Friday, May 24, 2013

The dance of innovation and tradition

It is an incredible moment is when you start to notice personal shifts and transformation through practice, experiences, conversations with friends and time spent learning from great teachers.  I must say that in the past few months, this shift is really bringing into question the value of tradition and innovation. I've been thinking a lot about their respective roles, how each applies and what I would like my relationship to tradition and innovation to look like.  

I'll explore some ideas around these two concepts here because the question of tradition and innovation deserves some attention.  Where and when is each appropriate? Helpful? Needed? How do we keep tradition alive?  What does it look like to innovate intelligently?

Tradition and innovation both touch our lives in profound ways every day.  Innovators might argue that it is a natural human tendency to want to create, change and evolve through the development of more and more sophisticated tools.  This is a cultural value that we seldom challenge.  In the interest of evolving our consciousness however,  more and more we are leaning on spiritual traditions with varying degrees of commitment.  This is happening in many different ways in order to fill a vacuum that you could say is the result of a culture which has been about innovating, change, newness and pushing limits. 

Some of our ancestors weren't so busy loading dishwashers, checking e-mails and paying parking tickets and these people likely had a very different experience of life.  We have things to learn from those who dedicated their lives to exploring certain aspects of the human experience which, in our culture, are being neglected.  So where do we begin? How does this experience translate into ours?  Are these traditions of any value? Is there an element of romanticization going on?

I think that weather there is an affinity towards a tradition, a deep desire to innovate or both, start by being a good student.  Spend some time studying hard, recognizing the advantages as well as the limitations of your being, your culture, the time in which you live.  Read, practice, study and find good teachers.  Teachers you trust, who love you, who know more than you about the subject you're wanting to learn about, who want to empower you and who have a real connection to the tradition you want to learn about. 

Innovating from a groundless and impulsive place can create more problems than it solves.  Imagine a novelist who doesn't know how to spell, an economist who can't count, a surgeon who hasn't studied anatomy or a musician who doesn't know her scales.  Traditions are all around us and yet, we are often in such a hurry that we don't take the time to slow down and seek the knowledge or experience required to innovate intelligently. What would it look like if we were always to innovate from a grounded place, a place of experience, of knowing where you're coming from?  To create while thinking things through to some of the potential issues a given innovation might cause? To solve real problems and create the least amount of new ones along the way? There are many wheels we don't need to re-invent.  What if we dedicated some time to figuring out what those wheels are and what solutions have been developed and tried on in the past?

When we study traditions, we should be careful and aware of the context in which they were born and the context in which we want to keep them alive!  Tradition for the sake of tradition is dangerous and can be used as a tool for oppression, control and power over others.  It may also be that certain traditions simply don't apply to the culture in which we live.   We have to be smart and we have to be honest!  Lets be sure that we are choosing for the right reasons.  Are we rejecting parts of a tradition that feel inconvenient or uncomfortable to us?  Because we don't connect easily?  Are we being greedy in consuming the aspects of a tradition that we like and find seductive and exotic while discarding the rest?  Is there any sense that through skimming the surface we can get there? That we can have it all  without the time or dedication required to achieve the benefits of a deep commitment? Maybe, maybe not.  We can't have it all so it becomes important to figure out how we want to develop as a culture!

Weather we know it or not, we have a responsibility and each and every day we are collectively choosing the legacy we want to leave behind when we pass.  This is why I feel that there is a certain urgency around the issue of the traditions we choose to keep alive and the innovations we make.  With each choice that gets made, by default there is something that is not living on.  What values are informing the choices we make around what we continue to breathe life into?  

New technology and traditional wisdom offer us tools.  Our work is both to choose our tools wisely and to use them towards the enhancement of the experience of ours and the life of others.  When we come up against a barrier, a challenge, can we pause?  Can we stop and consider what tool we might need and where we can find it? Can we search deep and wide on the off chance that this same challenge has come up before and that someone has created, found or developed a tool which can help?

The ironic moment where things come full circle is where a tradition seems to come from such a distant place based on our present experience that it seen as something revolutionary and innovative.  When a tradition reminds us of something we have long forgotten, of a simple truth, of a universal human experience, this is where we must pay attention. This moment where amidst newness and excitment we feel connected to something bigger which reaches deep into the past and far into the future is one where it feels the choice becomes obvious. We desire nothing more than to gift this experience to those around us, to allow tradition to transform us, to gently and carefully innovate within a  tradition and keep it alive.