The Practice of Practice

You know, I used to laugh at this clip of Allen Iverson (see bottom). Iverson, one of the all-time gamers, explodes in a season-ending press conference when he’s asked about his—how to say this?—inconsistent practice habits.

He says practice likes it’s a cuss word. He says it about 20 times in 142 seconds.

“We’re talking about practice. Not the game that I die for, that I play every game like it’s my last. Not the game. We’re talking about practice, man. How silly is that?!?”

Silly, I thought. But not in the way Allen meant it. I mean, he’s a professional basketball player. He is paid to play games, yes, but also to prepare with his teammates so they can perform optimally in stressful, competitive situations.

Of course he needs to practice.

But about a year ago, I had an uncomfortable realization.

I was Allen Iverson.

Because I needed practice, too.

Not dribbling and shooting, though that wouldn’t hurt my once-a-week, lunchtime hoops game.

I needed to practice listening. I needed to practice paying attention. I needed to practice being awake.

I needed a practice.

The realization was a tonic and a grace. Because practice isn’t so bad, no matter what “The Answer” said.

In fact, I found, I liked practice. Taking a few moments each day to find my breath, to attend to my physical state and acknowledge the thoughts that race and loop and eddy, the ones that bruise and the ones that steal by without ruffling a feather. Taking a moment to open the circle of my awareness to include others. This is activity that makes my life richer, warmer, better.

And it’s not work, which is my practice. In the same way Iverson disdained practice,  I hated the idea of non-employment work—as in, work at your marriage, or work on being a better parent/friend/church leader/brother/son/person. Why in the world would I want these relationships reduced to work. Isn’t it more than an employment?

Anyway, I like practicing at marriage and friendship and being alive. That feels creative and iterative, open to opportunity. If you mess something up at practice, well, you just run through it again till you get it right.

Practice opens up an intimacy with myself and, by extension, intimacy with others. Until I took the time to know myself more intimately, it was difficult to do the same for others.

And that’s important at this time of year, when the world feels a bit like I’m standing atop a steep slope, my life on wheels, and the damn thing is trying to roll away down the hill. Between trying to close out the year at work (we all know, December is the shortest work month of the year), home (gift suggestions, photo books, hanging lights and propping up trees), and connect with friends, it’s a hard to find time to practice.

Which is exactly when you need to do it.

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