“Practice makes perfect” was Miss Schmidt’s mantra. Miss Schmidt, third grade teacher, white-haired and in her navy blue dress with white polka-dots, black shoes. Thank you, Miss Schmidt! I got the message, internalized it, translated the message to my own liking (we all do that), and lived a long time trying to be as “perfect” as I could be. Thank God, “practice makes perfect” only lasted so long, and then? Then, it “fizzled” out in my mind, and in my life.
Oh – freedom!
The first time I challenged my wanting to get things right was in a class I took for several years: “Aikido as Spiritual Practice.” The class was a combination of movement and dharma talks (The Intuitive Body: Discovering the Wisdom of Conscious Embodiment and Aikido [Wendy Palmer]).
We started each class on the mat, after we had entered the room, removed our shoes, and bowed to the gathering class, teacher and students. Barefoot, we faced the mirrored wall, our teacher facing us, and moved together through a series of simple practices. For some reason, “let’s practice,” the words spoken by the teacher as she led us through our warm-up, was in my mind on that one particular day. I moved awkwardly, furtively watching the teacher and the other students. Was I moving correctly? Why did she look so graceful? Can I do it like him? Above all, am I doing it right???
I felt – awkward. Check this out for yourself: feeling awkward is a heavy thing. It weighs you down.
Then, something snapped or switched or jerked in my mind. I stopped watching the others, and I began to “practice” from the inside, rather than the outside. I began to feel the movements. I was free! In my mind, I was 5 years old again, fully myself, my little girl legs dancing and thrashing, and it all coming out – perfectly! I could feel that little girl, sense her insides, my insides. I was free!
I have not forgotten that moment, that moment in time when I broke free from Miss Schmidt’s mantra: practice makes perfect. I expect that in many ways, Miss Schmidt was right. But we all have our own translation of what we hear, of what comes into us, of what we remember, and value – or remember, and discard.
Practice means that: simply practice. When life is practice, we become free. When life is practice, there is not getting it right or wrong. When life is practice, there is movement. When life is practice, we can move from one practice to the next, allowing what does not work, what has not worked, what will not work to freely move along.
We talk about spiritual practice. Spiritual practice is like that, too. Practice is only practice, not perfection. There’s a difference. There are no perfect feelings, no perfect objects brought to completion. What is perfect quickly loses its shine, and that’s part of life. So – practice. Don’t practice to become perfect. Don’t wait for the perfect time. Don’t expect to not have feelings that aren’t “perfect,” or “good,” or positive. Just practice.
Make of your life, this: practice.