Last year, I learned how to breathe.
Okay, of course I knew how to breathe before last year. But last year in May, I adopted a specific breathing practice to address some wacky breathing issues I was experiencing. The first month I did my practice, it brought so many benefits to my life that I decided to keep it up the whole year and blog about it every month.
It was a good experience, and I learned a lot from the practice. (You can read my first post here, and that post contains a link that will guide you through other posts in the series.)
When I reached my twelfth month of beautiful breathing (in April), I started thinking about a new practice I could adopt for a new year. I played around with a few ideas, a couple of which didn’t work. Eventually I found my new practice, which I want to tell you about.
But before I do that, I want to talk a little bit about purpose and practice.
Finding Our Purpose
All of us want to live a good life in which we engage in activities that are meaningful to us and contribute something special to the world. This special contribution might be a work of art or philosophical idea. Or, it may be the way we help others or make the world a safer place or share our skill and expertise with our community.
When we live in this way, we feel like our life has meaning and that we have a purpose. (And by the way, I believe everyone has a purpose because everyone has intrinsic worth. You might like to read more about this here.)
Having a purpose leads to a lot of satisfaction and happiness, so, on the one hand, pursuing our life’s purpose can be an exciting adventure.
Our purpose is the unique good we have to share with the world that flows from our talents, interests and passions. I personally think that every person and everything in nature has a unique good.
On the other hand, finding our purpose can sometimes be confusing and anxiety-producing. Sometimes we don’t really know where to start to find our purpose. Often, we are afraid of getting it wrong. For instance, we might worry that we will invest ourselves and our time into an activity that turns out to be unconnected to our purpose.
Such fears can lead to mental and emotional paralysis at times. We just don’t know where to start.
This is where practices come into the picture.
A practice is any activity that we do regularly. It can be big and complicated or very small and simple. For example, a practice can be as simple as taking ten deep breaths a day, or it can be something like doing a yoga sequence or reading or writing or walking or praying or singing or serving others frequently.
A practice is something you do regularly that helps you develop a capacity or interest you have.
Practices help us find or strengthen our purpose.
Our purpose is not something that we find fully developed, waiting inside of us to be discovered. Rather, our purpose is an inner potential we all possess that we develop through action in the world. Cheri Huber says, “What you practice is what you have”, and I have found that to be true in my life. The more I practice writing, the more writing becomes a part of my purpose. The more I practice walking, the more walking becomes a part of my purpose.
I was writing at a cafe the other day. I am working on a novel! I am really excited. And terrified. It might be the worst novel ever, but I am excited to write it nonetheless.
Practices help us develop our purpose, and if we want our purpose to look a certain way, it is wise to develop practices connected to this purpose.
Usually there isn’t one right action to take or one specific practice to adopt. Rather, it is through committing to a particular action that we develop our potential in various ways. It also helps us figure out ways of acting in the world that don’t work for us so that we can adopt more helpful practices. In that process, our purpose becomes clearer and stronger.
The process of finding our purpose is a lot like a road with multiple forks in it that all lead to the same destination. On this road, it is not as important what fork you take but rather that you choose one and continue with the adventure, headed towards your destination.
This leads me back to my new practice.
Hanging from Monkey Bars
When I was trying to decide on a new practice, I wasn’t sure exactly which new practice to adopt, but I knew that it needed to have three characteristics:
One: It had to be something I was interested in.
Two: It had to be something easy enough that I could do without fail every day if I choose to.
Three: It needed to be something that would allow me to develop a skill slowly over time.
The only way a practice will help you develop your potential is if you do it consistently. I know that I will not do something consistently if I am not interested in it or if it is too overwhelming for me. In addition, if my practice doesn’t allow me to develop in some way, I will become bored with it.
After thinking about my new practice for a while, I decided that it would be hanging from monkey bars every day, even if just for a few seconds.
Why Hanging from Monkey Bars?
This may seem like an odd practice to adopt, so let me explain why I did so. First of all, I believe that our view of the world is greatly conditioned by how we feel in our bodies. If we feel powerless and weak in our bodies, we often feel powerless in the world and like we cannot change things or make a difference. That makes it harder for us to express our purpose.
Because of this connection between our body and our view of the world, I like to do things that help me feel powerful in my body. The more I do this, the easier it is for me to live my purpose.
My breathing practice last year was an example of something that helps me feel more powerful. As a result of my breathing practice, I also began walking regularly last year, and this also helped me feel more powerful. You can read more about this here.
Lately, my arm muscles have been feeling weaker. I want to feel strong and capable for the rest of my life, so for my new practice, I decided I wanted to do something that would help me feel stronger. I could have lifted weights, but right now I don’t like doing that, and I knew that my new practice had to be something that I was interested in if I was going to stick with it. (See #1 above.)
I really like physical activities like hula hooping, swinging, and juggling that are playful and childlike. So as I was thinking of playful ways I could strengthen my arms, my thoughts naturally turned to the monkey bars my husband built out back for us a few summers ago. I decided that my new practice would be to hang from our monkey bars every day, even if it was just a few seconds.
I am pretty sure if I do this every day for a year, some cool things are going to happen. And I know I can do it every day or almost every day because it is really, really easy to do (see #2 above). I just walk out my back door; hang from the bars for however long feels good; and then I go back inside. (Or mow the lawn sometimes.)
Monkey bars and other fun equipment to play with.
And cool things have already started to happen with my new practice.
My Month of Hanging on Monkey Bars
In my month of hanging on monkey bars, I have already had some fun surprises. First of all, you should know that I am pretty bad at hanging on monkey bars right now. At the beginning of the month, my grip and arm strength was so weak that I could only hold on to the bars for about three seconds.
But that’s okay. One of the things I love about doing a practice regularly is that you often slowly go from being bad at something to being quite skilled at it. I’m now at the end of month one of bar hanging, and I can hold on confidently and with strength for twenty seconds. I can also tighten my stomach and lift my legs while I am hanging so that I am close to hanging in an L position.
I am excited to see where I end up at the end of the year.
I’m also not setting any hard and fast goals with my arm hanging practice. I find that when I let a practice unfold naturally, rather than deciding what goal I must achieve with it, it often takes me in cool and surprising directions.
For instance, my new practice has already taken me in one surprising direction: I started climbing trees again. I climbed trees all the time growing up and loved it. Over the years, though, I have not been climbing trees regularly, and so the thought of doing it intimidated me.
Shortly after I began hanging on our monkey bars, my arms and back started feeling awake and tingly in a way they haven’t for a while. A short time after this, I was exploring a path in my local arboretum, and I ran across a cool tree. I thought to myself, “That looks like a good tree to climb.” And propelled by new feelings of strength and confidence, I did indeed climb that tree. It felt fantastic.
A week later, I climbed it again. I plan to keep climbing trees all this year.
And it was probably the childlike exhilaration that I felt climbing trees that inspired me to do somersaults and cartwheels the next day in my back yard. And I’m not very good at somersaults and cartwheels right now, but that’s okay. The point is not to be great at everything. The point is to have adventures.
That’s one of the really cool things about adopting a practice, doing it consistently, and letting it unfold naturally. It leads to more adventures, and you end up doing things that make you feel alive and that you forgot were so fun to do.
I can’t wait to see what happens next month.
Do you have a practice you enjoy a lot? Is there a practice that intrigues you that you would like to start doing regularly? I would love to hear about it below.
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