Last Saturday morning found me at Denver's hosting of The Fly Fishing Show. Held at the Merchandise Mart, this extravaganza boasted lots of booths for fly-tiers, fly shops, guides, clothing and boat manufacturers, as well as a lot of experienced fly-fisherfolk demonstrating their skill (and helping others learn!). I only spent several hours there, but, given the number of workshops and demonstrations, I can imagine that spending a lot more time wouldn't have been that hard.
I need to back up a bit here. Until last summer, I hadn't done ANY fishing since my late high school years, and then it was only spin-and/or-bait-and-bobber fishing. Early last summer, however, my 9-yr-old son said "Dad, I want to go fishing." Being the ever-compliant (and eager-to-please) dad, I took him to a local sporting goods shop and made a minor investment in just enough gear to get us started, in case his enthusiasm waned. It didn't. So, it was back to the sporting goods shop several more times. Fishing expeditions just about every Saturday (as well as some weekday evenings at our local reservoir). All with NO LUCK WHATSOEVER in catching a fish. His interest never flagged. And, in the process, I was re-"hooked" on the sport. But, still in the "spin-and/or-bait-and-bobber" mode.
Then, sometime in early fall, he and I camped near a couple of fly-fishermen and their kids. The insidious seed was planted! A few weeks later, we attended a "Trout-tastic Fishing Day" put on by a local fishing club. It was intended to get kids interested in fishing (in a well-stocked pond), mostly with bait-and-bobber. After lunch, however, they gave the kids (and their dads) an opportunity to try their luck with a fly rod. All of us caught (and released) fish! "Hooked" again.
Being a researcher at heart, then, I began to read everything I could on fly-fishing. I've "Liked" fly shop Facebook pages. I've checked out videos from the library. I've practiced trying knots. I read (and re-watched) "A River Runs Through It". I figured that a thorough immersion in the theory (and gear) of the sport would fully prepare me to have a fly-rod in my hand! So, when I learned that there would be fly-casting lessons (in addition to all the other stuff) at The Fly Fishing Show, I knew I had to go.
Well, harrumph! Knowing the "casting arc" and the "'D' loop" (see picture above) is one thing. Translating the knowledge into practice was something else. Occasionally the "loop size" was about right, and the line shot out straight. More often the "loop" resembled a spiral and puddled at my feet. I refused to get discouraged, and kept at it, realizing that (despite the growing pain in my shoulder and back) that this was going to take a while to "get the hang of". IT WILL NOT DEFEAT ME!
It occurred to me through this experience that there is a big difference between knowing about something and experiencing it, let alone becoming competent (at least in certain areas of endeavor -- like fishing, cooking, or auto-mechanics). At this time of year when many of us "resolve" to make changes, we research the new behavior ("Hmmm, which diet holds the best possibility for success?"), try it for a couple of days ("Oh, but I'll relax the discipline for NFL playoff days and the Super Bowl"), don't immediately experience the results we desire ("What??? I haven't dropped 10 pounds since Jan 1???"), and drop it ("Maybe next year, when I'll pick a better diet plan!").
The same, of course, is true of the spiritual life. I remember taking a course in Divinity School about "The Theory of Spirituality", thinking it would make me more "spiritual". It didn't. This is truly a case of "practice makes perfect". All religions recognize this: the five daily prayers of Islam, the exhortation to Christians to "devote themselves continually" to prayer and gathering together, the Jewish practice of donning the phylacteries daily. And certainly the language surrounding Buddhism; one "practices" the disciplines. For all, perfection is nigh-impossible to achieve. Yet, without the practice (as opposed to just "head-knowledge"), it is impossible.
I know that, to be sure. Getting hooked, and doing a lot of research, isn't enough. Nor is making a simple resolution. It takes more than that. On the other hand, if you've got a good book on how to make the perfect "roll cast", let me know!