Words. Too Many Words.

After two days of on-snow practice and testing earlier this week, the Professional Ski Instructors of America awarded me my Children's Specialist Level One certification. I learned about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, Piaget's Stages of Development, Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development, and much else besides. The PSIA claims I now have the tools to be a much better instructor of children than I was a week ago.

I'm skeptical.

Do I really need to be able to rattle off the levels of Maslow's Hierarchy in order to understand that a child who is cold, hungry or scared is unlikely to learn well? Do I really need to define a four-year-old's cognitive functioning as "pre-operational" (per Piaget) to know that she's not capable of understanding complex or abstract instructions?

Let me be clear: I'm not saying I didn't learn anything useful. I don't mean to disparage the whole process. Here and there I recognized blind spots in my understanding. I'll be able to approach certain situations with more clarity and confidence. That can only be helpful.

But consider: This week they told me that the colloquial name for the moral development stage that describes most nine-year-olds is "clever as a fox." It's nice that they told me that. But the better teachers of this principle were the nine-year-olds I taught back in January, who kept asking me, "Can we do this? Can we do that?" until I realized that they were testing the limits of my authority. The former I learned from a book and a class. The latter I learned by paying attention and being present. Which version of that principle is going to make the more lasting impression on my future teaching? In my relating to children in general?

In our last couple of pieces, Jerry and I talked about using the word open as a cue to connect with the present moment and feel a certain flow of energy within our bodies during the golf swing. If I were to attach the word open to the kind of technical instructions that most golf teaching relies on, I might come up with something like, "During the swing, the chest remains open as the shoulders rotate. The left arm stays extended at the elbow. The head stays up so that the left shoulder can turn freely under it." Do you think we'd have been as successful in our practice if we had repeated those sentences to ourselves over and over again?

I can speak for both of us when I say that those kinds of instructions were the furthest things from our minds. Instead, we've witnessed the swings of great golfers, done our best to use centering to observe the truth of those swings, and noticed that a pro's swing appears open. That is, there's a resonance between the energy impression given by the swing and the energy we feel when we explore the word open.

Words have energy. We've said that again and again and again in these writings. I've devoted a substantial portion of my life to working with that energy. I don't take that energy lightly. But I also don't want to take it too seriously.

The risk of focusing on big, abstract theoretical models as representative of reality is that abstractions tend to focus energy in the head. If you aren't careful, you might find yourself demanding that reality fit into your model rather than remembering that reality is reality, while your model is just a model. Rigid thinking tends to follow. Everything that fits the model is noticed, while everything that does not gets rejected.

On the other hand, with enough practice, the practice of centering will always reveal the truth of a given situation. Perhaps we'll turn to words as a means to communicate that truth to other people. But if we're truly connected to what we're teaching, we won't insist on the rightness of what our words communicate. We'll ask that you come to center and explore their truth yourself.

The Power of Words

In his piece on Friday, Ben shared our recent experience trying to embody the word ‘open’ while practicing golf. As Ben reported, the results were often spectacular. He hit some 7 irons that were truly special.

What we really experienced that afternoon was the harmonizing of thought, action and energy. When these three things come together, the flow that is realized often leads to amazing results.

Inversely, when we try to substitute other words into the combination, often the flow gets interrupted because one of the three elements are misaligned. For example, a couple of years ago I was trying to use the word Center to realize flow within my golf swing. The results were quite disastrous. The word actually has too many thought-evoking meanings to me, and I couldn’t find harmony within the motion.

Moving forward, I will be hesitant to explore other words in relation to my golf swing. I cannot imagine finding that same level of flow that I experienced last Wednesday with other golf-related terms. If the word ‘open’ is the key to unlock the potential in my golf swing, I want to harness and completely encapsulate the benefits before exploring other possibilities.

Having said that, the exploration of other words can prove invaluable for our students. You never know what word, thought, or idea will help a student find flow. Besides, creating a list is a great exercise in feeling the energy associated with words we often use.

Over the next few weeks, I will explore the relationship between the words we choose to use and the energy and emotions that they evoke in our audience.

Words as Incantations

Jerry and I practiced hitting golf balls the other day. The core of our practice was to try to feel the swing as open. My practice was saying the word to myself before hitting, to get a kind of proprioceptive feel for the word, and then trying to allow that feeling to continue throughout the swing. I can report that it worked for both of us. We both hit some beautiful shots.

After we were done practicing, I noticed, and Jerry agreed, that there was something almost incantatory about the use of the word--that somehow, in using it and repeating it, we brought about within the body the feeling of the word.

That led me to wonder, what if we explored the incantatory powers of other words in this same context? And what if we considered what the implication of word-as-incantation was in regards to other words that sometimes get used around the golf swing. What might that reveal?

Here's a list of ten words I have heard or can imagine being used to describe the swing. I'm going to list them without any context or connotative judgment, and some of them could have multiple meanings in terms of describing the swing. As you read each one, see what it evokes for you.

  • hard
  • powerful
  • soft
  • easy
  • smooth
  • fast
  • slow
  • full
  • flowing
  • rhythmic

I wonder what would happen, for good or bad, if we were to evoke each of those words during our practice sessions.

Because our focus this year has been less about sports and more about the energy of what's happening in our society and in our political realm, this got me thinking about the broader social implications of the energy of words.

I and other writers have used some powerful words to describe our political situation:

  • partisan
  • gridlocked
  • dysfunctional
  • corrupt
  • collapsing

I found myself wondering, what if people tried to explore the energetic evocations of some other words in our dealings with each other? What if we started using different words to describe our thinking about our government, our political system, our political situation, and the dynamic forces in our society out of which our political world arises? What would happen if we explored some words with a less sharp connotation? Understand that I'm just playing with an idea here; I haven't come to any particular conclusion.

Here's some words from the list above:

  • open
  • flowing
  • easy
  • smooth
  • full
  • powerful
  • flexible

Let me repeat that I'm just playing here. I don't have a conclusion. I just noticed that as I was thinking about this idea, a question arose: how certain am I that the words I use to describe our political situation (which are, let's face it, mostly negative in connotation) describe, and how much are they, in some way or another, evoking?

Living a Centered Life – Revisited

Center. Breathe. Let it be easy.

Center. Breathe. Let it be easier.

Re-center. Breathe. Notice the Quality of Ease that comes with every breath.

To live a centered life is to bring consciousness and ease to everything you do.

Living a centered life is the ultimate goal.

Living a centered life isn’t hard. In fact, it’s as easy as following the mantra above. Living a centered life is about showing up and paying attention. It’s much more about perseverance than anything else. It’s a skill that can be mastered by anyone willing to spend the time to stop, breathe, and pay attention.

The benefits to living a centered life are limitless. The detriments, well, that is complicated. I would like to say that there are none, but that would be a lie. There is a cost associated with paying attention. On the surface it seems trivial, but when we start to understand the truth of it, the cost can be much more than you're willing to pay. You see, the real cost is the loss of illusion and distraction.

On the surface, our world is full of things to entertain, enrage, and otherwise distract us. We log in and tune out to the world around us. Often, we think we’re engaging the world through Facebook and other forms of social media, when what we’re really doing is tuning out to our conscious self. As you are updating your Facebook status, your consciousness withers for lack of breath and awareness.

So when we center and breathe, we begin to align ourselves with the feeling of flow and harmony. As we continue to practice the centering breath, we become less tolerant of things that break or otherwise limit our sense of flow. When this happens, the things we use to distract ourselves becomes less appealing and fulfilling. That’s fine when we’re talking about things like computer or tablet time. But all too often, hobbies, relationships, and even our jobs prove to be limiting to personal growth and awareness. When this happens, the cost of becoming conscious can seem excessive.

Over the years I have helped literally hundreds of people through this process, and it’s been my experience that the greater the cost associated with becoming conscious, the greater the rewards and potential for personal growth.

As I said earlier, the benefits of living a centered life are truly unlimited. As we unlock our potential, life opens like a blooming flower on a sunny spring morning.

Next week, I will bring this topic back to the idea of sports and sport performance. Until then:

Center. Breathe. Let it be easy.

Center. Breathe. Let it be easier.

Re-center. Breathe. Notice the Quality of Ease that comes with every breath.

A Story About Skiing, Habitual Response, Centering, and Developing Ease

A couple of weeks ago, I went skiing at Crested Butte for a couple of days. Crested Butte has a well-deserved reputation for having some very steep runs. I have the technique to ski these runs--I get down them safely. But I can't do it without substantial struggle. I tend to get overwhelmed by fear and cut all my momentum after every turn, so I never find rhythm or flow. Too much of the time, it's basically what we call "survival skiing." It gets frustrating, because I have the physical abilities to ski the run, but clearly something I do with my energy gets in the way.

Well, I'm pretty deeply devoted to this TTW stuff, so instead of just grinding through the frustration, or else giving up on skiing the steeps at all, I tried to figure out what was happening and what to do about it. So again and again and again I breathed deeply from center, connected my energy to ground, breathed my stress back into the Earth, and tried to witness what exactly was happening in my body and with my energy to make me struggle so consistently.

After enough attempts to step out of my patterns of stress and return to centered consciousness, I had a moment of insight. I discovered that when I find myself in that patterned fear response, it results from having cast my energy all the way to the bottom of the slope, essentially leaving my body to fend for itself. "I'll meet you down here," my energy calls back up to me. Well, it's hard to be more out-of-center than letting your energy get 50 or 100 yards away from you. And the result is that I struggle and struggle and struggle to ski the run.

I wish I could say that I fixed the problem with that awareness, but it doesn't work that way. What I could do, however, is come back to center. I could bring my energy back to me, and then I could be present with the fear in a different way: I could just let it be, just feel it, instead of running from it. I found that rather than sending my energy down to the bottom of the slope and leaving my body to fend for itself, I could expand my energy outward from center to create a space of awareness able to contain my body, my fear, and my next couple of turns. For a few moments, I could release the old pattern like a balloon and watch it float away.

This sensation is what we mean by a state of ease. The things that get in the way go away, even if only for a moment, and I can just be in the present moment and allow it to flow, as is its true nature.

Of course, soon enough I'll again fall out of center and return to my habitual unconscious state, and the easy experience of my old pattern will arise again. And that's completely okay. This is a practice, not a destination.

So I keep practicing.

Creating Balance part 3 – Expanding on the grounding breath (revisited)

Last week, I walked you through a technique for grounding your energy using a centered breath. This week I am going to expand upon it.

The Grounding Breath

I would once again recommend playing with these ideas while sitting. As your comfort levels grows feel free to play with the positions and modify the technique to better suit your personal needs.

Let’s start by finding a comfortable position and center.

Take several centered breathes and allow your body to begin to relax.

As your body relaxes, take a moment to feel your feet against the floor and your body in the chair.

Close your eyes and visualize dropping hollow tubes from your feet deep into the earth.

Take 3 centered breaths. On the third breath, exhale down through the tubes until the breath is deep in the earth, relax and let the inhale happen naturally.

Now, open your eyes and let the tubes dissolve. They are no longer necessary.

The tubes were simply a vehicle for moving the breath into the earth. Once we recognize that the breath will move freely through the earth the vehicle becomes unnecessary.

Once again, take a couple of centered breaths. Direct your exhales deep into the earth. At the end of your exhale, pause. Let your exhale be fully finished. Allow the inhale to happen automatically.

The ability to pause at the end of your exhale is essential. At this stage, there is nothing else required of you. Just sit there and be. The inhale will always happen fully and automatically.

Take several more breaths and feel the pause at the end of each exhale. Notice the space created by the pause. On your next exhale, sit within the space and allow yourself to separate from your breath.

This separation allows for many things. We can separate ourselves from the stress and confusion of the moment. We can use it to move pain and restrictions from the body. We can simply use it to find solace and comfort within mother earth.

Allow yourself to sit and breathe for several more minutes. With each breath, allow yourself to connect with the earth within the space created by your exhale.

Removing the tubes allows for this breath to be used anywhere. Try it walking, riding in a car, even flying. Once again, the more comfortable you are with the process, the more accessible it will be when you need it the most.

Easy vs. Ease

In my piece from a couple of weeks ago, I said something that, on further reflection, I felt to be mistaken. I wrote about the shift from a sense of shared social identity a few generations ago to the radical polarization we're experiencing now, and said:

The shift happened naturally enough. It results from tendencies within us that aren't even something to especially decry. One of the core tenets of TTW is the cultivation of a state of ease in all things that we do, and from that perspective it's clear why people would choose to consume media produced by people who share a similar worldview: it's far more comfortable. Who wants to choose the discomfort of constantly experiencing the dissonance of dealing with people whose worldview does not match your own? Instead, at our current level of energetic development, we seek the comfortable consonance of "This affirms what I already think."

As I thought about it later, I realized that I was confusing the state of ease we seek to cultivate through TTW practices like centering with that which is simply easy. They aren't the same thing.

Easy often means a path of minimal resistance, usually relying on habit. Indeed, if there's anything I have learned through the going-on-three years I've worked with Jerry, it's that the easiest thing in the world is to stay embedded in your current habits and not change, no matter how strong the impetus. That is, in a sense, what habits are: a state requiring little or no energetic input to keep up. They are easy. This is the benefit, and the curse, of habits.

Ease, from a TTW perspective, is a different thing entirely. When you practice centering and cultivate the state of flow it engenders, blocks to that flow reveal themselves. If, for example, your habit in times of stress is to tense up, tensing up is the easy thing to do, but it's the very opposite of ease. Ease will result when you become aware of that tension and use a state of consciousness and flow to release it.

If we bring this concept back to the political realm, then we see that the current polarization of our discourse, driven by habitual patterns of thought and behavior, is extremely easy, but it is far, far from a state of ease. Indeed, we're watching our system become more and more toxic, and no one seems to have slightest idea what to do about it. As I write this, the Senate is debating invoking the so-called "nuclear option" with respect to the confirmation of Supreme Court justices. Really consider what the analogy is there. We're likening this shift to the decision to go to nuclear war. You tell me: energetically, is this going to invoke creative energy (ease), or destructive?

I've written off our government at this point. The toxicity runs so deep that the government is already in a state of collapse, and that collapse is accelerating. But I have been trying to imagine what a state of ease seeking to counter these destructive patterns might look like. I have started envisioning something like this: going up to someone whose political views differ completely from my own and shaking hands--a gesture of peace and respect--and then saying, "I don't understand your point of view. Can you explain it to me?"

The Grounding Breath

In his piece on Friday, Ben reminded us that we are to blame for the current state of our world. The blame is his, mine, ours! The reality of that simple truth can be quite unsettling. As a good teacher will, he also provided a path forward. Stay centered. Stay present. Stay grounded.

Here’s a breathing technique that will help, if practiced regularly.

The Grounding Breath

This exercise can be done sitting, standing, or even walking. Initially, I would recommend trying it while sitting in a regular chair.

Not only will it be easier to read and follow the directions, but it will become easier to recreate in times of stress, and then you can play with it in other positions once you are comfortable with the technique.

To start, Find a comfortable position and center.

Take a couple of centered breathes.

As your body begins to relax, feel your feet against the floor and your body in the chair.

This connects you to the here and now. This exercise is not designed as an escape. Being present is essential.

Close your eyes and visualize dropping hollow tubes from your feet deep into the earth.

The circumference of the tubes is a personal choice. Start with them somewhat narrow and gradually widen them as you become more comfortable. Also, some people find a third tube, dropped from the tail bone, adds some stability and helps balance the flow of breath.

Take 3 centered breathes. On the third breath, exhale down through the tubes until the breath is deep in the earth, relax and let the inhale happen naturally.

We focus the exhale into the earth to help cleanse the energy of the breath. The earth will filter and balance the energy of the breath and bring a sense of stability to the body.

Practice this exhalation through the tubes into the earth 10 times.

We focus on the exhales because in times of extreme stress and discomfort it can be extremely difficult to have an open flowing breath. Notice that your ability to inhale and create flow becomes easier with each exhale.

Re-center and feel your feet against the floor, the chair against your legs, and the increased sense of flow within your body.

Obviously, this breath can be done anywhere. I highly recommend that you practice it several times a day and in many different situations. It is essential to practice this BEFORE you are stressed and energetically compromised. Remember, this technique is simply a tool. For it to be useful you must be confident in the process. If you wait until your distressed or distracted to try it, it might not work for you.