Suddenly, we exist. Existing is complicated. We turn to practice. As we love to say at the CEC, being human takes practice. But what is a practice? The simplest definition of practice is some action – mental, emotional, physical, social – that you choose and repeat, so that it can become a habit. It is the deliberate cultivation of habits. Contemplative practices are practices that rehearse how you want to exist and relate to yourself and others.
In practice we have the opportunity to explore what works for each of us as individuals to build and stabilize concentration in practice and in life. Do you get fascinated by the whole forest of experience, or absorbed by the minutia of a single tree? Do you prefer to focus on the deep places inside yourself, or fix your gaze on a flickering flame, tune your ear to the birdsong outside? What are you interested in, pleased by, served by? Follow that. It’s hard to get any kind of traction in meditation without concentration of some kind, so let’s focus, people!
We practice letting go so there’s room enough for what matters most. In our CEC hive-mind, letting go forms an essential part of a practice, a necessary antipode to the striving, the claiming, the aspirational special states like the one where you might glimpse, just briefly, if you stare into a bright light long enough, a universe kept afoot by a platoon of microscopic capuchin monkeys.
At CEC, we’ve been working towards developing and embodying a pluralistic and inclusive model of spiritual practice. Our grand vision is to offer a place where all spiritual practices are welcomed in a big tent of exploration, dialogue and cross-pollination. Yet, we’ve struggled to integrate one prominent feature of many spiritual traditions: namely God. (shudder)
It takes practice to give a fuck. As Shunryu Suzuki said, “there is no such thing as enlightenment, only enlightened activity”. The insights we’ve gleaned on the cushion, or in play and exploration, find traction as they latch onto all parts of our day.
In mindfulness practice, we find ourselves noticing the habitual stories that play in our heads on a loop, often causing us great misery and pain. By noticing and getting some distance from these stories we can start to break free from their unconscious pull over us. As we start to loosen our attachments to those those old unhelpful stories, our minds become free to tell new ones.
Emotional complexity can arise out of a relatively ordinary situation. Our human capacity to feel and track emotions is somewhat ridiculous in its scope and power. It’s all part of our nature as intensely social creatures. The social world is our habitat, and emotion is the intelligence of social existence.
Art, like meditation, illuminates the ineffable. Painting, literature, poetry, music, dance, theatre, film…these have incredible capacity to comfort, heal, inspire, incite, ignite. Bring us face to face with our own humanity and all of its terrible beauty. We’ll be making art of this next month at CEC. We’ll extol our community’s artists and teachers to introduce practices that breed creativity, feed artistic souls, and illustrate how art can enrich and inspire the contemplative path.