Thursday, 15 November 2012 14:20

Learning consciousness

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LearningMy partner, Onix, in the middle of his high school years, moved to a very rural area in the deep south where the value placed on education wasn't nearly as high he was accustomed to in his hometown of Long Beach, California (talk about culture shock).  He told me that his principal, at their graduation, made the following remark which made Onix cringe.  He said:

"For most of you, this represents the end of your education..."

Perhaps what the principal should have said was, "This represents the end of your formal education."  Then he might have been accurate.  Ideally, the day you lay on your death-bed should be the day that represents the end of your education.  Until then, you should be learning something new all of the time. The idealist in me loves, cherishes, and respects learning in all of its forms, whether formal training or teaching, learning by experimenting and exploring on my own, or gathering that often dreaded, often wonderful life experience that causes one to spontaneously develop in a new direction. Keep growing. Keep becoming.

Yet the principal of the school did those students a terrible disservice by telling them, "This is the end of your education."  If they listened and believed his words literally, then that means that these newly-graduated high school students will think that they have learned all that they will ever learn, and know all that they will ever know.  I hope that is not the case - I hope instead that people believe themselves to be life-long learners.

It stops when we think we know everything. I am reminded of Socrates' immortal words:

"True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing."

There is this Zen story about a master and his student that inspired some of my thinking on this.

A master was trying to explain something to a student. Now this student was not a brand new student, but a senior student who had learned many things. He had knowledge and experience aplenty to draw upon. But each time the master tried to explain something new to the student, the student kept trying to hold it up against his own notions of the way the world is and how it ought be, and he was unable to see the lessons in what the master was trying to teach him.

Finally, the master poured a full serving of tea into his own cup, and into the cup of the student. Then he told the student he wanted to give to him some of the tea from his own cup. He began pouring tea from his cup into the student's cup, but the student's cup was already full, and all the tea from the master's cup spilled out over the cup onto the surface below.

The student said, "Master, you can't pour anything into my cup until I empty it to make room for what you are trying to give me.", and the master replied "Yes I know." "And I can't give you any new thoughts or ideas or perspectives on life's lessons until you clear out some thoughts that are already teeming in your mind to make room for what I have to teach you." Then the master paused for a brief moment, meeting the student's eyes with his own knowing look and calmly but sternly said: " If you truly seek understanding, then first, empty your cup!"

The student pondered for a moment with a look of absolute bewilderment. Then a look of enlightenment came over him, followed by a smile, and a look of receptiveness. The master started to explain again, and this time the student saw what the master was trying to say.

From The Voyager Tarot: The Learner - The Child of Crystals - (Equivalent to the Page of Swords)To be a learner and to have a learning consciousness is to look upon the world with the eyes of a child.  I observe the children I know - my baby nephew, children of friends of mine - discover the world for the first time.  The wonder they must have felt at their first experience of a snowfall.  It's to be in rapture with all of life, to experience it anew every time you experience it.  To live as a perpetual learner is to continually fill and continually empty your cup.  It is to never be satisfied with oneself, for self-satisfaction quickly turns into egotistical stagnation - a nasty trap to be in.  Be amazed. Be awed. This is your first time doing everything.

Developing learning consciousness is about listening - truly listening.  True listening is about putting all of your judgements of what the teacher is saying on hold and waiting until you have processed the information before attempting to make sense of it.  If you're constantly assessing, then you aren't listening.  You're reacting to something that is based in a shaky version of the truth because you only have snippets of the picture.  I cannot tell you the number of times I have seen someone teach, only to find that people who were supposedly listening were merely waiting to speak.  Are you listening, or are you waiting to speak?  Wait.  Take a deep breath and take in the whole thing. Then assess. To do otherwise is to fall into the trap of assumption.

Developing learning consciousness means constantly challenging oneself.  When I come to a point at which I think I'm so enlightened, I stop and realize that this infinite universe is so much larger than I could ever wrap my puny human mind around.  I remind myself, "I have barely scratched the surface."  I could live to be two hundred years old and study every day of my life and still only have barely scratched the surface of the infinite sphere of knowledge.  At the core of learning consciousness is humility, and as we remind ourselves of how little we actually know, we open ourselves to learn all that we can.

In developing learning consciousness, I have become more acutely aware of my state of mind regarding learning. More importantly, it's solidified my love for learning, my curiosity about the world around me, and my constant desire to be open to the flows of knowledge, and to drink deeply of them.  With work, they build me up. They exercise and create the muscle of my mind, and those of my body, too, and give me capabilities in any direction I desire.