Self-Directed Learning and Mastery

Our family watched this great lecture given by Robert Greene at Oxford University. Robert Greene is a historian of sorts- he’s written several books, a couple which I have are Mastery and the 48 Laws of Power. He gives us a look at three individuals who, through their own self direction went on to accomplish many great things in their lifetime. They were Leonardo DaVinci (developed sophisticated flying machines, detailed navigation equipment, etc), Charles Darwin (discovered the Theory of Evolution) and John Coltrane (one of the finest self taught jazz saxophonists).

The dictionary’s definition of mastery is a “comprehensive knowledge or skill in a subject or accomplishment.” I find this particularly interesting because through self-directed learning, one has substantial time and autonomy to pursue one’s interests in a deep and meaningful way. One is allowed, without permission, to follow their own desires and curiosities.

Philip and I have conversations about self-directed learning- it helps us gain clarity and validates our position that it allows a child to develop their talents, allows them the time to discover things about themselves, gives them the confidence that it is their path, not a pre-packaged path.

Self-directed learning looks very different from traditional schooling- we don’t cover several subjects everyday, we don’t have a set schedule, we don’t test them and we don’t assign a grade. What we do is sit down and talk to them. We ask questions to stimulate conversation. We find out what makes them excited- we tailor their activities to support their interests. Then we engage them in these areas. We support their curiosity. Much of our learning happens simply by talking in conversation. What often ends up happening is the initial conversation will lead to another conversation. It all happens rather organically.

Our youngest daughter Natalie asked us if she could play the violin. She was eight years old. She did a six week beginner class with her teacher and has continued to excel at the violin for the last two and a half years.  She has great musical mentors who inspire and push when there is a challenging piece of music, but for the most part, Natalie pushes herself, she thrives on challenge.

We see our kids staying naturally focused on what drives them, what excites them (without coercion from us). I sadly feel that traditional schooling does not allow for the kind of depth that allows one to truly master anything. I know when Olivia was in public high school last year she felt she could barely keep up with the pace- there were too many subjects to fully grasp the content and little allowance for individuality or creative expression of ideas. Yet, teachers expect the equivalent of mastery, an A. It’s not the teachers fault, they are just doing what they’re told. It’s a corporate and conformist model of thinking and we need to find a better way for our children. If you look at education like a company, one that produced poor results continually (in this case decades), they would be out of business. So why hasn’t change come to traditional schooling? That’s another topic for another day…

From my own experience, when children are allowed to follow their own path of discovery they are on their way to mastery. I see it happening in my own kids. They will continue on their path, and this path may continually change, but it’s their path. I simply have to show them love and enable them a safe place to explore and grow. Ultimately, they will grow into young adults with the confidence that they have made their own choices and decisions about their life.

Mastery in an area is a journey of discovering oneself and self-directed learning is no different. Allowing this natural process only deepens understanding and therefore allows us to follow our own path. I often say, the world takes all kinds of people, and to grow as people we need to be who we are.

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DIY Japanese Garden

Backyard before November 2013
Backyard before November 2013
Grass and concrete removed
Grass and concrete removed
Mapping out
Mapping out
Lumber staining
Lumber staining
Heavy lifting done by Philip, Tony and Brandon
Heavy lifting done by Philip, Tony and Brandon
The work has just begun!
The work has just begun!

348

Getting ready to lay the decking
Getting ready to lay the decking
Decking installed
Decking installed
Decking done!
Decking done!
Lattice work
Lattice work
Landscaping begins
Landscaping begins
My little helpers!
My little helpers!
Nearly there!
Nearly there!
The mound
The mound
Ready!
Ready!

Last summer, my husband and I were debating what to do with our backyard. When we moved in nearly three years ago we knew we didn’t want to tackle the backyard right away. I spent many nights, up late at night, scouring Pinterest (addicting I tell you!) for fresh ideas for our future space.

We decided that we would take out all the grass (big water save) and remove a lot of the existing concrete-it was just a giant sea of concrete that really had no purpose. We wanted to create a back yard that reflected the simple character that our Craftsman style home has. Having a love for the simple, Japanese aesthetic, we followed our hearts and decided on a traditional Japanese garden.Truthfully, we modified our plans over and over again. Did you know how many different kinds of gravel there are? Choosing one plant over another. Researching which bamboo is not going to be invasive…and so on and so on. My handy husband built the wooden pergola, installed the decking, and built the fire pit/seating area. I was in charge of the landscaping design and finishing touches. After 6 looooooong months of working on our project (literally every weekend) it’s completed! We are so pleased with how it has turned out. We just hosted a baby shower with 40 people over and it is a wonderful place to have a party! Now that it’s finally Summer, were hosting a movie night with friends!

Woodblock art

The Seacoast in Autumn by David Bull
The Seacoast in Autumn by David Bull
Boy in boat- simple black and white woodblock author unknown
Boy in boat- simple black and white woodblock author unknown
Okiie Hashimoto 1959
Okiie Hashimoto 1959
Ray Morimura
Ray Morimura
Temple author unknown
Temple author unknown
Clifton Karhu
Clifton Karhu
Matt Brown
Matt Brown
Kawase Hasui 1935
Kawase Hasui 1935
Amanda Gordon Miller
Amanda Gordon Miller

 

Woodblock art is a favorite medium of mine. With its youthful playfulness, deep, rich colors used in this type of style speaks with an honest and realness that I just really love and admire. The process of making a single woodblock is quite labor some. Each color you see in the print is made from a seperate wood block. Here is a great tutorial by David Bull (tutorial here)

I have been scouring the internet for classes in my surrounding area to learn in the traditional Japanese way in the art of woodblock. Unfortunately, it’s such a small niche that not many people are doing. So the searching continues…

One of my favorite modern day wood block artists is David Bull, out of Tokyo, Japan. He became obsessed with woodblock art after seeing an exhibition in Canada. Unfortunately, there were no classes offered so he started making them himself (I should take this as a hint to myself!). I hope you enjoy the collection I have presented here.

Japanese Gardens 101

Karesansui Garden in Pasadena, California at Huntington Library and Botanical Garden
Karesansui Garden in San Diego, California at Japanese Friendship Garden
Raked design
Rock textures in Pasadena, California
Pathway- notice the different shapes, sizes, textures. This is the designers way of controlling the visitor’s experience.
Common feature in Japanese Gardens: bridges
Pond stocked with koi. Notice the asymmetry of the rocks in the pond
This water basin is for visitors to wash their hands and refresh before entering the tea house.
Courtyard garden in Toyama, Japan
Gorgeous Japanese Maple with red foliage
Often large ponds like these will include an island.

One of my favorite aesthetics of Japanese design is in the garden. In a traditional Japanese garden, design emphasis is placed on the balance of yin/yang, harmony, mystery, and meaning. Here are some of the fundamentals in Japanese landscape design:

1 Gravel or sand- “Karesansui”-which in Japanese, translates as “dry mountain water”. This style of landscape is meant to be viewed but never entered- except for raking and maintenance purposes.

2 Rocks- Each selected as a work of art and it’s shape, color, texture, and character are carefully considered.

3 Plants- The seasons dictate which plants to use. Each plant is selected for its leaf colors, bark, stems- even branch pattern. Asymmetry is the goal.

4 Water- Represents change. It represents impermanence: it flows. A stream, pond, lake or even just a simple granite water basin creates ambient sound that’s conductive to meditation.

5 Paths- Paths are meant to guide you through the garden and are constructed in such a way that a visitor must move carefully and slowly through the garden.

Etiquette 101

What is etiquette? I’m not talking the balancing books on your head, or using the right fork at dinner kind. By definition etiquette means “The customary code of polite behavior in society or among members of a particular profession or group.”

Our recent trip to Japan highlighted etiquette in a profound way for me. In Japan, etiquette is everywhere. It is ingrained into their culture and way of life. For instance, on the subway I witnessed young men happily give up their seat for older commuters. In the mall I had my own experience. I found a beautiful leather change purse I decided to purchase for a friend back in the States. I took the change purse to the lady who worked there. She received the purse with both hands, bowed and took the purse away to wrap it beautifully in paper. She then came back with a receipt on a small tray. She then bowed again as to let me know that is what I am to pay. She took the money and then bowed again. returning with my change and you guessed it, another bow. Upon my exit she bowed once again and thanked me. I in return bowed and said my thanks. Seems like a lot of bowing, but it’s just their way.

bow
Receiving rank in Iaido from my Sensei

I must admit, it was a breath of fresh air. It was so inspiring to see and feel how much care and thought is given to every little thing they do. The Japanese are not an “entitled” society. I never felt like they were “put out”, “inconvenienced” or in a hurry. It all comes down to etiquette. They express themselves and uphold this ideal in everything.

 

Taking time to slow down…

beautyI love my iPhone. But I’ve started to realize that its greatest strength is also feeding a great weakness in me.  All this ability to check my email, text, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, check tomorrow’s weather and so on, is letting me go anywhere I want… except right here.

There’s a wonderful Zen retreat in Northern California called Tassajara.  There’s no cell phone reception there, and only one public phone.  It’s off the grid.  It’s on my wishlist of places to visit.  The interesting thing is that Steven Jobs, founder of Apple, the guy who created this technology clutters my life and lets me be “oh-so-not-present”… was a frequenter of Tassajara.  Somewhere inside he realized the dark side of what he created.

Our days are filled a constant stream of shuffling to-and-fro. We have places to go, things to do. Work, friends, family, and other commitments take up a good part of our day. But how much time do we take that’s all to ourselves?

I’m a busy Mom with two girls, six and eleven. We’ve homeschooled for the last four years, I help my husband with his Chiropractic practice and we have an Aikido (Japanese Martial Art) dojo. We dedicate our lives to many things. Despite the “busyness”, we make time to slow down. Aikido has it’s own time on our calendar for both us and our kids – and it’s non-negotiable.

The older I get, the more I realize it’s important to slow down. Our brains need time to process. Even when we are sleeping, our brain is processing information from the day. Slowing down gives us a chance to feel more connected to our life, more centered, more grounded. It means being less frantic and scattered. This mindset can transform every area of our life.

Aikido training let’s us plug in to what’s important.  It offers benefits like centering the mind, physical flexibility, posture, energy and relaxation- without stress.