Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Today is Wednesday, April 3, 2013.

A friend of mine named Rodney Jones wrote the following on Facebook the other day:

"Practice makes…. perfect?  Not for me. Practice makes better.. there is always another step to take deeper into love.  Practice makes permanent…we become what we practice most.  It is the action of spirit that can loosen the bonds of habit and free us from a dismal past and unknown future."

According to the dictionary, there are a number of meanings for the word "practice."  

1) To do or perform habitually or customarily; to make a habit of.  (e.g. practice courtesy)
2) To do or perform something repeatedly in order to acquire polish or skill. (e.g. practice the piano)
3) To carry out one's beliefs in action. (e.g. practice your religion)
4) To work at, especially as a profession. (e.g. practice medicine or law)

Most of us who took music lessons of some kind as youngsters were told, "Practice makes perfect."  Those of us who did practice knew that practice, in and of itself, seldom, if ever, results in absolute perfection.  I don't know about you, but I always thought that saying must apply to other people.  It certainly didn't seem to apply to me.  My experience is that when it comes to music or writing or any kind of art, there always seems to be some little thing that one can do better.  

Rodney is a case in point.  He's a professional musician and a professor at the university level, and even he doesn't think practice makes perfect.  When he wrote this on Facebook the other day, I was surprised at how relieved I felt.  I learned to play the flute and piano in junior high and high school and always felt that I could have been much better at it if I had only tried.  Sure, I could have practiced a lot more than I did, but that, alone, would not have made me perfect. Neither would it have made me a professional musician.

As Rodney pointed out, practice does make us better at whatever we are doing, and that was true for me as a young musician.  I played well enough to compete successfully in instrumental contests, well enough to qualify for a scholarship to a music camp one summer, well enough to be selected for Tri-State Band, and well enough to play solos for church, etc.  I got a lot of satisfaction from my experiences in band.  It was enough.  I didn't have to be perfect.

The fact is that we don't need to be prefect.  We just need to keep on getting better. The Japanese recognize this, and have a one-word expression for it in their language: kaizen.  In Japanese, the top character, "kai," stands for "change."  The bottom character, "zen," means "good."  (And no, it's not the same "zen" as in Zen Buddhism.)  Kaizen, especially as used in the world of business, means continuous improvement in small increments.  It's interesting that if you want to get better at something, you have to be willing to change, and the kanji (characters) for this word reflect that: change is good. I'm not saying the Japanese are the only ones who believe in or practice this concept.  It's just that they have the best word for it.  When we practice certain actions over and over, we do tend to improve, little by little.  One of the tenets of the philosophy of kaizen is that there is always another step to take, always some little improvement we can make.

Rodney is obviously not just talking about practicing music or sports or some other skill, though.  He says, "there is always another step to take deeper into love."  He's talking about making a practice of loving thoughts, words and deeds.  He's talking about getting better at remembering to act with love, and in harmony with all life.  

When our actions become habits, they become a part of us.  This is a good thing when we're talking about helping others, saying only positive things about others, or engaging in the spiritual discipline of contemplation, for example.  But it is dangerous when we are talking about engaging in gossip, lying or hiding the truth, refusing to share what we have with others less fortunate, etc. The best habits are the ones we consciously cultivate.  The worst habits tend to be the ones we acquire without much conscious thought.

 If we choose to work in harmony with Divine Spirit, we can strengthen those habits which are harmonious and life-affirming, and we can break the cycle of negative habits that we acquired when we were less conscious of our choices.  How do we do this?  All we have to do is ask.  Divine Spirit can give us the awareness to make better and better choices as we go forward.   When we practice the Presence of God in our lives, we realize that we are walking on Holy Ground at all times.  When we recognize that we are in the Presence of God at all times, our behavior begins to change.  We stop thinking that we can get away with things that we know aren't right.  We begin to ask for and receive God's protection and help in our lives.  We ask for, receive, and follow God's guidance in our everyday affairs. Our practice becomes conscious, rather than unconscious.  We practice being conscious – conscious of ourselves as Soul, as Children of God, and conscious of our relationship to God and our place in the divine order.  We choose which habits to keep and which to break.

How can this keep us from a "dismal past and an unknown future"?  When we are conscious of what we are doing, we have less to regret about the past, and we are creating a future that we have thoughtfully chosen.  Nobody can predict the future with total accuracy, but in general, we can act in ways that tend to have positive consequences. 

It's much easier now to live and act consciously than it was when I first started.  I've had a fair amount of practice, by now, but I realize that it will never make me "perfect" in that regard.  All I can do is stay as conscious as possible, stay with the learning curve, on a day-to-day basis.  No matter how much I have improved in this area, I continue to need all the practice I can get.  :-)

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