• Who am I?

    I am Qrystal; or at least, that's my dot-name! Har har. (My name is really Crystal, but that's not as internet-searchable; hence, switching the C for the little-used letter Q.)

    I am here because I enjoy writing. I do this mostly for myself, but I also have a passion for helping others learn things from the things I write. Now that I am done my Ph.D. in Physics, I am stepping away from academic research so that I can indulge in some creative ways to share my knowledge and inspire the appreciation of scientific thinking in others. I am also working as a tutor, which is one of the jobs I've most enjoyed doing in my life so far.

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  • Saying ‘Yes’ to Challenge

    Posted by Qrystal on November 28, 2010 at 23:33.
    Category: Life. Tags: shiva nata, thesis.

    The title of this post makes me feel yucky contemplating it, but I’m going to keep it as it is because it is an important lesson I learned recently.  I mean, I’ve known for quite some time that it’s not a good idea to let myself say ‘No’ to challenges just because they’re difficult or are going to make me uncomfortable.  Lately, though, I’ve been starting to really feel the benefits of challenging myself.

    Yes, this is another post inspired by Shiva Nata, but no Shiva Nata is needed to understand this post, though I am going to mention some aspects of it very vaguely in order to give an example of how it has led me to understand my relationship with challenge.

    Shiva Nata and its Epiphanies

    The most important thing to note is that the Shiva Nata guide claims that there is a correlation between being challenged and experiencing epiphanies:  when the mind is struggling to piece together the patterns from the physical/mental workout that this Dance is, it also is more likely to piece together other information having to do with life experiences and ways of handling them.

    This is partly because pretty much everything we do in life involves patterns which have become habits, and when we become aware of the many ways a pattern can be mixed up, by reversing it or changing the starting position or even doing it some new and unexpected way, we can see the same kind of opportunities to mix up our own unhelpful patterns.  Or, at very least, we start to notice the patterns themselves, thus allowing ourselves to contemplate the beginning of investigating what to do about them.

    In Dance of Shiva, if we keep reiterating the same known patterns, we don’t end up learning ways to mix them up.  If we don’t get the motions wrong, our minds never have to figure out new ways of remembering how the patterns are pieced together.  The lack of challenge lets our minds relax into familiarity, so no new understanding or growth takes place.  If the mind is not changing, not learning how to observe or manipulate patterns, it can forget how to be flexible and learn and change and grow in other ways too.

    So, What About Challenge?

    The mind can also, I’ve found, forget that challenge can be fun.  (It can?!)  Challenge doesn’t necessarily, automatically, always have to mean ugh, stress, yuck, difficulty, yearning for it to be over.  Challenge can be a fascinating way to demonstrate ability, or a useful way to find out what else needs to be learned.  It can also bring great rewards of understanding, which I feel is a very worthy and important goal.  But I had forgotten this, and found myself wrapped up in the yuck part of challenge.

    This was especially prominent in my thesis work, where all the yuck-challenge made it difficult to move forward.  However, since I’ve started challenging myself with Shiva Nata, I’ve also been finding it much easier to face the challenge of figuring out “What Happens Next” in my thesis.  Noticing that curiosity is a better starting place than panic was just one step; I still had to acknowledge that there was some fear about the challenge, and see about finding ways to assure myself that I could handle the challenge.  I think the fact that I’ve been practicing something else challenging (Shiva Nata) has helped this immensely.  However, I’m still noticing more things about myself and how I face challenges.

    Challenges in Shiva Nata

    For example, when I was first learning the Level 1 Shiva Nata arm sequences, I wanted to analyze the patterns in detail and learn them awesomely, so I wrote down the steps.  I eventually worked my way up to not liking practicing with the DVD, because it either went so slow that I felt unchallenged, or it went so fast I didn’t have time to think about each step.  I didn’t like messing up (that’s definitely a pattern of mine!) or having to just keep going even after making a mistake (pattern!), so I didn’t do the fast steps.  In order to increase the challenge, then, I kept expanding what I could do, even if I could still only do them slowly.

    Eventually, I let myself try the Level 2 arm positions, after carefully making sure I was really good at knowing how the Level 1 arm positions flowed into one another, because Level 2 involves both of the Level 1 patterns (horizontal and vertical), doing one with each hand.  I was surprised to discover that I was remarkably good at the Level 2 arm patterns, thanks to my practice with Level 1.  However, I was resisting writing down the patterns, and I told myself it was because I wanted to make sure it remains at least a bit of a challenge… although, really, I think I was just afraid to take responsibility for knowing what to do next.  (Pattern!)

    So, partly in order to not have to learn Level 2 in detail and partly because Level 2 sequences are long enough make my arms quite tired, I returned to Level 1 to see if I could find combinations of steps that could perplex me.  One thing I tried was doing leg sequence 1 followed by leg sequence 2, because the motions are similar but different enough to be confusing.  I discovered I have no problems doing these slowly and carefully, and so I tried them fast instead.  I was drastically humbled by the experience:  I probably got maybe 5% of the movements right, maybe up to 25% half right (with either the feet or arms doing the right thing).

    When Screwing Up is a Good Thing

    Perhaps surprisingly, I was elated by my inability.  I was not just confused and failing;  I felt incredibly, deliciously lost, and giggling madly because of it, which was extremely uplifting (since as they say, laughter is an excellent medicine).  Plus, this confusion chased away the worry that I was mastering the Dance of Shiva too quickly and getting close to running out of instructional material (yeah, I might’ve been getting a little cocky with that worry, but it was there).

    Best of all, though, this challenge of doing the same stuff faster is going to encourage my mind to continue coming up with epiphanies.  Heck, starting to understand my relationship with challenge is quite an epiphany already, especially the profound fact that it is SO helpful to try and fail when looking to make progress.  Failure is a part of progress, not its opposite.  However, failure to try can definitely make progress impossible in some cases.

    So, even though the challenges involved in Shiva Nata and in thesis writing are quite different, progress in both can be accelerated just by floundering forward, letting repeated trials (or edits) smooth out the difficult parts.  Just knowing that I can be okay in the face of challenge, or even in the face of fumbling up wildly, means that a challenge in itself does not invoke as much anxiety as past challenges had.

    This feeling almost reminds me of my complete lack of test anxiety, back when I had classes and exams.  I used to see those as opportunities to demonstrate my knowledge, and I would sit down and face them like an absolute champ.  Then again, I pretty much was a champ because I was awesome at taking tests, since it was all about reiterating things that I already knew.  The real challenge was in learning, and — oh!  I always used to procrastinate studying, perhaps because it was the thing I found most challenging!  So this pattern isn’t new!!!

    I love figuring things out. :)


    • http://thedanceofshiva.com kneil

      Hi Qrystal, for me the challenge lies in making the dance of shiva easyier to practice, then once I’ve learned it then to focus on doing it faster. Definately nothing wrong with making mistakes, but if I focus on learning small bits at a time, and on making little mistakes with those small bits towards being able to do those small bits right, I learn faster. That being said, I’ve been trying guitar hero (training mode) on fast and expert mode and doing the equivalent of flailing and I find it is a lot of fun. However, in that too I also limit myself (I think in a good way.) I focus on small groups of patterns, perhaps only four of the notes as opposed to all five, so I can focus on learning them. Then that learning provides the basis for more growth.
      I don’t think you have to practice failing in order to get the benefits of the dance of shiva. If you practice learning small bits at a time and learning them well and then add on to that by learning more, you still build connections within your brain, and the more connections you build, I’m sure you’ll be just as open to epiphanies as if you flail around. Then you’ll also have the benefit of being able to do the dance of shiva well.

    • http://qrystal.name Qrystal

      Hi kneil, and thanks for the thoughts! What I get from your comment (just beyond what you’ve actually said) is that if I practice in little bits, my body/intuition will be able to remember the flow better. This seems like an important idea, since my first response to your comment was going to be that I already feel like I “know” the steps, but it is implementing them that makes me fumble, especially if I try to go quickly. But if I really, truly, “knew” the steps, in more than just my head, I’d probably fumble less! :)

      That said, I also really think it’s important for me to get over my perfectionism, a pattern that has been causing me many difficulties. By moving through an entire sequence, allowing my flubs to be there without getting concerned about them, I get a sense of triumphant glee: my perfectionism doesn’t always have a hold on me after all!

      So maybe not everyone needs practice failing, but I do. I am usually quite good at most of the things I do, and I don’t do the things I’m not so good at. It is extremely refreshing to be able to revel in something I’m not good at, because I have taken great comfort in the assurance that if I’m doing it badly, I’m still benefiting madly!

      But still, your words will definitely remain in mind when I do apply myself to learning the movements for Level 2, since I’m sure I will want to move on at some point. Thanks for the assurance that if I do take the time to learn it well, I’m not short-changing myself in the epiphanies that might result! :)