Sunday, June 24, 2012

Random Thoughts~(Part Two)

More Things I would have posted on facebook back in the day...

Actually some of these things I did post on facebook, but generally I don't bother. I don't like facebook half as much now as I used to. Each change makes it less interesting to me...In any case here are some random thoughts that I hope might inspire some thought, or a smile, or maybe, dare I hope it? a LOL?

Those who remember the past are also doomed to repeat it.

People are now traveling to exotic places so they can look at their phones there, as opposed to looking at their phones in their everyday normal lives. I can see a travel commercial now…beautiful white sand beach, gently lapping waves, crystal clear water, palm trees, softly swinging hammock…rich soft male voice-over comes on, “Imagine looking at your phone here…”.

“It’s like no one around here thinks I’m a nut…you know? It’s like they don’t even know me.”

Band Names:

The Lame Excuses
The Excuses
The Notes From The Doctor
The Wavers/The Waivers
The Ambi-guities
The Sacred Clowns
The Considerations
The Judgments
The Butane Regulators
The Buzzards
The See-Saws
The Saw-Sees
The Jungle Jims
The Willies
The Vapors
The Ghost Peppers
The California Rolls
The Dumb Founded
The Lambs To Slaughter
The Turkey Legs

I think New Agers always need some kind of fear factor to focus on. Nostradamus, Y2K, "Chem Trails", toxins, UFO’s, government mind control, whatever...there always has to be some external reason or justification for their anxiety. As soon as one is debunked, or another deadline passes, they just come up with another one.

A good sign that you are doing something for love is when there’s no money, fame, status or power in it, and you do it anyway.

You can build a castle or a fortress to keep your parents out, but it’s no use…they’re already inside. I find it easier to accept that basic fact of life and make the best of it.

The safest truest things I can say come from my own direct I'm a tree rooted in the ground. When I go past that, I feel like I'm going out on a limb...and the farther out I go, the shakier I feel.

I think great martial arts teachers produce students that are the same in that they all adhere to the core principles, but different in that they all express those principles according to their natures. Teachers who demand exact replicas are bullies, insecure, or greedy. This is one thing I don’t like about so much of the T'ai-Chi world right now. Lock-step, exact copy form competitions and such. The form teaches the principles, but once taken in, the form must then express how YOU live those principles...At least that's how I see it.

I wouldn't judge a book by its cover but I would get a general sense of it...that can be elaborated on or contradicted with further exposure. The key to me with everything is: Keep looking and consider every conclusion a work in progress.

I forget about 60% of my songs as I go...I'm so grateful for recording technology.

I know you're supposed to produce an album and then "get behind it". You’re supposed to go out and sell it. But I do the opposite. I put my albums behind me and move on to the next one. I know this is not the best way to make money or fans but this is what my art is and what I have to do. I am my muse's bitch.

Creatively and personally, several years back, I replaced a benign dictatorship with a more parliamentary form of self government. Currently a left-leaning libertarian coalition is in power, but every minister gets at least a song or two.

There is no substitute for intelligent, constructive criticism.

Self-doubt is inevitable. It’s only a problem if you stop working because of it. I doubt myself all the time…but while I’m working, not instead of working.

Good gigs, bad gigs, they both come and go. The main thing to me is being true to myself and doing my work. Everything else is incidental and pales in comparison. If I was obsessed with fame and fortune I would probably be rich and famous. But I'm obsessed with working, so I work. I also happen to love my work so I'm happy. Maybe the key to happiness is to be obsessed with things that make you happy. Too bad most of our obsessions are not under our control. I'm just lucky.

Yes, science overturns itself and its previous conclusions, but even if those previous conclusions contained errors or were flat out wrong, that doesn’t mean they weren’t useful and valuable in their time. Poor tools can still do necessary work.

Whenever I devise an experiment, I never really know all the inputs, so I never really know if my conclusions are accurate or how much so. I have to leave room for doubt and not close that door marked “Fact”. Once I turn any supposition into a fact, I cage it and it starts dying to me. After a while I can’t even see it. If I want to keep any idea truly alive, I have to leave a little room for the possibility that I am wrong. Doing this helps bring life back into my experience. Things stay alive and do not become dead objects.

My identity was stolen by my ego sometime around the time I was 2...It's been charging things in my name ever since.

Every mighty tree that you sit under enjoying its shade was once a fragile little sapling that could have been destroyed a million times but somehow wasn't. Same with all of us. We were fragile little babies that could have been destroyed a million times but somehow weren't. I know when your number's up, your number's up, but I do think our moms (both our literal moms and Mother Nature too) had a lot to do with our survival. So let's drink a toast to both and count our other blessings too.

In the near future everyone on Earth will be in a band.

I have now more or less set up my life so that I sleep during the hours of the day that I find the least interesting and when my energy is at its lowest: approximately 5-9am and 3-7pm, and work during the hours that I'm the most productive: approximately 10am-2pm and 11pm-5am and play the rest of the time. Subject to variation of course, but this has more or less become my daily routine. And it only took me 54 years to figure out!

There are always dangerous things around us, there always have been and always will be...And we all have to die of something. Not to ignore the dangers, many of them are real...But I'm more interested in living a good life than a long one. I want to focus on living a life I feel good about, one dedicated to core principles larger than myself that I sincerely believe in, one that, in spite of all the shit that goes down in this world leaves me feeling glad to be alive. That's where I put most of my attention. Whether it contributes to my health and longevity or not, it's much more productive than worrying, and it's just how I want to live. I never know which day might be my last, and time is ticking away. If I get hit by a bus I want it to be while walking with my wife, or to practice, or to a gig, or on some other such adventure.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Ladder Of Progress

Is Infinite...

As I get older I see the ladder of progress is infinite. There will always be rungs above me that I will never reach. Hell, I look out at trees in the park every day that I will never equal in neutrality and responsiveness, not even close. I've never done a single completely unforced T'ai-Chi form in the whole time I've been doing this, almost 30 years.

When I was younger, I was more focused on climbing and getting better. When I began to really see the infinite room for improvement above me, it was actually profoundly discouraging. I naively thought there would be some kind of end place, some sort of permanent state of attainment or something that would come from all this practicing...But here were people (and trees) that were so far ahead of me, in terms of talent, constitution, work ethic, and acquired skills, so fluid in their expression of the essence of T'ai-Chi, that I knew I would never even get close to their level by the time I died...

So I really began to question, Why climb at all? What is the point of getting better at this stuff? There will always be a rung that I will not reach when I die no matter how good I get...There are whole realms of this art that I just don't have the juice to practice...(this all went for music too by the way...) I was really asking, Since we're all gonna die, why do anything?

The answer I came up with is: because I want to, because I have to, or because it's a pleasure, because it just feels right to do it.

When I was younger I was practicing because I wanted to get better, I was reaching for something I wanted...but once the arts, both T'ai-Chi and Music reached a certain place in me...I began to have to, and it began to be a genuine pleasure. When I say "have to", I don't mean I had no choice...I mean I had to...if I wanted to be true to myself, if I wanted to express and be myself in the world, if I wanted to obey my deepest impulses.

At that point I stopped trying to get better and started focusing on the aspects of the arts that I loved most, the ones I felt the most alive and the most myself doing. Regarding T'ai-Chi, it was not real-speed combat applications, but basic principles that held most of my well as teaching and integrating those principles into my life. With regard to music, it was writing, recording and performing and making the results as freely available to people as possible and seeing what came freely back. I was forced to focus on what gave me the most pleasure and joy in the moment because training for the future just seemed so futile to me. And this was not some facile new age decision by the way...this all took years of struggle and experimentation.

The ladder is endless...I want to enjoy and learn from whatever rung I happen to be on, whether I'm going up, staying where I am, or going down.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Determined To Relax?

It Won't Help...

If you are determined to relax, your determination will get in your way. Determination involves rallying energy, focusing with more intensity, bearing down, that sort of thing. Relaxation is a kind of not-doing. It's something you let go into, not force your way into. Every now and then I get a T'ai-Chi student who's really determined to relax. It never helps. It can help you with other elements of T'ai-Chi, but not the relaxation element. Not in my experience anyway. In fact, people often hide their fear and resistance to relaxation by being very gung-ho and determined to relax. But being determined to relax is like trying to pick up a chair you are sitting in.

I think it’s better to channel your determination into creating a regular practice, or into the basics of an art form. Use it to do the fundamental work that is the foundation of any art. But then, when the foundation is built and solid, let go of determination and see if you can sense into what you’re already doing that makes you tense and stop doing that. See if you can find the muscles you are unnecessarily holding onto and let them go as much as you can. See which muscles are too weak and soft need to be firmed a bit. See where you’re anticipating struggle and over committing your strength. See where you’re anticipating ease and under committing your strength. I call this “Muscle Level” work. Regardless of the art, Muscle Level work is where you take the tension out of what you’re doing to find a more relaxed, graceful and efficient way of getting there. It’s all about using the amount of force appropriate to the task. It doesn’t matter whether you are painting, drawing, writing or kicking, extra tension does not help you get the job done. And when it comes to relaxation, determination always means extra tension. Let it go and find the relaxation that’s already there, waiting for you to get out of its way.

Another misconception is that relaxation is a purely mental state, that it is purely a matter of attitude. I think attitude is important but I also think that relaxation is intimately connected to the body. I think that when people want to be more relaxed they tend to focus on their thoughts and attitudes or state of mind. This is well and good, but if you ignore the body, especially basic posture, I think one can only go so far. When I show people some basic postural points, often in the very first lesson, they are often amazed at the difference they feel. For instance, there are things you can do with your posture below your neck that make relaxing your neck, at least while standing, literally impossible. And, if you attend to these things, your neck will almost relax itself. Just as you will not let yourself relax into a chair with a rickety leg, your body will not allow you to relax your weight into a poorly aligned skeleton.

And it's not just a matter of "sitting up straight". There are all kinds of ways in which our bodies are held in knots or "nots" that prevent them from letting go into a more relaxed state. For instance, notice your knees when you stand. If they are locked, you will never be able to really relax, at least not while standing. Just let them bend a little bit and you will feel work returning to your thighs that you've been previously avoiding. When the body is aligned more or less properly, the muscles are free to let go. I've seen people doing all manner of exercises for their health and thought, Man, just give me one hour of posture work with you and I could make that exercise 10 times more beneficial.

Still another misconception about relaxation is that it is an empty or limp state. The way I'm using the word, relaxation, like balance, is a dynamic state of readiness that includes the potential to move into action. Picture a tiger walking through the jungle or a snake sliding through the grass. You would surely say such animals are relaxed, but you would never call them limp.

In fact, we have a saying in T'ai-Chi: Relaxed but not limp. Firm but not rigid. T'ai-Chi is about a balance between tension and relaxation with neither side being completely dominant. When we act the tension side comes to the foreground, and when we’re listening the relaxation side comes to the foreground, but each state contains its opposite which is ready to come forward if necessary. When we’re neither acting nor listening to anything in particular, we hang out in a neutral in-between state waiting to see what life calls for next. I don't hold relaxation as being better or higher than tension. Relaxation without tension is unhealthy and next to useless. Tension without relaxation is the same. What I don't like is an excess of either. That’s the idea anyway, the state we aim for: Relaxed readiness whenever we’re not acting or listening.

Here’s another way to look at it: What passes for relaxation is often a kind of vacated, passive, limpness. Usually in such people, a very hard core of tension can be found in their bodies. To me, true relaxation involves a Yin, receptive, passive element, with a latent Yang readiness to move into more intense movement. Just as what I would call true or "good" tension includes a latent Yin readiness to listen. When one is too far in one direction or the other, responsiveness is truly handicapped.

I like to think of maintaining a middle of the road, neutral, relaxed state, like the middle of a dimmer switch between full "on" and full "off". When action is called for, the dimmer moves rapidly in that direction, but as soon as the action has been completed, I try to return to neutral as fast as possible, since I don't know what the next moment will require. If more listening or receptiveness is required, the dimmer moves in that direction, but again, as soon as that listening has been completed, I try to return to the neutral middle again, as fast as I can, because I don't know what the next moment will require.

So it's kind of like an automatic physically trained springy dimmer switch, that's always heading towards the middle, even as more Yin or Yang energies are required in a given situation. To me this is the ideal of T'ai-Chi, whether martially applied or not.

Watch a tennis pro play a great match. You will see that in between flurries of offensive action, selecting targets and hitting the ball, there are other flurries of defensive set-up movements that are in response to the other player’s shots, and in between, always seeking a balanced, ready-for-what-comes-next state of mind.

And so to return to where I started: being determined to relax is self-defeating. But you can focus your attention on where you might be over or under efforting and see if you can correct that. You can also focus your attention of where you might be too tense and do your best to let go of that tension. We need to distinguish between tension and extra unnecessary tension. With no tension in your body, you couldn't even stand up. With too much tension in your body, that is to say, more than is needed for whatever job is at hand, injuries will surely follow. It's not tension itself that is the problem, it's the amount of it relative to the work at hand that is the problem. Removing excess tension can be a lifelong project but, I find, one well worth undertaking.