Thursday, December 5, 2019

Insights from "The Way of the Owl"

Frank Rivers earned black belts in multiple martial arts disciplines in addition to being a rock climber and a freelance writer. His 1996 book The Way of the Owl examines, as the book's subtitle puts it, "Succeeding with integrity in a conflicted world."

Rivers' focus in the book is the contrast between the fledgling and the owl. He describes the fledgling as an "awkward creature, his life is marked by anxiety, resistance, and struggle." The fledgling takes a rigid, dualistic view of how to approach life, and reacts to every challenge with either the passivity of a dove or the aggressiveness of a hawk; vacillating wildly between these diametrically opposing approaches, the fledgling rarely finds peace or success. In contrast, the owl "is a master of flight and adaptation." Rivers writes that the human owl "takes the middle path between hawk and dove."

The Way of the Owl is packed with concise bits of insight that reward careful thought, attention, and practice. Here are a few, along with my comments (in italics):
  • "Conflict is woven into the fabric of life; opposition is normal...Do not be surprised when you encounter resistance. Meet it with grace and skill."Those who do not understand this truth subject themselves to needless suffering. Any positive, creative endeavor will inevitably be met with criticism, and it is impossible to improve the world without first disrupting the established order. 
  • "The basic rule is simple: The wider the comfort zone, the greater the chances of survival."Adaptability is critically important. Adapt or perish! 
  • "Whatever an opponent does, no matter how immoral, unjust, or illegal, is the artist’s medium. This is the material we have to work with." A sense of righteous indignation must be channeled into effective, positive action, and away from angry and/or frustrated rumination. 
  • "Give up your resistance to resistance. Engage the enemy as you find him, not as you wish him to be. Once you embody this principle, you will realize an instant and dramatic improvement in your performance. When you abandon the inertia of analysis and judgment, you will no longer be stuck. You will remain fluid, active, and alert." Our adversaries are not obligated to fight fairly, or conduct themselves the way that we think they should conduct themselves. It is important to never lose focus on how to overcome whatever obstacles that our adversaries place in front of us. 
  • "Never assume that victory will be easy or that you are totally safe. Never assume that your position is secure. There is always someone who is bigger, stronger, faster, smarter, or luckier. By paying respect, you keep your mind open and alert." Grandmaster Arthur Bisguier, a former U.S. chess champion, once looked at a risky move that I had played and he exclaimed, "Where is your sense of danger?" In life, as in chess, you must remain 100% focused on the task at hand, and never underestimate your opponent's resources/resourcefulness. If your position looks good, take great care to make it even better while restricting your opponent's options. In chess, your opponent is a threat until he resigns or until you checkmate him, and that principle applies to many other life situations as well.
  •  "Treat difficult things as if they were easy and easy things as if they were difficult." Do not be afraid to tackle a daunting challenge, but also do not lose your focus when undertaking a task that seems simple and easy. One hallmark of a champion's greatness is the ability to maintain focus both in the face of extreme adversity and also when performing a routine task.

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