Life is a great school, and nature is the ultimate teacher, but without awareness, or free attention, we miss life's teachings. Awareness transforms life experience into wisdom, and confusion into clarity. Awareness is the beginning of all growth.
Learning is more than knowing something new; rather, it involves doing something new. The process of learning naturally involves errors. Masters make as many mistakes as anyone; but they learn from them. To correct and learn from an error, you need to become aware of it. Awareness of a problem is the beginning of the solution.
Body mind masters are willing to make fools of themselves, to accept their feelings of embarrassment or awkwardness, to begin anew and continue practicing.
Awareness of Errors Leads to Progress
The usual measure of progress in a sport is the results: if you win the match, sink the putt, accomplish your goal, then everything seems fine, but if you lose, you know something is wrong. Awareness transforms that vague "something" into a specific action you can correct or improve. As Lily Tomlin once said, "I always wanted to be somebody, but maybe I should have been more specific."
Most problems precisely defined
are already partially solved. -- Harry Lorayne
If awareness were an intellectual capacity, then infants couldn't learn. But awareness extends far beyond conceptual understanding to a whole-body sensitivity arrived at through direct experience. Trying to learn or improve a skill without specific awareness is like trying to apply a postage stamp without adhesive -- it won't stick.
Learn to think with the whole body.
-- Taisen Deshimaru, Swordmaster
In training, as in life, errors are always with us. Learning is a process of refining errors to the point where they no longer prevent our desired goal. Errors exist even in our space program, but they have been minimized to an almost invisible level. Even the "perfect 10.0" routines of Olympic gymnasts contain errors, but they are small enough to be considered irrelevant. Smaller errors make the master.
On our journey to mastery, become aware of weaknesses as well as strengths. Awareness of our weaknesses enables us to strengthen them and improve consistently. Awareness of our strengths breeds confidence and satisfaction.
Awareness, Disillusion, and Success
Awareness heals, but healing isn't always pleasant. Like a heavy drinker's first realization that "I am an alcoholic", awareness may be painful, but it frees us from illusion and empowers growth.
During my first few months training in the martial art of Aikido, I felt frustrated. Proper execution of the Aikido movements requires relaxation even while under attack. In the face of this demand to relax, I began to notice tension in my shoulders. At first I thought the training was making me tense. In fact, it seemed I was more tense than ever. But I came to realize that I was only becoming aware of tension I had always carried.
This awareness, while troubling, allowed me to see and move beyond my tension tendencies and to learn dynamic relaxation.
Seeing Your Weaknesses Is A Sign of Progress
As my freshmen on the Stanford gymnastics team became more aware of their errors, they would tell me in frustration how they "used to be better in high school" and were "going downhill". This concerned me -- until I saw films of them the year before, when it became obvious that they had improved radically. Now aware of their errors, they had raised their standards.
This feeling that you are "getting worse" is a sign of growing awareness. When writers are able to read their last draft and see their weaknesses, their writing progresses. Awareness in sport, in relationships, in any learning, often entails a momentary drop in self-esteem, a dent in self-image. But this willingness to clearly see and acknowledge our many mistakes -- to doggedly but temporarily make a fool of ourselves -- opens the door to body mind mastery. When we feel like we're "getting worse", we are finally ready to get much better.
Most of us are willing to see our physical mistakes. The path of body mind mastery also entails the willingness to acknowledge our mental and emotional foibles -- to see ourselves in a less flattering light. We all have shadow qualities, traits that are still immature or underdeveloped. These traits often remain hidden -- especially from ourselves and our conscious awareness only to surface momentarily in times of upset, pressure, or crisis.
We resist awareness of mental and emotional weaknesses because it's easier to see physical errors -- you can visually observe the results. If you swing and miss the baseball, slice the golf shot, or serve into the net, for example, it's pretty obvious that you are making an error. Emotional and mental weaknesses are much more difficult to observe because the results of such weaknesses aren't as obvious or immediate.
We also identify more closely with our minds and emotions than we do with our bodies. Most people are more reluctant to acknowledge mental or emotional illness than physical illness. It stings more when we're called stupid or immature than when we're called physically awkward. What we identify with, we tend to defend.
An ice-cream vendor, pushing his cart through a park, stopped to listen to someone sermonizing. As the speaker yelled, "Down with Fascism! . . . Down with Communism . . . Down with big government!" the ice-cream vendor nodded and smiled in agreement. But his expression suddenly soured and he walked off, muttering under his breath, when the speaker added, "Down with ice cream!"
Shining the Light of Awareness on Ourselves
Awareness is like sunlight over a dark well. You don't see the creatures crawling around down there until the light of awareness shines directly on them. This leads to humility, compassion, and freedom. Many of us, when faced with a relationship crisis or difficulty, have seen parts of ourselves we're not too crazy about. The same kind of awareness emerges in the fires of training and competition.
After many years as an athlete and coach (and husband and father) I've had many opportunities to recognize my own foolishness. It's never easy on my self-esteem, but these moments of insight and acceptance have been essential to the progress I've made as an athlete and human being.
Then the time came
when the risk it took
to remain tight in a bud
was more painful than
the risk it took to blossom. -- Anais Nin
For children, errors are natural; nearly all of what young children do is make errors -- learning to walk, drink from a glass, or ride a bike. Kids wet their pants, fall over, drop things. Yet they learn with a pace beyond nearly any adult. Once you drop your defenses and become "like little children" on your journey toward mastery, your learning accelerates.
Opening to the light of awareness provides a significant leap up the mountain path toward the peaks of body mind mastery.
The Growth of Awareness
Awareness, like everything else, is subject to the law of natural order, expanding from the gross (noticing you've just stubbed your toe) to the subtle (noticing that your energy and attention are out of balance). The following story illustrates the respect for refined awareness common in the East, especially in the martial arts traditions:
An old samurai warrior knew his time on earth was nearing an end and wished to bequeath his sword to the brightest of his three sons. He designed a test.
He asked a friend to hide just inside his barn, above the doorway, and gave him three small bags of rice. He then invited each son inside, one at a time.
The first son, after feeling the rice bag fall on his head, drew his sword and cut the bag in half before it hit the ground.
The second son halved the bag even before it hit his head.
The third son, sensing something amiss, declined to enter the barn -- and so earned his father's sword.
I learned to speak as I learned to skate or cycle:
by doggedly making a fool of myself until I got used to it.
- George Bernard Shaw
Beginners, by definition, are not yet aware of their errors in a particular skill. One sage reminds us, "We're all ignorant; only on different subjects." No matter what our accomplishments in certain areas of life, we're all beginners as we enter new territory.
The Margaret Analogy
At Oberlin College, I once had the pleasure of coaching a dedicated diver named Margaret. Her progressive growth of awareness in learning a particular dive parallels the stages we all go through in training -- and in daily life.
After her first attempt at a dive, she had no awareness of what she had done wrong and had to rely entirely on my feedback.
After several attempts, she could recount what she had done incorrectly after the dive was finished and the errors had been made.
Before long she was becoming aware of her errors during the dive.
Finally, in one attempt, her awareness was integrated with body, mind, and emotions before the dive, and the errors were corrected before they were made. The dive was beautiful.
This example has profound implications for daily life, because we go through the same process in all kinds of learning situations. In athletics or in everyday life, self-awareness on all levels -- physical, emotional, mental -- must touch the core of your being, to the point of catalyzing a change in behavior. Intellectual awareness alone isn't enough.
Now comes a key point: Although we can indirectly influence our mind and emotions, we have little or no direct control over thoughts or feelings, which rise and pass like weather fronts. We have significantly more control over our behavior -- despite what we are, or are not, thinking or feeling. In fact, our behavior (how we move our arms, legs, and mouth) is the only thing we can directly control. This is a great secret of success.
©1999 . Reprinted with permission of
New World Library, Novato, CA, USA 94949.
Body Mind Mastery: Training for Sport and Life
by Dan Millman.
Drawing on his own experiences, Dan Millman, in this revised and updated edition of The Inner Athlete, offers a regimen to integrate physical training with psychological growth. He examines the motivations for athletic excellence and offers a transformative guide to success that is as applicable in everyday life as it is in sports.
About The Author
Dan Millman is a former world trampoline champion, marital arts instruction, gymnastics coach, and faculty member at Stanford, U.C. Berkeley, and Oberlin College. Dan's books have inspired million of people in twenty languages worldwide. He is the author of the well-known classic The Way of the Peaceful Warrior. His most recent book, Living on Purpose, is published by New World Library, www.newworldlibrary.com. For information, about Dan Millman's work, visit his website at www.danmillman.com.