A few years ago I read a book entitled, The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin. Jyotish Novak, spiritual director of Ananda Worldwide, recommended it and I found it very enlightening and applicable to my own life.
Josh Waitzkin is probably most popularly known from the book and movie, Searching for Bobby Fisher. Searching for Bobby Fisher is about Josh’s life as an extraordinary young chess player, written by his father. In The Art of Learning, Josh shares his story in his own words.
Today, Josh is an 8-time National Chess Champion, a 13-time Tai Chi Chuan Push Hands National Champion and two-time Tai Chi Chuan Push Hands World Champion. As a grown man he wrote The Art of Learning to share his story of what it took to succeed, how to replicate success, and how to apply success principles in all aspects of one’s life. Reading this book marked a pinnacle time in my own life where success was beginning to be redefined.
I began to think that no matter where or when we grow up, we are subject to society’s preconceived notions of happiness. Each step along our enfoldment we are handed a specific idea of what life has to offer.
As a maturing young adult, I was plagued by the notion that the purpose of life was to become successful. Okay, pretty straight forward. But…what’s success? Of course success is about how much money you make and how well known you are. That much was clear. And if this is what ‘everyone’ believes then it must be true! Yet…what about that persistent thought, in the back of my mind, saying that life must have more meaning than who I am and what I have? That one, little, persistent thought grew becoming louder and more demanding. That little thought was what eventually brought me onto the spiritual path.
I moved to Ananda Village in the Fall of 2007. I was 18 years old and, more than anything else, I was looking for a sense of purpose. I had recently reformed my way of life and found myself somewhat fragile and unsure of my direction. Nonetheless, I knew Ananda was my home.
I now live at Ananda Village, in a group house with other young adults. We are all very motivated and inspired individuals who desire to improve the world.
As I write this I ask myself, what inspires you? For me, the answer is ‘learning.’ What is it about learning that is so inspiring to me? It is the ability to step outside of having to know anything; you have the opportunity to be rather than do.
What brought my attention back to the subject of success, most recently, was my new interest in learning the cello. I have had many interests, but perhaps my foremost “interest” within the last few years has been a deep and profound desire to learn; to absorb as much as I can about as many things as I can. Through many successes and failures in my process of learning, the question arises: what makes one succeed at one thing and yet not succeed in another? Is success a fleeting thing merely dictated by karma? Or can success be channeled and used to accomplish any goal one might have?
In Nayaswami Kriyananda’s book, Education for Life, he says, “The art of learning languages is to a great extent a matter of ‘tuning in’ to the general consciousness of the people who speak it.” We could adapt this to read, “The art of learning is to a great extent a matter of ‘tuning in’ to the general consciousness of what we are trying to learn.” Sounds relatively simple really. Yet those two words ‘tuning in’ seem to have a whole lot to do with whether we succeed or not.
What I have noticed with my own ability to succeed is that it is directly tied to whether I can maintain a deep passion in what I am learning. No matter how ‘good’ an idea I might have, without that passion to make it happen I have nothing and I lack any significant momentum.
In The Art of Learning Josh talks about a time in a Tai Chi match where he broke his hand. All of a sudden, he said, time stopped. Though they were both moving very fast, his opponent seemed to move in slow motion and thus Josh was able to beat him with only one hand. To me, this demonstrates the power and potential of the human mind. Once completely focused on something, we have the ability to ‘transcend time’.
In my research and fascination with the cello I have come across many great cellists who seem to ‘transcend time.’ If you watch how quickly and precisely they move you may wonder how anyone could move that fast. They seem to exist on another plane. It seems it is their ability to slow down and focus on something so entirely, and not their ability to speed up, that makes them so successful. Perhaps all great men and women share this trait: an ability to focus completely on one thing, giving them a “superhuman” ability to create wonders.
I came to realize that “superhuman” is more of a natural state than a unique experience. What most people have accepted as the norm of daily living is really a “less-than-human” experience. For instance, studies have shown that the average human only uses 13% of his brain. There is much more to what we ‘can’ become then to what we ‘have’ become. In other words, our potential, both human and divine, is “beyond imagination of expectancy”, as Yogananda quotes from his famous poem, Samadhi.
Over the course of my journey I have learned that in order to be a true success I must be ready and willing to embrace greatness. Albert Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same level at which it was created.” Nayaswami Kriyananda and many other great masters have echoed this same idea. We can’t fix a problem at the same level of consciousness in which it was created. The same is true of success. We cannot be great without living in a state of greatness.
It has become apparent to me that my ability to experience a state of higher consciousness is directly related to my capacity to recognize this experience as flowing through me and not originating from me. It would surely be a mistake for the little wave to think it was the entire sea.
Yogananda says “Environment is stronger then will power.” So too, it would be almost impossible to affirm a greater ideal of success, from the common norm, while living in an environment where the above values are not shared. Only in a supportive environment with like minded people have I been able to truly put into practice the art of learning and follow the path towards success.
In His Joy,