Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A response to anonymous (rather overdue)

In several books I've been reading recently, the authors have made the point that often enough, what answer you get depends on what question you ask. Not necessarily a controversial point, but one that I think is interwoven with anonymous' comment posted below in response to The Process.


About six years ago, I attended a leadership conference where several of the presentations and workshops discussed the various ways that people interact. One of the presenters suggested that (waking) mind-work can be usefully understood along a dimensional axis with narrowly-focused attention at one end and with expansive, creative linking of ideas at the other. She used a Hoberman sphere (google it) expanding and contracting as a visual representation of the modes of mind she was discussing.


As a 19-yr.-old Mormon missionary ("Mormon" = shorthand for "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints." See why we use the shorthand?) in 1981-82, I interrupted college and moved to a community I'd never seen (the Spanish-speaking peoples in the barrios stretching between Pomona and San Bernardino, CA) to devote all of my time to teaching religion, proselyting, devotional practices such as prayer, and community service. It was an immensely rewarding experience. I discovered the influence of God in ways that I'd never previously encountered. I gained pragmatic experience with urban life. I learned Spanish. I developed personal commitments to principles of morality that I still hold strongly a quarter century later.


As an interested by-stander to several physicians' education and training, I've been impressed with the insanity of residency workloads. (Though I believe they've moderated somewhat in recent years.) I watched in a combination of amusement and awe as my brother put in 100+ weeks regularly. I visited him in a hospital (which was where he could always be found) one afternoon that had a nearby McDonalds with a help wanted sign in the window. My brother said he'd gone in and asked how much they paid per hour. After some quick math, he realized that the amount was a lot more than his salary divided by the number of hours he was working. He pointed out to the McDonald's employee that he'd make a lot more money working for them than as a resident. The employee disagreed, indicating that for quality control purposes, McDonald's wouldn't allow an employee to work that many hours per week. So what on earth justifies letting residents operate on people while working on so little sleep? The story as I understand it is two parts: first, the need for raw hours in the saddle to gain experience, and second, there is a kind of intensity of focus that makes each of the hours spent more valuable in instilling the values, cementing the details, and integrating the experience of medical practice.


So what? Just this: it seems obvious that what and where we seek determines what we find. Am I overdosing on yoga? Perhaps it seems that way from the outside, just as it seemed to me that my brother and other hospital residents were overdosing on medicine; as lawyers overdose on legal practice or investment bankers on financings or nuns on prayer. Might I gain valuable understandings from devotion to other endeavors? Surely. I find the pattern of immersion-learning to be one that repeats throughout my life.

But that brings me to what I believe anonymous was getting at: so why yoga? Why not investment banking?

I've been mulling over that question for the last week or so. My current thinking goes like this:

  1. Can any activity, conducted with meticulous attention to its details and the ways in which we interact with that activity lead to deeper and broader understanding of existence? Yes.
  2. Are some activities more conducive to such discoveries than others? Yes.
  3. Is yoga a useful vehicle for me to follow? Yes.
  4. Why?

Why? Because through practicing yoga in fits and starts for the past six years, I have had enough unexpected and valuable experiences for me to believe that there is more to yoga than meets the eye. That makes me curious to discover whether those experiences happened to occur in yoga simply by random occurrence (I was practicing yoga at the time such a transcendent experience was going to come no matter what I was doing, so it occurred during yoga) or whether those experiences are directly related to the practice of yoga and can be cultured by more or more intensive yoga. And, not least, because when I practice some yoga, I typically want to practice more.

Somtimes itches go away when I scratch them. Sometimes they get more itchy.