“Trust me, I know what I’m doing…or at least Felix does.” — Harry Potter (#6 Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince)
Remember that scene from the book…Harry, having recently become a potions high achiever due to the help of the Half Blood Prince, receives a special prize from his teacher; a small bottle of the potion Felix Felicis, otherwise known as liquid luck. He uses it as a placebo for his friend Ron when the latter suffers from severe anxiety and stage fright during a Quidditch match. Harry later takes the potion himself in order to secure important information from the very professor who prized him with the bottle. Once the potion takes effect, Harry behaves as if on auto-pilot. His body simply knows what he needs to do and how to do it in order to be successful. In this magically induced state, all things are within Harry’s reach, he experiences no limitations, no boundaries, no obstacles of any sort. It’s almost as if a different, better, more improved Harry has taken over and he can’t help but win!
This weekend I had an experience that I cannot articulate in any other framework other than this fictional episode. In fact, had it not happened to me personally, I would have thought I had read it in a book or watched it in a movie. This weekend, as part of my daily life as a Rabbi in West Hartford, CT I led a retreat for 6th and 7th grade students from three area congregations (including my own of course). The retreat was held at the Eisner Camp Institute in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, the very same camp that I attended for 12 glorious years of my young life. I believe I’ve made reference to Camp Eisner in previous posts. This place, like the Institute of Martial Excellences or the Black Belt Winter Retreat has an incredible power. The camp, along with its campers, staff, faculty, and facilities had such a tremendous impact on my young life. Like the martial arts experience of my youth, Eisner is where I first learned to be independent, where I first discovered what community felt like, where I first understood the value of true friendship. It was amazing to be back in that place!
I had of course, been back before. I had even been there for other retreats, but never a retreat that I was completely in charge of. From start to finish, this project was my own. I was responsible for the logistics, for the schedule, for hiring and training staff, for student recruitment, for room and group assignments, for all the programming content, and of course for the health, safety, happiness, and learning of my young participants. I have some good practice with events such as these. After all, I have been a counselor, specialist, and program head in other similar camp settings. Additionally, I ran Master Pearson’s Taekwondo day camp for I don’t know how many summers, and for the past two years have done all the logistical planning and execution for our own Winter Retreat at Gorham. But this event was a bit different, for everything, and ultimately the success or failure of the program rested on my shoulders. Needless to say I was quite nervous. And then I switched on the right turn signal when I saw the swinging sign reading Eisner Camp, underlined by a big arrow. Instantly, as though I had just uncorked a bottle of Felix Felicis and downed it in one gulp, my nerves disappeared and were replaced by a a feeling of intense excitement…an exact replica of the feeling I would get when my father made this turn year after year beginning in 1990. My anxiety transformed into a sense of wonder and possibility, my apprehension, into the confidence and intuitive understanding that nothing could or would go wrong.
And I have to admit, the magic potion of Eisner Camp proved to be as effective as Felix Felicis. Things simply fell into place as I had envisioned them. Timing for instance, worked out perfectly. We were on track the entire event, never a minute early (which causes the educational nightmare of needing to kill time) nor a minute late (which produces a different type of stress). And I never stumbled for words whilst teaching (a perpetual problem of mine). I knew the answers to logistical questions, I made executive decisions without hesitation that kept the program running smoothly, and I did not experience any of the usual challenges that have come up before when I’m in such a leadership position. It sounds silly I know, but it was as if being in that place made me function at my highest personal potential, as if being there allowed me to be the very best version of myself (professionally and personally) that I could be.
So what’s the connection to martial arts. Well, first, as a side note, this experience I had relates very strongly to Master Pearson’s most famous koan (and I will say no more than that!!!), and by the way sir, I’d like this post to serve as my real answer… Actually, this was an incredibly relevant experience. I believe it proves that we all possess reservoirs of potential within us but sometimes it takes something big, like geography, to force us to draw upon it. But imagine if, once you knew what that Felix Felicis felt like, you were no longer dependent on the potion itself in order to produce the results. Imagine if you could tap into that reservoir simply by returning, mentally, to that experience. Imagine if you could do this before a promotion exam, or a tournament, or the winter retreat, or a class you were teaching. How would it change your martial arts practice? How would it change your life?
To use Master Pearson’s closing tag line…”Something to think about”