Continuing Education

Principle 12: Continuing Education

P12 make-new-mistakes

The longer we do something (like, say, live), the more challenging it can be to keep learning.

“I got this,” we figure. No need to learn more.

Learning feels awkward. We can talk ourselves into avoiding it.

Instead, cultivate what Zen Buddhists call shoshin (beginner’s mind). Keep learning … and be willing to suck.

For a long time, I paid lip service to Principle 12 but wasn’t really willing to suck. Diving in with the distinct possibility that I will not be good at what I’m attempting frees up boatloads of energy.

Suck is the beginning of success.


The Unofficial Guide
to the 13 Nia Principles
~ Practical, Nia-or-Not Applications for EveryBody

(Wondering what the hey the Unofficial Guide is and why I’m writing this series of posts? Click here!)

P12 Gandhi quote

Principle 12 – Continuing Education

Excerpt from the Official Nia Headquarters Description:

Principle 12, Continuing Education, is about making a personal and professional commitment to your ongoing growth and education with Nia. This principle is more than a concept and a practice; it is a way of living.


From conscious actions such as speaking, to unconscious functions such the pumping of your heart, your body lives and breathes with a natural intelligence that is always taking in information—always learning about itself so it can make adjustments to support its highest state of functioning. By merging the two intelligences of sensing and thinking, you tap into an awareness we call the “thinking body.” Here, your true capacity for perception and self-knowing unfolds. To access the thinking body is to develop body literacy—the ability to listen, understand and consciously respond to the information your body communicates to your mind via sensation. Once you develop body literacy, every sensation becomes a powerful form of education you can use to transform your life.

Unofficial Practical Nia-or-Not Application for EveryBody:

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

On Friday, November 14, Charlottesville hosts a TEDx conference: a day of local and international speakers sharing ideas worth spreading. I have the great good fortune to be the speaker coach for Jim Harshaw, who will be giving a TEDx talk called “Why I Teach My Children to Fail.” On the face of it, Jim’s talk is about failure as part of the process toward success, but really, what he’s talking about is continuing education. (Coincidence that Principle 12 falls on the week of TEDx? I think not.) Continuing education is about constantly choosing to step beyond what we already know into new areas of learning and growth.

Continuing Education is about being willing to suck.

During Nia trainings, Nia Founder Carlos Rosas would remind us over and over that the only way we’d improve as teachers (or partners or parents or people) is to be willing to suck: to be willing to flail and not know and stumble and forget everything and totally, completely stink. In Zen Buddhism this practice is called “shoshin” or “beginner’s mind” (I wrote about this a while back). Shoshin is an attitude of openness and curiosity, a willingness to learn something new, even when practicing at an advanced level. In some ways, then, the longer we practice and the more we know, the more challenging Principle 12 (aka shoshin, aka beginner’s mind, aka willingness to suck) can be.

Often I forget that learning and practice are two different things. Once I’ve learned something, I can practice it over and over and train myself to do it more easefully. But learning is awkward. As my brain and body endeavor to do something unfamiliar, I feel vulnerable and clumsy and uncomfortable. Awkward is simply what it feels like to learn.

And, if I’m really in the spirit and practice of Principle 12, I seek out that awkward feeling even while doing things that I’ve done a thousand times before. Continuing education is to be willing to suck — even at things we’ve done for a long time.

No matter what you want to do better ~ teach Nia, play ice hockey, parent a child, sing opera, give a TED Talk ~ some part of that learning will feel spazzy and uncomfortable. At some point in the learning process, you will suck. You will flail and fail. As Jim Harshaw will say on Friday at TEDx, the inevitable failures aren’t bad things to be avoided but are simply part of the process of continuing your education and enhancing your life.

It takes courage to be willing to suck, so Continuing Education takes courage. It is much more comfortable to stay in safe, known territory than to risk suckage. But it is only by finding that courage and taking those risks that we can be our best and discover what is possible.


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