One of the most spiritually fulfilling experiences in life–one of life’s epiphanies–is learning something and getting good at it.
There is a story in my family about my learning how pedal when I was a toddler–I don’t remember the experience itself. Apparently, I really struggled to learn how to pedal on my tricycle. At around the same time, I struggled with word ‘banana.’ This blockage with pedaling and being able to say ‘banana’ went on and on. As the story goes, one day I came cruising down the hallway on my tricycle, at the same time saying triumphantly “banana banana banana.”
As we get older, we start to devalue these experiences. We become competitive, self-conscious, time-conscious, results-drive. The joy of learning starts to wear off.
Embarking on something new when you’re all grown up can be daunting. Starting with baby steps when you’re no longer a baby is a humbling experience.
However, as you get better at something, it becomes easier and more enjoyable. You’re also able to do more. As you continue to get better, it starts to take on depth and importance. What happens when you become really good at it?
In Japan, they have known the answer to this question for centuries. It becomes a spiritual practice. It becomes a transcendent experience that takes you out of yourself. It begins as an apparently simple activity–raking gravel, folding paper, shooting an arrow, training to fight; and yet mastery requires blood, sweat, and tears. When you reach a certain level, you realize there really is no beginning and no end. The whole process was the goal. Being a beginner and being a Master are part of one big circle–your black belt eventually turns white.
Someone will come to me and say, “I’m weak, I’m unhealthy, exercise hurts, I’m a spaz and I feel weird at the gym. How long is this going to take?” As a pragmatic trainer, my first answer might be, “six months if you follow this program.” But deeper down, I want to say, “This is the beginning of a new chapter in your life. In fact, this is going to take you the rest of your life.” When I see them struggling through the simplest exercises, I want to whisper to them, “Today is actually a great day.”