Known to Unknown

I had two conversations yesterday that carried a common thread. While I was the common denominator in both, the principle outlined came from my riding coach and a new business associate, not from me. I couldn’t help but notice the coincidence and I am compelled to share it with you this morning. When you understand this principle, you will save yourself a lot of wasted time and energy.

The basic principle is this: you can only move from the known to the unknown. When you get stuck or get off track, you typically have to go back a step to find the flat spot in understanding that is preventing you form moving forward, find a way to fill it in and then try again.

I’ve experienced this in conversations as well as in the development of my skills as a rider and my horse’s ability to perform as a riding horse. When you’re speaking with someone and something is said that you don’t understand – be it a word, a concept or a reference – that disconnect becomes an obstacle to the smooth flow of conversation. You might continue on, but part of your mind will be stuck and likely bumping into the wall of misunderstanding until it is either resolved or you forget about it altogether.

When training a horse, you find that difficulties in a particular gait, say the canter, are often the result of improper preparation of the horse by the rider (e.g. a poor transition from trot to canter stemming from a lack of rhythm, balance, etc. in the trot). To correct the canter you may have to go back to the fundamentals to determine the missing element in the foundation.

Some develop the habit of disregarding the disconnect and pushing through, but such an approach inevitably leads to failure when the demands are increased and the pressure intensifies. Others take the opposite approach and shut down when they get stuck. From that point forward, learning and growth cease in relation to that point.

Take note when you get stuck or are off track. Don’t dwell on it or obsess about it, just relax, wait for a moment to see if understanding comes as a result of the bigger picture in which the element is set and if it doesn’t, go back to the point of deviation and reset the foundation.

You cannot move from the unknown to the known. You can only move from the known to the unknown. It’s a simple principle that, properly applied, will make you much more effective in living.

Success is Optional

Success is a science; if you have the conditions, you get the result.” ~ Oscar Wilde

A perfectly aligned set of circumstances is more often the exception than the rule. Resources are frequently insufficient, tools are disorganized, agreements are not set and objections stand in the way no matter what you undertake, so one of the keys to success is learning to bring order out of the chaos, methodically, efficiently and with all the heart you can summon.

A green horse, for example, comes to the rider not as a perfectly balanced, collected and fit specimen, but with physical imbalances and mental immaturity. The rider must construct, step by step, the control necessary to gather its forces in a way that counteracts the unevenness that come as a result of its physical conformation. Just like human beings, no two horses are physically alike and the rider must take great care to progressively build a container for the forces which will be imposed upon the weight of the horse as the training progresses and the demands increase.

When the physical imbalances and resistances are dealt with, they do not develop into mental ones. If, however, the rider out of ignorance whether it be willful or from a lack of experience fails to bring his horse to a better balance yet continues to increase his demands, the horse will quickly learn to take advantage of the loopholes in the pattern of control provided by the rider. Not only do the holes show up later when pressure is added and the back doors are not closed, but the physical resistances then become mental or moral in nature, further complicating the rider’s task. I am convinced that 99% of all horse problems are caused by riders who fail to properly set a foundation in early gymnastic training, that is, they fail to master the basics before moving on to the intermediate and advanced work.

The same is true in sales, or any other function within a company for that matter. Many new sales people, for instance, channel energy that should be trained upon the fundamentals into grand ideas that they believe will allow them to shorten the time from start-up to success. They decide, for instance, not to make a fixed number of prospecting calls every day (usually out of a lack of self-discipline that is fueled by the fear of rejection), and rely instead on the notion that they will land the “big deal” with the whale they happened to sail by the other day. Paying steady attention to the fundamentals reinforces your foundation and you need a strong foundation to support the weight of success.

You’ve no doubt heard stories of a young actor or musician who was propelled into stardom without sufficient time to prepare for the pressure of that success. What usually happens? Disaster. Or you might have seen what happens to many people who finally win the lottery. They go broke the next year after a big blowout. Success requires a foundation upon which it can rest, for as with horses, adding energy to a poorly contained system invariably causes leaks that, under greater pressure, rupture the entire container.

Success, in this sense, is optional. You can do the work, create the conditions necessary to breed success and succeed. Or you can try it your way, sacrificing integrity for expediency. The latter approach can at times give the appearance of working in the short-term, but only the former stands the test of time, especially when the going gets rough or the pressure is on.

The choice is yours.


The Truth is True

I stumbled upon an excellent article yesterday in The New York Times Sunday Review entitled “Biased but Brilliant.” The author, Cordelia Fine, a senior research associate at the Melbourne Business School, points to research showing that confirmation bias – the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions, leading to statistical errors – is not only present in the halls of science, but it leads in a round about way to the discovery of truth.

While this may be true, it seems to me that there must be more efficient ways to arrive at the same destination.

I spent part of my undergraduate and graduate studies in France and while I was there one of my professors told me that the French love to argue (a fairly well-earned stereotype) and that the quality of the argument was more highly prized than the veracity of the position being argued. This was a disturbing thought to me at the time and in many ways still is, especially since the truth is so often hidden from view when false ideas are well-supported by confirmation bias.

Human consciousness as a whole is a crucible for creation. The lack of coordination and harmony between individuals coupled with the intensely competitive environment in churches, schools, businesses and government buildings between groupings of individuals results in progress, albeit at a great cost. We get there, but it’s messy and it’s not pretty.

As an example of this, Olympic Equestrian Anky van Grunsven won a gold medal in the 2000 Olympics on her horse, Bonfire. She had trained Bonfire using a controversial method she and a partner developed called “Rollkur,” where hyperflexion of the neck (the horse’s chin is pulled back toward his chest) is used to supple the horse’s neck and back, a technique that some claim achieves its positive outcomes by means of unnecessary if not abusive tension between horse and rider.

Particularly upsetting to her critics was the fact that Anky won the gold medal despite having scored terribly in the walk, the gait that most classically-trained riders see as a fundamental building block to just about everything else riders ask a horse to do. She had a hole in her foundation from their perspective, as was evidenced by her poor performance at the walk, but she won the gold. Whether or not her approach lacked integrity I cannot say, but these types of provocative disconnects happen all the time.

At the end of the day, the truth is true, no matter how human beings act in relation to it. While our humanity complicates our discovery of truth, it also compels us to continue questing for it. Many of our efforts are clumsy, if not foolish, especially when squared against a related element of known truth.

Confirmation bias may be of some value in the larger sense, but in the life of the individual it only serves to slow the process of becoming acquainted with the truth. The truth is unbiased, it is absolute, and the means are as important as the end when it comes to the truth as the truth is never in conflict with itself. Neither is a truth in one area of living ever in conflict with a truth in another. Irrational loyalty to opinions and beliefs may bring comfort, but when those opinions and beliefs are not grounded in truth such loyalties are disunifying to the individual.

If you believe that appearances are more important than the underlying reality, then this post does not merit further consideration. If, however, you value substance over show, absolute truth over high quality copy, then take a few moments to weigh my message, not against the opinions and beliefs you hold, but against the truth that you know, the truth you have proven in your living!

Kronos and Kairos

Kronos (Κρόνος) is an ancient Greek word meaning chronological or sequential time. It is measured by clocks, we tend to race against it and somewhere along the way we began to equate it with money. While virtually everything in modern civilization hangs upon this word, there is another type of time that is often overlooked, kairos (καιρός).

Kairos signifies the “right,” “opportune” or “supreme” moment. It is the perfect time in which the archer must release his arrow to hit his desired mark, the ideal moment in which a weaver passes the shuttle through the shed on his loom or even the educated rider’s ability to make best use of the constantly changing forces he encounters while training his horse.

Kairos cannot be measured as can kronos, yet it intersects the linear path of time we are so familiar with in our daily routines. One way of looking at it is this: kairos is to kronos as wisdom is to intelligence. Those sensitive to kairos develop an uncommon sense of the fitness of things, or as Isocrates wrote, it is seen by those “who manage well the circumstances which they encounter day by day, and who possess a judgment which is accurate in meeting occasions as they arise and rarely misses the expedient course of action.”

François Baucher was a nineteenth century French horseman of great merit. Baucher developed a system of schooling horses based largely on principles articulated in classical equitation that had as its goal the total disposition of the horse’s strength, making the horse “a docile instrument, submissive to all the impulses of his will.” Count Antoine Cartier D’Aure was a similarly talented rider who preferred the modernist (at the time) approach, which was more or less in direct opposition that of Baucher. D’Aure sought a more natural balance and he summarized his method as going “forward! always forward! and once again forward!”

As you can imagine, the friction between these two men was the source of significant controversy in French equitation, at a time when the entire French nation was moving through a crucible of ideas and movements that were redefining its national character. While I do not claim to know whose method was more correct, it is interesting to me that in kronos these two men represented opposing forces but in kairos they were united. Both were not only able to take into account the contingencies of the forces at work in and on the horse while considering the opportunities to counteract the bad distribution of those forces and the stiffness caused by bad conformation in a way that compels the horse to greater lightness and equilibrium, they were able to do this – which incidentally sounds much easier in theory than it is in practice – with sprezzatura.

Sprezzatura in its purest form is the spark which flies from the flint of kairos as it is struck upon the cold and steely march of kronos. It is the quality which leads men to say, “he made that look so easy.”

I am convinced that life is meant to be filled with such moments. We are not here to bide out time until the bitter end, to march through the minutes, days and years with our heads down and our spirits low, rather, we are here to bring the spark of life to bear upon the tinder of the world around us. If we are living correctly, we are motivating, compelling, entreating and assisting the world around us to rise up and refine. Every thought, word and deed can be harnessed to this aim and it can be done without sacrificing the joy of living.

Why not see your world as a green and young horse who longs to be mastered and to serve with you, to be brought into communion with you in the accomplishment of higher purposes than either of you could achieve on your own? Kairos is withheld from no one, but you must do the preparatory work to be in position to perceive it.

Why not start now?

Kinetic Fluidity

Have you ever stumbled across a realization in one area of your life that unlocks the door to understanding in another? This can occur with relative frequency to the degree that you view your life holistically, rather than as a collection of compartments.

Modern science conditions us to think reductively, to the point that our primary approach in understanding complex matters is to break it down into its component parts and then study their interrelationships. We’ve amassed mountains of information about our physical bodies, for instance, by dissecting them into increasingly small bits. There is no doubt that this approach provided us with a giant leap forward in our understanding of how our bodies work and what goes wrong when they don’t.

That said, there are times where reductionism causes those who employ it to lose the forest for the trees. My riding coach and I had an interesting discussion the other day about suppling, that is, working with a horse in a way that reduces its resistances and muscular tension so that it can move with greater precision, balance and lightness. This topic has long been of interest to horseman, for these resistances stand in the way of just about every one of the horseman’s goals in any riding discipline.

The conversation started with a realization made in my own personal training, an “aha” moment that my trainer and I had some time ago about the importance of healthy fascia in human fitness. Little is known about fascia, likely because medical researchers and anatomists over the last two centuries have focused on the seemingly more important organs, tissues and cells that lie within it, but I found this description in an article in the June 2011 issue of Running Times:

Under your skin, encasing your body and webbing its way through your insides like spider webs, is fascia. Fascia is made up primarily of densely packed collagen fibers that create a full body system of sheets, chords and bags that wrap, divide and permeate every one of your muscles, bones, nerves, blood vessels and organs. Every bit of you is encased in it. You’re protected by fascia, connected by fascia and kept in taut human shape by fascia.

Why didn’t anyone mention fascia earlier? Because not many people know that much about it. Fascia’s messy stuff. It’s hard to study. It’s so expansive and intertwined it resists the medical standard of being cut up and named for textbook illustrations. Besides that, its function is tricky, more subtle than that of the other systems. For the majority of medical history it’s been assumed that bones were our frame, muscles the motor, and fascia just packaging.

In fact, the convention in med-school dissections has been to remove as much of the fascia as possible in order to see what was underneath, the important stuff. That framed Illustration hanging in your doctor’s office of the red-muscled, wide-eyed human body is a body with its fascia cut away; it’s not what you look like inside, but it’s a lot neater and easier to study and it’s the way doctors have long been taught to look at you. Until recently, that is.

The article continued:

What exactly does it do? It wraps around each of your individual internal parts, keeping them separate and allowing them to slide easily with your movements. It’s strong, slippery and wet. It creates a sheath around each muscle; because it’s stiffer, it resists over-stretching and acts like an anatomical emergency break. It connects your organs to your ribs to your muscles and all your bones to each other. It structures your insides in a feat of engineering, balancing stressors and counter-stressors to create a mobile, flexible and resilient body unit. It generally keeps you from being a big, bone-filled blob.

“Fascia is the missing element in the movement/stability equation,” says Tom Myers, author of the acclaimed book Anatomy Trains. Myers was among the first medical professionals to challenge the field’s ignorance of fascia in the human body. He has long argued for a more holistic treatment, with a focus on the fascia as an unappreciated overseer. “While every anatomy lists around 600 separate muscles, it is more accurate to say that there is one muscle poured into six hundred pockets of the fascial webbing. The ‘illusion’ of separate muscles is created by the anatomist’s scalpel, dividing tissues along the planes of fascia. This reductive process should not blind us to the reality of the unifying whole.”

What rocked the medical community’s world was this: Fascia isn’t just plastic wrap. Fascia can contract and feel and impact the way you move. It’s our richest sense organ, it possess the ability to contract independently of the muscles it surrounds and it responds to stress without your conscious command. That’s a big deal. It means that fascia is impacting your movements, for better or worse. It means that this stuff massage therapists and physical therapists and orthopedists have right at their fingertips is the missing variable, the one they’ve been looking for.

The perils of reductionism exposed! It pays to consider the unifying whole on occasion, lest we become so obsessed with the minutiae that we lose sight of the unity of the topic under consideration. In other words, it pays to take a step back every so often…a point well-worth remembering in your personal and professional life.

When it comes to horses, suppling can be seen to relate more properly to both muscles and fascia. I believe that it is entirely possible for a horse to be brought to the point where his muscles are relaxed and supple, while retaining adhesions and inelastic fascia (made so by injuries, improper training, incorrect movements over time, etc.). I’ve experienced this in my own physical training and I am sure that the concept translates perfectly into the bodies of our beloved horses.

How to restore that fascia to healthy function is fodder for a later post, but I know that in human fitness training and bodywork, therapists and trainers have had a lot of success by using techniques such as Feldenkrais, the Alexander Technique, Flexibility Highways in Motion, Rolfing and other approaches to myofascial release.

If our physical health can be improved by remembering to take a holistic view on occasion, so too can our lives in general. Forward movement is improved when all of the parts articulate in coordinated agreement. If you are moving in one direction in one area of your life, say towards greater integrity and refinement, while maintaining destructive and conflicting habits in other areas of your life, your progress will be impeded. It may seem like common sense, but in my observation, many take this very approach.

Think about your own life for the moment. Are there areas of chronic tension that don’t seem to line up with other areas in you and in your life that are more relaxed, flowing and easy-going? Those points are worth taking a closer look at, but sometime taking a closer look doesn’t mean zooming in, it means zooming out. Look at them in relation to the big picture. Get them in perspective. Doing so makes it infinitely easier to choose the right course of corrective action.


The Power of Truth

The relationship between horse and rider is sacred. Each must adapt what is natural in movement and balance to accommodate the other. Watch a riderless horse in a turn, for instance, and you may see him transfer weight to his inside legs, leaning into the turn and twisting himself to counterbalance the centripetal and centrifugal forces that come with the change in direction. A well-trained horse with a knowledgeable rider, however, maintains his rhythm, latitudinal and longitudinal balances and moves with lightness while lifting his rider high.

As the elusive and delicate balances are approached in any one of the gaits, resistance builds, signifying progress toward the ideal. Just on the other side of the resistance lies a unity that comes only with careful preparation and deliberate execution. The turbulence is a positive sign, not something to fret about, struggle against or cry over, and every good rider knows to hold steady through the rise and fall of resistance.

The experience of truth is much the same. As you approach, tension mounts, placing strain on the ties that bind you to untruths, misapprehensions and faulty logic. If you react to the increasing demand from truth’s call to precision, you will fail. Throw your head, buck and rear and you only place yourself farther from the state of union with the truth that you seek. Relax into the understanding while giving more than you ever thought possible, on the other hand, and you will move quickly past the point of resistance to the point of union with the aspect of truth at hand.

William George Jordan offered a compelling description of truth in his book “The Power of Truth, Individual Problems and Possibilities”:

What is the truth? Truth is the rock foundation of every great character. It is loyalty to the right as we see it; it is courageous living of our lives in harmony with our ideals; it is always—power.

Truth ever defies full definition. Like electricity is can only be explained by noting its manifestation. It is the compass of the soul, the guardian of conscience, the final touchstone of right. Truth is the revelation of the ideal; but it is also an inspiration to realize that ideal, a constant impulse to live it.

Truth is the only substance strong enough to penetrate the armor of human nature. Humanity is the loyal subject of human nature, fearing it, seeking to control it, yet inevitably succumbing to its wiles and creature comforts. Only a handful of our forefathers managed to overcome its gravitational pull, yet oddly enough those who escaped and pointed to the exits were at first reviled by the very prisoners who seek release and then removed, often violently, from the scene.

Rational thought would question such an conflict-ridden approach, but rationalization quickly seals off the exit doors, blocking out the light which shines brightly from the inside out. The mind strong-arms the heart, whispering “better to be in familiar darkness than to risk seeing that you’ve been deceived when the lights come on.”

What is now normal is not necessarily natural. Human nature has become what it now is over time and gives evidence of the wear and tear of living just beyond the borders of truth in the world of unreality. Any time that border is crossed, the light of truth reveals the lies and misconceptions for what they are. You may feel a fool or wish you could have realized the truth of the matter earlier, but hold steady and the embarrassment and shame are quickly healed by the warmth and comfort of new-found understanding.

Now matter how unfair, confusing or harsh the world may be, you were born to be a companion of the truth, to know its sweetness and to revel in as well as magnify its beauty. How, you may ask, do you come to know the truth? Jordan notes four practical points of connection:

The power of Truth, in its highest, purest, and most exalted phases, stands squarely of four basic lines of relations,—the love of truth, the search for truth, faith in truth, and work for truth.

The love of Truth is the cultivated hunger for it in itself and for itself, without any thought of what it may cost, what sacrifices it may entail, what theories or beliefs of a life-time may be laid desolate. In its supreme phase, this attitude of life is rare, but unless one can begin to put himself into harmony with this view, the individual will only creep in truth, which he might walk bravely. With the love of truth, the individual scorns to do a mean thing, no matter what be the gain, even if the whole world. He would not sacrifice the sanction of his own high standard for any gain, he would not willingly deflect the needle of his thought and act from the true North, as he knows it, by the slightest possible variation. He himself would know of the deflection—that would be enough. What matters it what the world thinks if he have his own disapproval?

Oddly enough, the closer you come to knowing and revealing the truth, the more likely it is that you will be reviled by men who, cloaked in the tattered rags of human nature, are jealous, fearful that their compromises might be brought to light or ashamed for having left the truth somewhere along the way.

The turbulence is inevitable but imminently penetrable. The examples of those who made it through stand as a testament to its possibility and as a constant, nagging reminder of its necessity.

What lies at the root of human nature today? A belief in imperfection. A conviction in the primacy of selfish concern and self-interest. The idea that we live in a “dog-eat-dog” world, that “might makes right,” that ingratitude and cruelty must be repaid in kind and that humility and kindness are signs of weakness. “Nobody’s perfect” is the slogan of all who subscribe to human nature and anyone who dares to reveal the truth is quickly chopped down and placed before the exit doors as a warning to all who dare leave the state ruled by the great usurper, human nature.

Aha! Moment

Never underestimate the power of realization. During my riding (horse) lesson on Sunday my trainer and I worked on gymnastic exercises designed to increase flexibility, strength and lightness. Both my horse and I had taken time off due to injuries, so we were both starting back up  at levels lower than we had left off. They say that the hardest part of exercise is getting started, and this lesson was no exception to the rule!

The exercises we were doing were basic, but demanding given the present level of fitness. Although I understood in concept why my horse was huffing and puffing about the exercises, I can say today that I feel I am much more empathetic about what he was going through during the lesson after my Pilates class yesterday.

If you have never tried Pilates, it is one of those forms of exercise – like yoga – that is much harder than it looks. Pilates emphasizes core strength and stabilization.

One of the movements during my session on the Reformer (a piece of equipment used in Pilates) was called the “Elephant.” The movement, shown to the right, involves articulating your legs back and forth at the hip joint while keeping everything else stable. This move is one of many exercises that strengthens the powerhouse – the pelvic floor muscles, Transversus, Multifidus, muscles of the inner thigh and the muscles circling the sitting bone area – that, in turn, offers a solid foundation for any movement.

This movement in particular was working at exactly what I was after in the gymnastic exercises with my horse. And boy did I feel it later! As I said, my empathy increased but so, too, did my resolve. Getting to the other side of this exercise was tremendously rewarding. Further, I realized again that lessons learned in one department of life come in handy in either the performance or the understanding of another.

Your life is one thing and approaching it with a holistic perspective has its advantages. As I mentioned in my post, Classical Education: A Primer,  the linkages between fields of study and areas of interest are of vital importance to anyone seeking to refine his or her expression. If you are frustrated, if progress is blocked in one area of your life, look to the areas where you are successful for clues as to how to restore the flow you know is possible.

Your life is one thing and the sooner you treat it as such, the better off you’ll be.