Choosing Wisely What to Read

I heard some words from a colleague* that changed the way I research for my work, and prepare to teach. I want to pass those words on here.

“It takes a lot for me to open up to read something [academic]. So I’m careful about what I choose to do this with.”

Over the last few years, as I’ve seen how this body-mind stuff has two main branches of expression — one research-driven and academic, the other “intuitive” — and therefore how cool it was to be able to speak both languages, to be able to talk intellectual shop with the best of them …

… I would have ten tabs on my browser open, titles like “Review of myofascial pain studies” and “Cellular basis of mechanotransduction” and “Hamstring muscle length and pelvic tilt range among individuals with and without low back pain.”

And I wouldn’t close the tab until I’d “read” it.

But I’m putting “read” in quotes here because I was reading it, really, just to get it done, to be able to close that f’ing tab and move on with my life.

I was scanning for information to support what I believed, and maybe learn a factoid or two I could impress my students with.

And in that scanning, also, I would read a difficult section, or a whole difficult paper, and be like yeah, I kinda got that, got the gist of it, without having wrestled with the parts I didn’t fully understand.

Of course, I’m kind of hamming up that side of it for the sake of highlighting it in this writing, but it was true all the same.

And for me, that was the main pointer, especially in retrospect: that side of my teaching that wanted students to say “wow; this guy knows a lot!”

And of course, that’s an empty game, win or lose.

So, back to reading research more thoroughly, more sparingly, more selectively …

I’m now experimenting with having what I read be :

a) something I’m interested in, and not just to support an argument (I suppose, honestly, it’d be totally fine to do the latter; just to call a spade a spade there)

b) reading it, and pausing in those places where I can tell I’m skimming, wrestling with it mentally, taking time with pictures and graphs … “can I really grock what they’re saying here?” … visualizing, reframing in my own words before moving on

It’s been an epic change. I love it.

I also love how the intellectual wrestling feels so akin to what I’ve grown to love about movement training: that is, navigating through autonomic stress, little micro-shifts that make the world of difference inside though might not look like much outside.

Much like teaching to impress or teaching to teach, the shift is very subtle, if not imperceptible, on the inside …

… but it has a feeling tone any of us can recognize in an instant.

* That colleague is former The Body Awake guest, and soon to be guest again, Mr Michael Hamm. While we were prepping for a course and deciding what materials to include in our handout, I suggested something that he thought was too basic, and added “it takes a lot for me to read papers, so I choose them wisely.”

I had always considered him someone of infinite intellectual resource and stamina so that took me by surprise and then, over the course of the months that’ve followed, has really affected me. I’m really grateful for that moment.

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