There is an old joke I recall, that goes like this:
“How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.”
They also say that practice makes perfect. I don’t know about that. Or more specifically, I don’t know if striving for perfection should be the end goal of any given practice.
Why does practice matter? Because it is how you develop new habits, new skills, new abilities…and hone those you already have.
Practice is not necessarily a physical act. You can do many, many things that are a practice. They bear that title for a reason.
Everyone practices something. Whether you acknowledge it as such is another matter.
Being aware of a thing as a practice can be an excellent pathway to mindfulness. That, in turn, opens a door to conscious reality creation.
How? Let’s explore this, shall we?
I have been practicing the arte of defense for 28 years. It is not just fencing, but sword combat.
As such, I have studied and worked with different weapons in different ways. You wield a katana far differently from a rapier, which is totally different from a two-handed sword, which is alien to a curved blade like a cutlass or saber.
Practicing this arte is very similar to any other martial art. The body learns specific muscle memory and you gain more proficiency and ease of movement the more you study.
Physical practice is all about getting your body attuned to the act. But it’s not just the body, because the mind gets involved as well.
In Miyamoto Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings, he writes frequently about getting yourself to the place of “no mind.” It is a place familiar to people who meditate that’s also referred to as “the void.” In this place, thought and feeling fade away, and you simply are. Ultimately, you are totally in the moment and your body is doing what it does virtually automatically.
I recall one very specific fight I had in 2005. All-day I had been fencing, and this was a one-shot tournament fight. It has been 14 years and I still can recall this fight as though it was yesterday. Why? I was in the place of no-mind.
Everything happened in slow-motion. I heard all the cheers and shouts of encouragement. Every twitch of my opponent’s blade and shift of his body were slowed to a crawl. It was an absolutely amazing experience, and to this day I think the best fight I have ever fought.
Bodies and thought processes change. Change means the bar for perfection changes, too. This is why perfection shouldn’t be the end goal.
By reading this article you are partaking of mental practice. The words may simply hit your eyes and bounce off them. Or they might move into your mind and cause you to think about what they are saying. Do they open you to considering an idea you’ve not considered before? Are they inciting you to choose something or do something?
Mental practice is anything that gets the mind in action. Like physical practice, there are drills you can do to improve neuroplasticity and memory. Your mind will grow the more you exercise it.
Reading is one of the main tools for this. Fiction opens your imagination and creativity centers. Non-fiction can do the same, but also empower you, provide new life-tools, and teach you new things.
Mental practice specifically involves focus on something to learn, gain experience, and open the mind to potential and possibility. The full capacity of the human mind to grow and adapt is still a mystery. You can find, create, grow, build, imagine and invent incredible things.
The caution, when it comes to mental practice, is to be mindful of consuming garbage. Frequently, social media and the things people put out there land here. When distractions take over more of your time than useful acts, that’s also less healthy. And using drugs and alcohol to escape from having to think (and subsequently feel) is also the consumption of mental garbage.
Mental practice expands your knowledge base and can be subtle or blatant. You might not even recognize that what you are doing is mental practice.
This takes a lot of different forms. Often it gets tied to both mental and physical practice.
For example, meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, and similar. Actions that you take involving the body and mind to work the spirit.
Some people find spirituality to be a touchy subject. They tend to equate it to religions and like philosophies.
The truth is that spirituality is deeply personal. It may or may not involve communion with God, the Powers-that-Be, ancient deities, or some other omnipresent force. Frequently, spiritual practice is all about communion with your higher self and being the best you that you can be.
This is faith without specificity. It is belief without blindness. Spirituality in this realm involves connecting with something outside of yourself, be it all-encompassing, or the Earth, or Universal energies, or what-have-you.
Other spiritual practices include reading tarot cards, Reiki and other energy healing techniques, and various hooky-spooky notions.
But most importantly of all, the best practice of spirituality is in expressing kindness and empathy. It’s holding the door for someone, giving a friend an ear or a hug, it’s cuddling with a cat or dog and the like. You may not consider these as a spiritual practice, but they are.
Why? Because they open you to gratitude, empowerment, and better connecting with the world around you.
Perfection is a moving bar
Finally, why don’t I believe that practice makes perfect? Because perfection is in the eye of the beholder, like beauty. My concept and perception of perfection may be to you utterly screwed-up and imperfect.
Perfect today can easily be imperfect tomorrow. This can be applied to every ideology, and to any practice of the mind, body, and spirit. The bar you try to reach, the brass ring you seek to attain is not an immovable object. It shifts, alters position, and can vanish entirely.
It’s like when you are a kid and your uncle holds out a dollar to you. As you reach for it, he snatches it away. Similarly, this is like playing with a cat with a string. You might reach it…but it might as well slip through your fingers.
Should you not bother to practice if it doesn’t make perfect? Of course not. Practice still grows and develops you, whatever form it takes. It teaches and evolves your perception of the world around you, and you can gain insight and ability, whether the practice is physical, mental, or spiritual.
You are empowered to ultimately create the reality you experience in your life. Consciousness creates reality. Practice, whatever form it takes, helps grow your consciousness and draw all manner of things to you.
In conclusion, I think this quote from Shunryu Suzuki, author of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, is an outstanding explanation of why you practice:
“When the restrictions you have do not limit you, this is what we mean by practice.”
You are worthy and deserving of using your mindfulness to find and/or create the reality in which you desire to live. When all is said and done you matter, so practice being the best you that you can be.