Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Invest in Loss



If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Moving, be like water. Still, be like a mirror. Respond like an echo. ~Bruce Lee

Invest in loss? That does not sound like wise financial planning! Yet it is a slogan we practice with in martial arts. What does it mean?

If I am sparring with someone who is more skilled than I am, which is almost always, I can take one of two approaches.

I can become stuck in my ego, insecure and nervous. In this case, I’m focused on myself, on my own discomfort. I’m tense and distracted. If my partner attacks, I’m likely to just back up, trying to get away. Eventually, I’ll get backed up against a wall with nowhere to go. Or I might go on the offense, flailing away with false bravado to mask my growing panic. At the end of the match I’m winded and discombobulated. I haven’t learned anything.

My other choice is to become free from my ego, confident and calm. In this case, I’m focused on my partner, on my partner’s energy and movements. I’m relaxed and alert. If my partner attacks, more times than not, his attack will connect. (I should interject here that we use only light contact, so I’m not in danger of serious injury.) I’m more judicious with my attacks, waiting for an opening. At the end of the match, I’m energized and excited. And I’ve learned something.

In his book There Are No Secrets, Wolfe Lowenthal explains this lesson from his tai chi teacher, Cheng Man-ch’ing. If you allow someone with superior skill to attack you 100 times, you can study his technique. Out of the 100 times, you might “lose” 99 times. But you have watched and learned. When your partner attacks the 100th time, you are prepared. You neutralize the attack and your partner is defeated by his own energy.

Easier said than done. Yesterday, I was sparring with a very advanced student. At the end of the match I thanked him and asked for advice. His one comment to me? “Breathe.” Hmm. I will be investing in loss for a long time, I think!

That’s okay. It’s better than okay because I’ve discovered that investing in loss applies to life beyond martial arts. There is so much we can learn when we are not attached to “winning.”

The other day, someone was upset with me. I started to react defensively to what I believed was an unfair accusation, but instead, I paused. I listened to what the other person was saying without getting my ego knickers in a knot. As she vented her indignation, I realized that she was ascribing thoughts and motives to me that existed only in her imagination. I listened more deeply to the underlying fear that created the story she was telling herself.

Because I was willing to “allow” her attack, I learned something about her that opened the door to true communication. Without attacking in return, I was able to “deflect and reflect” until she saw for herself that her distress was unrelated to me. I became her ally instead of her enemy. We parted with connection and friendship instead of separation and pain.

Perhaps, to paraphrase the saying, the best defense is no offense.

I can think of other examples, but perhaps you might share an experience from your own life when investing in loss turned out to be a good strategy. I’d love to hear your story.

First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win. ~Mahatma Gandhi

related posts: My Half of the Bargain; No One Wins in Court

41 comments:

  1. I loved this. Post full of wisdom and practicality. I love how you linked what you learned from your practice of martial arts and transferring that to your relationship. Truly inspirational! Thanks so much Galen!

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    1. Vrndavana, Thanks for your kind words. I'm glad you liked the post. I appreciate your comment.

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    2. I love your posts and I'd like to nominate you for the Super Sweet Blogger Award! http://wp.me/p36JSE-97

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    3. Thanks so much Patrick. I'm honored!

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  2. I'm learning to assume that if someone is upset, it probably doesn't have anything to do with me. If I can listen and reflect back, it's more effective than getting defensive or upset myself.

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    1. Linda, It's a good technique, isn't it? Of course, sometimes my ego has a hard time stepping aside. Thanks for your comment.

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  3. Oh yes! Taking the loss upon yourself is the best way to open up any situation. But not so easy to do. Thanks for all these examples and a reminder that when ego is out of the way there is no loss.

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    1. Sandra, Nicely said! When the ego is out of the way, there is no loss. I'm going to remember that. Thanks for commenting.

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  4. I really liked this post and it's message!

    "As she vented her indignation, I realized that she was ascribing thoughts and motives to me that existed only in her imagination. I listened more deeply to the underlying fear that created the story she was telling herself."

    This reminds me of a book I read by Thich Nhat Hanh, "Creating True Peace", where he talks about "compassionate listening". To listen to another person attentively, mindfully,compassionately, even when that person might be saying insulting things.."venting", etc. One can really start to see things more objectively when they simply observe and remain in the present and don't get defensive and try to interrupt. So much can be accomplished through this method! Thanks for the reminder...I need to practice this more!

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    1. Jessica, I need to practice it more, too, although I'm not hoping for more occasions to do so! I have found much wisdom in the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh. Thanks for sharing some of his teaching here. And thanks for commenting.

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    2. There was a wise sage from a byegone era who called the technique you are practicing "rope-a-dope".

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    3. Anonymous, At first I thought this was a spam comment (most anonymous comments are), but then I looked up rope a dope and you are right. The technique was used by Ali in boxing. Thanks for sharing this information.

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  5. Well said, Galen! I love the concept of investing in loss. I always tell my students to learn from their errors, to never walk away from an exam without knowing what they missed, why they missed it, what the correct answer is and why it's correct. Otherwise, they are doomed to make the same mistake every time that or a similar problem shows up.

    Wonderful wisdom here, Galen!

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    1. Ken, That's good advice for your students. The smart ones will follow it. I found that when students came to me to talk about an exam, there were two approaches. Some students were just interested in the grade and wanted to know how to get a better grade. Other students were interested in the content and wanted to understand it better. You can guess which students I spent more time with! Thanks for your comment.

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  6. Ah, yes. Learning from losses is a great rule to follow in all aspects of life. I never fail at anything, because I keep learning and trying, as do you!

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    1. JJ, I thought about you when I wrote this because of the martial arts connection. I'm off to class right now to invest in more loss! Thanks for commenting.

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  7. Hi Galen

    Never thought of it as investing in loss. I am not one for confrontation anyways, so I would back off. From this I have learned how to calm situations down. Unless two people are engaged in fighting, there is no fight. Someone may yell and if I don't yell back they lose their power and look foolish.

    I hope I never have to physically defend myself...I would probably end up trying to talk my way out of it at first.

    Mary

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    1. Mary, Good point that it takes two to fight. I hope that neither one of us ever has to physically defend ourselves! Thanks for commenting.

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  8. Good post! I have a black belt in Ishinryu and now I'm almost totally handicapped...Life is full of surprises. I enjoyed this.

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    1. patrick, I don't know what Ishinryu is but I'm going to look it up. Is your current disability a result of practicing martial arts? I hope you are doing all right. Thanks for commenting.

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  9. What a lovely idea! I too am not sure I even believe that loss exists, really, in the same sense that energy is never lost, but only changes form.

    Every experience is designed for learning, and it's only when we fail to do so that we lose anything. And then it just comes around again anyway, until we do learn it! So we might as well get on with it now. :)

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    1. Jennifer, What a great way to look at loss and energy. I'll think about that next time someone is running circles around me at sparring! Thanks for your comment.

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  10. I always enjoy your wisdom. I am impressed that you did some sparring. Yes, I think taking a deep breathe before getting into the ring is a good one. How to keep your ego from being over inflated is a good question. I liked that thought of the best defense is no offense.
    I have struggles with a very dear daughter in law for many years. I have found that there are two ways that I handle uncomfortable situtions with her. One, is to say we are going to agree to disagree on this one; or two, we are not going there. This usually disarms her intent which is always to win. I have had many losses through the years so I have learned from these losses. I really liked the quote by Gandhi
    Blessings!

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    1. LeAnn, I enjoy sparring. We are not in a ring, just in the room we use for class. I'm sorry to hear about your struggles with your daughter in law, but it sounds like you have figured out a way to avoid making it a battle. I'm also sorry for your many losses. I remember reading about some of them on your blog. Thank you for your comment.

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  11. A wise post. I wish the politicians and pundits would read this and take it to heart.

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    1. Tom, Good point! Thanks for commenting.

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  12. I love how you tell a recent story about yourself that invites everyone in to a new persepctive. This is why you are so successful on this blog. It is so helpful. I am going to take a leaf out of your book and see if I can stretch myself!

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    1. Jodi, Thank you for your kind words! Your blog always inspires me, too. I appreciate your comment.

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  13. I do love it when you write about conflict resolution approaches, using the metaphor of martial arts. Fighting by "not-fighting" is good strategy!

    (That's also one of my favorite "never said it, but you would think he would agree" Gandhi non-quotes. There is no record of Gandhi saying this. A close variant of the quotation first appears in a 1918 US trade union address by Nicholas Klein:

    "And, my friends, in this story you have a history of this entire movement. First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you. And that, is what is going to happen to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America."

    In a way, having him "not-say" it reinforces the mysticism of your theme!

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    1. Mikey, Gandhi didn't say that?! But I thought, as the commercial says, that I could believe everything I read on the Internet! Guess not. Thank you for helping me save face with your generous take on my mystical theme. And thanks, too, for providing the correct quote. And, as always, thank you for commenting.

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  14. Hi Galen,

    A very good post. I agree with the points made - they're things I try to apply in my Push Hands practice and more importantly - in life to.

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    1. chris, I find that more and more, what I learn in martial arts permeates my life. Thanks for commenting.

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  15. You write about very valuable lessons in this post. It's very, very hard for me to remain calm when I am attacked. I take it personally, even when, afterwards, I remember that it's not about me. I've gotten a little better at it, but still--it's hard.

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    1. Tina, It is hard indeed. Our ego immediately goes on the defensive and reacts. Taking a few belly breaths before speaking can help slow us down. Thanks for commenting.

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  16. Wow, love this story - the best defense is no offense. I'm working so hard on trying not to speak (not just in hostil situations or anger) but in any. We have ears for listening - trying to use it more. I get a feeling I'll learn a lot. So hard to shut up sometimes and watch the patterns unfolding in front of me. Like you point on Galen, we'll receive the gift of insight and knowledge about the other person, and ourselves of course.

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    1. Vishnu, I'm a talker, too. I learned a few years back the practice of sacred listening...meaning with your mouth closed! No talk back, no commenting, and certainly no interruptions (I am guilty of that, too). I can see the biggest effect when I'm listening to my kids. It is a good practice--stick with it! Thanks for your comment.

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  17. Hi Galen,

    What a brilliant post! Thank you for writing it. It was full of wonderful wisdom and advice. I loved the story about your martial arts experience. It sounds like you are learning a lot from your practice.

    Regarding your question about investing in loss, I guess the biggest one for me for was when I was growing up and really struggling with stammering. At that time I would resist the fact that I had a problem and couldn't even comprehend that I might stammer for a long part of my life, if not my whole life. I was definitely losing in life. However, I experienced a major shift when instead of fighting myself; I began to accept what I was feeling. Doing so allowed me to objectively begin to look at the unhelpful emotions and behaviours I was experiencing and consider looking at different ways of doing things.

    Thank you.

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    1. Hiten, I am learning a lot from my practice, definitely. Thanks for sharing your story. You raise a good point that sometimes the person we are fighting is ourselves! In fact, when I think about it, that is the only person we are ever really fighting. Hmm. Thank you for that insight. And for your comment.

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  18. Getting our egos out of the way is never easy, but it is the only way to truly learn and grow in the spirit. I'm reminded of Jesus' saying: "Those who lose their lives for my sake will find it." We have to get out of our own way to allow God to work through us.
    Wonderful post, my friend!

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    1. Martha, Timely! I was just talking about this very verse with someone this afternoon! Thanks for your comment.

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  19. Great post. I love that you do martial arts. Very cool.

    I think accepting loss as a part of life is a step towards contentment. Every moment passes, every moment dies as does every person eventually. I don't say that to sound morbid. I'm just expressing a universal truth. In reality we are always losing.

    Remembering to breathe is very important. Focusing on the breathe when distressed can bring us back and calm our emotions down.

    www.findingonespath.blogspot.com

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