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Chunking It Down

Here’s something about me you may or may not know:

I’m addicted to The West Wing.

Somewhere, deep in those seven seasons of what may just be the greatest TV ever, there is a message that is, apparently, still not through with me. So, around and around I go, each season after the other, all in a spiral, sometimes faster, sometimes slower. Listening, still.

I’ve thought about that a lot since my Pilgrimage journey began a couple of weeks ago. Unlike The West Wing, where I imagine that  I know exactly what’s coming and when, I have no idea where this experience is headed. And with each step I find myself deciding, over and over again, to keep going. To accept the ancient truth that all journeys happen one step at a time and we don’t know what’s next, even when we think we do.

I’ve also thought a lot about how we learn. How we change. How we grow.

Several of my various gurus and wizards through the years would contend that one powerful way we learn is through the process of modeling. Simply, finding somebody who’s doing what we want to learn and watching their process until we can break it down into tiny chunks. Then we “just” do what they do.

According to the experts, it works for just about everything. “Just about” being, I think, the key to the concept.

It is, in fact, possible to watch Mario Batali make pasta on foodie tv until you have each step figured out, and all the ingredients, and then practice often enough that your hands learn what everything is supposed to feel like and you wind up with truly excellent pasta.

Some things may not be quite so possible. For example, when I was in high school I had the unlikely notion that I wanted to learn to pole vault. Really!

Now, if we were to ask the experts, they’d say that, with intense modeling, I could indeed learn to pole vault.

I applaud the theory. I just think that it ignores the realities of six knee surgeries, some debatably reliable lower back discs, and at least a couple of the laws of physics.

It is possible, as I’m doing now, to watch really gifted people who’ve spent years breaking down the steps of painting with a certain outcome in mind and begin, against all odds, to paint yourself.

Painting, at least in an intentional process like the one I am learning, also involves a lot of pondering. And layers of meaning. (A lot like quilting!)

What are we hoping for? What are we trying to express? What might be better because of what we’ve put on a canvas?

Which reminds me of another use of that word, modeling.

Sometimes it does mean watching somebody else, chunking it down, and practicing what we have observed.

The grandmother in me knows that it works the other way, too.

What am I modeling for my girls? (Or my dogs, for that matter?)

What are any of us modeling for our world?

And how, exactly, do we do that?

I suspect the answer looks different for all of us.

But what if the underlying reason was a celebration of something along the lines of openness, justice, inclusion, peace-making, love, or maybe just weeping with the people in Texas?

What if, as much as humanly possible, we walked about the world each day modeling that?

I know. I sound like a hippy-dippy, tree-hugging, soup-making grandmother wandering my world in Newf proof, paint stained clothes.

I’m ok with that. That is who I am. At least, it’s who I’m learning to be! (Some days, perhaps, rather slowly.)

Every moment is a new chance to practice!

Which reminds me of one of those things I wouldn’t personally have planned quite this way, though it seems to be true, regardless:

In order to feel differently, we have to do something different!

(Just in case you needed a reminder like I did!)

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