Fractured bits of consciousness — when it matters most, quality time means more than how much

Recently, I wrote over on the ‘gram that you can prepare for life’s disruptions and distractions by maintaining a minimum commitment to the personal practices that align your life goals. I wrote how minimum practice helped me feel a little less like I was falling into irrelevance and creative dissipation in the week of my nine-month-old’s week-of-no-daycare.

(I mean, it was just one week but it was a WHOLE week. What I lost in work hours I gained in precious time with my family. There is more to unpack here, obviously.)

In my work as an Integral Master Coach™ practice is central to my client’s cultivating new capabilities. Practice is playful; it’s more about the journey than the destination. Intuitively this feels right, but also the developmental research supports its merit.

We do, we reflect, we expand our awareness, we register progress. Repeat. And over time we grow. And we change.

To feel sustained progress in areas of my life — relationships, creative expression, movement and wellness — I’ve turned to practice as a way into experiencing more of the qualities and attributes I want in myself and for my life. Over time, this has led to development of new skills and ways of being that allow me to feel more aligned with my values and more fully expressive of my nature.

I’ve also embraced micro practice — the modern person’s answer to doing the least amount of the thing that still allows for a viable outcomes and desired feelings.

In 2018, I spent the first six months of the year dutifully writing a daily prompt in my calendar: move, write, connect. I was dedicated to this practice because it served changes I wanted to bring about in my life.

Each day the practice could vary in that how I moved could change, what or where I wrote could be different, and the connection could take place in person or virtually or just be an expression of connection — a text to a friend, for example. I had some ideas of how long an ideal session would be, and a minimum that would allow me to feel that the session was valid, meaningful.

I held my practice lightly but pursued it honestly, which was possible because my approach was dynamic. A maximum practice may have been a 45-minute walk, 30-minutes of writing, and 25-minutes of connection. A minimum may have been ten, five and two minutes respectively. If I adjusted for my daily energy, other work and personal commitments, and met the spirit of the practice, it was successful and valuable.

One encouraging outcome is that maintaining the connection to practice, regardless of time, was still really meaningful to my overall well-being.

I’ve found this approach to reliably deliver results because its foundation is permission to be flexible — something every one of us needs. It requires attention to body, mind, personal responsibilities and the unknown of a day’s unfolding.

But for the sake of discussion: is micro practice a symptom of or an answer to time confetti, those leftover five minutes here and ten minutes there after all the attending-to is done? In her book Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, author Brigid Schulte explored women’s time, and the pervasive sense of how fragmented and “contaminated” it is.

The time expert looked through the messy time diaries I’d been keeping […] and found 27 hours of what he called leisure, and I called bits and scraps of garbagey time. Five minutes here. Ten minutes there. Listening to the radio, exhausted, trying to get out of bed. Getting some exercise. Waiting by the side of the road for a tow truck. (Yes, he said that counted as leisure.)

The image that came to mind was this: time confetti.

What I didn’t know at the time was that this is what time is like for most women: fragmented, interrupted by child care and housework. Whatever leisure time they have is often devoted to what others want to do — particularly the kids — and making sure everyone else is happy doing it. Often women are so preoccupied by all the other stuff that needs doing — worrying about the carpool, whether there’s anything in the fridge to cook for dinner — that the time itself is what sociologists call “contaminated.” 

— Brigid SchulteThe Sydney Morning Herald

(While there is so more to unpack here about the role of leisure in the development of male-identified power and success, that’s for another day).

The point is, if you don’t ever have chunks of free time, you may never find the rhythm that arises when you get bored and make fewer demands of yourself. You never get the flow.

Flow, as it happens, is where most great things begin.

Practice as I’ve defined it here allows for creating moments of conscious flow in your day. You could say — attending to practice helps you get comfortable with emergent form in a tightly wound culture. Rigidity often leads to neglect or abandonment; a fluid approach allows for better alignment with what we value and awareness of the things we don’t know to expect — the little mysteries of everyday life.

Celebrating a minimum practice isn’t about catering to a belief that we can or should be doing all the things — including making something of the time confetti of your life in order to fulfill external expectations or prove worthiness.

Minimum practice offers fractured bits of consciousness — which is exactly the point. Conscious awareness is a predecessor to change. Accessing it with greater frequency or in smaller doses is valuable.

By definition, minimum practice is not the most possible, it’s a sliver, an essence. This touchpoint is a way into maximum practice so that what really matters to you becomes more accessible over time.

Practice is not intended to be one more thing on your to-do list. The spirit of practice is rooted in intentionally engaging and choosing how to spend your days, which in turn is how you live and experience life.

What matters is how you hold practice. And how you view success in it. And that, of course, you attempt it.

Everything is information. If you are not able to slow down to do to even your minimum practice, then what is occurring in your experience that you could get curious about?

For all this talk of the smallest possible practice, even what you do not do offers powerful insight.