Theory and practice. Lately I’ve been finding myself aware of this pairing – not a binary or a dichotomy and certainly not hinting at any sort of mutual exclusivity, but two friends I tend to meet for coffee pretty regularly these days. Theory is better about showing up. Theory is always on time and guaranteed always has plenty to say. Theory is easy and comfortable to be around, even when it’s challenging. Theory and my head are like two peas in a pod. We can talk until the cows come home about what it means to live open-heartedly and what it looks like to step into vulnerability. We’re really good about talking about that…
Practice on the other hand. Practice is that sometimes-flakey friend who is pretty much always late and only really shows up because we’ve had to have a few conversations about its reliability. Practice and I generally get a cup of tea (we gave up coffee 4 months ago) in our to-go cups and go for a walk.
Theory and I talk. Practice and I walk.
And sometimes I don’t want to walk. Sometimes it takes a lot of energy to engage with practice, so I choose sides and hang out with theory and it’s more comfortable.
But lately I’ve been getting…bored with theory. I know, I know! How is that possible?! Theory is entertaining and engaging and exciting and stimulating. All of that is true, certainly. But theory lacks action and as Spring has decided to show up big time here in Boulder, my body is needing action. Shake off the winter, stretch and move and clear the hibernation from my system and get back into the practice of living, of being in this world.
So practice and I are meeting more regularly lately, and theory comes along too, and the three of us are engaging in the process of what it means to unite theory and practice – have practice teach me how to integrate theory – and live from that place. It’s exciting, actually. And challenging. Hanging out with practice sometimes feels like moving my body in a new way. Like I’ve had an injury that I’ve been guarding, but it’s healed now and I am learning this new mobility that is possible.
I was talking to a teacher of mine recently about something I struggle with and she asked me if my belief was really the way things are or if it was my circumstance at one point and is no longer. Of course, being the wise one that she is, she hit the nail on the head and it was another moment of recognizing the places that I still get stuck. Just because something was a certain way does not mean that it is still that way, but sometimes it takes reframing it and actively engaging with now to realize that things have shifted. Over and over.
So, here I go back to Theory and Practice. Theory can help us recognize patterns and learn how to repattern, but it’s practice more often than not that helps us see when we’re actually somewhere new. That what we’ve always held that we’ve known is in fact different. Because by engaging with practice we’re actively participating in the evolution of our lives. Practice is integrating theory into our systems and living from that place.
Need a more concrete example? I went to yoga tonight. I’ve been going to this class now for about 3 months, my first foray into more advanced classes after 3 years of practicing yoga. I’m pretty diligent about it, but every Monday afternoon I get a little trepidatious. It pushes my edges, makes me feel uneasy, mostly because it invites in all of the really loud insecurities that I’m good at quieting when I stay within my comfort zone. But I started going to this class because it was time to move from theory to practice. Intellectually I’ve been exploring what it means to find my edge and to inhabit my body, to know my body and be present with it. But it’s hard to know what it’s capable of if I keep it comfortable, ya know? So in a way, going to this yoga class, with all the attendant uncertainty and self-doubt is my way of engaging with the practice of knowing and exploring my body as well as the Self that inhabits it that gets doubtful and insecure. It gives me a chance to be present with myself and to witness the voices that try to keep me from stepping outside my comfort zone. It’s rewarding like I’d never imagined. In part because I’m learning to integrate the theory of presence and self-awareness.
It’s hard. No two ways about it. Like I said, sometimes I don’t want to go for a walk. Sometimes I just want to cradle a cup of hot tea in my hands and talk. But that’s why practice is a practice, right? It’s not necessarily supposed to be easy and sometimes we’re really not good at it, but we keep at it. We keep at it and through that we learn how to show up for ourselves and we learn to trust that. We learn to see what’s right in front of us, to be with it, and we learn that there’s room for all of this – the talking and the walking.