March 27, 2018

Choosing a Personal Practice

Dashielle Vawter

10 years ago I had a spiritual awakening, or you could just call it an awakening. After a lifetime of living in my head, in judgment, in thinking that I knew all the answers and the “right” way to do everything- I had an explosive, body shaking energetic release that opened my eyes to the world, and myself, in a profoundly different way.

One of the first insights that rode the coat tails of this experience was that I wanted to make space in my life for getting to know this other way of seeing, living, being, thinking, etc. I wanted the freedom and peace I was experiencing to be my priority because in them I felt a deep relief from the tightness I had spent most of my life in.

The practice I developed involved getting up before the sunrise on weekdays, putting on very warm clothes, walking to a bell tower I happened to have been given the keys to in downtown Oakland, and watching the sun rise, meditating, journaling, and reading something that spoke to my heart, something specific to how I felt that day. I never wanted to get up when my alarm went off, but I learned that I felt amazing as soon as I was outside, walking to the bell tower with a pile of books and a water bottle or thermos of green tea.

I also related to this practice as the first time in my life where I was putting myself in front of everything else instead of the other way around.

Getting up at five to do a 2-3 hour practice felt like an incredible luxury to me, and I devoured it.

I loved the feeling of being up as the day first started. I loved watching the sky grow yellow and orange. I loved the warmth as the first rays of sun hit my skin and slowly I could shed some of my down layers. I loved watching the city slowly turn from the blues and purples of pre-dawn to all the colors that the light enlivened. I loved watching the sun slowly move across the Oakland hills day by day as the months passed by. I loved looking up at the sun throughout the day and feeling a relationship with it because I had been present with it’s rise that morning. I loved looking at the sun and being reminded of my practice, my commitment to myself, to the new life I was beginning, to all the joy and integrity that felt like it was emerging through the blessing of my awakening. It all felt connected through the morning practice.

I loved hearing the noise slowly grow as the city came to life. I loved feeling like a participant in that waking, that movement, this age/time on earth.

Because I had come from a lifetime of judgment and right and wrong thinking I also loved getting to explore my actions and thoughts in my journal with complete openness. I felt free to see myself and love myself as I was, but also to grow in the directions that I wanted to- which is only possible if we can see clearly where we’re starting from without judgment.

I loved watching myself make incremental progress and feeling a sense of pride in the integrity I was bringing to my life through being honest with myself about how I was living and interacting with others, what was motivating me, and consistently aligning my thoughts and actions with the love and integrity I wanted to live into. I loved feeling like I was choosing the humility of change over the arrogance of defending who I had been. I knew I had done the best I could then, and I was happy that I felt free to allow my best to grow. It made me feel free, light, loving and more understanding with others.

I learned to love apologizing to people, and making amends. I loved setting one intention for the day and the experience of really focusing on that intention, something I found beautiful, throughout the day- and intention like listening, or patience, or honesty, or compassion. Sometimes my intention would be patience with a particular person, or to edit something I had said that upon reflection felt inauthentic.

I loved the quiet time spent in my heart while meditating. I had spent so much time shut off from my heart that spending 30 minutes steeping in that place of sweet, tender, warmth felt absolutely divine and deeply nourishing.  I loved looking for some reading, some poem or short section of a book that spoke to my specific state, my specific heart, that morning. I loved how finding the right prayer or poem to touch my joy or my melancholy, my humor or my gentleness, would create in me a sense of connection to myself, and to others who had been on the path throughout time. Reading a Rumi poem and remembering that he was experiencing something similar almost 800 years ago made me feel timeless, ageless, connected, and whole.

I share all of this because nowhere in my mind was I relating to what I was doing in terms of what I “should” be doing. I did not see this practice as an obligation, something I should do, or something that would make me a good person. Every single part of it felt like a joy and a luxury to me, a bundle of gifts I got to give myself every morning.

After I moved I restarted this practice in other places but it never quite felt the same. Slowly ego crept back in and the thought of this practice became something I thought I “should” do instead of something that I longed for, something that nourished me, something that was the highlight of my day.

Last weekend however I went to a Tony Robbins seminar in San Jose. I know, Tony Robbins! So funny, not something I ever thought I’d be going to… but I was given a ticket, hotel, parking and rides every day. So I went with an open mind and heart. There were certainly things I disagreed with (capitalism is completely unquestioned). But there were also a lot of insights that held value for me. *** (side note below)

One day he spoke about how motivation and discipline are insufficient to break a habit that is associated with pleasure or to institute a new habit that we associated with pain.

If we want to change habits of mind or behavior we have to actually change the pleasure/pain associations.

I have understood this insight intuitively in a variety of ways in my life, but it was spoken with such simplicity that I realized there were more far reaching implications to this than I’d really spent time understanding or applying.

I won’t go into all of those implications though because this morning I’m focusing on choosing a personal practice. For awhile I’ve felt that I need to begin a personal practice again, but that it needs to be renewed. But I’ve struggled to do that, starting and stopping, journaling and meditating, but not always feeling connected to my practice and so not having the relationship with it that is sustainable.

I’ve also discussed this with many of my clients recently and each time I encourage them to develop a personal practice, or a spiritual practice, I’m met with this particular energy- you can probably feel it in yourself right now as you read this. Resistance. They say they “know they should,” they “don’t know when or how much time they’ll have,” they “don’t like meditating (or journaling, or …).” All of this is associating practice with pain. And it will never work.

We need to engage our creativity to make a practice something we associate with pleasure. Anything we choose to give significant time to must on some level be something we enjoy and find profound value in. This is the only way we’ll show up to the practice ready to experience it, create it, and deepen with it.

If personal time is another item on the to-do list that I feel I “should” do it won’t last and it won’t actually have value.

So how do we associate pleasure with the practice? Create a practice we’re actually excited about, actually. This isn’t about tricking ourselves, though we can do that as well when we need to. This is about asking ourselves, and answering honestly, what we long to give ourselves. Maybe it’s time to dance. Maybe it’s time to surf or trail run. Maybe it’s time to sing, or write, or sit alone on the beach, or walk through our neighborhood, or do a bird sit.

Here are some other ideas: Find a place in your garden you like to sit, go to a cafe you like to be at, find a journal you like aesthetically, pick a meditation that speaks to you, find books or poems that open your heart, relax you, and remind you of who you are. Sing a song you like, brush your hair, go for a run in a park you love, find the things that you actually enjoy and bundle them together into me time. Journaling and meditation help increase self-awareness so commit to loving what you find instead of judging it.

Make the whole practice about giving yourself the life you want, the morning you want, the feeling you want, the love you want, the view you want to see. Make your practice a celebration of your humanness, instead of a chore for beating down your humanness. And then notice how good it feels. Notice how good it feels while you’re doing it. Notice how good it feels afterwards. Notice how it changes the rest of your day. Be aware of the experiential shifts in your experience of life when you show up for this commitment. Associating the habit you want with pleasure means actually being aware of how much pleasure really results from the activity in a variety of different ways. The more you reflect on the positive impact the more you will link pleasure with that activity thus making a powerful link in your brain.

Some mornings you won’t want to get up, or like me, most mornings you won’t want to get up! But when I would remember the difference my practice made in my day, and how good I felt once I got out of bed, it became easy to ignore that moment of pain and choose all the pleasure that came from the practice itself. And maybe for you it’s evenings, or afternoons, or weekends. It doesn’t matter when or what except for that it truly be something you feel excited to do.

One last note- if you’re still thinking you don’t have time for something like this I want to share with you that for me my practice gave me more time. I became so much more present in every moment that my practice had the effect of slowing time. I wasted less time, I appreciated moments more, I felt more available, and I wasn’t being pushed by reaction any more.

If you’re filled with excuses about why you can’t do what you know you want to do, know you need to do to reclaim your life, slow down enough to listen to yourself for a moment. Not to judge the whiny excuse-laden voice inside, but to really hear how thin those excuses are, and to feel what it feels like to bend to those excuses. It actually doesn’t feel good. You may actually feel more tired just after thinking your excuses. Now instead of relating the practice or whatever it is to one more to-do on your list, imagine what it could change for the quality of your life on a day to day basis. How much your relationships might improve. How much more creative you might feel. How much more connected to yourself and well-resourced you might be. Feel what your life is calling for and instead of staying in the certainty of not changing, find the enjoyable, joyful, experience of life that you long for- and create it. And if you need help, give me a call.

Here’s to Our Beautiful Life Together,


P.S. For me I am playing with a morning practice of again journaling about what I’m liking and not liking in my life and what I want to do that day about it, as well as adding in singing a couple songs, and going for a walk in nature. I’m considering adding Kamana, a wilderness connection program, as a part of this practice too. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and committing to it feels really exciting! I may also add blogging to it as writing this post this morning felt really good!! I’m also experimenting with “deep work,” focusing on a project for a chunk of at least 2 hours with phone on airplane mode, as a way of moving projects I’m excited about forward. Adding that to my morning practice is also very exciting. I’m looking for those feelings of excitement and alignment to let me know my practice is actually speaking to my spirit. That’s what’s going to get me out of bed 😉

***Given my history of being steeped in criticism/judgment it would be easy to focus on what I don’t like rather than on what I can use, so for me it’s important to let my moments of trigger go and keep listening. I let myself gather the nuggets that resonate with me and leave the rest.

About Dashielle Vawter

I’m a coach, lover, writer, singer, experimenter, dancer and adventurer. Here's to our beautiful lives together <3

Article Comments

  1. Toku

    I recently realized for myself that not doing my morning practice was a subtle form of arrogance. Some part of me felt like I didn’t need to do it. And one of the things that helped me return to a more set daily practice is simple humility. I may have done a lot of work in life, I may have grown a lot, but I have not grown beyond the need to practice.

    There’s this line in the Fukanzazengi that asks, If the Buddha and Bodhidharma in all their wisdom still sat, how can we dispense with wholehearted practice. For me, this was a simple and powerful question that reminded me why I began practice in the first place.

    1. Dashielle Vawter Post author

      Totally, humility is another powerful aspect of practice, and I resonate with your insight about arrogance. Sometimes I call my meditation practice my humility practice because just doing it is a reminder to myself to embody my humility

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