I’ve never actually made an official list but I definitely have a sense of what would be on it.
Namely, I could easily bullet point multiple activities I’m convinced I’d be quite good at despite technically never actually having done any of them.
Take, for example, surfing.
All the years of yoga have definitely trained my balance and strengthened my core.
That, coupled with my intense love of the water––and having seen Keanu Reeves’ own surfing journey in Point Break many, many times––makes me delusionally certain I’d be gracefully riding huge waves almost immediately.
Thus, imagine my shock when one of these assumption about a presumed future skill proved dead wrong.
Last week, a friend in our building opened a pottery / drawing studio with the cool hipster name of Dirtbag ArtHaus.
At its opening night party, I won one of the raffle items.
My prize: a 2 hour intro pottery class.
Having seen the movie Ghost, I was prepared perhaps not for that romantic or sensual an experience, but at least one where I was instantly able to craft something classically beautiful.
Alas, I was sadly mistaken.
I now realize that pottery-making falls into a category of activities such as figure skating, where when you see someone who’s really good do it, it appears effortless yet the reality, as anyone who’s fallen on the ice knows, is that it’s much harder than it looks.
Indeed, I struggled extensively in the beginning even to get the clay to stay put on the center of the spinning wheel.
After I achieved that––admittedly with my friend, the owner/instructor’s help––I’d make some small progress only to have things collapse again.
Although I was mostly focused on my own sad and slippery missteps, every now and then I would glance up to see that the woman next to me––someone who also claimed to be a total beginner––humming right along, just like Demi Moore, on her second vase of the afternoon.
It was truly humbling…and yet at the same time deeply exhilarating.
What was most surprising was how much Freedom––the theme of this month’s meditation HERE–I felt.
For the first time in a long time––maybe ever––I found that being terrible at something and making the choice NOT to judge myself in any way was truly liberating, even exhilarating.
Speaking of humble beginnings…
In May, Vlad had his first exposure to swimming.
We were at Malibu’s Dad’s birthday party in Prospect Park when Vlad’s sister, Dua arrived.
Dua is very experienced in the water.
When a frisbee went sailing into lake, Dua immediately dove in after it.
Vlad bravely and blindly followed his sibling.
Unfortunately, this was NOT the official “Dog Beach” area of the Park, which like a real beach allows you to wade slowly out.
Instead, this was like jumping into the deep end of the swimming pool.
Plunging into water for the first time, Vlad had no idea what he was getting into and was eager to get out of the situation ASAP.
(If you’re curious, I’ve posted the archival documentary footage of the moment HERE).
Afterwards, for the rest of the afternoon, he was still intrigued by the water but wary…not quite sure if this was territory he was willing to explore.
And since that wasn’t really the time and place for this unscheduled adventure, we both let it go.
Earlier this month, I wrote about how some people feel an enormous sense of freedom learning that neuroscientists have proven that people are mostly focused on themselves.
Most often, however, I believe that the harshest critic we face is ourselves.
Unfortunately, often the more we know, the worse this gets.
Early in my career, for an entire school year, I volunteered to teach yoga to a class of 3rd graders in an underprivileged school.
At the same time, 95% of my income derived from teaching private yoga to CEOs.
I fell in love with both audiences but it was fascinating to see how different they were when it came to learning.
With the third graders, the greatest challenge was to keep them focused, to get them to take things semi-“seriously.”
With the CEOs, it was more about their impatience about not being immediately great at something.
It was daunting for them to realize that despite all their other achievements, when it came to the mind/body world, they were suddenly complete beginners…or that there really isn’t any fast-track method or insider strategy to lengthen tight hamstrings that had been ignored for decades.
Once they accepted those realities, the qualities that had brought them vast success now supported their new yoga journey…but only after they gave themselves the Freedom to be a Beginner, aka the “Permission to be Bad” at something.
Third grader or CEO, there’s benefit for all of us in embracing that.
I have many happy endings to report.
First, despite my struggles, I did manage to create a small mug that Sunday.
It may not be museum quality but I can’t wait until it’s dry and fired in the kiln to proudly display and drink from it.
Second, today I arranged for Vlad’s first official swim outing, this time to the proper Dog Beach area of Prospect Park.
(Note: the area is actually charmingly small, with a fenced section in the water that prohibits the dogs from swimming more than 20 or 30 feet from the rocky shore. I’m not great at measuring spaces but let’s say the swimming and shore area is the size of your average Starbucks.)
Anyway, sure enough, just like his litter mate Dua, Vlad’s a natural.
Like any proud parent, I took a lot of videos which I’ll edit together for IG soon but here’s one HERE.
What was delightful to see is just how excited Vlad was despite his previous rocky start.
Surrounded by other water-loving dogs, he was eager to get into the fun, although still not fully aware that he could swim (or even what swimming really was).
Soon enough, there was an amazing moment where he ventured further into the water, paws no longer touching the bottom, revealing an instinctive (and enormously exuberant) dog paddle.
It’s safe to say that Vlad’s swimming career has just begun.
In the same spirit, I’ll definitely return for another pottery class.
Despite my awkwardness, I found the experience so completely absorbing that astonishingly I did not even check my phone for two+ hours, something that feels like a minor miracle.
Please note that my goal will not really be to get better––although I’m reasonably confident I will––but simply to allow myself the judgment-free experience of it all.
That natural flow state created by giving oneself the grace to be a total and awkward beginner (aka Permission to Be “Bad” at something) feels like TrueFreedom, indeed.
Namaste for Now,