Guest post by Austin Barry
In the context of practice, which comes first? Is it that proficiency in a chosen discipline begets a passion for it, or does the passion stem from the cultivation of proficiency? In true chicken or the egg fashion, one could argue either way. Once in a while, a human arrives into being with a natural aptitude for something that yolks to their passions and, pending the meddling of stage parents or the influence of excessive drug abuse, that natural proficiency feeds the passion to continue to practice and thus become even more proficient. The other side of the coin is certainly evident as well; I can name a few individuals whose passions absolutely dictated their rise to becoming highly respected practitioners in their fields. Dave Grohl refers to his younger years, playing music in the garage, as just “sucking”. They made their noise until they found their voice and established a sound that resonated with an entire generation in such a capacity as to launch them to the very apex of their chosen field of expression. To this day, Nirvana continues to be a most necessary staple to any half decent rock collection.
So then, the recipe must integrate the two—both passion and proficiency—in order for the bread to rise. But in what measures? If we allow our proficiency alone to dictate our passion, then we will inevitably drain the joy out of that which we once loved. On the contrary, if we allow our passions to roam unchecked without a grounding dose of discipline, we will never graduate and our practice will cease to progress. We may even create confusion in our own being as to what our credentials actually are. Depending on our chosen area of study, this confusion could be at its worst, dangerous, and at its best, inauthentic. How do we proceed with this illusive balancing act? How do we give ourselves the freedom to be fulfilled by each step on the road toward proficiency while simultaneously committing firmly enough so that we may progress further? How do we muster the fortitude for the journey and the rocky, mountainous terrain that it will present, yet still be soft enough to find contentment with where we are on the path?
The learning process nurtures great vulnerability that, while sometimes uncomfortable, will always provide the friction necessary for softening the edges around our hearts. There is often that feeling of being watched: of being judged for where we are in our process versus where we think we’re supposed to be, as if the doors to our egos were blown off their hinges and everyone is now able to see the funny little man behind the curtain who hardly even knows what he’s doing, despite his often eloquent facade. Perhaps the answer is to remain fluid enough to use either side of the passion/proficiency spectrum as a raft when the waters become choppy. When the perceived ineptitude of the puppeteer is exposed; when we feel that we simply are not where we need to be; when the process is beating us down and taking no prisoners, we must remember to remember the passion we feel and the love we have for whatever the practice in question is. We must offer ourselves a window with a view of the possibility that whatever we have to offer in that moment of doubt, is plenty enough. When strength evicts sweetness and becomes the sole focus for practice, we must learn to soften our jaw and loosen our grip on the pendulum so that it may swing back toward playfulness and fluidity. And when we find that we have misplaced the diligence necessary to maintain our dedication towards improvement, we must remember that the freedom required to express exuberantly through any practice is sourced from the discipline it took to cultivate the skills.
Perhaps this relationship might be discovered on the breath? It could be seen in that expansive quality of the inhale that fills our lungs with life force, and in its harmony with the surrender of each equally critical exhale, which empties the vessel so that it may be filled again. Or perhaps it may be remembered through our continual cultivation of playfulness. More than likely, it will be found in our commitment to exercising the muscle of discernment—the patience to become quiet and the presence to listen for what is there; the integrity to distinguish between the echoes of our patterns and the wisdom that is found at the center of our simple beings—the wisdom that comes with Nirvana and the recognition of our unwavering entanglement with Kosmos.
Perhaps the recipe is forever written on that page which holds the precious reminder that our proficiency in practice is not indicative of our worth as practitioners, and that a practice that lacks either joy or discipline is not whole. Perhaps most importantly, the balance is most clear when we recall that any practice that does not leave us with greater stores of compassion is not the right one. So at the end of the day, maybe we just relax, take a breath, and allow ourselves to float on through the volatile waves of any long-term practice: the ups and the downs, the head winds and the undertows. Sometimes we will be atop the wave, sometimes we will find ourselves below with a mouth full of sand. Fortunately, lessons are as critical to proficiency as confidence, so either way, it’s progress. Either way, it’s practice.
With deep gratitude for her many teachers, Austin Barry explores her written inquiries from her home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She attributes her love of the written word and her enthusiasm for the evolution of consciousness to her early and ongoing passions for horses, literature and music. Connect with her on Facebook and find her writings at www.thatmercurialmind.blogspot.com.