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Empty Headed Learning

I think my favorite symbol is the symbol of the Tao, the yin-yang symbol, the symbol of everything in the universe, and nothingness. The name translates to "Classic of the Way of Power."

It has light in the dark and dark in the light, and while it depicts balance, that balance is dynamic, it is in motion. It sums up the balance of Nature quite well.


The Tao is, of course, a Chinese symbol. Eastern thinking is very different from Western thought. Ideas are explored using different pathways.


Natural Farming takes more of a “Zen” mindset rather than a “Western mindset. It is best learned with an “empty head.”


Western thinking tends to be analytical, reductionist, linear, and based on consumption and quarterly profit. Knowledge builds on itself, so assumptions and decisions are made based on those assumptions. Assumptions lead to further assumptions. If an erroneous assumption has been made, it can be difficult to find because it can be hidden under layers of “knowledge.” There are cases where the assumption error was made hundreds of years ago.


The Zen mind, or empty head approach is more of opening oneself up to learning something not yet known or understood. No assumptions are made. The subject is approached with an empty head. Only once the new knowledge is understood, is it then incorporated back into the store of knowledge already learned.  


Western medicine is based on targeted “silver bullet” drugs and surgery that address specific symptoms. A headache can have many causes, from stress to a brain tumor. Western medicine uses aspirin to treat the symptom, headache. If that doesn’t work it proceeds to the next step, usually at this point a stronger, more expensive drug.  A brain tumor can go undiagnosed for years while treating symptoms and not looking at the causes.


However, Traditional Chinese Medicine and other Eastern medical systems, treat the body as a whole. The health practitioner may feel the pulse, not just for rate and strength, but qualities such as “slipperiness.” Many questions will be asked about other symptoms and concerns the person with the headache is experiencing. They are looking for patterns.


Naturopaths and Functional Medicine Doctors are trying to bring a holistic approach to Western medicine, with great success. They look at the whole patient, not just the symptoms, like Traditional Chinese Medicine, does.


The Western gardener with an insect on their plants will start with how to kill it, sometimes not even bothering to find out if it is a beneficial creature or a true pest. Most gardening questions tend to be, “How do I kill this?” followed closely by “What is this?” The first question should be, “Why are these little guys here?”


To further exacerbate the problem of learning with a Western mind, the typical Westerner does these 3 things when learning something new, even before the subject is fully understood:


1.     Over Analyze

2.     Make changes

3.     Teach to others


In contrast, the Zen mind, is open to new ideas and concepts. Assumptions are left at the door. Learning is approached with an empty mind. New ideas have no room to enter if the mind is already full, just as you can’t add any more water to a cup that is already full. Adaptations are made only after trying the practice and seeing the results. Teaching is only done when the practice is fully understood and practiced by the teacher.


Beware of teachers that don’t do what they teach. Don’t learn how to become a millionaire from someone who has never made a million dollars. They don’t know how or they would have done it. Learn how to make a million dollars from a millionaire, not a college professor or a charmer with a nice smile and an expensive course.    


If you ask a question in an online forum and the people responding do not ask any clarification questions or ask for further information concerning your question, the chances are high that you are getting memorized responses rather than real solutions. The answers are very often wrong.


This is extremely obvious when posts ask to identify a fruit or a flower. Notice how different some of the responses are. Many respondents are convinced they know the right answer. Rarely will someone ask for a better picture, or one of the whole tree rather than a leaf, or a detailed picture of the flower (which is how scientific taxonomy is actually based).


In training for answering questions for the Master Gardeners hotline for the University of Hawaii, we were expected to ask questions and get as much detailed information as possible before we gave any response at all. We even had a form to list details of questions so that we could give appropriate responses. We often looked things up before we would even begin to answer the question. We were a service that provided real answers, real help, not opinions. Off-the-cuff answers can often be wrong, and might be answering the wrong question.


When learning Natural Farming (or anything new for that matter), accept what you learn as it is taught. Try to understand new concepts without overthinking. Don’t think of ways to change something until you understand how the thing being taught works.  You should actually practice doing something you want to learn before you think of ways to make it better. And certainly, please don’t teach others techniques you have never done.


Natural Farming focuses on the holistic system, rather than exact details. It is not at all necessary to know the exact species and strains. Wild systems are diverse and complex and constantly changing. Natural Farming follows Natural Patterns. The details change from place to place, over the seasons and years, and even over the course of a day.


Natural Farming depends on observation and interaction, rather than lab tests, microscopes, consultants, and other ways to spend money. Nature is the ultimate teacher of how Nature works. Be patient. Enjoy the process. Start with an empty head.



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