On the word “practice”

(An excerpt from Eat Here Now)

There is a very good reason why our spiritual endeavors are called practices.

Merriam-Webster’s defines practice as:

1. to carry out, apply (practice what you preach)
2. to do or perform often, customarily, or habitually (practice politeness)
3. to be professionally engaged in (practice medicine)
4. to perform or work at repeatedly so as to become proficient (practice the act)
5. to train by repeated exercises (practice pupils in penmanship)

Practice implies that we show up, time and time again, despite the results. Sure, as some forms of the definition suggest, we hope that eventually, we will improve. Yet practice does not necessarily correlate to the notion of results; they are two separate topics. At some point, someone popularized the phrase practice makes perfect. This is utter nonsense that begs to be addressed, because as a population we have wholeheartedly bought into the idea that if we just show up enough, we will reach perfection. And once we summit the mountain, I guess we can just go home!

The truth is this: perfection is a fallacy. It is as fantastical and imaginary as glittering rainbow striped winged unicorns carrying us to and from our job at the office every day.

Perfection is a myth requiring impolite deconstruction. I happily take a go at it by sharing the wisdom of the illustrious San Francisco-based illustrator Forest Sterns, an exquisitely talented friend of mine, who offers this alternative: “practice makes practice.” Perhaps this feels deflating in comparison. Good. What is deflating is our ego, so let that balloon be crushed by gravity and celebrate the freedom of all that imprisoned oxygen. 

When we strive for perfection, we focus on end results, placing our attention upon outcome and displacing our attention from the present moment. 

Furthermore, we place that ideal outcome in a kingdom so far away it actually doesn’t exist, and then we feel crushed beyond measure when we never reach it. Setting ourselves up for failure and heartache appears to be a cultural trait, and certainly a learned one. 

Instead, what would it feel like to focus upon the practice itself? 

What if our ‘goal’ was to be here now, practicing, mindful, present in our focus, one action at a time? That seems attainable, yes? It is, of course, up to you which path you will walk. Option A: a goal-oriented fantasy of perfection. Option B: a path- oriented, present-minded practice.

I recommend the option that feels better to you, because here is the secret to success: it is all about the way you feel, folks.

*This excerpt is taken from Eat Here Now: a bite-sized guide to ritualize your life, nourish your body and feed your spirit by Britta Gudmunson.