I found that the second time I did Steps to Knowledge, it was a very challenging thing on one Step, and I apparently missed it the first time through. But that’s typical for Steps to Knowledge is you only see maybe ten percent of what’s in those Steps the first time through. Second time through, which I did right after the first time, I ran into the Step 340: My practice is my contribution to the world. And at the end of this Step, it says, and I quote:
Remember that all you can do is practice. No matter what you do, you are practicing something, you are asserting something, you are confirming something and you are studying something. Given this understanding, give yourself to your true preparation, for this is your gift to yourself and to the world.
What does that mean, “if you can only practice”? That means that everything you think, everything you do, is reinforcing something in your mind and in your life. You’re practicing it. Some things are totally benign and appropriate—the normal activities we do every day, for example. But other things that are more difficult—attitudes, beliefs, weaknesses, neglect; or things such as confusion and blaming others, not being present with yourself or where you are in life, lack of discipline and focus, inconsistency…
We practice other good things though. We practice kindness and charity and compassion, forgiveness perhaps. But those are things we intend to practice. But many of the things that harm us, we just inadvertently practice because we’ve been practicing them for so long; we don’t even know we’re practicing them.
So I felt really challenged. I said, “My God, I need to know the content of my mind if I’m reinforcing things I’m not even aware of.” And as I walked around this Step—which is something I encourage you to do, not just see it and think you know what it says, but walk around it, contemplate it, look at it from different angles; don’t try to answer it, just let it inform you as you walk around it—I can see why it is so difficult for people to change. Because to change what you’ve been practicing, introduce a new practice into your life such as Steps to Knowledge, you have to one, is establish a new practice, which takes a lot of focus and consistency and intention. But you also have to overcome, and sometimes oppose, other kinds of practices in you which prevent you from doing that.
So you have two challenges: establishing a new pathway, a new practice in your life and making that consistent within your circumstances; but then there’s overcoming the tendencies and the beliefs and the habits of thinking and behavior that won’t allow you to do that. For instance, some people say, “Well, I’ll practice Steps on the days I feel like practicing Steps.” Steps says that’s not how to practice Steps. You practice Steps when you feel like it and when you don’t feel like it. You practice Steps when you like the Step, or when you’re not sure you like the Step. Some Steps are very challenging. Some Steps are very confusing. Some Steps are bewildering. You don’t even know what they’re saying, what this Step is really about.
But Steps to Knowledge says continue to do the Steps. No matter what’s your response initially, just do the Steps. But to do that, you have to overcome lack of discipline. You have to overcome being dominated by your schedule, by other people. You have to find a physical place to practice. You have to find a time of the day when you can fit these practices in. And you have to show up. But if you’re not used to showing up for anything but your job, then that is a challenge. And the challenge is the practices you’ve already been practicing, which determine your behavior and your normal kinds of thinking.
So I realized that in observing people who talk about change and seem to embrace change but don’t really change, I was wondering why. They can move to a new place, they can have a new set of ideas, they can be into a new thing, they can sound very progressive, but they’re not really changing. It’s only superficial. Why? I want to know why because my life was about change—big time change. My development was about change. I was here to encourage people to change. But if they can’t change, why am I doing this? Or can’t or won’t?
So one of the secrets that this Step revealed to me was why people don’t change. It’s because they have been practicing unconsciously—maybe at times consciously—acts of behavior, tendencies, obligations, conformity, attitudes, emotions, beliefs; they don’t even know how fixed these things are in their minds. And here’s this Step opening the door for me to understand these things as I walked around it. And I’ve walked around this Step many times because I’ve done Steps to Knowledge many times. But I always stop at this Step and say, “Oh my God, this Step told me I have to learn what’s in my mind and I have to learn to manage my mind; I cannot let it manage me.”
So Steps to Knowledge offers us a different kind of practice: a conscious practice, a conscientious practice, a practice for a greater purpose, a practice for an outcome we can’t really see, but which we may feel and know to be important for us. But we have all the practices from our former life that have been established over a long time that seem to make establishing this practice difficult. What are they? “Why is it that I’m committed to practice one day, but not another; I show up one day, but not another? How easily I can forget something I’ve already decided is important to me? Why do I let other people or circumstances change my approach to what I’m setting out to do?” Because these are all problems that people have with starting out to establish a Steps practice, which is what we’re going to be talking about tonight. And some of them are physical and external, and some of them are purely internal.
Some of us only want to practice things we are sure that we know what they’re for or what they’re going to deliver to us. Or we only practice if we only have to practice a little and get a big reward. Steps doesn’t give you a big reward, not yet—not for quite a while, actually. So our intention, our motivations, our determination are very much shaped by what we have been practicing up until this point.
So here is the problem with practice: Practice does not make perfect, as the old saying goes. Practice makes permanent—not irrevocably permanent, but so permanent that it seems almost impenetrable. And it takes a lot of intention and determination to change those old habits and tendencies and ways of being. You almost have to bring a force to do it. Otherwise, your brain has been shaped a certain way and it’s just going to run itself, and you try to add something new or redirect that mind and it will seem very hard at first.
So I found this to be very important for my work and so forth because when we’re born, our mind is like clay, even though we have a certain nature individually. And our impact with our environment then begins to determine how we may develop. But as we add things on to this mind and as it gets shaped by our environment and our influences early on and ongoing, then it becomes more solid, more fixed, less adaptable, less open, less changeable.
Now if we were to take that to an extreme, I would say our mind turns to stone. It’s a fixed object and can only think one way and it will resist or attack anything that threatens to change it, such as you would find in an adamant person—adamant ideology, adamant perspective, adamant emotions—who literally cannot even listen to anything else without defending themselves or defending their faith in religion, for example a fundamentalist, so different than a saint who lives with the Spirit and the movement of Spirit. The fundamentalist lives to defend and uphold a set of rigid beliefs and requirements. Both religious, but worlds apart.
So Steps to Knowledge is here to make us spontaneous, adaptable, so that our minds now become shaped according to a greater purpose. They become able to respond to different circumstances, different kinds of people appropriately. We understand our tendencies and our weaknesses, and we’re able to manage them effectively. But this requires then that you get in the driver’s seat of your life, that your mind is no longer driving you, you’re learning to guide it. And the you…Who is you if you’re not your mind? You may ask. That’s a mystery to explore.
So you can only practice. So what will you practice? If you practice only what you think is a good practice, it will not produce much change or a new opportunity for you. If you practice something that was made for you that you did not invent, that can really take you somewhere you could never take yourself.
So if I’m practicing confusion, irresponsibility; if I’m practicing distraction; if I’m practicing judgment; if I’m practicing blame; if I’m practicing self-recrimination—these are all practices, you see?—then you can see that if you indulge in these things just habitually, they become more solid, harder to change.
Marshall discusses his own journey with Steps to Knowledge during the Steps to Knowledge Vigil on May 27th, 2020. He discusses Step 340, “My Practice is My Contribution to the World” and how we are always practicing something, whether it harms us or contributes to our development.