Friday, June 15, 2012
The Ladder Of Progress
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 interest...as 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.