Thursday, April 20, 2006

Elevens (just the number, not the angle)

About a year ago I started noticing the number eleven. This was around the time my brother announced he had cancer. The first time or two the number came up in consciousness I just marked it as coincidence; random association.

When it kept happening, though, elevens became synchronistic, seemingly unrelated events that are somehow connected. I began to make note of each occurrence, and just by the act of so doing they became more significant.

Whether or not this means anything to the universe, it takes on meaning through the subjective value we associate with it. This is the nature of symbols, which have to be interpreted according to our individual awareness. If we ignore things, there are no messages. What messages exist, well up from within our own unconscious mind. Just that fact alone creates context, allowing us to gain deeper insight into our nature and our circumstances.

Most of the elevens I saw were on clocks. It always seemed to be eleven minutes after the hour. That, to me, was more portentous than if I were merely seeing the number fixed somewhere. This was my internal clock driving me to look at the time eleven minutes after each hour, and too consistently to be mere coincidence. So what did it mean to me?

Well, eleven is right before twelve, which is the end of each hour. The “Atomic Watch” by concerned scientists often shows the time as five minutes (or less) before midnight, and so pointing towards the “11”.

In terms of minutes, it’s an odd marker. Ten minutes is a common theme but eleven doesn’t fit. It’s the number after, and so for me it came to represent the meaning that “it’s later than you think.”

Eleven is a double digit, which is a doubled digit: 11. It is like two individuals standing together; relationship.

Eleven also has a space between the digits, so the number actually consists of three elements; triad of mind, body and spirit. The spirit is largely invisible to us. Our nature as humans is also that we can make choices, and so we stand in the middle between the yin and yang of that nature.

When I think on the nature of this, it makes me realize the preciousness of time. What have I done that I wanted to do? What is still left to do? Too many people say “someday” and that day never comes.

I thought elevens would fade away after my brother died, but they kept coming up. Today I called my kid and left a message; the time of the call was 1:11. I then walked into another room and checked the time; 4:11. I guess I keep reminding myself to live each moment in this way, and so recently I accepted a new challenge.

Two years ago I started learning flamenco guitar. It’s about as huge a challenge on that instrument as there is, and I’m not very good at it yet. Anyway, my teacher contacted me two weeks ago and asked if I wanted to do a piece in a recital. At first I said no (very firmly). I hadn’t gone to a lesson since December and I’d had my hands injured in February, so I hadn’t played in nearly two months. It’s been 25 years since I was on stage, and that was with a punk-funk band.

Then I thought about it. How many chances to do I get to step out of my comfort zone in a meaningful way? To go sit onstage alone is a test of inner resources.

My hands were stiff when I started practicing. That passed, but now my fingers are swollen and sore, limiting how much more I can work. I know the piece, but I can use more practice than the pain will allow. Technical errors creep in, but the reason they do is mental inconsistency, not playing the whole piece with full attention to the music section by section, second by second. I know the piece at my simple level of performance, but maintaining conscious focus on each note is the tricky part. When my mind lingers anywhere, the next bit loses coherence. It’s all about the music and staying in the flow; I don’t have the luxury to think of anything else.

This is exactly the kind of thing I talk about in martial arts. It is that Zen awareness in the moment, the ability to focus intently without wavering. Playing music solo is very revealing; there is no place to hide, and whatever happens is all your doing, and so I practice, I run through the music in my head, and I visualize the entire experience from walking on stage until I leave, hearing it run as perfectly as possible. This is a use of self-programming or self-hypnosis. I’m also using some performance-enhancing tapes to help prepare myself.

In a way this is scarier than when I prepared to go to the Philippines to fight in ’89 because it seemed easier not to have expectations in that bigger event. In another way, however, this is very similar. I’m not testing myself because I know I can do this. Quite the opposite, I’m doing it because I don’t know the outcome. That is the nature of a test; one is questioned and whatever happens, good or bad, is the answer. In that regard it helps to look at this not as a destination but just a point in time. Whether I ever perform like this again or not, this is nothing more than a sign, a place along the road to help refine goals.

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