There are some experiences in your life that will stand out head-and-shoulders among the rest. A few weeks ago was definitely one of them…
I was at a retreat for my spiritual school, and one of our exercises is called “Life Practice.” It’s where we practice doing normal everyday activities. I say “practice,” because the real point of this exercise is to do these activities with Presence.
It can be easy to go through life mindlessly. How often have you driven someplace, only to get there and realize you don’t even remember the journey? What about dishes, daily work, or even entire conversations?
It happens. And that’s why “practicing” life can be so invaluable. This kind of practice is an opportunity to slow waaay waaaaaaaaay down. Down to a snail’s pace.
Well anyway, a couple of weekends ago at this spiritual retreat they had us volunteer for different activities. As each activity was announced, none caught my attention. Then my teacher asked if there was anybody who hadn’t yet chosen an activity.
I didn’t raise my hand.
Not out of dishonesty, but because I felt like I would “know” what to do when the time was right. That, and part of me didn’t want to get “stuck” doing something I wouldn’t want to do (like cleaning the toilets). Eventually, as the groups dispersed for their activities I found myself navigating towards the cleanup crew. Once there, as they announced the various cleaning activities I continued to not choose anything.
Then they needed somebody to clean the toilets. And I’m sure you can imagine that as a deeply spiritual practice, what a wonderful gift it would be for me to do what I didn’t want to do: clean toilets. Armed with that awareness, I’m sure you can see how quickly I jumped on that opportunity… wanting to make sure that if only one person could clean the toilets, it would be me.
Not in the slightest. Several moments of silence passed with nobody volunteering to clean the toilets.
“Will somebody at least volunteer to clean the men’s toilets?” asked the cleaning crew leader.
Then I spoke up and said I’d do it. I went downstairs, got all the cleaning supplies, put my gloves on, and started cleaning the toilets. The way I figured, I’d seen WAY worse being a father and changing diapers. These restrooms were already pretty clean anyway.
But then the thought hit me…
Am I really paying somebody else so I can clean their toilets?
Yes I am.
Yes I am grateful to be of service.
Yes I am grateful to be practicing “real life” in an environment and community that supports and practices the art of being a person.
What’s interesting about “practicing” life is that all the little things that can’t go unnoticed. No longer are the mundane activities of life purely mundane. When done with Presence, they become opportunities for inquiry. Even cleaning.
A spot on a dish is no longer just a spot. It becomes a question: “Will I clean this dish perfectly? What does it mean to clean a dish perfectly? Do I even care? Will anybody notice? Is anybody watching? How can I clean this damned dish in peace? Why won’t these spots leave my mind alone?”
Or it can show up in other ways, such as in relationships. Disagreements are rarely what they appear to be about. What looks like a fight about coming home late at night is actually a cover for a long history of subconscious stories. Like the spot, the fight becomes a question: “Why is this person so disrespectful? Why am I not good enough for him/her to be on time? When will I find a partner who really sees me? Why won’t this judgmental voice get out of my head?”
But how would you ever discover the “Answer,” if you don’t “practice” relationship?
And more generally speaking, how would you ever know the Truth of your innermost thoughts if you don’t “practice” life? It’s not enough to do mental gymnastics to find the Truth of your experience. The mind will only take you so far. To go deeper into yourself, it requires this different kind of “practice.”
This kind of “life practice” is actually a form of meditation. I use it personally (even when I’m writing to you), and I teach to help people overcome their thoughts of self-criticism. So much of our lives we are in a state of self-criticism that many of us don’t realize it.
By slowing ourselves down to a snail’s pace, it illuminates all the thoughts racing around in our mind and the emotions racing through our bodies. Most of those thoughts and emotions are of a critical nature – usually directed at ourselves (or attempting to deflect our self-criticism by projecting it onto other people).
Here’s a quick exercise to try this out at home…
Next time you do something completely mundane –some normal everyday activity– try to do it as slowly as possible. While you’re doing it, participate in some form of moving meditation. One way is to constantly bring your attention to your feet and hands. Then when you notice that your attention drifts, send your attention back to your hands and feet. You can also do that with your belly instead of your hands and feet.
Whatever you choose, the practice is simple: Do something really normal and basic, do it as slowly as you can, and bring awareness to your body while you do it.
This is one of the most powerful, life-transforming meditations you will ever do. And it’s also the easiest to dismiss as irrelevant or ineffective…
Because hey, who wants to pay their hard-earned money to clean somebody else’s toilets?
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Each week you receive a new lesson and exercise to complete. These unique exercises replace limiting thought patterns with empowering stories that allow you to live directly from your innermost being. Several of them are devoted specifically to the “practice” of life.
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