1 + 1 = 3

Sometimes the most exceptional lessons in life are heard between the most unexceptional moments.

Just the other day I was speaking with a wise friend of mine about some very ordinary things. We came about relationships and our respective states within them. We began to mumble about this and analyze that. After a few fleeting moments of rather darb commentary, a sagacious spark shot across the room. We immediately looked at each other. I repeated the phrase: one plus one equals three.

No more than five words. Simple and—quite literally—uneducated. Yet the words were extremely potent. The conversation was about relationships. This was not just about lovers. The small proverb-like sentence was referring to the essence of all authentic and prosperous relationships. It was the secret behind all bonds.

A real relationship is one that brings forth a sum greater than its parts. It is an illogical, unexplained phenomena bordering the line of a magician’s trick. The end result of a relationship is more than what could have possibly been created had one calculated the pieces separately. This marvel of relationships is why we are attracted to having them with others.

Looks like chem lab paid off.

An energy, a chemistry, a connection or a vibration. I have heard all of these terms used when describing a meaningful connection with another. It is something literally magical.

I first understood this concept in probably the most blue collar, laymen’s terms that existed. A couple teaching yoga taught a tantric class on relationships. The male was a former carpenter and electrician. He described relationships in the form of voltage.

Any one person is capable of emitting 110 Volts—the power expelled from a regular US electrical socket. 110 volts is a decent amount of power, but to really get things flowing, 220-volts might be needed. Now, if two 110-volts try to fuse together improperly, they will be unable to obtain 220 volts. Instead, they must use a transformer. This will reach the desired output.

Git r done!

The metaphor of the transformer is that two people can create a larger output if their relationship is properly established. Properly established is he key concept. In today’s world, many people carry out relationships without transcending past the surface levels of formalities and physicality. By venturing past these barriers to authentic relationships, deeper levels of trust, intuition, connectivity and love await.

The first and only step is trust. Faith in the art of giving is the foundation of all great relationships. A pertinent example is my relationship with the wise friend who inspired this post.

Trust, its what’s for dinner.

I will never know what our friendship will bring. There are no guarantees, no promised rewards and no IOU’s. All there is, is what I choose to give. When I give unconditionally, I know that my friend will receive that which he needs from our relationship. In this process, I learn to surrender to any sort of control or unknowingness while at the same time enjoying the gift of giving. Our relationship grows because we both believe in this concept. Because of this, our relationship can defy simple arithmetic.

When a relationship is about the sum and not the parts, it becomes a greater entity, capable of achieving unimaginable heights.

The Art of Giving

Originally posted at theamorist.com

“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you” ~ John Bunyan

Whether it is a handful of change or a lifetime of devotion, the act of selfless giving is the most important action one can take. At its core, giving is the ultimate form of spiritual practice.

For ages, religions and spiritual groups have honored the art of giving. In India, the word seva, or selfless service, is expanded by the phrase, “Manav seva Prabhu seva,” meaning service to mankind is service to God. By carrying out seva, one is giving his or herself to the universe by offering time, money or prayer. In Christianity and Judaism, the concept of tithing, or an offering of 10 percent of one’s time or money represents spiritual giving. And in non-spiritual circles the common concept of donation represents the art of giving. In each case, the idea behind selfless service is that one will be covered (be it spiritually, financially, or consciously) by giving up something important.

Giving doesn’t have to look like this.

It is sometimes difficult to see that true wealth and prosperity—be it fiscal or spiritual—begins with the relinquishment of such objects. The other day I was speaking to a friend about his financial problems and I suggested he donate some of his money to a cause he felt strongly about. He retorted, “How can I become rich if I give all of my money away?”

This question is the boundary that separates those who are prosperous from those who are not.

First, a prosperous person is not determined by how much money he or she has, but rather their state of mind. In the case of my friend, he believed he was too poor to give. His financial insecurity stopped him from creating a prosperous mindset. People who attune themselves with the vibration of prosperity receive money and success after they have aligned themselves with that specific frequency. Only for a select few does it work the other way.

Second, giving is ultimately a question of faith, for there is no tangible promise or guaranteed return from giving a gift. There is no proof of gain other than the conviction that you are doing the right thing. This challenge is often daunting to those with empty pockets. Yet the saying holds true: “You only get what you give”.

It can look like this.

Of course, there are some clauses. Obviously, selfless giving is an act that requires no desire for reciprocity. To truly give is to surrender to the relationship of commerce and instead initiate one of complete compassion. Intention plays an important role in this process, as one who gives just to receive is not truly giving. It is only through selflessness that the act of giving will create true prosperity.

On Saturdays I teach a donation-based yoga class. In this class I begin with a story about why we offer these classes. I end the story with, “I ask that you donate what you can, but I recognize that the greatest donation you can make is simply being here.” Most students find this welcoming, but I see it as the true donation.

Each individual has given and hour and a half of their (prime Saturday afternoon) time to spend working on themselves, elevating their consciousness. As they leave the class calmer, happier, and relaxed, they raise the consciousness of all they come into contact with. By coming to class, they have donated themselves to selfless service. In that action, they uplift their own consciousness.

“A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle” ~ James Heller

We often think of donation and giving as something that has to be measured by numbers and fiscal value. Many times the most important gifts are not those carrying a hefty price tag, but rather the ones that come from within: the homemade meal, a hand-sketched picture, a daily spiritual practice or a few kind words. The opportunity to give is never dependent on income.

We all have something to worth giving.

Redefining Mistake

Growing up, I was unlike the other kids I knew as I never signed up for spring baseball or enrolled in a fall basketball league. Instead, I spent my extra-activity hours studying the art of karate. This year round sport was very demanding. One of the most rewarding aspects of karate was competing in large tournaments. Here I could showcase my knowledge of both fighting and performance.

The kata portion—or performed routine section—of the tournament required that a participant execute a predetermined set of movements in exact precision. Style, technique and form were judged. It was common knowledge that all competitors memorize their katas. However, since there were many dojos of various styles competing, there was no universal way any judge could remember the sequence of each student’s specific kata.

In one competition, I had stumbled over a forgotten move, which ended up costing me a place on the podium. I was upset and on the drive home, my father leaned over and said, “You know Matt, the judges will never know when you’ve made a mistake unless you show them you messed. If you continue you the kata with confidence, they will not notice.”

Wax on, wax off.

After hearing this, I started to think that maybe he was right. The only reason I lost that day was because I stopped and hesitated. I thought I had been caught by the judges, when in fact I was the only one paying attention to the correct sequence of my kata. I lost because I admitted defeat.

This was a turning point in my life: the definition of mistake had been redefined. No longer was right and wrong decided by an outside entity; the judge was always from within.

Extended past karate, the idea of making mistake in everyday life is often seen as black and white. This is most obvious in the traditional school system with standardized exams that gauge not intellect and creativity, but rather the narrow skill of taking such tests. It is also seen in the notion that attending higher education is the only way to make a respectable living. In society, fashion is determined by a scale of social acceptance. Body image, popularity and materiality are all products of dualistic thinking, seeing in black and white. Yet, even in the face of such powerful ideologies, there exists groups that redefine for themselves the meaning of what is correct.

“There are no mistakes, only happy little accidents.” ~ the Chuck Norris of painting

For instance, there have been many movements through out the history of the arts where rebellious artists (usually young artists) go against the status quo of their predecessors’ style. Such movements have been named modern, post-modern, contemporary and avante garde. In a way, every transition is a redefinition, an expansion of what is and what is not a mistake. This can also be seen in the haute cuisine movement of the culinary world, as well as its rejection. In the school system, we see the rise of liberal studies that focus on content and creativity rather than memorization and regurgitation. Other educational systems like the Waldorf Schools are beginning to redefine what an academic mistake is. Through out society, we see the formation and evolution of counterculture groups like hippies, punks, goths and hipsters. These subgroups recalculate what is accepted within society, expanding the definition of what is accepted within society.

In all of these categories, the idea that black and white is the only way to live for billions of unique people is slowly fading away. Just like how I realized I could define what a correct kata was, the world is beginning to realize what defines a mistake is the words of those that are condemned.

Theorist playing cards, eh? “Foucault uses special ability: avoidance! Baffles opponent!”

Rogue thinker Michel Foucault wrote about this idea in his book on power and oppression. He defined—quite uniquely—that the oppressed were not victims of those in power, but rather causalities to their own roles. In order for their to exist a power-oppressor relationship, the oppressed must assume the role of inferior. They must become the mistake. In contrast, Foucault wrote that the power-oppressor relationship could not exist without the presence of both roles.

The definition of what is correct and what is not is only decided by you. You are the person that holds the gavel. You are the one who swings it.

For more on jazz and mistakes click here.

Now, rewind and then fast forward a bit to my next karate tournament. Armed with a new perspective and a confidence I had never had, I stormed the stage and performed my kata. Since I was in charge, I could do as I pleased. I free-styled the whole thing, start to finish. If I wanted to do a spinning back kick in the air, I did. If I wanted to roll across the floor, I did. If I wanted to bang my fists on the ground, I did. The stage was my canvas and no one was going to tell me how to paint it. With sweat dripping from my brow, I finished my routine. I bowed and faced the judges. I couldn’t believe what I heard them say.

“Matt, would you kindly repeat your kata.”

Boy, was I screwed.

I guess this will be a lesson for another blog.

My Creative Process

I never know where the inspiration for my next blog post is going to come from. Every time I sit down to write, I have a brief moment of fleeting panic. A voice I have recognize as my self-animosity chimes in a few defeating words that usually sound like: “You won’t think of anything good to write. Nothing you will write will help anyone. You can’t figure this out. Blah blah blah…”

At this point, I have learned to listen to my inner voices. I recognize that they exist, I identify what they are saying, but I do so from a neutral stance where I am detached from their wants and desires. By acknowledging the voice, I understand what it is I truly want (and what I do not) and can act accordingly.

The next step in creating a meaningful blog post is silence. This is probably my most difficult stage of the creative process. I often try to push through this stage with thunderous brainstorming and cunning wit. I try to force ideas out of my consciousness. I know that they are in there and that I have access to them, but I am entering the wrong key in the correct lock.

Wouldn’t want to live here.

This process is like building a house without a foundation. Whatever ideas I forcibly gather will not stand up to the winds and gravity of my self-criticism. Much like the house pictured above, my ideas will crumble. I may even formulate a topic worth writing an entire anthology over, but it will lack the luster of its origin. It will be separated from the area from which all creativity spawns.

In this creative space, the secrets of the universe are whispered. All information can be heard in this space. Yet much of the time we are talking (or thinking) so loudly that we cannot pick up on this quiet voice. Silence is an essential part of the creation process.

After being silent, I find that ideas begin to grow. It is subtle, palatable feeling, like hanging static electricity just before lightening strikes. The smallest movement occurs and my thought is guided by something other than myself. It is here that the next challenge occurs: letting this motion take its course.

I seem to be obsessed with weather today.

In order to let a creative thought manifest, it must develop on its own. There are certainly stages where I can manipulate, personalize and expand on its creation, but in its first established moments in the physical real estate of my brain, I find that if I tamper with its progress, it never matures to its fullest potential.

In gardening, when sprouting seedlings, it is most beneficial for the new plant to remain in its seedling habitat until it has reached a stage of maturation where it can physically sustain a transfer to a larger pot. If one moves the seedling too soon, the stress of the unnatural process will harm—if not destroy—its growth. This is parallel to the birth of a creative process.

“Let me grow!”

After allowing a firm stability, creativity will hand itself over to its environment. In the case of this blog, I am now harboring the creative potentiality that was given to me from the source of creation. I can now play with it as I like, typing this word or that word. Yet, even in this process, I am subject to creative severance.

The moment I attempt to claim this beautiful creative process as my own, I begin to lose it. As I begin to take stock in the idea that these concepts and words sprang from my thoughts, the flow of their existence begins to clog.

As many spiritual teachers have told their students, the wisdom from their mind is but an extension of the greater mind. Serving as a channel, rather than the “source” is the best way to transmit creativity. A mother is not her child, but the vehicle that brings it into this world.

Be the channel.

The last stage in my creative process is being grateful. I have not always been capable of accessing creativity. There were many times when anger, addiction and fear limited my ability to know creation as I know it today. I also realize that tomorrow never holds any promises. Yet more than all of these things, the actual process of creation keeps me in awe, and for this I am eternally grateful.

Giving thanks brings forth not only more opportunity but also a deeper understanding of my place in this world. It humbles me, carves out a deeper capacity for silence and ushers in a self-less attitude.

Creation is truly sublime.

Thank you.