Deepening your Practice
Equanimity without awareness is blissful ignorance. Awareness without equanimity is miserable clarity.
Clearly, practice is important. In our day-to-day lives, we experience this phenomenon all the time. The more a person practices playing the piano, or painting, or skiing, or boxing…well you get the point. But, when the same principle is applied to more esoteric or spiritual ideas, we sometimes expect the subject matter to require a more complex answer. But does it? Perhaps when we ask the question ”Why do we meditate, or move, or breathe”…the simplest answer is the best place to start…” to get better” at it.
But the question remains, what is it exactly that we are “getting better” at?
We can all happily debate the why, or how, or what, or with whom, or even for how long we should practice. These are all good and important questions to ask our selves. These are questions to explore deeply, questions with answers that deserve to be challenged until they become clear for you. These are questions to ask the teachers and wise people who come into our lives, and ultimately questions that we all have to answer on our own. The answers we discover help shape our lives, our loves, our community, and how we spend our time. So ask them seriously. Ask them repetitively. Force yourself to think deeply and clearly about how you are spending your precious time here on earth.
An inherent challenge in this discovery process is that sometime the more you challenge yourself, the more confusing it can get. So many meditations and so little time; so many teachers who all seem wise and important; even within our own community, so many cool people all doing cool stuff…what exactly is right for me?
One thing is crystal clear. If you want to get better at playing the piano, you had better take some lessons. You have to put in the time. There is no shortcut to learning to read music. If you want to experience the subtleties of playing Bach, or Rachmaninoff, you have to focus, commit, and dedicate yourself. There are so many layers to playing the piano. And each time you peel one back, you reveal the next, each layer even more beautiful and challenging and wondrous than the last. And once you have a deep understanding of the piano, the world of music opens up. Your understanding of all music is enhanced and flavored and comes to life.
One important challenge we all face is that the process of learning and growing requires a willingness and enthusiasm to explore the many practices and teachers we come across. This is the wonderful world of learning and growing, finding new understandings and meeting new and interesting people. But, imagine spending an hour a week playing the piano, and an hour a week playing the saxophone, and an hour every other week on the guitar. You might enjoy the time you spend, but you never get to make the instrument part of you. You never get to experience the magic that comes from deep understanding and dedication.
The ReTribe experience is a journey of personal exploration, community, and connection, designed to support each of us as we walk our own paths of discovery and growth. ReTribe was created as a safe space for that growth to take place, with the support, guidance, and unconditional love of a community who all care as much about the journey as they do about the destination.
But what happens when we find a practice we like? A practice that seems to align with our beliefs and life journey?
The benefits of commitment to a specific practice are very clear. When you find one that you relate to, that makes sense for you, that helps you in your life, it is important to stop. Go deeper. Work hard to discover what lies beneath the surface. Bring that practice into your daily life. If we spend our lives hopping from activity to activity, without ever committing, we never get the benefits of what lies beneath. We never experience deeper understanding or subtler truths. We stay at the gross level…at the surface level. And this is not the intention of practice; rather the intention is to develop and reinforce over and over skills and understanding that you can bring into your daily life.
Accept for a moment the premise that regardless of the practice we choose, they are all leading us in the same general direction. Perhaps some faster or straighter than others…but the scenic route can be just as fun. So, regardless of the how the road is paved, the spiritual and physical practices we are talking about, when embraced correctly, all take you from gross to subtle. This just means that the more you practice, the deeper your understanding becomes. And the deeper your understanding, the more layers you peel back. And the more layers you peel back, the subtler and subtler your awareness and understanding becomes. Instead of just understanding the surface level ideas, through deepening your practice you understand the details and moreover how to apply them in your life.
When this deepening happens, there is a natural awakening. The same way a master pianist understands the subtleties of music regardless of what instrument might be playing, when you deepen your own practice, at some point it becomes clear that all of these things are connected. So what then connects them all? What truths seems to be at the core off all of these practices? Breathwork. Meditation. Yoga. Movement. Piano. Handstands. (Sure, even handstands).
Two ideas or understandings come up over and over.
1. Awareness of the present moment.
That is, be here, right now. Get your head out of the past, stop worrying about the future, and be here with the practice, in the present moment. But, certainly awareness by itself is not the goal. Who wants to be aware and present and completely miserable?
2. The second important understanding is that “equanimity” is also important.
That is, practicing the skill of keeping our mind calm and focused on the task at hand. And we practice equanimity by first being present (awareness), and then in that state, when wandering thoughts or emotions come up as they always do, through our practices we make an effort to stay present and focused. When our mind wanders, we stay calm and bring it back. Using breath, or sitting in quiet meditation, or perhaps through physical movement, in this more focused state of heightened awareness, we develop the skill of staying in the present moment with equanimity.
Practiced together, awareness and equanimity bring an understanding that whatever is coming up, I can handle it. I can be present. I can allow my thoughts and emotions to arise and see them as they are. I can use my practice to help me understand that anything that comes up in my life is temporary, and it may stay for some time, but eventually will pass.
Equanimity without awareness is blissful ignorance. Awareness without equanimity is miserable clarity. So we practice both awareness and equanimity. Presence and joy through the experience of impermanence.
When you find a practice you connect with, you have a responsibility to make it your own. Bring it into your life. Try going deeper. Commit to exploring the edges of discomfort. And then apply the lessons you learn in your daily life. This application of the lessons you learn goes hand in hand with your practice.
So we practice, this is good. We explore, also good. We bring community and teachers and consciousness into our lives. Excellent. But, when we find something we like, that seems to tick all the boxes, it calls for us to stop and make it part of our lives. Deepen our connections and awareness. Take as much time as needed to decide if this particular practice makes sense for you. And if the ultimate answer is yes, don’t let it go. Plant the seeds of your practice carefully. Water them. Allow the roots to grow deep and strong. This doesn’t mean don’t do anything else. This doesn’t mean you can only have one practice in your life, or that others won’t call to you. But, we simply do not get the most benefit from our practices without deeper exploration and commitment.
So be brave. Plant your seeds. Make a fence around your garden. Add the water of commitment and community. Don’t get distracted. There is nothing more comforting than having a deep practice in your life to fall back on. When you take the time to go deep, and grow strong roots, your core becomes solid. It allows you to push yourself. You can embrace discomfort more easily. You can try new things with the confidence that no matter what happens in your life, your practice is there, waiting to support you.
Peace does not come from a life that is always calm and uneventful. That does not exist. Peace comes from a life that is full of wonder and exploration and adventure lived without fear. Your practice becomes your personal compass. Always pointing you in the right direction, keeping you on track, and bringing you back, over and over again, to being present and equanimous. A strong practice guides you, encourages and supports you; it’s a safety net to fall back on when tired or scared, and a shoulder to stand on when you need a boost. Plant your seeds. Water them. Grow your garden big and strong. Enjoy the fruits of your labor. And practice…