June 10, 2015

Practice Makes Imperfect

The title of this blog post is a purposeful exaggeration. Here's the real title: practice reveals everything. If you commit to a practice--any practice--you see all of yourself. You see resistance, curiosity, judgment, joy, freedom, and doubt. There's no escape from yourself and that's the point: you show up and you stay

I have many practices: meditation, photography, writing, gardening, and yoga. In all of these, the process itself is most important; the outcome is extraneous. What's essential is my commitment to practice, whatever the experience brings. I have long-term goals, but in the short term I have no expectations. This is when things flow. 

Yet regularly flow is interrupted by assumptions and judgments. I enter meditation expecting to feel good and then meet fear. I take photographs expecting beautiful images and then find dullness. I weed the garden expecting to finish--to wrap up life--and then spot more weeds. In these moments, things don't flow. They feel sticky and messy. And this is all part of practice. 

If I continue to show up, no matter what, then I experience flow and stuck-ness. I see the machinations of my mind yet I also see the love in my heart. Through this process, I develop trust in myself and faith in my practice.

Here's a mantra I repeat to my students: the most helpful practice is the one you'll actually use. The imaginary--often extravagant--practice does nothing; it sits on a shelf. (I can't meditate unless I have 30 minutes. I can't photograph unless the light is gorgeous. I can't write unless I have a clear idea.) We sabotage ourselves by not starting. Then self-judgment seeps in and things get ugly. Better to actually start an intentional practice. Dive in, see what happens (meet the ugliness).

So what is a helpful practice? That's up to you. Get quiet, listen inward, and set an intention--a realistic intention. Then make a commitment to show up no matter what. Show up even if you're busy or tired or cranky. Stay with the practice, pay attention, and get curious. Stay with your experience, whatever arises. Because practice reveals everything.


  1. Oh Joy, this must be one of your best posts. This is speaking to ME. I'm often in doubt and fear. I loved you describing meet the ugliness. I spent one hour weeding my garden and I just saw more weed. Thanks to this post I can sort of think in a different way. Oh I take time to make time.

    Thank you for writing to me about my cat. He is loaded with so much feelings. Feelings of loneliness and of me needing to take care, maybe of myself? To me he is a calming little miracle that I have had for 8 years. He brightens my days and brings so much joy. Thank you for letting me hold your hand.

    Hugs /Agnes <3

    1. Agnes, I'm glad these words spoke to you today, especially during this difficult time. Our pets are our family. Yes, take care of Sven, but also take very good care of yourself.

  2. Thank you so much for this post. The timing is perfect. Warm hug from the stormy south: catch up soon, at the beginning of summer! Especially love the last photo: the light, the composition. Thank you for sharing your beauty, wisdom and light!

    1. It's good to hear from you, Elke. I've been thinking of you. Your recommendation of "The True Secret of Writing" was spot on. I did the practice (sit, walk, write) each morning while on Nevis. Thank you! And thanks for your very kind words.