We all chase happiness, but rarely do we catch it. Many people pursue it outside themselves, through relationships, career, money and substance abuse. But in The Practice: Simple Tools for Managing Stress, Finding Inner Peace, and Uncovering Happiness, author Barb Schmidt shares how much easier happiness is to find within.
Schmidt opens with an Abraham Lincoln quote: “Most people are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.” She uses this wisdom to launch an exploration of simple steps to attain this willful happiness, using techniques she calls “The Practice.” Schmidt shares legendary dancer Martha Graham’s definition of the concept: “Practice means to perform over and over again, in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire.”
Schmidt tells readers to “begin within” and invites them to find their own “sacred mantra.” An appendix in the back of the book includes examples of these from various faith traditions. Although the book has spiritual aspects, Schmidt tells readers they don’t need to be religious to reap the benefits of The Practice.
A Self-Guided Tour
Schmidt makes clear she’s a self-taught guide. Her lack of academic credentials is part of what makes her work so refreshing: She learned how to find inner peace through the process of life itself. She discusses growing up the eldest of five children in a household with alcoholic parents, as well as struggling with bulimia, which grew out of her perfectionism. She entered treatment after the death of Karen Carpenter, whose struggle with anorexia prematurely ended her life. Ironically, Schmidt eventually came to own McDonald’s franchises, later selling the businesses to become a teacher and author.
Her recovery included 12-step meetings as well as reading inspirational books and attending seminars taught by leaders that included His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Pema Chodron, Thich Nhat Hanh, Caroline Myss, Gabrielle Bernstein, Deepak Chopra and Marianne Williamson. Over time, Schmidt discovered that she could choose how she viewed circumstances such as her family’s addiction history, divorce, single parenthood, the deaths of her parents and her career change.
Schmidt breaks down The Practice into a three-part framework:
- Waking up (meditation)
- Living in the present (sacred mantra, focused attention, being ready for inspiration)
- Letting go (reflection)
She fills the framework with structured exercises, explaining the steps to and benefits of meditation as well as the value of facing resistance and of using a mantra to strengthen resistance to negative thought patterns.
Schmidt encourages real-life application of The Practice, because it wouldn’t have meaning otherwise. She sees The Practice as retraining of the mind, rather than allowing it to hold readers back. She discusses facing limiting thoughts herself, such as the fear of not being good enough.
Schmidt references the 11th step of Alcoholics Anonymous to describe the meditative lifestyle she encourages: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will and the power to carry that out.”
Schmidt included dandelion images on the cover and throughout the book’s pages, a symbol she says represents themes such as hardiness and the ability grow even in harsh environments. The dandelion’s root system, she says, allows it to stand up to whatever it faces, and it can transform.
Schmidt ends the brief work with a list of some of the books that influenced her. Readers can also learn more about The Practice through Peaceful Mind, Peaceful Life, an organization and online community she founded.
Schmidt uses a quote from Marcel Proust to remind readers of the power of seeking happiness within: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but seeing with new eyes.”