Patience takes practice

I went to an open house at Lillstreet Art Center here in Chicago about 6 or 7 years ago. Lillstreet is such a cool place. You can take classes in just about any art form you can think of, from ceramics to printmaking. A handful of my friends have taken advantage of those opportunities over the years, and I have looked longingly at the class schedule for quite a while. It’s not cheap, however, and my schedule is erratic enough that it’s rare that I have 5–6 uninterrupted weeks to be able to commit to a session.

During the open house, I got to wander around and experience several different departments, all of which sounded really neat. But when my friend and I prepared to leave and stepped out the door, we discovered one of the artists in the glass department set up at a small table right outside the main entrance making lampwork glass beads. The other mediums I had seen in the center were cool, for sure — but watching the artist melt these thin glass rods over an open torch flame to create these incredibly intricate, sculpted beads? I was absolutely transfixed. It took several years for both my finances and my schedule to align, but I finally managed to sign up for a beginning glass bead class. I had a project goal in mind, and was very excited to get started.

This might not surprise any of you, but it sure surprised me: glass beadmaking is difficult. It requires a steady hand and a great deal of multitasking — getting the glass in the right part of the flame, moving things enough that they don’t get too molten or too cool, knowing the difference between working with opaque glass versus transparent glass, and on and on. The artist who did the demonstration at the open house made it look effortless. Turns out, she’s had a lot of practice — because this art requires a great deal of effort.

Now I am a fairly kinesthetic person. I have pretty decent hand-eye coordination, and in general, my learning curve for physical activities usually isn’t that steep. So when I tried a kinesthetic art which requires a great deal of hand-eye coordination that looked relatively simple, I was thrown by the fact that not only was it very challenging, but that I didn’t seem to have an instant knack for it.

This probably isn’t a revelation to any of you, (and really, it isn’t that much of one for me, either): not everyone is good at everything, and almost nobody is an instant expert. What is mindblowing for me, however, is my attitude about it. You see, I am the queen of projects-started-and-never-finished. I am the type of person that will decide on a new craft and either buy all the materials and try it once, or never try it because I don’t quite have all the right materials. I can be easily distracted. This holds true in my interests and hobbies as well as my daily personal and spiritual practice. The difference here is that I like being bad at glass beadmaking. I really do.

Sure, I get frustrated that glass is a tricky medium and I can’t quite seem to get it to do exactly what I want to do. I am somewhat disheartened that the bead shape I most want to learn to make turns out to be one of the most difficult due to things like gravity. (Thanks for nothing, laws of physics.) But I am relishing this place of the beginner’s mind. I haven’t been here for a while, and the idea that there is still so much more out in the world that I want to learn and practice is so affirming. I find myself grinning at every bead that has a sharp edge, or the fact that I can’t seem to get a barrel to look like a barrel, or when something flops over when it shouldn’t.

Practice takes patience and for me, patience takes practice. The more I work with glass, the more I am beginning to understand it. I am building muscle memory. I am learning the way it behaves. I am learning a way to balance the elements in just the right way to create something beautiful.

My beads aren’t all that great, but they’re getting better with each lesson and technique my instructor offers. I am learning the language, and the more I practice, the better I get. (I certainly appreciate my successes more when I achieve them.) I may never meet my original intention for taking the class – which was to create a very specific set of beads for a specific piece of jewelry I want to make. But what I am accomplishing is recognizing an important part of my spiritual evolution: imperfection is both fine and necessary, and patience can take a lot of practice.

The next time I melt some glass over an open flame, maybe I’ll recognize that it’s a metaphor for my personal growth, or maybe I’ll just be distracted by getting rid of that bulge where a bulge shouldn’t be. Either way, it’s practice, and I’ll take it.

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