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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Importance of Mentorship

Yesterday, I spent an hour in the pool with a good friend, going over the intricacies of the free style stroke. I am a longtime swimmer, both on swim teams and for pure pleasure, and I have also taught swimming to youngins at Coral Gables' Venetian Pool. I must say that I learned so much about swimming by teaching it. I thought about different aspects of the strokes that I had never considered before. This is probably because I was learning from a champion swimmer who has made this her life.

My friend knows how to swim. She's swam all her life. But -- she's never actually been taught how to swim. She gets tired easily, she says. Her legs feel leaden after a few laps. I could see why after I watched her cross the pool once. Her kicks are inefficient and she isn't breathing properly. Yes, she can jump into the deep end of the pool and make it to the wall without drowning. The problem is that she won't do it the best way that she possibly could.

Which is where I come in. I watch her swim, I swim alongside her, I try my best to make sure my strokes are an example of what hers could be with some practice. I give her pointers and praise. Afterwards, she tells me what a difference our short time together has made.

"It's important to have a teacher," I tell her.
"I was just going to watch YouTube videos," is her response.

We live in a world where we can learn anything on our own. The internet provides us with a cacophony of resources for every hobby and craft. I am not against it. But I do believe that having a real, live teacher makes a world of difference. This breathing body can tell you all the same things that a Wiki How-To article can do, but you can ask questions and perhaps discover even more than you set out to learn. This person can give you the wisdom collected through their past experiences so that you can learn from their mistakes.

When I wanted to learn how to bake bread, I apprenticed for an artisan baker. When I wanted to learn how to grow food, I spent several seasons working alongside experienced vegetable growers, watching how they did things and asking why they made the decisions that they did. It's the same reason why I go to yoga classes even though I could very well practice by myself in my living room.

This is also the reason why I joined an MFA program. I wanted that living, breathing person swimming beside me who has spent a lifetime swimming miles upon miles in many different bodies of water. And luckily, I have found several of these mentors in my program.

Just recently, I learned Transcendental Meditation from a great teacher, Prudence Bruns, the inspiration behind The Beatle's song, Dear Prudence. I have dabbled in meditation for many years, but it has never clicked for me like it did during this training. Every time we met, I had more questions for her. She brought in past experiences, or the experiences of her pupils, and taught us a great deal in a short amount of time. I hope to continue learning from her as the years go by and my meditation practice deepens.

And so, I urge you to seek out a mentor in your craft. Perhaps there is a skill you've been dreaming to learn. Find someone in your area who is an expert in this, and offer them a hand. People don't generally turn down help. It's in working alongside them that you will have the opportunity to learn from their wisdom and experience. A few hours spent working alongside a skilled quiltmaker or master beekeeper could prove to be invaluable in your development as a quiltmaker or beekeeper. Not only will you gain the knowledge, but you might gain a lifelong friend in the process.