Archives for posts with tag: if practice makes perfect what are you perfecting?

This is a story about coffee – sort of. πŸ˜‰

It’s a metaphor.

Small things sometimes stall me. I know I can, I have the experience, but lacking a clear recollection, I hesitate, stymied by nothing more than my lack of clear recollection. Hesitation becomes fear becomes inaction. It’s a thing. Today, it’s a thing about coffee. lol

At some point, living at #59 (my previous apartment), my Traveling Partner left some of his things with me, and one of those items was his espresso machine. Nice one. Too big for my space, so it was being stored in a closet. I have considerably more counter space in the kitchen, here in The House Where I Live (so much more delightful, it gets named instead of a number). I put the espresso machine on the counter, when I moved in, and have since sort of just… kept it clean, and “worked around it”. I hadn’t turned it on, or made use of it at all. Nothing stopping me but fear.

The fear started off simply enough; it isn’t actually my espresso machine and I didn’t want to “break it” (which, realistically, should not be such an easy thing to do, considering what it is built for). I put off re-reading the manual, or looking at a YouTube video for days. Well… for 60 days, actually. I smile realizing I’ve been here just two months (a whole two months!). Over the past 60 days, that hesitation to act became insecurity about acting, reluctance to follow through, and finally just a straight up failure to act that was at risk of persisting indefinitely, with the final result that I would have a rather large fancy paperweight on my kitchen counter serving no purpose. Silly.

I put “reboot espresso machine” on my to-do list days ago. I ignored that for a while, fearfully. This weekend, however, has been all about being present, being at home, and working down the list of tasks I had in front of me, many of which fell into this same “tread carefully” category of odds and ends I felt uncomfortable with. Like the sub-woofer. Like the espresso machine. So, yesterday I read the manual. I watched a manufacturer-sponsored video on using the machine. I bought almond milk made specifically for making espresso beverages (different texture than the usual sort). I had already emailed customer support and specifically inquired whether there would be gaskets needing to be replaced after 2 years in storage (there are not, they said). Finally – verb time. I filled the machine with water. Turned it on. Ran some out as hot water. Ran some out as steam. Checked the settings on each feature… and by the time I’d done all those things, it was much too late in the day for strong coffee, and I’d run out of courage. lol I talked myself out of making a coffee, and put that off for the morning.

I woke peculiarly early today. Like… seriously. 2:51 am. Somehow, I managed to be so entirely awake that getting up to pee did not naturally result in going back to bed, and I got up. Fuck it. It’s almost 3:00 am, and 3:00 am is “almost 4”, which is only half an hour from when the alarm would go off, so… Right. I’m up. Coffee time!

I hesitated, again, as I stood in front of the espresso machine, watching it heat up. My eye slid to the right; I could make a pour over… Then I glanced left; a cup of coffee made in the Keurig is drinkable, quiet, and efficient… I recalled the video, which had reminded me how easy it is to use this espresso machine (a semi-automatic), even first thing in the morning. I recalled how many times I have actually made coffee using this very same espresso machine, when it sat upon the counter in my ex’s house, where we all lived together. As the machine continued to heat, I recalled, too, that my Traveling Partner and I intend each other nothing but love, and share everything we have with great joy; there isn’t really any chance that I would willfully damage his espresso machine, nor is there any realistic chance that he would take it badly if something were to go wrong and it got damaged without ill intent. So… what’s the hold up? Well, at that point, just waiting for water to heat up. πŸ™‚

The beans were fresh. The grind may need some adjustment, but that’s fun for another day, preferably a day with plenty of time in it for drinking coffee. lol The puck was quite perfect, the smell of freshly ground coffee was enticing. The shot I pulled wasn’t my best – perhaps in another lifetime, I’d have poured it out and used the opportunity to begin again. At 3:15 am on a Monday morning, I found I was just as content to let it be, and embrace imperfection – and coffee. πŸ™‚ I steamed the milk, enjoying the ease of it far too much for the simple process it is, as enthusiastic as a toddler turned loose in the toy aisle. Β I took that first sip, of that first latte made by my hand in my own home in a bit more than 2 years (has it only been such a short time?). It was warm, and tasty, and seemed to me in that moment to be quite perfect – even as I recognized opportunities to improve my craft. There was no room for criticism in that moment; it was enough to be drinking a latte I made for myself. πŸ™‚

Contentment is something I have found I can build. I can craft it from fairly simple ingredients; moments that are enough, small successes, and letting go of attachment to outcomes and expectations. Finding that I can build contentment, and sustain it, has resulted in so many lovely moments – even actual genuinely happy ones that linger in memory and sustain me through tougher times. It’s nice. It’s a process. There are verbs involved. My results vary. Sometimes… yeah, I’m so human, sometimes I have to overcome my fears. Incremental change over time requires practice. πŸ™‚ We become what we practice.

I smile at the clock and sip my latte. I have plenty of time to begin again. πŸ™‚

I woke in a lot of pain this morning, and it feels like it is going to be a hot day. My device says 84 degrees (F), so manageably hot, I guess. It’s a “boxing day” today (packing things up to move), and a chance to get some laundry done, too. I smile and enjoy the awareness that in the new place I have my own washer and dryer in the house, saving both time and money.

It’s a nice morning for gratitude. Yesterday ended on a difficult note at work, not “bad” just… work. Real work. Work that matters. Work I am satisfied and rewarded by. Still work. Still requires working. However difficult the work at hand, I also felt valued and appreciated by my colleagues and my boss, which feels… amazing. So far a very healthy environment for me. I definitely seek to spend more time appreciating those good qualities than dwelling on one difficult day – that still ended very well, with work I am proud of.

Yesterday I also had the opportunity to “be there” for a friend who needed a moment to be heard. We all do, now and then, right? I was glad to be there when he needed someone, and it was good to reconnect.

Another friend is gathering his resources and harnessing his will, considering making a 750 mile drive north to see me, hang out, and help me move. I’m pretty blown away by his affectionate regard that he would do so. I smile every time I consider it – and will for a long while, whether he is able to make it or not. He really wants to. That’s awesome. πŸ™‚

Tonight I will get to hang out with other far away friends, in town visiting a friend who isn’t so far away, and who I enjoy but rarely break out of my routine to see. Yeah, that’s a thing – I’m very human. πŸ™‚ I’m eager to see them all, this evening. Maybe my Traveling Partner will accompany me, although probably not; he is still recovering from his recent surgery, and travel would likely be very awkward.

Life isn’t always easy. I got home last night still suffering the day. The time I spent hanging out with a friend helped. The time I spent meditating helped further. The sleep I got, deliciously restful, found me waking with the dawn and a smile, eager for a cup of coffee, having let go of any lingering stress from the prior day. This ability to bounce back developed over time, and I can’t provide any really sound expectations about “how soon” or “when”…because it is a slow, gradual thing that was an incremental change over time with so many setbacks and “will this never end?!” moments that it was a little like I simply woke one day… changed. I suppose it was sometime between when I began and yesterday, right? lol So… let’s go with an easier question, okay? “How many days from the day I first began “practicing the practices” has it been to achieve yesterday’s results?” That I can answer – after I choose a staring point. So… I think I have to look at two different starting points, and answer with a range. First starting point; when my Traveling Partner recommended that I read The Four Agreements (it’s linked on my Reading List), which puts me around 2,575 days (7.05 years – bit of a long haul, frankly). Okay, that sounds… long. Impossibly long. Second starting point, would be when I began with my current therapist, shortly after I started writing Evening Light, putting me at a more comfortable to contemplate 1,610 days (4.4 years). Soooo… it’s taken me, depending on how I look at where I began, between 4 and 7 years to get this far from where I began… that sounds like a long time to have to “wait”, but there have been verbs involved, so I haven’t exactly been “waiting”…

…It hasn’t seemed so long. The quality of life improvements over time began quickly with small things, and have been entirely worth the work, the verbs, the constant practice, the regular beginning again… It’s a lot to commit to, though. So… I haven’t. I’ve refrained from committing to a specific outcome, and focused mostly on moments, practices, and treating myself (and other people) with great consideration and compassionate understanding – neither of which came naturally to me, so, yeah – practice. A lot of practice.

…I’m not “there” yet. I don’t know that there is a “there” at all. I just know that this morning is quite lovely, even though yesterday was difficult in spots. I know I am well-loved, even though I am, myself, quite difficult in spots. I know that so much of my experience is within my ability to choose change, even though that sometimes feels difficult in spots. I know, too, that anytime things are difficult – I can begin again, right here, now, in this spot. πŸ™‚

It’s a good day to practice being the woman I most want to be. We become what we practice. ❀

It’s early. I woke around 3 am. I napped until shortly after 6 am. I’ve been cranking tunes since then, although it’s much too early for having the stereo on – sort of the whole point of headphones, so… no problem. Headphones it is.

Sunshine streams into the apartment through windows open to the morning breeze, blinds raised. The goosebumps on my arms don’t discourage me in the slightest; it’s the scent of flowers on the breeze that I’m after, and it delights me. Chilly? I would be if I hadn’t put on a sweater… it’s sort of the point of having sweaters, right? So, I put one on.

I caught a glimpse of myself reflected on the patio door, and another as I passed by the bathroom mirror. I’m not yet in the shape I’d like to be in, and my plump curves are a bit plumper than is ideal for my desired longevity and general day-to-day comfort and experience of wellness. Β Yeah, middle-age comes with some of that for a lot of us, I suspect. Taking care of my health over time matters, so I make choices that meet that need, including changes in diet, changes in fitness plan, and (at least for now) getting the medical care I need to address longer term concerns about my health.

Professionally, too, there have been (no doubt are, and will be) choices to make that could better or worsen my experience of life, itself, and even my experience of… self.

I sip my coffee – it’s cold now. I’m distracted by the music, and the sunshine on morning dew drops. I’m thinking about how much fun I used to have with the “character building” part of role-playing games; the fun of being able to choose who I would become. This morning I am understanding that indeed, this is a “power” I actually have – we all do. I can choose who I will become! I can choose my hair color, the clothes I wear, what words and phrases and style I express, and what qualities I will embrace… I create my future “back story” with the things I choose to do today… I can practice different behavior, learn different thinking, and literally become someone very different than I am today. I am already someone different than I was when I was very young. I can do it willfully, through selection of behavior, values, actions… or through mindlessly repeating memes, slogans, and succumbing to advertising and literal “programming” offered by the media. I can choose who I will become – or a persona to live within, like a tiny box, can be provided for me.

We become what we practice.

We become what we practice.

We become what we practice.

We become what we practice.

What are you practicing?

Begin again.

The barking began at dawn. It continues even now. It’s not unusual; I have a neighbor with a dog that barks any time it is left outside, which is… often. It is frustrating and annoying, and incessant. The neighbor has received many complaints about the dog and the barking, and the reply is generally the same, “Well, I’ve tried to teach him to stop barking, but it doesn’t work. Dogs bark.” I gave that some thought, at the time, and even during the six months that I was home every day, I don’t recall ever seeing that neighbor working with their dog, at all. I wondered then, and this morning, what exactly my neighbor “tried”. I don’t see anything going on that looks like practice or training.

Dogs can indeed be trained not to bark (at the moon, at shadows, at strangers, because they are lonely…), it requires practice. Do the thing. Do it again. And again another time, and again after that. Then repeat all the practicing. Begin again, again. There are verbs involved, and a practice is not a noun, however much it may seem to be based on its function in a sentence. It requires consideration. Awareness. Intention. Will. Did I mention the practicing?

I’m sure my neighbor would be irked with me to hear me suggest that she isn’t actually making any particular effort to train her dog not to bark every hour of the day it is left outside. No doubt she believes her internal narrative that she “tried everything” and “nothing worked”. Haven’t we all said as much to ourselves – and our friends and loved ones – about something? Is it really the true literal truth in fact? Have I indeed “tried everything”? Have I truly practiced the needed practices with the necessary constancy? Have I tried, failed, and begun again sufficiently often? Or… did I try, fail, and then tell myself that I tried and failed and therefore “it didn’t work”? I see a difference there. Once I noticed that difference, it became more difficult to allow a negative experience to be who I am; we become what we practice.

Yes, there are verbs involved. No, change doesn’t happen solely because I’ve accepted that change would have value, or even because I am desperate to experience change. One evening in the yard training my chronically barking dog isn’t going to change that dog’s behavior long-term (or maybe at all) – practice is an ongoing thing.  So it also is with anxiety, with depression, with anger, with emotional volatility, with disorder, with sloth, with overeating, with nail biting… Hell, any number of troubling or challenging human experiences can be eased with one practice or another – if change is actually practiced. Fail. Begin again. Practice. We become what we practice. (Not one word of that implies “easy” or suggests effort would not be required.)

It works in a subtle way; even practicing ignoring that barking dog has an outcome rooted in incremental change over time.

Is your dog barking? What will you do about it? Endure it? Change it? There are verbs involved, and the choices are yours. So is the requirement to practice.

About that barking...? (photo by Emma Harris, used with permission)

About that barking…? (photo by Emma Harris, used with permission)

A very long time ago, I “tried meditation” and “it didn’t work for me”. I went forward in life for many years (decades) quite convinced by that experience that “meditation doesn’t work”, and gave it no further thought. My PTSD symptoms worsened over time, rather than improving. After all, dogs bark. We become what we practice. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t getting any better… hadn’t I “tried everything”?

In 2012, I stopped trying. I wasn’t sure what I would do instead, hell, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to live any more. I mention it because that seems a long time ago now, although it has been only 4 years since February 2013, when I started actually practicing meditation (and some other things) – and I do mean really practicing. Daily. Reliably. Even when I “don’t have time”. Even when “it isn’t convenient”. Even though I “wasn’t sure I was doing it right”. Even though I “wasn’t sure it would work”. Even when I found myself certain “it isn’t working”. Even when I thought “my life was falling completely to pieces”. Even when I thought “love might be lost” over my chaos and damage. Even when I wasn’t sure I wanted to live at all. I kept practicing, and failing, and beginning again.

We become what we practice. By practicing calm, I have become calmer. By practicing perspective and sufficiency, I have gained perspective, and learned what is “enough” for me. By practicing non-violence, I have become more peaceful. By practicing feeling content, I have become more able (and likely) to experience contentment. By practicing being awake and aware in this moment, I have become more present in my life, and in my relationships. By practicing listening, I become more likely to hear what is being shared. By practicing kindness, I have become kinder.

Today is a good day to practice being the human being I most want to be. Isn’t every day? πŸ˜‰

We become what we practice. I still suck at listening, by the way; it takes more than a day with a friend to gain, hone, refine, and maintain a new skill. It would be quite silly to expect things to be easier, faster, or simpler; practice is a verb, sometimes of the sort that must be used daily. So… I keep practicing.

recommended summer reading

Recommended summer reading.

I had a wonderful day listening. Talking too much. Being fairly wrong, fairly often. Being insightful once in a great while. Laughing. Sharing. Connecting. It was a first-rate good day with a friend. πŸ™‚

Today? More listening. More practicing. More sharing. A drive to the beach to beat the heat, perhaps… There are choices, opportunities, and verbs involved. My results will quite likely vary. πŸ™‚

being a beginner has some distinct advantages

Being a beginner has some distinct advantages.

The sky lightens slowly beyond the trees. Hints of peach and salmon hues this morning, nudging away a vaguely violet fading night sky. There is bird song. There are crows handling their project planning in coarse calls across the meadow, back and forth. Unnecessarily loud runners pass by, enjoying unnecessarily loud conversation; it is too early to regale the sleeping community along the park with discussion of conference calls gone bad, but… it happened anyway. lol I want to shout out the window “use your inside voice!” or… something ruder. That’s not necessary either, and the runners run on by withoutΒ suggestions from me.

I sit smiling, sipping my coffee as the dawn reveals the new day. Life feels easy. I enjoy the feeling without insisting life remain “easy” – impermanence is also a thing, and life is unlikely to comply with my expectations or be ruled by my assumptions. It’s enough to enjoy this moment now; there will be others. πŸ™‚

It's not necessary to chase the dream; we become what we practice.

It’s not necessary to chase the dream; we become what we practice.

Today is a good day to practice the things that work best – and the things I want most to improve upon. Today is a good day to enjoy the woman in the mirror, and all her beautiful humanity. Today is a good day to listen, to share, and to savor life. It may not change the world – but it’s likely to be a lovely day. πŸ™‚