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Taking it Easy

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playing acoustic guitar

For the past two weeks I’ve been roughing it on the beaches of southern Mozambique far from DSTV, the internet, Mascom and all the other conveniences of home.
It’s been tough, but hey, my daughters are on school break and they wanted to go to the coast so I bit the bullet and did the honourable thing.  Anyway, in addition to snorkelling, riding waves, eating seafood and sampling the local rum and beer I had lots of time to do things that don’t require electricity such as trying to learn how to play the guitar, reading and just lying around and thinking in my hammock.
Yeah, I hear you; you’re saying, “Gee, Guy that’s fascinating, but why are you subjecting us to your holiday stories here?”
Well, the thing is I noticed something that may be important while I was trying to learn how to play an instrument without the aid of an instructor and I also came across a story in one of my books that related to learning a new skill and to thinking in general, so I’d like to share both of those things with you now.
What I found with the guitar was that because I had lots of free time and I didn’t have to fit my lessons into someone else’s schedule, I could pick the thing up and try to play for five or ten minutes at a time maybe five or six times a day instead of trying to learn continuously for an hour or however long an instructed lesson would last.  That meant I could stop as soon as my fingers started to cramp up or the tips started to hurt so I never felt I had to be playing and I really enjoyed myself.
I also found my fingers got steadily stronger and the tips toughened up from session to session so the mechanics got steadily easier each time I played, but the really big thing was that my mind seemed to sort out the fingering patterns all by itself in between the short sessions.  Now don’t get me wrong here, I can’t actually play proper songs yet but I can eventually wrap my fingers around most of the cords and they don’t always sound like crap so I’m absolutely certain I’m going to keep at this thing for the rest of my life.
As I mentioned in an earlier column, I’ve also been teaching my daughter to drive during these holidays and it’s interesting to note we have found her clutch skills have improved faster when we’ve limited ourselves to shorter sessions.
Right, on to the story; I found it in a philosophy book that was describing Sigmund Freud’s theory that many things work better if we leave them in the subconscious part of the brain where they belong.  It goes like this:
Once upon a time there was a centipede that was an amazingly good dancer.  All the creatures of the forest gathered to watch the 100 legged dancer and they were all great admirers…all, that is, except for the tortoise who was very envious.
“How can I get the centipede to stop dancing?” he wondered.  He felt he couldn’t just say he didn’t like the dance or that he could do it better since that obviously was not true so he came up with a fiendish plan.
He wrote a letter to the centipede and said: “I am an admirer of how you dance and I simply must know how you do it. Do you lift your left leg 28 and then your right leg 39? Or do you begin by lifting your right leg 17 before you lift your left leg 44?  I await your answer in breathless anticipation.  Tortoise.
After reading the letter and analysing what she did, the centipede never danced again.