Aikido was a little frustrating today, as it sometimes is. Whatever I started doing to my right shoulder a week or two ago has continued happening any time I do a roll on it, which among other things makes it difficult to improve the fall, knowing that if I don't do it just right it'll hurt. I'm going to go early tomorrow to work on it with Kayla-Sensei. I place no small importance on not damaging myself.
There's this kid in the dojo, who comes to class pretty regularly. We'll call him "Mike". Mike is...I dunno. Not the sharpest knife in the drawer. A little slow, always seems like, and not putting a lot of energy into practice: he grabs and moves in a way that is, for lack of a better word, flimsy, half-hearted. Wishy-washy. Tonight he was particularly noncommittal, and Sensei said, "Put some energy into it, really grab the arm." He said, "I don't know, I just don't have my energy today." She said, "Fake it. I'm faking it right now."
That was and is a funny statement to me. In college, back when I was a theater major, I even did some acting. I was in a studio production of Clifford Odets's Waiting for Lefty, and rehearsal was a few hours at the end of an already long day that involved a bunch of classes and another rehearsal, and I was sleepy. I mean, I'm sleepy a solid majority of the time. For whatever reason I often don't feel like I'm really awake. So during rehearsal I always felt distant, not entirely there, and on our breaks I inevitably lay down on a bench and fell asleep for five or ten or fifteen beautiful, unconscious minutes.
One day one of my colleagues mentioned how amazed she was that I always had so much energy in rehearsals, because she always felt so tired, but I was always concentrating and focused. I mentioned how I was always sleeping during breaks, but thanked her for the compliment.
That got me thinking about many of the things I learned starting in high school. I started performing around the same time I started learning Zen (and arguably understanding some of it). At Loomis I joined both the open choir and the auditioned choir, directed by the talented but also tempestuous and talkative Mr. Gottschalk. In the open choir some of the kids were not the greatest singers, to the point of not being able to sing in key, but that was okay: the thing that really, really pissed him off was meekness. The reality is that most people's problems with singing is that they're shy. When I auditioned for the choir (even people joining the open choir had to audition, just so he could hear their voice and figure out what part they sang and how the choir would sound), I sang the Default Audition Piece, "Happy Birthday", I think; Gottschalk told me to sing it again, as loud as I could, and then told me never to sing any quieter than that. God bless the man, because singing has been one of the happiest things in my life.
So, I learned to never apologize for a performance. You sang as you did, and that's that, and if you need to do a better job, fix the problem. The performance isn't just the singing, it's how you look, the way you turn the pages of your music (preferably have it memorized, but sometimes that can't happen), the look on your face. Watch the conductor, but sing to people in the audience. Smile. And if you're going to fuck up, fuck up with courage. You are performing, you and the audience are in this together, and the performance is a coherent whole of everything you do and how the audience receives it and reacts back. You put your whole heart into it.
When Kayla-Sensei said "Fake it!", it occurred to me that the creation of energy is just an act of will, and it's self-fulfilling. I was tired in rehearsal, but I focused and threw myself into what I was doing, and the tiredness became irrelevant. I was faking it: I was exerting an energy that I didn't feel. But that exertion creates the energy. In general, "faking it" is not only indistinguishable from the real thing, it generates the real thing. The whole essence of Zen, and of being present and involved in aware, is Just Doing It. When you come right down to it, an action is one of the most basic things we do, and what we feel that converts desire into action is different for each of us. There are two thoughts that help me to focus and do things with heart, a samurai saying, and a sentence that came to mind some months ago.
"How can you fight if you're worried about dying?"
If I'm going to do it, I might as well do it. Otherwise what's the point?
Be not half-assed, my friends. Fuck up royally and with courage. Fuck up with style.