Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Perfectly Imperfect

I’m a reader. I would like to say that I’m an avid reader, but that comes and goes depending on the time left in a day. Yes, sadly, reading is one of my favorite activities that takes a back seat to anything else I’ve got going on. I am woefully backlogged with my reading list. In fact, I haven’t even added to the list in almost a year. Even so, at this point, and at this rate, I won’t get through it until my 127th birthday.

However, there are two books that I keep handy and that I read and re-read bits of every day. One is The Art of Peace by Morihei Ueshiba, and the other is the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. As with any truly great philosophical tome, they both translate into life, love, art, and of course, war (both with known and unknown, tangible and intangible enemies). Though both books are well worn, covers are bent, pages are dog-eared and smudged, I find something new in them each time I stop to read. Such was the case this morning. It should be noted that I typically flip both books open to a random page. Upon doing so with The Art of Peace, I fell upon Ueshiba’s words with a nod and an okay-you-got-me-Sensei grin. I landed on the 67th article which reads:

It is necessary to develop a strategy
that utilizes all the physical conditions
and elements that are directly at hand.
The best strategy relies
upon an unlimited set of responses.

How many times do I catch myself thinking, “If only I had, If only I could, If only there was, If only, ifonlyifonlyifonly…" The whole time I’ve got exactly what I need. In fact, we all have exactly what we need for this moment. It’s up to us to adopt what we have to our situation, needs and dreams, and it’s up to us to adapt ourselves to what we have. Only then can we move fluidly through the day. John’s words, “Adapt or Die,” are a keystone for me when I’m faced with a challenge.

I often watch the Food Network show, Chopped. Chefs are given a basket full of oddball mystery ingredients. Upon opening the basket, they get 20 minutes to combine them into an edible, presentable dish. It’s become predictable that the chefs who freeze over an ingredient, who allow themselves to become completely stymied by it, do not fare as well as the chefs who look at the ingredients and take a moment to talk themselves through it. The stymied chefs immediately fly into action working with the ingredients they’re familiar with, only to be left at the two minute warning still wondering what to do with the other ingredient. But, the chef who spends a minute taking it all in, the chef who says, “Okay, I’ve got sweet, I’ve got salty, I’ve got heavy fruit flavor, and I’ve got venison… what will tie these together?”… that chef prevails. That chef prevails simply because he or she has managed to do just what Ueshiba suggested.

I’ve gotten into a funny habit lately. When I’m feeling stuck on a project, or uninspired trying to come up with something new, I close my eyes and grab whatever color of paper I land on, and whatever stamp set my fingers first touch. Then I challenge myself to come up with a usable design in 15 minutes or less. Guess what happens? More often than not, three hours go by as I’m happily lost in the world of artistic creation, and even better, I’ve either discovered a new technique or I’m using elements I hadn’t thought of before. Why? I’m using what’s at hand and I’ve opened myself to an unlimited set of responses.

So, I pondered all of this after reading Ueshiba’s words. Then I did my random flip to a page in the Tao Te Ching. Guess what? Lightening does strike twice. In Verse 45 Lao Tzu lays it on the line all over again. (Note: The word Tao translates to the way.)

True perfection seems imperfect,
yet it is perfectly itself.
True fullness seems empty,
yet it is fully present.

True straightness seems crooked.
True wisdom seems foolish.
True art seems artless.

The Master allows things to happen.
She shapes events as they come.
She steps out of the way
and lets the Tao speak for itself.

Sometimes we allow ourselves, more than anything or anyone else, to get in our own way. So, step aside and have an imperfectly perfect day. Now if you’ll pardon me, I’m off to unlimited my responses and lose myself to the artless wonder of the day.

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