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Dave Brisbin

Task Within the Task

Remember the Karate Kid movie? Has to be the original from 1984. Kid asks the master to teach him karate, and the master tells him to wax his cars. But with this exact movement—wax on, wax off. When that’s done, sand the floor, paint the fence, all with very specific movements. After weeks, the kid is fed up with slave labor, screams at the master, and turns to leave. Then there’s this great moment where the master puts all those movements into context with the punches he throws, the kid deftly blocking each one with muscles hardened by the memory of each defensive motion.

Why didn’t the master tell the kid what he was really doing while he was doing all that work? Because the kid would have brought all he thought he knew about karate into the process and messed it all up. Only way to learn a pure motion is to separate the motion from the desired outcome, and only way to a desired outcome is to learn the pure motion. What a metaphor for life. What are we really doing when we do the things we do all day long? What really matters? What lasts?

We have to believe that what we do matters, or life becomes intolerably absurd. But when we live long enough, we begin to question the meaning of all we do. How does it matter? Why does it matter? We need a moment with the master to put it all together, give us the context of a thrown punch to see how our muscles have hardened to a purpose, but not the one we first imagined. The tasks we do all day long are only temporal. They and their effects will end. But within those tasks is a deeper task that always points to the unseen connection between everything and everyone. When we can see that deeper task within, all our tasks become reinfused with lasting meaning.

Like the kid, if we focus too soon on the outcome we think really matters, we won’t practice pure movements long enough to build character and container for real meaning. But if we don’t eventually question the meaning of our movements, we’ll never learn that they are just containers for a deeper task—the one that shows us who we really are.


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