It's been a long time since I've written anything here. I haven't really felt like it, and if I'm going to be honest about it, one of the reasons I haven't written anything is because I've been afraid. Afraid that what I write will be of poor quality, afraid I'll be judged, and afraid of letting myself down. But it doesn't take a genius to see that these are symptoms of deeper rooted issues.
One of the facts of life (for most of us poor unenlightened saps anyway), are that we all judge one another, and usually the person we dole out the harshest judgement to is ourselves. We get trapped in an everlasting cycle of attempting to do something, and telling ourselves we're rubbish if we decide that we haven't made a satisfactory performance judged by our, or other peoples standards. It is true, sometimes we may actually have done a sub-par job, but, for me, this is often when I have been afraid of investing myself fully in it. The reason for this is usually played out on a subtle, not fully conscious level for me when I sabotage myself during a process in different ways ranging from telling myself I can't do it, to procrastinating until I don't have time left to complete the task in a proper way. The main reason I do this is so I can later tell myself that I could have done it well if it only wasn't for *insert excuse here*.
In many ways it is comfortable to live with these excuses, it enables us to live our lives without risking uncomfortable showdowns with our egos. If we fail to live up to our own or someone else’s standards, we can always brush it off by saying, “oh, I could have done better if I really tried.” Usually this comment is our own little secret, well kept in our own minds, and we turn up our noses when we hear someone voice those excuses aloud. It annoys us. When I’m teaching a class and someone I’m giving correction to drops out of the posture and says, “oh, my shoulders are aching so much from sitting on the computer all day, I can’t do it,” it irks me ever so slightly. “Yes, that’s why your standing in this posture, so you can teach your shoulders how to relax.” The reason it piques a nerve in me is because it reminds me of the excuses I tell myself when I’m struggling to maintain focus in training. Only I don’t voice these excuses to my master in the same way (If I did I would regret it).
What I’m finding about myself is that when I decide to do something, I tend to go all in, investing myself fully in the project. For this reason I have a strong aversion to taking on new responsibilities, because I either do it, and do it well, investing a considerable amount of energy in it, or I let it sit there and take up space in my mind, and slowly sap my energy by not working on it. There is also the very remote possibility that I have a lazy streak wreaking havoc on some of my projects (like this blog).
This tendency to go all into something can be a good ego practice when things don’t go as well as they should. This is especially true here in Wudang with my master who doesn’t hesitate to tell me if he thinks I’m crap at something. For example after practicing particularly hard at Baguazhang for a month, I ran through the whole form in front of his house, trying my best to perform well. After I finished he stands with his arms crossed with a look of distaste spreading across his face, lips curved down at the sides. “Very ugly!” he says while I stand there, out of breath, waiting for another comment when he repeats, “hmph, very, very ugly,” turns around and walks away, leaving me thinking, “it’s moments like this that make it worth all the hardship!” with a small tear escaping the corner of my eye. Obviously I’m joking (maybe not about the tear...), the harsh rejection felt very bad indeed. I had poured so much time and energy into making my form better, and after all the hard work I got such an overwhelmingly negative response.
If you’ve been following my blog you’re probably not particularly surprised by the caustic retort from my master, and neither was I. But the rejection hurt nevertheless. It was hard not to take it personally when I by my own judgement had put all of my effort into it. In the end I’m happy that he tells me like it is. It allows for me to grow a thicker hide, and he’s not dithering about expressing what he really thinks. I still haven’t heard of any redeeming qualities in my Baguazhang, except for my circle walking which apparently is “not bad”. The Chinese way of encouraging takes on many forms, the most common of which is encouraging by pointing out how badly one does something. It can sometimes be a bit too much for delicate Western minds to hear the brutal truth about oneself, but at least it’s honest.
What I am currently trying to incorporate into my life, is that instead of offering myself and others excuses, I offer reasons. For example after my Baguazhang performance in front of my master, instead of blaming myself for not training hard enough, or my master for being too strict, I look for the reason I have not yet achieved the desired result, and figure out how I should train for that result to manifest. And If I’m late for an appointment, and I was just sitting around playing solitaire on my computer, instead of saying, “Yeah, traffic was bad,” I could say, “I managed my time badly, and I attached more importance to seeing all of those cards finally come bouncing out of the screen than showing up on time to see you.” Being honest about what happened opens up for a possibility to look at why that was more important. Was it just my winner instinct gone wild, or was it social angst that delayed me?
From Wudang with love