October marks the one-year anniversary of the +A Positive Action Press WordPress website, RethinkingSurvival.com. Looking back, I’m amazed at the way daily, incremental baby-steps have added up.
With the help of (sometimes) forbearing computer savvy friends, I’ve gone from cut-and-paste technology to working with a photo-shop clone to produce illustrations. Starting with no marketing skills and less interest, I’ve swallowed my pride and actually gotten interested in the process. From being overwhelmed by Twitter, I now really enjoy direct messaging with savvy, fun new folks. Certainly limiting myself to messages of 140 characters or less has significantly altered my writing style for the better. : )
So tonight I thought I’d take a break from my current projects to revisit the Essay on Practice from Conscience. Written in the year 2000, it’s not in my current voice. But it speaks to my immediate appreciation for the benefits of daily discipline.
Each T’ai Chi movement is related to a particular hexagram of the I Ching. This relationship holds vital clues to a deeper understanding of Chinese thought which, like all valid world-views, is based on knowledge of the self gleaned from the practical experience of meditation. — Dal Liu, Tai Chi Ch’uan and I Ching: A Choreography of Body and Mind
Practice is essential. Through regular practice, you will become familiar with the feeling of being relaxed. You will find that you can achieve results with shorter and shorter practice sessions. You will become like a pianist who is ready to play a beautiful Mozart sonata as soon as her hands touch the keyboard. — Kenneth S. Cohen, The Way of Qigong
One should never rush in entering Taoism. . . One must proceed step by step, never advancing to the next stage until one is ready. One need not fret. If one discharges one’s tasks and proceeds with training perseveringly, then the transitions are virtually automatic. — Deng Ming-Dao, Chronicles of Tao
Practice means to do or engage in frequently, make a habit or custom. It means to do repeatedly in order to learn or become proficient; to exercise or drill oneself. Practice is using one’s knowledge, as in a profession. To practice is to adhere to beliefs or ideals. It means to teach or train through exercise. An archaic definition suggests intrigue, trickery, or scheming.
Practice is closely related to the words discipline and preparation. It implies the ability to anticipate the future and make decisions about how best to make ready for it. It was the practice of Chinese emperors to consult ministers and sages for information on how to prepare for the future. They, in turn, consulted the I Ching to decide the best ways to adjust to alternating seasons of hardship and plenty in order to maintain social, political and economic equilibrium.
By biblical account, Joseph was sold into slavery by jealous older brothers and taken to Egypt. Thus, he found himself in the right place at the right time to fulfill his destiny. By correctly interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, he saved countless lives, including those of the brothers whom he forgave.
He foresaw coming changes in nature and drew conclusions as to how prepare for the future. The practice of disciplined conservation during seven years of plenty allowed Pharaoh to feed his people during the seven years of drought which followed, thus preventing starvation, mass suffering and social upheaval.
Applications to current economic practices should be abundantly clear. Squandering resources during times of abundance is a sure recipe for famine, widespread misery and unrest when the rhythmic pendulum of history swings, replacing times of plenty with times of hardship. Wishing and hoping current “good” times will last forever because we want them to, refusing to heed clear warning signs that they never do, foolishly puts everyone at risk.
Music is a demanding discipline which emphasizes the importance of regular practice, preparing in advance to perform well. Similarly, martial arts instill respect for regular practice, cultivating the ability to adjust quickly and skillfully to sudden danger. In this case, the body itself is the instrument and tuning it a fine art. As Chuck Norris says, “Practice, practice, practice! Practice can save your life.” God forbid you’ll ever be attacked. But be ready.
Through the daily practice of meditation balanced by Tai Chi meditation-in-action, it is possible to make teachings real through experience, fulfilling the maxim “Learn by doing.”
Then, with sustained focus and loving attention, everyday activities and relationships are transformed into spiritual and martial arts training. Practice becomes a way of life, an ongoing proof of commitment in action. It’s not just a few hours set aside from the rest of the day. Nor is it to be flaunted, foolishly attracting envy and vengeance.
In Cleary’s translation of The Taoist I Ching, meditation and action alternating in rhythmic sequence are described as equally important complements. Inner stillness develops the abode of rest. Action completes and tests the abode of rest. Progress achieved by steady, gradual, consistent efforts accomplishes far more than dramatic spurts of activity that can’t be sustained over time.
Understanding the philosophy and science of the I Ching intellectually is relatively easy. Putting it into practice is more of a challenge. It’s not like something memorized for class, and then you’ve got it forever. It requires consistent attention and renewal, applying the readings to myriad kaleidoscope changes during the ongoing process of a lifetime.
The opposite of practice is lack of foresight and disciplined preparation for the future. Aesop’s fable of the race between the tortoise and the hare captures the difference between making steady progress toward a goal and the lazy assumption of inevitable victory, sleeping until it’s too late.
Enforced drilling is an inadequate substitute for intelligent practice. Mechanical repetitions without understanding and involved commitment are pointless. Repeating affirmations instead of taking positive action doesn’t produce quality results.