The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, October 13, 2006

Failure and "I am"

I drove to Tim Piering’s morning class today, thinking that I wanted to get something there that I could apply to my relationship with Jason.  Actually, I went to bed last night with that thought, and was eager to find some useful tid-bit.

And as always, he delivered. 

As I’ve said, the morning workouts involve a movement between physical techniques (drawn from karate, judo, boxing, etc.) and quotes from sacred texts concerning access to the “Mushin” state of mind.  Let me make it clear: I can enter “No-Mind” pretty fast in my writing, I’ve touched it a time or two in martial arts practice,  and I got no freakin’ idea how to get there as a father.  Hope springs eternal.

At any rate, much of it revolves around the “I am” meditation.  This idea is one of the interesting overlaps between Western and Eastern traditions, although the “I Think Therefore I am” of Cartesian philosophy is generally considered to be inverted in the East to “I am therefore I can think.”  Both are probably different versions of a single insight that can’t quite be put into language.  Those pesky philosophers!

At any rate, part of this process has to do with abstaining from inappropriate judgement.  In this state of mind there is no failure, for instance—although there are actions and their results.  The actions and the results are “what is.”  The concept of “failure” does not exist in the actions—it is added on afterwards, and reflects our values and emotions, not the events themselves.

To look at life this way is enormously freeing.  Fears of failure constantly hover over my head as a writer—I want so very much to be the best writer I can be, and “failure” in this arena would cost my family dearly, so it isn’t merely an ego thing.  But fear of failure will also keep you from trying new things, can cripple creativity.  You have to care deeply, but simultaneously remain slightly detached.

In the martial arts, if you are afraid of “failure” you will work out only with people inferior with you, and avoid even healthful competition.  This will keep you from reaching your highest potential, to be certain—and I’ve suffered more than my share of this flaw.  In a recent post where I spoke of sports films triggering memory of a time of deeper social integration between mind and body, the concept of football as a positive force was challenged.  I need only relate the number of times I’ve heard former players say that those years were the best of their lives—and these were often accomplished, healthy, admirable people.  Yes, it can be damaging to the body. But young men who play football feel that urge to bang bodies, to test their speed and power and agility and aggression against others. When this happens on the playing field, with appropriate equipment and coaching and refereeing, I consider this to be an extremely positive force.  In my mind, this aggressive energy needs to be appropriately channeled, not repressed.

In fact, I believe that any society that cannot produce a certain minimum percentage of these highly aggressive, pain-tolerant young (mostly) men, will die out.  That may not be true in the future, but it has certainly been true in the past, and seems to be true in the present.

But access to the contexts where a hyper-testosterone-flushed young man can test his body and heart to the limit is restricted to those who can handle the emotions of competition (fear, anger, etc.)  If you can’t, well…you will probably end up working for someone who has. 

And as for child-rearing.  Well, two weeks ago, while Tananarive was out of town, I lost my patience with Jason.  I was seriously upset with myself.  After all—Jason can’t control his bladder yet.  Why in the world would I expect him to control his emotions?  And here I was, letting myself get involved in his emotional drama.  I had to take a big step back, and found myself apologizing to a crying 2 1/2 year old, telling him that the problem was mine, and that I knew he was doing his very very best to be a good boy, and that I was going to make every effort to improve as a father.

When he falls down, it is experimentation, not failure.  It is an event, one of varying emotional value weight.   When I add my own “stuff” to it (I’m a bad father!  He’s a bad son! Etc.) It becomes so much heavier.

I have to merely see the thing as it is.

Thanks again, Tim.

No comments: