We’ve all heard the joke: “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?”
“Practice, my friend . . . practice.”
In my youth, I was trying to learn how to play the piano. I liked the sounds that came out of the old Winchester upright that was built in 1932, which was tuned every couple of years, as my grandmother could afford. There it sat, in the summer of 1979, on the occasion of my fifth birthday. My great grandfather was living in my grandmother’s home, and 85-year-old marvel who had never uttered a curse, never said a word which was untrue (to his knowledge), and who kept his father’s Phi Beta Kappa key in a glass case for everyone to see, just in front of his own electrical engineering degree. He was also an electrical engineer, and prone to be very particular about the way things were.
He stepped up to the piano and played “Chopsticks,” his gnarled fingers finding the notes without effort, his blind eyes not seeing the keys. I was amazed: he had played actual music with only two fingers!
“How did you do that, Great Grandpa Lee?” I asked with no small amount of amazement. I knew he couldn’t see, and that there was arthritis in his knuckles that made them hurt.
“Practice,” he replied. “You’ll be playing that in no time.”
He spent about 10 more minutes teaching me the tune, and I learned how to play it with the same flawless performance he’d given.
“Anything you want to do well, child,” he said in his Maine accent and a characteristic chuckle, “can be accomplished with practice. You just practice anything, and you’ll be a genius at it before too long.”
During the following school year, I didn’t really practice. I was too busy trying to learn my ABC’s, and trying to count as high as they’d let me. I was discovering the richness of books, and I loved them. The following summer, though, I found myself right in front of that piano again, racking my brain to try to rediscover how to play “Chopsticks.”
“What’s wrong?” he asked me with a smug smile.
“I can’t play it!” I complained.
“When’s the last time you practiced?” he asked.
“Last summer!” I cried out. “I practiced! I promise I did!”
“Practice isn’t something you do a few times,” he told me. “It’s something of an ongoing thing. You stopped practicing. Now you can’t do it. But if you start practicing again, you’ll get it again.”
“Can you show me?” I pleaded. He did, and I was grateful.
“This time, keep practicing,” he said. “If you stop, you lose it.”
This time, the lesson stuck. Well, until I decided that I didn’t want piano lessons any more.
This lesson also applies well to the spiritual side of things: when we practice what we are taught which is true, our lives move in far different directions than when we practice things which are false. In the practice of Jediism, this means a separation from dogma and a recognition that there are truths everywhere. When we are mindful of the present, we understand the impact of our timeline. We see that the past affects the present, and that the present affects the future. This was perhaps best summarized by Yoda’s line in The Empire Strikes Back:
“Difficult to see: always in motion is the future.”
And then combining that with lines from The Phantom Menace:
Obi-Wan: “Master Yoda says I should be mindful of the future”
Qui-Gon: “But not at the expense of the moment.”
In fiction, it’s easy to see that the result of practice is success. But like me during that first summer playing piano, many people stop the moment they think they understand something. In films, people practice for a few hours and they are Jedi Masters. In real life, it takes dedication over many years to understand spirituality at a level where mastery is even possible. That kind of dedication comes of practical application of principles, and not simply looking up answers on some web site, and copying what others have written so that you can answer a test question. It’s one thing to attain a goal by cheating yourself of experience so that you can piggyback on the experience of others; and quite another to achieve success through experiences of your own.
To answer the question: “How do I get to Knighthood at TotJO?”