Saturday, August 16, 2008

How do you KNOW?

That cricket rescue reminded me of something I want to write about.

My sister is contemplating a career change. Being a very thoughtful, methodical, careful type of person, she has done a significant amount of research into this. She does many things well, even brilliantly, but making quick decisions is not on that list.

She chose a school she wanted to attend, and began the application process. It's a small school, run by two people, one of whom she spoke with, and of whom she formed a positive impression. She was quite excited about the possibility of attending this school and progressing towards her career change goal.

As it happened, she was not accepted to the school. This is a fascinating story in and of itself, that I might write about at another time.

I'm bringing it up now because it is an excellent example of how you can do tons of research, look at all sorts of information, consider things very carefully, and when it comes down to making a decision about what to do, end up being stymied by differences with one person.

If you plan to dedicate your life and your time to studying with someone, how do you KNOW when you've found the right person? How do you evaluate whether you can learn from someone? Even beyond whatever knowledge or skills they have, how do you know when their way of being, of knowing, of teaching, of learning, when their spirit, their soul, is compatible with yours?

When I chose (was chosen?) to study the sword, I based much of that decision on my impression, my perceptions of the fencing master I would be studying with, and what I thought of his ability to teach me what I wanted to know.

The thing is, at the beginning, I didn't know enough about either the sword, or about him, to be able to MAKE a rational decision. So when I first started, I was taking a lot on faith, and, quite frankly, hoping I had made a good choice, and that things would work between us in the intensity of the master/apprentice relationship.

When I first started, I was not alone. There was another student who also expressed the desire to become a teacher. We trained and worked together for quite a while.

The two of us had very, very different experiences.
Some, because we are different people, and came to the situation with different backgrounds, different strengths and weaknesses, and different goals.

But some, because we each had very different communication styles and abilities.

It turned out that she and the master were not a good match for this sort of intensity.

And it turned out that he and I ARE a good match. We work very well together, communicate very similarly, and generally see the world in at least compatible, and usually quite similar, ways.

But how do I know this?

And how did I first come to know it?

There was a moment, a very specific situation that I remember as confirming, in a concrete way, that we were on the same track.

I mentioned it to him today. He didn't remember it- which is part of the point. It was not a big deal, not a memorable event for him. It was simply an expression of who he is. I only recall it because it was the first time I saw it.

It was in the late summer.

In front of his house there is a space he uses to give lessons. It's a rectangular spot, with gravel, large enough for fencing. It is lined by railroad ties (often used as chipmunk highways), and takes up about half of his front yard.

At one end of the space, there is a small raised bed that has been home over the years to a variety of herbs and vegetables. One year there was sweet corn. One year some castor bean plants, something I had never seen before. Very interesting looking.

This particular year, there were several pumpkin plants growing there. The vines had begin to drape down over the edge and grow out into the fencing space about a foot or so.

During my lesson, at one point, as he stepped back, he inadvertently stepped on a small pumpkin tendril.

And then he did something, totally un-selfconsciously, without thinking, as if anyone would do the same thing.

He did exactly what I would have done.

He turned around and apologized to the pumpkin plant. Took a couple of steps forward, and we continued the lesson, as if apologizing, out loud, to plants, was the most normal, natural thing to do.

That I think it IS, is how I knew I had made the right choice.

So far, I think it has worked out pretty well.

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