Last week’s post sparked a few discussions about learning. As in, ‘I’m learning patience’ or ‘I’m learning to look after myself better.’
And underlying a number of these discussions was a sense of frustration, a feeling that ‘I should have learned that by now.’ And it made me think…
What if learning doesn’t work that way? What if it’s not a line drawn from Point A to Point B and then you cross it off your list and move on to the next lesson? What if we’re actually supposed to revisit things like love and patience and how to look after ourselves time and time again? What if it’s a cyclical practice rather than a linear process?
That would take some of the pressure off, wouldn’t it?
Because we put so much pressure on ourselves to learn these life lessons and we feel so bad about ourselves when we need to revisit them again and again. When the same lesson comes round to be learned again, we feel frustrated. We feel like failures.
But we are ever-changing and life is ever-changing. So how can we possibly learn it all once and be done? Each time I revisit patience, for instance, it’s with a new perspective, a different outlook, a whole raft of new experiences since the last time. The daily, hourly, moment-by-moment lessons of love astonish and humble and amaze me. Of course I can’t learn it and move on to the next project.
I think it comes down to the words we use. Our vocabulary doesn’t always allow for nuance.
It’s a bit like our bakery.
In French, there’s a word for places that bake and sell pastries and cakes. If you want those, you go to a patisserie. If you want a loaf of bread, you go to a boulangerie. Here we just call everything a bakery and people expect us to sell donuts. Vocabulary.
When we’re in school, we learn things like addition and historical dates and the capitals of countries. We call that learning. Patience and self-care and love we call learning, too and that’s where we get confused.
Because we’ve taken something natural and imposed a bureaucratic structure on it.
It’s a bit like our grid-like understanding of time. The earth moves through its orbit and sometimes wobbles a bit on its axis. Days lengthen and shorten, seasons come and go and instead of moving with that and saying, ‘Oh! Spring weather! How pleasant!’ we forecast doom when it happens in February, a concept we invented.
Every day is divided into twenty-four identical segments which are further sub-divided into smaller identical segments and we use those against ourselves, to fight against our own natural inclinations. ‘I can’t go to bed yet! It’s too early!’ we say, looking at the clock instead of the night sky which has been dark for hours with a bright moon inviting us to dream.
An alarm clock frightens us awake in the cold and darkness and we force ourselves to start our day long before the day has started itself.
School works the same way, making us think that the fluid practice of learning is a rigidly segmented, measurable process. That the accumulation of (yes, necessary) facts and skills is all that learning is.
Just like with the bakery, we need a more detailed vocabulary. One that can differentiate between man-made time and natural time. One that can differentiate between the accumulation of facts and the practice of learning.
Because, once we understand the difference, we can go to bed when we feel like it. We can relax into the practice of learning. Learn a little more, dig a little deeper. Relearn the exact same thing in this moment, which is different from that moment. And know that the opportunity for learning will come around again and again. And that’s how it is and how it’s supposed to be.
And as I learn these differences, as I practice learning these things, my life has slowed down. Gained a sweetness and a peace. I am beginning to be instead of just do.
So what do you think? What lesson do you learn again and again?