Practice: Learning by Doing

When was the last time you learned to do something completely new?  Even if it was years ago, there is likely one thing that stands out: the need for practice.

For me (and I suspect for others) there are two truths about practice:  1) I tend to avoid it; and 2) I get impatient with myself.  I would love to be able get from A to Z without the 24 other letters in between, thank you very much.  But, what I have learned (and keep learning) is that getting from A to Z in that easy, breezy kind of way that I crave means that a lot of repeated practicing must occur in between.  No way around it.  But, we can do it.  If you don’t believe me, take one minute and watch and listen to these words of wisdom from Ira Glass:

Let’s take this theme of “practice” one step further, and live into this sacred space together today with a brief visualization practice.

First, think of something that you really do want to learn, or to be better at.  It can be anything:  creative, spiritual, humanitarian, health.  Picture yourself doing that thing.  Go ahead…let your mind form a picture that is as clear as you can see it.  Picture yourself, doing exactly what it is that you strive to do.  Hold that thought in your mind.  Now, watch this video.

Go back to that image of yourself that you were holding, taking on your new practice.  Remember that silly smile you couldn’t wipe off your face watching the toddler’s first steps?  Did you want to reach out and pick her up every time she fell over?  Give yourself the same loving, smiling gaze as you did at the first toddling steps of that child.  Pick yourself up (or help out a friend) and remind each other: We can do it!

This is the same patient, persistent, loving awe that God shares with us as we learn, step by step, to live into the sacred space of our lives.

Practice is a part of our lives if we are an athlete, a musician, an artist, a student…the list goes on.  In fact, C.S. Lewis suggests in his book Mere Christianity that practice is just as much a part of living into the sacred space of Christian faith and life:

On the Christian Life

There are three things that spread the Christ life to us: baptism, belief, and that mysterious action which different Christians call by different names—Holy Communion, the Mass, the Lord’s Supper.

If you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayers and religious reading and churchgoing are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed.

Feed your inner learner today, whatever it is that you are working at.  Let us know what you’re learning, and how you’re doing in the comments below…and feel free to post notes of encouragement to each other.  That’s why we are here to be community…to be Church with and for each other…and practice living into life on this earth as it is in heaven.

5 thoughts on “Practice: Learning by Doing

  1. I love the idea of practice. But, I struggle with the concept of being balance different practices at one time and be a grown up. As a child, I welcomed practice into my life. I was able to be so present during practice. The only bad “practices” I remember are ones in which I was too busy thinking about something else and not attending to my practice.

    I am not good at practicing one thing and having another looming in front of me. I struggle to focus while having multiple practices on going like making my grocery list during yoga. This inability or lack of focus causes me as a feminist to apologize for myself. The truth is there is only one area in which I have focused and practiced every day which is motherhood. Typing that feels so anti-Steniem, I cringe. Some days the practice has been abysmal and almost daily I practice because, like the pets who need me to open the door, they demand it.

    To admit the biggest practice in my life has been parenting feels like screaming fire in a crowded theater. It is a practice that has taken hold over other passions or as Ira Glass mentioned, “creative work.” It is not that I think motherhood is some supreme gift. I just really cannot seem to push my mothering practice to the back burner enough to forge ahead with my own practices. I can for short bursts such as Lent but somehow every day living pushes my focus behind. I admire those women who do. I often think of a tennis coach who would talk to me about how I needed to work on consistency. To get my head in the game…yadayadayada. Yet, the more I would focus on getting my head in the game, the more shots were terrible. When I found joy in hitting the ball, was when I just let go. For me, practicing joy is less about being cerebral and more about just being. And sometimes just being means not being able to focus on a practice.

    I was a terrible working full-time mother because there was not joy in anything for me. My students suffered. My family was probably fine. But, I suffered. I always felt less. Less able. Less everything.

    Having chosen a singular practice, parenting, is so unimaginative and honestly full of servitude that while I adore it, I yearn for my practice. But saying that and making it happen seems to short change me. Maybe with practice that feeling would go away, but I just cannot manage so many balls in the air (and having four human balls is perhaps already ambitious).

    Parenting is a practice; nearly 20 years does not shorten the practice or even make it a lighter load. I figure I have another active 10 years of parenting practice at the least. And not having my own practice makes me feel as if I have shafted my feminist ideals. That I don’t write more every day or even read more ever day saddens me. The discipline required for that kind of practice never syncs up with my children, so I just let it go. I have spent too many nights away from my home to care for my children learning to accept this practice but it still smarts.

    I love thinking about creative practice. But, like the toddler learning to walk, my time schedule may not align with others. Perhaps I will be the 60 year old returning to horseback riding or I will squeak out a daily writing practice by then. As my friends have published books and others have returned to the ring, I try to accept the balance I need to function which is different than everyone else’s.

    For now, I practice parenting. And it takes a lot of energy and patience.

    • Thank you for sharing your story, which I suspect will resonate with many others (and me!). The notion of practice as practice…not goal directed, but as a process of continued learning…is something that grounds me.

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