The wise words of Ray Mears

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I’m in the middle of reading Ray Mears’ autobiography: Ray Mears: My Outdoor Life. It’s an absolutely fascinating read about how he got into bushcraft in the first place, and how his lifelong fascination with nature has led him to a wonderful and all consuming career as a Woodlore educator. The reason I mention it here on my blog is because there’s a passage in Chapter 20 ‘Blade Runner’ that really resonates with me about how important it is to value the experience of learning; how it’s as important for the teacher as it is for the student. And, although Ray Mears refers to learning about the study of survival skills, everything he says equally applies to the study of music (or, in my opinion, almost anything else). So, here’s a short extract from his book – if you like what you see, I highly recommend that you purchase a copy and read the rest of what he has to say:

I still find it all really interesting. I’m still learning. I think that’s the joy of the subject. One of the things I can truly say about bushcraft as a whole is that the more I learn, the more I realise I don’t know. The more you undo it, the more you find. It’s like an onion – there are always more layers to be found within.

It seems to me that people today are in love with the idea of being an ‘expert’. Personally, I would rather continue to be a student and keep learning than consider myself in that light. There aren’t the same expectations placed on a student – in fact, your only expectation is to learn, and there are few subjects where there comes a point when there’s nothing left for you to assimilate. There’s always something to learn because life moves on and things evolve.

When you climb the ladder of knowledge in bushcraft, as with any other field, the rungs are fairly close together initially, and you make good progress. You can look out from your elevated position of knowledge as you climb, but the further you get up the ladder the further apart those rungs become, so the harder it is to progress. That’s when you really start to see those who have the staying power and those who haven’t. Every step up gives you a view back over the scenery before and sometimes you find quicker ways and easier ways of doing things, and sometimes you think, well, those rungs are strong and they’re reliable but we can avoid those and take a big step past them if we do this instead. And that’s the joy of climbing higher. But you should never rush the journey because to have a ladder with a bit missing is not safe.

I think the maxim “It’s about the journey, not about the destination” is everything in this field. If people are starting out, they shouldn’t try to know it all too soon but just enjoy the process, and enjoy what they’re learning as they progress; If you’re too busy focusing on what’s over there, you miss what’s here. And it’s the here and now that’s important in this subject.

2014: Ray Mears, Ray Mears: My Outdoor Life. ISBN 978 1 444 77821 2

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