Natural Point of Aim
by Marco M. Pardi
"There are no precedents: You are the first You that ever was." Christopher Morley. (1890-1957). Inward Ho! 1923.
All comments welcome
True to the genre, self-help books are blossoming on the market. The old saying, "Self-help books are like diet books; no one can have just one" definitely applies. Now, if the book addresses a specific issue it may have some merit. But we periodically see books that purport to solve all our problems - so long as we perform the physical and/or mental disciplines advanced by the authors and do so on a daily basis.
I get really irked when I see the books which claim to guide us to our true identity, and worse yet, to our higher purpose. It is hard to escape the conclusion that these authors view the broad spectrum of humanity in conveniently categorical ways. (A diet book corollary claims one should eat according to one's blood type. Aside from the gross misunderstanding of blood type, there is scant evidence that following the supposedly appropriate diet yields anything more than a placebo effect).
When I see books which claim to lead us to our identity, and to our purpose in life I think of a favorite book from years ago, If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him. The meaning here is obvious: enlightenment is a singular and ultimately personal event. I cannot tell you that you are enlightened; you cannot tell me I am not. I do, however, respect those rare books which guide. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying is a favorite. Sounds arcane, but it is precisely written without judgmental positions or implications. There are no tests, there are no diplomas.
For people who are put off by such exotic sounding fare I would reiterate a sentiment I expressed elsewhere: I am thrilled when I find that a seemingly narrow and context bound principle is indeed applicable in a variety of applications. Two examples germane to this topic came from Marksmanship training and an Alcohol rehab.
I had owned and used several handguns and long guns before receiving formal training in their use. I had several times spent a week or so alone in the woods with just a handgun and a knife to feed myself. So, I was not altogether new to the techniques being taught. But match competition entailed learning a particular stance. Imagine this: Standing in the firing lane sideways to the 50 meters distant target holding a .45 semi-automatic at full arm extension. As you sight in on 6 o'clock on the tiny bull's eye you notice your arm quivering. What to do? Answer: You swivel your head to face front, away from the target and you relax your arm as you let it rotate into a comfortable, steady position. That position is called your Natural Point of Aim.
Once your arm is steady you swivel your head to look through the sights. But you discover your handgun is several inches to one side of the target. Do you move your arm? No. That would return you to a quiver. Instead, you move your back foot, bringing your arm to align on the target. In short, your arm is in synch with your entire body. Proof of this comes when the recoil of the first round returns your aim precisely to the bull's eye without you having to do anything. Hold that thought.
The second example developed when, years later, a college administrator asked me to assist him in bringing a fellow faculty member into a 28 day alcohol rehab program. As we got her through registration and into her room she commented on other patients we had seen. "They seem in a lot worse shape than me." The administrator instantly said, "Do NOT compare yourself to anyone else." I had never heard him speak so forcefully. Obviously, those words stayed with me to this day. For me, they carry meaning far beyond the single episode playing out in that room. Comparison to others is not simply irrelevant, it is potentially very damaging either way: "I'm better; I'm worse." Instead, what I am is Different and preordained value systems do not apply.
The late 1960's and early 1970's were filled with popular discussions of Biology versus Culture, "Nature versus Nurture". In teaching Anthropology classes to young college students it was clear they were looking for an alternative. One day I picked up a blackboard eraser and informed the class it was a 1911A1 .45 caliber semi-automatic. I told them I had been given the task of shooting the pencil sharpener on the far wall, some 50' away. As I entered a common stance I could see the class was largely convinced; several students ducked as the eraser swung their way. I then explained the quivering of the "handgun" and proceeded into the exercise I described above. Then I invited anyone in the class to come up, take the eraser and, with my help, put their feet exactly where my feet were and see if they were on the bull's eye. Of course the students realized that simply could not happen; each person is built differently, each person is individual. (Yes, you can try this at home. It would be especially interesting if you had a twin.)
The fundamental point of the handgun exercise is simply that no Range Instructor can tell you exactly how to stand, no training manual can give you the 12 Steps to Success; you must immerse yourself in the holistic experience, the relationship of the bull's eye to the barrel to the hand to the arm to the body to your breath and ultimately to the juxtaposition of what IS at that point in time and space. Only you will have that experience. Some readers will recognize this as the fundamental principle of Zen archery. I engaged in that practice for several years as well.
The Nature versus Nurture debate is a false dichotomy. Each person is not merely an expression of their genes but also an expression of their (culturally driven) life habits. The easiest example comes from examination of the arm bones and muscles of professional baseball pitchers. We can tell not only whether he was right or left handed but also get a good sense of the particular throwing habits and years in the game by the distortion of the bones and development of the muscles. The principle applies in every aspect of our lives, expressing the intermesh of biology, culture, and personal habits. In the classroom case I encouraged the students to each find their natural point of aim in life and in so doing to discover themselves. And, do NOT compare yourself to others. In a classroom culture ultimately ranked by grades, this is hard for some students to overcome.
So, the risks with the self-help genre as I see it are the aforementioned strong tendency to divide people into pre-determined categories, with presumed maladies, and then pitch "solutions" to them. This encourages people to seek others "like themselves" and, through comparison, determine if they are working the solutions correctly or, worse yet, if the others are doing it all wrong and need some advice.
So, have I written a How To piece despite my disdain for such material. I hope I have written, if anything, a guide, not a manual. Ultimately one can recall the popular wisdom of the '60's/'70's, "The universe is unfolding as it should" and dismiss every person's orientation and behavior as the expression of their Natural Point of Aim. While that is certainly possible it cannot be denied that some people live in chronic distress from their perception that they are missing the target they have selected. Perhaps this small piece helps.
NOTE: Moments after I posted this I was notified that my older granddaughter, a college Junior, had passed the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) on her first try. She was told her score was high enough for her to apply to the College of Medicine of her choice. What was her score? She will not tell anyone, even her mother. Why? Even though her younger brother is now in one of the highest ranked Colleges of Engineering and her younger sister is firmly on track to complete a B.S. in Physics very soon after her high school graduation, she does not want to establish any markers by which her siblings would draw comparisons to their own achievements. I don't know about you, but I consider this display of maturity a sure sign my elder granddaughter has found her Natural Point of Aim.