Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Squirrel and the Tumor: testing theory through practice

"99% practice, 1% theory"
-Pattabhi Jois

I'll begin by identifying theory as what we believe should or will happen based on personal belief systems.

For the sake of the greater population, it might be okay to apply a little more than one percent theory to actual living- for a beginner (such as myself), I think 25% seems reasonable. Political view points, religion, diet, science- any facts derived from those things are based in theory, yet where would we be without them? Yes, we living on the material earthly plane need theory to make choices.

The important thing is not to identify too strongly with our theories.
As said by Isaac Asimov:
"Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what's right."
Morals, being rules are just theories shrouded in dogma. Maybe. That doesn't mean morals are useless. Remember that one percent.

My teacher Richard (Freeman) told this story illustrating why being a strict theorist can be disastrous.

Lets say you need a surgeon because you found out you have tumor- You are going to need a good surgeon (note the word "good"). You find a surgeon and he says, "Yes, you have a tumor" and thus decides to perform the necessary surgery. There you are in surgery and this surgeon you picked (because he was local we'll say) starts cutting you open. There you are all cut open with your guts exposed and instead of a tumor, what you really have in your stomach is a squirrel! The surgeon being hung up on the theory that you have a tumor states "Whoa! That tumor looks just like a squirrel!" Fine for you that you don't have a tumor, but are you sure you want this guy cutting into you?

Anyone would be surprised by something so improbable. I think the real experience for this particular surgeon might be fear. Fear that what was thought to be the truth is not true at all. Fear causes blindness. I can comment on that because I have plenty of experience with those things. When and if the illusions surrounding ones beliefs dissolves, the disillusionment itself feels a little blinding. Things like realizing I don't really know someone I thought I knew well. Things like when life feels stable and the bottom falls out and you have no where to live and no money. Things like angering someone you thought could never be angry at you. Also things like realizing that the church you go to is full of crazy people. That church experience screwed me up for like 20 years. I was really invested in that church saving me from myself. It didn't work.

We get so invested in what we theorize about it that it gives us a false sense of being anchored to a world that we really cannot pin down. Then something surprising happens and our theories fall apart and we find ourselves floating in space, possibly in a total panic. Like the theorist surgeon who deep down thinks he's going nuts because his theory that you had a tumor was all wrong. So he's totally freaked and blinds himself to his own misconception. It's like suddenly finding yourself dangling from your feet by a thin wire over a river of lava. Very precarious. Very dangerous to our sense of who we think we are. It just might- if you go deep, feel like a threat to your very existence. Like "Hey, if this isn't true, then maybe I'm not really who I think I am!"

Back to the squirrel. A good surgeon on the other hand- one who is not hung up on theories will automatically recognize that you have a squirrel instead of a tumor. Instead of carrying on cutting up your insides, he (or she- hello!) will encourage the little fellow to run back into the woods while she stitches you back up. In the end, it's good news for you too! I mean, hey- it was just a squirrel!

Everyone will probably be really perplexed for some time. Maybe even forever.
But isn't that what everything has the potential to do? To perplex us with the truth? And how interesting is it that better news; "Hey it's just a squirrel!" but news that is confusing;"Oh my God, it's a squirrel!" is scarier (at least to the doctor) than a common, well known tumor? Nobody expects the squirrels.

We are perplexed with truth, making an effort to grasp what cannot be grasped. We remain attached to our theories of what things are so that we can feel safe, grounded- all knowing perhaps?

What about the 99% practice? What is that? What does it mean to practice? I can say for myself that I just have to experiment. There is a lot of intuition involved. Everyone has intuition at their disposal, but we can be so attached to what we think the outcome of every situation should or will be that intuition is ignored. We disbelieve in the ability of the moment to unfold on its own. We can be so caught up in a past disaster or pleasure- a hope for the future, that the potential for the blossoming this infinitely petaled flower of life is misunderstood.

In that well intentioned effort we deliberately attempt to make the petals of this flower unfold a certain way, maybe pull the petals off seeking the center of the flower. And though many flowers require cultivation, this one requires a different kind of attention in the form of simple observation.

My theory however, is that this flower is forgiving, resilient and immortal in its ability to bloom over and over again. That is one way to experience God. To theorize, to force theory, to experience the discomfort of what is forced is a part learning to practice. We can only "practice" something that has a foundation of beliefs and set practices, yoga for instance. But to elevate what we are doing to true art, which everything has the potential to become, we must both remember the rules of our theories and then throw them completely out the window in order to witness the blooming of life that our theories germinate.

Theories are easy to talk about. Practice is another realm entirely. Maybe you are practicing getting really high Tetris scores, I don't know. It seems to me that when practice is experienced by the individual, it is recognized by others. Real practice is an abstract thing that we cannot contain, and yet boundaries keep us from floating away from the rest of humanity. Practice is not some willy-nilly floundering act where there are no rules. As a truly good artist knows good technique and applies it, truly good art is embedded with an element beyond technique. It transcends our ability to communicate in the traditional sense, try as we may. That is where theory feeds practice and practice has the most freedom.

At the moment I am theorizing that this blog post will get lots of hits. And honestly I am truly a bit attached to that theory. If I am right I will be happy. But for now, just sharing these thoughts is my practice. If I am disappointed, I will practice getting over myself. Maybe through ice cream.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Big Life- The only cost is a little courage

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage."
-Anais Nin

2011 has been an intense year for me. Never in my life have I had so many amazing, intriguing, perplexing and frightening things on my plate to sort through, dump and digest all at once. But I am and have always been an optimist, so when people ask me how I am doing, my answer is as always, "Great!". If the person knows me well, they look at me searchingly. They know there must be something missing. And if that person tilts their head, drops their gaze and voice and asks again "How are you?" I have another answer.

My answer: "Not to long ago my life appeared unique to many people, but for me it was normal. Now my life is unique to many people but it is not longer normal even for me!" The thing is that we all seem to have a default setting for our general dispositions. My default setting is happiness. When my happiness wavers, I immediately believe something is terribly wrong. And this last week I seriously started to question my sanity in the choices I am making based on what exists in my life.

I have been at the center of a whirling dervish of existence- relative to us pampered Westerners- since the year began.

I applied to study with Richard Freeman in Boulder which would happen for 30 days over the summer- without my family coming with me. I decided that certain people in my life belong in it minimally-- if at all and that I also wanted to branch out in my friendships. So you know- releasing people, loving new ones; it can be quite be exciting, jarring and emotionally taxing all at once. I decided to move my business to a new location and I have two children who are getting the minimum of required time with me.

This too shall pass

It's what I always tell myself. And in this I am able to move forward and complete the tasks at hand- but it also gives me an appreciation of what I am confronted with. I am more aware of the pleasures and lessons of each experience knowing that it will all end eventually.

And though awareness of the impermanence of everything is what keeps me in check- it is really courage that keeps me going. Courage as I have been taught is not a lack of fear, but the ability to experience what causes fear. I have also learned that what is most scary is anticipation- never the actual event. And if courage is the deciding factor of the size of one's life, then the only way we can actually do the measurment is through self evaluation.

It seems that this should be a daily practice-- checking in and asking whether we are living the lives we want to live. But the daily grind and the rat race have the vast majority of us asking whether we are living up to the expectations of others. Self included.

I myself have been running circles in effort to raise the the money I needed to move to Boulder for a month, tending to leaving my business in the hands of others and making arrangements for moving it. This means LOTS of extra work that I am not accustomed to. And getting back to that happiness default setting- I may not actually be entirely in touch with what is good for me and what is not at all times. So one day when I was missing my children- (who are a huge inspiration to me as well as one of the main reasons I am taking time to fulfill a dream and cultivate a satisfying life), feeling exuasted and loopy I forgot why I cared about doing what I was doing. I began to doubt whether I was making good choices. I became fearful. Within days, I sustained a back injury and suddenly lost the choice of the constant doing. I was forced into a state of surrender and slept for 12 hours straight during the day, then 10 more that night.

I don't really reccomend crazy-making as a means to inspire insight, but good insight often comes like a brute slap in the face in times of maniacal behavior. When the next day rolled around I awoke and felt miraculously better! Clarity came in the form of two truths that everyone knows- but as in my case often ignore.

#1. Is that the the world- my world, will not crumble if I stop doing what I believe to be "holding it together" The world holds itself together quite well- this is not to say that passivity is a good choice either. Just that my activity is not the glue of the universe. And as independence is an illusion- if anything important is truly meant to be, if the individual is ripe for it, the world around that individual will support that manifestation. And look, I'll be the first to admit mild inverted narcissism--believing that the solid structure of my entire world depends upon my actions alone.

#2. Is that yes, I do want to keep going and that what my confrontation with fear required was courage. That the fear I was experiencing happened when, like a big wall climber or big wave surfer I actually looked at what I was doing and paincked. Again, self- evaluation is imperative here. We have to look at what we are doing and decide whether we are feeling up to the challenge, fear or no fear. I decided that not only can I handle this wave- but I am already riding it. So panic is only allowed for a split second. Panic, if allowed to grow will destroy the work in progress, which is also allowed- but we tend to know instinctually at that moment if we want to forge on or let everything go.

My life has gotten big as far as what exhilerates me, what makes me feel alive and satisfied. My life is huge with the amount of love I feel for my children and what I want to do for them. But I suspect that I am only in some kind of boot camp for big lives right now. What a big life means to one person will not be the same for the next. I have no measurement of whose life is bigger than whose, nor does it matter. What I do know is that what I am drawn to and the people who are part of my life have some pretty big-life energy that is truly inspiring.

My life is not only big, but resplendant, lush and alive. I credit that to learning what courage really is and how to use it. I will always be set to happiness default and I might always be slightly reckless in the way I seek to learn- that too is a default setting. Courage has helped me embrace those aspects of who I am so that I can feel the bigness of this life.

Special thanks to Samantha Weber, Heather Vanderheide and Brenda Ostrom for concepts and ideas in this post- You have been especially insighful and supportive during this time.