Sunday, April 29, 2012

How would you react?

In Kabbalah it is taught that there are three main psychological perspectives:

Nurturing: a sense of care about others. Empathy. A desire to see things flourish or be happy.
Academic: an ability to view things objectively, intellectually, and impersonally.
Aggressive: a need to feel powerful and in control.

When observing someone fall over, there are three basic ways we can react depending on which of these three perspectives dominates us at the time:

a) One may seek his welfare - the nurturing approach
b) One may stand there analysing what has happened: how will the fallen deal with his spill? Is anybody going to help him?, etc, - the academic approach;
c) One may break out in laughter - the aggressive approach.

How would you react?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Sigmund Freud ingeniously identified several types of human psychological 'defense mechanisms.'  Regression, where a person finds his present life situation unbearable and returns to an earlier stage of his life to escape. Sometimes to the extent that he'll behave like a care-free child. Intellectualization, involves viewing an emotionally overwhelming scenario through an abstract intellectual lens in order to avoid the distress of relating to it emotionally. Repression, where one keeps a threatening thought out of one's mind - usually unconsciously - to prevent the distress that the thought may trigger. Sublimation, where one expresses aggressive or sexual tendencies in socially acceptable ways.

There is one such mechanism, transference, which I'd like to explore and apply to skateboarding. Transference is where, for instance, one is angered by one thing yet expresses the anger toward another - usually less threatening - thing. Thus a person who was angered by his boss may transfer the anger toward his wife or children without realizing that he is not really angry at them.

In Freud's thinking, transference, as all the defense mechanisms, generally operates unconsciously. However, there are traditions which encourage the intentional arousal of a particularly intense emotion or psychological energy in order to channel it toward another, more constructive, activity. Even in the Talmud we find reference to this sort of practice. For example, in one related episode, two sages travelling together to a city discover there are two paths leading there, one with prostitutes and one with houses of Idol worship. One sage requests that they walk down the first path to arouse and then channel sexual energy, while the other requests they walk down the second path to channel power.         

Freud's notion of transference and the Talmud's notion of channeling are two polar extremes. Transference is an unconscious, uncontrolled and destructive accident, while channeling is a purposeful and constructive practice. But the channeling described above is reserved for the enlightened who have incredible self control.

But there is a third and intermediate path. We are all inevitably aroused by stimuli in our environment. If we maintain self-awareness, then, when we find ourselves aroused anyhow, we can channel the increased energy toward an activity that we are engaged in and thereby 'kill two birds with one stone':

a) Expend intense energy which might otherwise be transferred in an uncontrolled and destructive manner;

b) Energise and enhance our output in an activity.

Once, I was at the skate park trying to land a certain trick when I received an unpleasant phone call which angered me somewhat. As I hung up, I took my skateboard in hand and began to skate explosively with increased confidence and a heightened sense of awareness. I cleanly landed trick after trick and soon assailed the particular trick which seemed insurmountable only minutes earlier.
I've had a similar experience when an attractive female walked by and affected an increase in my desire levels. I intently focused my mind on landing a trick that was particularly difficult for me and was again astonished at how effective channeling is at vitalizing my skating.                               

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Discard the peel; eat the fruit; throw out the pip!

 Recently, someone criticised me for socializing with skateboarders. 'They will have a bad influence on you!', he cautioned...'Be careful Dovid!', he continued, 'If you associate with hooligans you will become a hooligan!'  

Do I agree? Yes and No.  

On the one hand, it is clear that skateboarding culture is 'rough on the edges' and rebellious. Many skaters are disrespectful of private property, sit around and smoke Marijuana or get drunk, use vulgar language, treat woman as objects, cover themselves in tattoos, behave wildly on public transport, and sit around and waste precious time. These are undeniable facts which I have observed first hand on several occasions.

On the other hand, the extent of their 'hooliganism' is often exaggerated and blinds people to their many positive elements. On one occasion, I invited a Jewish orthodox friend of mine to accompany me to a skate park. When we arrived there, he initially felt intimidated by the appearance of those skating there. Yet, in no time, he entered into conversations with a small group of them and discovered them to be very polite and respectful, non-judgemental and accepting. He also observed how a few skaters - which I'd never met before - kindly helped me learn a certain trick. On our drive home from the skate park he initiated a discussion about 'not judging a book by its cover.'     

The Talmud describes Rabbi Meir, who continued to learn from his teacher, Acher, even after Acher became a heretic. The Talmud relates that he would, 'eat the dates and throw out the pips', and 'eat the pomegranate seeds and discard the peel.' This means that Rabbi Meir separated the truth from the falsehood in Acher’s teachings in two distinct ways: when Acher would teach a truth with an admixture of falsehood, Rabbi Meir would accept the truth and reject the falsehood hidden within it; he would ‘eat the date and discard the pip.’ And, when Acher taught a falsehood with some truth contained within it, Rabbi Meir would pierce through the layer of falsehood and extract the elements of truth contained within it; he would 'eat the pomegranate seeds and discard the peel.'

Hence though skate culture has a significant amount of 'peel and pips', I needn't eat them. I can discard them and consume only the edible delicious fruit, of which there is certainly plenty to enjoy. I have much to learn and gain from skateboarding and my encounters with skateboarders - as my blog demonstrates.
Furthermore, many of these young people have never been exposed to spiritual teachings and their life enriching properties. Nor have they been brought to realize the tremendous potential that they contain to improve the world. And how will they ever be exposed to them - and more so, find them engaging - except through a medium which they already find consummately interesting: skateboarding.
Hence, since I'm definitely not sagacious like Rabbi Meir, and dismally lack his level of discernment, I'm still not afraid of imbibing some 'pips and peel' - if only I can assist a few younger people discover and tap their spiritual potential...           

Monday, April 23, 2012


Here are a few thoughts concerning the nature of foundations and how they relate to skateboarding:

a) Foundations pervade an entire structure:

Once, an individual approached the Alter Rebbe, the first Master of what was to become the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, commenting that Chassidic teaching seems to repeat concepts over and over again. The Rebbe replied, 'Though books merely repeat letters of the Alphabet, that doesn't mean they are all the same!'

The idea is that in every discipline, skill, or endeavour, there are foundations which are reiterated constantly. Yet, they do not stifle creativity - they facilitate it.

Hence, the Ollie, Shuvit, kickflip, etc - the basics of skateboarding - are repeated in ever more complex tricks, only in different combinations and variations.  

b) If a foundation is weak, it may go unnoticed at first. However, as one attempts to build upon it, its structural weakness becomes increasingly apparent. For instance, if one builds two towers with building blocks, one with an infirm foundation, the difference between them may remain invisible until the towers are quite tall. For then, the unsteady foundation cannot support the structure. Similarly, a skater's weakness in fundamental tricks may go unnoticed until he begins to attempt complex or 'big' manoeuvres.

c) The foundation is the the most vulnerable part of any structure. Hence, if one wants to topple a building, he should aim at its foundations rather than at one of its stories, and certainly not at a window. In skating, therefore, if one wants to have solid performance of any trick, skate fundamentals must be well mastered.

d) Foundations are usually concealed under the ground. Hence, if in a game of skate, a skater performs an Ollie or a basic Manual (Wheelie) competitors may view it as somewhat peculiar. For the individual is performing a trick that is so fundamental that it is usually taken for granted.  

e) Foundations are points of bonding, they hold fast many different elements of a structure together.

If, for analogies sake, we compare the centre of a circle to a foundation, and imagine lines extending from it in every direction unto the circle's perimeter, we find that the closer the lines are to the foundation, the closer they are to each other.

Now, if each line signifies a different skateboarding trick, it follows that one lacking strong foundations, even if he has mastered several tricks, may find it unduly difficult to master other tricks - for the distance between the lines is great. One, however, who has solid foundations can more readily master all different kinds of tricks - as the distance between the lines is much smaller.

It follows from all the above points, that if we are finding it difficult to master a certain trick, we may, at times, need to dig beneath the earth to examine the state of our foundations and strengthen them if necessary. Subsequently, we can ascend up our structure of skills and build upon them with a greater likelihood of success...                    

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Clock-work versus clock-face

One common difference between giving and receiving is visible in the way an object is experienced by the giver and recipient. The giver tends to be aware of the many individual sources or events underlying the object that is given while the recipient experiences the object (or event) as a unified whole. (The term 'giving' and 'receiving' - terms translated from the Kabbalah original Hebrew - are here used in a specific way, as shall become apparent).   

This notion can be gleaned from a few basic examples:

In producing (giving) a film, input from a vast variety of industries is apparent. There are the actors, stunt people, script writers, prop designers, producers/studio executives, cinematographers,make-up artists, composers, choreographers, special effects specialists, costume designers, human resource personnel, accountants, transport logistics experts, pilots, all sorts of repair men, portable toilet specialists, chefs, etc, etc. When watching (receiving) a film, however, the plethora of sources and contributors are invisible. On the contrary, the film is perceived as one seamless whole.

A clock has a complex mechanism consisting of several separate components, each individually crafted, and assembled together according to an overarching design. Each part contributes a unique role to the clockwork. One using (receiving) a clock, however, sees a rather simple and user friendly clock face, often only faintly aware of the complex system that the surface conceals.

When speaking (giving), a speaker may sense the various external and internal resources that flow into his speech: sensory experiences, different books that he has studied, his insight, analysis, language centre, emotions, will, etc. The listener, in contrast, experiences (receives) a cohesive message.     

Similarly, when watching a skater perform his repertoire of tricks smoothly and easily, one is typically unaware of the thousands of skate sessions during which the skater progressively refined each trick part by part, the many trick tips he heard from fellow skaters, his huge number of falls and clumsily failed attempts at each trick, the injuries he endured, the many skate videos he watched, the internal battles he fought, etc, before he mastered the tricks he now so elegantly executes.

I remember my first time seeing watches with transparent clock faces, exposing the clock's mechanism to the eye. Seeing the complex system controlling the simple clock face impressed me. I ended buying such a watch to remind me not to take things for granted. Unlike a magic trick which loses its magic when a magician discloses his secret method, discovering the secret underpinning much of life's phenomena only adds  to the magic of the experience...      

Monday, April 16, 2012

Beginning, Middle, End

Everything in existence comprises three 'parts': beginning, [Heb.‘rosh’ (lit. head)] - the capacity to receive or initiate a process; a middle, [Heb. ‘toch’ (lit. within)] - the capacity to contain, or to reach the peak of a process; and an end [Heb. ‘sof’ (lit. end)] - the ability to give, or to bring a process to completion. According to Kabbalah, and as echoed by philosophers, this tripartite principle is a recurring pattern in the world, manifest at every level:
When water is poured into a glass; the beginning;
When contained within a glass; the middle;
When poured out of a glass; the end.

The day of Shabbat receives from the six working days preceding it, as taught, 'One that prepares for Shabbat 'eats' on Shabbat'; the beginning;
Shabbat itself, a day of spiritual delight, 'And you shall delight in the Lord...'; the middle;
Shabbat infuses spirituality into the following six working days, as stated, 'From it [Shabbat] all the weekdays are blessed'; the end.

One's ability to study; the beginning
The ability to assimilate and retain information; the middle;
The ability to apply the information in practice; the end.

The upper arm until the elbow; the beginning,
The forearm until the wrist; the middle;
The hand; the end.

The fingers divide into three parts as well, as do the legs, as does the body at large:
the head, the seat of intellect; the beginning;
The torso, where emotion is strongly felt; the middle;
The legs, the medium for action; the end.
Every skateboarding trick consists of three stages:
Preparation for the trick: correct foot placement, attainment of the right speed to perform the trick, crouching down, etc; the beginning;
The performance of the trick itself: a kick flip, boneless, 50-50 grind, etc; the middle;
The  landing and ride-away: crouching down to absorb impact, etc; the end...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Kingdoms: Inanimate, plant, animal, human - and skateboarder

Jewish mystics divide the world into four kingdoms. From lowest to highest: inanimate, plant, animal, and human.

The Inanimate consists of apparently lifeless entities incapable of moving or growing. Examples are rocks, metals, and minerals.

Plants are clearly alive; they grow and reproduce. 

 Animals have the additional ability to roam about and exhibit emotion and limited intellect.

 Humans possess true spirituality. Unlike animals, which are “programmed” to follow their natural instincts, the human can choose his behaviour based on abstract knowledge. She can also constantly ascend to higher states of self-refinement, perfection, and spirituality.

 In skateboarding, all four levels find expression. The wheels, trucks and bolts, made of rubber and metal, are part of the inanimate kingdom. A typical deck, made of plywood, is part of the plant kingdom. Meanwhile, the skater comprises two levels: his bodily instincts and drives (his animal self) is part of the animal kingdom, and his ability to transcend his animal nature by doing things meaningfully, and cultivate noble traits, is the human dimension. 

 It is noteworthy that a huge chasm exists between the plant and animal kingdoms. Whereas plants (and certainly the inanimate) are primarily physical entities, animals (and certainly humans) are primarily conscious beings with awareness, feelings and intellect.

This division is apparent in skateboarding where the inanimate and plant levels combine to form one independent entity: the skateboard, and the animal and human aspects comprise another independent entity: the human. Thus while the inanimate/plant levels are strongly linked, as are the human/animal levels, the two sets of pairs are independent. Simply: the skater is independent of his skateboard. In the act of skating, however, the skater unifies all four levels and harmonizes them. 

However, the four levels must be correctly ordered, for each level  'desires' to be subsumed in the level above it. Hence the earth nurtures plant life; plants are eaten by animals; and humans use animals for food, clothing, travel, or agriculture, thereby elevating them  into the human kingdom.
When skating, this implies that not only should  a skater avoid becoming subordinate to the inanimate and plant levels - that is, abandon his control over his board - he must also control his animal self and skate in a meaningful manner...

A house call from the king

Reece Warren: Blunt Fontside 180
Imagine these two scenarios:
a) You enter a ceremony at the king's palace. Together with other citizens you become part of the king's majestic world. You temporarily transcend your own life as it is eclipsed by the enamouring radiance of the king's.

b) The king, travelling through the city, makes a short visit to your humble home where his presence appears anomalous. Your home is uplifted and you feel the excitement owing the peculiarity of the great resting upon the small.

Andrew Mapstone captures 
Standley's Nose Blunt 
Scott Standley: Airborne
These two scenarios are traditional analogies for the human experience of the Divine. Sometimes, when meditating on Kabbalah, one forgets about his own life as he encounters enchanting heavenly secrets about existence. When performing mitzvot, however, sacred physical acts such as observing Shabbat, performing acts of kindness, etc, one feels the Divine presence enter into his  personal little world space. In the former case, one visits Heaven; in the latter, Heaven visits him.

Reece Warren: Nose blunt
This week I had an experience which- for me - somewhat reflects the second scenario. Andrew Mapstone, one of the top skate photographers in the world, came to my home in order to shoot some photos of me on my mini ramp for an upcoming edition of SLAM, Australia's foremost skateboarding magazine. Accompanying him were two of Australia's top skateboarders, Scott Standley and Reece Warren. The trio transformed my humble front yard mini-ramp, on which I manage to perform only modest tricks, into something out of a professional skate video.        
Scott Standley: Backside Tailslide
My neighbours - enthralled
 I've been to several skateboarding demos at large skateparks and observed elite skaters work their magic, but to have them skate my own ramp was a radically different experience.

My neighbours were also affected. Only minutes before the crew arrived, I saw my teenage neighbours walk out of their home.  With posters from SLAM Magazine in their home, they eagerly witnessed a SLAM article in the making...

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Vaughan Marks and the art of compassion

  Vaughan with one of the raffle prizes
Tragically, Queensland skater, Timmy Burdett, lost his father and two sisters in a car crash. Short of funds to provide them with an honorable burial, his compassionate friend, Vaughan Marks, took to the task of raising the required sum. And how does one passionate skater raise money for another skater? 

Vaughan organized skate events. The first was held at Fitzroy Bowl where people gathered to skate and relax. There Vaughan could be seen approaching people with a charity box in hand, encouraging them to contribute. A second and larger event was held at Riverslide Skate Park in the Melbourne CBD. Several skate companies, including Vaughan's own Parlay, generously donated sundry skate gear which was auctioned off or used as raffle prizes at the event. There was music, food, a best trick competition, and much more. Clearly, a formidable amount of planning and organization was required.

Flyer for the Riverslide event 
What is the psychological dynamic underpinning such magnanimity? Let me dig into my tradition for a possible answer. The Hebrew term for compassion, Rachem, is almost identical with the word Rechem, womb. According to Kabbalah, the primary human emotions are kindness, sternness and compassion. Each emotion is aroused through a particular mode of thinking: Kindness flows from contemplating an other's good qualities; sternness ignites when considering their negative traits; while compassion is evoked when imagining oneself in the shoes of a person who is suffering in some way.
Whereas kindness and sternness stem from viewing the other as separate from the self, compassion  involves identifying with the other’s being. And herein lays the connection between compassion and the womb. Compassion allows one to accommodate another person within his own soul as a womb enables one to accommodate another person within her own body.

Wishing Vaughan and all the others who contributed to the fundraising efforts much blessing.