Back when I was a ski instructor in Colorado, I learned an amazing technique for helping me to perceive things differently. I call it Spilling Milk and I still use it today in many areas of my life.
About ten of us ski instructors were taking a clinic to improve our own skiing and teaching from a master instructor named Milt*. We were all expert skiers who were very proficient in our sport. But Milt had a technique for helping us discover how each of us were really masking some bad habits, which if corrected would make us even better.
He began by taking us away from the steep adrenaline inducing slopes of the double black diamonds and brought us to a long, flat beginners run. He gathered us up and explained the goal and metaphor of his lesson.
“Pretend that you are holding a pail filled with milk,” he directed. “Now, visualize swinging this pail of milk over your head so that you do not spill any. This is what you all do when you ski fast.” “Now,” he instructed, “slow down your swinging motion until the milk starts to fall out of the pail at the top of your swing. What is happening is that the forces you generate with speed can no longer cover up errors. This is what I want you to do with your skiing—go slow and discover what happens.”
And with those instructions, he had all of us slow way down and ski in very, very slow motion. What happened was truly amazing. We would lose our balance and fall or take action to catch ourselves. If you were watching all of us from the chairlift that day, ten ski instructors clad in red and blue uniforms, flailing like neophytes on a very easy slope, you would probably think, “I think I will take lessons somewhere else.”
Just like how the centrifugal forces generated by swinging the pail of milk can mask the natural law of gravity, our skiing fast generates forces that easily mask errors in our stance, foundation and turns. Subtle errors became glaringly obvious. We discovered that when our feet were too close together we would lose balance and tip over at certain points in the turn. When our shoulders initiated a movement instead of our feet we would compensate with another error. By skiing slow in order to ski fast, our group of expert skiers was instantly transformed into seeing the sport through the eyes of beginners.
Intentionally slowing down in the areas of your life where you are typically proficient and competent will create conditions for you to experience weak spots in the foundations of your life that you easily cover up with speed. Slowing down creates the humble condition of seeing the world through the eyes of a beginner—a child. This is the prerequisite for growth. It is how we begin to see things as they really are.
Slow way down today and see what happens. Spill some milk.
Strategies: SPILL SOME MILK
1. Identify some areas in your life where you are highly proficient. These are typically so obvious to you that you do not think about them. They may be an athletic ability, competence at work or simple tasks like tying your shoes.
2. Notice what happens when you intentionally slow way down as you perform one of these tasks. What do you experience in your body? What thoughts come to you? Do you have negative judgments? Do you have memories that flash into mind? Go slow and notice.
3. Throughout today, choose to interpret any interruptions to your need for speed as opportunities for slowing down, noticing and becoming more proficient in your life.
4. Feel the lightness and excitement that comes with perceiving the world through the eyes of a beginner.
* Milt Beens is a zen guy who disguises himself as a potter and sells his wares through his store in Durango, Colorado.
(Photo - http://www.everywritersresource.com/literarymagazines/2011/spilt-milk-magazine/)