Watch and Learn

At five years old, moving from Coaldale to eight miles out of the small town meant that not only did I have two 50 minute bus rides to and from school, but I also had long car trips where I could spend time doing one of my favourite things: reading. I would read endlessly as a child. Anything from the back of my cereal box in the morning, the books I would get out from the library – which were sometimes way over my head as a young’un, – to the signs on the road during a drive. It’s as if I came into this life with an unquenchable yearning for information.

I’ve always wanted to absorb, to gather. The practice of yoga shows me I do this by utilizing my five sense and hoping that my mind can interpret the information as it exists. Instead of bumping reality down a notch by exchanging my own associations or judgements of what I perceive, I want to experience what is really happening. One way I do this is by noticing.

I’ve been hung up lately on how it is that learning happens. A now-familiar question I’ve (ironically) learned to ask myself is “How do I learn?” That process itself suggest that habit plays a large part and it certainly does. Not in a memorize to learn sort of way but in a steady, persistent sort of way. Like how cells can absorb consciousness and intention thereby recreating that intention continually. So how is it that I learn? The types of learners, as dug out from the depths of memories lodging my high school Career and Life Management class, seem to be visual, auditory, kinetic, and learning done by teaching. Most people gravitate towards one of those categorizations. Categorizing is something I’ve been working with lately, attempting to free myself from the self-imposed shackles that enable me to understand the world at the same time they chain me to one particular way of comprehending. And so I don’t want to label myself as being any particular type of learner, I simply want to learn. I do so by watching, listening, doing, and showing and most of all I do so by reading.

Reading doesn’t just mean words on a page, sign, book, or cereal box. Reading means absorbing information as it passes through the sieves of my senses. This type of reading truly does utilize all the types of learning and is something that I’ve also always done – that search for the stuff of life being ever present.

Car rides were always a time rich in reading. Yes, it sometimes meant reading in the traditional sense with my near-addiction to young adult series’ such as The Baby-Sitter’s Club, Animorphs, or Sweet Valley High; the recounting of these titles bringing back floods of decade-plus old memories. Yet it also meant reading the blades of grass, the kitties on the acreage a mile south of the Brown’s house, the one past the long row of tall poplar trees. Reading included deducing the state of my fellow bus-mates. How that girl sitting across from me was already wearing make-up at our young age! And she even a year younger!

What is it that happens when I combine learning and reading in this way? With a view of including the implicit and explicit occurrences currently passing through my realm of experience? What happens is that I can re-create what it is I see around me. This re-creation can then be translated to what I am doing and, as well as the potential to lose my own sense of self, explains my ability to complete tasks when I can simply follow an example that I see around me.

Is that, then, what learning is? The following of examples of what we perceive? Certainly there have been countless rants against institutions of learning purporting this concept: that we care more about the regurgitation of information than that of new ideas birthed by free-thinking individuals. I’m well aware how much of a curse this kind of learning has been in my life. It’s not that the curse comes by itself, it’s that, when coupled with a strong desire for harmony around me at the cost to myself, I tend to sway towards that direction.

I’ve become an expert at watching people and doing things their way. Sure, there could be entirely appropriate times and places to being forward this skill.What immediately jumps to mind is when training for some new jobs. Yet the reality is I’m sick of it. Sick of wasting my own creative energies with the false assumption that the way other people are doing things is the better way. This false notion comes out in many different ways. It could be as subtle as the placement of items in a fridge that, once I’ve removed and returned my desired item I also return any impeding items back to their original positions. How odd! Who says my way of arranging perishable items isn’t the preferable one over another’s? I endeavour to assert myself more often. To take a stand and do what I think is best, even if it means blatant disregard for the ways things used to be.

I’m struck by how, at its core, this is what innovation is. Change happens because someone else sees another way of doing things. I am holding myself back, holding myself to old ways of doing things if I am unwilling or unable to come up with the required elements needed to commit to a new way.

It’s as if all those hours of placidly watching the world run past me on trips to and from town have quieted my sense of innovation. Am I to be content watching the world go by? Or will I stand up and create something entirely my own? Yes, I am capable of understanding the way things are done, and I trust the compass within to guide me towards doing things in ways that are truly beneficial to myself and, according to my own understanding, to others as well.

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