I thought I’d share an incident that happened with my mother a few months ago that is illustrative of one of life’s great lessons. I was struggling to pour coffee from the stainless steel mug that is paired with the brewing machine into my travel mug. No matter what I did, I was spilling coffee everywhere. My Mom took a moment to think about what she does, and then told me that I wanted to aim for the far side of the travel mug, very near the edge–and lo, and behold, once I changed where I was aiming it worked!
Now, this may seem a fairly basic thing, of little note, but my life has been filled with such difficulties. I was diagnosed with Developmental Coordination Disorder, also known as developmental dyspraxia, when I was 8 years old. Physical things that other people do automatically, and that kids often pick up by merely watching and copying, I struggled for months or years to get the hang of. Over time, I’ve learned that if I want to learn a new physical skill, I have to get the person instructing to break it down into the simplest possible terms–which often involves the person instructing me to have to do a fairly complete self-examination. Unsurprisingly, not many are patient or self-reflective enough to be useful instructors.
One person who has great skill at this however is my Tai Chi instructor–one of the reasons I’ve loved studying under him the past few years is that he can break complex and frightening maneuvers like the double jump-kick, or spinning and leaping punch, down into segments small enough and simple enough for me to comprehend. I now have much more mastery over my body than I ever would have dreamed of before studying with him due to his talent for this breaking down of a process.
It does make me wonder whether we need to break down things more often–and not just physical things. Often I think we get too frustrated by a problem, by a situation that isn’t working out, and we forget that sometimes the best thing to do is go back to basics, break a process down and see where we’re going wrong. And maybe sometimes we need to do that to talk with people we disagree with, because something that seems plain obvious to us is in fact an automatic assumption we’ve made out of habit.