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Author Archives: Ben Lanin

Bringing TTW to Fruition

(For a little background on what I mean by fruition, please see my Free Refills from Tuesday and Wednesday.)

Jerry and I started publishing pieces for the Training Tiger Woods project on the autumn equinox of 2015. (Energetically, probably more a Planting-a-Seed action than a Harvesting action, but an auspicious day for beginning nonetheless.) We’ve now published seven seasons of work here.

The project started as a place to explore using energy techniques to speed learning of and to more completely achieve our potentials within the realm of sports. Then, with the election and the massive turmoil that followed, we felt called to write about how to bring those same energy techniques to bear to adapt to and survive and perhaps ultimately begin to change the toxic energy that’s permeating our society.

The pieces I wrote for Tuesday and Wednesday call for a different relationship with our work. It has always been our goal to turn the work we were doing into books, and now is the time to turn our attention fully to that goal. Blogging the exploring and experimenting we’ve done so far has been a useful practice, and that exploring and experimenting will doubtless continue, but the act of preparing and readying a piece for publication once a week is now distracting from steady work that writing a book requires, where it’s best to write without immediate concern for putting something out there. So in order to best bring these works to fruition, we’re going to stop publishing here on any kind of a regular schedule. When something comes up in the writing that requests that we just get it out there, or when something interesting happens in our continued explorations, we’ll publish here. So please check back from time to time.

In the meantime, thank for you reading, and we hope you’ll be interested in our work as it comes to Fruition.

Trajectory

Every week the chaos in our society seems to deepen. That is our trajectory now, and it will continue to be our trajectory until enough people stop irrationally seeking magic from our erstwhile leaders–“I’ll bring back all the jobs!”–stop enabling chaos through their own destructive anger, and start seeking balance within themselves. The problem is not those people. The problem is not out there. We are the problem. Our lack of balance is what’s creating this situation. It is only in seeking balance that the problem can be solved.

TTW in a Nutshell, Part 2

Since the election in November, we’ve turned our attention to how to live (and possibly even thrive?) in a society that’s deeply out of balance. Last week, I asserted that most people in our society are unhappy most of the time. Let me assert today that a society made up of mostly unhappy people is far more likely to seek out conflict rather than cooperation than one comprised of people who are in balance.

Consider, for example, President Trump’s decision last week to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement. A recent national poll found that seven out of ten Americans support remaining in the agreement, and that a majority of self-identified Democrats, Republicans and independents all want to stay in the accord.

Trump’s decision to pull the country out of the accord, contrary to what a majority of Americans want, reflects my essential point that as a people out of balance, we are prone to or even seek out conflict. Trump, as someone who thrives in chaos, seeks (one hopes unconsciously) to sow seeds of chaos.

So what do we do about it? How do we alter that dynamic? If people out of balance are far more likely to seek conflict rather than cooperation, and if our society is succumbing to the impact of constant conflict, indeed, appears to be descending into chaos (and would you dare to claim otherwise?), then the single most radical and effective thing we can do as individuals is to short-circuit that dynamic by seeking balance within ourselves.

TTW in a Nutshell

It is our observation that most people (in America, at least–we can’t speak intelligently about the rest of the world) are unhappy most of the time.

It is our further observation that it just doesn’t have to be this way. Life doesn’t have to be this hard.

Now, we’re making no claims that these observations are in any way unique to us. The Buddha said the same things 2,500 years ago.

If the Buddha (and Jesus, and Muhammad, and whatever other enlightened sages you’d like to point to) couldn’t teach people that they don’t need to suffer, why are we so arrogant to think we have anything useful to add?

In part, it’s that every voice that offers a path to any level of awakening is valuable–maybe one of those voices will speak to you. (I’d practiced both Zen and Vipassana meditation prior to meeting Jerry, but it was the simple practice of centering that unlocked the door for me.)

It’s also that modern technology can serve to amplify a voice in a way that has never been possible before. (Unfortunately, as we’ve seen through such phenomena as online bullying and fake news, this cuts both ways.)

But more than anything, it’s that we feel we’ve been called to help, and believe we can help.

The News from Manchester

If you follow the news at all, this week’s inescapable story was the suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, in which 22 people were killed. After last week’s piece, in which I talked about the negative impact of taking in certain kinds of information, it feels salient to talk about the significance of this story.

As with the kind of story I wrote about last week, there’s nothing useful you can do with information about the bombing, but what’s different is that it almost can’t help but affect you. Coverage was ubiquitous. To filter out a story like this would require a deep commitment to actively avoiding pretty much every news source.

I felt deeply saddened by the news. Maybe it’s that it’s so easy to imagine myself in a similar situation. I know the feeling of leaving a big concert, carrying the glow of having shared a special experience with thousands of others, and so I feel a “There but for the Grace of God” empathy to all those affected by this horrific deed. It’s no mistake that terrorists target this kind of event, not just a place where a lot of people have gathered, but also a place of happiness, of celebration, of sharing the exuberance of life. Terrorism of this nature means to attack the social impulse in our society, to corrupt joy itself.

Terrorism seeks to create exactly the kind of emotional response that I’m experiencing. It is meant to engender sadness, to make the world seem more dangerous, to impose the spectre of itself every time we engage in the sort of aliveness we experience when we attend a concert, a sporting event, or similar. Terrorism means to attack our very sense of the world’s goodness, to corrupt our resiliency and our hope.

And the ugly truth is that terrorism achieves exactly that. Engaging in the act of imaginative empathy–that the people affected are exactly like me–creates exactly the result that the terrorist hopes it will. Furthermore notice that part of what is under attack here is our very ability and desire to empathize. Indeed, my taking the time to write about what happened and to grapple with how to respond is exactly the kind of response the bomber surely wanted. In some ways, my empathy and the response it calls for empowers the hideous people who did this in the first place. But to *not* feel this sadness feels monstrous. To disengage means dismissing some portion of my own humanity. Surely that is worse. Thus we are faced with the incredible corrupting power of political violence.

From the perspective of what we’ve been writing about here, the question arises, “How do we successfully use energetics to make a difference when this kind of thing happens?”

I wish I had some kind of answer, but I do not. I went into writing about this hoping I’d have something to offer, but I do not. Sometimes the world is a sad place in which people do awful things, and news about those awful things makes its way to us and affects our lives, and I don’t know what to propose to do about it, except feel the sadness because what happened is sad. I wish I could even hope that someday our embodied sense of shared humanity might develop to a sufficient level that political violence of every sort will be seen not as violence against the Other but as violence against ourselves. But even that hope feels empty, because the suicide bomber himself showed quite clearly that he had no qualms about violence against himself.

There’s no easy conclusion here, and that too is sad.

Information and Numbness

In Jerry’s piece from Tuesday, he spoke of our propensity to meet information without feeling it. He said, "When we stop feeling, the area between right and wrong becomes fuzzy. We can be manipulated by the images we see and the things we hear. It’s truly hard to stay centered and feel the truth." There’s a reason we don’t feel the information we experience: we are inundated with information that is directly harmful to us if we let it in.

While I was in New Mexico visiting family, I came across a story in the A-section of the Albuquerque Journal with a dateline from somewhere in Oregon headlined, "Man Holding Human Head Stabs Clerk."

I’m not going to ask you to connect with your center and discover how you feel upon reading this headline. In this instance, I’d prefer that you respond intellectually. Notice that this story has no informational value to you at all. Unless you have some kind of direct connection to what happened–you are on the police force in that town in Oregon, or you know someone involved–there is nothing whatsoever that you can do with this information.

It would be wrong to say that this story’s value is zero. It’s actually worse than that. It’s value is negative, because if you allow a story like this access to your feeling self, it will harm you. The events the story tells of are essentially random. They happened far away from where you live. The horror we feel–or, more likely, recognize that we should feel, without actually feeling–comes from the essential rarity of events like this. However, we evolved in a world in which all information was immediate–someone telling us, "Watch out! There’s a lion over there!"–and our processing systems, both intellectual and energetic, are still rooted in that world. So stories like this, when allowed into the feeling body, are actually a form of poison. They take on an outsize importance and thereby poison our understanding of the world. We come to see events like this as much more common and significant than they really are.

Stories with this kind of negative value abound. You’ll hear about seven children dying in a school bus crash in Tennessee, or a man who kidnapped and imprisoned a woman in Ohio, and what they have in common is that the events in question have no impact on your life, but they tell you the world is a bad place. (These examples, by the way, are meant to be made up, but they probably bear some resemblance to things that actually happened, events that I couldn’t help but have some awareness of just through exposure to news sources.)

Most of us have therefore learned, unconsciously, to not let these sorts of stories have access to our feeling bodies. Unfortunately, because we do this unconsciously, we are training to numb ourselves to negative or problematic occurrences in our lives. (Conversely, when we make the choice consciously, we are doing something good for ourselves, taking control of our own emotional and energetic spaces. Indeed, when we start practicing that kind of approach, we often stop reading or watching the kinds of news sources that offer this kind of information, because we notice it’s easier and healthier to not engage with it at all.)

The impact of practiced numbness is nefarious. We become more and more disengaged from what’s going on around us. The world seems out of our control, beyond our power to do anything about. Numbness about our personal lives dooms us to living attenuated lives, unwilling and unable to change things for the better, either because we believe ourselves powerless to do so, or because we have no felt, emotional access to the value of a potential change. In our political lives, we end up up with a situation like we’re facing now, in which a benumbed populace is no longer able to engage intelligently with the problems it faces and instead chooses wishful-thinking pretend solutions.

While the path to re-engagement is learning to feel, a first step, especially in our political lives, is to stop feeding ourselves poison. If you want to get healthy, first stop doing the things that directly damage your health.

Dealing with Distortions in Reality

It wasn’t long after I read the initial draft of the piece Jerry published on Tuesday that I came across an article that struck me as relevant to the discussion of how centering allows us to come to learn the underlying truth of every situation.

The article describes the human cost of the the actions of the conspiracy theorists–Truthers, I guess they call themselves–who show up and insist that various atrocities never happened. The article in question deals with the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

(Here’s a link to the article: Sandy Hook father Leonard Pozner on death threats: ‘I never imagined I’d have to fight for my child’s legacy.’ Be forewarned that there are details about the wounds suffered by his son that make this article a very tough read.)

An acquaintance of mine some years back was a 9/11 Denier. Our incipient friendship ended one night as he drunkenly shouted at me, "You have to accept that 9/11 was inside job!" No, I didn’t, and I didn’t need to be friends with someone who felt it was appropriate to treat me that way. We had an interaction in the aftermath of Sandy Hook, and he insisted that the events in Newtown that day constituted a "PsyOps operation" by the government, designed to distract the American people.

As my acquaintance offered insane details ostensibly contradicting the "official" reports of what happened in Newtown, I remember thinking of rejoinders to his claims, but I wisely chose not to engage in that manner. What was the point? But I also remember a sickening feeling of wrongness in my body as he spoke. I had a literally visceral feeling that the best course of action was to get out of the situation as quickly as possible and never look back. (I completely cut ties with him after that.)

This all happened well before I ever met Jerry, so I had never even heard of centering, and yet I still had a felt, embodied sense of wrongness as I experienced this man’s unhinged diatribe. I guess I can consider myself lucky for that.

To say the very least, we live in complicated times. If we hope to engage effectively with the madness that surrounds us–and in some cases, like this one, madness is not too strong a word–we would be wise to cultivate the skills that will allow us to find our way through the distortions in reality that occur all too often in our society.

When Things Get Bad

In the pieces I write for TTW, I speak with a voice that implies a certain mastery of my subject. I suppose I’ve earned it. I bring a seriousness and intensity in my approach to these practices, and I also bring the training in close perception I’ve developed from all my years as a writer. That Jerry, who is certainly a master at the energy techniques we talk about, has given me his imprimatur to teach is quite a gift. I do not take his confidence in me lightly.

Nevertheless, I’m still less than three years into the adventure that started when Jerry first taught me to center and thereby set me on this path. Yes, I’ve seen vast changes in my life. Compared to where I was when I started, my sensitivity to what’s around me and my ability to deal with those things have gone off the charts. But in the grand scheme of things, I’m still something of a novice at all this stuff. Three years of exploring the practice of centering is far less than the 40 years I didn’t. And that means that sometimes I get overwhelmed.

There’s some deep turmoil in my personal life right now. Some days I navigate this well. Some days I pretty much go insane–I find myself unable to find center, my thinking gets utterly clouded, and I feel terrible. Some teacher I am, eh?

Except that I’ve walked too far down this path to ever turn around now, or even to much lose sight it. The other day, I felt bad, lost and sad and angry. I was badly out of center. But that I was out of center was part of my understanding of how I was feeling. I recognized it.

As I was trying to find my way back out of that oppressive grey mood, I knew to be seeking center. This approach is already too ingrained for me to do anything else. I didn’t succeed, by the way. It took Jerry’s help and experience to re-center me, and I moved back out of center rather quickly. But today, in a much better place, I can see the benefit of that apparent failure. Through the vulnerability of that experience, I can speak to how do deal with this stuff.

So what do you do when things get really bad?

In part, you let them be bad. You don’t fight their being bad, but you try not to feed the badness, also. Your perception of stuff is bound to be faulty, so try not to do anything rash. Don’t be shitty to people around you–in this kind of state, when everyone seems like an asshole, chances are that the actual asshole is you.

If there’s someone you can call on, someone whom you recognize has the ability to help ground you, call on that person. Don’t suffer though this alone.

But above all, know that little bits of self-care can make a huge difference. Even if things do not immediately feel better, doing something positive for yourself sets positive energy into motion. So go work out if you can. Now, if I’m sufficiently in turmoil, I might find the prospect of even going to the gym to be too much. But unless you’re in Antarctica or the middle of a hurricane, it’s pretty much always possible to go out for a walk rather than wallow in the unhappiness of the present time and place. A walk is great because the natural world is going to support you with its energy.

When I asked Jerry what I should write about this week, he replied "Something light and fun to give you something else to focus on. The lighter the better." This piece, perhaps unfortunately, isn’t that.

But there is something to knowing that I am perhaps, even in this space, able to help others, that takes a lot of the weight off. Yes, things are hard right now. They’ll get better; they always do. I feel safe in saying this because I am paying attention, and it is true.

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.

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?