Creating the Meaning that Works

I wasn’t thinking of writing today so this is really a bonus blog, and it was inspired by a little post by another really good blogger, Bridget, on gratitude.

Right now I’m in the process of making the final revisions to my PhD thesis. This is an 80,000+ word book on Achilles basically which I’ve been working on it since the beginning of 2006. It feels like it’s been a lot longer let me tell you. I was relieved to learn that very few finish within the alloted time, not that you need to know that. I just don’t want you to think that I’ve been twiddling my thumbs all this time.

Needless to say, completing is a PhD a big and very demanding task, both academically and personally. It has demanded, tested, and pushed every mental resource. It has required huge amounts of support from my wife, my friends, and required the cultivation of numerous other supportive relationships and strategies. I’ve also gone through many major ups and downs in my personal life that have inevitably had their impact. I’m just being frank with you when I tell that getting through this is a very big deal. A testament to this is the fact that in the humanities less than half those who start manage to finish.

Not so long ago I received my examiners’ reports. Both passed it (huge sigh of relief) but one of them wanted some minor revisions which I’m doing now. Now, I have to say, I found it very challenging reading the more negative report. I’ve managed to digest this now, but it has taken time and quite a lot of soul-searching on my part. Being a relentless self-improver-type, I wanted to get to the bottom of what I was reacting to, and draw as much from this experience as I could. I’ve touched on this in a couple of my recent posts on dealing with feedback so I won’t repeat it here but I invite you to have a look over my recent posts.

Anyway, this week I’ve been doing the revisions and actually enjoying it. Before I started, I was really focussing on the examination as a very negative process that was blocking me and setting me up to fail (even though I’ve already passed – the mind works in crazy ways!). The critical change just started to happen of its own accord once I started working. And the more I focus on this I feel my energy shift completely, to the point that I am now able to feel grateful for the opportunity to make a really good thesis even better. I still have the odd stall occassionally, but I am starting to reframe the harder examiner as a kind of trainer or coach who in asking more of me actually helps me attain higher standards than I might otherwise achieve on my own steam. Rather than blocking me, by going with them by doing that bit extra they are actually a great ally. I tell you what though, a couple of weeks, even days, ago, it didn’t feel that way!

The process reminds me of when I used to train with a karate instructor in Wado Ryu. My sensei, Phil Kear was a sixth Dan master trained in Japan, and he had a formidable reputation. He and his two brothers, who were also masters were collectively referred to by their students as the Brothers Grim. More properly they were given the name ‘san no ya’ or ‘the three arrows’ by their master Suzuki Tatsuo sensei. They were formidable, and their form was a powerful as it could be beautiful. Training took everything you had and then some more. What made it even harder was that I had the impression that my sensei really didn’t like me. He would often pick me out to demonstrate on, and it seemed like he pushed me harder than the others, except maybe his own son who was also in the class. After a few months of this I was on the verge of quitting.

I spoke to my close friends, Barn and Lew, who were much more experienced than me. I have very fond memories of us training together atop the cliffs at North Bondi, late at night. They were like big brothers actually. Lew was around a lot for most of my childhood and into my early twenties. His karate was also quite awesome to behold – sharp, fast, and powerful action. Anyway, Lew managed to convince me that my sensei was making the training more demanding for me because I was a good student, and because he thought I could take it. It was, he believed, even his way of showing me that he actually liked me.

At first, I didn’t want to believe this. But when I went back to training the next week, something had changed. I started to actually appreciate being pushed and tested more than the others. In fact, as far as I was concerned the others were missing out, because the fact was that I actually got to practice with the master. If I could deflect a punch, or just remain standing, I was doing ok! The important thing was that it meant that I could re-inject positive energy into my training.

It’s time to wind this up. Before I do, I’ll just add that it doesn’t actually matter what the intention is, maybe my instructor didn’t like me, I don’t know. It really doesn’t matter. All that matters is the way we make sense of it. We can choose to create the meaning that empowers us or that which just fills us with bitterness, anger and resentment and takes as away from where we actually want to be.

I know which one I choose. All I have to do is to be mindful of the choice I’m actually making right now.

Dedicated to the memory of Lewis Murdoch.  20-4-1964 to 7-10-2007

Lewis in action

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