This post is a day later than it should be (based on my entirely arbitrary publishing schedule, of course); however, I have a good excuse:
(wait for it)
…engaged in practice.
Ok, now raise your hand if you thought the word I was going to use was "busy". Nope! One of my overarching goals in life is never to be busy, but to often be engaged; and even more often, be dis-engaged so as to leave the room for new things with which I can become engaged.
Yesterday, however, is a good example of some deliberate practicing.
One of the recent really enjoyable changes to my life has been taking up pistol shooting. I've not really done any shooting since my military service over twenty years ago, so while I'm familiar with firearms, whatever skill may have been there is quite rusty.
There are a lot of practical reasons for this new hobby, but one of the nicest side effects is that when I go shooting, I do it with my father. He's a great dad, don't get me wrong, but he and I both were very busy through a great deal of my life. Suddenly we have an excuse to hang out and make holes in paper (kind of like scrap booking with black powder ). I have spent more time with my father in the last three weeks than I had in the previous six months, I believe.
And it's great, not the least because he was formerly a firearms instructor. This gives me a resource to build the skill of making those holes in the paper where I want them, as opposed to wherever they end up. He has coached me on my grip, on how to sight properly, and on the challenges of different calibres and such.
The result has been a great improvement to my "grouping" – that is, how close together the holes in the paper are. If you can get your grouping tight enough, the theory goes, then adjusting your stance to put that grouping where you want it is an easy next step.
The Little D.I. Inside My Head
Of course, I come from a branch of the military that prides itself on turning out people who can put the holes wherever they want them from a great distance. I was never outstanding when I served, but I was adequate, and that (to my mind) put me ahead of most.
Coming back to shooting now has reinforced the idea of adequacy – I'm not a bad shot. At the same time, there's a little voice I hear that sounds remarkably like Drill Instructor Sergeant Stinson criticizing me every time I spin the pulley that brings the target back up the range to me. You call that a grouping? What is that hole on the edge? You just trying to scare the bullseye? Or maybe ask it out for a %$&@# DATE!?!
And did I mention that Dad is a former firearms instructor? He's no slouch himself.
Thankfully, I remember: I'm not shooting to earn a qualification medal. Nothing goes on my permanent record. I am not even in pistol league (and if I was, maybe I'd feel better since they give out participation trophies).
No, I shoot because I'm looking for that stillness. Breathe. Relax. Aim. Squeeze. Shoot. There's a tiny moment of zen with every shot, if I let there be. For that period of time there is nothing my eye on the sight, my finger curled around a metal comma, and the blurred target down range.
Every shot is a practice, trying for a touch of satori. Well, ok, that's what it should be. Like any meditative practice, instead there's a bunch of Wow, you really jerked on the trigger for that one. Relax your shoulders! Those are the rear sites. Look at the front ones. Is Dad watching? How's your balance? Did you remember that you have a blog post due today?
But I keep trying for the meditative practice. And no, I'm not going to finish that thought with and slowly I'm improving. Improving is not the point.
The point is to show up, and try to find that space, and trust that the practice is worth the time.
For me, it's shooting – and drawing, and writing, and sometimes smoking cigars or dancing. Whatever your practice is – I hope you can find your own moments of zen in them, every once in a while, when the voices get lost in the pleasure of the act itself.
May that be enough.