Perhaps what life satisfaction is really about is transitioning from being a seeker, or someone who wants a certain lifestyle, to a practitioner, or someone who actually lives that lifestyle day in and day out.
“Practice,” writes the philosopher Terry Patten, “is about waking up again and again, and choosing to show up in life in alignment with one’s highest intelligence, or what matters most to them.”
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for this; no one-off goal to achieve. “A whole life of regular, ongoing practice is necessary,” writes Patten. “We are always reinforcing the neural circuits associated with what we are doing. Whatever way we are being, we’re more likely to be that way in the future. This means we are always practicing something.”
The thing about making a practice of living is that your practice spills over into everything you do, whether you’re teaching or writing or coaching or running or operating or working in a spreadsheet or parenting. Here’s Robert Pirsig, writing in my all-time favorite book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:
It’s the way you live that that predisposes you to avoids the traps and see the right facts. You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally. That’s the way all the experts do it. The making of a painting or the fixing of a motorcycle isn’t separate from the rest of your existence…The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there. Other people can talk about how to expand the destiny of mankind. I just want to talk about how to fix a motorcycle. I think what I have to say has more lasting value.
I’d encourage you to think less of goals and resolutions and more in terms of practice. What are your core values? What specific practices work in service of them? How can you create an environment in which it becomes natural to regularly practice these values? How can you bring them to everything you do? Whom might you enlist to walk the path with you? What will you do when you fail? Can you show discipline and compassion toward yourself at the same time?
The nice thing about making this kind of mindset shift is that it diminishes the pressure of achieving a certain goal and all the trying that goes with it. Just practice. Day in and day out. Define your core values. Let them serve as your guide.
The goal is the path and the path is the goal. Here’s to walking…
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