Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Being a beginner

pushing hands @ Cal Anderson Park
When I was in grad school at Tai Sophia Institute in Maryland, I had to take what they called a philosophy class named SOPHIA skills.  It stood for School of Philosophy of Healing in Action.  The Program catalog from 2003 describes the course as such :
Based on the cycles of nature, this 10-day intensive unit introduces the notion of life force as well as a language and theory of healing.  Students learn observation skills as well as the language and concepts of Tai Sophia's philosophy of healing.
The class continued on past the intense 10 day, 8-hours-a-day, aptly named, intensive (maybe brainwashing seemed a better term, I thought at the time).  Every week we would learn more about rapport building, sensory awareness, being an observer and interpersonal skills.  A lot of the time I resisted the strict adherence to the language chosen by the school.  We could not veer from the "language" of SOPHIA.  Ever.  Here are a couple rules I remember:

"Replace but with and...we do not use the word but here."   
       "I like the class, but I have a hard time with the language."  -NO                  
       "I like the class, AND I have a hard time with the language." -YES

Or the one where you can't say to someone... 
"You look beautiful in that color shirt."   
Instead, you could say... 
"In the presence of you wearing that purple shirt, I know life as beautiful."
I also resisted the way the class (and teachers) would bring me to my edge, of learning about myself and life.  I would see this image of myself standing at a cliff, timidly looking over the edge as rocks started crumbling beneath my feet and falling way, way down into the unknown.  It was an image I had seen before in my mind.
Every time, I would turn and run to solid ground.  How dare they push me?  They don't know what lies over that edge.  They won't be there with me at night when I lose it because I went too far.
I found the whole thing irresponsible on their part.

I was a beginner and I was afraid.  Ironically, it was in SOPHIA class where I learned the concept of honoring being a beginner.  I found myself talking about it today in my kitchen with Amy.   Back then, I was not ok with being a beginner in learning about my edges.  I got all indignant about the people that I perceived as pushing me, instead of being gentle with myself and being ok with where I was.  I was not ready to jump off that edge. And somehow I saw interpreted that as a bad thing.

In life, I find that we often stay on comfortable solid ground.  We find what works for us and we keep doing that.  Even when it is no longer working,
we ignore the signs that it isn't working and keep on truckin'.  I think we might be more and more afraid, the older we get, to be a beginner.  Maybe accepting ourselves first as beginners can allow some more compassion and confidence to get closer to those edges.

I am about to start on a journey to a new career.  Which means more school...math, chemistry, anatomy and physiology.  I am super excited, but resistant to all the prerequisites I have to take before I am officially in the "program."  I just want to be in the program, and get to the part where I am working.  I guess it feels more comfortable to be "in the know."

Today as I was telling Amy about all this, she stood up and emphatically said to me... 
"The thigh is a quick twitching muscle!"  (any yoga nerds out there might already know where this is heading)   
She continued, "You have to get the knee locked before you stretch out your other leg.  And the thigh is a quick twitching muscle, it relaxes every so many seconds.  The strong thigh, the locked knee...those are the prerequisites!"  (this is referring to standing head to knee pose, or Dandayamana Janushirasana.)

She is right.  You have to allow yourself to be a beginner, and not only allow it, but honor that place.  Yoga is not a race to the finish line.  Tai chi is certainly not a race to any finish line.  Your education shouldn't be either.  Nor should your life, really.

Take a moment today to honor where you are a beginner in your life.  Is it in standing head to knee pose?  is it in cooking a healthy meal for your family?  Is it in being a new mother at the age of 40?  Is it in starting your own business?  Is it in tai chi? (um, yes, that would be me!)  Is it in not judging yourself?

Where are you a beginner?

And where are you afraid to be a beginner?  Is there a class you have been thinking about taking?  A race you want to run, but you don't think you are the running type?  Weight you want to lose, but it always starts too slow and you give up?  Be gentle with yourself.  Choose to be a beginner.

Every month, Amy and I get to practice being a beginner at something.  In fact, just yesterday, I did something I have always been afraid to do.  I saw two guys practicing "pushing hands" at Cal Anderson Park on my walk home.  I stopped and asked them if I could take their picture for my blog.  In the past I would have been too afraid to ask that of total strangers.  (See photo above.)
I encourage you to do the same in some area of your life.  If you do, please share it with us and others that read along.  We can all use some inspiring words along the way.

Find your edge, and peek day, you'll be ready to jump.   Sometimes it takes years.



Bob Redmond said...

Well, this is a far-ranging post Melissa: hilarious, and also thought-provoking. I have to say that the Amy Moment you described is very and perfectly Amy.

And the writing rule, I totally agree with: and, not BUT!

Most of all, the beginner advice. From a book I recently read, the refrain was: We begin again. We never give up. (Lars Gustafsson, The Death of the Beekeeper.)

True! Thanks to you and Amy for the reminder!

Bob Redmond said...

And congrats on the progress for school!

Melissa said...

Thanks, BOb. ANd as always...I love your comments. It was a speaking rule, and sometimes when the habit of everyone in a large class saying but was corrected every got to be the thing that everyone bitched about after class.
Love the quote...always beginning again. Every day. Every pose (yes, yoga, again.) Every moment.
A choice to begin again.

jamie said...

good post. beginner's mind everyday. hard to be an uncarved block when we've been sculpted into refined ignorance but, I mean and, it is up to ourselves to withdraw from our conditioning to the starting point of creation... the beginner.