Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Assuming the Right Amount of Risk

I had the great opportunity to both see and interview (2 minutes 14 seconds is still an interview!) Chef Grant Achatz last week. Chef Achatz has 3 restaurants in Chicago,  his first, is 3* Michelin rated Alinea.  Some minor background, and I promise I will tie it all together:
 Food and Wine's "Best New Chefs," 2002; James Beard Foundation's "Rising Star Chef of the Year," 2003; Gourmet magazine's "Best Restaurant in America," 2006; James Beard Foundation's "Outstanding Chef," 2008; Restaurant magazine's "#1 Restaurant in North America" and "#7 Restaurant in the World," 2010. At the age of 36, Grant Achatz, owner, creator, and visionary behind Chicago's Alinea restaurant, has earned virtually every desirable accolade in the culinary world. His greatest achievement thus far, however, may be surviving. For, in 2007, just as all of the stuff of his personal and professional dreams was falling into place, Achatz was diagnosed with Stage IV squamous cell carcinoma--tongue cancer.
(from The CIA’s press release about Chef’s visit)

Chef Achatz was told he would lose his tongue, most likely part of his jaw, and possibly his life.  He sought out non-surgical treatments and beat this cancer.  In speaking with Chef, he recounted that “If you wake up in the morning and feel a little nauseous, you are assuming the right amount of risk.  If you wake up and feel like throwing up, you are probably spreading yourself too thin.  If you wake up and do not feel nauseous at all, well, then you are just being lazy.” 

Our practice requires us to assume a certain amount of risk.  We are constantly required to challenge the perceptions of our abilities and to confront mind stuff that mostly prefers to remain unconfronted. For this practice to be successful, that is, to remain an integral and integrated part of our daily lives for a long time, then we must figure out the right amount of risk for ourselves, as individuals. 

Some have exceptional flexibility or strength.  They can contort and lift their bodies is apparently super human ways.  We can look at that person’s practice and be completely turned off because it is so outside of our ability that  we cannot conceive of ever being able to do that.

The truth is that all practice builds up from a foundation.  Any pose can be broken down to a level where any individual can work.  Working slowly, gradually, and consistently, the pose will change over time, and the impossible will become possible.

Practice takes effort and risk.  If you hang out, you will not progress.  If you throw yourself into something, you will injure yourself and not progress.  If you work smartly, and systematically with the guidance of a teacher, you will assume the correct amount of risk and progress over time.
Thank you, Chef, for your inspiring words.

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