"It's easy to talk about it, it's easy to sum it up when you just talk about practice....We talkin' about PRACTICE. Not a game, not a game, not a game. We talkin' about PRACTICE. Not a game...What are we talkin' about? We talkin' about practice, man. We talkin' about practice. We talkin' about practice. We ain't talkin' about the game. We talkin about practice." -Allen Iverson
As Mr. Iverson eloquently points out, it is easy to talk about it (whatever it is that we're talking about) by simply insisting that what we are talking about is practice...and not a game.
Over the last couple weeks we've approached practice as intuitive action emanating from the desires of "the heart" as well as the tangible maintenance of the brain and body through deliberate consumption...so what are we talking about, again? Oh, right, practice. Thanks, Allen.
These two seemingly distant ways of framing our discussion about practice share a common focus on the free exercise of the will toward an end, a telos, a goal--be it a healthy functional prefrontal cortex or "getting our hearts right."
Ethicist/psychologist Carol Gilligan has pointed out that, paradoxically, we only achieve this independence through interdependence: “We know ourselves as individual and separate only insofar as we live in connection with others, and we experience relationship only insofar as we differentiate from self."
This week, we mulled over her "ethic of care" and a number of other related readings in a conversation about the moral development of the self in society in Dr. Steven Tipton's "Morality in American Life" seminar. In class, we viewed a clip of a discussion Oprah hosted concerning the meaning of "spirituality" (as opposed to "religion," a distinction we will continue to explore).
Oprah and her panelists frame the issue of spiritual health around the question "who's driving the bus?" Are we experiencing true internal spiritual freedom or being driven by the limiting, "unexamined perceptions" thrust upon us?
The panelists present religious and therapeutic practices as "spiritual tools" which help us to strip away the inhibitions which keep us from "being ourselves," that is, living out of our natural state of inner peace and unity. In this light, institutions, cultural norms, and even our family and friends are primarily perceived as inhibitors which obstruct our self-actualization.
But when I think about the things that I like about myself, I feel gratefully indebted to the positive impact of the many wonderful people and institutions who have shaped me. Rather than serving as mere levers of self realization, they changed me in ways permanent and profound.
Of course, there have been plenty of negative influences as well. And the balance of experience is weighted differently for each of us. No doubt therapy and other "spiritual tools" do help mitigate the damage of trauma and transcend the limitations of our circumstances.
But the reality is that, as often as not, we are not driving the bus. As children, the bus simply pulls up and we get on. We can control how we behave as passengers: whether we follow the rules, how we interact with the other passengers, etc. But we have very limited influence over the shape of the route. Sometimes, the bus crashes, through no fault of our own.
As we grow we begin to learn more about the bus system; we begin to choose which line to ride and where to get on and off. Our drivers may encourage and enable us to take the wheel from time to time. We may even get inspired to build our own bus, strike out on our own route.
Of course, to build a bus, you're going to need help. And once it's running, people are going to want to ride it. Of course then they start getting their own ideas about which way you should turn, who else you should let on, when they will get off, etc. Your becomes their bus too.
We don't really have a choice here. If you try to build the bus by yourself, it will probably be a pretty shitty bus. If you actually get it running but nobody rides it, your bus is pretty worthless. Funding will be tough to come by.
Mr. Iverson appears to grasp this on some level: "Now I know I'm supposed to be there. I know I'm supposed to lead by example. I know that. And I'm not shoving it aside like it don't mean anything. I know it's important. I do. I honestly do." Still, he doesn't seem to understand why: "How the hell can I make my teammates better by practicing?"
Good question. Not so easy to answer; at least in specific, concrete terms. Instead, we might respond with questions of our own: How did you get so good at basketball, Allen? How many thousands of people coached/played with and against you over the years as you developed as a player? If all those people hadn't been driving and riding the various bus routes which led to basketball stardom, then Allen Iverson would have never driven the lane.
We can't practice alone. Who are the people who have profoundly impacted your life? What are the institutions which have shaped your development? Who's on your bus? Who are you practicing with and how are you helping one another grow?