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. :)