Friday, October 28, 2011

Trying To Sit Still

"All man's troubles come from not knowing how to sit still in one room." (Blaise Pascal)

I've never taken a more difficult course than the one I've had to sit through this week.  An advanced course in the discipline of "Sit-Still-ology".  Never heard of it?  Most people, I think, avoid it like the plague.

The flu has knocked me out for the past 4 days.  I went to school on Monday, but have been home suffering through different (each uniquely unpleasant in their own special way) phases of this seasonal virus, ever since then.  And because of that, I've had a lot of unexpected time on my hands.

At first, that seemed a blessing...a boon...a reward, secretly savored...kinda like this...

My mind tells me:  "Yeah, I know it's no fun feeling achy and blowing your nose every 5 minutes.  But guess what you get to do!  You don't have to go to work!  You get to take naps!  You even get to spend all day fiddling around on Facebook, if you like!"  And at first, that seems fun.

Everyone likes to play "hooky", every now and then!

So I did all of the above.  And I read and read.  And I drank cups of hot tea.  And I said "Thank you veddy buch, Sweedie", to Deborah when she brought me bowls of wonderful homemade soup.  I was the "Emperor of Easy Street", resplendent in my regal uniform - my bathrobe.

But after two days, my "paradise" of ease had begun to turn into a prison.

"The only thing wrong with doing nothing is that you never know when you're finished" (Anonymous)

Wasn't that the truth!  I began to get bored...very bored.  So bored that I was too bored to do anything BUT be bored.

I caught myself pacing around the house, like an animal in a cage.

Sit in the living the newspaper...To the office...check my e-mail...To the bedroom - lay down and read...close my eyes.  Try to nap.  Up to the refrigerator - what's to eat?  Nothing.  Should I take the dog for a walk?  "No - I'm sick".  Back to the office - still no e-mail.  I should sit down and write a blog entry.  Sit.  Get up.  Back to the living room... See if I missed anything in the newspaper.  Turn on the TV.  Nothing on.  Turn off the TV.  Check e-mail again.  None - "Boy - Deborah must be busy at work".  Back to the bedroom.  Close eyes - still can't nap.  Up... And on and on I went.

Looking for something to do.  Looking to "fill time".  Looking for "my purpose".

Since I was sick, I couldn't rely on the usual activities to provide the answers to these quests.  I was left empty.  I was left "alone" with myself.

I knew there was something for me to learn in all of this.  But I could only learn it, if I was able to get myself to just sit still.  You'd think that would be easy, especially if you're sick. But it was quite a challenge.  My mind did not want to be still.  It did not want to linger in the emptiness.  It didn't want to dare to gaze into the "abyss" of a day in which it didn't know itself or what it's "purpose" was.  And it certainly didn't want to see all the empty things it was choosing to fill itself with.

But stop I did.  Finally.  And when I was willing to just sit, and let all the rushing thoughts and impulses just wash by me, like the waves around my feet when I was a little boy, I finally heard what Life was inviting me to do.

I went for a walk outside.  I enjoyed the crisp, cool air.  And I remembered to bring my camera, so I could take pictures of the beautiful leaves on the trees in the neighborhood.  I had been meaning to do this for weeks! (but had always forgotten to bring my camera and said "Next time").  For once, I remembered.  And here was the reward for finally "sitting still":

"There is nothing as certain as silence, stillness, and solitude to introduce you to the secrets of yourself." (Guy Finley)

I'm grateful for the reminder today to just slow down, especially mentally.  To work to step out of the mechanical race to "find myself" in the constant stream of thoughts, worries, plans, and fears that fill my days.

There's an entirely different and beautiful world just waiting for me if I will.

You want proof?

A picture's worth a 1000 words. :-)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Learning To Be A Student, Again

"Get over the idea that only children should spend their time in study.  Be a student so long as you still have something to learn, and this will mean all your life." (Henry Doherty)

It finally took a full blown case of the annual fall flu:  sniffly snorts and achy aches; weepy eyes and a raspy throat - to get me to sit down and dust off my blogger's pen.  Though the sun outside is bright and cheery this afternoon, I'm inside looking out... and looking in.

A question has been rattling around inside my head for the last week or so, like dried beans inside an October gourd.

Why do I say I love to write so much, but then write so little?

That's been bugging me lately.  I can come up with plenty of "reasons" and "excuses" and lists of "other things I have to do", but the truth is something far different, I'm beginning to see.

I am reluctant to be a student.

I can see that a part of me only wants to write when it has "the perfect idea";  when it's the "perfect time"; when it "knows" that it can please itself (or my tiny band of 6 followers!); when it's able to craft the "perfect piece".

I want to be seen as a talented writer.

But the paradox is I can't actually be that unless I practice the craft.  I can't be that unless I write - and sometimes struggle - and fail in the struggle.  But also LEARN in the attempt.

Jon likes to say that he likes "being a student", loves "to learn".  But I can see that as he's gotten older, the learning has become more and more limited - the ventures into something unknown, or something he might stumble at, rarer.

I love this Guy Finley quote.

"You must learn to stop thinking in terms of beginnings and endings, successes and failures; and begin to treat everything in your life as a learning experience instead of a proving one."

To be a student means to be willing to learn something, not try to prove something about yourself.  Proving only leads to protection.  Protection turns one to the past, not towards progress.  Proving tells us that "pretending" is the same as "possessing".

So, I want to relearn - to remind myself - of what it means to be a student.

When was the last time I truly remember being a student?  It was many, many years ago, when I was learning how to become a basketball coach.

That's me on the far left.  I was the Varsity Assistant coach for the Glencoe Girls' basketball team.  This team, led by my friend Mark Neffendorf, won the Oregon AAA State Championship in 1990.  It was one of my proudest moments as a coach to be part of this team, and Mark's program.  Five years later, I was off on my own.

This was my 1995 team at South Medford.  This team was the 1st girls' team in Medford to win the League championship and go on to the Oregon state tournament.  We didn't win a trophy, but I was also very proud of this team

So, what did it mean to "be a student", learning how to coach?  What did I do then, in pursuit of this love, that I've forgotten?

Being a student of "coaching" meant:
  • There was nothing that didn't want to learn about the craft.  I remember having a deep desire to grow, to absorb everything I could, from any coach I met. I coached with boys' coaches, girls' coaches; I talked with football and track coaches.   I WANTED to "know" coaching.
  • I was willing to do whatever was asked of me in this pursuit.  I spent countless hours and weeks, and months, and years at summer camps, coaching all-star teams,  in offseason planning sessions, in late night video sessions after games. I didn't care whether I was paid or not. I just knew that any, and everything I volunteered to do, would help me learn something new.   
  • I realized, without question, that I didn't already "know it all" when it came to being a successful head coach.  So whatever my mentors (Barry Adams, Barney Holland, Mark Neffendorf) asked me to do, I did.  And even though my long term goal was to become a head coach, I never remember thinking about that goal while I was doing all that I did.  I just wanted to be a "good coach", now.
To be a student means:
  • To have a real love for what you wish to learn
  • To be willing to do whatever that love leads you to do
  • To be willing to surrender the protection and pretense of being perfect already; of "knowing it all"
"I don't think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday." (Abraham Lincoln)

Relearning how to be a student means to remember that a student is an explorer; a student must be a risk taker.

Like Horatio Nelson Jackson, who with Sewall Crocker (and his dog Bud) became the first man to drive across the United States in 1903.

Here's to remembering how to be a student, and to being willing to "stick my head out the window" a little more Bud! 

I'm going to try to remember that little "Pearl"...and to practice it more often.