Monday, July 8, 2013

Perpetual Beginner

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”                                                                                                                  - Confucius

I am not an expert on anything. I never was and never will be. Every time I get excited to learn something, I immerse myself in it for a few weeks. Then the lizard brain kicks in and I sabotage my own growth. When it is time to raise the bar up a notch, motivation dips. When the process gets harder, the lazy gene kicks in, that too in overdrive. Intentions that were set initially to stick it through the obstacles are all but forgotten. Impatience and discouragement dominates. I give up. Temporarily, sort of.

What was meant to be a short break turns out into a long sabbatical. Then when the guilt gnaws away at my insides and finally engulfs me whole, I hop on the wagon, again. Back to where I started. I have lost the momentum and most of what I have learned. But I am relentless, momentarily. And so the cycle begins. And I stay a perpetual beginner. For life. I think I like staying a beginner, although I wouldn’t want to acknowledge it (which I just did) - perils of pouring down thoughts to words, I guess.

I do love the idea of being an expert, no doubt. But without having to put in the 10,000 hours. Therein lies the rub. Also, there is a price for being labeled an expert - responsibility. Which isn’t quite my cup of tea either. So naturally, the beginner’s mindset is very appealing. At first, I am all excited and enthusiastic about what I am learning. Hopeful about the possibilities and potential, both of which are quite inflated and unrealistic, something that the eager mind fails to recognize. The challenges aren’t immediate. They seem farther down the road and therefore, not very threatening. Being a beginner gets my foot in the door without drawing undue attention. Even though thoughts and actions are half baked, I get away with it. And the best part... I can cry for help.

I think the level of confidence is directly proportional to the level of effort. With my level of effort, confidence eludes me, no surprise there. So I aspire to complacency which is always out of reach. Some of my pursuits include yoga, reading, writing, swimming, cooking, coding, running and meditation. Pursuits for which I find it hard to find my edge and move onto the next level (sounds like words right out of a yoga class). Instead I settle and re-settle, time and again, comfortably in the cozy beginner’s seat. Here is a summary of what my ride looks like on each of these pursuits...

I started learning yoga about 17 years ago. In terms of my asana-bility, I am still oscillating between a beginner and an advanced beginner. I love to practice. I miss it if I don’t get on the mat for days at a stretch. But my ‘all or nothing approach’ in the way I practice, does more harm than I realize. If only the number of hours spent watching yoga videos counts as practice hours, I would have passed the 500-hour training level. Easy. Learning by osmosis isn’t quite working the way I want it to. As far as practicing the rest of Patanjali’s teachings, let’s just put it this way - it is voluntary ignorance.
I started meditating at the same time I started learning yoga. I still don’t go past the 5 to 10 minute mark on most days I meditate, which isn’t very many. But just like how I love the idea of drinking wine but my tolerance of it is so low that I drink it from a shot glass, I love, love the idea of sitting still and doing nothing but paying attention to my breath. To me, that’s the ultimate non-activity for someone who loves to do nothing. I have Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life at my bedside table hoping that if it is in my line of vision often, I would somehow find time for meditation. It doesn’t work that way. Once in awhile I do get inspired... when I catch a glimpse of it on my way out during the morning rush. A perfect time to sit still, I suppose. Now if only I could move back the clock.

Reading - my only claim to having a hobby. I have been reading voraciously since I was 12, but my comprehension, memory and vocabulary are all sub-par. I have ploughed through classics and other literary gems that were way beyond my brain’s processing power. So I have a long ‘Must-Re Read’ list along with my ‘Must-Read’ list. There is more to reading than just the literal understanding of words. It requires the ability to comprehend, analyze, assimilate and articulate the effect of the book on you. Nil, nil, nil and nil.

If someone asks me now what I want to be when I grow up, I would say I want to be a writer. I dream of being a writer. I know the research would kill me, but I dream all the same. Of being able to have intelligent thoughts, brilliant imagination and a magical way with words - a la Dickens, Tolstoy, Thoreau, Buck, Coelho, Michener, Lamott and all those wonderful authors whose names escapes me this minute or whose works I don’t know of, yet. I started writing when I was in college. Don’t have much to show for. This blog is a very recent attempt. Not exactly one for the portfolio - more as a grist-mill for my jumbled thoughts.

I have been learning to swim for the past couple of years, on and off. Yes, on and off is the recurrent theme here. I still panic when my feet barely touches the pool floor and my teacher isn’t beside me for moral support or when the lifeguard isn’t watching me like a hawk. Relaxing and trusting the body’s buoyancy is not an option. There is no place in my head for physics and logic when it is all muddled with fear. Again, no amount of watching YouTube videos on swimming techniques will equal actually practicing the breaststroke, in water.

I learnt to cook 15 years ago. I cook for my family. That is not to say that I cook well. Except for some occasional bursts of inspiration that give surprisingly delicious results, I stick to the basic tried and true (by me) recipes drawing general disapproval from my kids. My goal is to provide healthy, nourishing food. Taste is only a matter of... well, taste. I browse the blog world for inspiration - as I do for most things. But if the count of ingredients exceeds 5, I find it very off-putting. I don’t think those recipes are intended for beginners like me.

I acquired a degree in computers. Unfortunately the degree didn’t translate to valuable knowledge. It was more of a ‘how to survive mind numbing environments’ which after that, wasn’t really necessary or applicable. Currently, I have a job coding. The degree wasn’t worthless after all. I survive. Nothing to write home about.

I took up running a couple of years ago. That’s a long time to allow oneself to move past the 5k level. But no, I have been slipping and sliding all over the place. I did change my intentions this past year. Why exactly do I run? Is it to model after Caballo Blanco or is it just so I get moving, fast. Since I have answered my question as to why I run, I have scaled back my efforts (which I never hesitate to do) in the name of sustainability. Yes, that’s it, slow and steady. I have got the ‘slow’ part down pat. It’s in my nature. The ‘steady’ part isn’t as easy - it is not in my nature.

The beginner's world is a very comfortable space to dawdle in - where expectations are low, ignorance is tolerated, mistakes are easily forgiven, excuses for incompetence are readily available, attention to detail is not required and where moderate effort is applauded and even recommended. I like that place. I don’t think I can deny it any longer - I belong to the elementary studentdom in life. That too a backbencher. Oh well. It is what it is. I have to take comfort in the fact that I am trying - on and off.

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