What is a Practice?
We all have ways of doing things, ways of going about life and work. They become most easily available as "ways" when they become habitual. Some are acquired in childhood and others are learned as improved ways of being and doing in adulthood. The word “practice” signifies such an approach that is cultivated with deliberate intent, for a purpose, because of its superior virtue.
Servant Leadership practice, for example, is intended to promote the virtue of service. Moreover, it does this with a distinctive quality of humility that involves using one’s positional power to invert a traditional hierarchy, which is too often intended to serve those in senior executive positions. But senior leaders working from this model of practice see themselves as duty-bound to empower and enable others.
To do so also requires a virtue of moral and emotional maturity, prudential judgment, and practical wisdom. Why? Because those practicing servant leadership must maintain an active sense of their fiduciary duties as corporate officers. They are responsible for preparing individuals, managers, and leaders to act effectively and responsibly with the power and autonomy they’re given in such an organization.
As you can see, this practice involves more than a mere loosening of controls; it involves cultivating a different set of controls. The controls are superior because they free more people at all levels to realize their fullest potential to contribute and make a difference. But it does not simply happen; it’s arguably a more complex way of leading. And it expects more of those to whom power and authority are granted.
A practice, then, is a cultivated way of doing something, an enlightened way of being in one’s role in relation to oneself and others. It implies a rather holistic quality of maturity (intellectual, emotional, social, and moral) that produces practical wisdom and sound judgment. This maturing does not make us infallible, if anything we become more conscious of human fallibility and see the importance of resilience.
What is a Vitalizing Practice?
Let’s observe at this point that any individual person may have reason to cultivate multiple practices to enhance his or her way of living, working, and being. We might have a physical fitness practice that is right for us: it fits our life style; it’s sustainable; it’s flexible enough to accommodate changes in our daily routine, etc. We may also have a parenting practice and work and leadership practices.
I don’t mean to suggest that every aspect of our lives must be governed by a practice. But insofar as we are reliant on habit to guide much or our actions in life, we may wish to ensure that those habits are virtuous, yield the results we want, especially in our most important life roles. Having said that, a vitalizing practice is the most fundamental of all practices, and it underlies and enhances everything else.
I choose the term “vitalizing” deliberately. Vital means related to life, vitalizing means to infuse with life. The word “life” here is intended to convey not mere subsistence, but fullness of life. It denotes the realization of our potential, qualities of excellence that enable us to live out most fully our essential nature. Whence come these infusions of vitalizing energy for excellence and virtue in living?
The answer, I believe, is from without and from beyond. Therefore, a practice that makes of us a portal for receiving these vitalizing energies is what I would call a vitalizing practice. For me it is a mindfulness meditation practice. For you, it might be prayer or yoga. It could be a practice that operates within a context of religious or spiritual beliefs, but it is not reducible to dogma or philosophy.
What makes a vitalizing practice life-infusing is its capacity to help us realize the felt presence of life. Ritual behaviors and symbols are instruments and prompts. It's the in vivo experiences and the transformative qualities of their felt effects that are the truest markers of vitality. They open us. They calm us. They reveal meaning and possibilities beyond our own invention. They yield insight and understanding without judgment.
Our vitalizing practice may be redemptive insofar as it brings us back to a path of virtue and right action, but the moral effects are free of moralistic judgment. We return to life with greater humility and greater compassion for others. We’re then able to join this grounded sense of being and living to our role and our role-based responsibilities for others. Our other practices are more aligned with virtue and wisdom.