I want to invite you to not have an excessive loyalty to the predetermined idea of what you’re going to do when you show up to practice.
A lot of us we might have a mental notion of what we’re going to do, and or even a schedule, and a program that says do X, Y, and Z on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And that can be useful, especially if you need that to get a practice going.
However, if we devote our energy and our time specifically to discipline as a whole, we end up creating a much harsher relationship with our practice and is unnecessary. What we can do is devote ourselves to showing up consistently on a particular day at a particular time.
And then be willing to completely change what we have to do on that day, in the moment based off of what your body is telling you. So for example, one of the easiest ways to know if your system is telling you that this practice is not going to work out the way that you would hope is that immediately you start to feel more tired when you start to do something.
And or it just feels like a slog that this feels like it’s going to take true willpower to get through. Now you can if there is a larger arc in why you’re doing this simply grit through it. However, if you want to be more nuanced and skillful instead of trying to break through the barrier, try to flow around it.
What else can you do within the context of your practice that will feed into the same qualities and or support the trajectory that you are trying to get? The thing is that if we force this onto our system in the moment, it’s going to slow down progress in the long term, because the recovery demands of what you’re doing are going to be higher.
The reality is that your body your organism, or system is an infinitely variable, complex, open ended system that is consistently responding to any number of internal and outside forces.
So one of the easiest ways to measure all of that is how you are feeling in the moment and more specifically, how your body is responding in the moment to a particular practice.
Everything in nature breathes. And this is also true for your practice. Everything that we encounter in nature is cycling in some form or another. And it moves from expansion to contraction, and back to expansion again, in an ever ongoing ebb and flow.
Everything is moving between this polarity of stimulation and recovery… of pulsation.
And so if our practices are not aligned with this, we are not taking advantage of an innate and inherent rhythm that can support us throughout our life. And in our practice. If, for example, you are creating an artificial pattern, by doing the same amount of work every single day consistently, then you may be very consistent. But you’re not really taking full advantage of what’s here to support you to create more easeful, ongoing, sustainable progress.
So if you set up a pattern or a habit of running 30 miles every single day, then yeah, you might be really consistent. But at the same time, you are creating a situation for yourself, that is going to be a lot harder, and it’s going to wear you down a lot more over the long run.
Whereas if you allow yourself to have a minimum that you will run and a maximum that you will run, while, also recognizing that you might have to break through sessions when you’re fully recovered and bust through plateaus and so your minimum might grow and your maximum might grow as well. Then you create yourself a situation that allows for much more easeful progress to occur.
So while I do not suggest being less devoted, I do in some way suggest being less consistent, being more cyclical, allowing for the practice to shrink at times, while keeping it connected with a minimum and then allowing it to expand, and at other times and allowing for that to be organic and intuitive.
On days where you just have more energy, you allow for the practice to grow. On days where you don’t have as much energy you allow for the practice to shrink. And this might move in micro scales from let’s say, a week to macro scales of let’s say, even a month or a year. It just depends on the vantage point that you’re trying to look at, but allow your practice to breathe.
One of the most powerful, and also simple ideas to help you improve any set of practices that you’re choosing to engage with is to set both a minimum and a maximum.
And each of them have their own magic.
So a minimum establishes the smallest unit of practice that you can engage with, even on your worst day, that constitutes meaningful progress. And that’s dependent on the practice itself.
So for example, if you are a writer, and you’re trying to establish a practice of writing every single day, then the smallest unit of progress might be a single sentence, or possibly even a paragraph. So that means that every day you commit to coming and doing a single sentence and or a paragraph, or for example, whatever you choose in that context is appropriate. And then the maximum might be five pages of work, the minimum establishes an entry point, it reduces the friction for you to actually come and sit down. Because even on your worst day, you can say, well, I can sit down for a few minutes to write a single sentence.
And that keeps a thread of practice flowing throughout your life. There’s a saying in Chinese cultivation, that if you always take the pot off the stove, the water never boils. This smallest unit, this minimum is about keeping the pot on the stove.
And what ends up happening is it oftentimes when you come and you write the single sentence, or you write a single paragraph, then you end up finding capacity where you had none. And then you end up being able to work more within the context of moving towards the maximum.
The maximum is the safest amount that you could do on that day, without overloading your system, and then needing additional recovery beyond a single day. So in some senses, it’s about not doing more on one day than you can recover from fully in that day. Because if the practice is to do something daily, that means that if you have too much work on any given day that disrupts that rhythm, then you can’t engage the next day. So by establishing a minimum and a maximum, you set yourself up for continuous progress that is also sustainable.