The journey of becoming who we were born to be never ends. It’s limitless, eternal. We don’t arrive — we grow. And to grow requires presence and practice.
So let’s talk about practice.
No matter how hard we work, the aim and purpose of practice is not to be done with it, but to immerse ourselves so completely in life by any means that we, for the moment, are life itself living. Excellence, if we achieve it, is a welcome byproduct of complete immersion. But the reward for practice is a thoroughness of being.
Given the pulls to be cruel or kind, to be clever or sincere, to hoard or give away, we can explore several practices that, if personalized, can help us turn our burden back into wonder.
The practice of uncertainty is patience.
That is, the only way to move through uncertainty, the only way to listen for what it has to say, is by being patient. The speech of uncertainty is slow. When we move too fast, the lessons are unintelligible.
The practice of opportunity is trust, which means following our heart.
Opportunity always presents itself as an opening that seems a bit smaller than we think we can fit through. Following our heart means trusting that we will fit through the opening we are given.
The practice of courage is doing small things with love.
This was Mother Teresa’s anthem. We begin to dismantle what is overwhelming by beginning the journey of involvement one hand at a time, one kindness at a time, one utterance of truth at a time. From the outside, things that require courage seem impossible, but once we begin, we’re no longer on the outside. This lets us see more.
The practice of connection is holding and listening.
We are born with these two capacities that never let us down, though we may forget how to inhabit them. When we feel disconnected, any act of holding or listening will return us to the larger world.
And the practice of expression is how the heart breathes.
Only by allowing what we feel, think and experience to move through us can we be animated enough to sense what matters, and so join with it. This is imperative because the life of expression is the tuning fork by which we find our way to the sacred.
Whether we’re asleep or awake depends on the practices we enliven. Whether we’re cruel or kind depends on how we say to life and all its obstacles and possibilities.
The endless practice of being human involves learning how to strengthen our heart by exercising it in the world, and how to refine who we are through caring, building, holding and repairing. No one can do this for us, though no one can do it alone. The way cells need blood and blood needs tissue, we need each other to be fully alive.
Copyright © 2014 by Mark Nepo, author of THE ENDLESS PRACTICE: BECOMING WHO YOU WERE BORN TO BE published by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.