All the world’s great religious traditions know the value of practices, the daily acts of repetition and dedication that can so profoundly shape who we become. In our day to day lives we’ve mostly forgotten this – leaning towards tools or goals instead. Both have value, but without practice we miss something very important.
The idea of practice is, at its heart, very simple. They’re rehearsals of a quality or way of being in the world that we wish to cultivate. Done regularly and with purposeful intent, they gradually shape and reshape our relationship to ourselves and to the world.
In this way practices are so very different to techniques or tools – which are intended to bring about some immediate shift or change in the world. And they’re different again to goals – ways in which we’ve got committed to bringing about a particular state of affairs that we wish for.
The wonderful possibility in good practices is that we take them up primarily for their own sake, not to change things in a hurry, nor to compare ourselves with standards we might never reach. We taken them up because doing them has its own intrinsic value, and because we flower and flourish in unexpected ways by being people who are practicing.
And the other wonderful possibility in practice is that we can take it day at a time. Practice now, today. Be scrupulously kind to ourselves when we miss it or forget tomorrow. And begin, again, the next day.
We’re all practicing already, whether we know it or not, in the daily routines by which we live our days. And so we can all ask ourselves whether the practices we’re in the middle of now have us be in life in the way we wish for or value, or whether it’s time, at last, to find a way to practice something new.