Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Practice makes perfect?

As Bolt, Murray, Farah and other mazing athletes retain their Olympic titles, they and pretty much all other competitors in Rio will tell you the value of practice: the need to put the time in, if you want to be the best in the world at your chosen sport . . . or, for that matter, the best that you can be at anything.

But there's practice and practice! And how can we apply this principle to something like learning a new language, a meditation technique or better way of using our minds? Does the old mantra of perseverance, sweat and effort, still apply?

Horses for Courses
If you want to learn something so you can repeat it, time after time, exactly the same each time, then that's how you'd learn it! Learning by rote. The old fashioned keep doing it until it's etched in your brain: such as being able to recite a poem you learnt 40 years ago! Pretty much the same applies to physical, muscle, memory too: be it Murry's serve or the positions of hands on a piano keyboards to play Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2.

But that's only part of what you need to be the best. In some situations it is of vital important to have a given motor movement so hard-wired that you just do it automatically . . . but that certainly won't make you a concert pianist or sporting champion! There's the performance aspect: the ability to rise to an occasion, to face fears and use the emotions of the now in your favour, to tune into your arena, audience, opponent and so on: Simone Biles being an excellent example of this! She, Bolt and many of the other champions enjoy what they do. The energy of joy is a vital part of their success formula. They win through being themselves: and that's something we can practice too!

And this applies in any role, any job, any situation. Normally this would be my emphasis: the need to go beyond the level of (intellectual) knowledge and of practical skill and tune-in, to be present and connected. But in this article I'm going to focus on the third component: first-hand experience . . . the very thing of practice . . .

Practice by doing
When teaching Reiki (as a path for personal self-development) of course I advice my students to practice. But I specifically emphasis that their Reiki does NOT become the thing they do at 7:30 every Thursday, or that they always use the same set of hand positions when doing a self-healing practice. Neither of those is real practice. They're about repetition, habit and routine. And all they do is hard-wire that particular pattern in your head. When it comes to learning Reiki, being present, being a true artist and any real-world activity if you think about it, we rarely need to just repeat what we know exactly as we learnt it. Nearly always we will need to apply our knowledge to the particular time and place. Hence the need to be able to tune into that time and place!

But, just as importantly, we need, embodied within us, a deep and broad understanding of whatever it we're doing (from winning a particular Olympic final to clinching a new business deal, to resolving a family dispute, for example) that we can apply all our experience in this particular situation. How do we reach this wonderful state of affairs . . . and state of mind?

By practice . . . in real -life. By having the intent of being our true self, connected to both our inner needs and wisdom and to the pertinent facets of the present moment. And the wider the range of circumstances in which we can do this (in Murray terms, the wider the range of court surfaces, weather conditions and opponents, for example) the more the real us emerges and our potential is fulfilled.

Thus, if our intent is to step onto the winning podium in life, by overcoming our personal mental blocks and inner demons (as all champions must) then there is no alternative but to practice being us in every situation life provides for us. Here, now, is our practice court. 

In Beyond Thought, perhaps even more so than in sport, practice does not means keeping on doing the same thing: how are we ever going to be present if we do that? Thankfully Reiki, mindfulness, Alexander Technique and other approaches do teach us just that . . .

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