1 - The Learning Begins

Virtually everything one might achieve requires learning and practice. That is, in order to be able to do something, you must learn to do it and practice doing it.

For example, children show great interest in music, but do not enjoy learning and practicing: they want to become skilled right away so they can play effortlessly. The slow and painstaking process of learning is onerous and many children lose interest - some of them, through force of will or force of parents, soldier through their lessons and eventually learn to play well, and find pleasure in exercising their skill.

The author relates his own childhood experience in this regard, and suggests that this continued for many years Into his twenties, he was "a pretty good musician by most people's standards" and played gigs in bars and country clubs. He was unable to make a living at it, but the lesson he took is that "practice" is not limited to music or the arts, but is applicable to any skill.

(EN: I've trimmed quite a lot - it was a long and very self-indulgent account.)

He then talks about golfing, which is also a learned skill. He notes that whenever he goes out on the links, he seldom notices anyone who is very good at playing golf. Most of them are thoroughly rotten. Naturally, there are those who are extremely frustrated with their lack of ability on the course, but for the most part these terrible golfers seem to be enjoying the activity nonetheless.

There's a bit of a shift on this example to the notion of learning: bad golfers seem to assume that playing the game is a natural talent, and think they can learn to play just by watching others and experimenting. That never works out. In some activities, it is fairly obvious that a lot of training is necessary - nobody would assume they could become good at playing piano just by watching others do it, but that's exactly how they approach the game of golf.

He goes a bit floral about mental attitude, expressing that our mindset impacts our experience and perception. A healthy attitude enables a person to see things positively, to have the self-confidence, motivation, and patience to take action - it enables us to weather difficulty and minor setbacks without becoming discouraged.

Switch to the notion of multitasking - it is not merely enough to be doing something with every moment of every day, but now we are expected to do multiple things all at once. That sounds like a great idea, but it has in many instances reached an absurd level - such that our attention is so dispersed that we don't really focus on everything.

On top of that, there is so much competition for attention. The author mentions a party for his six-year old daughter. There was loud music over the main sound system, and another sound system that played a different music from the house PA, six television monitors playing different programs, about half a dozen video games all making noise to get attention, etc. It was a cacophony of "background" noise in which nothing could be discerned clearly, and it made conversation virtually impossible.

This is all very recent, and the human mind wasn't made to cope with it. We are not geared to pay attention to multiple things while doing multiple other things. Whether we consciously realize it or not, it is agitating and stressful. The mind does not perform, well under these conditions. The "practicing mind" is quiet, and focuses on one thing very closely - and the act of thinking should be relaxed and meditative rather than struggling for attention against the din.

He mentions that this is not a new problem in the present age - that there was a "centuries old" story about a "Roman" chariot drawn by four horses, which represent the mind that runs in multiple directions. (EN: It was Greek and there were two horses, positive and negative passions of the soul, with the chariot representing the body and the driver the mind.) The point is the need to control the thoughts to control your life - and that if you fail to exert control you have no power.

His point in writing this book is to share what he's learned about the process of getting the horses pulling together and steering the chariot rather than being dragged along - but he emphasizes again that it is an ongoing process rather than a destination.

He then goes off on another rambled braid of personal stories, repeating some of the above (piano lessons, golf) and adding a few more (trying to commit to exercise) and meanwhile mentioning that he is self-taught about world religion and philosophy, and a job he worked as a piano tuner. He's all smug and full of wisdom and wants to share the secrets of life he's discovered.

(EN: I sense I'm getting snarky here because he's such an obvious narcissist and is abjectly begging for respect in these long-winded and self-aggrandizing narratives. But I do sense he may be onto something, though it is likely going to take some work to peel back the layers of egotism to get to the kernel of value.)