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The Art of Learning

Photo of Gala Darling
Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. ~Mathama Gandhi

The most inspiring and brilliant people I know have one thing in common: they never stop learning. At the moment, I’m sitting in a crowded Apple Store at a table across from a man who is setting up his brand new MacBook laptop.

This is serious business.” an elderly man in his late 70’s says with an eager smile.

The Apple rep is showing him how to browse the web and set-up his first email account. The elderly man is diligently taking notes as the Apple rep gives him a tour of the fresh and foreign, online world with his newly purchased laptop.

The rep is in his early 20’s with radical hair and a chill attitude. He reassures the elderly man by saying “no worries” and “cool”, as he patiently answers each question.

The elderly man points to the URL bar and asks: “Is that a magnifying glass? What does it do? . . . I know we just did this, but can you start from the beginning and show me how to save something as a bookmark again?

Story of Learning Continues …

As the rep carefully dictates the process, the elderly man numbers “1, 2, 3” on a yellow pad, followed by step-by-step, detailed instructions (in this very admirable, cursive penmanship I couldn’t help but notice). Once finished, the elderly man articulately asks for advice on what other websites people would usually bookmark.

The rep left for a moment to help with another customer, and the elderly man—in his nicely pressed khaki blazer and a navy plaid shirt—looks across at me where I’m busily typing away, attempting to capture this moment.

He says in a polished, humbled tone, “Ahh… to be young again. I feel like I’m exploring in a desert…I’ve been here for 4 hours.” He smiles gently, his eyes gleaming.

We chat for a bit, and I was sure to commend him on his perseverance to take on this new, exciting experience of going virtual—for the first time—with a cutting edge product. After all, I too was sitting here, waiting my turn for a set-up appointment to be taught the basics of my first Apple product. And I knew how to Google. And I grew up in the 21st century.

The elderly man tells me that my iPad is cute, and when the rep returns he continues with his diligent learning.

Before leaving, the man shakes the Apple rep’s hand and sincerely thanks him: “It’s like taking home a brand new car. You’re a nice man. Patient. Your wife must really appreciate you.”

He then turns to me and says, “Good-bye young lady,” with a gentlemanly nod and so much life beaming in his smile. With his MacBook in one hand, he slowly walks out of the store.

What I Learned

In the 20 minutes of witnessing learning in full effect at the Apple Store, I felt deeply inspired. The man, although had 50 years on me, carried the energetic spirit of an 18-year-old.

Perhaps we take for granted the opportunity to learn, to evolve with change, to expand & grow, and to challenge ourselves to see the details of life with new wonderment.

Maybe we miss an empowering conversation in the grocery story line because we are too busy thinking about the next three errands ahead.

Or we miss the chance to reframe a current, frustrating situation with a friend’s refreshing perspective because keeping-in-touch hasn’t been a priority.

Or we miss the opportunity to deepen our compassion for a family member who needs us because we haven’t picked up the phone in months—simply to ask, “Hey, how’ve you been? What’s new?

Or the book, the class, the certification, the travel adventure we’ve decided to put off until tomorrow because it’s easier to delay than to take action.

When we decide to put off events, conversations, and the opportunity to life-learn, we also take for granted the amazing people, teachers, and lessons available in our expansive world, ready to arm us with more vibrant, meaningful experiences.

Today, we can choose to open our thoughts, perspective, and time to create space for growth—our own growth.

We can begin by cultivating a wonderment mindset that embraces endless possibilities,

Ignites creative thoughts,

Pushes past our current limits,

Engages in seeking a deeper purpose,

Catalyzes our potential by feeding it something new,

Reveals the openness to experiment with what makes us feel fully alive.


~~~

Parting Words on Learning

We can choose to be curious and learn. Whether as a college student, an aspiring artist, an entrepreneur, a career changer or a spouse, learning is the empowering tool that allows us to tap into our inner well of creativity, fulfillment, and unique brilliance.

Knowing this, I will be re-energizing my wellness activities with meaningful momentum this week: trying a nourishing new vegetarian recipe, joining a local sitting group to deepen my mindfulness practice, spending a playful afternoon of baby yoga with my little sister, and purchasing a new sketchpad to stretch my imagination with vision journaling.

The elderly man demonstrated the wisdom of what it meant to be truly alive.

And that to be completely awake—to thrive consciously with liveliness and youth– has nothing to do with age.

Instead, it is the action of continuous growth that results in being full awake, experiencing life’s goodness constantly unfolding day-after-day.

*How do you open yourself to possibilities and the feeling of being fully alive each day? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below. See you there!

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About the author

Cat is a recent corporate escapee, now practicing as a full-time Zen Student. Her home, for the next year or so, is on various meditation cushions in the world.

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22 thoughts on The Art of Learning

  1. Mark

    Hi Cat,

    That is SUCH a cool story…you are so right you are NEVER too old to learn. As the great man once said…if you are not learning then you are dying!

    All the best
    Mark x

  2. Cat,
    As you described your experience with the elderly man, I felt the connection. And isn’t that a big part of our learning? How do we connect with others, how do we make ours, and others, lives better?

    I’m currently on a new learning curve with a new business and your words deeply resonate. Thank you.

  3. Thank you for sharing the story about the elderly man, and the Gandhi quote too. We all have much to learn from the elderly man.

  4. This is a wonder-filled post!

    Enjoy your new vegetarian recipes. If you need any meatless ideas, swing by SLTW.

    Thanks, Cat!

  5. Llywellyn

    Hey Cat, a great peice, thought provoking.

    Growing old is not truly a process of anything dying, but rather a slowing and eventually stoping of new growth. Here what is true for the body is true for the mind*. It is not as someone ages that they lose their youth, but instead this happens when they cease to learn. Learning is the growth our mental selves, but also vitalises, repairs, exercises, excites and enhances what we have. A thirty year old who has stopped learning, who is content to drift through life without filling his bucket is practically a vegetable, whereas an eighty year old who
    strives still to explore and discover is a sprightly youth.

    *When I say mind I do not mean brain.

  6. To stop learning is to rot away and die. Like unused muscles, our brain will eventually die because there is no more use of it. It was designed to think, recall, explore, absorb. The day we cease learning will be the day our death starts.

    What a beautiful story of how learning can transmute the gap between ages. Regardless of your age, the desire to learn is the key to success and happiness. Reading this reminds me of my parents. They are old into their 70s already. Their mindsets have been fixed. They believe that old dogs cannot learn new tricks. The only thing they do is mindless old age habits. What a contrast between the old man in this story who is learning how to operate a Mac. Once he master this, a whole new world beacons. More doors and learning will open. That is the road to longevity.

  7. Rahi
    Rahi

    Cat,

    A lovely, thought provoking, action prodding article! Yes, being stagnant and taking things for granted is living death.Love your personal, practical, simple tips on how to choose to live a better life…thank you!

    Blessings.

  8. Mark~ Thanks for this. :) All the best to you, too, in your growth.

    Leigh~ I love your conscious question regarding “how can we serve?” If we often ask this question, we will always feel alive — things around us are transient, evolving constantly and our love and talents are always being called upon…if we choose to acknowledge the messages. Thank you, always, for your special words.

    Best of luck to your new, exciting chapter. I’d love to hear about it… :)

    Lawerence~ You’re welcome. I’m deeply grateful to both the elderly man and Gandhi.

    Llywellyn~ I enjoyed what you wrote about learning as “repair.” It’s true. Through growth, we can see in a new way and improve (if needed) our current situation. We are given tools to re-frame, rewire, and transcend our limitations.

    Jimmy~ “Once he master this, a whole new world beacons. More doors and learning will open. That is the road to longevity.” What beautiful, wise words.

    Rahi~ I actually thought of yoga when I wrote this. Life-long awareness, learning, and evolving means seeing with fresh, child-like senses. And this is the very premise of living yoga, yes? :)

  9. Marcelina Hardy

    What an awesome post. I hope that someday I will be that person in the chair learning about the latest technology all bright eyed and bushy tailed. I bet I will be because I am always looking for new experiences and bettering myself, which seems to be what this man was doing. I loved reading this and thank you for sharing this … I have tweeted this for my followers.

  10. nrhatch~ Thank you for sharing your site. Will swing by. :)

  11. Nice post, and quite agree that our attitude to lifelong learning, of all types is an important part of maintaining a young and agile mind.

    I try to keep in mind an objective of learning at least one new thing everyday – either a fact, skill or an insight. I don’t always manage it, but by actively looking for learning opportunities whatever I’m doing, I’m sure I’m more engaged with the world and what I’m doing.

    -STEVE-

  12. Thank you for this wonderful post. The story about the elderly man was very touching and beautifully written.

  13. This is a really nice and inspiring story.

    I believe that personal growth and development is the key for long and happy life. If you really want to feel alive you should never stop learning, exploring and discovering. The world around us is so rich with endless possibilities and opportunities for us to explore and experience.

    Thanks, Yuval

  14. S. Bradley

    Fantastic thoughts, and I’d like to add one more. The best way to learn and to become a lifelong scholar is to teach. I don’t mean as a vocation, mind you. It can be as simple as showing your niece how to tie a shoelace or telling a friend how to check their oil.

    I have, however, been a teacher for ten years now, and have never learned more in my life. My students scoff when I tell them this, but see the truth when they are given the chance to give lectures or lead discussions.

    As interesting as your story was, I’d love to have heard the perspective of the Apple rep who helped the elderly man. Chances are good that he learned something new himself. Stay positive and keep writing!

  15. I think in the modern world we live in that learning isn’t only necessary, it is indispensable.

    The story of the 70 year old gentleman really registered with me as my 80 year old father keeps equally abreast of technology and is never afraid to give the latest gadget a try.

    I found the article inspirational and I’m committing myself to some sort of self-education each and every day.

  16. sonal

    yes , we can learn at any age and even 80 year old person can make us feel happy by sharing his experience with you . Of course they have learnt new things all their life . Sit with them for few moments and you would realize how much energy they have to share good things with you and even they would tell you if they did something wrong and how it affected their later life . That is why grand kids love their grand parents as they have extra time to spend with them and we know their secrets of happiness shared with our kids and not with us as we are too much busy .

  17. I believe the older I get, the thirstier for knowledge I become. Perhaps because as we age, we become more aware about how much we truly do not know?

    Anyway, great post with great points!

  18. What a nice article! I just spent four weeks overseas visiting my wife’s family. Among them, her 70 year old father who has never spoke English before meeting me a few years ago.

    He’s retired, hardly watches TV, but is so busy learning, exercising…keeping himself healthy, happy and growing.

    He studies English 45 minutes a day, five days a week, so he can communicate better with me.

    It’s such an inspiration, and a great reminder that we should always make learning a priority in our life…without learning, we stop growing, and when we stop growing we stop living!

    Thank you,
    Tony

  19. It’s great to be able to look back and realize what you have learned. So satisfying!

  20. Marcelina~ I have a good feeling you will be the one in the chair, learning with gleaming eyes. Rock on in all your new adventures!

    Next Starfish (Steve)~ How inspiring to hear you’re constantly consciously aware of opportunities to be more engaged. That’s so awesome.

    Tanya~ Thanks for the kind comment. :)

    Yuval~ “The world around us is so rich with endless possibilities and opportunities for us to explore and experience.” <== Yes, yes!

    ~Cat

  21. S. Bradley~ You’re right. Beyond the apparent student, teacher role .. there is the teacher (student), student (teacher) role. It’s true — glad you added this thought. :)

    Paul~ Your dad must be an inspirational to you. What a wonderful commitment you’ve set out for yourself. Best to you both.

    Sonal~ To spend time with those older than us, wiser with more life experiences truly is a gift. Thanks for the lovely comment.

    Emily~ I hear where you’re going … I often think that as well. The older we get — and the more we have the ability to rewire old conditioning, let go of limiting beliefs, and become more open-minded — the world becomes a playground.

    So many versions of how to live … not just the small world we once knew, once thought was the only way.

  22. Tony~ What a neat experience! I bet it was very refreshing to soak up that inspiration. Something about traveling, shaking hands with new cultures is very refreshing. Seems we break the habitual patterns of our routine and are able to see in a new way, simply by immersing ourselves in a new environment. Best to you, your wife, and the father-in-law!

    The Red Queen~ Reflecting is a big part of finding inner peace: making sense of experiences. I agree. :)

    ~Cat

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