Leonard says learn to love the plateau

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Learn to love the practice


I guess I’m into absorbing new ideas these days as my last two posts are about books I’ve read. There’s an interesting idea expressed in George Leonard’s paper and e-book, Mastery – The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment. Leonard is a social scientist and Aikido master and I’m intrigued by his call for us to get lost in the ‘practice’ and make peace with riding the plateau.

Early in life we are pushed to “do” to “get” and focus on what comes next rather than where we are. We are urged as children to study hard so that we’ll get good grades. We are told to get good grades so that we’ll graduate from high school and get into college. We are told to graduate from high school and get into college so that we’ll get a good job. We are told to get a good job so that we can buy a house and a car. Again and again we are told to do one thing only so that we can get something else, be somewhere else. We spend our lives doing stuff so tomorrow will be better. But where does that leave us today? Sort of checked out from our lives.

See any parallels with diabetes? We are told to control our blood sugar so we don’t get complications, exercise so we’ll lose weight, lose weight so we become less insulin resistant. Of course we need to do all those things, but what if we were also taught at the same time to be one with the doing, enjoy the doing, don’t put all your eggs into the arrival; like a Zen master, see value and pleasure in the practice, get lost in it so that you are in the flow, totally in the moment. If you do that, not only will you be more present in your life but you will be creating the best chance for the positive outcomes we all want, and we may even notice and enjoy the journey.

When you’re ‘in the practice’ you’ll actually taste your food, maybe for the first time in a very long time. You’ll begin to enjoy the nutty flavor of whole grains by paying attention while you eat them, you’ll notice the natural sweetness in peaches and berries. When you exercise from the practice, you’ll feel your body’s strength and agility, its growing power, you’ll notice the endorphin-rush and Serotonin uptake, you’ll feel happy. Controlling your blood sugar when you are in the practice will imbue you with confidence, you will notice your growing capability, you will actually tune in to feeling proud. When we are so focused on the long, far away and abstract goals of living longer, staying healthy and avoiding complications, we are missing the moment, dismissing the pleasure in the moment and the opportunity for peace and pride in the every day practice.

“The real juice in life,” Leonard says in his book, “is to be found not so much in the product of our efforts as in the process itself, and how it feels to be alive.” We are taught in countless ways to value the end product, the prize, the blue ribbon or Olympic medal at the end of an endeavor, that climactic moment, not the pleasure of the moments that lead up to a medal, and then the next medal you might hang on your wall.

If our life is focused on mastery instead of wins, most of it Leonard says will be spent on a plateau–that long stretch of diligent effort with no seeming progress, for there are numerous inherent plateaus on the journey: learning, musing, germinating, reflecting, taking baby steps with only little bursts and puffs of what society deems as celebratory, noteworthy movement forward in-between. How much better if we were taught to love the plateau. If you honor the practice says Leonard you will enjoy the plateaus, “if not, a large part of your journey will be spent in restless, distracted, ultimately self-destructive attempts to escape the plateau to move faster and farther,” hither and thither missing the moment. I hope I pass you on your plateau as I sail by on mine and we are present enough in the moment to wave hello.


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