Getting the outside right isn’t the same as getting it right.

I’ve just been mulling this as I start to settle in a bit with bowing and using my scroll hand, setting down to something that’s at least comfortable and improving if not Kim-Kashkashian-style. I remember my teacher telling me about the proper handshapes for the bow and the scroll hands, and my imitating them fairly closely, but still being wrong. More importantly, they felt wrong. Awful. Tense and painful at times. Yet I was imitating the outside shapes of his hands accurately.

I had the outside right, but the inside — the tendons, muscle tensions, everything else — was all wrong. Sure, we both looked like the same slice of cake on the outside, but my cake was not filled with what his cake was filled with. It is possible to imitate a handshape on the outside while having the inside, the tensions, all wrong.

What I needed to do was to let myself get the shape wrong initially — which was inevitable — and pursue the tensions, the ease and relaxation that I’m only starting to creep up on. By doing that, my hand ultimately ended up zeroing in on the proper shape as well. I needed to just start playing with a handshape that was close enough and constantly pursue ease, comfort, relaxation, and a good sound. As I did that, and kept going with it, my hand began to assume the proper shape on its own. It’s still assuming it, of course. That’s basically just what happens with any beginner.

But the heart of it was pursuing the proper inside configuration, the proper softness and springiness in the hand. As I do that, the outside is assuming the correct shape. It’s really a lesson in what one is doing really, and how what I have to call system-level workflows impact a task. If you want to drive a car, you don’t get outside and roll the wheels by hand. You appreciate that the car is a higher level system, and you tap the accelerator. That makes everything else happen on its own. In this case, if you want to bow well, you don’t just go for the right handshape. You pursue the right feeling in your hand, and a few levels down on the workflow, the right shape will assume itself.

I also recall working for some … rather stupid executives when the web was first really coming into its own, who wanted to increase their company’s likelihood of showing up on the first page of a web search. (Didn’t they all want this?) They seemed to think it was a matter of setting some switch someplace, and not a one of them wanted to listen to my admonishments that if they dealt with their linkbacks well, they would simply show up there. No no no, it couldn’t be that. It couldn’t be that the real lever that they had to pull was actually several levels up from the thing they wanted to change. If they wanted to move the wheels, then they had to touch the wheels, right?

Wrong.

This is the same. The real way to control your hand is to control your muscle tensions. Let the tensions settle out, and the handshape will settle out. The handshape itself is not a primary means of interacting with the system. If you want to influence that, you need to change something else, something connected to that but a few levels up. So many things in life are like this.

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