At this very moment, I am feeling overwhelmed. So, of course, it makes sense to drop everything and write something. Well, maybe not, but it is a point that has resonance for me. When I think of practice, many things come to mind and it has evolved as I have gotten older. When I was a kid, my mom made sure that “practice piano” was on my list of chores to complete before dinner. In junior high and high school, almost every afternoon after school was devoted to school sports practice: volleyball in the fall, the never-ending basketball season that stretched from the first of November (or earlier) through the end of February, and the too-short season of track that lasted March through early May. Some adults had a practice, like the doctor in town, but that was more like work and a business.
When I was in college, one of my favorite people on the planet gave me a book and his inscription to me shifted my perception of the world a bit and it forever changed the meaning of practice for me. He referred to my praxis and that and our many discussions after helped me to understand the difference between practice and praxis, but that they couldn’t be separated.
Practice, like piano or sport, is repeating an activity to get better at it. We practiced as a team after school to get better at the sport of the season, both individually and together. I practiced piano in elementary school to get better at playing piano, to learn the scales, to improve. Praxis is generally used in terms of the practical application of learning. However, it was in conversations with this favorite person who helped me to realize that learning is an ongoing, lifelong endeavor and therefore, praxis is also lifelong, and that we are always practicing, always learning, always growing. Praxis isn’t just about academics, but about the lifelong pursuit of being human: learning, growing, questioning, on and on.
What I have realized is that for a good chunk of the last year or year and a half, I haven’t been practicing very much. I’ve been stagnating, I’ve been stumbling around without a praxis. I haven’t been learning, growing, questioning. I have also been hard on myself, and struggling to find my way again. I am trying to find new paths, new directions, while also trying to figure out myself in the process. In retrospect, I see that maybe it hasn’t all been stagnation, but also a period of gestation. I’m sure I can imagine what critics might say, but I know, as I am my harshest critic. Those periods of reflection are important within a praxis. I realize I have to practice being human, maybe more than others.
My point of overwhelm from a few minutes ago disappeared as I took a few deep breaths. I look around me. My calendar is splayed, as I pencil in a few things. I caution myself. It’s not just about filling up a schedule with tasks and appointments, the ingredients of busywork. It’s about finding the parts of me, the activities where I can keep growing, unfolding, learning, stumbling. It’s about rebuilding and nurturing relationships with people I love and letting go of others. It’s about realizing that everything is both a practice and a praxis. I want to grow and breathe and be uncomfortable and put myself in new paths, and some well-worn trails, too.
I sign up for two shifts as a volunteer crisis text counselor, when I feel the most uncomfortable and least qualifed. I begin working in a field that I have long wanted, but have felt uncertain about how to begin. I start a couple of classes, long ago signed up for, that I have long had access to, but never logged in for. A new academic journey starts in a couple of months. I make strides to find health and fitness in all aspects of my life. I look inward to see how my own health or dis-ease has hurt others and see where I can make repairs and find forgiveness. I put old identities away, like others put away their Halloween decorations and see about new ones, knowing that we can never escape our pasts, our mistakes, the wounds we feel, the pain we have inflicted on others. There is no clean slate, but in the current breath, in healing, in forgiveness, in grief, in learning, in growing.
I look at myself and the people and beings I love and realize that it is more than just showing up for those I know and love, but making space for others to join the fold, and also for those who are passing by. It’s about making space, in time, in presence, in stillness. At some point, I’ll share more about my practice, my praxis, but for now there is the space to grow and unfold.
I take a breath. It’s all a practice, a praxis. What is yours?