Tag Archives: learning

Learning a &@$#%! Lesson

Dr. Wayne Dyer believed that everyone he met had something to teach him. All he had to do was open himself to the possibility that in every encounter with other people, be they family, friends, or complete strangers, there was an opportunity to learn.

I find this remarkable coming from one of the most influential teachers of recent times. Perhaps his success and his insights were due in part to being so receptive, taking in at least as much as he was putting out.

I’ve applied this principle many times. I can’t say exactly what I’ve learned as a result, but it helps me deal with unusual or unpleasant situations. The ability to think, “What is this person/encounter trying to teach me?” allows me to step back from a reflexive emotional reaction and view things at least partly from a detached perspective. It can get surreal, like a kind of out-of-body experience, but it works.

Why, just this morning. . .

I’m at a recycling conference in Kalamazoo this week, sustainability being one of my passions. I began the day with a run (another passion) around the Western Michigan University campus, including this pretty little park that began as storm water containment and became a wetland with local plantings.

As it was a beautiful spring morning, I ate breakfast outside and then, almost reluctantly, changed and headed to the conference. As I walked down the sidewalk toward the hotel, a woman on an old bike passed me from behind, pedaling hard. She yelled several obscenities at me as she went by.

After the initial shock, I wondered what the heck I’d done. I hadn’t blocked the sidewalk, and it couldn’t have been personal; we didn’t know each other, and the whole thing lasted maybe three seconds. Perhaps she had some mental challenges, or was just in a bad mood. But there was no point in speculation. I had to let it go.

So – what could I possibly learn from that? Yes, that thought really did come to mind. Most likely, nothing. Regardless, I told myself, I couldn’t let her bad attitude ruin my day. Getting angry at her would have been “yelling at an empty boat” – accomplishing nothing and spoiling my good mood.

But then I realized what kind of mood I’d really been in.

Right after the run I had indeed been in a good mood. It’s one of the benefits running provides me. But during breakfast my mind had drifted to our current political situation, which I happen to despise, and gradually I’d slipped into cynical mode, coming up with “snide yet humorous” things to write about our government leaders. I’d been slowly poisoning my good mood, withdrawing into myself and closing off the world around me.

And her blast of expletives, however shocking and unpleasant, had been a reboot, a mental defibrillation. For my bad attitude had vanished, and in its place came forgiveness and gratitude for what she’d done. Ass-kicked out of self-absorption, I had reopened myself to learn, and could make full use of the conference. Which was a good thing, because today’s sessions and conversations were packed full of things I hadn’t known about, or that improved my existing knowledge. It was one of the most productive learning and networking days I’ve ever had.

So thank you, mysterious bike lady, for the lesson. And Dr. Dyer, even though we never met and you’re now beyond my ability to do so, thank you too.


What I Learned from a Vacuum Cleaner

Today I visited the Genyokan Dojo for a noon stretching class. I was the first student to arrive, so after changing into my dogi I got out one of the vacuum cleaners and began to clean the mat. No one told me to do this; I had learned it from earlier classes, watching other students prepare the dojo for its first class of the day. I expect that most students learn it the same way.

Pushing a vacuum back and forth on a large mat is not the most stimulating of jobs, and I began to get annoyed. I’d arrived early so I could work on some techniques before class began, and all my practice time was being sucked up, so to speak. Then I remembered that preparing the dojo is also part of training. A clean, tidy dojo supports the positive spirit needed to perform at one’s best. Cleaning and other menial tasks are also good for suppressing the ego – it’s hard to put on airs or feel overly self-proud when you are on your knees scrubbing bloodstains out of the mat.

In The Karate Kid (1984 version), the master begins the boy’s training by making him wax his car and do other tasks. Back in Japan, this kind of start was the norm. Sensei once told a story in class about novices who wanted to study under a great master. Being accepted did not mean you started practicing techniques that day. The novice was expected to spend a long time just working at the dojo, cleaning, repairing, fetching whatever the master or other students needed, etc. It could take two years or even more before he was invited to step onto the mat to begin actual training. But all this time the novice had been watching the students practice, and his duties had trained his body in certain movements, so even though he had not formally practiced, his form was already good and his progress was rapid.

You get good at this one through continually supporting extension ladders.

In the U.S., Sensei then explained, the approach had to be different. Americans have jobs and families and do not expect to live at the dojo and train full time every day. So new Aikido Yoshokai students begin learning techniques right away, while also studying the basic movements and exercises needed to perform them correctly. This approach allows people like me to learn about and train in Aikido, for which I am very grateful. And if I have to take a few minutes getting the dojo ready, or putting things away at the end of class, it’s well worth it.

As it turned out, after some stretching and light torture conditioning exercises, Sensei gave us time to work on our upcoming test techniques, so I got the practice in after all. Where’s the Minwax? I think the wood panels need cleaning…