You Reap What You Sow

Posted on March 5, 2011


In my studying and reading lately I keep coming across the following quote in many variations:

“Sow a thought, reap an action;

Sow an action, reap a habit;

Sow a habit, reap a character;

Sow a character, reap a destiny.”

                                                                    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Last night I retold this story of mine to some friends. I used it to demonstrate the principles related to achieving perfection in temporal and/or spiritual things. Here goes.

When I started dancing seriously I was very dedicated and worked extremely hard. I got a scholarship to attend a performing arts prep school my senior year of high school. Being a big fish in a small pond I was dismayed when I didn’t qualify to be in the advanced ballet classes. You see I’d overheard the comments the auditioning teacher had made to my mother, and I remember the look she gave me when I arrived to be assessed. She looked like she approved. I had poise and grace she told my mother. I looked like a dancer. I held myself like one. But all of that was superficial.

But I persevered and one day my efforts were noticed. I was called to the head master’s table during lunch where all the dance teachers sat very poised, silently assessing me as I approached. “Betsy,” the head ballet mistress said,”we’ve noticed how hard you’ve been working.  We’re inviting you to a master’s class at the end of the week. A dancer from the Boston Ballet will be teaching a class and we think you’d enjoy it.” Finally, I thought. They’ll see I’m in the wrong class!

The time for class came and I stood in the back of the room waiting for the instructions and the music to begin. Everything in ballet is repetition of basics in endless variations with a lot of creativity thrown in. I understood the directions the teacher gave. But when the music started I quickly became lost. Everything was so fast! I realized something profound in that moment. My dancing wasn’t me, yet. I still had to think. And the process of thinking got in the way of being. I knew over time my body would get it so completely that no thought would be required. I would be the dance.

That’s what separated me from the advanced students. They were artists. They’d consistently practiced habits (exercises) correctly over such a long period of time that they had mastered their craft. They’d achieved that wonderful state where muscle-memory  kicks in and they just dance.

So what did I learn that I’ve been able to apply the journey I’m on to perfection in anything? I learned that there are correct principles and processes that lead you where you want to go to be what you want to be. All of our goals need dedication and committment to the mundane task of repetition that turn the perception of something into pure knowledge. And that if you stick with something long enough, and if you are persistent in applying basic principles, you’ll get what you want.

There was one danger that I faced head-on when I auditioned for class-placement as a dancer. And that is one that we rarely put words to. Just because I looked the part didn’t mean that I’d mastered what was required to be called one. Later I learned that I was in love with dancing, but not in being a dancer. There’s a huge difference. One requires very little effort. The other would demand great sacrifices that I was not willing to make.

And if I want to change my destiny, I will start by changing my thoughts. I’ll have mentors, teachers, friends and guides to help me reach my goals. But the choice is mine. There will be no short-cuts offered. The making and breaking of habits will always be the most challenging part of the process.

And those habits, the ones that lead me to fulfillment and happiness will enhance every part of my life. For some reason unexplained to me, some of the gifts of self-mastery are peace and simple joy.

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