May 10, 2010

Spirit of the Dancing Warrior.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010 at 7:30: Dr. Jerry Lynch’s Book Signing at the Boulder Bookstore.

On May 11, Boulder local Dr. Jerry Lynch will introduce his newest publication, Spirit of the Dancing Warrior, at the Boulder Bookstore. A spiritual guide he co-authored with Tao pal Chungliang Al Huang, the book offers “Asian wisdom for peak performance in athletics and in life.”

The book is organized into four sections, representing the four seasons. Within the four sections are 52 mini-chapters, highlighting different virtues with accompanying reflections and mantras—one for every week of the year. I would love to have thus spread my reading of Spirit of the Dancing Warrior over the course of a year, but as it was, I had about a week.

One week of perusal is enough to know that I am going to keep this book by my bed for a year.

Spirit of the Dancing Warrior accomplishes what most books strive for; it is rich in wisdom while being an easy read. It is written simply, beautifully and eloquently. It reads like a picture book for virtues, providing imagery that is not just visual, but multi-sensory, incorporating movement and sound. For example, in writing about “slumps,”(whether in fitness training or careers), Lynch and Huang provide the imagery of a pendulum:

Slumps are the natural lowest points of the perpetual pendulum swing in life’s ups and downs. Only when you fully surrender to the downswing at the very bottom can you begin to experience the natural, exhilarating and effortless upswing in the growth cycle of life (149).

The beautiful, easily applicable imagery feeds the purpose of the book as a guide in pairing spiritual growth with athletic success. Practical advice is offered for dealing with slumps, for example, while a nugget of spiritual wisdom accompanies it, telling you how the experience makes you grow.

Despite being an exceptional athlete and author of 10 books, Jerry is very much a regular guy—he’s quick to admit that he’s not perfect. When asked if he has always recognized that a yielding mentality is actually more beneficial to performance, as suggested by his book, Jerry laughs and replies:

Actually it took a very long time; I wrote the book for myself. See, I come from Brooklyn, so I have a Brooklyn state of mind, but a Taoist heart. In Brooklyn, you are always pushing, exuding effort and incorporating survival techniques.

I guess even the pros need personal reminders, too.

In Chinese, taking the path of least effort is wu wei—the opposite of force. To go with the flow is easier said than done in athletics and in life. Conquering the ski mountain rather than following its undulations as you descend, or asking your partner to be something other than their natural self are two examples that stand out to me from Spirit.

In person, Jerry demonstrated the effort of “going against the grain” on his back porch.

He first peeled a tiny splinter from the deck to show the direction of the wood grain, then said, “Now what if I take my fingernails and shove the wood the same way as hard as I can?” (Shiver down the spine! Fingernails on a chalkboard!) That is “going against the grain,” literally! If we constantly push and fight, the effort just ends up being detrimental. What if we just relax and go with the flow? The wood below us offers smooth paths rather than splinters.

I asked Jerry about the application of the virtues to every person’s life, whether an athlete in training or not, and we discussed how the book could serve as a guideline for teachers to follow. The idea wouldn’t be to tell teachers how to teach, but how to be so that the students feel like their classroom is a safe environment. On the same token it could be a guide for coaches, parents, or anyone in a loving relationship.

To explain this further, Jerry said: We are human beings, not human doings. (I love this!)

To further illustrate this idea, Jerry turned to the table of contents and read several chapter titles aloud, adding “how to be” before them. For example, “Gratefulness,” “Respect,” “Compassion” and “Patience” became: “How to be grateful; how to be respectful; how to be compassionate; how to be patient.”

My work is to help people see that they can be something other than ordinary, says Jerry—an accomplishment you can only hope to achieve in the classroom or on the basketball court.

I also enjoy Jerry’s take on the spiritual side of the book; it is very real and approachable:

The biggest mistake people make talking about spirituality is taking it too seriously. It’s easy to be spiritual in an ashram when it’s quiet and candles are lit. But real spirituality is found in the middle of chaos. If you can find spirituality in the middle of a room while the kids are screaming, the phone’s ringing and you’re trying to get out the door for work, well then that’s something.

I hope I can remember to try this when that day comes!

Another aspect of the book that makes topics so accessible is that the language is very colloquial; in the chapter on chi, Lynch and Huang use the phrase “all chi’ed up” (pronounced keyed up) in reference to the energy you feel when chi is in balance. You can’t help but appreciate humor like this, which Jerry uses throughout the book—for me, it is a way that his voice speaks to the reader and makes the book more personal.

In this book, we learn how warriorship is a “heart mind-set (25);” it is the ultimate union of spirit and body, heart and mind that is only attained by flowing, acting and living in accordance with nature.

Here is a parting visualization—one last “spiritual vitamin” from Jerry. It is his personal advice for meditation:

Imagine yourself sitting on the beach watching the “smooth dance of the water” sweeping in and rolling back out. Align the in and out movement of the water with your in-breath and out-breath. Inhale…exhale…

Now come meet the author himself Tuesday night for humor, reading, signing and insights!

Visit Way of Champions to see Jerry’s full list of publications and available workshops.

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