Human Hibernation: a Forgotten Art

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Does winter get you down a little? Or a lot? Do you sometimes wish you could just sleep it away—at least for a little?   For those of us in northern climes especially, it’s dark. Although here on the Gravel … Continue reading

Push Me Pull You—Life on the Razor’s Edge Part 1

(WOW! Just noticed I didn’t post this yesterday! But really, I wrote it yesterday, really I did!!)

I did not experience or express many extremes in childhood. It was solidly discouraged, in my memory.  Not too much joy or exuberance. Not too much sorrow or sobbing. Anger. Pride. Satisfaction. Disappointment.

Although I had to learn later to notice, name and express anger, joy or disappointment, I also realize that my parents were teaching me, probably unconsciously, to walk the noble middle path.

Is it ironic that Dr. Doolittle was one of my favourite children’s books series? Pushmi-Pullyu was a gazelle-unicorn cross with heads at each end, trying to go in opposite directions. In Tibetan mythology, the gazelle is a symbol of compassion, known for coming in between two fighters to resolve a conflict, offering itself as a sacrifice. The unicorn, another kind of deer, is  the fighting, triumphant creature. Hmm… something to ponder.

Read the text. A symbol of the eight fold path...

Read the text. A symbol of the eight fold path “Arya Magga” (the noble path of the dhamma) in Buddhism. An intricate representation of the Dharmachakra, or Buddhist eight spoked Wheel. Dhamma or Dharma (Photo credit: saamiblog)

The Noble Middle Path is the one between two extremes. The Noble Middle Path sounds much more elegant. Somehow, I think it’s a ruse: pulling us in to thinking it’s very noble and middle and therefore, easy.

There’s also the razor’s edge. Nice. Comfy. The Razor’s edge. Such a vivid image, eh? Live on the razor’s edge. That’s a very, very  VERY  fine line to walk! And sooo painful to fall upon.

A few days after Nick Wallenda’s walk across Niagara Falls in June, I watched three young men in a park in London attempt to mount a taut rope tied to two tree trunks about 30cm above ground. They’d step up and balance; then the rope would swing back and forth under them as they tried to walk. Their arms would flail, teeter tottering up and down, trying to balance. They’d get one or two steps in, or at best, one would manage a quick three-step along the path, hoping speed would trump technique.

Not one of them made it from one end to the other of the 3 metre rope, but they laughed as they tried and they got back up and tried again.

Practice on balance beam

Practice on balance beam (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember competing on the balance beam in Grade 9. It was the early 70’s, 1971-72 in fact, and I was able to do things on the beam that no one else was doing in the city at that level.

Balancing was easy for me and I’ve thought about what I ‘did’ that made it intriguing. I anchored my feet (or foot!) on the ground and stretched my upper body into the sky. I breathed through my whole body and got out of my head, stopped ‘thinking’ about what I was doing. I kept my body in balance, using my arms; my legs were flexible, not stiff.

(This was all well and good. However, my height was a singular disadvantage in this sport. And,

English: Stamp of Azerbaijan

English: Stamp of Azerbaijan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

then, there were the Summer Olympics of ’72. Remember Olga Korbut? That back flip at the end of her routine thrilled and challenged the world! After that summer everyone was doing flips and walkovers… and my gymnastics team days were over!)

When I think about the razor’s edge, and living there,  I have no intellectual problem with it. I understand that this is the Noble Middle Path, the Way Between Two Forces. But, seeing how difficult this balancing act is on the physical plane, makes me wonder. I’ve got questions.

Now what does that balance mean? If I’m walking “between the two opposing lines of force” how do I step, one foot after the other, balance and stay? If I’m afraid, surely I fall/fail. (But do I fall/fail forward?!)

What does the razor’s edge divide up anyway? Good/evil? Green grass/mud? Better Homes and Garden/My Home and Garden? Arrogance/humility? Milk Chocolate/Fair Trade Dark Chocolate? Coffee/Tea, the Java Jive and me? Efficiency/Inefficiency?

How do ‘two great lines of force’ play out? Just what does it take to even STAND on that edge, let alone walk? Really. Is taking just one step the first one? (rhetorical question, I know; still have to ask). What happens when you fall onto one side or the other?

If I have ice cream for breakfast, and I’m trying to  live a spiritually conscious life, I’m thinking I’ve just fallen.

When I hold myself to a direction, to a set of values and principles, I notice myself getting tauter, the tension tenses a little more…. I pull myself upwards.

Pushmi-pullyu… the gazelle and the unicorn. Heads going in both directions. Great compassion and great triumph through the fight. If they both pull evenly, the line will stay taut and anchored. Arms outstretched onto both sides of the path, bringing in the ‘chi’ of each side—fight and compassion—and teeter tottering back and forth. Right thrusters, left thrusters, Star Trek’s Voyager sails through space, a bird achieves equilibrium.

It’s taken some time today, but I think I’ve come to a centre place here. For now.

My “To NOT Do” List

Let’s see if this phrasing helps:

For today I will NOT:

  • try to accomplish more than is realistically possible
  • say ‘yes’ to anything new
  • add anything more to the ‘to do’ list
  • spend time on things that aren’t related to what needs to be done today

Hmmm…..

Really, it’s all about choice. About what to do about the BSO’s (bright shiny objects) that come across our path, or, (as those of you who have seen the movie, UP, will recognize)

SQUIRREL!!!

We are living in a distracted, attention-dispersed and fractured world, constantly living with the opportunity to tune in to any number of ideas, events, thoughtforms, emotions. Metaphorical squirrels lead us away from what is right in front of us.

As a friend recently observed, the challenge is to walk the tightrope. We keep walking, one foot in front of the other, eyes focused ahead, not looking down or to the side. This is what my friend, Lawson, wrote:

Ah, the tightrope walker. The rope stretched from here to there. No focus upon the feet yet they are trained to the feel of the rope. The long bar extended left and right balanced at the heart. At the centre of the heart and at a point above is the anchor point. Here I am. Walking between the two great lines of force.

At this time of year, we walk “between two great lines of force” in nature—in this part of the world we are balanced precariously between autumn and winter. The weather reflects it; one day, one moment is calm, warm and sunny; the next is blustery, rainy and bone-chilling.

I’m watching for the two great lines of force in my life these days.

 

Week Three- and I’m still at it

Piano

Piano (Photo credit: esc861)

 

Things don’t typically go as planned— my three-time a week at 9 AM practising plan among them.

 

However, I’ve stuck to the hour a day commitment for three weeks now, relaxing a bit about my schedule, just making sure it gets done —in the morning. Showing up is the main thing. Once I walk up the stairs, the next hour of playing is given.

 

Every day has started with drums. Drum sticks on a practice pad. This helps calm my brain, empty it of wandering thoughts and clearing it for focus. It also helps my drumming! Whatever I’ve been pondering up to that point in the morning goes into park, on to the back burner, off to the side, percolating, while I focus on right left right left, in some combination. I remember to breathe, to relax, to have fun doing it.

 

The piano requires a different approach. It’s an instrument I know, one upon which I’ve practised for years, and so know how the practising is ‘supposed’ to go. As I go through scales and arpeggios, broken chords and Hanon, I’m also breaking some old patterns. I don’t have to spend the whole time on one scale. Today, I did 4 or 5 scales, 4 octaves, 2 octave splits, in thirds and tenths, then plowed through arpeggios using the cycle of fifths.

 

This is not revolutionary stuff. However, releasing the old requirement to stick to one scale day after day, has been important. The flow is better now and I’m listening for fluffy notes—those times when my fingers aren’t quite precise enough to hit the key squarely.

 

One note at a time—full and complete and precise and heard.

 

I’ve opened up the Grade 9 book. Didn’t spend much time on it when I was 13, so there are lots of pieces I haven’t played at all. It’s and easy sell. The pieces are easy enough that I can learn them in a few days and interesting enough to provide a challenge—speed, expression, mood, colour.

 

Bach‘s Prelude in C- is my current best friend. It’s such a training and requires a precision I’m looking for in pieces right now. It trains me, leads me, teaches me. I listen. I’m beating my old practice patterns out of myself and Bach insists better than most. For once, I’m really learning a piece, bar by bar, listening, looking, watching my fingers, paying attention to the line, the interweavings. It’s going deeper. I’m going deeper, insisting on precision and right notes and right fingerings— not just letting everything slide under.

 

I have to breathe more, practising this way. I have to relax my shoulders, sit squarely on the bench, start again, go slower and enjoy it. The going slower. How many times did I hear “Slow Down!” when I was a kid. I say the same things now with my students. It really does work.

 

I have no expectations or aspirations — yet. Right now it is enough that I play, and practise and repeat and slow down. It is enough that I do this for three hours a week— and find myself able to do it without difficulty. It is enough that I play up and down the keyboard, using all the things I know. I DO want to get better. Not just on the piano.

 

My hour ran out today without improvising and without playing unusual scales or learning something jazz. I have to watch that I don’t make practising the classical stuff an excuse for not improvising and chopping away at something new.