What Really Makes a Daily Practice
Amanda wrote. She had been thinking of me, of Dancemeditation because she wanted to get going on a daily personal practice. This was not the first time she approached me. Her persistence is a good sign. Many people seek me out expressing anything from an interest to a desperate need for a regular practice. In response, I have organized trainings bursting with techniques to deepen and relax, increase sensorial existence and calm overactive minds. I have made instructional DVDs and online courses to sustain practice at home. As well, I have written extensively about every aspect of practice. Considering this, I briefly wondered if I had done too much, fostering dependence, making the trudge appear more entertaining than it is. This time with Amanda’s request, a wave of clarity washed over me. I had never said the one, most important thing, possibly because it seemed too obvious. I don’t know. But I had not said this one thing…
One Little Problem
Why do we desire a daily practice? What do we want from it? Escape? Escaping what? Everything. Addiction, misery, restlessness, unhappiness, directionless-ness. Buddhists call this suffering and they sweep everything, big & little, under this one word—a good idea. When we embark on a daily practice, we don’t plan to bring humankind’s cornucopia of disgruntlement and affliction to the table. No, we have just this One Little Problem—sadness after a romantic debacle, or loss of a job, or dissatisfaction with our body, etc.—and a daily practice could help, perhaps even cure this ill. Beneath the impulse to solve the One Little Problem is the notion that we can be happy and free, or at least not as unhappy, not as trapped. Consciously or unconsciously, we hope we can escape the human condition. It is a universal oddity though almost universally contradicted throughout history.
Since the 70’s when spiritual seeking gained extended popularity and the so-called New Age seeped bit by bit into mainstream, engaging in Eastern traditions in pursuit of American happiness became respectable. Yes, happiness was touted as the goal. “If you take these classes and eat these natural foods you will be thin, forever young, ridiculously healthy and, above all, happy.” This sunny, shameless bill of goods may have helped many of us get onto a noble spiritual Path, but without a better understanding of what we would encounter it was doomed to failure.
I don’t think, if you really ask anyone about happiness that they imagine it to be continual, or just a state of mind, or a matter of cultivating a glass-half-full attitude. Most people rationally understand that happiness is one of many feelings and they expect to have them all. However, unconsciously we are driven by what we cannot or do not want to acknowledge. Darker feelings live out of reach in our shadows, unexamined, unexaminable. They haunt us. Tackling a daily practice, we may sense the potential to go where we haven’t gone before but we feel because a daily practice is small and private, we can control it. We aren’t far from home in a Brazilian jungle slugging back ayahuasca or chewing psilocybin unable to get back to our well-controlled patterns. Daily practice is manageable. Later, if all goes well, we can engage in spiritual Path, open our Pandora’s box, which won’t be easy or short, and fulfill our human seeking.
The One Thing
I’m not sure how many people actually go through all this. Maybe we get just an intuitive glimmer and off we go. We line up the right space, a daily chunk of time, accoutrements, support materials—whatever we think we need. Different people plan for that trip to the Himalayas differently. Anyway, I am one of the elements that people enlist. I am a good choice. I have a lot of experience. Except, I have neglected to mention the One Thing. Here it is.
The one thing you really need to engage in a successful daily practice—and it will sound mawkish, silly, platitudinous but I’ll say it anyway—you need love. Love for yourself and love for the thing you will do for an hour or two every day. It matters less what the thing is than that you love it, that it absorbs and calls you. Most of all, you need to love to be with yourself because that is what a practice will ultimately entail.
Shit! What if I don’t love myself? And really, that is too much. I just want a nip of peace, a dab of happiness. I really don’t want to go all the way. Anyway isn’t love a byproduct of doing good stuff for myself? I don’t love myself, I can’t love myself. Or the WTF is loving myself anyway? That is a sampling of the many objections. Very inventive. Very heart felt. Nonetheless, this is the answer I now have for everyone. You have to love being with yourself. If not, you will do a marvelous daily practice for a week or less—about the shelf life of willpower—then, at the slightest inner grumble, daily practice will wash downstream to be buried beneath the distractions of our world.
The world of human life has never been any less busy or distracted than it is now. Humans have always had pain and difficulty and not had enough time or money or the right place or those who understand them. Today’s distractify world may be a different style than 100 years ago or 500 years ago, however, the world’s power to dismantle daily practice is no different. People have always had to dig deep inside to find the heart cry of love. We have to find the love in us for us. You have to find it in you.
In the beginning, the love may taste piquant or be reedy with need. If we are fragmented and unable to meet ourselves with openness, we may be pierced then flooded. It may seem that what is most original and essential and crucial within us is booby-trapped. Yet over time, love for our own company ripens—the trust, the solidity, the warmth. Later on and farther beyond, there are surprises and freshness. Delight. The self’s darkness becomes less hideous. It becomes familiar, banal, even silly.
Daily practice only requires love. A good room, a good teacher, a good community, a delicious set of materials won’t hurt and of course, load your deck with goodness. We live in a propitious world for this. Just remember, well-chosen, perfectly-sorted resources mixed with willpower will wither. It is love for yourself and for what you are doing that keeps you coming back day after day, year after year, for a lifetime, until life itself gives you all its unimaginable love.
My work and writing are sponsored by Dervish Society of America (DSA), a nonprofit 501-C3 organization dedicated to the Path of embodied mysticism. DSA provides opportunities for personal development, exploratory inquiry into embodied spirituality, and community connection through practice, service, and performance. DONATIONS are tax-deductible.