I always love it when people say they practice yoga. Or they practice meditation. There’s a certain humility to the word practice. It insinuates a journey towards a level of proficiency that is earned over time with effort. It implies that you start out as a beginner, you’re not very good at it, and then you get better at it after conscious practice.
About a year ago, I had a really unpleasant experience with someone who lost their temper very quickly over something I saw as kind of small. After tearing me to shreds, he later told me he was sorry because he never wanted someone to feel bad after talking to him.
I gave all the understanding and love I had available to this person and later that night, I thought about what he said. That he never wanted anyone to feel bad after talking to him. I wondered how long that had been an intention of his and if he had ever actually put it into practice. Because if I’m being brutally honest, he wasn’t good at it.
Because here’s the thing about practicing: it doesn’t count as practice unless it’s hard.
When you love someone and they do everything right and you’re happy with them, it isn’t hard to be kind to them. The practice of kindness comes when you are terribly annoyed and desperately want to rip someone’s head off… and instead you answer in kindness.
When everything is going your way, it isn’t hard to be patient when the line at Starbucks takes an extra 90 seconds. The practice of patience comes in when everything is moving at a snail’s pace and you feel like nothing has gotten done and you’re sitting in traffic that is going to make you 30 minutes late.
The first time I practiced gratitude was in the fall of 2018. I was on a leave of absence from work and was focusing heavily on self care. I went to get ice cream from the grocery store (self care, remember?) and they were out of the brand of pistachio I wanted. It was the end of a hard day and my first instinct was to get frustrated. To say “GREAT! AWESOME! PERFECT!” and roll my eyes as far back into my head as they could go. But I remembered my decision to practice gratitude and instead I said, “I’m grateful that I get to save the $7 and I didn’t need those calories anyway.” It felt stupid. It was hard too! I felt entitled to my anger because I had always given into my knee jerk instinct of total annoyance before then. But I forced myself to say a few things I was grateful for and I ended up laughing at myself. It took me by surprise because it really did save me from the generally irritated state I would have been in. So I did it again the next time something didn’t go my way. And the next time. And the next time. Over the next month or two, it turned from a conscientious effort into a habit. When my son isn’t feeling his homework, we say, “I’m so grateful you’re getting an education at one of the best Junior High Schools.” We say, ” I’m grateful you have teachers and parents who care.” and “I’m grateful you know how to read and write.” Often times, our problems are GOOD problems. If a problem you have is that the store is out of your ice cream, you’re living the life!
One of the things I love most in the Bible are the fruits of the spirit. You’ve heard ’em; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If I had to compile a list of beautifully attractive traits in a human being, I couldn’t come up with a better list than this one.
I WANT to possess all those things. But I’m imperfect, so if I ever hope to achieve any of them, it’s going to be a matter of practice.
Think: your mom telling you you have to go practice your violin when you really really really really want to keep watching YouTube and eating snacks instead. You grumble your way into your room, get out your violin and furrow your brow at the notes in front of you that you feel like you’ll never hope to get. Your fingers don’t follow what your brain is trying to tell them to do and even once you get the notes right, you’ve still got the battle of the complex rhythm in front of you which you have to nail before you even START to refine it in a way your violin teacher will expect you to. All the while, YouTube is on your monitor and you want nothing more than to sink into your comfy chair with your crunchy snacks and watch the latest Bad Lip Reading.
But you decide to practice.
Three weeks later, you couldn’t play your piece wrong if you tried. You’ve worked hard and it’s the night of the big recital. You go out on stage and do an amazing job. Afterwards, everyone rushes up to you to tell you how incredibly impressed they are. Your perfect recital came from practice and with that practice came sacrifice. Hours of frustration in your room. Hours of setting aside YouTube and video games and texting (Sorry, I’m obviously not young) so that you could reach a different goal instead.
Everything has a price.
If you want to be patient, the cost is that you don’t get to be impatient when you really want to.
If you want to be peaceful, the cost is that you don’t get to rage when you want to.
If you want to have self control, the cost is that you don’t get to give in to every impulse.
If you want to be grateful, the cost is that you don’t get to complain when you really want to.
Luckily, it gets easier. That’s the upside of practice. With every action, (Physical or mental) you create new neural pathways in your brain and with every reinforcement, those pathways get deeper and stronger until you don’t have to force yourself to not be impatient, you’re just a patient person.
I’m not telling you to suppress your feelings until they burst out in an ugly way later down the road. It’s okay for something to suck. It’s okay to have bad days. But look for the good here.
I’m grateful for my bad day because I am afforded the luxury of waking up tomorrow and trying again.
I’m grateful for my bad day because I have a family who will cheer me up and support me.
I’m grateful for my bad day because I won’t feel bad about eating an entire cake after my family goes to bed tonight.
What are the values and traits you want to have in your own life and how can you practice them?
This is my word for 2020. Practice. I need to practice eating better. I need to practice patience in my business. I need to practice intention in scheduling my daily life. Friends, it’s month 14 and I’m so grateful you’re here. Thank you for being a part of my journey!
|Denise Karis is an Arizona photographer who enjoys musicals, Doctor Who and breakfast burritos. IG @denisekaris|
Special thanks to Kien Do, Mike Yukhtenko and Chelsea Aaron via Unsplash for the inspiring photos!
Hey. Do you mind if I tell you a story? One you might not have heard. All the elements in your body were forged many many millions of years ago in the heart of a faraway star that exploded and died. That explosion scattered those elements across the desolations of deep space. After so, so many millions of years, these elements came together to form new stars and new planets. And on and on it went. The elements came together and burst apart, forming shoes and ships and sealing wax and cabbages and kings. Until, eventually, they came together to make you. You are unique in the universe. There is only one of you. And there will never be another.