Getting to Carnegie Hall
Carnegie Hall is the pinnacle venue for a performing artists: to play at Carnegie Hall is to know that you have “arrived.” The first time I heard that joke was probably from my father who said it in Brooklyn accents, a man asks a taxi driver how to get to Carnegie Hall? And the taxi driver said, “Practice, practice, practice.” My father liked to exaggerate when he told a joke, he was a good storyteller and joker.
How many of us took an instrument or learned a skill and found out that to get really good at it, you had to do it over and over again. Practice. It could be piano, drawing, violin, or even mowing the lawn. To get it right and to get so whatever it is expresses what you want, you have to practice the basics again and again. To reach the pinnacle of achievement (to arrive, so to speak), you have many hours, months, and years of practice and learning.
A few years ago at work, a group of us met with some architects to discuss building design. Each group of architects talked about their practice of architecture and what it meant for their business and their creativity. And that is the other part of practice, it’s the underpinning of your creative expression; this expression of who you are. I can talk to you about the practice of my profession, librarianship, in lofty terms, and how it fulfills the ideals of a democratic society and how it is about getting to the heart of a question. It is a practice.
That practice is a myriad of skills, basic and advanced, along with knowledge that spans both breadth and depth. How I got here was to practice those skills and apply that knowledge every minute of each day I was working. And a lot of time outside of my job too. I am a librarian in my heart as well as something I do to earn my paycheck.
It is also true of spiritual practices, the real point of this post. The only difference is, I think that the pinnacle (“to arrive) is not the point. It’s all about the practice. It is in the practice that we find our inner wisdom and our gnosis, our knowing. At a recent work retreat, we had a philosophy professor come and talk to us about stress and stress reduction. He explained to us that philosophy asks the questions: How shall we live? Why is there something and not nothing? Why is there beauty? And philosophy asks ethical questions as well: How shall we live? How do we make meaning? what is a good life?
He spoke of well-being not in terms of health but in the tersm so fthe Greek idea of a balanced life. To be well in our Be-ing. To seek the middle way. It sounds a lot like a Pagan spirituality, doesn’t it. I suspect that underneath the layers of misunderstanding, most religions seek that kind of balance as well.
He went on to speak of practice; that by following a daily practice every day you find that well being. He defined the daily practice as a set of mundane habits that you follow every day. He spoke of conscious belly breathing and Qi Gong as the way to follow a practice. I would add mindfulness to the daily habits. For instance, each morning as I go about my morning wake up and shower, I stand before my altar located outside the bathroom and say a short devotion. And then I take my vitamins. The vitamins are part of the devotion and are in a basket on my altar which is devoted to self-care and well Be-ing. Short, simple, and incorporated, mindfully, into my routine habits.
On my needlework blog I talked today about Tom Cowan’s statement in his book, Shamanism as a Spiritual Practice for Daily Life, that a daily spiritual practice of shamanism gives rise to an art practice. I think mindful practice births other practices, allowing us to expresss ourselves and our wisdom in myriad ways. I have a professional practice, a spiritual practice, and a creative one (or two, or more). What is creative to me might be drudgery to you, and the reverse will be true as well. So together, our practices create diversity and shows us the infinite ways the Universe expresses life, beauty, and wisdom.
May you find the heart of your daily practice and the well BE-ing of your soul.