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Talking about Practice
Many folks start their journeys into UU or Buddhist practices with intellectual questions. But the real, positive, transforming benefits of UUism and Buddhism both come in practice, not in theory. So let's not get stuck at the level of abstraction; let's talk about the nitty-gritty:
- Descriptions of our experience with our practice: what specifically we do, what it feels like
- Formal, traditional methods
- Innovative techniques
- Issues with practice: what concerns come up?
- Reflections on our whole lives as practice.
One way to approach this is to send "check-in" messages, sharing what's happening in our lives / practices right now, as people do in real-world support groups.
We do need to take care with this approach.
- People feel vulnerable sharing this kind of experience; it needs a climate of respect, acceptance and compassion. Since these are basic values of both UUism and Buddhism, we already have a commitment to that climate. Not that we always succeed but the effort to behave that way on list is part of our group practice. (See A Code of Courtesy and Kindness)
- There are some ways in which talking about one's practice might actually create hindrances to practice. For example...
- Bragging: giving an exaggerated report of oneself, describing oneself with excessive pride. This is a failure of mindfulness, a lapse into dualistic thinking so we report only "good" about ourselves. It can be conscious or unconscious but for anyone concerned about mindfulness, it's more likely unconscious.
(It's important to distinguish between a healthy pride and excessive pride. This is where another difficult traditional Buddhist term comes in: the "merit" of our actions. This concept affirms that good deeds create good energy, which it's appropriate to enjoy. It's appropriate to be happy about Right Action; it's just not appropriate to get caught in that, identified with it.)
- Identifying with one's description of one's practice. Chogyam Trungpa's insightful concept of spiritual materialism warns us not to consider any practice or experience as an accomplishment, as a thing we possess or an attribute of our "self." When we use our practice as a way to define ourselves, when we take pride in that self-concept, we are not practicing.
- However, perhaps when we witness the mind's tendency to do all that, paradoxically we are practicing. This is the key to practice-talk: speaking mindfully. Talking about your experience of your practice needs to be done as practice, itself. This means not only reporting your observation of the tricks your mind plays, but also paying attention to what the mind is doing as you report. It means keeping clearly in mind a purpose of seeing through the tricks, seeing through the mind, for the benefit of all beings.
- This is not easy. Mindfulness is not easy. It's simple, but it's discipline, which means it's work. In writing, it means asking constantly, "What is the issue here? Is this really what's happening? Is my mind getting distracted by its favorite rants? What am I avoiding? What am I attached to?"
The Benefits: if we do a good job,
- Every message we read, every message we post, ...is practice.
- We create a community that supports practice.
- We offer the service of sangha to people unable to attend a real-world group.