When my sons were young, I would ask, “Did you work to the best of your ability? Did you give it your all? Left nothing on the field?” Everyone’s 100% is different, and it also varies from time to time. When we work to our highest level at a given moment, we can feel a satisfaction that we accomplished our best.
Once at a local grocery store, a young woman was working the cash register. She clearly had to concentrate very intently to perform the task. She was working to 100% of her capacity. The man being checked out was annoyed and had no patience for her. We, however, appreciated her determination to fulfill her job.
To be able to learn, we have to have agency and consciousness. With agency we have to have a voice. We willingly demonstrate these things by stepping up to the plate at every level and testing what we have learned. We then discern and adjust. The woman at the grocery store had learned to the best of her ability, and she felt it, and we respected her effort. She was not numb; she was present to what was in front of her.
We can facilitate our own learning in any situation with a few straightforward choices:
- Showing up and engaging all our vehicles: body, senses, intellect, data collector, and emotions;
- Participating in a way appropriate to any situation in which we find ourselves;
- Finishing our work and reporting back, demonstrating that the work is done to the best of our ability;
- Asking discerning questions and digging to find both answers and the next level of questions;
- Articulating our contributions clearly and cleanly;
- Being appreciative and respectful of teachers and others; and
- Not whining, griping, sneering, blaming, or being sarcastic.
Questioning is an important component of learning. We must learn how to formulate good questions; they will designate the direction we go. Only if the question is articulated well can the answer be sufficiently clear. In order to ask a good question, we first have to have wrestled with the subject on our own. Only by wrestling can we see the gaps in our understanding.
Once we have expressed our question, we should listen to the answer without starting an internal dialogue and missing what was said. We have to actually listen and then take in the answer.
We then must be able to articulate that answer in our own words so as to confirm what we received and understood. We need to make sure we took in the answer consciously and grasped it firmly. That is the real reason for tests in school: we have to be able to make the knowledge we have received our own, and articulating our understanding on an exam is an excellent way of doing this. Anyone who believes that eliminating exams will promote learning is missing this crucial point.
|Able to learn / teachable||Obstinate / unwilling to learn / knows everything|
|Impressionable /easily influenced||Principled / incorruptible / not easily swayed|
In the above fourchotomy, we can see that in most cases when we are unwilling to learn, the reason is that we believe we already know all we need to know. And how many of us are set in our ways, thinking we’re principled when in fact we are unwilling to learn? The questions we all need to be asking ourselves are “Am I too proud to learn? Am I willing to learn who I truly am?” We need to ask these continually on the deepest level, hear our answer, and then ask them again, only this time a little deeper.
|Questioning||Swallowing / gullible|
|Doubting / defiant||Certain / forthright|
In sadhana we learn that we have created our narrative and sustain it; we then work to dismantle it, but unfortunately we don’t want to lose it. We would rather pretend we’re something we’re not—that’s our shrunken version of the divine activity of concealment—and then we grow our narrative bigger and better, and we never get off the grid, and we never get to be human. And we’re so sure. We’re so sure we know what we’re doing, we know who we are, we know the way the world works for us. And we miss everything.
When St. John of the Cross faced the Dark Night of the Soul, God was the initiator. This was the supreme learning opportunity: God concealed himself so that St. John would surrender completely his wrong identification, his asmita, and return to his true nature. He became who he was. At every point on our journey, we must be willing to learn, able to withstand the test, and capable of arriving at the correct answer.
|Tested / examined||Never learn|
|Punished||Given a free pass|
To heaven and the sage, says Laozi, all creatures are straw dogs; they are temporary, and meant to be sacrificed. “We” are those straw dogs. “We” have to go in order to be who we truly are. That means we have to be able to learn on the subtlest level, the level where we are able to drop the mirror and see the Self. We then will have learned at 100% of our absolute capacity. God teaches and God learns.
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