The paradox of Ego and Learning

Learning Mindset

“If you want to eat like a dog, 

you can live and sleep outside like a dog. 

If you want to live and sleep like a human, 

pick up those sticks…”

Pai Mei

Who doesn’t remember this scene from “Kill Bill” when the Bride is undergoing cruel training with Pai Mei. 

What did you think about why Pai Mei behaved this way? Establishing a power structure? I don’t think he needed that. Hating Americans? Being an old sadist? For sure, but not just that…

I am observing students in our rope classes when my partner is teaching them. Tension, friction, finger movement, repeat. I observe how students move, how they pay attention, and what they say. 

Some slide easily in the “student” role. 

Some resist a lot. They say “yes, but”. They try to resist the instructions. Their whole body seems to be uncomfortable in this – learning – position. They try to keep control: by saying the last word, by questioning the teacher, by sabotaging the exercise. 

Learning is like free falling. Free falling in the situation that is given by someone you choose as your teacher. Trusting – not controlling. 

The other day during the class I had an insight about the possible explanation why Pai Mei was so harsh to the Bride. It is just a speculation, of course, no one can know what is really in the head of Pai Mei! 🙂 I’ve been thinking: could it be that he was intentionally breaking her Ego? Because Ego is what stands in our way when we learn… 

Ego says “I know”. This is our familiar terrain, our comfort zone, our stubbornness, our pride, our Knowing. 

Learning starts with “I don’t know”. Leaving our old shape, working habits, and comforting patterns and making ourselves open – naked – for something new to come in. Embracing the unknown, being awkward, and making mistakes. 

So they seemingly contradict each other. 

But Ego is not all bad. We need Ego for learning as well. We need Ego to inhabit our new shape, to embody new knowledge, and develop new habits around it. We need “knowing” again, to settle confidently, to make our new skills work for us… till the next learning spiral starts. 

So there is this paradox of Learning and Ego.

We need both Ego and Non-Ego to keep learning, keep growing, keep being alive…