Reflection on My Own Path

I'd intended the theme of the month to be fitting in vs. being yourself, because that's the initial vibe I got from the Hierophant--being forced to learn or comply to someone else's idea of knowledge, the idea of formal learning or some kind of dogmatic institution. 

But, like everything, the journey turned into more fun than expected.

Other people's knowledge is not really what the Hierophant is about, especially if you look to more modern decks that don't feel they need to adhere to the traditional medieval imagery and meaning. The modern Hierophant is about pursuing formal knowledge outside your own head; it's about getting your shit together and pursuing something with intent and discipline.

One of the things I've learned about myself is that I enjoy learning things. I'm more likely to buy books than clothes. I have more books than time to read, and also not nearly enough bookmarks. But sometimes I wonder if I'm retaining any of the information or whether I'm making any headway. There's plenty of times I'll come back to a book I've supposedly read before and find it seems totally new. Is this really a good way to learn things, or am just leading myself on a grand tour that's entertaining  but ultimately unproductive?

It can be exciting to undertake a new course of study, to devote yourself to a new path of knowledge, but also off-putting. How do you find what's right for you when everyone's got an opinion and there's more degrees and classes and programs than you can shake a stick at? How do you find "your" path? And do you really need to be anal-retentive about it, or can you just grab a pile of books and teach yourself?

This all reminds me of the common philosophy that you have to get a thousand hours of something under your belt before you can figure you're anywhere near good at it. It's really hard to get that thousand hours unless you dedicate yourself to that one thing and work at it. Most people try things and move on, or get bored or frustrated before they get good. One good thing about a formal program is that it dictates the amount of time you have to keep at it (presuming you want to get your money's worth). This is also similar to the reason people buy full-year gym memberships instead of just working out in their basement (which, darn it, I am totally putting off now.)

I've had this experience in my martial arts journey. When I started karate, I mainly did it because my kids did it in the afternoon and taking the adult class afterwards was a way better alternative than going home for the pre-dinner witching hour. I'd been interested in the martial arts before kids, but had only done a few aikido and judo classes in college. I never figured I'd be doing a close-in fighting style, but that's what we ended up doing due to location and the recommendation of friends.

There are only eight kata in our style (Uechi Ryu), but it's amazing how long you can practice and learn and still have more to learn. As I approach my black belt, it feels like I'm only just starting to get good enough to really start learning. It's a cool feeling when something opens up just because you've been doing it long enough that you've got what appears to be a sudden new understanding.

And this is what I've realized I also love about learning anything, even though it drives me crazy. When I'm learning something, I'll read a gazillion books on the topic, and seemingly forget half of it and understand only a tenth of the rest. Eventually, though, I'll find myself understanding something that I totally didn't get the first time, or make a connection between two things that on their own had very little meaning. It's like when you're cooking, and all of a sudden the ingredients firm up enough to be considered dinner.

But this only happens if you put enough time and discipline into the process. In a way, it doesn't matter what you do, only that you spend long enough doing it. I just read a blog post somewhere about how the whole "Find Your Passion" doesn't work, because not everyone can do that. It was saying that you should just do SOMETHING, and in the process of doing it better you'll likely discover a passion for the work that wasn't there before and couldn't have been predicted.

So if you're at loose ends, it can't hurt to take the Hierophant's advice and get to work on something. Immerse yourself in the process of learning, and don't let yourself back out. If you think you've learned something, come back to it later and see if you need to review it or look at it with new eyes. Whether you do this with a formal teacher or not doesn't matter; what does is that it's formal to YOU so that you take it seriously, and take yourself seriously.