toward deeper practice

Recently, someone asked me, “How can I take my practice beyond traditional form work?” I love questions like this as they can lead us into subtle and interesting places. In this case, the student was thinking beyond the mere repetition of movements and ideas and more to the heart of practice and our personal relationship with it.

In pondering this, it occurs to me that good practice is not so much a thing we do, but a quality of being we step into. For me, it is much like meditation or prayer or that “zone” we can feel when running, hiking, or concentrating on something fascinating to us. As such, it is unique (and similar) for each of us. Ideally, it is a sate of focused self-cultivation in which the first basic theme is “practice so as to feel genuinely good.” If you are feeling good, your practice is good, even if technically there is lots of room for improvement. Feeling good comes first and feeling good will lead you deeper.

What do I mean by “feeling good?” It might mean that you are feeling more balanced, more coordinated, happier, stronger, a deeper flow of energy, a sense of peace, presence, or connection. It can mean many things as you move in the direction of greater well-being. For Tai Chi or qigong practitioners, good practice involves using the movements and principles of our forms, but seeking more so the qualities of one’s Self beneath them. Explore the feeling of presence and the clarity of your focus. Enter into greater levels of relaxation, ease, grace, and more… The deep qualities of one’s Self are truly uplifting and inspire us to go deeper still.

But what of those times during which we are not feeling so good? What about those moments of struggle or discomfort or uncertainty when learning something new? In those challenging moments, it can help to remember generosity for ourselves. We can continue to learn and allow a sense of inner good will and self appreciation. We can always refine that clarity of intention, whether we feel it at the level of a trickling stream or a roaring ocean that flows over to include all around us. We can use challenging moments as opportunities to embrace more deeply any virtue that inspires us most. In this way, outer practice leads to inner growth… cultivating the outer strengthens the inner.

In the end, I know of no better way to self cultivation than through meaningful practice… crafted from those disciplines worthy of our time and energy. So wherever you are in your relationship with self-cultivation, whatever that may mean to you, take it further still, with kindness toward yourself, authenticity in your methods, and with the consistency that makes us strong. Let your practice evolve as you do and if the spirit moves you… share it with others.

As always, I wish you happy practicing!