About Neil Keleher

Simplifying chaos
by: Neil Keleher
Published: 2019 07 22

A long time ago I had the idea that I would like to teach people about basic principles. These would be principles that you could apply or use in any situation to make doing things (or learning things) easier.

I tried explaining this to a friend and he asked me to be a bit more specific. Basic Principles are too general! Which was kind of the point!

Understanding Consciousness

At the time I was only just getting used to publishing on the internet. I tried writing a blog, called Basic Principles. I even wrote a book. The same book went through many title changes but all had the same main title, "Understanding Consciousness". That was me trying to put a different spin on Basic Principles.

Website Design

A friend introduced me to a company called Sitesell. He said if I was interested in making money on the internet, then Sitesell was a good place to start. And so I spent the next 8 or 9 years writing about yoga and anatomy.

In the process, I learned how to design my own website, and I also learned how to write better articles. (I am still working on that.) And at the same time I got better at understanding the body, yoga and teaching.

Yoga That Teaches You Your Body

I've been a yoga teacher for almost 20 years. I started with one style, then moved to another and since I've been in Taiwan I've been working on my own system of yoga.

One of the things that I noticed, both in yoga and in Tai ji, is that in either case a lot of what beginners have to learn is how to feel and control their body. And so a big part of my focus was on using yoga as a means to teach people how to feel and control their body in a way that was applicable to anything that they did.

Guidelines Instead of Rules

I think one of my biggest attractions to the idea of Basic Principles was that of making it easier for people to be independent. I wanted to help make people smarter, to be able to think for themselves, to give them the tools so that they can self learn whenever required.

And that's what I ended up focusing on when I taught yoga. Rather than teaching my students rules, I gave them guidelines, simple ideas for them to find their own best "alignment" in any yoga pose.

Teaching is a Skill

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges with what I did with yoga was that I had to figure a lot of it out by myself. I had some important teachers along the way, but no one held my hand. As a result I learned a couple of things.

One of them is that teaching is a skill. I'm by no means perfect, but I am very good at breaking things down. (That's generally what I mean when I talk about "simplifying chaos".)

I had to learn how to teach because a lot of what I want to teach people is how to teach themselves. You can only do that if you understand the process of teaching and the process of learning.

The better you are at breaking things down, the easier it is to teach, and the easier it is to learn.

(A trick is knowing how to break things down in different ways! Another trick is knowing how to break things down in meaningfully or definably.)

Making Chinese Character Lookup Easy

As a side note, at about the same time that I started doing yoga, I also started learning to read and write Chinese. When I moved to Taiwan, one of my first projects was to build an excel datasheet to store a database of characters and associated data. Where with yoga I focused on teaching and on building a website, with Chinese my focus was on creating a database.

A natural offshoot of that was to create a dictionary and part of that involved creating a lookup system for Chinese characters. Chinese character lookup is a real pain in the ass and so I was really happy to come up with a system that made character lookup easy.

Here again I was learning to simplify chaos.

Writing Chinese characters

Did I mention that one of my primary reasons for wanting to come to Taiwan was that I wanted to learn more about writing Chinese characters. This was one of the main areas where I learned to break things down in different ways depending on whether I was trying to learn to paint a character or remember it's sound or meaning. While a goal with painting Chinese characters is to flow while painting, For myself I found I could flow a lot better when I focused on breaking characters down first (and practicing smaller sets of brush strokes.)

Programming in swift

Yet another way that I've applied simplifying chaos to learning complex systems is learning to program (or code?) in swift. These days programming can be a lot easier than it was, but even so, it can be frustrating. However, having taken the time to develop a lookup system for Chinese characters, and then having taken the time to build an app using that lookup system, I can now easily lookup Chinese characters even when I don't know their pronunciation. And so now I'm practicing Chinese by reading translated novels like Stephen King's "IT". I read the English version to get the gist of a paragraph or page, then I go through the Chinese version, looking up characters easily using my app to find their sound, or when required, their meaning.

Creating Positive Change

Did I mention that I'm a single father? That too has been an adventure. My daughter was born just after my 40th birthday so if ever I have trouble remembering my age, I just add 40 to her age.

Being a father has been another opportunity to test out my ideas on basic principles. While it doesn't apply in all arenas, I'd say that one of the most basic principles that applies to human relationships is to hug the people you love (and anyone else who needs it.) It's one of the nicest ways to connect and create a positive change.

Another way to connect is to listen.