I have become a student again, in two very diverse disciplines – playing Shakuhachi and knitting. In both cases I have a recurring opportunity to experience failure.
In Shakuhachi playing I am getting comfortable playing the in the first register – sounds that are first experienced when blowing the instrument. I am still only an occasional visitor in the second register – which requires changing the flow of air into a more condensed stream which is key to reaching higher notes. I am usually a welcome visitor in the higher register when I arrive softly, and I am greeted by nice and steady sounds – which catch me by surprise. When I try too hard I can make the sounds, but they are not sounds I would wish to listen to or play.
In knitting I am not actually making anything – I am simply knitting to practice getting a flowing technique and consistent quality of work (like any new experience, you need to actually be there to meet subtle qualities which are difficult to describe). I find myself straining too much, I am definitely not consistent and I miss a stitch now and again. But I am getting a sense of flow and ease of movement as I practice.
In both cases I have thought, experienced and felt “failing”. I have failed to play a steady high-register note. I have failed to create consistent stitches in knitting.
Luckily I can draw a deeper perspective on “failing” from two different and persistent areas in my life – Yoga & fatherhood.
Yoga first – it’s easier. No matter how much I practice, I can never achieve a sense of completion with any of my practices. There is always room for refinement and introduction of additional subtle elements. My theoretical knowledge exceeds my physical knowledge – which means I know that I haven’t arrived and I know I never will. I have been given enough teachings to realize this and to continue to developer my practice indefinitely. In the first years of my practice I can recall a sense of conquering some intermediate challenges,only to find myself facing new and distant challenges (at best) or, more likely, a length period of repeated, uneventful practice. My teacher would remind us that practice is about “succeeding in trying rather then trying to succeed”.
I recall a story (I have no idea of it’s true) that flowed around the internet about Picasso – that as he was sitting in a park a woman came up to him and asked him to draw her portrait. He agreed, and with one continuous motion that lasted only a few seconds drew a portrait she loved. She asked him how much it would cost for her to purchase the drawing and he names a ridiculous sum, to which she replies “but it only took you a few seconds”. To which he replies “yes, but I’ve been practicing for it my whole life”.
Though we are expecting, we are not yet parents and Andreea is not yet biologically pregnant. Andreea teaches women (Romanian, Hebrew) about femininity-related issues including fertility, pregnancy & birth. Once in a while she encounters skeptics who claim that she can’t possibly be serious about teaching these things because she herself has not given birth. Even amongst family and friends there is a notion that we have “failed’ to get pregnant. We understand this and have experienced our own doubts and confusions. Yet our experience is that we are and have been pregnant for a long time, it has not yet manifested in body. We have been making and continue to make changes to our lifestyle, to our perception and to our relationship with the world around us. We feel that we are in many ways preparing for a time when a spirit will choose to manifest in our lives through pregnancy. Yoga teachings suggest that pregnancy is first experienced in heart and mind of two people – usually a mother and father – and only later becomes a physical reality.
In the end…
My teacher once told us about studying chanting in India. Chanting is usually taught by listening and repetition. A teacher chants (a sound, a word, a phrase… depending on the practice) and students repeat… over and over again – until eventually you get it. There are no mistakes, the very idea of a mistake is not a conscious part of the practice – you simply move on. In this way there is no marker in memory of it, and therefor also no expectation for it to happen again – “here comes that difficult word again, I hope I don’t mess it up again”. You stay in your practice, remain attentive, repeat … over and over again.
I can honestly recognize only one failure in my practices and in my life – forgetting that I am in endless process of practice & exploration.