Practice and Meditation

October 28, 2008
By James

Most of the time, “going to practice” means doing repetitive, tiring, difficult work to get what you really want: a win at your next game, an excellent piano recital performance, a better race time.

Ballet Theatre kids after a particuarly grueling run through.

For me - as an artist - going to practice entails repetitive, tiring, difficult work because I love it.

Simple Beginnings

I didn’t realize this when I began. I thought I was going to dance class in order to learn new moves. I would repeat steps in front of my mirror so I could have better dances socially. I would take class at the studio because I was determined my body would learn how to stand up correctly.

And all of this was true: I did learn new moves, better technique, and “improved” in ways one would evaluate a dancer as having improved. (Yet as my humility as a dancer grows, I find I still have a wonderfully long journey ahead of me.)

At some point along this path though, I gained deeper motivations. While I still aspire to be a better dancer and artist, that’s not why I go to class every night. (Don’t worry: I’ll try to avoid the common “why do you dance?” essay for at least a decade and once I’ve really learned something.)


I go to dance practice because I enjoy all the little elements of the experience.

My body thrills at the work and exertion of movement (yes!), especially after having been confined to a desk for eight hours. I relax into the familiar rituals of the warm up exercises, where long familiarity lets me focus on increasing finer details. Music gets to pour through my body, forcing me to listen closely to both.

And, when class is at its best, my mind focuses on nothing but the dance. For all its energy and movement, it becomes for me a meditation.

An Empty Mind

In a truly challenging class, I cannot be thinking of anything else and make it through the class well. Even a few seconds of distraction will throw me off. (Thus my director’s constant admonition to us, “Come mentally prepared!”)

At practice Work? Schedule? Things to do? Relationships? All leave my mind. My attention narrows to my breath, the floor, the music, my body, and the directions I’m receiving. (And that’s probably three too many to focus on.) Nothing else matters.

In the midst of that focus, I am content. I don’t need to have a performance to show off what I’ve done. I don’t need to compete to prove I’ve gotten better. (Though both, if I may borrow the phrase, are like “icing on a cake” to a dancer.) I’d be content just going to class, week in and week out.

Martial artists, I know, experience something similar when practicing well - an empty mind focused immediately on the moves, patterns, or sparring at hand. My friend Garrett says he occasionally feels something similar when lost in his paints on a canvas.

It’s Not All About Getting Better

The practice - for all its work - is a meditation, a release, and a relaxation.

It doesn’t make all those “other things” go away - work, life, relationships, sorrows. They’re waiting just outside the door once practice ends. (I sometimes see people use dance to fix something in their lives; while it provides a temporary escape, it is not a healing agent in and of itself.)

But: when the practice ends, I’m different. More physically tired, perhaps. Exhausted, sometimes. But clearer in my mind, usually. Satisfied on a level that is important to me. More ready, hopefully, to engage the sorrows, trials, and other aspects of my life, and in the lives of those around me.


It’s not always all roses and peaches. (Um, can we get peer editors on this blog please? Such phrases should be strictly disallowed.)

Some days I don’t feel like going to practice because I’m tired. Some weekends I wish I had time to travel elsewhere. Sometimes practice is excruciatingly frustrating because I just can’t do a step I’m asked to.

But even when tired and frustrated, I still take pleasure in my fumbling, awkward attempts to dance.

Looking Outward

I wonder if I can apply the same ethic to other things that are repetitive, tiring, and difficult. I realize not every activity requires such a sustained level of focus (good thing!) - but would it be too hard to find the little (yet deep) pleasures in the practice of a thing?

What if people regarded each day as a chance to “practice” being one of their many roles? A programmer. A nurse. A friend. A student. A disciple. An advocate. A spouse.

I wonder if, as a husband, I’ll be able find the same deeper pleasures within my “practice” there. Where each day I push myself to improve upon the day before. Where periods of focused concentration, excluding all else, are occasionally required if I am to do well. Where, even when I feel tired or have other things to do, I find it still worth it to “practice”, and come out different on the other side. Where I will continually deepen my satisfaction as the same rituals are performed time and again, constantly finding new details to focus on and enjoy. Not because there’s some big “performance” I’m getting ready for, but because I simply enjoy it.

That sounds like an awful lot of difficult work.

Hopefully, as my humility grows, I’ll find I still have a wonderfully long journey of practice ahead of me.

One Response to "Practice and Meditation"

  1. Farmy
    Farmy on 31-10-’08 02:23

    Nice work. It’s good to hear you are still dancing. Your topic is good for me to think about now – in this time in my life. Hope all is well. I heard you have a bike. Good for you :)

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