Mindful Practice Makes Perfect

Any activity practiced daily with sincerity and persistence can become a personal spiritual practice. Though I am a yoga instructor, taking guitar lessons from my guitar guru is what has opened my eyes to the concept of mindfulness as a practice and as a way of life. The resistance I have encountered rising up from within myself about making the commitment to practice guitar has been nothing short of amazing. I can see now that the practice IS the practice! Being mindful of how my mind jumps off track so easily, watching why it jumps, when it jumps, and where it jumps: bringing it back to ‘the practice’ as many times as it takes.

Remember the movie Groundhog Day? The main character, Bill Murray, finds himself stuck in the mindless repetition of the same day over and over and over. He lives to the extreme that ‘every day is the same’ feeling we all have sometimes. The shift comes for him when he realizes it is up to him to practice being the person he wants to be. Using the same 24-hour period, interacting with the same people in the same places, but with intention and mindfulness – it made all the difference for him. We can all apply intention and mindfulness to our daily lives and elevate them to an art form.

This is where the idea of Sadhana – Daily Practice comes in.  The only way to learn something is to practice doing it.  We learn to do yoga by practicing yoga, we learn to play guitar by practicing guitar, and we learn to live a mindful life by practicing being mindful. Practice comes in many forms. Sometimes we get to choose, sometimes circumstances choose for us. It’s not so much the ‘thing’ that matters; it is the commitment to ‘the practice’ of the ‘thing’ that counts … that changes us.

It’s not a new idea. Ayurveda is an ancient approach to health that includes all the parts of our selves – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual – in the quest for well-being. Robert Svoboda tells us in his book Ayurveda: “A beneficial habit causes us to repeatedly perform an action that resonates with, and reinforces, the ‘good’, harmonious, altruistic aspects of our being… we are what we eat, what we think and what we do; repetition and resonance create our reality for us.”

If anything less than a mindful life lived with intention is not satisfying for us, why is there such resistance arising from within? Our daily practice is such an easy thing to talk about or think about, but surprisingly, not an easy thing to actually do. It is amazing to watch the excuses that arise, the many ways we sabotage ourselves. I can’t practice today, I have to (…) or I feel too (your favorite excuse here).   All of the excuses are a sign of a distracted mind, and the practice itself is the cure. Sticking with the commitment in spite of it all steadies the mind.

It comes down to commitment and we can help ourselves make this commitment to ourselves. Pausing, taking a deep breath, remembering our intention to live a mindful life so that we know if our action or comment is a valid response or just an automatic reaction. Posting mindfulness notes to ourselves to “practice”, “remember” or “just breathe” can make all the difference, as well as setting time limits on those expanding time-wasting habits. Tracking our progress on a calendar, counting up the days of our practice and when we miss a day we just notice what happened and start the count over, no mental self-punishment allowed. We make time for what is important to us. If our desire for a specific practice (like Bill Murray’s piano lessons or my guitar lessons) or general mindfulness with daily activities is strong enough, it will happen. Yoda tells us: “Do or do not, there is no try.” We are indeed capable of this.

I can hear my guitar guru’s patient voice in my head each time I repeat a new passage to be learned she says, “Again. Again. Again…” And it seems that we’ve come full circle, back to doing the same thing over and over and over. It is really more of an upward spiral because when our actions are elevated by mindfulness and intention they become our personal practice. Aristotle tells us: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” Choose your habit, practice through the excuses and become your excellence.