Your own flair

I’ve been sharing passages and lessons I’ve been mulling from Josh Waitzkin’s “The Art of Learning” over the past few weeks. This is the final passage and it is about the importance of including your own flair in the learning journey.

Learners and performers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are aggressive, others are cautious. Some of us like questions, others prefer answers. Some bubble with confidence, always hungering for a challenge, while others break into a sweat at the notion of taking on something new. Most of us are a complicated mix of greys.

We have areas of stability and others in which we are wobbly. In my experience the greatest of artists and competitors are masters of navigating their own psychologies, playing on their strengths, controlling their tone of battle so that it fits with their personalities.

I have found that in the intricate endeavors of competition, learning, and performance, there is more than one solution to virtually every meaningful problem. We are unique individuals who should put our own flair in everything we do.

Many years ago, a good friend said the best way to learn from others is to copy what they’re doing first. Then, as you get the hang of it, customize and develop your own style. It was good advice. Over time, you find yourself developing a sense for what will work for you and what will not. Josh’s note about great artists and competitors being masters of navigating their psychologies is very true.

Knowing ourselves and understanding our own flair is at the heart of all learning journeys.

Tai Chi and breathing

I’ve been sharing “meditations” from Josh Waitzkin’s “The Art of Learning” in the past few weeks. I’m down to my last two passages. Today’s note is about Tai Chi and breathing.

In William Chen’s Tai Chi form, expansive (outward or upward) movements occur with an in-breath, so the body and mind wake up, energize into a shape. He gives the example of reaching out to shake the hand of someone you are fond of, waking up after a restful sleep, or agreeing with someone’s idea. Usually, such positive movements are associated with an in-breath – in the Tai Chi form, we “breathe into the fingertips.” Then, with the out-breath, the body releases, de-energizes, like the last exhalation before falling asleep.

It is Chen’s opinion that a large obstacle to a calm, healthy, present existence is the constant interruption of our natural breathing patterns. A thought or ringing phone or honking car interrupts an out-breath and so we stop and begin to inhale. Then we have another thought and stop before exhaling. The result is shallow breathing and deficient flushing of carbon dioxide from our systems, so our cells never have as much pure oxygen as they could. Tai Chi meditation is, among other things, a haven of unimpaired oxygenation.

This is such a practical and, yet, fascinating thought. I plan to think about it further and see how I can integrate this idea into my day. More when that happens.

Thanks again, Josh, for a fascinating insight.