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Bruce Lee’s Daughter Shares Her Father’s Philosophy of Learning

“Learning is discovering, uncovering what is there in us.”

“No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life,” Nietzsche wrote in his timeless treatise on education and the journey of becoming who you are. Albert Einstein, in a letter of advice to his young son, argued that the secret to learning anything lies in “doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes.” And yet the dominant Western system of education is predicated on the mindless laying of factory-made bricks via the rote memorization of information — a method impoverished of enjoyment and dismal at equipping us with wisdom in the age of information.

One of the simplest, most elegant, and most urgently necessary perspectives on fruitful learning comes from legendary martial artist and underappreciated philosopher Bruce Lee (November 27, 1940–July 20, 1973). In this excerpt from a recent episode of the altogether wonderful Bruce Lee podcast, co-hosted by Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee reads her father’s philosophy of learning, originally published in Bruce Lee: Artist of Life (public library) — the trove of wisdom that gave us Lee on self-actualization and the origin of his famous metaphor for resilience.

Learning is discovery, the discovery of the cause of our ignorance. However, the best way of learning is not the computation of information. Learning is discovering, uncovering what is there in us. When we discover, we are uncovering our own ability, our own eyes, in order to find our potential, to see what is going on, to discover how we can enlarge our lives, to find means at our disposal that will let us cope with a difficult situation.

At the heart of Lee’s philosophy of learning is the essential difference of learning as limitation, in the form of static memorization, and learning as liberation, in the form of dynamic self-expansion. In another section of the book, he revisits the subject:

We do not have to “gain” freedom because freedom has always been with us and is not something to be gained in the end through strict and faithful adherence to some definite formulas. Formulas can only inhibit freedom and preformations only squelch creativity and impose mediocrity.


Learning is definitely not mere imitation or the ability to accumulate and conform to fixed knowledge. Learning is a constant process of discovery and never a concluding one.

Further along in the book, Lee addresses the paradox of learning from a Zen-inspired perspective and adds an essential caveat:

Learning gained is learning lost.

The knowledge and skill you have achieved are after all meant to be “forgotten” so you can float in emptiness without obstruction and comfortably. Learning is important, but do not become its slave. Above all, do not harbor anything external or superfluous; the mind is the primary.

You can never be the master of your technical knowledge unless all your psychic hindrances are removed and you can keep the mind in the state of emptiness (fluidity), even purged of whatever technique you have obtained — with no conscious effort.

Complement Bruce Lee: Artist of Life with Lee on the crucial difference between pride and self-esteem, the strength of yielding, and his never-before-seen writings on willpower, emotion, and the intellect, then revisit John Dewey on the true purpose of education, Lewis Carroll’s four rules of learning, Parker Palmer on learning as a spiritual practice, and Sister Corita Kent’s ten timeless rules for lifelong learning, beloved and popularized by John Cage.


A Different Kind of Progress: The Poetry and Philosophy of Rilke, Rumi, Mary Oliver, and Tagore, Set to Song

A beautiful musical homage to the eternal dance of life and death.

“Even poetry, Sweet Patron Muse forgive me the words, is not what music is,” the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay exclaimed in a letter. “Without music life would be a mistake,” Nietzsche proclaimed in contemplating the singular power of music. Given this aesthetic envy, how befitting and redemptive that some of history’s greatest poetry and philosophy should become the creative seed for beautiful music in singer-songwriter Shannon Hawley’s debut album, A Different Kind of Progress — an exquisite thirteen-song cycle, five years in the making, inspired by the poetry and philosophy of beloved writers like Rainer Maria Rilke, Mary Oliver, Rumi, and Tagore.

“Rainer’s Song (The World You Carry Within You)” is based on Rilke’s timeless clarion call for embracing uncertainty and living the questions — one of the wisest things a human being could live by, which penetrates the psyche all the more deeply as Hawley fuses Rilke’s appeal to the mind with music’s enchantment of the heart, embodying Oliver Sacks’s assertion that “music can pierce the heart directly; it needs no mediation”:

Another track, “Mollusk and Slug Interlude,” was sparked by Rilke’s abiding wisdom on love:

“Kidnapping a tree” is based on a poem of Tagore’s, celebrating trees, those perennial poetic muses:

“How Real” is based on Rumi’s poem “Float, Trust, Enjoy,” found in The Soul of Rumi:


Muhammad said no one looks
back and regrets leaving this
world. What’s regretted

is how real we thought it was!
How much we worried about
phenomena and how little

we considered what moves
through form. “Why did I spend
my life denying death? Death

is the key to truth!” When you
hear lamenting like that, say,
not out loud, but
inwardly, “What moved you
then still moves you, the same
energy. But you understand

perfectly now that you are not
essentially a body, tissue, bone,
brain, and muscle. Dissolve

in the clear vision. Instead of
looking down at the six feet of
road immediately

ahead, look up: see both worlds,
the face of the king, the ocean
shaping and carrying

you along. You’ve heard
descriptions of that sea. Now
float, trust, enjoy the motion.”

“Winter’s White Owl” is inspired by Mary Oliver’s poem “White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field,” found in her New and Selected Poems, Volume One — an immensely enlivening perspective on death:


Coming down out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel, or a Buddha with wings,
it was beautiful, and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings — five feet apart —
and the grabbing thrust of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys of the snow —
and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes
to lurk there, like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows —
so I thought:
maybe death isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light wrapping itself around us —
as soft as feathers —
that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking,
and shut our eyes, not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river that is without the least dapple or shadow,
that is nothing but light — scalding, aortal light —
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.

Complement A Different Kind of Progress, also available on CD Baby, with Jack Kerouac set to song by Patti Smith, E.E. Cummings set to song by Tin Hat, William Blake set to song by The Wraiths, W.B. Yeats set to song by Christine Tobin, Allen Ginsberg’s musical adaptation of Blake, and Natalie Merchant’s songs based on Victorian nursery rhymes.


Infinity and Me: A Lovely Picture-Book at the Nexus of Science, Philosophy, and Love

An inclusive love letter to forever.

By the time mathematician John Wallis pioneered the lemniscate — that familiar “napping eight” — as the symbol for infinity in 1655, the human mind had been grappling with the notion of the infinite for millennia. But if infinity occupies some of our smartest scientists and is the subject of philosophers’ most mind-bending thought experiments, how can young minds wrap themselves around this bamboozlement? That’s what writer Kate Hosford explores in Infinity and Me (public library) — an infinitely delightful parable of the inescapable humanity we bring to even the most intellectually ambitious inquiries, told in gorgeous illustrations by Polish-born artist Gabi Swiatkowska.

The book is all kinds of heartening — in a culture where great children’s books about science are hard to come by, and where only 31% of children’s books feature female protagonists and a mere 3% star people of color, here comes Uma, a little girl of multiethnic background who contemplates one of the most cerebrally stretching questions of science.

The night I got my new red shoes, I couldn’t wait to wear them to school. I was too excited to sleep, so I went outside and sat on the lawn. When I looked up, I shivered. The sky seemed so huge and cold.

How many stars were in the sky?
A million? A billion?
Maybe the number was as big as infinity.

I started to feel very, very small, how could I even think about something as big as infinity?

Animated by this unnerving question, Uma turns to the people in her life for an answer.

Her classmate imagines infinity as a number so immense that he wouldn’t be able to write it out even if he lived forever.

Her grandmother compares infinity to an enormous family tree with ancestry going back countless generations.

Her teacher likens infinity to never-ending music that loops in circle.

The more Uma ponders infinity, the more she realizes that it is inseparable from eternity — and the notion of “forever” confounds and captivates her just as much. The question of personal continuity is, after all, one of the greatest mysteries of human life.

I started to wonder, what would I like to do forever?

At first, I thought that I might like to have recess forever.

But if there’s no school before recess, and no school after recess, is it really recess anymore?

Maybe I’d like to be eight forever, but I didn’t know if Samantha would still want to be my best friend when she was eighty-five and I was still eight.

As she tussles with these grand questions through her various encounters, Uma grows increasingly disheartened that no one seems to notice her glorious red shoes. But when she returns home and grandma greets her with a favorite meal, both of Uma’s unsettlements are suddenly and surprisingly resolved as she discovers the one thread of which infinity and eternity are woven:

“Uma, I meant to tell you this morning — those are the most beautiful shoes I have ever seen!”

I didn’t hear the rest of what Grandma said. I was too busy smiling. Right then I knew — my love for her was as big as infinity.

Pair the marvelous Infinity and Me with the picture-book biography of legendary mathematician Paul Erdos. For a grownup counterpart, revisit astrophysicist Janna Levin’s letters to her mother on whether the universe is infinite or finite.


The John Lennon Sketchbook: A Weird and Wonderful Vintage Animated Film About the Beloved Beatle’s Life, Music, and Philosophy

Quips and prophecies in vibrant color.

In 1986, seventeen years after Yoko Ono and John Lennon’s animated conversation about love and six years after the beloved Beatle’s assassination, Ono commissioned independent animator John Canemaker to create a short animated film based on Lennon’s drawings, music, and interviews. Given her penchant for the intersection of art and philosophy, Lennon’s own quirky illustrations, and the odd fact that the couple’s love began in visual poetry long before they met, it was the perfect medium for commemoration.

Titled The John Lennon Sketchbook, the befittingly weird and wonderful film — a vibrant testament to our long cultural history of anthropomorphizing animals to illuminate the human experience — begins with Lennon’s iconic “Imagine,” features Ono’s song “The King of the Zoo,” and weaves in chillingly prophetic conversations from the limited-edition 1980 LP Heart Play: Unfinished Dialogue, the first interview album of Lennon and Ono’s interviews after the breakup of The Beatles and the second posthumously released Lennon record.

Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King are great examples of fantastic nonviolents who died violently. I can never work that out — we’re pacifists, but I’m not sure what it means when you’re such a pacifist that you get shot. I can never understand that.

Exactly twenty years later, Canemaker received an Academy Award for his animated short film The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation.

Complement with The Beatles’ final photo shoot and a teenage boy’s marvelous animated conversation with Lennon, then revisit his semi-sensical illustrated verses.

HT Open Culture


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