In the third grade I started riding my bicycle up the hill to Mrs. Evans house for piano lessons. Every week pedaling uphill I huffed and puffed my attitude toward music lessons. The piano was okay; and Mrs. Evans even had a stunning baby grand in her parlor, as opposed to the old upright with cracked ivories on which I practiced at home. But the idea of lessons, of practice, was where I struggled. I struggled in fifth grade when I began playing the clarinet, in seventh grade when I switched to the bass clarinet, in ninth grade when I moved to the bassoon, through college where I attended on a music scholarship, and even a short stint playing contra-bassoon with the Chattanooga Symphony. I loved the music, but I hated the practice (and that’s not to say I ever did a great job of practicing).
Now, as an adult I am trying to reframe my view of the word “practice.” The most simple dictionary definition of practice is “to do repeatedly in order to acquire or polish a skill.” Since my brain works best in metaphor, I like to picture the principle of practice as a tree.
So, I’m thinking of practice as a way of living, a relationship between what I believe and how I engage in the world. What I believe- bound up in my values, experience, and desire- is represented by the roots of the tree, that anchor me into the ground (my reality). The branches are the expression of those values in my conversation and the actions that I take. The trunk, which joins the two, is made of my individual practices and the collective practice of the people with whom I interact the most often. For me to live an intentional life, one that is aligned with my values and dreams for the future, I need to maintain a connection to my roots. Without a practice that continually reinforces that connection I am likely to live with a set of beliefs that are seldom articulated or acted upon. Practicing authentic living is something I do, as opposed to something I merely think about. Otherwise, I am left with some good ideas layered on top of the same old ways of doing things, and the perpetual frustration of wishing for, but not experiencing change.
The stronger my trunk and root system, the more healthy my branches. In other words, the more peaceful, creative, compassionate, and giving I am as I go through the day… the “me” that I want to be in this short life. That’s practicing that I can live with.