Pretending vs. Practicing


I’m someone who has great confidence in the wisdom I first learned by attending 12-step meetings with my mom growing up: Fake it till you make it. However, and this is important, there are two main ways to go about this teaching: one which involves actually “making it” and one that doesn’t. It depends on what inward agency is driving the boat, as to which result is likely to manifest.

There’s a difference between pretending and practicing. Or as I sometimes like to say: pretending vs. rallying. I see the differences as such. Pretending is like believing in unicorns or playing hide & go seek and thinking the other person can’t see you under the blankets on a bed. It’s all in good fun, but you know on a realistic level that unicorns (unfortunately) are not real and that the other person will be able to know where you are as soon as they walk into the room. Pretending is based in non-reality, without basis of truth.

Practicing, on the other hand, is based on a deeper knowing of what is a real possibility. Everything takes practice. Everything. If we want to learn to play an instrument, we have to practice practice practice, in order to gain skill and mastery at it. If we want to learn a new language, we have to practice practice practice. And traits of character are the same. What seeds grow in the heart of our consciousness are the same. If we want to grow and strengthen seeds of joy, ease, kindness, honesty, authenticity, openness, understanding, and so on, we must practice to water those seeds often and ongoingly.

The outcome that results is dependent on whether we’re going into whatever it is we’re trying to do, fueled by the energy of pretending or the energy of practice.

For example, let’s say someone is wanting to create more joyfulness in their life. They want to grow and strengthen the seed of joy in their consciousness. They embark on a journey of joy by choosing to start working on smiling more, following Thay’s (Thich Nhat Hanh’s) teaching:

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.

As this person has long developed the habit energy of not smiling very often, it’s uncomfortable. In fact, it’s so uncomfortable that the storyline they loop in their mind is: I can’t do this. This doesn’t feel right. I’m no good at this. This doesn’t feel natural.

If that person keeps looping that storyline while trying to smile more, a cynical, self-defeating energy is what’s running the show. And eventually, that person will likely give up on their attempts at trying to smile more. It would be like trying our best to truly believe in the existence of unicorns: impossible.

But if someone were to take up the same action of smiling more with a different internal dialog running, it would likely change everything. Okay, this is uncomfortable, but I know how I’ve been positively impacted by the simple act of someone smiling at me, so I’m going to stick with it and see what happens. And, if we’re a practitioner in Thay’s Plum Village tradition, we might also be able to infuse this into our storyline: Thay teaches about the importance of smiling as a practice of cultivating joy and I trust in his insights and experience, so I have faith this will lead me somewhere good.

As a Dharma-teaching-in-training, whose being mentored by our local Dharma teacher Rowan Conrad, I find it most difficult in finding ways to flesh out such common obstacles of practice as this one entails. How does a teacher help others on the path to stick with the path in the right spirit, vs. the kind of spirit which is impossible to maintain, based on it being rooted in a level of either phoniness/false pretense or intellect or a sea of misperceptions?

As I often like to say and find fitting: the practice continues.



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