Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Beach in Winter, and Leaving the Wall

The ocean near my house throws up debris in winter: tons of driftwood and a dead sea mammal or two. The scene reminds me of T.S. Eliot's poem, The Dry Salvages.

The sea is the land's edge also, the granite
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses

Its hints of earlier and other creation.

Arty San Franciscans assemble sculpture from found objects on the beach. 

Last night I took Max for his first ice-skating session. I'd only skated once in the last thirty years, myself. Max did well; he didn't get discouraged when he fell down. Both of us noted an important rule: You must resist the urge to put a hand on the outside wall, for balance. When I pulled him far away from the wall, Max skated 800% further without falling. 

Many people have observed this principle. It is expressed masterfully by Robert Greene in his book, The 33 Strategies of War:

In the back of your mind, you keep an escape route, a crutch, something to turn to if things go bad. . . . you may see the fallback as a blessing — but in fact it is a curse. It divides you. Because you think you have options, you never involve yourself deeply enough in one thing to do it thoroughly, and you never quite get what you want. . . .
A sense of urgency comes from a powerful connection to the present. Instead of dreaming of rescue or hoping for a better future, you have to face the issue at hand. Fail and you perish. People who involve themselves completely in the immediate problem are intimidating; because they are focusing so intensely, they seem more powerful than they are. Their sense of urgency multiplies their strength and gives them momentum. 

This is the kind of error that's easy to recognize in others, but difficult to acknowledge in ourselves. We think we are exceptions, that we have enough discipline to skate and hold onto a rail. Even if this tactic worked, it wouldn't be much fun. True satisfaction can only come from complete engagement with the present. Whether we succeed or fail, we'll want to know we've put all our attention into the effort. 

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