Friday, September 20, 2013

Five Hundred Times

In the beginning, way in the beginning, learning meant the action of memorizing facts.  Columbus set sail for American in 1492.  Water boils at one hundred centigrade degrees and, better yet, two hundred twelve Fahrenheit degrees.  Better because it is different,  not because there is a need for different scales.

Then came the fact plus personal experience kind of learning.  If you try to pick up a pot without using a pot holder kinds of learning, or if you pick up kitty when kitty does not wish to be picked up kinds of learning.

Then comes preferential learning.  Mashed potatoes are, on your own scale, pretty good.  Yams are superior (because they can better tolerate marshmallows).  Sweet potatoes are mind boggling.

All of which makes you ready for the introduction to a thing you will come back to again and again over the years, well beyond the mere learning that you prefer yams to white potatoes.  

 Ἡράκλειτος ὁ Ἐφέσιος.  Heraclitus of Ephesus, 535 to 475, before the Common Era.  The ever changing nature of things.  No person bathes in the same river twice.  The river changes.  The person changes.  And yet, there is the river, such as it is, and there you are, again, you and yet not the you of former times.

Oh, the hundreds of times, many more than five hundred times, you've returned to that river, the curious, owlish boy who loved walking along Fairfax Avenue, one foot on the curb, one in the gutter.  Just in case.  Now, late middle age, walking head down to see small things, on occasion pausing to look skyward or treeward or branchward, to see larger things.

The more you do a thing, the better you become at the thing.  Not necessarily superb as, say, the late Alicia Dela Rocha, sitting at the piano to play Mozart or Granados or, sigh, Maurice Ravel.  But perhaps better than when you started doing the thing.

If you do a thing five hundred times, you will learn from it, exchange parts of you with parts of the thing.  Not a guarantee of better, rather a growing understanding of why you do the thing and wish to continue doing the thing and what it has made of you and, yes, what you have put into the pot as well.

Now, you are well beyond the awe of accepting Heraclitus as someone so wise you could not hope to have him as a teacher.  Every bit as wise now, all these years after his death as he was during his lifetime, you have allowed yourself to accept and appreciate some of the wisdom.  You are able, for instance, to have a better sense of his pairs of opposites, see how it connects to Sir Isaac Newton, For every action, there is a reaction, equal in intensity.

Five hundred times.  Enough to seem satisfying, perhaps once or twice bordering on the boring, but now a commitment to the exchange, the bargain, the learning.  Five hundred times of pure enjoyment and love, still no guarantee of success, are also five hundred times of affirmation that you are a creature of process.  You appreciate process.  You are process.  

The constant here is choice.  You have made the choice to do this thing five hundred times as a reserve that will see you through the times that may be boring or frightening or, worse yet, numbing.  You cannot afford boring.  You've come to terms with fear, although it always has its surprises for you.  You cannot afford numbing, because you have too often felt numb in the presence of things you did not understand.

To understand, to love what you do, you must be open to these things, vulnerable to them and the risk that doing a thing five hundred times may or may not be enough, however doing the thing is enough because it is a thing you have chosen to learn from and make a part of you and the process that is you.

If there is anything at all you love, it is this process, the one that allows you to learn, even when you are learning that it will require an infinitude beyond five hundred times if you perform the ritual selfishly.  Rituals are made to insure sharing, offering, love.

If the ritual is performed, say five hundred times, with love, then the five hundred first has potential for adventure.

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