Posts Tagged ‘reading’

“You’re the same today as you’ll be in five years

except for the people you meet and the books you read.”

~Charlie “Tremendous” Jones

The philosopher’s choice

In the late 1970s I took a graduate school course in the Philosophy of Education which changed the way I thought not just about Education, but about the very way we assemble and articulate the ideas by which we live. The course was taught by a professor who had been first trained as a lawyer, and he had an uncanny ability to persuade you to his way of thinking. Although any good teacher can be persuasive, this man could make you a believer in a particular approach to Education one week, and the next week bring you in total opposition to it.

The course was structured so that in 12 weeks we covered 6 major Philosophies of Education, each of them quite different from one another, and each with both a history and a following. The first week was devoted to the pros of that philosophy, all of the excellent reasons why that approach was not only the best, but perhaps the only way to educate children. The following week took exactly the opposite point of view, destroying each argument he had made one by one, until you become a total believer that this particular philosophy of education was not only fundamentally flawed, but perhaps outright dangerous to the education of children.

He systematically constructed and then deconstructed the pros and cons of the six major philosophies behind Education in the Western world from the time of the ancient Greeks to modern day. His persuasive prowess was impressive enough, but even on the final day of the course, his response to our burning question of which philosophy did he believe in, was simply to smile and laugh under his breath, like Buddha turning a flower in his fingers rather than making any final statement of belief.

It was also remarkable how the same belief systems would rise and fall throughout history, each having its crusaders and opponents, each enjoying a heyday and a May Day. Although the professor was skilled at presenting the various perspectives on the Philosophy of Education, what really stimulated our thinking at the deepest level was reading the various arguments pro and con. It was an exhilarating and exhausting mental exercise, touching deepest at the roots of how we think about teaching and learning, and it would have been nothing by mere opinions were it not for the reading we did.

Which way reading today?

The mental shock came with real world aftershocks, on realizing that in schools not only were students reading less and less, but teachers and educational administrators were also reading less and responding to believe systems of which they were barely aware, just for the sake of survival. And this was in the days well before the Internet, which arguably has stricken a massive blow to the world of reading as we knew it.

A generation which grew up reading no longer reads books, at least in the same concentrated reflective way. The newer generations are growing up with too many distractions to take an interest in books. Reading today is more like sampling from a digital smorgasbord, than eating a well prepared meal.

Leaving regrets and longing for older ways to the Luddites, let’s consider what can actually be done today to make reading an even richer experience than was ever possible in the past.

Quotes. “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” ~Emile Buchwald. These ten words speak volume on what is required to raise a generation of readers. It is not the love of knowledge that drives the process at first, but rather the love of parents, and the way in which adult society views and enjoys reading that guides the future of the next generation.

Benefits. Though there are many benefits of reading, there is an excellent summary of the definitive benefits in an article called “10 Benefits of Reading” on the website. They can be summarized as ➀ Active mental process, ➁ Increased vocabulary, ➂ Other cultures and places, ➃ Concentration and focus, ➄ Builds Self-esteem, ➅ Improves Memory, ➆ Improves Discipline, ➇ Improves Creativity, ➈ Material for Conversation, ➉ Reduces Boredom.

Sharing Knowledge. It is not just the process of reading that changes you, and certainly not the tests that you take on what you read and soon forget, but rather the way in which you share the knowledge you have gained through reading. Talk about what you have read, write about it both formally and informally. Encourage others to talk about what what they are reading. This is what makes ideas come alive and have a practical bearing on how we live our lives.

Digital vs Analog. Although e-books and tablet reading is rapidly overtaking paperbacks, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. We are blessed with a choice that previous generations never had. Each has advantages that they other cannot provide, so why not engage in both/and thinking, rather than making an either/or choice?

Notetaking. This is where the mind gains traction and actually begins to travel. If you read without taking notes, you will merely skim the surface or spin your wheels. People who read books without taking notes often feel they are trying to scratch an itchy foot with their shoes still on. They never reach the deeper part of the mind that is calling for attention. Your notes reflect the quantity and quality of your thinking. Therefore, why not emulate the great geniuses of history and keep a notebook as a matter of course? Fill your notebook with sketches and illustrations, no matter how rough. Your thoughts will come alive and reward you with greater insights than you can get from reading without notetaking.

Commonplace Book. Read my article “Making Your Mark” to learn about the lost tradition of the commonplace book, the handmade personal book, which was not only taught at Oxford and Harvard until the early 20th Century, but was practiced by people in all walks of life. Active journaling make for active reading.

Foreign Language. An even greater way to stretch your mind than reading is to learn to speak and read in a foreign language. You quickly learn that all a foreign language dictionary can do is roughly point you in the right direction. Words are not mathematical equivalents, but rather living nuances, like the spread of a fan. This is why a literal translation is actually a mistranslation. The proverb “Out of site, out of mind” was translated into Chinese by a computer, and then back into English. The words came back, “Invisible Idiot.” Clearly there is more to translation than plugging words into a formula. A new language means a new world, new opportunities, and greater flexibility in your thinking.

Flexible Focus. Reading itself stretches your mental legs and gives you new perspectives on people and places. But you can also enrich your reading experience by introducing more variety into what you read, where and how you read. Try changing your reading environment, read aloud, read together, read alone.

Lastly, for reading follow the wise advice of Peter Drucker.

“Follow effective action with quiet reflection.

From quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”

Download a READING MANDALA for a summary of the ideas in this article, and as a guide to how to enhance your approach to reading

Fountains have long been a feature of human habitation, and are a central feature in gardens in many cultures. The sight and sound of flowing water is refreshing and inspiring. Water features are an important element in Feng Shui as a means of enhancing energy flow. Ever and yet never the same, water is a symbol of the Way of the Universe in Taoism.

We bathe in water, and drink it to sustain our life. Perhaps water calls to our oceanic origins, or simply resonates well with the senses and the body, itself being 60% water. With the brain being composed of 70% water, and the blood more than 80% water, it is no wonder that we speak of the water of life.

Flowing water both enhances and entrances us. The sound of water rings like chimes in the wind, and is perhaps nature’s finest music. We return to water to feel renewal in the quality of flow. We can also look for active ways to participate in the flow, particularly in enhancing the flow of ideas.

Thoughts in flow

Deepak Chopra, MD and author of books on spirituality and mind-body medicine, says that while scientists claim that we have around 65,000 thoughts a day, 98% of them are the same thoughts that we had yesterday. While repetitious thoughts may be necessary for repetitive tasks and routines, it also suggests that our thinking is almost completely caught in a closed loop.

Assuming that there is at least some room for improvement, and that for the sake of our well-being it is worth exploring new mental territory, what can we do to break the cycle of sameness and stimulate a fresh flow of ideas? A constant flow of ideas can help you tap into new fountains of thought, wisdom, and youth.

Here are a eight things you can do get your thoughts in flow. They are inexpensive and accessible, and will keep your thoughts flowing like water, rather than frozen in stone.

  1. Water. Engage with water every day. Bathe in it, drink it, and enjoy the sight and sound of its flow. While this may seem to be something that you already do, chances are you can do it with greater mindfulness and appreciation. Don’t dry out before your time.
  2. Music. We are blessed with greater access to music than ever before, higher fidelity recordings, and portability, and even opportunities to learn and produce music ourselves. Music can refresh and stimulate your brain. Don’t let it slip by unnoticed.
  3. Walking. To get your blood moving, exercise your whole body, give you a change in perspective, and wake up your brain, there is almost no finer way than walking. If your ideas are not flowing, trying getting off your seat and onto your feet.
  4. Writing. Put your thoughts into words on paper, where they can be read and shared with others. Whether you write at a keyboard or in a notebook is not as important as whether or not you write at all. Many people avoid writing because of negative associations picked up at school. However, it is still one of the best ways to get your thoughts moving and your head clear.
  5. Reading. Books are food for your brain, and can nourish it if you read selectively. It isn’t the number of books you read, or how fast you read them, but rather the degree to which you interact with them intelligently. Read thoughtfully, take notes, and vary your reading speed according to content and purpose.
  6. Questioning. Children ask hundreds of questions a day, adults ask few. Questions are fine food for thought and good conversation starters. Keep a written list of questions and don’t let it gather any dust.
  7. Sketching. Many children draw daily, while most adults do not draw at all. Sketching and doodling stimulate the brain, helping you to visualize and remember abstract things. Don’t worry if you lack artistic skill. Drawing icons and sketching stick figures can be even more effective at stimulating ideas than making detailed realistic drawings.
  8. Laughing. Not only is laughter the best medicine, it is the shortest path between ideas. Laughter is the body’s way of processing things which don’t easily fit in one part of the brain or another. When unlikely things suddenly come together in a surprising or entertaining way, that makes us laugh. This leads to sudden insights and fresh perspectives.

You can download a Mandala Chart here with self-coaching questions to help you get your THOUGHTS IN FLOW.

Why more ideas?

F. Scott Fitzgerald said that, “the true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time.” The way this is done is not by holding them at all, but rather by juggling them in a balanced pattern that keeps the ideas in flow. Ideas move people and catalyze change. New ideas are not always welcome, particularly when change is perceived as a threat to the status quo. The only dangerous idea is the idea that all other ideas are dangerous.

If you want to change yourself, you need to change your thoughts. If you want to change others, you need to influence their thinking. If you want to change your environment, you need to find new ways of engaging with it. Change starts when your thoughts and ideas get into flow, and it comes about when that flow is powerful enough to get other things and people moving. Time for a change? Prime your mind for a constant flow of ideas.