Month: March 2010

a test case

careful step

I’m experimenting with an alternate reality for my blog.  I’d forgotten that I established this WordPress account 3 years ago; maybe I found it too difficult to use.  Oh well, let’s hope that it’s accessible for viewing in China.

Week 3…


…and I’m falling naturally into the rhythms of a new life. This semester is going much more smoothly than the last, which was simply an endurance contest of long classes and recalcitrant students.

In the first two weeks, I’ve had two moments of clarity. For those not familiar with 12-Step-speak, a moment of clarity translates as a “lucid moment,” and falls somewhere between clear thinking and a startling revelation. The first occurred during one of the best classes I’ve ever taught, last Tuesday, in which I drilled and prompted my six students into greater fluency by practicing short phrases of a sentence, then gradually putting them together into one smooth unit. I also taught how to “count” the syllables in a sentence, saying the numbers rhythmically instead of the words, to train the ear for the sounds of English. It was teaching at its most brilliant, yet I couldn’t repeat the performance to save my life during the rest of the week. Oh well.

The second moment of clarity came in the middle of my classical guitar lesson, when I realized that berating myself and feeling like an untalented failure was a waste of time and energy. I have the rest of my life to become a proficient guitar player, and it will take as long as it takes; my fingers will obey me when they’re good and ready. I think my mini-revelation involved understanding “practice” for the first time. I was able to equate guitar practice with Zen practice, in terms of understanding it as just an extension of my meditation or reading. Words of wisdom:

“Rather than placing discipline into the category of self-flagellation, we should exalt it to its rightful position of self-love and get on shamelessly with it.”

It’s a question of sitting still, paying attention, and making the mind one with what is happening that moment. All my life, since childhood piano lessons, “learning” something or “practicing” it were bound up with guilt, shame, impatience, misery, and harsh self-judgment. Funny how a state of mind becomes a way of life.

This clarity may also have been inspired by The Book That Changed My Life: Bill Porter’s Zen Baggage: a Pilgrimage to China. I’ve now read it twice.

I’m back into my exercise routine at the gym – sometimes. You see, since I last updated this blog I’ve become afflicted with lower back pain. It’s been more severe and lasted longer than in the past. A couple of massage therapy sessions seemed to make it worse, so now I’m experimenting with stretching exercises and light workouts.

In the meantime, I’m maintaining my stair-climbing lifestyle: apartment on the 6th floor, guitar lessons on the 6th , classes on the 5th (and sometimes the 3rd). It’s a living.