“Yoga is not about being able to do the posture. It’s about learning to do the posture through practice, practice, practice. After you’ve learned the posture, you will love it. And after you’ve learned it, you will practice your skill, and you will love you.” Postcards From The Heat” by Yoga Lily.
I remember when I was very young, my teachers, parents, and other grown-up types would use the phrase, “Practice makes perfect.” I assume they were hoping to instill in me a sense of self worth through hard work. It was suggested that if I practice (my violin, swimming, my times tables, my field hockey goal shots, my drawings of horses) that some day I'd be “perfect.” The definition of perfect in my mind was quite specific: perfect meant that whatever the task at hand, my execution of it would result in the best possible results. If I practiced, I would play my violin with supreme accuracy and inspiration. If I practiced my hockey shots, I would always score a goal when I had acquired the “perfect” position on the field (I played right wing- OY! All that running!). If I practiced I would be able to draw a horse in any position; rearing, standing, galloping. OK, I actually was able to achieve that goal. Yay me!
I developed very high standards for myself at a young age. With those elevated yardsticks came quite a bit of anxiety, which I grapple with to this day. There have been many activities I have bowed out of because I knew I couldn’t perform at a high level. I was afraid to start at the beginning and possibly embarrass myself. In addition, I had set such high standards for performing tasks in which I am competent that, at times, I was stuck in first gear for fear of not reaching preconceived goals. Not until I entered therapy about 2 ½ years ago did I begin to think about how I have been conducting my life and whether the decisions I have made for myself have yielded me a life I want to live.
Through this current self-awareness I realize that I have made some poor decisions for myself, decisions that were unconscious. Many decisions were made in haste to please someone else when I might have spent some time considering what I needed and wanted most. Though I was performing tasks at a high level, I was not practiced at being present with myself. So, when that feeling of being burned out, and generally unhappy came over me like a massive menopausal hot flash, I had no choice but to stop everything and just be for a while. I stopped trying to be perfect and I started just practicing at life. I allowed myself to know nothing….and it felt so good.
The one constant I have had these last few years has been teaching. I am a good teacher, especially now that I have stopped trying to be perfect at it. Many of my painting students ask me how I know to use a certain color here, or how I came to draw a line with such expression. Of course, my response is, “ Practice.” My students are adults and so they are impatient to gain a high level of competency in a short amount of time. We all know it doesn’t work that way. The doing of a thing over an over again, the practice of it, will gain you competence, and, some times, will make you a poet, a leader. The time invested brings the reward.
Lately, I have been asking myself these questions: “Does practice make perfect?” “What is perfect?” “Who defines perfect?” I believe we each have to define what is perfect for ourselves. I also think we move the perfection bar as we grow into our wisdom. What was perfect for me as a 25 year old (parties every weekend, 6 AM trips to the gym 3 times a week, watching endless television, people pleasing) is no longer right for me. Actually, come to think of it, those activities may not have been perfect for me then either.
There are standards of perfection that have been established in some areas. I remember the 1976 Summer Olympics when Nadia Comaneci scored the first “perfect 10” in gymnastics. When the movie “10” came out in 1979, Bo Derek became the definition of female perfection. Turns out, in the movie, she wasn’t perfect for Dudley Moore’s character after all. My own standards of perfection in painting have altered radically. In truth, I’d say they are nonexistent. When I start a new painting these days, I rarely expect to make a perfect painting. A good percentage of those I begin end up getting painted over, and that’s OK with me. I’m good practicing. The doing is the reward, and, sometimes, something sublime can result.