Excerpt from My Lessons With Kumi
1. SEE YOUR NOSE ON A MOUNTAINTOP
Near the top of the mountain I found a small cabin nestled in a cluster of fir trees. My stomach fluttered slightly as I got out of the jeep and walked toward it. "Hello, anybody there?" I said. The front door stood half open and I peered into a large space with a fireplace at one end. A rough-hewn wooden table stood by a sink near a big window overlooking the valley. In the center of the room a wiry little man was hanging upside down with his arms crossed over his chest. His feet were locked in foot straps attached to a high bar. He said, "You must be Nicholas."
I wondered if I should try and twist my head to match his position, but I just
This was too weird for me. What was I talking to, a bat? And what did he mean "dream" tonight? To think about what I want, or to somehow control my dreams? My night dreams happen by themselves, but daydreams I can create - for whatever good that'll do. What I really wanted was my job back - to be paid to experiment with my computer video ideas, but that was beyond the powers of Mr. Kumi. So I'd made this whole trip for nothing. I decided to go back to New York and work it out on my own.
I wound my way down the mountain in second gear. My throat was constricted and I had to open my mouth to breathe. I stopped the jeep, got out and retched violently. The forest was still. I wiped my mouth and sat down on a bed of pine needles.
No job, no marriage and a son who still blames me for the divorce. Is that what I'm going back to? Marion is the one light on the horizon. She understands, and Charles likes her. She thought coming here was a good idea.
A beam of sunlight slanted through the trees and shone on a gossamer circle of
silk threads. In the center sat a spider in predatory stillness. I watched for any
sign of movement, but saw only the eerie undulating of the web.
I got back in the jeep and drove very slowly down the mountain. Once on the highway I thought about New York. I was good at my job and it was wrong for them to let me go. Still - much as I hated to admit it - maybe it wasn't only to save money that Globalcom dropped me. I don't always relate easily to people, I guess. Sometimes I wondered why I wasn't persuasive enough to make people listen. The truth is, in the back of my mind every day I wanted to express my ideas with confidence. In meetings, one-on-one - even on the phone - it was hard for me to speak naturally and maintain my composure. And public speaking was worst of all. I guess I'd been no better in communicating with Andrea.
Thinking through this litany, I knew I couldn't go back to being that person. Something had to change. I pulled into a bed & breakfast and took a room for the night.
The next morning I returned to Kumi's cabin, ready for more or less anything. The sun was just beginning to streak the sky. The door to his house was still open but he wasn't there. I wondered vaguely if he was just playing with me or had lost interest.
I walked around outside the house and saw him near a large lichen-covered rock formation staring over the mountain vista to the southeast. Strips of snow laced the upper granite crevices of the near mountain and a sprinkling of pines sloped down into a valley of aspens and cottonwoods. On the horizon was a huge snow-capped mountain turning pink in the changing morning light.
I walked over and stood for a minute watching Kumi.
I took a deep breath to cover my irritation. I'm a practical person and haven't
time for touchy-feely stuff. "I don't see myself, I just see the mountain."
Allan had warned me that some of Kumi's ideas might seem a little off the wall.
I tried to follow his instructions even though I felt awkward.
I put my hands on my hips and looked at my shoes for a moment. "Why are we
I resisted a smile. His eyes twinkled. The muscles in my jaw begin to relax and I threw my wind breaker on the grass. Once again I felt my nose - it was cold - and tried to place it on the mountaintop. Gradually a faint outline started forming before my eyes, almost as if I were sculpting it on the sky.
"How's it going?"
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, still feeling my face.
Suddenly I saw a transparent image of part of my face and then it went away.
I looked at him and back at the mountain. I closed my eyes and saw my left ear and my hairline. I imagined painting my ear a bright orange, then my face, nose and mouth. Gradually the whole face became brighter, then disappeared.
"Can we stop a minute?"
I scanned the landscape and drank in the fresh pine breeze.
"Now make the picture larger. See it on a big screen."
We continued playing in this way for some time, brightening and darkening parts of the picture, making them larger and smaller, testing to see which contrasts would make the image most vivid. For me, larger and brighter felt best and made it easier to imagine. I was getting more interested in the exercise as I began to see portions of my body in color. But part of me was still resisting the exercise, because I saw no sense in doing it.
"Are you moving in the picture, or still?"
I flexed my fingers, then my arms, and marched in position, then tilted my head back and forth. As I felt these motions I saw these parts of the image move, but the picture faded in and out of focus.
"Now, recall a time when you did a fantastic job on something and remember
how that felt. See yourself feeling that way."
Suddenly I recalled the first time I got an on-line video relay with a clear picture and no break-up in the sound. I was elated and my colleagues at Globalcom gathered around. I saw, faintly in the distance, the smile I had on my face that day. My body relaxed as I enjoyed the image.
"Now move that picture closer to you, and then closer still, and then faster
and faster and rush it into your body."
"Do it again."
I got back whatever image I could and repeated the exercise, feeling a strong
rush as it traversed space and slammed into my body.
I repeated this action a number of times, getting different parts of the picture
in view with each repetition. I felt like I was ready to fly off the edge of the
mountain I was standing on.
I leaned back against a rock, closed my eyes and rubbed them. My eyelids felt
heavy as I massaged my temples. When I opened my eyes the mountains were purple and
half shaded by cumulus clouds. I looked at my watch - ten-thirty. We'd been at this
for two-and-a-half hours!
I had to think for a minute. "The act of doing it is really strange, but
the feeling that comes from it is...well, not bad, actually. I'm just not sure why
we did it."
This felt odd to me, but odd seemed to be the name of the game here. All this imaginary stuff reminded me of being a kid, living in a fantasy world. But why not? So, I imagined a large room probably in some restaurant, with about a hundred people sitting at tables set for dinner. Maybe I'd be at a speaker's table with a microphone, glasses and a pitcher of water. I got the old feeling back of being with one or two of my old college buddies and actually began to see them, mentally exchanging their shirts and jeans for suits and ties.
"Okay, I'm there. So now what?"
I planted myself at the event and retrieved, as best I could, the picture and
feeling of myself on the mountaintop. Then I heard my voice, which was easy. I suddenly
realized I had done something similar to this before - imagined myself at future
events - but those images just came to me involuntarily and they weren't always pleasant.
This was the first time I had ever consciously created the picture of a future event
in my mind, especially seeing myself in it. The impression I was getting now of being
at my college reunion two weeks ahead of time was so strong that I even felt my new
dress shoes on my feet. "I'm wearing a suit and tie," I said aloud.
I looked at the vague image of the crowd I imagined around me and began making
up a speech. Although I heard myself speaking aloud in that room, I was silent here
in front of Kumi. When I finished I looked at him.
Thinking about my speech as if I'd already done it felt oddly pleasant. "Actually,
I felt a little nervous. But it went okay. I got through it."
"See this lemon," he said, holding out his empty hand. "I'm going
to cut it with this knife." He pretended he was cutting a lemon with a real
knife. A good acting job. Then he took half of the lemon and held it to his mouth,
making a loud sucking sound. My mouth felt the fresh tang of lemon and I salivated.
"Brains need to be directed, because they can go wayward or get lazy. So we're going to make sure your brain remembers this good feeling of giving the speech in two weeks. You're going to reinforce its memory by practicing this exercise every day between now and speech-time. And just to make sure you practice it, you're going to remind yourself now to practice it tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day, and so on. So, right now I want you to see yourself practicing this exercise at home every day, and again just before giving your speech."
I sighed. "This is work."
I got the feeling of being in my Riverside Drive apartment. Then I half saw, half felt myself there and heard my voice practicing my speech. I noticed that practicing the speech in this way I felt hardly any of the old anxiety. I got the impression that my face looked more confident so I must have been seeing myself, and as I watched it I felt calm. Kumi looked at me, nodding his head as if he could see the results just by watching me.
"Well, I hope it's still there two weeks from now," I said.
"Well, now's the time to start. You're part of a large army of displaced
workers who have to figure out how to make it on their own. I want you to visualize
every day: long-term for your goal, making images of what you want in your future,
and short-term for creating alternatives in your daily life. And feel these
images fully in your body, as if they are already occurring experiences. Are you
willing to do that?"
I looked at Kumi. He was staring at me with his eyebrows raised in a questioning
I remembered when I got fired in March and how upset I felt. Not only at being betrayed by my boss but because I'd failed to express myself as I should have. I keep hearing Streicher saying, "I think we've gone far enough with on-line conferencing." At the time I was working on creating large, high quality computer video images for businesses wanting to hold live meetings on the Internet. "After all," Streicher said, "we don't really need pictures to communicate." But wasn't he the one who always said, "There's nothing like seeing the person you're negotiating with."
Replaying the event in my mind, I wondered why I hadn't pointed out that contradiction. The reason is I didn't see it at the time because I was so hurt. Is it possible I might have come out of that encounter feeling different than I did - better, more resourceful - and that playing it over in my mind these past months could have been less painful? Maybe this exercise could be applied to my relationship with my son, Charles, who had just started university. Perhaps I could help him with his math without getting into an argument.
"Successful people see themselves five, ten times their normal size in bright
colors, performing wonders - like they're watching themselves in a movie," Kumi
"If you believe in it and do it continually. You recall your successes to get back that good feeling. Many people sabotage themselves by remembering their failures and worrying about repeating them. They bring back all the bad feelings that come with those memories. To make it even worse, they say to themselves, `It's not going to go well,' which guarantees that it won't. You get what you predict."
"But how do I know I can do it when I really need it?"
"Practice by recalling pleasant images. Like a favorite game you had as a
child, a teacher you liked, a graduation day."
"Or a favorite movie or television program."
"I knew a guy who said he could never get an image in his mind," Kumi
said. "I asked him what he enjoyed most as a kid and he said his bike - and
bang, the picture of his red Elgin two-wheeler flashed in full color right in front
of him. Now he says he can make an image of anything he wants and then step into
the image and feel himself doing it."
"What if he makes an image of something and steps into it and finds it's
wrong for him."
One of the happiest days for me was the day Charles was born. And Andrea looked so beautiful. Recalling those early happy days of our marriage is almost unbearable. Maybe that's why I don't want to visualize past success or happiness, because when you don't have it anymore it's too painful to think about.
"Kumi, has it ever occurred to you that maybe some people just don't visualize?"
I had mixed feelings about this idea. I'm not exactly a fatalist, but I have always felt that things "happen to you." Is it possible that I could actually make things happen in my life instead of just waiting for them to happen, come what may? If I accepted the idea that I make my own life then I'd be admitting I created the condition I'm in, and I didn't want to admit that. On the other hand, if I created my present situation maybe I could also create a new one that's better.
"Why do some people seem to visualize themselves and their lives automatically
while I have to work so hard at it?"
"Then why do I see numbers clearly in my mind?"
"But when you imagine a better life or a perfect performance aren't you really
kidding yourself? My presentation or a life situation will just go the way it'll
Kumi and I worked for another day on variations of the visualization exercise. When I left I felt more at ease. Except perhaps for a slight uneasiness at having nothing major to argue about. I still didn't understand how you could make something happen by just imagining it. Especially if that meant seeing it in your mind.
Bumping my way down the treacherous road to the highway, I wondered, What is confidence anyway? Why do we need it? I'm always amazed when a sports announcer says that a top athlete "lost his confidence." Michael Jordan? Steffi Graf? How can a champion lose confidence? Kumi says it doesn't make any difference who you are. Confidence is the condition of your senses - pictures that are bright, sounds that are rich, feelings that give you energy. Your senses reflect your beliefs and your beliefs are influenced by your senses. If you win the lottery the world looks bright, if a friend dies the sky goes black. He's implying I can change my behavior by training my senses to respond in new ways. Is it really possible to change just by doing a few exercises, especially at the age of forty-five? But he didn't say it was easy, in fact he said I had to work at it every day until I got the hang of it, and then remember to use it. It'd be a lot easier to just stock up on valium, but I've learned that doesn't work for long. So, for the moment, here I was, working at seeing myself on mountaintops.
When I got back to New York I followed Kumi's instructions and practiced visualizing in my apartment. But New York was noisy. So I had to work to make my images even bigger and brighter to focus on them. I did them first thing in the morning when I was fresh. Kumi said it was a good way to kick-start the day. And also a good thing to do at night to program my unconscious just before going to sleep.
I always tried to see myself at my best. (There's that word "try" again that Kumi doesn't like. But, dammit, this is an effort for me, and I am trying.) I recalled what past successes I could, going all the way back to my childhood. I found that if I started with the feeling of a memory (but not so much that it blocked out the image) it was easier to get a picture or partial picture of it. Kumi says that's because feeling is one of my strong senses. Sometimes I'd recall the words someone spoke because that's always easy for me. When I play back Marion's voice in my mind it's much easier for me to get an image, or a partial image, of her.
I asked K. why he kept insisting that I look at the mountaintop to visualize. He said the eyes are "wired" to the senses. When I look up, I activate the visual part of my brain. I asked what scientific proof he had of that and he said, "None." He encouraged me to question it and prove it to myself. So I experimented looking up, down and sideways when visualizing and I discovered something curious. If I look up to the left I tend to recall images, and when I look up to the right I seem to be more able to construct new ones.
Visualizing through my not-so-rose-colored glasses.
I may be on to something here, but I need more time to try it out. Also, I want
to see how it works for other people.
By the second week I don't know if I was actually visualizing myself better or if I just thought I was, but the exercises were feeling more natural to me. I wavered between thinking I was making some progress and wondering if I wasn't just wasting my time - and money. I had to admit I was feeling a new energy. But then a lot of it seemed too simple - even simple-minded. Make an image and change my life? How about the situation I'm born into? How about the natural limitations of the human mind? To me, the idea of imagining a better life was always a kind of "pie in the sky" attitude, not accepting things the way they really are.
But if I want to change maybe I have to start by pretending. If I believe something long enough I may actually start doing it. If negative thoughts and feelings have helped create the screwed up state I'm in now, I might as well try thinking positive thoughts and see what that brings. What have I got to lose?
Two weeks later I felt ready to give my speech. I had imagined it every day as a pleasant event and so I was literally "looking forward" to it. On the day of the reunion dinner I followed Kumi's instructions and did a special visualization session to "remind my brain" that my presentation was the primary event of this particular day. All of this might seem like overkill for such a small thing as a five-minute talk, but for me it was no small thing.
At the reunion I was seated at a table with my old college prof and two or three others who would also say a few words. When my turn came, Mr. Lombard, introduced me. As he spoke my name I got that funny feeling in my stomach that always creeps up on me when I'm about to speak in public and I wondered how I'd do. Then, to my utter surprise, I saw my mountain peak and stepped up to the microphone and smiled comfortably at all my college friends.
NOTES FROM NICK'S HANDBOOK
K. says that great performers associate themselves in their mind's eye with someone great, so he gave me this "hero" exercise.
1) Make a picture of my hero, the person I most admire who is doing what I'd like to do. (Since I'm preparing a speech I'll use my favorite actor, Jack Nicholson.). Adjust brightness, size, color, etc., for maximum intensity, as before.
2) Next to that picture of my hero, place a second picture - that of myself in my best performance state of mind. See my hero and myself look at each other and nod. ("Hi, Jack." "Hi, Nick." Pretty good.)
3) Move both images toward each other slowly and watch as they merge into one picture, so that I can see them both at once, as if they were celluloid overlays.
4) Allow the two to blend together into a single image.
5) Move this "double image" into me any way that gives me a rush.
K. says aligning my personal image with birds and animals also gives me power. He recommends I should "blend" myself with the energy of an animal I like.
1) Picture my favorite animal or bird, or the one that best represents the nature of the presentation I'm about to give. So how would I want to perform? With the smoothness of a dolphin? The playfulness of a monkey? The power of a panther? The grace of an eagle? Adjust color, brightness, size, etc., for highest intensity.
2) Beside that picture see myself in my best performance state.
3) Slowly blend both pictures into one composite as before.
4) Move the composite picture into me so that I feel a rush.
Add Donald Duck
I put a spin on this exercise and blended the image of my former boss, Streicher, with Donald Duck. Now in my mind when I hear Streicher speak the voice is Donald's. There's an image that worked!
Watch The Actor
Marion does something similar. When somebody irritates her she imagines the person being an actor playing that person. Then she can enjoy the good job "the actor" is doing, which completely changes her response to the person.
Copyright © Micheael Colgrass1998
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