Thursday, September 28, 2017

Crying is Beside the Point

Zestful Blog Post #231

Not long ago I watched a video of a young boy in a martial arts class trying to break a board. The instructor was on one knee, holding the piece of wood in his hands, and he was coaching the boy. The rest of the class, all boys around age eight or nine, I guess, were sitting cross-legged in a row, watching. Another instructor stood by.

The boy, as he’d been taught, lunged forward, yelled, and struck the board with his fist. It might be accurate to say he struck at the board. It didn’t break.

You pulled that one, the teachers said. Do it again. The boy did. The board didn’t break. The class was riveted in silence.

You pulled that one too, said the teacher. The boy tried again, and the board didn’t break.

Why are you crying? asked the teacher. The boy could not articulate why. He was, of course, embarrassed, afraid, and frustrated. Why are you crying? the teacher asked again.

At last the boy said, it’s hard.

Yes. The teachers were compassionate in that wonderful simple way some men have, and told the transfixed class that it’s all right to cry. You could see in all the other kids’ faces that they knew they could be the guy up there, the one failing to break the board, the one crying. The teachers didn’t comfort the boy. They didn’t explain anything to the class. It’s all right to cry. If they had told the boy to stop crying, then crying would have become the focus. Crying is beside the point.

To pull a punch is to take away the effort at the last instant. In crooked boxing matches, a fighter throws a punch only to take the force off of it just before it lands, so it looks like he punched this opponent, only he didn’t really hurt him. To metaphorically pull a punch is to hold back from saying something or doing something completely, honestly. It’s related to chickening out.

The instructors encouraged the boy to do it again. Notice they didn’t say try it again. Do it again. This was the most important element of this little video clip, to me.

It dawned on the boy that he was not going to be permitted to sit down until he broke the board. There was no way out except to succeed. He set himself, lunged forward, yelled, and broke the board.

He had committed. He made a literal breakthrough, and I don’t imagine he’ll ever forget the first time he broke a board. He had wanted it to be easier. It was as easy and as difficult as it was.

Commitment, as we see, as we know deep down, takes courage. Wise achievers learn this for themselves, over and over. The moment the boy mustered his courage to commit to breaking the board, he committed, he executed, and he succeeded. There’s belief in there, too, isn’t there? If you doubt the board will break, it won’t.

As it is with our work, every day. Courage. Don’t think you don’t need it. Call upon your supply of it. How do you replenish your supply of courage? What an idea. Let’s think about that, let’s talk about that. It’s all right to cry.

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  1. I needed to hear this today. For over a week now I've been struggling with my latest WIP. I broke down and cried on the phone to my partner, who was out of town. "I'm afraid I've lost it," I said. "You haven't, " she said. Just give yourself permission to take some time and walk away. You'll be okay." So I have. Not beating myself up any more. Not going at it with doubt. When I go back tomorrow morning, there will be no "try," only "do." I let myself doubt, and there I was. Punching at that board board, not punching the board. I had my cry. Now I will get back at it tomorrow. I have two books out that prove I can do it. I just need to do it again. Thank you. Your blogs are always useful, but especially this one.

    1. Beej, yeah!! No doubt, just a simple, calm heart. Thanks for hanging out with us.

  2. Thanks for this! I just took up acrylic painting as an inspiration for writing and now I have 2 areas where I can say "crying is beside the point." running out of space on the walls.....

    1. LOL. Absolutely. Care to share any pix of the pix?

  3. Having earned a black belt in karate, I know this lesson well, but never thought to use it with my writing. It's possible that for years, I've pulled my punches, didn't really make a commitment to my writing, saw it as a hobby. Better re-think this too. Why hold back?

    1. I am tremendously impressed that you're a black belt, Patricia. Wow. And yeah, what a lesson! Thank you for sharing your thoughts here. What would it be like to write with full commitment? Let's find out.

  4. Great advice no matter the endeavor. I’ve cried over my share of failures. What works best for me though is to go for a long walk to recharge. I have to think about whether the bruises that come from striking seemingly unbreakable wood are worth it. If they are, I go right back at it. In the process, I try block out those other kids watching me fail. I can’t let what they think get beneath my skin. It’s like kryptonite.

    By the way, you’re that teacher.


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