In the season of the Olympics we witness people performing extreme acts of excellence whose precision appears more godly than human. This long weekend I spent in Boston, laying on the carpet with a pen heavy in my hand as the television presented men’s figure skating, bobsledding, skiing, snowboarding. When we finally left the house we stepped past the giant baby heads at the Boston MFA and saw a giant Chihuly tree, prints and print blocks by M.C. Escher carved with delicate accuracy, whose image confounds entirely. Later that evening we went to the Boston Symphony Hall where a man played a piano concerto with only his left hand. The piece was composed by Ravel and was played by Jean-Yves Thibaudet who came out for five encores after. Amazing, certainly, but the man himself was no less humble. And why should he be?
The weekend, what a human needs, while these individuals displayed a kind of aptitude that can only be presented when that person has immersed their body and mind in the thing. That thing, without a “well rounded” compass that might lead them. The thing as the compass, that would lead them. I’m all for Liberal Arts and the practice of critical thinking, but there is something to be said for identifying a core skill or, shall I say, aptitude that lies within and taking it to the limit. With joy, with determination, with encouragement. And, while we’re here, with courage.
The wrungs of excellence are hard worn. And the most pressing seems to be wrought from the mind. Besides physical training, excellence comes out of a strong inner centeredness. To create a body/mind alignment is, in my view, the most significant thing, and a strong sense of confidence and self-discipline that would overcome the inevitable doubts and pains in making yourself vulnerable apprehend.
Now, in the cold, in the New York City, late winter rain, to be excellent feels all the more difficult. But of course, whether you are sitting in a couch or lying on a carpet, whether you are rocking on a train car. The minutia is in the intake of a breath, in an attempt to absorb the essence of acceptance in the moment. Escher could only carve one valley at a time.