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Unlearning to Learn Again

Learning-By-Unlearning

Recently I’ve been going through some things that have me digging through the past. I`m trying to unlearn things that were taught to me throughout life, things that I have found I may not agree with any longer. As a 35yo father of two, it has taken me a long time to begin the process of finding my true self and my own thoughts. It has me going farther than I’ve ever gone into the past, determining why I believe certain ideas and where some of my self-destructive behavior comes from. It’s been a painful and enlightening process and I am still traveling on the road to get there. I know, too, that once I get to where I need to be, the journey will continue in some capacity.

I recently started rereading The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz for the third time. The first two times I read it, things did not resonate or stick. But now there is a better understanding of the concepts because I’m in a place where I can receive things more. I’m in a place where they make more sense to me and I feel more that I can relate them to myself on a deeper level. I’m in the part right now where he’s talking about how everyone has their own Book of Law and set of agreements along with how our domestication shapes us for life. To attempt to briefly sum it up…as children we cannot think for ourselves, so it is our parents who domesticate us as they teach us about the world around us and how we relate to it. They teach us right from wrong, they teach us what to believe in. In time, we form agreements within ourselves about the world around us. Agreements to understand how certain things work and how we feel about the world around us. These agreements are the foundation for who we will become. As we grow, these agreements become so ingrained within us that we no longer need to be domesticated, we auto-domesticate ourselves with the same beliefs. These ingrained agreements form our Book of Law, things that are and will be and cannot be broken. We each have our own set of agreements and our own set of laws, and they drive our passions, beliefs and ideas….they  make us who we are, for a time. As we grow into our own skin, we begin to see the world differently. We begin to question why things are the way they are. If we have a strong will, we buck against our tired agreements to form new ones (we rewrite the Book of Law). If we do not have the courage or will, we remain docile and adherent to the old agreements.

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When we get older, these old agreements can prevent us from seeing who we truly are. They can act as a cloud of smoke standing between us and a mirror, preventing us from seeing our true self. We can only see through the veil if influence. But what happens when the smoke begins to clear between us and the mirror? What happens when we begin to question that which we were taught? How do we cope with the idea of original thought, with the concept that you may believe differently? For me, I denied it for a long time. I was afraid of being myself, I was afraid of being different from my family and those around me. But the fact is, I have always been inherently different. I’ve plodded along happily all these years, content with living behind a cloud of smoke, never truly understanding myself or my belief system.

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Because we all have our own Book of Law, our own set of agreements, we can all look at the same situation and walk away with entirely different outlooks on the subject. This is the cause of conflict within ourselves and others. If someone expresses an opinion opposed to ours, something that goes against our own agreements, then we begin to defend our agreements and ourselves. We feel as if we ourselves are being attacked. We can argue with that person endlessly, but we are driven by our own set of agreements and laws. It is difficult to see past them. Even so, if we begin to think something that goes against our own agreements, we ourselves feel attacked by ourselves…giving birth to an internal struggle. What is true and what is false? The newfound knowledge gained through experience, or the old ideas ingrained into your mind as a child by the world around you? The struggle goes on, until we surrender ourselves to something greater. Until we open our minds to the possibilities of new truth.

I watched Birth of a Nation last year, the story of Nat Turner. Nat Turner was a slave in the 1800’s who learned to read and began reading the bible. He would preach to his fellow slaves that he lived with, which brought peace to their broken hearts. It gave them hope and salvation in the face of a horrible situation. Local slave masters and plantation owners saw this as a way to pacify their disobedient slaves. So they took him on a plantation tour to preach, and preach he did. He spread love, he gave them hope. He lit a fire that started a revolution and rebellion. He did a great thing using a powerful tool…hope and love.

Now, this is where it gets hazy for me. I did not see it that way at all initially. Because of my agreements and domestication, I saw this story through a completely different prism. I saw the slave owners as using a Christian-based faith to remove the slaves’ belief system and replacing it with that of a white God.  I saw it as brainwashing. I saw them using their faith as a means to pacify and tame the slaves. I saw them as mentally enslaving them even further. Which would make the entire thing a farce and a lie. But the hope they felt was real, that was not a lie. What I was failing to see, is that it doesn’t matter which book you follow or what name you have for God. Faith is something that we feel inside and cannot be quantified. What matters is that faith gives us faith to believe, that it speaks to us somewhere on the inside and gives us courage. Those people were broken and lost, they’d been caught in a cycle of generations of slaves and saw no way out…no hope. A word of gospel, a word of God, changed that. A word lit the flame afire. It was the same flame that lit menorahs in concentration camps. The same flame that lit diyas in darkness. The same flame that lit candles in the church and in homes. That flame represents faith, it doesn’t matter whom we pray to, just that we have faith.

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This may seem like common sense or easy to say, but because of my past agreements I struggled to see it this way. I have spent most of my life with the idea that we can place ownership over faith and culture. This is the white man’s religion, that is the Indian man’s culture, this is the black man’s culture, that is the Native man’s belief. Maybe the world is caught up in the ownership battle over faith and culture too. But I know that I have been caught up in it. And I’m finally ready to break free from that shortsightedness. It is very difficult to look at oneself and acknowledge that you are wrong, it is even more difficult to open oneself to learn new truths. But that is exactly what I am doing…unlearning to learn again.

I recently posted something online that embodied that same shortsightedness of cultural ownership and faith-based identity. I painted in broad strokes and unintentionally cast insults at people for what they believe in. This is not something I want to embody or represent, I want to operate from a place of love. I will defend what needs defending and stand for what needs to be stood for. But I will not continue to perpetuate and believe in agreements that are counter-intuitive to my own beliefs that come from inside. What I posted hurt someone whom I love and care dearly about. I cannot undo that, but I am sorry for it. I was wrong and I was short-sighted. I will continue to be open to myself and to others.

Unlearn so that we may clear a path for new knowledge.

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