Have I truly practiced the needed practices with the necessary constancy? Have I tried, failed, and begun again sufficiently often? Or… did I try, fail, and then tell myself that I tried and failed and therefore “it didn’t work”? I see a difference there. Once I noticed that difference, it became more difficult to allow a negative experience to be who I am; we become what we practice.

Yes, there are verbs involved. No, change doesn’t happen solely because I’ve accepted that change would have value, or even because I am desperate to experience change. One evening in the yard training my chronically barking dog isn’t going to change that dog’s behavior long-term (or maybe at all) – practice is an ongoing thing.  So it also is with anxiety, with depression, with anger, with emotional volatility, with disorder, with sloth, with overeating, with nail biting… Hell, any number of troubling or challenging human experiences can be eased with one practice or another – if change is actually practiced. Fail. Begin again. Practice. We become what we practice. (Not one word of that implies “easy” or suggests effort would not be required.)

It works in a subtle way; even practicing ignoring that barking dog has an outcome rooted in incremental change over time.

Is your dog barking? What will you do about it? Endure it? Change it? There are verbs involved, and the choices are yours. So is the requirement to practice.

About that barking...? (photo by Emma Harris, used with permission)

About that barking…? (photo by Emma Harris, used with permission)

A very long time ago, I “tried meditation” and “it didn’t work for me”. I went forward in life for many years (decades) quite convinced by that experience that “meditation doesn’t work”, and gave it no further thought. My PTSD symptoms worsened over time, rather than improving. After all, dogs bark. We become what we practice. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t getting any better… hadn’t I “tried everything”?

In 2012, I stopped trying. I wasn’t sure what I would do instead, hell, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to live any more. I mention it because that seems a long time ago now, although it has been only 4 years since February 2013, when I started actually practicing meditation (and some other things) – and I do mean really practicing. Daily. Reliably. Even when I “don’t have time”. Even when “it isn’t convenient”. Even though I “wasn’t sure I was doing it right”. Even though I “wasn’t sure it would work”. Even when I found myself certain “it isn’t working”. Even when I thought “my life was falling completely to pieces”. Even when I thought “love might be lost” over my chaos and damage. Even when I wasn’t sure I wanted to live at all. I kept practicing, and failing, and beginning again.

We become what we practice. By practicing calm, I have become calmer. By practicing perspective and sufficiency, I have gained perspective, and learned what is “enough” for me. By practicing non-violence, I have become more peaceful. By practicing feeling content, I have become more able (and likely) to experience contentment. By practicing being awake and aware in this moment, I have become more present in my life, and in my relationships. By practicing listening, I become more likely to hear what is being shared. By practicing kindness, I have become kinder.

Today is a good day to practice being the human being I most want to be. Isn’t every day? 😉