Each night for the last week, as the sun begins to color the sky and the temperatures finally drop down from the heat of the day, I’ve found my way out to Woodfin Park. In this daily routine, I go over basic strokes, rolls and maneuvers. I notice how the grip of my paddle in my hand at different angles adjusts, ever so minorly (or majorly) the way the boat and water and my body move in relationship with one another. I pay attention to my torso rotation and try to notice the differences it establishes in each of my movements. I watch my paddlers box, how are my arms? Where do my hands in relationship to my body?
I grew up playing soccer and hearing from coaches over and over again the competitive spirited quotes about practice. “Practice makes Perfect” and other such mantra dominated all my T-shirts and thinking. The competitive edge was always about perfecting and maintaining being the “best” versus your competitors. I was a competitive person, but I knew I could never be the best, not because I wasn’t a capable individual, but more because I didn’t fully believe “perfect” was attainable.
Now, I do remember my brother’s soccer coach giving him a quote to read every morning in his bathroom Mirror. My brother placed it there, I continued to read it daily after he left for college.
Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words.
Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions.
Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits.
Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character.
Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.
— Chinese proverb, author unknown
I liked this quote because it wasn’t just about winning. It wasn’t just about sports. It was about life and life in every aspect is a practice. A practice of what we eat, when we go to bed, who we have relationships with, practice represents how we live. I didn’t like the end goal of winning as achieving perfection, but I identified strongly with the end goal of having a well designed life! Growing up, soccer was my practice and as much time as I spent on the field kicking a ball, I also spent time thinking about how different foods might make me feel in a game or how important sleep was to my performance. It regulated so many small facets of my life.
Now, kayaking is my practice. Instead of long runs to keep myself in shape, I do yoga to balance out my muscles. I pay attention to how food will energize me for a full day on the water or a short stint.
And practice makes progress, not perfect.
Like the infinite degrees of space between discreet numbers, the amount of improvement from not doing the thing to doing the thing can feel like an endless journey in degrees of improvement with the “perfect” forever out of reach, but still the work pays off.
I get immersed in my work, in the practice of evaluating each stroke and each movement, as you try to sync breathe in movement like in yoga.
The lightening bugs arrival is my cue that its time to wrap things up. I wait for them to come out as my reward for showing up, for working on these movements. Lightening bugs are still new to me, and the novelty of watching fire sparks dance above still water is something I have yet to become accustomed to!
What do you do to maintain your practice?