Brendan Lawlor is participating in the 100 Day Challenge, and in fact he was one of the catalysts for it. Brendan’s part of Wildmind’s Google+ Community, which is a place for people to discuss their practice, and he mentioned that, according to the meditation app on his smartphone, he had meditated for 100 days straight. Another group member suggested that we could turn that into a challenge for the new year. And so here we are.
Brendan wrote something about beginner’s mind and the 100 Day Challenge:
I speak fluent but deeply compromised Italian. When I was in the earliest learning phase, I acquired new words and structures very quickly but I had to work very hard indeed. Most of my processing went into the parsing and production of grammar rather than the actual content and meaning of the conversations I was having. This meant that I was working furiously but neither expressing myself very well, nor understanding deeply what was being said to me. This was frustrating for me, as in my mother tongue I am a good communicator and (it has been said) good company. I felt like a fool in Italian. Worse – a boring fool.
In my hurry to express myself, and impress others, I started to care less about the form and more about the content of my spoken Italian. And with some amount of success. I could crack a joke occasionally, and certainly understand one. But I was riding roughshod over the grammar. I wasn’t paying much attention to the details of pronunciation, to the intricate elegance of the subjunctive voice (very important and very widely used in Italian) and I constantly forgot whether nouns were masculine or feminine. Many many years later, matters are still very much the same. I have a greater vocabulary, I’m comfortable and confidant when I speak, but I make constant errors that, while they don’t impede understanding, they must certainly jar the listener’s ear. I will never be mistaken for a native speaker (though my pasty white face would have seen to that in any case). And I regret that I didn’t take a more steady approach to learning. I regret I didn’t stay longer in Beginner’s Mind.
According to a Japanese martial art concept, learning happens in three phases called, in order of appearance, Shu, Ha and Ri. (I’m not a martial art student – I learned these terms when they were applied to software programming languages, of all things). To summarize:
- The Shu phase entails obedience to the teachings. We follow the instructions – what could be simpler?
- The Ha phase represents the beginning of digression – we start to find our own meaning in the teachings and tailor them to ourselves.
- Ri is separation or transcendence – we have achieved such mastery of the subject that rules are irrelevant.
When we begin to learn a new skill, we dream of Ri, but feel imprisoned by Shu. Those of us whose personality types tend towards arrogance or excessive individualism ‘escape’ Shu almost as soon as we start. We tell ourselves we’re being creative, but if we’re really honest we just haven’t developed the discipline or courage to rein ourselves in.
The 100 day challenge offers a chance to Dhamma Pirates like us to put the uniform back on, to return to the ranks of Beginner (which in reality we never really left) and put in our time, under the watchful eye, if possible, of our sangha. The continuity of daily practice allows us to chart a steady course through the basic techniques, over and over until we really do get the basics under our skin. The sangha provided by Wildmind obliges us to stay that course.