This is a fun idiom in English. Wikipedia has a whole article about it here. In short it means that one can follow the exact wording of a law/rule/promise/plan, but yet still not accomplish the purpose of the Law. On the other hand one can seem to “break” the specific wording of the law/rule/promise/plan, but do it so that you follow the intent or “spirit” much closer.
It’s also, in my opinion become a way for people to shift responsibility from themselves to some all mysterious “law” spirit that granted them “wisdom” to break the law/rule/promise/plan. At Womenlearnthai.com, I wrote a post related to that. In the post I talked about my Mission President, the head of all the missionaries in Thailand, would often say, “Ask a better question.” The better question would be, how can I follow the spirit AND the law of what ever we promise to do.
Following “the Spirit and the Law” of Your System
I am a major advocate of creating a system and the sticking to it. I have already wrote how you should adapt your system and sometimes just throw it out. So, I obviously don’t expect anyone to follow it so strictly it is detrimental. What I expect is that you make your own system of Inputs and outputs. If you intend to follow My system, then you need to know WHY you are doing the various activities I suggest. That way you can adapt and throw out your system as needed, because you will understand why.
Recently, I finished my exams to get my licences that allow me to do the job I was hired to do. My job now has me do a lot of busy work on my own. I control myself and I am responsible for getting my tasks done. When I am at my busiest, I listen to Spanish Radio online. If I miss things, because I am concentrating on my work, I don’t mind so much. Later in the day, I am less busy and can listen to podcasts or other programs that require more concentration.
This means I get at least an hour a day of listening, not including my hour-long commute in and out of work. Having a plethora or time that I can use, means I can devote my commutes to only Output based learning and my free work moments into Input based learning. Yes this is a change from My Language Learning System, but the Spirit is kept because I am doing both input and output based learning and making use of all my free time.
So the point of all this is. Make a system or steal mine, I don’t care. Understand why you are doing it and then follow it! When opportunity calls for it to be adapted, do it under the understanding that it needs to still follow the spirit of the original system. Your success in adapting your system will be much higher if you do.