Even as a big-eared little doofus, I knew there was something wrong with that phrase.
“Practice makes perfect!” Sister Mary Malcolm shouted when she cracked my hand with a ruler if one of my fingers hit a white key instead of a black one.
I will say. Her aim was perfect. She always hit the guilty finger. So maybe practice does make perfect.
But not just any practice, right? What if I suck at practicing? Or what if I just suck? Of course I never spoke to Sister Malcolm that way. But I sure wanted to. I wanted to tell her alright already. I get it. I need to practice a lot. And I’m okay with that. But can you really promise me perfection?
My mind was only ten years old when those questions formed, so it was gratifying to hear the great Vince Lombardi validate my view. He said, “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”
In other words, playing a shit-ton of poker does not necessarily a winner make. And the phrase “practice makes perfect” is indeed incorrect.
Unless we let my friend Buddha define the words practice and perfect. He’s got an angle on this I find confusing, yet appealing. Let’s give him a call.
“Hi Buddha. It’s Tommy.”
“My phone works.”
I never know what to say when he says stuff like that.
“I could use some help with this article I’m working on,” I said. “It’s called Practice Makes Perfect.”
“Isn’t that amazing?” he said.
“That I’m working?”
“Electricity,” he said.
“Do you have ADD?”
“I will if you give me some.”
I stilled myself and smiled like he taught me, and mentally reset. “Okay, about my article. Remember when you told me about everything being perfect? It made sense then, but when I try to explain it, I can’t.”
“Because you have not experienced it.”
“The lack of imperfection.”
“Right. Tell me that part again.”
“Perfect means no defects,” he said. “It means nothing is out of place or unjust. In the state of grace, we see nothing wrong wherever we look. Nothing wrong with the sky. And nothing wrong with your brother.”
“State of grace?”
I had turned on the faucet. “A mental posture with many words,” he said. “Acceptance, contentment, nirvana, zazen, non-attachment, non-aversion, non-self-”
“Non-sense?” I said, surprised by my brashness. “Sorry. What I mean is-”
“Words,” he said. “You are right. Words are the only cause of nonsense. But words are young in this world. Take them away – words for rating, words for comparing – and everything is sensible again.”
“But aren’t you using words right now? Plus, you’re comparing. You are comparing comparing to not comparing.”
I felt like I scored logic points. Except this guy doesn’t keep score.
“Imperfections can be everywhere,” he said. “In all directions, like air. The difference is, we need air.” He giggled.
“I’ll go along with that. But you’re still comparing. And what about-”
“Imperfection injures the perceived and the perceiver.”
“Now hold on a second. What?”
“When you say this is perfect, you are also saying that is imperfect. But when I say this is perfect, I also say that is perfect. There is no imperfect. There is no harm.”
I had to think about that for a second.
“You’re right, Buddha,” I said. “That’s a place I have not been. Okay, let’s talk about the word practice.”
I waited for a reply. I waited a little longer. I looked at my phone. We were still connected.
“You still there?”
“Am,” he said.
I could hear his smile. I knew I should just shut up and stop, and breathe with him, but I was way too task-driven for that.
“Practice is a tricky word,” I said. “You can practice meditation, like a piano player, and you can have a practice, like a doctor, right?’
“Words,” he said. “You practice, you have a practice, you are a practitioner.” His voice slowed down.
“With practice you train to not rate, not compare. Practice lifts the veil of delusion and allows you to see that nothing is flawed. Practice makes perfect.”
“Are you saying I can meditate my way into perfect poker?” My voice went up a pitch. “And what if I don’t do it right? Does bad practice still make perfect?”
“Sky,” he said with a chuckle. It should be annoying when he punts like that, but somehow it calms me down.
“Okay, my friend,” I said. “Thank you for answering your amazing phone.” And he hung up, smiling I suspect.
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