Sunday, August 19, 2012

Balancing Mindful and Connected: Origins of the DKDK

The end of the summer has long been, for me, the place where I need to get back to the origins of things. Increasingly, I find copies of old plan books from the late 70's and early 80's that have kernels of thoughts that I swear only occurred to me last year. But there is no better place for me to engage in this act of remembering than kayaking with loons.  Time slows, and you have to just sit and watch and let thoughts come and go as they please.  It is an act of simultaneous mindfulness and connection. If I can get that balance right, I am ready to get on with the next school year.

So, this past week I posed myself some questions about basic concepts that I believe are crucial to creating experiences. One of those, and the title of this blog, is the DKDK zone. And, since the world often speaks if you listen carefully, I arrived home to a New York Times article from my friend Lisa about the "veil of opulence." It is an interesting article well worth reading, but, for me, it conjured up one of the origins of what would eventually become the DKDK zone--John Rawls' A Theory of Justice.

Back in the day when I was thinking of going to law school (I wanted to be a judge actually, but discovered that you had to be a lawyer before that could happen), I took a number of political science courses and Rawls' theory was a like lightening bolt to the discipline in the early 1970's. But there was one concept in particular--the "veil of ignorance"--that has never really left me for very long. Rawls posited that anyone's conception of justice was warped by the position they held in society; the only way to achieve fairness, therefore was to strip away that knowledge.  Rawls' thought experiment is essentially for people to assume that "no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status, nor does anyone know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence, strength, and the like. I shall even assume that the parties do not know their conceptions of the good or their special psychological propensities. The principles of justice are chosen behind a veil of ignorance."

In other words, in order to achieve a deep understanding you had to shed what you knew because your position in society was actually clouding your ability to see clearly. It was a difficult act of imagination because the objective was  NOT to look at something from our own personal vantage point. At a time when I thought the idea behind college was to accumulate more and more knowledge, here was someone saying I needed to strip away things that were the basis of my point of view, if I were to really have original thoughts.

At virtually the same time, Shunryu Suzuki published a very different kind of book that seemed to me to be wonderfully connected--Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind.  Beginner's mind is, however, not exactly what you might think. I still remember the first line of that volume, "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." It was a book that challenged me, someone who had only recently begun to understand how to be a good student, to be wary of too much knowledge and of intellectualism. One of Suzuki's koan-like questions was oddly reminiscent of Rawl's thought experiments: "When you are sitting in the middle of your problem, which is more real to you: your problem or you yourself?"

And then there was my subsequent discovery of Thomas Kuhn's ideas about paradigm shifts and revolutionary thought. His book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, led me to realize that what I thought was objective knowledge was always based in an implicit paradigm. In Kuhn's eyes, to see anomalies was the great gift because they forced you to change the worldview that you thought was true. And there were anomalies for all paradigms, so one could always be in a constant state of discovery.

Finally, since I was thinking about soccer as much as I was about anything else, that was where I could have the fullest physical feeling of all these ideas. One of my favorite parts of any game was the preparation-- the walking out to the field from the gym and cultivating the mindset that would allow me to connect fully to the game I was about to play.

So, as my Marxist teammate Gary and I walked out to the field before games he would be singing "You Gotta Go Down and Join the Union." And the crock pot that is my mind would be combining Rawl's "veil of ignorance," with Suzuki's "beginner's mind," with Kuhn's "paradigm shifts" to achieve a world view that was open to the wonder of what might happen in the next ninety minutes. It was an attempt to achieve a state that allowed for maximum creativity with a group. It was, I think, the beginning of accepting the DKDK zone as a good place to be.

And that is the same mindset that I try to get back to while I am cruising around the lake with the loons. If I can enter each school year with the approach of being truly mindful to what is happening around me and being available to the surprise and the possibility of what we all might create together, then I am ready to start again. But, as Gary's song (well, Pete Seeger's) says "ain't nobody here gonna do it for you, you gotta go down and do it by yourself."


  1. David- The triad here does fit together well, and seeing the origins of dkdk helps me understand it better. John

  2. thanks, john

    it is funny how synthesis works...odd combinations...that rawls and suzuki ended up publishing within a year of each other and that that was my freshman year of college was pretty crazy...kuhn published early , but came later in my life...there is a little conflation of time in this memoir...but i was singing with my marxist mentor centerback on the way out to the field...ah, small college new england in the early 1970's