In understanding our built-in tendency to resist detecting our own foibles and weaknesses, we can see why the process of learning isn't simple for adults. Children, on the other hand, as residents of an adult world, are used to losing face; making errors is a major part of their lives. Most of what infants do is make errors. They wet their pants, fall over, drop things. Yet they have nothing to resist, so the progression of awareness-practice-correction is natural to them. If it were so for us, learning would accelerate rapidly.
What happens to most of us in our athletic endeavors is that we're "sort of" aware of what we're doing wrong, and we "sort of" try for a while to correct it. Often, however, we feel momentarily worse when we try to make corrections based on confused awareness, so we tend to go back to whatever habit patterns we've been accustomed to.
It's often easier to stay confused. One athlete under the authoritarian rule of an abusive coach who was literally running him into the ground described to me yet another in a long line of injuries. When I asked him why he didn't find another coach, he replied with a sigh, "Well, at least I'm used to him."
In sports, relationships, and other aspects of daily life, we often get stuck in old habits for the same reason - at least we're used to them. The less flexible we are, the less willing to take risks, the more likely we are to remain stuck in old habits that no longer serve us. Sometimes it takes physical or emotional pain to generate the awareness and action necessary to change.
Then the time came
when the risk it took
to remain tight in a bud
was more painful than the risk it took
The Growth of Awareness
Awareness, like everything else, is subject to the natural laws. It happens not all at once but in a natural order, from gross to subtle. Your growth in awareness is similar to self sculpture. First you determine the shape you want to bring out of a stone (your goal). Then you begin hacking and hewing. This "rough cutting" is your general awareness. Later you are ready for the detail work and polishing—the most subtle awareness.
An example of gross awareness is noticing that you sometimes fall down accidentally or that you tend to have an explosive temper and hit people, or that you often become distracted and forget where you are. An example of subtle awareness is the close attention that the diver pays to the position of his hands and fingers even during a triple somersault, or the control of internal organs some yogis have mastered.
A Japanese story illustrates the respect for refined awareness common in some Eastern cultures.
An old samurai warrior knew his time on earth was near an end and wished to bequeath his sword to the brightest of his three sons. He designed a test.
He had a friend hide just inside the barn, above the doorway, and gave him three bags of rice. He then invited each son inside, one at a time.
The first son, after feeling the rice bag fall on his head, drew his sword and cut the bag in half before it hit the ground.
The second son halved the bag even before it hit his head.
The third son, sensing something amiss, declined to enter the barn-and so earned his father's sword.
We can say that beginners are those who have not refined their awareness of errors relative to a particular skill. In this sense, we are all beginners, for no matter what we've accomplished, there are always new refinements for which we haven't yet developed subtle awareness. In our journey up the mountain, we're all beginners in new territory.