In Buddhist circles, people talk regularly about our “practice.” In introducing ourselves, we ask “How long have you been practicing?” Most people have a simple answer, “Oh I’ve been practicing about 15 years now” or “I just started practicing a few months ago.”
When I’m asked this question, I panic. My story of practice has always felt more complicated than that. I usually fumble through an answer, “Well, I’ve been applying Buddhist principles to my life for 8 years. About 5 years ago, I started seeing a therapist who helped me calm down and learn to be mindful of the experiences going on in my body. But up until the last few months, I completely panicked if I sat in meditation for more than 5 minutes. So, um, some time in there my practice started.” When I’ve actually launched into that, people just look a little confused and unsure whether to tell me when they think I started, or just go talk to someone else who is a little less complicated.
I’m going to use my panic as a sign to look more deeply. What is practice? What does it mean to “start a practice” and what activities are required in order for one to say, “I have a practice”? I am writing a series of posts that look at my own history with mindfulness practice, to try to make sense of this seemingly uncomplicated question of “How long have you been practicing?”