I’ve always been fascinated by the use of the word “practice” as it pertains to medicine and law. After all, who wants to be “practiced” on while under the surgeon’s knife? The word also is used to describe the repetition and refining that musicians and athletes undertake–the “daily bread” of these pursuits. And finally, and perhaps most meaningfully, the word is used in spiritual traditions, particularly Buddhism, to describe the day-to-day activities suggested by one’s faith.
Many Buddhist teachers, including the great Vietnamese teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, encourage us to view every activity as part of our practice. We are to bring mindfulness to everything we do, from washing the dishes to driving to talking with our spouses, children, or coworkers. When I follow this advice, I notice a tremendous difference in my perception of even the most banal things.
Take for instance this most recent snow: as I set out to shovel my driveway yesterday, I decided to do so mindfully. If we are open to it, we will notice that snow is beautiful, that it makes the world feel quiet. It is not an enemy that is relishing the chance to delay flights and frustrate commuters. It simply is, and it is up to us to accept it. How much precious energy is wasted resisting or lamenting the inevitable?
So here’s the metaphor for our lives: snow happens. It doesn’t happen often, so when it does, accept it. Shovel it, plan around it, and take the time to enjoy it. What would happen if we all thought of our entire lives as our “practice,” and recognized that every single task/encounter/object/tragedy/joy has something very powerful and important to teach us?