“Today I wake up empty and frightened. Don’t go to the door of the study and read a book. Instead, take down the dulcimer, let the beauty of what you love be what you do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground, there are a thousand ways to go home again.” – Rumi

Last night I was reminded of the importance of ritual. There is a reason that the word “practice” implies some regularity and frequency at which you revisit a set of actions repeated in order to bring you into the present moment in your body. There is a difference between “getting stuff done” and “practicing”. I prefer to practice.

I went into the recording studio after missing my usual session last week. My shoulder had been feeling tweaky and I decided to let it rest. It was a great decision, and my body thanked me for it. I was fresh and actually craving the session last night a little bit as I walked in. I could feel my body getting into the mode of listening and playing as soon as I entered the studio space. I knew where to put my violin case, my coat, my bag, my water bottle. The tracks were already queued up on the recording system. I put the headphones on.

And it flowed. It was such a joy! I wasn’t trying to DO anything. I was just grateful to be back in my practice. See, I’m remembering that practice is the stuff of life. As a violin teacher, I spent hours answering questions about “how to get someone to practice”. In that process of trying to explain what practice was, I got lost. I got steered into other people’s reward-and-punishment systems, bribery tactics, making up false promises, all in an attempt to portray “practicing” – which was perceived as a necessary “evil” – as something palatable.

The truth is that the soul craves practice.

What I was being asked to explain was not practice. It was something else, for which I’m at a loss for a name right now. Maybe it was “doing”.

The difference between just “doing” and truly “practicing” is the element of devotion. Practice is a gift to yourself. You feel energized, centered, grounded, loving, more alive, more of who you are, after your practice.

What do you practice? It could be daily, weekly, several times a week…any frequency that provides enough regularity for your awareness to be centered on it. Chances are, as you start to practice something, you will gradually find yourself wanting to practice more frequently. What you practice and how you practice may evolve during your lifetime, reflecting your own internal evolution.

When I go into the studio, I know that I am going to be bathed in sound. I know that this is such a gift. I know that when I put those headphones on and enter into a state of deep listening, I have a chance to become a channel of creation. Dropping all ideas and concepts, I listen purely. I play.

Last night I watched as my record producer laid down a track of playing on the steel drum. The instruments he plays are percussion, but really he is a total musician. He listens. He hears. He creates. That’s his gift. And I watched him play. The beautiful thing was that he did not judge himself at all for playing “wrong” notes or not making the “right” sound. He just kept playing. He’d smile in recognition sometimes, and then he just kept going.

It was practice.

And each time, he recorded it. He did it maybe five times. I sat back and took pleasure in watching his ability to just keep playing, without losing any enthusiasm for himself during the process.

How often do we really allow ourselves to practice? I laugh in recognition of the propensity of our culture to expect adults to “just do” things, without room to practice…to do something “wrong”, to laugh, to learn, and to practice again. I myself honestly thought that my life was about arriving somewhere. I used to think that my purpose was to find that destination and arrive there safely. If I could tell my family and friends “where” I had arrived, then they would all be happy and stop worrying about me. I learned that arriving wasn’t enough for my soul.

Now I realize that we all have the same origin and the same destination – the only certainty we have in life is that our bodies will decay after our death. So what if life – actually being alive – were a practice in finding the ways in which we, in our own bodies, as we are now, can create something to offer the world? What if we could all make music? And not lose any enthusiasm, whether we played the “right” notes or the “wrong” notes? And what if we kept practicing, never losing our devotion to our particular music, always allowing something new when it was time to come?

What if each day of our lives could be a practice of expressing our gratitude for life?

I’ll keep practicing, and let you know.