‘Practice makes perfect.’
You know what is the best part of that saying?
You know what is the misleading part of that saying?
I am reading a book by Dr. Brene Brown. The words she writes resonate in my soul. Reading them feels a little like coming home. Perhaps it is like finally looking at a real, honest-to-goodness photograph of Narnia. True, I have never been there and seen it with my own eyes, but I’ve read enough of C.S. Lewis’ books about it, that, were I to get to see it, I am sure it would be familiar. It’d be deja vu and then some.
Brown writes, ‘Bulletproof and perfect are seductive, but they are not a part of the human experience.’
What, then, are we reaching for?
Why the constant struggle? Forgive me for ending with a preposition, but–what’s it all for?
Progress. Journey. Maturation.
I think it’s easy to see that there is a plan in all of creation. An apple tree bears fruit. A bee produces honey. Sea otters play games and fall in love and hold hands while swimming so as not to lose track of each other. Are any of these things perfect? I guess it depends on what you mean by perfect, right?
Perhaps the apple tree has some nicks in the bark. Perhaps one season does not yield as many apples as previous seasons had. And yet the next season doubles the number. Is this perfect? I don’t know. Is the apple tree being an apple tree? Is it being exactly what the Creator intended for it? Yes.
I am currently training an eleven week old puppy (Oh, you didn’t know? Oh, so you don’t follow me on Instagram?). Every book that I have read on the subject–from the elite Monks of Skete to the no-name articles I look up on my phone at three in the morning–say the same thing: be patient; be consistent.
Guess what Luna, my pup, finally did tonight?
Her down stay.
I have a feeling that it will take a lot more of the same training tomorrow to get her to do it again, but it happened tonight, and when I saw it, I just about did the kind of Irish jig you see being executed in the bowels of that great ship, The Titanic, in the movie with the same name.
After I gave her the treat, of course.
Is Luna perfect? No. Is she progressing and maturing and growing?
I MEAN, SHE DID HER DOWN STAY, GUYS!
And we’re practicing, together, all the time. Every day. Multiple times a day.
When she misses a cue or doesn’t reach a goal, I think to myself, Next time, Luna-Loo; it’ll happen next time.
Dr. Brown says something to the effect of using the same kind of self-talk that you would use with a loved one. Patience and kindness. Encouragement. A you’ll-get-there attitude.
Just today I was talking with my good friend, Grace, about her performance on stage. She’s constantly asking me what I think she could do to make it better. So I tell her, but not without first saying that she’s amazing. That I am splitting hairs. That I am finding the tiny bit of rust in a sea of brightly shining metal. And then I tell her to be patient when she is frustrated that her craft is not yet perfect. I tell her she’s on her way–and, more than anything else, to be herself and enjoy the process.
The professors I admired most in school critiqued from a wide, beautiful place of love. Ruthie, especially, a fiery and beautiful blue-eyed woman who was one of the great American choreographer Paul Taylor’s muses, would begin every criticism with a compliment.
“You have such a beautiful way of moving, Jessica,” she’d say, “Why not try it with a sense of greater groundedness? Can you imagine your pelvis closer to the floor as you initiate your movement with an undercurve and always, always, always a plie?”
She thinks I have a beautiful way of moving? I will do anything she asks. Anything.
Ruthie brought the best out of me. Her kindness and patience actually motivated me to work harder, believe it or not. It wasn’t that she didn’t have standards–no! Her class was hard and everybody knew that her warm-up alone would either get you in shape or have you die trying. But somehow her words had a way of encompassing every kind of dancer–all sorts of shapes and sizes and talents and abilities–and setting us up for success, rather than failure.
She led us to believe that success looked differently on a dancer who is 5’2 with tree trunk legs and a contraction for days compared to a dancer who is 5’8 and more comfortable in pointe shoes than anything else.
The word perfect wasn’t mentioned, yet the word math–in the sense that there would be problems and here are the tools to solve them, class!–was mentioned quite a lot.
Like I said before, it was a you’ll-get-there-attitude, and I always left class feeling like maybe, just maybe, if I worked hard enough, I really would get there.
My point is that we could try these same things on ourselves. I am convinced that the battles we fight in this life are won or lost first in the mind. Why not set ourselves up for success? Why not practice patience and kindness within, just as we practice those same things with those around us?
And perhaps we will fall so in love with the journey of practicing and where it takes us, that we will forget about the static old goal of perfection. We’re movers and climbers, anyway. You can pull out your flag and stake it on a small plot of earth that you dub PERFECT and then stay there forever, if you’d like. And, yes, I am going to admire it for all its loveliness, for sure, when I visit, but I won’t be staying. I will keep going. Because there is always something up ahead. Something right around the bend. Something more in this journey that we are on, whether we always like it or not.
So practice makes progress.
And patience is made of more durable stuff than roadblocks, my friends.