I gave my sister a massage once, and she said something like, “This is good, did you do a massage course?”
I guess the significance of this is harder to grasp for people outside our family. It annoyed me just a little, because the general culture of my sister and my parents seems to be that if you want to learn something, you should do a course or some other “official” learning method.
Personally, I’ve learnt most of the things I enjoy doing and do well – massage, cooking, writing, comedy, singing – completely without the help of some sort of “official” learning method. Mostly, I learnt these things through practise, and trial and error. Sometimes I got a few tips from other people and put them into practise. Sometimes I learnt through observation.
I’m not sure that this is necessarily the best way of learning, except that it works for me. The trouble I have with learning courses is that they tend to mimic the Western obligatory school system, which makes them really ineffective. I’m not sure what I would do if I were going to set up a learning course, except that I am sure I would throw away all concepts out the window and try to create something from scratch, uninfluenced by the Western school system.
In practise, I feel more like encouraging people to learn on their own than being a “teacher” – for which reason I felt rather uncomfortable being an English-as-a-second-language teacher in Barcelona, even if the pay was good. If my passion really was helping people learn languages, I think I would make an initiative to simply get people together in social meetings, to exchange experiences, resources and motivation, and perhaps to sit together and study. Language exchange or partnerwork for practising the language would also be possible.
I don’t like the idea of being a “teacher” because the school system has trained people to give up their power to teachers. My role as an English-as-a-second-language teacher was often just to sit with people and make them do exercises. That seems like a massive waste of resources to me, economically speaking – even if I did benefit from it financially. People could have saved money and the economy could have saved my work-hours if people could learn just to make themselves do exercises. And I really do think that with a different approach, this is quite doable.
So, I don’t like the standard method of teaching things in our society. I expect some private learning courses out there are OK, but personally it’s been pretty rare for me to find something that really vibed with me. So I’ve often learned alone, and that’s usually been good for me.
What I also don’t like about the assumption that you can only learn things through “official” learning courses is that it doesn’t allow for making stuff up.
For instance, I have learnt a particular method of doing massage which takes advantage of my empathy to find the right spots. This came through inspiration and trial-and-error.
Well, I’m sure that I could get something out of a massage course. But, what I don’t like about the idea that this is the only way to learn is that if I believed that, I never would have come up with my particular style. Learning courses are like production lines: each product (skill learnt) is the same. That’s fine most of the time, but when someone has very particular needs, or very particular abilities, this approach can’t be sensitive to that.
By disbelieving in institutionalised learning, I gained another great benefit. I learnt to do things which don’t have a name and aren’t taught anywhere.
For instance, for a while I was interested in learning to read upside down. I spent some time practising, and my reading speed for upside down letters improved a lot.
Another time, I was interested in ambidexterity for a while. Ambidexterity is quite a difficult skill to learn, and I didn’t get so very far, but I think I did improve the use of my left hand somewhat and I can write with it (awkwardly but legibly) in a pinch. The benefit I enjoyed most from training ambidexterity was a feeling of being more balanced, as one whole side of my body wasn’t shunted into seeming irrelevance anymore.
Another time, I spent some time practising what I have tongue-in-cheek called Gubido (a combination of do, meaning way, as seen in Judo and Kendo, and my surname Gubb or then-nickname Gubby).
It was a combination of the various things I wanted to do with my body: imitation martial arts, stick fighting, dancing, and moving meditation, Chi Gong style.
Trying to learn martial arts myself probably was one of the things which wasn’t going to work so well – at least not without a real book or guide and someone to be my sparring partner. But I wasn’t so serious about it, and that was okay. I think by doing it alone I could focus on the aesthetics of it, which is what I liked anyway.
I would use sticks or wooden play swords and make moves that were in between fighting and dancing. I learned to twirl them in my hands as well. The end result looks quite impressive and feels good to do.
And finally this art I developed bleeds into a moving meditation that looks a bit like Chi Gong or Tai Chi but isn’t. It doesn’t need to be, though; I discovered the art of just letting my body flow with whatever energies that were running through it at that moment, or with music if I put on music. After some time doing this, I would feel a raising of my body’s energies, at the same time as I felt more grounded. I think I may have stumbled across the basics of Chi Gong this way (or at least one of the basics).
Mixing into all this were just stretches, which for a long time I did just because I enjoyed it and had the sense that my body was asking for it. As I wasn’t “officially” doing stretches or anything else, a movement that started as a stretch could turn into a Chi Gong exercise or a dance move or a stick twirl or a martial arts movement.
Unfortunately some people told me that I looked stupid, or just asked me too many questions and gave me too many weird looks when I did it in public. So I rather suppressed it for some years. It needs to come out spontaneously for me, and this doesn’t work so well if I have to justify it or pretend it’s a “real” discipline.
In this writing, though, I’m reminding myself of this, and I hope I can encourage myself to get back into doing things which don’t have a name, which no one is teaching, just because I am inspired to or because they feel right.
Don’t listen to what anyone says. If you feel inspired to do something, that’s enough. You don’t need to be able to explain it to others or even to yourself for it to be valuable. You can work out what the value of it is later.
The “Finding The Truth In A World Of Lies” Series: