Practice of Practices

Practice of Practices

What you practice is what you have.
-Cheri Huber

This simple yet profound statement makes me wonder: What is my practice? What are my practices?

In the middle of the night I abruptly awaken, eyes wide in the darkness. Mind races. I practice: Notice breath. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.

Time dissolves. Morning arrives.

The following day I negotiate 70 mile-an-hour lane switches across the final mile-long on/off ramp with condensed traffic going as fast as me. I have negotiated such lane-switching hundreds of times since moving to this state, and still: body registers fear of a collision at any moment. Survival is at stake. (In that moment I recall the time I saw a car overturned in a tree a year back.) I arrive home safe. Upon arrival, I turn the key in the ignition and the engine groans into silence. In the driver’s seat still, I practice: breathe in, breathe out. I shut my eyes. Car windows up, I listen into the silence. Breathe in, breathe out. I open my eyes, my gaze falling softly on the speedometer. Flex my fingers, rest my palms on my thighs. Grateful to have survived another California on-off ramp, another California highway.

Home. My partner checks in. I check in with my partner, inquire about her day. See her. Hear her. She inquires with me. Sees me. Hears me. We share our day. This is our practice.

Paying attention.

I leave the apartment in the morning. I turn the key in the lock. Raise my gaze, look out, walk down the corridor. Notice how it feels to walk, to have two legs that work. To have two legs at all. To move, quickly, slowly. What knees feel like to bend walking down stairs. Knees moving, bending. Open my hands while walking. Notice the misty air on my palms. Turn palms over. Notice mist on the back of my hands, the small breeze through my fingers.

Drive to the gas station. At the station, while fueling the car, notice the potted plant beside me. Focus in on it. Contemplate the plant’s lineage: how it got to be here. Contemplate the fuel flowing into the tank, all the human and earth energy it took to make this fuel. Raise my gaze, notice one tree among the line of trees dividing the gas station from the adjacent parking lot.

Back on the highway, notice the grip of my hands on the steering wheel. Relax my grip. Notice how quickly my grip resumes.

What you practice is what you have.

End of the day, notice what I have left out again: calling my brother. Calling my parents. Inviting friends over. Notice the voice inside wanting to chastise me for not being a better brother, son, friend, partner.

Go and sit for 20 minutes before bed. Notice that ceaseless voice while on the cushion. Notice it continue following sitting.

Notice my cat beside me, wanting my human touch more than she wants her stomach full. (At least at this moment.)

Notice what there isn’t time for right at this moment: books, friends, family.

What there is always time for: attention. Practice of practices.

Attention begets attention.

I reach out my hand. My partner reaches out hers. Our fingers interweave. Down the sidewalk, other people, trees, dogs, parking meters cause our brief separation. Hand reaches out for hand again. Yesterday her hand was cool, coarse. Today, warm and smooth.

Mind wanders to a galaxy far, far away. Notice this. Mind returns to what is always present: body, breath. Mind wanders without needing to practice. Mind returns because of practice.

We cannot pay attention to everything, so we do so one thing at a time.

I will go to sleep soon beside my partner. If the past few nights are prologue, the middle of the night tonight should prove a restless one, during which I will notice this body breathing in and out, in and out. I will notice my partner’s body breathing in and out, in and out. I will notice our cats’ bodies breathing in and out, in and out. If I am lucky, I will notice soon thereafter night once again become day. I will notice the dawn’s light strike the shades, notice the earth’s pull on my body, notice my partner’s unceasing breath beside me.

This is what I have. Someday it will be otherwise. Until then, I practice. Again and again.