A Field Guide to Life – Life as Practice

by Brad on January 15, 2013

This installment of A Field Guide to Life suggests that all of life is a form of practice. If you’re not practicing being who you want to be, then you’re practicing being who you don’t want to be. It challenges you to look at the many dimensions of your humanness in preparation for adopting new ways.


Life as Practice

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”  – Wayne Dyer

First, a definition of practice. A practice is a specific behavior adopted consciously and done regularly with the intention of incorporating new ways of being into your person. You don’t “break” old habits; you replace them with new ones. Practices create new experiences that soon become new habits.

In the case of personal transformation, the old habit is that of allowing your unconscious mind to have power over your conscious mind. Because you don’t know [consciously] this is happening, you can’t simply “make” yourself change. But by becoming aware of how it’s happening, you’ll find your thinking changes naturally and effortlessly. As your thinking becomes more conscious, all of life becomes more expansive and filled with possibility. 

17150036The practice that grows your awareness is quite simple. It’s called noticing. As you shift your gaze inward, you get to know yourself deeply, and in the process, come to trust yourself in ways you’d never imagine possible. Self-trust creates a profound sense of freedom. Practices of this sort allow you to you trace your actions backwards, to the source that drives them: unconscious beliefs and assumptions. Noted animal tracker Tom Brown says that when you follow a set of tracks back to its maker, you unravel the mystery of its life story. Likewise, when you follow your own tracks back to their maker, you unravel the mystery of your life story. There’s no question that “working on your own thinking” is awkward at first. So is learning to ski. A willingness to learn and openness to new experience help to propel you forward.  

Humans are multi-dimensional: mental, physical, emotional, relational, soulful, and spiritual beings – all at the same time. Your life and its mysteries are made rich by knowing and nurturing each of these dimensions of humanness: 

Mental: the thinking mind, intellect, understanding, reason. Your mind wants creative stimulation, which is found in reading, learning, problem solving, writing, managing life, envisioning a positive future, personal self-reflection.

Emotional: the heart knows only love, and wants to both give and receive love, which is found in creativity, being in nature, sharing deeply with others, and engaging in compassion for others.       

Physical: the body is your vehicle for your work in the world. It wants to be healthy. It stores your memories in its cells. You open to this wisdom by listening, and through exercise, nutrition, and environment. 

Relational: we thrive on connectedness and community. Healthy relationships are chosen and require nurture, whether with family, friends, community or planet. Connecting with reverence and respect is to give and receive. 

Soulful: the soul represents the depth of your uniqueness, your creative essence, life purpose. It wants to express itself as the driving force in your life, but speaks indirectly, so you need to create ways to be open to its message. 

Spiritual: spirit represents your connection to a higher power, the unity of all life, the divine and sacred. Its message is subtle, showing up often and easily in nature, yet rarely in either the rational mind or in the midst of life’s noise.

Being fully human means experiencing balance among these dimensions. Everyday life, however, often asks us to favor some and deny others. If your six dimensions were spokes in a wheel, life may have left your wheel “out of round.” New personal practices help to restore balance.

It’s time to introduce some new practices. To offer a step-wise approach that makes these practices more accessible, I’ve organized them into groups, each oriented toward one aspect of the transformation possible for you in life. Articles that follow will detail suggested practices in each area:

  • Silence – the entire journey to transformation begins with a new relationship with silence. Open up space for the new.
  • Simplicity – creating space in your physical world allows you room to grow, a place for new experience to materialize. If the weight of your world is crushing down on you, nothing new can survive.
  • Self-care – taking extremely good care of yourself is crucial to building a strong foundation from which meaningful and lasting change can grow. (Self-care isn’t self-ish.)
  • Self-knowledge – by gaining clarity of perception and perspective, you get to know your true self very well. In-depth self-awareness guides you in discovering life purpose, passion and authentic self, without which you simply cannot create a life of meaning.
  • Personal responsibility – once you grow conscious awareness of your thinking, and begin to get to know your authentic self, you come to see that how your life goes is up to you, the ultimate in personal freedom.
  • Create a thriving future – tomorrow hasn’t been invented yet; it’s a clean canvas, waiting for you to paint it. Instead of seeing the future as a repetition of the past, you can “create what isn’t,” by observing it into being.

Almost every practice you’ll encounter ahead asks you to slow down from your daily routine; many ask you to stop altogether. Your unconscious mind will tell you that slowing down means doing less, and that stopping is just plain lazy. These thoughts are part of the incessant stream of unconscious chatter that has, until now, prevented you from creating new possibility in life. Although these practices are designed to change that, they have no impact if the unconscious chatter wins, and you choose not to even try them out.

For now, you might start by thinking about “who you are” in each of the six dimensions noted above. Allow your mind to explore.  

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