Practice is an interesting word. It connotes, ambiguously, either preparation or implementation, rehearsal or performance. There is practice for (concert) and practice of (law, medicine). We call what we do “Buddhist practice.” But is it preparation for, or implementation of … what? Compassion? Kindness? Empathy? Equanimity? And are we already those things, or do we need to practice them first lest our enlightenment be judged?
Next week a rather large number of people will voluntarily put themselves into “practice,” not to settle the matter of its ambiguity, but to settle themselves squarely in its maw. First, the winter practice period begins. A ten-week leap for both residents and commuters into the practice of not knowing. Soon thereafter, a non-residential program (Establishing the Path of Practice) begins. It lasts a whole year.
Why do this to yourself? Why burden an already over-burdened life with more commitments, more study, more investigation of the places that scare us (either because they are too dark or too light)? Perhaps because there’s an inkling that so far in this life, we have been practicing for. Practicing for the time when the right partner comes along, when we’ll reach the executive suite, when we’ll have enough money, when the kids have moved out (or back in), when we won't have to be scared/worried/angry anymore. In other words, we’ve begun to suspect that in living a life of what if, we’re missing a lot of what is.
And Buddhist practice is nothing if not a relentless practice of what is. It’s not a practice for. It’s a practice of. Our life is not a rehearsal, it’s a choice: tighten the karmic knots, or loosen them. And only in unflinching intimacy with our every moment can we apprehend the consequences of what we’re doing.
“If we don’t use our daily life as a practice, nothing is ever going to change.”
(Ani Tenzin Palmo)