What was the last thing you learned by accident?
Biocognition specialist Mario Martinez gives a few examples of incidental learning in his book The Mindbody Code.
Children develop motor and strategic skills through a video game hobby. Adults build focus by way of tai chi practice. Daniel-san learns integrity, self-respect, and self-defense through car waxing and bonsai training.
There are other examples from the worlds of education and crafts: students who study both mathematics and music build their facility with space, time, and pattern recognition. Knitting and crochet seem to help practitioners grow more at ease with failure, recovery, and the principles of computer programming.
We can learn new skills and mature by building competence in different areas of our lives than the ones we think need change; zooming in on a desired ability and grinding at it until it yields isn’t the only way!
Increasing competence in an area of life also typically means building confidence life-wide. As competence and confidence build, fears decline. That’s a good thing!
Increasing your competence [gives] you faith to continue without any guarantees. No fears, including the fear of emotional wounding, can be resolved with guarantees or appeals to logic… Competence reduces fear.” —Mario Martinez
This is a concept that makes me read a part of the Sermon on the Mount in a new-to-me way.
Jesus advises his followers not to worry about the basics of survival: food, shelter, clothing, and longevity.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin… That is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire. Will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ …But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” (Matthew 6:25-34)
The last time someone told me not to think about a purple cow, purple cows were all I could think about. That’s what happens when you have a prohibition without a substitute.
At least in this passage, Jesus tells his followers not to worry but also advises them on what to do instead. His substitute for worry is like an incidental learning experience: as we collectively “seek kingdom and righteousness [justice] first,” he teaches, we find our needs provided for. As we prioritize just relationships and build the kind of community that holds in both sunshine and storm, we also stumble into a world where no one has to be fearful or hungry.
People thrive in a just world, not because as individuals they put a lot of energy or willpower into surviving, but because just relationships are the containers in which life and lives are respected and supported. Individual flourishing is a property of that container, but like focus in tai chi and strategic smarts in video games, it’s something that emerges, not something that’s sought out.
We don’t have to scrap around a disordered world to get what we need, and ultimately, even when we have promises to draw comfort from, we can gain a great deal from disciplined practice: we grow from the skills we’re focused on and benefitted by what we learn on the way.