Education is only a ladder to gather fruit from the tree of knowledge, not the fruit itself. Albert Einstein
Unlearning isn’t about forgetting; it’s about releasing yourself from being controlled by your past. It’s about freeing yourself from the tyranny of unconscious habits and your personal history, failing which you are doomed to be forever stuck in the past – regurgitating, repeating and reliving it. And that’s what Karma is in reality.
Unlearning requires awareness, first of the self and then of the external world. But, before we can move on from the past and transcend it, we need to be aware of, acknowledge, integrate and learn from it. Outmoded and inappropriate programs are ruling (and ruining) your life – your behaviour, values, beliefs. In short, how you think and feel, how you act and react. Reclaiming control requires becoming aware of these programs and rescripting your modus operandi.
What does it mean to learn?
Education, by and large, is focussed on the development of the analytic or critical faculties at the expense of the intuitive, emotional, social, aesthetic or creative ones. We tend to equate learning with education, and education with data acquisition, ipso facto the more of it we have the better. That’s like thinking that the more you eat, the healthier you must be, whereas the reality is that obesity is distinctly unhealthy. And exactly the same applies for intellectual overindulgence – in this age of the info junkie we are all drowning in an ocean of data.
There is no disputing the importance of education for self development. Unfortunately, modern educational stratagems and institutions have produced a generation or three of people who confuse facts with knowledge, and knowledge with understanding. This has led to a black and white “power point” mentality that neatly reduces things to simplistic bullet points. Reality however is not so tidy or well-behaved.
According to the adage, a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing, however a lot can be downright fatal. An excess of learning can strangle creative and original thinking, inhibit the intuitive faculties, and limit the power of imagination. Einstein was right on the money when he said “imagination is more important than knowledge. Logic will get you from A to B, but imagination can take you anywhere”.
What does it mean to unlearn?
Unlearning enables us to experience, apprehend and comprehend reality directly.
One of the functions of mind is to discriminate, filter and censor the flow of information. This is a basic survival strategy to ensure that we are not overwhelmed by sensory input. However, primarily using your brain as a processor to filter out whatever you consider irrelevant or contrary to your weltanschauung reduces your perspectives to blinkered myopia. And it’s not just your thought processes that become limited – your attitudes and behaviour quickly follow suit.
Whilst formal education is concerned with filling the black hole that constitutes the infant mind, unlearning involves replacing the constipated, overactive mind with an open, receptive one. Succinctly, unlearning is about return to a state of pristine awareness; a state of seeing without looking, of hearing without listening, of interacting and responding authentically rather than reacting reflexively and thoughtlessly. As Jesus said, return to a state of natural grace requires becoming as a child once again.
The evolution of consciousness is described allegorically in the Old Testament in the book of Genesis. According to the myth, once upon a time we lived in the garden of Eden where we cavorted freely and in the non-discriminatory blissful state of the undifferentiated child. However, having then tasted of the fruit of the tree of knowledge we lost our innocence, causing us to be expelled from paradise.
And the rest is history. No longer in touch with the world around and within us; out of touch with our instinctual and intuitive faculties; out of touch with the divinity (both within and without) we become lost in a labyrinth of abstraction. Having lost our connection with integrity and common sense we constructed the (wo)man-made edifices of religion, ritual, duty, morality, and law.
When attunement to the natural way is lost, we turn to education – physical, mental, ethical, moral and spiritual.
The irony is that the gift of language – which we created in order to facilitate communication between us – too often proves to be a barrier between us and the direct experience of reality.
How do we unlearn?
How do we free ourselves from the habits, thoughts, emotions, and rules that constrain, and constrict us, Because all too often the cultivation of academic rigour is a stultifying process that leads to intellectual rigour mortis. The challenges are: firstly to become aware of the conditioning and behavioural programming that keeps us locked in the limited confines of our minds and assumed identities; and secondly to dehabituate and deprogram as a necessary prelude to conscious rescripting.
How do we go about this? By the (not-so) simple act of letting go – of the illusion of knowledge; of the need to control, dominate and interfere; of preconceived notions; of fear of failure and favour of reward.
How? By attaining a state of clarity in order that we are not just fully immersed in the moment, but that we are the moment. By emptying the mind and cultivating alert awareness. By the practice of dynamic meditation – not by the nihilistic forms of meditation that seek to remove us from the world at large, but by embracing and becoming one with the flux creation and dissolution.