A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.
That saying is often used in connection with people who think they are experts just because they have picked up a bit of information on some subject from a book, the internet or TV.
You know, like when a patient tells the doctor what treatment he or she needs based on medical insights collected while watching House or reruns of ER.
It is a very real problem in this age of the worldwide web, but there is another more subtle reason why a bit of knowledge can be dangerous…
mainly because it often takes the fun out of things, and that’s the problem I’d like to focus on today.
This topic came to me last weekend after I went to watch my first archery competition.
If you read this blurb on a regular basis you may already know that I decided to take up the bow and arrow game two months
or so ago because I would like to develop the mind stilling skills described in Zen in the Art of Archery …
and because a 30-metre archery range fits very nicely into my long narrow English garden.
Anyway, I bought a cheep bow and a few arrows, made a target out of bags of compost and started firing away without really knowing what I was doing.
My accuracy improved as I figured out a few things and I had loads of fun and even a bit of a meditative experience.
It was great. Then I went to the competition. Man, those were guys good.
They were so good, in fact, that they should have been an inspiration; but to tell you the truth, they weren’t. Well, not at first, at least.
Their bows and arrows were top of the line, their technique looked great and very different from what I was doing,
and bull’s eyes at 60 metres were so common that the archers were visibly disappointed when they didn’t make a perfect shot. And for about a day,
I fell into the same trap of measuring my archery ability and my equipment against the best instead of simply enjoying the learning experience and my occasional true shots.
Fortunately, earlier this year I read another spirituality-in-practice book,
Zen Guitar, that advised me to hold onto ‘the beginner’s mind’ so I could have fun every time I played the instrument even if what I was playing wasn’t much fun for others to hear.
Basically, what I’m saying here is that new things tend to be lots of fun up to the point where we gain enough knowledge to realise we suck at them.
But the thing is, the only reason we stop enjoying them as much is because we start measuring ourselves against other people who
are better at whatever we are doing than we are instead of just doing the things for there own sake. I mean we sucked even worse before we realised we sucked, but it was still fun.
The trick, I think, is to continue thinking once you become aware of how good – some – other people are at what you are trying to do; and the thing you should think about is that it just doesn’t matter. Then it might be a good idea to stop thinking.