Learning the Way Step by Step
Lately I have been forcing myself to take small steps outside the walls that have closed around my life over the last 2 years. This throws me off a little and in recovering my balance I find that I have resources, internal and external, to draw. By taking small steps, I never push myself into frantic arm-flailing reactions to recover a feeling of equilibrium, just momentary feeling of uncertainty and discomfort that so far has not slowed down my process of recovery. Taking little steps toward a life that is more open, is helping me gain a wider perspective without throwing my balance off to the point of collapse.
I have been studying Tai Chi for the last few months and am often frustrated trying to follow the complex movements even when they are broken down into short segments and separate movements. I become confused trying to watch a mirror image, and translating the instructor’s movements to my normalized patterns of movement. Learning each new section of a routine sends me into a head-shaking tangle of arms, legs and orientations. Eventually, after many more or less successful run-throughs, my thoughts settle down and I find I am ready to move on to another challenge. I am trying to apply this operational style to rest of my life by taking small steps to shake up my perspective, finding a place of balance from which to move, continuing into the next challenge. Little steps taken with some intention and preparation, but with the awareness that I must move forward into uncertainty in order keep learning.
I am learning to pay attention to my responses as well trying to be mindful of my reactions in order to maintain my awareness in the moment. The whole process is not easy to describe. But, since I have been consciously moving in this intentional and connected way, I am able to move myself out of a constant feeling of failure, fear and grief into one of relative peace, openness and connection toward life and the world, that grows stronger as I go.
excerpt from Think Little by Wendell Berry
What I am saying is that if we apply our minds directly and competently to the needs of the earth, then we will have begun to make fundamental and necessary changes in our minds. We will begin to understand and to mistrust and to change our wasteful economy, which markets not just the produce of the earth, but also the earth’s ability to produce. We will see that beauty and utility are alike dependent upon the health of the world. But we will also see through the fads and the fashions of protest. We will see that war and oppression and pollution are not separate issues, but are aspects of the same issue. Amid the outcries for the liberation of this group or that, we will know that no person is free except in the freedom of other persons, and that man’s only real freedom is to know and faithfully occupy his place – a much humbler place than we have been taught to think – in the order of creation.
But the change of mind I am talking about involves not just a change of knowledge, but also a change of attitude toward our essential ignorance, a change in our bearing in the face of mystery. The principle of ecology, if we will take it to heart, should keep us aware that our lives depend upon other lives and upon processes and energies in an interlocking system that, though we can destroy it, we can neither fully understand nor fully control. And our great dangerousness is that, locked in our selfish and myopic economics, we have been willing to change or destroy far beyond our power to understand. We are not humble enough or reverent enough.
Some time ago, I heard a representative of a paper company refer to conservation as a “no-return investment.” This man’s thinking was exclusively oriented to the annual profit of his industry. Circumscribed by the demand that the profit be great, he simply could not be answerable to any other demand – not even to the obvious needs of his own children.
Consider, in contrast, the profound ecological intelligence of Black Elk, “a holy man of the Oglala Sioux,” who in telling his story said that it was not his own life that was important to him, but what he had shared with all life: “It is the story of all life that is holy and it is good to tell, and of us two-leggeds sharing in it with the four-leggeds and the wings of the air and all green things….” And of the great vision that came to him when he was a child he said: “I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and father. And I saw that it was holy.”
From A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural and Agricultural reprinted in the Whole Earth Catalog 1969