On Learning

All the great discoveries, once discovered, are seen as incredibly obvious and simple… and tend to make everyone, including the discoverer, appear foolish for not having seen them before. ‘Foolishness’ or 'ignorance' then, is simply the state that exists prior to knowing.

Unfortunately, we learnt that these states are to be avoided. Our society and education system teaches us to take pride in what we know, and to be ashamed of ignorance.

Ashamed-of-ignorance now creates a fear of exploring those paths where we imagine we could be open to ridicule. But more sinister still, pride-in-knowledge ring fences our ability to learn, as we now avoid everything that could contradict our core beliefs rendering us ‘ignorant’... in favour of pursuing only the learning that extends our carefully constructed and prized models of reality.

It's not that we do this consciously, we just don't see what we turn away from – the knowledge that contradicts what we stand for. So we explore that which we know we don’t know but rarely venture into the domain of what is not seen – the stuff we don’t know that we don’t know.

For those brave souls willing to cross this threshold of indoctrinated shame, laugh at ourselves, and move on into the outer reaches of our vast universal ignorance, life’s ‘secrets’ slowly unfold. But in the face of the strong internal and social pressures against this, there are few as yet who are willing to practice or even advocate such a simple and satisfying course towards sanity.

Those who do have the courage to tread this path to real discovery find little practical guidance on how to do so. But you do find them even in established institutions – mostly working away in secret, pretending to be busy following accepted policies, talking the talk as if agreeing with the deadening personal opinions they hear around them… but all the while walking in the other direction. Paradoxically, in embracing their ignorance they re-discover the joy of learning, and their un-knowingness clears a space in mind for insight beyond anything imagined.

To arrive at first principles doesn’t requires years of study or great calculation or an intellectual thought process of any kind. No prior research is needed, in fact no effort at all. Thinking creates belief. Knowing is not a product of thinking. It unfolds -- as if a gift -- when we hold in mind what we want to know and then pay attention to (and share) our experience as it unfolds in following the trail of insights. To borrow Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s words, “The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach – waiting for a gift from the sea."

To learn together with our peers like this is nothing but fun. In exploring together in openness we start to see the connectedness of everything, we feel a part of each other and feel a part of this that is animating the whole show, instead of perceiving only the complexity appearing on the surface… and as this background becomes more distinct, it begins to all make sense as the unity and simplicity of this bigger picture becomes clear.

And so learning and joy are two sides of the same coin. One cannot come without the other. And this, to me, is the essence of Joseph Campbell’s plea, “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls”. Notice that J.C. never said ‘Find a vocation that gives you bliss’, or ‘Find something that gives you bliss and do that’, or ‘Follow your path to bliss’. He just said, ‘Follow your bliss’.

We all have this experience of joy when we are on track and learning what we need to know. Bliss is not something we do, not a vocation, not a path... it is our compass needle. Our art, vocation * and gift to the world are all just effects – what shows up for us along the way, when we commit to following our inner knowing (and feeling of ‘bliss’) that knows the way to our freedom and happiness. Our 'path' is simply what we see if we happen to pause and look back while ‘following our bliss’.

Anyone here feel a similar way about this?
* ‘Vocation’ is a very fluid thing for me. What-gives-me-joy tends to change pretty much as soon I learn what each new venture has to teach me. This is probable more a rule than an exception. ;)

Credit: Animation courtesy of http://www.born-to-learn.org/
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