As I was dropping my daughter off at pre-school a few days back, she insisted she wanted to listen to one more song.
So, we turned the car’s audio system back on and listened to that one more song. While we were at it, we thought it was worth doing a small dance in the parking lot.
And, so, we did. It was awesome.
As we go through life, it becomes easy to lose the ability to capture moments like these. We can always find ourselves in a hurry – always rushed, always late. We can become inflexible. And, far too often, we can even find ourselves giving weight to what others around us would think.
I’d like to think of myself as someone who’d have done that jig in the parking lot at any time. But, it is likely that my ability to be open to such moments has gone up since I’ve become a parent. Kids couldn’t give a damn about destinations or what others around them think – they’re all about the journey and making the current moment count.
As a result, I’m learning to focus a lot more on the journey and the current moment than I used to.
And, I’m grateful for that.
There’s a famous zen parable about the importance of dropping baggage and letting go.
Two monks were at the banks of a river with a strong current when a young woman asked if they could help her cross. Carrying her would be against their vows. But, without a word, the older monk carried the woman across the river and carried on with his journey.
The younger monk couldn’t believe what happened. A few hours passed before he blurted out – “How could you carry that woman on your shoulders?”
The older monk looked at him and replied, “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river, why are you still carrying her?”
Simple reminders to reset, like this one, are powerful because we all accumulate baggage on our journeys. We develop preconceptions about some relationships, projects, and ways of approaching problems. These preconceptions erode our ability to approach things with a beginner’s mind and listen for learning. Most importantly, they make it impossible for us to simply “be” in the present moment. The baggage weighs us down and muddles our focus.
Take the time today to think about (or meditate upon) areas of your life that seem spew negativity in your day.
Perhaps it is time to let go and journey lighter.
There’s always a reason to show up in a way that doesn’t reflect our best self. The weather, your mood, the current situation, the economy, that pain in your knee – take your pick. And, these extraneous factors seem to grow in importance the more attention we pay to them.
But, they are just manifestations of the resistance. They’ll stick around till we decide we’re done with the excuses.
No matter the weather, the situation or the mood, we can choose to show up to be positive, thoughtful, and learning focused if that’s how we want to show up. It is our call and deciding to relinquish that call is our call too.
It is a bit of work – especially on days when said conditions are not ideal. But, it is work worth doing.
I’ve been sharing “meditations” from Josh Waitzkin’s “The Art of Learning” in the past few weeks. I’m down to my last two passages. Today’s note is about Tai Chi and breathing.
In William Chen’s Tai Chi form, expansive (outward or upward) movements occur with an in-breath, so the body and mind wake up, energize into a shape. He gives the example of reaching out to shake the hand of someone you are fond of, waking up after a restful sleep, or agreeing with someone’s idea. Usually, such positive movements are associated with an in-breath – in the Tai Chi form, we “breathe into the fingertips.” Then, with the out-breath, the body releases, de-energizes, like the last exhalation before falling asleep.
It is Chen’s opinion that a large obstacle to a calm, healthy, present existence is the constant interruption of our natural breathing patterns. A thought or ringing phone or honking car interrupts an out-breath and so we stop and begin to inhale. Then we have another thought and stop before exhaling. The result is shallow breathing and deficient flushing of carbon dioxide from our systems, so our cells never have as much pure oxygen as they could. Tai Chi meditation is, among other things, a haven of unimpaired oxygenation.
This is such a practical and, yet, fascinating thought. I plan to think about it further and see how I can integrate this idea into my day. More when that happens.
Thanks again, Josh, for a fascinating insight.
I’ve been mulling a passage from Josh Waitzkin’s Art of Learning and thought I’d share it in full.
In every discipline, the ability to be clearheaded, present, cool under fire is much of what separates the best from the mediocre. In competition, the dynamic is often painfully transparent. If one player is serenely present while the other is clearly being ripped apart by internal issues, the outcome is already clear. The prey is no longer objective, makes compounding mistakes, and the predator moves in for the kill.
While more subtle, this issue is perhaps even more critical in solitary pursuits like writing, painting, scholarly thinking or learning. In the absence of continual external reinforcement, we must be our own monitor, and quality of presence is often the best gauge. We cannot expect to touch excellence if “going through the motions” is the norm of our lives. On the other hand, if deep, fluid presence becomes second nature, then, life, art and learning take on a richness that will continually surprise and delight. Those who excel are those who maximize each moment’s creative potential – for these masters of living, presence to the day-to-day learning process is akin to the purity of focus others dream of achieving in rare climactic moments where everything is on the line.
The secret is that everything is always on the line. The more present we are at practice, the more present we will be in competition, in the boardroom, at the exam, the operating table, the big stage. If we have any hope of attaining excellence, let alone showing what we’ve got under pressure, we have to be prepared by a lifestyle of reinforcement. Presence must be like breathing.
“The secret is that everything is always on the line” resonates deeply.
I thought this passage was both true and profound. Thanks Josh.