Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Kiah Abendroth: LCI's Practice and the Imagination

The more I learn about LCI’s philosophy, the more I believe that we all have the mental capacity to think in this creative way; it’s just a matter of tapping into it.  It seems to me that the areas of the mind used in the 10 Capacities for ImaginativeLearning may simply have fallen “out of shape” in the human mind over time.  I say this for two reasons:

One- When first exercising these capacities during the International Educator Workshop in July, I found myself becoming extremely mentally fatigued.  My brain literally felt like mush at the end of the day.  And it wasn’t just me; the other Fellows, as well as several TAs, all reported feeling this way at first.  It reminded me of what it might be like to begin using your legs again after spending years in a wheelchair (a situation I am fortunate enough to have never actually experienced).

Two- I noticed in myself that these “muscles” seemed to be growing stronger.  The more time I spent thinking about the philosophy, the more my mind would actively use this creative thought in everyday life. (For example, I observed myself noticing details I had never seen before, making connections between things seemingly distant, asking questions non-stop, feeling empowered to think bigger and to put those thoughts into action.) 

When these areas of the mind are stimulated, it seems they begin firing on their own.  Unfortunately, the opposite also seems to occur.  If creative thought is not regularly exercised, those areas of the mind begin to slowly revert into dormancy.  I’ve shifted my focus during Phase 2, focusing less on the LCI philosophy, and as a result I’ve noticed a slight decrease in my mind’s spontaneous use of the Capacities.  My mental muscles were abandoned in the midst of their development!  Luckily, just as an inactive part of my body would maintain some residual muscle mass, so the areas of my mind stimulated by the use of LCI’s practices have maintained some strength.  Especially after any activity or exercise related to the LCI philosophy, I find my mind once again returning to its previously strengthened state.

To shift topics slightly, I’ve noticed that some thoughts can inhibit these mental capacities from being expressed freely.  For me, the biggest of these inhibiting thoughts has been the fear of failure.  This issue is addressed beautifully in Practice 28 of the book Imagination First, “Fail Well,” so I’d like to discuss that practice here for a moment.  The basic concept of “Fail Well” is to re-define “failure” as something useful-- to consider that failure is just a different outcome, one that doesn’t have to be negative at all.  As Imagination First puts it: “When we let failure guide us, we see a far wider field of possibility: now the realms where failure might lurk are not dangerous or unwelcoming; they are potentially useful.”  Personally, this has opened me to a new world of creative possibility.  I’m sure you can imagine a past “failure” in your life.  Can you imagine what it might have been like to experience that failure using “Fail Well?”  It’s both inspiring and humbling for me to think of how much more I could have grown from my various life experiences … or how many more life experiences I might have had, if I hadn’t been afraid to put myself out there. 

Another quote I like from Imagination First regarding “Fail Well” is the following:
[...] there is a useful way to fail and a wasteful way.  The wasteful way to fail is to deny it or hide it. [...] The useful way is to treat failing like a learnable skill - something that, with effort and reflection, we can get better at until one day we can reach the point of mastery.

Being an artist, the first thing I think of after reading this is applying it to my trumpet practice.  Coincidentally, the authors were on the same page, as the very next paragraph address this issue!  They say that:
[...] good practice is not mere repetition; it is paying attention.  It is releasing the ego’s hold on the situation long enough to let our mistakes guide us.  It is creating a safe environment where others can learn the same way.  We get better at failure by not punishing it when it’s useful.
This concept of embracing “failure” has been a big part of my learning experience here at LCI, hence why I’m sharing all this with you!  I still say to myself, when feeling worried about a potential outcome, or disappointed in any way: “Fail Well! Fail Well!” 
Knowing this intellectually, however, has been completely different than actively embracing it.  Trying to apply “Fail Well” in my life has shown me how ingrained that fear of failure can be.  Perhaps this is made worse by my perfectionist nature, my tendency to take everything I do personally--as a reflection of who I am.  Despite the fact that being a perfectionist can be occasionally useful, it can also be seen as a type of illness, for lack of a better word.  Essentially, it leads me to define myself by what I do instead of by who I am.  My “doing” is defining my “being,” instead of the other way around.  So I ask you: do you ever let your “doing” define your “being?”  Could you imagine what it might be like to reverse this ... to let your “being” define your “doing?”  How might your life change?  Just food for thought.
Another recurring idea, connected to the LCI philosophy, is the idea of no limits.  By refusing to imagine the impossible, you personally ensure that it remains in the realm of the unattainable.  How could we ever hope to stretch our current limits if we don’t try to reach beyond them?  Sometimes it seems like we have become so skilled at working within systems (following rules, staying within the lines) that innovation itself is being stifled!  In order to avoid this, you would have to believe in yourself, more than you believe in your limits. 
Imagination seems to naturally cultivate this.  I recently learned that Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, was an extremely prolific inventor.  He would invent something new every three days or so, and something really great would emerge about once every other week.  What is so inspiring is that he wasn’t limited by his lesser inventions.  Everything he did he used as a building block-- a “Fail Well.”  Mathematically, his “failures” thus outnumbered his “successes!”  However, it’s obvious that he is not considered a failure in his field.  It just goes to show you that “failure” and “success” are intimately related-- just different sides of the same coin-- the coin of innovation!
So, in fully embracing this idea of imagining freely and “Failing Well,” the only direction left to go is up.  In every situation you are growing and reaching further.  Success is no longer a question, it’s just a matter of time.

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