Archives for posts with tag: practice makes more practice

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? ūüėČ

I didn’t sleep last night. I’m not sure why. It probably doesn’t matter. The night didn’t seem long, and it wasn’t at all stressful, I just wasn’t sleeping most of the night. I don’t recall being aware of, or concerned about, the passage of time… perhaps I slept and merely dreamed that I was awake? I’m groggy this morning, tending to support my perception of poor quality sleep in limited quantity. Spelling mistakes are more common. My head aches. My eyes feel sticky. I’m not at all cross, yet, but hey – the day is young. I laugh out loud and startle myself with the harsh edge to the sound of it. Hmm… a good day to take care of this fragile vessel.

Sunrise. A chance to begin again, every time.

Sunrise. A chance to begin again, every time.

I cool the apartment while the morning temperatures are low. I sip my coffee. I catch up my email, and follow up on job search tasks. It’s all very organized and systematic, which is almost irrelevant most days of late, these are qualities I am relying on this morning to get me through the day. I find myself easily distracted and a little out of sorts over the practical matter of squinting at my monitor. I notice again that I am overdue for new glasses, and my prescription lens’ clearly need to be somewhat different than they are. The sunshine pours in over the windowsill, spilling across my fingers and the backs of my hands like some exotic liquid. My years are more obvious in the unforgivingly revealing summer sunshine. I smile. These are my hands. They have served me well all these years. It’s quite okay that the years show a bit. I’ve worked hard to get here.

My thoughts are fractured and inefficient. The lack of sleep matters more than I want it to. I find myself struggling to remember something (is it a real something, or have I imagined it?) that I had wanted to do today, or wanted to plan today for some other day, or…something. Perhaps I’ve only imagined it? Perhaps I am thinking of something already planned, now, and confused myself thinking there remains some detail to be planned? Perhaps it is something important – isn’t that the fear? That I’ve forgotten something important? Doesn’t change how the forgetting feels… This vague sense of something missing lingers. lol Perhaps a walk in the early morning sunshine will clear my head, and wake me up? I smile when I notice the time; I am ‘right on schedule’ for my morning walk. Funny how our ‘sense of things’ can so easily sync up with things like time of day, day of week, or seasons… It feels very natural to be preparing to walk right now.

I enjoy living life more or less ¬†unscripted these days. It’s nice to know I can fall back on a ¬†handful of good habits to ‘keep me on the path’, when I am tired, or rushed, or feeling disorganized.

Was it an email I wanted to write, or…? Damn it. I’m still stuck on whatever it is I feel I am forgetting. lol Today is a good day to let it go, and be mindful and present in this moment. I think I’ll do that. ūüôā

This morning I woke hurting. The hot shower didn’t do much to ease my stiffness, nor did the yoga. Meditation felt natural and balancing and vaguely routine. My coffee is tasty, but lukewarm already. It’s Halloween, and I’m not in costume. (Not out of any meanness or because I’m taking a stand about this or that, I just didn’t because I generally just don’t.) No headache this morning; just the arthritis. I find myself feeling fairly hopeful about the day ahead, based on the beginning bit right here.

I’ll have the house to myself this weekend. I’m neither enthusiastic about it, nor am I concerned; it simply is. I will enjoy the solitude for meditation, painting, and listening to music that falls into the category of “no one else here actually likes this stuff”, and probably turning it up louder than usual. I’ll spend much of the time on household tasks; I dislike coming home to a house that hasn’t been cared for as well as it would have been if everyone was home, so I attempt to get the same workload done that would have been done anyway, to prevent my family having that experience. I’ve never asked anyone if they need that from me. I sometimes work beyond the point at which resentment begins, which seems a poor choice. I make a promise to myself to question that impulse if it arises this weekend…and to ask my family, sometime, what they actually want/need of a homecoming after a weekend away. Perhaps indentured servitude isn’t actually on their list? Silly human primate… mindful service¬†to home and hearth – and love – is on my list. ¬†Mindful service, however, doesn’t cause resentment. lol

The pain I’m in colors my experience, and my words. I feel less fun, less thrilled with life in general, but it isn’t really a big deal – it’s just pain, and¬†I find myself dissatisfied with just allowing it to call the shots this way. I do more yoga, focusing on postures that I know are most likely to ease the pain, and reduce my stiffness. My Rx pain medication starts to kick in, too, which helps.

"Like dreams dying.." I said bleakly one day. "Like dreams drifting within reach" she replied with love and compassion.

“Like dreams dying…” I said bleakly one day. “Like dreams drifting within reach” she replied with love and compassion.

I’m in the middle of a grand adventure, with an exciting story arc, and amazing unpredictable plot twists… it’s my life. Learning to live it, eyes open, engaged, present, and in use of both intention and will, is an adventure like no other. I’m learning so much! Since I started this post without a specific clear inspiration, and in pain, I take a moment between each paragraph for another yoga posture, or a few minutes of meditation, or some moments contemplating a recent good experience or feeling in fullness in the hope of improving implicit memory and reducing negative bias. All of it ‘works’ – meaning to say it is all effective at driving those subtle internal changes of heart, of experience, of… default settings. It all requires practice.

That’s the thing, isn’t it? Practicing doesn’t stop, and there is no ‘perfect’ to reach. Mastery isn’t the goal. The practices themselves are both the experience and the goal. Life is the journey – and the destination. We are here. Now. I am. This is. It’s so easy to stray from what works… a catchy article on Facebook can so easily get my attention before I pause to meditate, and find me having used up all the time I planned in the morning for meditation… days later, I could easily find that I’ve stopped meditating in the morning, and begun reading the news. Again. Frankly, reading the news in the morning correlates directly to the very factual and real experience of my blood pressure going up, staying up, and requiring medication. Meditation, on the other hand, does not. Quite the contrary, once I gave up reading the news as a practice, my blood pressure has since tended to be quite normal, and I don’t take blood pressure medication any more. It’s easy to fall back on poor choices, not because they have more value than good choices, but because [and this is my own experience, only] they were practices I practiced for so long before practicing better practices that they easily become the practices I return to; neurons that fire together, wire together. Habits are habitual. We become what we practice most. What we practice is easiest to do. ¬†Reading the news is just an example of one problematic practice I struggle to let go of; I read so chronically, that words in my visual field are incredibly difficult to refrain from reading. You probably have your own problem practices, or old habits that don’t support taking the best care of you, or foster your development to become the being you most want to be.

So, here it is Friday. The weekend is imminent for many of us. What will I do with it to become more the woman I most want to be? What will I choose to practice that will tend to result in being more kind, more compassionate, and treating myself and others truly well – no strings attached? What practices will I commit to each day that ease my suffering, and the suffering of others? What choices can I make that improve the world I live in? Today is a good day to commit to being the best of who I am. It’s Halloween. Today is a good day to take off the mask.

And sadly, the fun of it may die right there…because this morning, rather than being some sly joke, or foreshadowing of words to come, today’s title sort of stands there mocking me. Yep. I woke feeling good. I slept pretty well. I’m in pain, but also in a pleasant mood. We have additional house guests, and the ‘vibe’ in the background feels different – and I know I bring much of that experience with me, simply because I am, if nothing else, the one making the observation, and therefore most likely it is simply my own experience. My espresso is tasty and hot this morning, a purist’s dream; one double shot, pulled well, good crema, just the right temperature, without adornment, flavor additives, or sweeteners. Lovely. Coffee.

I woke ahead of the alarm, which doesn’t quite go without saying, but is the likely experience each morning. There was an instant when an idea of what might be ‘worthy’ to write about slipped by my consciousness ever-so-briefly, and then dissipated with the morning realization that pain starts now. Here I sit, now, fingers poised over the keyboard chuckling in the background about the humor in transposing nouns after reading a comic early in the morning shared from xkcd.com… And… I’ve got nothing. This morning, I have nothing to say. Apparently. This is rare and extraordinary. Now what?

Googling ‘how does inspiration work’ for my own amusement returns 166,000,000 results in .48 seconds. Huh. Not one article on the first page of the search holds much promise in the moment, and suddenly the fire of my moment of curiosity is quenched – because I also don’t much feeling like investing in this particular inquiry at this particular moment. My restless mind is largely a byproduct of my level of pain this morning; my helpful brain is studiously working to take my mind off of my pain, while also continuing to contemplate it. lol This is not an efficient use of mental bandwidth. I feel a bit frustrated with myself; this time in the morning isn’t about pushing information into the eye holes of the world. It isn’t a test of endurance in office chairs, either. This is quiet time to reflect and be content and… and I feel like I’m dealing with a fussy toddler, while also being the fussy toddler.

Just thoughts over coffee - less filling than tiramisu.

Just thoughts over coffee – less filling than tiramisu.

A few minutes of meditation later, and I am contemplating assumptions and whether our (my) response to other people is based on what we (I) know, or what we (I) assume. I occasionally find myself feeling argumentative with a person more because of who they are (seem to be) than what they are saying, even behaving contentiously in response to information I actually agree with. I am on the verge of saying ‘it makes no sense’ when I realize how utterly irrelevant that observation would be – because the phenomenon itself is not about ‘making sense’ in the first place. I had an experience last night that seems relevant. We have additional house guests overnight, visiting friends passing through who are dear to my traveling partner. I’ve only recently met them, myself, and getting to know people beyond the superficial moments is something I like to do, but have some challenges with doing it gently. Disinhibition has been a challenge for me for the entirety of my recollection of living. The excitement of meeting new people, mixed in with the specifics of my life experiences, and the disinhibition, results in a generalized sense that I am ever-teetering on the edge of saying something completely inappropriate at just the wrong time – and not finding out about it until later, from some astonished and dismayed third-party. ¬†I have to wonder if, for my loved ones, watching me getting to know someone has something in common with watching a toddler handle a small kitten for the first time – mostly just kind of nerve-wracking. Last night I found myself feeling inclined to argue with one of our guests, and each time I felt it surge in my tone I was surprised to observe that I wasn’t disagreeing with the content of what he was saying. So… what the hell?

I’m generally a decent sort. (Hey, that feels nice – have you said something nice to you lately? Maybe take a moment now? Try it – it’s lovely.) I’m not particularly contrary or prone to being confrontational at this point in my life… so what’s up with ‘feeling argumentative’? Why is that even a feeling to choose from? It’s not a very pleasant one, and it doesn’t make a good impression. I can’t say I approve at all of ‘disagreeing with the person’ rather than disagreeing with a point they are making, and if it weren’t so annoying it would be hilarious to find myself, again and again, feeling provoked to disagree with stuff I actually agree with… for no obvious reason. I gave myself a moment of compassion over being so utterly human, and some patience with myself in the moment. This morning as I contemplate it I realize what I was actually disagreeing with – neither the man nor the content of his statements – it was the form in which they were presented: flat assertions, unsupported except anecdotally, delivered with conviction and a challenging tone – in anticipation of disagreement. Well. That’s likely to get a rise out of me, however carefully I police myself… I’m the sort who will actually ask my own friends to cite their references in a conversation, or point out a logical fallacy (with sketches).

It’s not a bad morning to consider being considerate. It’s even a pretty good one. Good, too, for considering a better approach to communication (maybe “I agree with what you are saying. I’m interested in where you are getting information that you feel so confident about it, though; I’d love to read more.”?) It’s nice that not all of life’s lesson have me weeping in a corner. It’s okay to smile and say “that’s a great perspective!” ūüôā

...One possible perspective of many.

…One possible perspective of many.

I got home from work last night numb from the neck up, figuratively speaking, although the sensation of it wasn’t far off. I was exhausted, having slept only about 22 hours in the number of days I’d typically sleep 40, and frequently interrupted, however briefly, throughout the week. By Thursday night I wasn’t really sleeping at all. I did manage a 90 minute nap, in the wee hours immediately preceding my alarm going off. Last night it was no effort to do some yoga, manage appropriate calories, have a shower and go to bed; I was on auto pilot at that point, and just following steps that had been planned and mentally rehearsed much earlier in the day. I slept deeply, and woke early – 4:00 am. I don’t know what woke me, perhaps I’d simply had sufficient rest. I tried to go back to sleep, but my brain was having none of that, and I found myself doing what I have so often found myself doing, awake in the darkness; I started thinking about what I want and don’t have, and what I loved that I now lack, the long-yearned-for unreachables, the wonders snatched from me by circumstance, the emotional hurts and betrayals large and small that are part of my (the) human experience – both those I have felt, and those I have delivered… and it’s probably no surprise that I started feeling anxious, discontent, sad, frustrated and near tears. There are still choices.

It isn’t easy. I just keep at it, though, because practicing meditation is changing my experience in a positive way over time; so I gave up on more sleep, and meditated. It helps. While I’m calm and centered and just being, there in the stillness before dawn, I become aware of how much physical pain I am in, too. I get up and do some yoga, slowly easing myself through the sequence that helps me loosen up each morning, and then on to some favorite poses that just feel good to me, and keep me present and engaged in the moment. That helps, too. Still finding myself feeling moody, and vaguely discontent and resentful, I take a couple deep calming breaths and instead of squashing down my feelings, I relaxed and let them evolve, and listened to what my heart might have to say about things. Just giving myself a moment to be okay with my experience, and my emotions helps, too, although this one is still more challenging as new practices go. I haven’t quite gotten the hang of it, so I practice rather carefully, and sometimes it feels a bit formulaic, as though I take each step quite separately, reading off a check list in my head.

IMAG2435

Practice results in incremental changes over time, each moment building our experience.

I realize that I’m carrying around some hurt over something small. I consider the importance I have chosen to place on emotional self-sufficiency, and ask myself different questions that I might once have asked. Instead of the frustrated angry ‘why me?’ sorts of questions, I take a moment to ask myself ‘what is the underlying value involved here?’ and ‘what is the unmet need seeking fulfillment in this moment?’ and ‘how can I reinforce good practices to ensure this need is well met, without relying on any emotional resources but my own?’ It’s proving to be a useful and effective approach for me.

It takes a change of perspective.

It takes a change of perspective.

 

In this case, the underlying value seemed to be one of The Big 5, Respect. Feeling disrespected, in this particular instance over the way I use language in conversation was more ‘disrespect’ with a small ‘d’, rather than ‘Disrespect’ with a big ‘D’; it just wasn’t ‘a deal breaker’, because it was over an aesthetic matter – and those are entirely unarguably personal preferences that no one can take from us. I needed, however, to feel appreciated¬†with regard to the way I use¬†language. ¬†I made an espresso, sat down at my desk and caught up on my email, checked in with early bird friends, and friends in far away time zones. I chatted with people I hadn’t taken time for in a while, and savored the varied conversational styles of each. I didn’t start writing, here, until later in my morning than is typical, and by the time I did I was in a completely different head space. ¬†I suspect I am writing very differently than I might had I simply begun to write in the minutes sometime after I woke at 4:00 am.

IMAG2422

I have no relevant caption for this, I just like this picture.

I’ll be honest, I do feel better ¬†– but there are things in my life I’m not satisfied with, and I’ve got things to work on as a human being. I struggle with some baggage, and I make mistakes that hurt people I love. Sometimes I’m¬†unpleasant to be around¬†when I’m in pain, or my hormones are messing with me. Sometimes I don’t treat people as well as I mean to, or as well as I want to.¬†I’m not as strong as I may appear. I feel sad and disappointed with myself when I ‘don’t get things right’ – and some of my expectations and demands of myself are clearly not reasonable.

Sometimes finding my way is as simple as a good night’s sleep, sometimes it is much more complicated than that. ¬†I know I am loved, and I’m learning to accept that it is most important that in that feeling of being loved, I must include my own voice, and with real enthusiasm and affection. This morning, progress is enough.