As you have learned in my posts and podcasts concerning technology I use in my learning process, I enjoy testing out new software and new methods for getting the most out of that software. There’s something about the tinkering process that opens something in my brain. For the record, I’m still using Evernote heavily – perhaps more heavily than before – though with some shifts in my methods. Maybe that will be another post on the blog sometime.
Remember about 6 weeks ago when I talked about an ambitious new project I was embarking on? Predictably, a lot has happened since the day I wrote that post. I’ve been working diligently, but have posted nothing. Why is that?
Part of it is because I’ve been working too hard to talk about how hard I’m working. Some might say that’s a good thing – doing something is more important than talking about the thing you’re doing. For me, though, the reflective mode involved in writing a blog post is a big part of my learning process. When I’m unable or unwilling to do this, it usually means that something isn’t quite right.
Indeed, something hasn’t been quite right.
In that post, I decided to start at the first line of the Shanghan lun and proceed forward. This urge was enhanced by my registration in the ICEAM Shanghan lun retreat, an invite-only event for people who have taken the canonical training. Knowing that I would be walking through the text, line by line, with some of the brightest people I know really kicked my motivation into high gear.
But motivation isn’t enough. I found myself going in circles, starting and stopping, starting and stopping. The motivation was enough to keep me repeatedly hitting my head against the wall, which on the face of it sounds like a bad thing. Ultimately, though, the willingness to come up against my resistance and inability over and over again is what pushed me over the obstacle in my way.
I was going about studying in the wrong way for me
My process was like this:
1. Read the line in the Wiseman/Ye/Mitchell (W/Y/M) translation, including the commentary and any notes I have in my system about that line.
2. Enter the line, with Chinese, pinyin and W/Y/M translation into my current favorite flashcard application, Mental Case.
3. Spend some time thinking about the line, writing it many times, and using the flashcards to embed it in my memory.
4. Spend some time talking to relevant folks about the line.
5. Begin drafting a post about the line, sharing whatever limited insights I may have come to, and offering a space for the wider Chinese Medicine Central community to discuss it.
6. Move on to the next line and repeat.
Trouble was, it wasn’t working. I never really got past #3 on the list with any line, yet I felt committed to proceeding in a step-wise fashion. It was a fine process in that it kept me engaging with the text, and encouraged me to look back through and organize some notes. But, it wasn’t really sinking in. I wasn’t making any progress, either in refining my system or in my own understanding.
So, I set about figuring things out
I tried a few different flashcard methods. I tried some paper-based methods. I tried working with other versions of the text. I tried doing the translations myself. I tried going back to some old flashcards of the formulas, and a couple of permutations of the same cards. I tried memorizing in different places, at different intervals. I tried harassing my colleagues with questions. I tried abandoning the text altogether and starting with a patient, positing that a case-based approach would sink into my brain.
I did despair a bit at one point, thinking that I’m too long out of school to do any real learning. With the SHL retreat looming, this prospect was particularly sad to consider.
Then I started mindmapping
I have always been a mindmapper – though I don’t swear by it. I also like outlining, and tend to flip rapidly between the two. I tend to use Mind Node Pro, an app available on the Mac and also on iOS. For outlining, I use Omni Outliner exclusively, available on the Mac with fabulous syncing to iOS.
I mapped relationships between the lines of the text, different pathology categories, formulas, herbs and other information. That helped insofar that I began to see connections I hadn’t previously, and the memorization task became fun, an adjunct to this more exploratory, “right brained” activity I was doing with the mindmaps.
But that wasn’t quite enough
Mindmaps are static things, once created. They also don’t hold a lot of information well, nor are they particularly friendly with the rest of my system. I find them a better tool for freeform brainstorming that doesn’t need to be revisited. While that might work for some aspects of my exploration of the Shanghan lun, ultimately, I want to be adding to my overall system of knowledge, so I might use it later on behalf of my patients.
I remembered a software program I explored a while back called Personal Brain – now called simply The Brain. It’s like a mindmapping program, but more dynamic. The basic version, perfectly acceptable for my use, is free. There are premium versions available – if I end up needing one the price will be more than worth it. Nodes can be connected multiple ways, and it readily absorbs lots of information. The most important part of it is how it moves and changes as you add more information.
It becomes a little like a representation of your brain concerning that topic. Pretty cool.
As I started to work with this program, my energy, motivation and understanding began to unlock in earnest. I’ve been going at breakneck speed ever since, reaching new heights in understanding. More importantly, I’m actually making good on a promise I made to myself years and years ago – to create a robust, interconnected system for holding all that I’m learning. I
know this isn’t an important goal for everybody – but it is for me.