Posts Tagged ‘ongoing renewal’

Flexible Focus #68: The Principle of Improvisation

by William Reed on September 8, 2011

The 8th Principle of the Mandala Chart is the Principle of Improvisation. This is the spirit of continuous improvement, the promise of ongoing renewal. Everyone encounters obstacles in life. How you face and overcome them is the key to your character, and ultimately to what you experience in life.

Why do people resist change, when it is the only constant in life? One reason is the fear of loss of control, even though the degree of control itself is dubious from the start. The Mandala Chart reminds us that our world is complexly constructed, and that it appears very differently depending on how we frame it. So many factors are beyond our direct control that the only real control that we may have is in how we look at and engage with it.

Rather than wrestling with things over which you have little or no control, why not master your mind through the Mandala?

The Juggler’s Art

The juggler maintains control by letting go. The only way to maintain the juggling pattern, or any other improvisation, is to continually catch and release. The moment you hold on to one of the balls, the others fall to the ground. Michael J. Gelb explores this process in an excellent book called, More Balls than Hands: Juggling Your Way to Success by Learning to Love Your Mistakes. Whereas a juggler may juggle 3 to 5 balls, in life we must juggle far more, at least in 8 major areas of life! As in juggling, it takes practice, and along the way we end up dropping more balls than we catch.

Whether you experience this process as fun or as frustrating depends on your attitude. The Mandala Chart gives you leverage over your attitude because it helps you reframe the process to see the big picture, the small detail, and the connectedness with flexible focus.

The illustration shows the characters for continuity (継続 keizoku), written in a stylized fashion, as the backdrop for the main theme, ongoing renewal. This is a very positive way to engage with the inevitable element of change. One of the best ways to gain energy for this lifelong marathon is to look at the big picture, something we have already done in the 100 Year Lifespan. The average person sweats the small stuff, makes mountains out of molehills. With flexible focus you are able to stay calm in a crisis, and to make molehills out of mountains.

Lessons from Jazz

In Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life, Wynton Marsalis defines the ability to improvise as the ability to make things up that could get you out of a tight spot. He grew up with great Jazz musicians, who told great stories and knew how to listen. What gives them this ability is a magic blend of perception, perspective, and participation. Jazz has been many things to many people, but it has defined the art of improvisation in music and modern life.

If you want to taste the power of Jazz then you should listen to the best selling Jazz album in history, Kind of Blue, a masterpiece of Jazz improvisation featuring Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy Cobb, all at the peak of their prowess. Bill Evans writes on the album jacket that Jazz improvisation is like Japanese ink painting, which forces the artist to be spontaneous, making erasures and changes impossible. You only get one take. Moreover, on this album one take was all that was needed. Each of the pieces was conceived by Miles Davis only hours before the recording, and none were rehearsed. Listen closely, and let it take you to higher heights, deeper depths, and broader bridges.

Getting There

A story has it that a violinist in New York City asked a cab driver, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The cabbie told him plainly, “Practice!

You don’t need to be a juggler or a musician to get the full meaning of the metaphor. But you do need to practice living, to practice the balancing act as long as you live. Put your thoughts on paper. See your life in perspective. The better you get, the more you appreciate the process.

Give it a try: 3 x 3 and your mind is free!

William ReedWilliam Reed specializes in applying practical wisdom from Japanese and Asian culture to solving the problems of modern business and living. He is the author of the Flexible Focus column on Active Garage, the syndicated column Creative Career Path and the book A Zoom Lens for Your life. William is also a Representative Director and Co-Founder of EMC QUEST Corporation, which provides Coaching for Communication and Change, World Class Speaking™, and Accelerated Action with GOALSCAPE™.
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