Practice, practice, practice

In focusing on the practicing aspect of human existence, I am taking account of a fact that is apparently trivial but whose effects are unpredictably far-reaching: the fact that everything people do and can do is achieved more or less well and done better or worse. Adepts and players are constantly involved in a spontaneous better-or-worse ranking of their skills and actions. I define these kinds of distinctions as an expression of the vertical tension inherent in human existence. The technical definition of practice I have posited opens up a first approach to the phenomenon of involuntary verticality. In every performance of practicing, an action is carried out in such a way that its present execution co-conditions its later execution. We could say that all life is acrobatics, although we perceive only the smallest part of our vital expressions as what they really are: the results of practice and elements of a modus vivendi that happens on the high wire of improbability.

– Peter Sloterdijk, The Art of Philosophy

Wer Menschen sucht, wird Akrobaten finden.

– Peter Sloterdijk, Du mußt dein Leben ändern 

I like this view: practice shapes our lived experience. Intentionally reframing areas of our lives as fields of practice can profoundly influence how we relate to ourselves, others, and the world. Patience, steadiness, joy, and playfulness arise more easily when we view aspects of our lived experience as a practice rather than as fixed and inherently exisiting entities.

A seemingly subtle change in view can powerfully affect our perception. What is it like to view friendship, work, romantic relationships, education, art, community building, and politics as forms of practice? What happens to our lived experience if we view our complex relationships to food, money, ideas, climate change, illness, ageing, death, the internet, therapy, activism, sexuality, altered states of consciousness ... as fields of practice?

Meditation as practice

I have maintained a regular meditation practice for 11 years and spent more than one year on silent meditation retreats. The frameworks that I have found most supportive are Rob Burbea's teachings on emptiness and dependent arising (Seeing That Frees), his approaches to cultivating samadhi (Practising the Jhanas), and the Soulmaking Dharma.

Whenever there is any experience at all, there is always some fabricating, which is a kind of ‘doing’. And as an element of this

fabricating, there is always a way of looking too. We construct, through

our way of looking, what we experience. This is a part of what needs eventually to be recognized and fully comprehended. Sooner or later we come to realize that perhaps the most fundamental, and most fundamentally important, fact about any experience is that it depends on the way of looking. That is to say, it is empty.


In the end, everything is empty. Heart, appearance, way of looking – these too are void, and actually inseparable. With respect to how things appear though, we can acknowledge the primary significance of ways of looking and their effects on the heart, and also some degree of flexibility in perception. At this level, it is certainly clear that the state of the citta shapes and colours perception. But the truth of the converse is easily recognized as well: perception shapes and colours the citta. Understanding all this opens a door. In practice we may, to a degree, shape empty perception in the service of freedom and compassion. When there is insight, we know that how and what we see are not simply givens, but are the colourable and malleable, magical, material of empty appearances.

– Rob Burbea, Seeing That Frees

‘All exists’: Kaccāna, this is one extreme. ‘All does not exist’: this is the second extreme. Without veering towards either of these extremes, the Tathāgata teaches the Dhamma by the middle…

– Samyutta Nikāya 12:15

Science as practice

How do our views of what-meditation-is shape our meditation research?

How do our views of what-the-psychedelic-experience-is shape our psychedelic research?

Just as the history of science usually presumes that the scientists who do their disciplines already exist, the history of art has assumed since time immemorial that artists are the natural protagonists of the business that produces works of art, and that these players have always existed as well. What would happen if we rotated the conceptual stage ninety degrees in both cases? What would happen if we observed artists in their efforts to become artists in the first place? We could then see every phenomenon on this field more or less from a side view and, alongside the familiar history of art as a history of completed works, we could obtain a history of the training that made it possible to do art [science] and the ascetism that shaped artists.

– Peter Sloterdijk, The Art of Philosophy

Reading as practice

If a love affair with a book can alter the views and assumptions that participate in the fabrication of our perceptions, then choosing which books to (re-)read becomes a delicate and powerful art. Please help me to refine this art by sharing books with me that have deeply influenced you. I am currently reading Rob Burbea's Seeing That Frees, Peter Sloterdijk's You Must Change Your Life, Hanzi Freinacht's Listening Society, Bonnita Roy's essays, and Zak Stein's Education in a Time Between Worlds.

Vor allem und zuerst die Werke! Das heißt Übung, Übung, Übung! Der dazugehörige »Glaube« wird sich schon einstellen, – dessen seid versichert!