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October 2, 2014

Practicing for Miracles

There is a quote by Thich Nhat Hanh posted up at the Rockwood offices above the kitchen sink. It reads:

To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can only occur when you aren't doing them. Once you are standing in front of the sink with your sleeves rolled up and your hands in the warm water, it is really quite pleasant. I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands. I know that if I hurry in order to eat dessert sooner, the time of washing dishes will be unpleasant and not worth living. That would be a pity, for each minute, each second of life is a miracle. The dishes themselves and that fact that I am here washing them are miracles! (from Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life)

He’s describing washing dishes as a practice. Engaging in a simple act – with intention and awareness. And the result for him is joy.

When athletes train, their practice is about building their skills and efficiency. A friend of mine shared with me her daily practice of journaling every morning to cultivate her creativity. Many of you may have practices like meditation or other. I know that many of the participants of Move to End Violence practice Tai Ji.

On an organizational level, Marisa Tirona wrote about the practice of adaptive capacity in her previous blog post in which organizations “mobilize people to tackle tough challenges and thrive.”

In all these examples, practice involves repetitive action, and making an active and conscious choice to engage – whether it’s scrubbing the dirty coffee mug in the sink, committing to self-care, or tapping into collective wisdom in your organizational processes on a regular basis.

For all the results it offers, practice is not easy. Thich Nhat Hanh’s quote about washing dishes is responding to the perception of dishwashing being “unpleasant,” which happens when we don’t want to do it. Or as he notes, when dessert is waiting. Which is perhaps why I remember this quote – it’s almost as if he is speaking to me about my preference for dessert over dishwashing.

Practice involves action. It involves waking up to jog or journal in the morning rather than continuing to sleep. Mindfulness meditation involves the action of letting thoughts go and returning to the breath. In organizations, practice involves being willing to move out of group habits and explore new ways of thinking.

In my work, I’ve been practicing being with uncertainty. Just like mindful eating is not my tendency, neither is risk-taking. What it looks like is interrupting my desire for detailed analysis with an openness to possibility. It means being courageous and curious before being critical and fearful.

This isn’t to say that I’ve thrown out analysis or strategy. Those are necessary tools in my work to support leaders in creating social change, too. I think of practice like working out muscles I don’t typically use. I still keep the other muscles strong too.

Practice is not easy. It’s not my habit or tendency to take risks, but similar to what Thich Nhat Hanh describes, it exposes me to the miracles of what I can do, the miracles of our lives.

I invite you to consider your relationship to practice:

  • What are your current practices – individually or organizationally?
  • What new muscles are you cultivating through practice?
  • What inspires you to take on the practice? What is challenging?
  • What are you learning by engaging with these practices?

“I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one's being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes, in some area, an athlete of God. Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire.”Martha Graham

Art by lizar_tistry