We all know the cliche, if at first you don't succeed, try-try-again. This is the heart of The Sweet Spot, a chapter title of a book, The Talent Code, written by author Daniel Coyle. Here, Coyle discusses learning and touches on the value of insight through disciplined trial and error. His writing, weaves together stories of various learning experiences across a diverse pool of individuals, reflecting on various efforts of others in skill development. In this entry into the nature versus nurture debate, Coyle uses his own experiences to clarify his point of view and challenges us to accept the concept of deep practice. (Coyle, Page 16).
His definition of the concept is quite easy to follow. Coyle says that in learning experiences where individuals are taught to push themselves to points of discomfort and failure, students learn to achieve at a very high level. He goes on to say that by teaching students to diligently tackle a problem area through trial, reason, and reflection on error, such insight learning can make all the difference in terms of nurturing talent in human beings, especially in young people.
The author shares his visits to what his friend calls, Chicken-Wire Harvards. This means that the places Coyle visited to find subjects for his query resided in some rather impoverished living and training circumstances. Over fourteen months, Coyle's journey, takes him from: a ramshackle tennis court in Moscow, to a soccer field in Sao Palo, Brazil, a vocal studio in Dallas Texas, an inner-city school in San Jose, California, a run-down music academy in New York's Adirondacks, a base-ball mad island in the Caribbean, and to a handful of other places (he further describes as) small, humble, and titanically accomplished. The most compelling of Coyle's subjects are a group of young soccer students in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Coyle, Page 11).
In Sao Paulo, soccer is a life-line in the hearts of these impoverished young souls. The game for them is a ticket to a better life. Coyle describes these children as having an almost eye of the tiger mentality when it comes to passion and diligence towards learning the finer aspects of the game. The movie, Rocky**, comes to mind rather easily in reflecting through the words of Daniel Coyle. The children of Sao Palo, do come across as hungry to achieve.
The soccer stars in Coyle's visit to Sao Paulo, demonstrate to Coyle an admirable focus of attention to detail. The strategies employed by the coaching team restricts the play area, reminiscent again of Rocky's trainer, Mick, isolating his boxer to a chicken-run to play a game of catch-the-hen to improve foot-work and stamina. Or, the wax-on wax-off strategy used in the Karate Kid.*
The deep practice process Coyle shares, is an almost mirror description of the practice of mindfulness. When we are mindful, we are living in the here and now. We are focused by choice on all that we might choose to do. When we are mindful, for instance, simply washing dishes can be a step-by-step process in which we choose to perform dish-washing in the best way we can, not missing a single scrap left behind from the meal.
In mindfulness, we look for beauty in the details. In mindful practice we are tasked with gentle observance, not only of our actions, but in practicing mindfulness towards our thoughts, we can learn to choose the best thoughts to maintain our focus on. This is an incredible experience to improve our sense of consciousness in living. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness_%28psychology%29).
In this work, Coyle convinces us that deep practice holds merit. One might argue that we live in a world wrought with practices of self-judgement when it comes to skill development. It seems that success, specifically in North America, is a prize we must achieve to be valued in our society. The process of learning isn't as intrinsically valued as Coyle describes. It is the achievement itself that seems to matter most.
It wasn't fully evident, in Coyle's argument, whether or not the people he studied were judgemental of their performance. The sense was, however, that the process of deep practice was expectant of error as a means for the learner to self-diagnose her skill. Thereby, the student works systematically towards improving from any step in which she may have stumbled.
Coyle's view of deep practice, set's a tone in understanding learning that is important for us to consider. It is an attitude towards learning that breaks down a goal into smaller, more manageable steps. In deep practice there really isn't any right or wrong. Learning is described as sweet, each step along the way. The achievement is described as ah-ha moments of enlightened bliss.
The Sweet Spot Coyle describes, is that perfect moment, internally and intuitively felt, that acts as the true measure of personal satisfaction and success for the students in his study. We all could learn something from Daniel Coyle. If we could abandon judgements of our individual accomplishments, it would seem we might find more peaceful and graceful experiences in acquiring the knowledge we seek, through whatever skill we wish to develop. If at first effort we don't succeed, we simply try-try-again to find the sweet spot. Doesn't seem like such a bad away to go. Perhaps, the phrase isn't so cliche after all.
Coyle, Daniel: The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born, It's Grown, Here's How: Chapter 1: The Sweet Spot: Bantam: 2009
*Hiller, B.B.: The Karate Kid: Scholastic Books: 1984
**Stallone, Sylvester: Rocky: Ballantine Books: 1976
Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia: Mindfulness (Psychology): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness_%28psychology%29
I'm not a preacher. The gift of delivery of sermons belongs to those groomed and dedicated to this calling. Christ, I will say, is a member of my healing circle in terms of spiritual understanding. As I started to unravel in life, with all the symptomatic junk that PTSD wrought, there was a time when I wondered if I wasn't dealing with a devil. Once I found the more useful scientific, medical explanations for my symptoms, I abandoned any thoughts of demon-possession, in favour of more helpful avenues of exploration into healing.
I slowly learned to accept that the knowledge delivered to me, through prayer, wasn't the devil, tricking me away from God and I slowly accepted that my prayers we're actually finding answers. My faith took a major turn. The one person whose face never changed towards me in response to my illness and grief, was Christ.
Years ago, in 2000, as the pain was rising to the point inside of tearing my life completely apart, I was invited to portray Christ in an Easter celebration. I was drawn to community theatre as an effort to find my purpose in life. I'd always admired the acting community and even in childhood, I showed promise. I seemed to always be chosen to lead in school productions. For me, this portrayal was a significant highlight in my short-lived, acting career.
The significance of Christ's life, in terms of trauma, lies in the suffering he lived through his own short life. In his community, as a man (I wish to remain focused on Christ's humanity) he stood out as different from the others. He seemed wise beyond his years, speaking of things that truely amazed all who heard him speak. As time passed and he came to his own place of growth towards his role, vocationally, as a Rabbi, he became a liability, a threat.
What did Christ threaten? Frankly, he was a threat to power. The power held by the Roman Empire was threatened by Jesus. Power in the church and a certain amount of power in the streets also came to ultimately bear-down upon the gentleness of the man.
When power is threatened, I think we can all agree that it seems to resort to the same, incideous means of protection. Power will always turn against the threat it perceives and kill the threat, to protect itself. This is a very dark reality of our nature as human beings. Sometimes, to ensure dominance, we are not that far removed from the animal we try so desperately to exclaim we are not.
Sounds very much like self-defense or a fight-or-flight response gone array, when we think about power and dominance taking it's fear out on the rest of humanity. Whatever it is, I believe such a response is corrupted and rationalized, unconsciously, when we act out of our perceived need to defend our place.
Those of us in recovery often feel what power must well have been feeling during this time in history. We know what it is to feel threatened, without real reason, when our own symptoms of PTSD come rising to the surface out of the blue.
As you can possibly imagine, filling the sandals of such a role on stage as Christ, proved impossible in the beginning of rehearsals. My mind was already well-groomed to learn the lines written for me to speak. The character of Jesus, I had no idea what to draw upon to represent a man of wisdom, gentlness, compassion and deep faith. Through treatment, I've learned I was already knee-deep into the psychological demise of PTSD, the symptoms of which do a portrayl of Christ zero justice, as a means of coming to a sense of gentleness.
The one who was chosen to portray Christ's mother, came to me during one of these struggling times to perfect the character in the role. She could see I was in pain. She knew I wasn't pleased with how I was acting out the role. Her words of advice, ring so true to me, even today, "Just let him in. Get Darren out of the way".
From here, I opened myself to experiencing the role, almost as an observer. I stopped building from within the character of Jesus, his gentleness finally coming through during the eight final days of performances: Behold, The Man: A Passion Play, written by my dear friend, Mr. John Hopcraft. This takes us to the suffering of the Christ.
By allowing myself to observe the events of this man's life, I know fully, the suffering of Jesus. PTSD, coming into full light, gave me what I needed to represent the real, human pain in the suffering of this gentle man. Aside from the struggles to maintain a gentle character, when it came to portraying Christ's suffering, PTSD proved itself a gift.
Christ was, first and foremost, (for the purpose of this discussion) a man. A human-being. As a man, though gentle and humble of heart, with wisdom beyond anything anyone during his time had ever heard, he suffered extreme trauma in his living and dying.
The systems around him, bullied him, publicly. His church labeled him a blasphemer and heretic. The people, so abused by the power structures of the church and state, didn't trust this man of the Jewish cloth, at least not everyone. Over time, however, his sincere love for the broken, turned the people towards empowerment. Jesus, sparked a revolution in the hearts of the lowest people in the rungs of society. Power, simply could not allow this revolution to spark and set out to save itself.
Arrested first as a criminal, with no just charge to hold against him, the system manipulated the situation to enforce the decision it had already made. The man, this threat, must die. Power couldn't let this happen without the intense public display necessary to reverse the tide coming with the revolt. Suffering was imposed to send a clear message to the people. The suffering of the Christ we've seen repeated many times since. We think of such things as this, whenever tyranny rules on earth.
Christ's suffering was intense. He was made a public spectacle. He was beaten, tortured, in fact. The whip used to deliver the blows, the flagrum (scourge) was the weapon of choice in Roman times. A cat-of-nine, with shards of metal, ripped at Christ's flesh, repeatedly opening his body to bleed-out, massively, in response.
He was delivered into the hands of bidding men of Roman honour, who tortured Christ further, beating him, spitting in his face, ripping at his hair and tearing beard and flesh from his body in the process. The 'crown of thorns' depicted in his story, with thorns of nails, forced down upon his head, by those charged with carrying out the work on power's behalf, tore into Christ's face as the men drove the crown as deeply as they could into the heart, really, of this already dying man.
These soldiers were well-versed in performing this bidding at the bequest of their masters. They had no choice. Fear of power, will drive us to do unspeakable things in our humanity. Many now home from Iraq and Afghanistan, can testify to the brutality and suffrage soldiers are often ordered to inflict upon others in war.
Brought back towards the people, the message was clear, "This is what happens to anyone who threatens OUR REIGN". With the message clear, the people no longer had a choice either. When asked if they would like to see Jesus spared, the answer from the crowd gathered as witness was as loud and just as clear, "Crucify Him!"
Can you imagine what one must go through who is crucified? Forced to lay, face down, nails driven into the body? Some reading this, may well have been forced to kill another man, not out of vengeance, but as an act of duty. The soldiers tasked to this act were no different than the soldiers of today. They had a job to do, as much as this job might be detested within themselves at times, their duty was clear, and they carried this out, with no apology necessary.
When it was done, they made light of the situation, to protect their psyche. Dark humour and gambling for Christ's clothing was all they could do to pass the time waiting for the slow death of Christ to come. As the story tells us, the death was a slow one.
Those closest to Jesus, ran the other way in fear. Many chose to betray the life of the man they once revered. Some gathered to offer solace to the soul of a dear brother as he passed out of earthly existence. Christ spoke to their hearts, even while dying, asking friends to care for his mother, and to love each other as he taught them was most important to do. He granted forgiveness to the sinners beside him, thieves wondering for themselves what would come for them after their own public demise and execution was complete.
The greatest act performed through Christ's suffering and death, the forgiveness of his oppressors and of those who carried out his execution, still rings in my theatrical ears:
"Father, forgive them . . . For they do not know, what it is, that they are doing".
To share the feelings of Christ's passing, I only have a single word to share: compassion. Christ remained compassionate towards the ills of humanity to his last breath, or so the story goes. The actor in me, would never come back to look at the world in the same way again.
Truth, delusion or myth, the story of the suffering of this man teaches us lessons of our human nature. All of us can fall victim to the temptations of power and hatred. We all can understand, especially those who have served in the military, the human virtues of duty and honour. We know all too well, those of us fully in touch with the psychological traumas in our lives, the broken-ness that comes with betrayal. Some of us, have suffered unimaginable abuses, physically, emotionally, and most tragic, sexually at the hands of other men.
As shared in the beginning, this isn't meant to be a sermon. I have no business, none, dictating to anyone whom they should study along their intimate and personally unique avenues of recovery. I can tell you, that prayer took me through this and other experiences, leading me to this story and also to the life of the Buddha, whom I now also cherish as as a welcome teacher as I continue on my journey of personal healing.
The greatest lesson of all, should we choose to allow the lesson to sink in, is that no matter what our trauma experience imposes upon us in terms of suffering, we are not alone. Others, many others, have come before us, including as the Christ story suggests, God himself. What do we do with the lesson of Jesus and of his suffering?
We learn through our own suffering that the real power of human existence is not as it might be displayed by the various institutions of church and state that we allow to govern our lives. It's not in the suffering itself, that we learn the lessons of this story. We can accept any betrayal we may have already lived through as an act of the darkness of our human nature, and we can learn to release, slowly, deliberately over our time in recovery to forgive. How do we forgive others and most importantly, ourselves for not living up to the worlds expectations, as dictated to us through the influences we've discussed?
We do so, by coming back to the truth of this lesson. We learn to readopt a sense of love towards ourselves and others, towards power, and I would suggest, even towards the suffering itself that comes with our trauma experience. Love binds us up. Love heals all the troubled wounds.
Love opens doors, that PTSD, almost like a demon, wishes to nail shut. Love breaks the shackles of our psychologically imposed prison sentence, and prepares us for a return to life. We will never be the same as we once were, before trauma came into our being. This doesn't need to be a bad thing. If love, compassion and empathy for others who suffer as man can be the ultimate outcome for us as we heal? Perhaps the lesson of Christ, for everyone, can help us to find the way.
For if the story is, in fact, true? We have Christ and many others who've walked the journey ahead of us to show us the way through our experience. Remember, the ultimate lesson of the story is this: the world can do to us, whatever it chooses to do, in the end the efforts of the world of humanity to embrace power over the lives of others fails. Even death itself, in this story, has no power over us, none at all.
The true power of humanity comes with love. We'll find our way back to this love, however we might individually journey to do so. Christ, and the story of his suffering, for me, has made a difference. No sermon. No demands of you to accept anything spiritual. I share this, to share this one aspect of my own journey, out of love for all who may read and need to know, they are not alone. My prayer, for all visiting here remains:
Be Well . . . . . . .
"Heaven gives it's glimpses to those not in a position to look too close". ~ Robert Frost
In the four noble truths we find the definition of the human predicament according to the teachings of the Buddha. The first truth is that human life is wrought with frustration, pain and suffering. The Buddhist tradition refers to suffering as duhka.
The concept is an honest and straightforward description of the experience of human life. Although there are those times when we feel rather elated with our lives, as we engage with others we see, on the whole, so much suffering in the life of humanity. The digital age and the revolution of technology exposes us daily and more readily than in the past to enormous quantities of stories of human suffering and tragedy.
This discussion will reflect on two questions:
The first noble truth also defines human suffering as an internal issue for humanity. Science would define this internal experience of duhka as psychic or psychological, emotional suffering. The human intellect, with our innate capacity and ability of thought, can act almost as an enemy to us in life. Thought alone, with recollection upon memories of psychological trauma, for instance, can inflict us with suffering repeatedly, long after the traumatic event has passed.
Add to this the knowledge we carry that informs us, almost unconsciously, that we will age, get sick and ultimately, we know, we are going to die. This makes human life seem rather pointless. To some, the ultimate suffering of knowing we are living only to one day die, is what we might refer to as a meaningless life. No matter how hard we might try to not think about our inevitable demise, we can't help but think about it. Death, we know is waiting for us all. We've seen death. We know this is true. With this knowledge, we suffer.
The theory of natural selection in science supports the Buddha's reference to life as suffering in a more sterile form. Natural selection suggests that only the strong among us will survive. By survival, the theory of natural selection proposes that as a species of primate, not far removed from the abilities of the chimp, our quest in life is also a simple one. In this theory of science, the aim of humanity is to leave behind on earth, as many copies, individually, of our genes as possible to carry on into the next and coming generations.
Therefore, individual human life is a life of competition with other humans, to ensure the passing on of our genes. The study of evolutionary biology is the science we might engage to support this position to define the human condition or predicament. Evolutionary biology proposes that all human activity is fueled by this survival of the fittest, internal biological drive within humanity.
The second noble truth taught by the Buddha, supports natural selections definition of human life. This second truth teaches that suffering has a cause and that this cause is, in fact, that we are constantly struggling as humans to survive. Individually, we are constantly trying to prove that we are important to the world and that our existence, individually, matters. Unfortunately, the teaching suggest that the harder we struggle to establish ourselves in our efforts to survive with importance, the more painful our experience of life becomes.
The third noble truth in the Buddha's teaching tells us that suffering can end. He says that our struggle to survive, and our effort to prove ourselves to the world isn't, at all, necessary and that we can make adjustments to get along in the world in a peaceful way, without the suffering we tend to endure. Basically, the Buddha says, if we can learn to act in a simple, direct and straight-forward manner with ourselves, by accepting the reality of life, we can eliminate the cause of our suffering. He tells us we can do this by abandoning our expectations about how we think things should be.
This takes us to the forth noble truth, proposed by the Buddha.The fourth noble truth is the way, or path to end the cause of suffering. The central theme of this path is the practice of meditation. For the purpose of this specific discussion, meditation, here, means the practice of mindfulness.
We become mindful, according to the Buddha, by abandoning our expectations about the way we think things should be and, out of our mindfulness, we begin to develop awareness about the way things really are. We begin to develop the insight that we can handle ourselves, and our relationships, and we can then learn to live peacefully and comfortably with ourselves and others in the world.
This is where Buddhism and science come together in an incredibly helpful way. Mental health practitioners are now incorporating mindfulness training into treatment modalities. Mindfulness practice, for those who suffer with a variety of medically defined mental illness, teaches the 'patient' to not only become mindful of behavior, but more importantly, mindfulness training teaches us to become aware of our thinking. By observing our thoughts, without judgement, we can see the thoughts that cause us pain. We can gently allow the thoughts to come and go, thereby eliminating power of negative thinking over time and with practice.
When we look at the tradition of the four noble truths with some comparisons to modern science, the two points of view seem to align. Specifically, when we consider the value of mindfulness teachings and apply the practice in therapy in mental health practice, there is harmony between the two schools of thought.
Speaking personally, I know mindfulness teachings have improved the outcome of my own experience with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I personally value the practice and now incorporate a few minutes, three times/day into my personal recovery plan. Many report the same value in the mental health community.
As we move towards healing our individual lives, it would appear, both Buddhism and modern science, with the application of mindfulness into treatments, can support one another without conflict. As for any conflicts with religion, we'll leave this discussion for another time. The single concept of mindfulness, is making a huge difference in terms of recovery potential for those who live with the effects of trauma.
Consider a study of Buddhist practice. Consider mindfulness training. Don't suffer with any ideas of conflict. Rather, embrace the concepts and you too will find a contributor to healing. Peace awaits and this peace has been a long time in coming. We all deserve this peace. We all deserve to experience an end to our sense of personal suffering. Mindfulness practice, adopted from Buddhism, can make all the difference.
Be Well. . . . . . . .
Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia: Mindfulness (psychology): 2014 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness_%28psychology%29
Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia: The Four Noble Truths: 2014 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Four_Noble_Truths
Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia: Natural Selection: 2014 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_selection
Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia: Evolutionary Biology: 2014 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_biology
The Trauma Recovery Blog: Thought & Mindfulness: 2014 http://www.traumarecoverybc.com/1/post/2014/02/thought-mindfulness.html
"Post Traumatic Stress is an anxiety disorder that leaves sufferers feeling overwhelmed. It is a normal reaction to exposure to traumatic events. Learn about the impact on the body, mind and emotion and how people recover." ~ Dr. Anna Baraanowsky