(This week is the 17thinstallment of the book, “The Band Director’s Lessons About Life”, which TCRN is publishing as a series during 2020. This week begins Part 2 of the four-part book. Part 2 deals with “practice”, ways we can practice being our “better self” on our spiritual journey in life. For a complete listing of previous episodes in this series, click here.)
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
(Twentieth-century American historian and author,
often misattributed to Aristotle)
Almost all our time in band class is devoted to practice. I do most of the preparation myself, and performances are pretty short. Students don’t reflect on their performances for very long, and they need lots of practice. That’s how the band performance cycle goes.
Ideally, students should practice at home. They should take some responsibility for their own progress. But they’re just kids, and few demonstrate that level of maturity and commitment.
What about you? What level of maturity and commitment do you bring to your own spiritual growth? How much do you practice? These are good questions to ask ourselves.
We will need to have some vision—some ideal—of who we want to become as a triune being (spirit, mind, and body). That was our goal in part 1: Preparation. Now, we create ourselves through our thoughts, words, and actions. Part 2 is about practice—practicing to be a better version of ourselves. In order to achieve that higher vision of ourselves, we have to practice new ways of thinking, speaking, and acting. We’ll need a positive attitude and some good instruction. We’ll have to be willing to learn from those who know more than we do. We will have to always do our best, be attentive to details, and be persistent. We might hit some plateaus, maybe even get stuck in a rut. There will be problems, but we’ll look at problems as opportunities to grow. That’s what life is all about—growing.
This section has ideas on how to practice effectively, but first, we have to believe we can do it.
Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve.
(Early twentieth-century author and founder of the self-help genre)
“Mr. Lee, I can’t play that!” Jessica plopped her flute on her lap and pouted.
“Yes, you can. Don’t say ‘can’t’—not in my classroom.” Jessica was a pretty good grade-eight flute player but was struggling to learn new notes. I needed to help her stop whining and start believing.
“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right. Don’t create a negative reality for yourself and limit your potential achievement by the way you think and talk.”
“But I caaaaaan’t,” Jessica whined, accompanied by a chorus of stifled laughter from the clarinet section.
“It’s just an E♭. It looks high, but it’s not that bad. It pops out pretty easily. Just put down all your fingers and blow really hard.”
I picked up my flute and played the high E♭.
“Now you try it,” I invited.
In music, lots of things look scary on the page but aren’t actually that hard to play. Once students get the idea of how something should sound, they can usually make their instruments do it. We call this “audiation”—hearing the sound in your head. Of course, it takes practice. But the first step is getting the sound in your head. The second step is believing you can do it. The third step is practicing until it happens: conceive, believe, practice. (In the opening quote, Napoleon Hill left out that last step.)
That’s why I keep a variety of instruments close at hand when I’m teaching band—to give the students an audible example of how things should sound.
A high-pitched squeal rang out in the band room.
“I got it!” Jessica exclaimed.
“You did. See, you can do it. Now, don’t say ‘can’t.’ It doesn’t exist here. The band room is a land of possibilities. Have you ever heard the expression “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny”?
I looked around the class. “Anybody ever heard that expression?” It was a sea of deer-in-the-headlights faces. Nobody had.
“Is it in the Bible?” Fred asked.
“No, it’s not from the Bible, although it sounds Bible-ish. Nobody seems to know who first stated the idea in those words, but it succinctly expresses a great spiritual truth.
“So, how do you apply that idea in your own life? It might work something like this. You sow a thought: I think I’ll take my French horn home tonight and practice it. So you do. The next day you think, That was neat. Maybe I’ll do it again tonight. Soon, practicing your instrument is a habit. Then you seal your character and your fate. Musicians have the habit of practicing their instruments. Keep up that habit, and you will become a musician.”
“Yeah, but some people are talented. Not me. Learning the flute is hard for me,” Jessica said as an excuse.
“That’s great. I wouldn’t want it to be any easier for you than it was for me.”
“Mr. Lee, that’s rude.” Jessica feigned shock.
“It’s not rude. It’s just blunt. You see, talentdoesn’t matter. Practice does. Thousands of untalented people have become capable musicians. People sometimes tell me I’m talented, but I’m not. I practiced for thousands of hours. It wasn’t easy for me either. What I have done, you can do too. I’m not talented. I’mskilled. Talent is genetic. Skill comes with practice.”
Jessica was not completely convinced, but during the ensuing years, it was a joy to watch her gradually become less whiny as she matured into an increasingly capable young woman.
Practice. You can do it too. You can learn to play your instrument—whatever that metaphor means for you. You can become the person you want to be. You can develop whatever skill you choose to practice.
In your mind’s eye, see what you want to become. Visualize it. Or, in the case of music, hear it. Believe you can achieve it. God does not put ideas into our minds that are impossible for us. That’s why Napoleon Hill said, “Whatever your mind can conceive and believe.” Then you have to practice. It’s like the Nike slogan. You just have to do it! Conceive, believe, practice, and you will become what you want to become.
This is a spiritual principle. What you want for yourself is created in your spirit, built in your mind, and manifests in the material world. So think carefully about what you want for yourself. If, like Jessica, you believe you cannot achieve something, your mind will make that a reality for you. Don’t create a negative reality for yourself. Imagine a positive reality of successful achievement instead.
Meditate on the person you want to become. Hold a mental image of yourself the way you want to be. Then practice acting and reacting the way that person would. Practice responding with love, with peace, with happiness to whatever life throws at you. You will become the person you imagine yourself to be.
Then the cycle repeats. Once you’ve achieved that vision, you’ll get a bigger picture of what and who you can become. All growth is a repetitive, cyclical process—life’s performance cycle. We are always becoming more than we are now. God’s creation didn’t stop after chapter 11 of Genesis—it’s eternal. We are co-creators with God, and we get to constantly create ourselves anew.
We are constantly becoming something more than we were before—re-creating ourselves. Whatever you want to become, you can become.
Picture it. Believe it. Practice it.
Donald Lee is a spiritual author and speaker. This article is part of a weekly series for 2020 in which TCRN is publishing his inspirational book, The Band Director’s Lessons About Life: Volume 1 – 50 Parables on Life’s Performance Cycle, in serial form – one parable per week. You can learn more about the author at his website: www.ComingHomeSpirit.com, or order a copy of his complete book on Amazon, or get his free mini eBook and sign up for his weekly blog. Follow Donald on Facebook.