Willingness to learn ...

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Speculum
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Willingness to learn ...

Postby Speculum » April 13th, 2005, 1:52 pm

I receive a daily email from Wordsmith that often includes an interesting quotation. Today's is the following item from Thomas Szasz. I have to confess that it speaks directly to me. Too often, I rebel against having to learn something because of a perceived injury to my self-esteem; and only later do I come back and agree to the new perception.

Because there may be others here to whom it applies as well, I thought I'd post it.

Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one's self-esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily; and why older persons, especially if vain or important, cannot learn at all.

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anna
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Postby anna » April 13th, 2005, 5:54 pm

You realize, of course, that the only reason a child doesn't take it personally, is that the child does not extend her concept of self to include her opinions, whereas, as adults, we increasingly identify ourselves with "what we think or believe". Not realizing, of course, that those beliefs are arbitrary and conditioned, not original, nor unique. A child hasn't become sophisticated enough to identify herself yet, or indeed, probably hasn't yet considered who that "self" is, and therefore, escapes the sense of vulnerability to different ideas because of that innocence.

Until we realize, truly realize, that our beliefs or thoughts are nothing more than whisps in the wind, we will probably continue to be threatened by conflicting ideas.

Gurdjieff once stated to his followers, who objected to his requirement that they dispense with all their cultural baggage and accept his "cultural baggage" as a learning device, that it made no difference whatsoever what belief system they embraced, because their "own" belief system was every bit as arbitrary as his was, so what difference did it make what they embraced as "their own", since none of it was truly "their own", but all of it was "learned" from others, and in an arbitrary manner.

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Postby NewMoonDaughter » April 16th, 2005, 6:10 am

Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one's self-esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily; and why older persons, especially if vain or important, cannot learn at all.

Something I've been exploring in the last few days is how learning something new can feel like one is suffering an injury. For some, learning is an exciting adventure, but for others it's a torture. In order to learn, one must first acknowledge one's ignorance. In order to make space for new knowledge, one must often relinquish what is already known. It often feels like a vulnerable thing to let go of knowledge, to simply say, "I don't know" or "I lack knowledge" or "I am ignorant." In putting aside the assurity that we KNOW, we are sometimes putting aside our sense of security. Our so-called knowledge gives us a false sense of safety and control. We can become so impressed with ourselves and with what we think we know, that we will use that to shield ourselves from the vulnerable feelings of inadequacy. Letting go of what we think we know is to look directly into the emptiness where there is no safety. It can be like falling backward into a freefall. And as a way of self-protection we impulsively and compulsively contract, and hold very tightly to knowledge to avoid the stark reality of our vulnerability and ignorance.

Surrendering the old knowledge makes way for the new, but many are unable or reluctant to do that. In order to comprehend the new, one must be willing to be defenseless, letting go of false armors, laying aside the bogus shields and dropping the meaningless masks. But the knowledge, whether old or new, isn't what is sacred anyway. It is our very Selves that is that divine kernel that is beyond all knowledge. And as so many teachings remind us, that divine reality is never really in jeopardy.

T. S. Eliot also wrote something that also speaks to this...
    In order to arrive at what you do not know
    You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
    In order to possess what you do not possess,
    You must go by the way of dispossession.
    In order to arrive at what you are not,
    You must go through the way in which you are not,
    And what you do not know is the only thing you know
    And what you own is what you do not own
    And where you are is where you are not.


anna wrote:Gurdjieff once stated to his followers, who objected to his requirement that they dispense with all their cultural baggage and accept his "cultural baggage" as a learning device, that it made no difference whatsoever what belief system they embraced, because their "own" belief system was every bit as arbitrary as his was, so what difference did it make what they embraced as "their own", since none of it was truly "their own", but all of it was "learned" from others, and in an arbitrary manner.

Hello Anna,
Maybe it's my unpleasant past experiences and conditioning that are affecting how I perceive and respond to this because I'm thinking now of the other side of the coin. There has been emotional abuse by those who use this same kind of logic to justify their mistreatment of others. I certainly don’t know anything at all about Gurdjieff's teachings or what he was about, whether he was harmful, and am not saying this to suggest something unscrupulous in his regard. But this kind of logic, though reasonable, is also what cultish teachers purport. When the students are encouraged to relinquish their beliefs and substitute the teacher's, that's a double standard, and a precarious situation if the teacher's motives are less than pure. This can be a way to disempower another, or can cause one to adopt a habit of distrust of one's own inner authority, neither of which is helpful to a spiritual journey.

So while "surrendering" can seem like an appropriate way to challenge one's fear of vulnerability, or open one to truth, it can also be abused. I guess there's more than one way to regard this idea of vulnerability. Ultimately maybe it's still all about balance, and maintaining one's inner authority.

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Postby anna » April 20th, 2005, 1:11 pm

NewMoonDaughter wrote:
But this kind of logic, though reasonable, is also what cultish teachers purport. When the students are encouraged to relinquish their beliefs and substitute the teacher's, that's a double standard, and a precarious situation if the teacher's motives are less than pure. This can be a way to disempower another, or can cause one to adopt a habit of distrust of one's own inner authority, neither of which is helpful to a spiritual journey.

So while "surrendering" can seem like an appropriate way to challenge one's fear of vulnerability, or open one to truth, it can also be abused. I guess there's more than one way to regard this idea of vulnerability. Ultimately maybe it's still all about balance, and maintaining one's inner authority.


New Moon:

No question about it, your observations are right on the mark, and that is by and far the most dangerous aspect to any kind of surrender to any kind of belief system. We have all seen too many abused and misused people who have relinquished their discrimination and authority to another. My purpose in using Gurdjieff's position was to underline the point that we are unable to learn anything because we hang on to our own beliefs believing that they are somehow sacrosanct, or "are us", when in fact, they are no more sacrosanct than any other belief system, including, as Gurdjieff points out, his own -- the latter point being either ingenious, or devilish, depending upon what you felt about Gurdjieff. To my mind, the essence of his point then, was that, as a teacher, he was in fact alerting his students to the fact that ALL belief systems, no matter how "high or low", were only and just that, a belief system, that was arbitrary, and thus changeable depending upon the circumstances. If one fully understands this, then one can learn.

That said, Gurdjieff too was considered abusive by some of his students, so, there is nothing special or holy about his position either, and he, as all human beings, may have been subject to abuse of power as well.

So, despite the dangers inherent in surrender, which I agree are great, it seems to me that we are unable to learn or consider the possibility that there are alternative ways of looking at everything in life because we consider ourselves to "be what we believe". So long as we define ourselves by our beliefs, we are, I believe, doomed to react in self-defense to alternatives because we believe our very survival to depend upon the survival of that belief system. And if that presumption is unexamined or accepted on face value, then we would be fools NOT to defend ourselves, because we believe our very survival to depend upon that defense.

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Postby anna » April 21st, 2005, 9:02 pm

Carried further:

Learning requires, in and of itself, a kind of stretching, or release of self, which can be perceived to be discomfort, if one doesn't understand the value to be gained from that experience.

If you can remember what it was to be in school, and the enormous energy required to be attentive to a learning experience, you begin to get an idea of how lazy we are as we age, and why, more than likely, the older we get the less we change or learn because of the energy required, and our misunderstanding of what is of value and what isn't.

I think that beyond learning, comes understanding, and by that, I mean integrating a lesson to the extent that we become that lesson. If we don't do that, then learning is just accumulation of facts, stuffed into an already over-stuffed brain.

Growth, then, particularly spiritual growth, or transformation, occurs only by means of understanding or integration of life experiences. The more we integrate, the larger we become because of that integration, and the less limited our horizons, no?

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NewMoonDaughter
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Postby NewMoonDaughter » April 22nd, 2005, 8:57 pm

Hello Anna.
I've not been abused by any "teacher" in the way we've been discussing, but I've been emotionally abused in that precise way for many years in relationships. And still sorting out those errors, so I have a sensitivity to that. What makes it possible for a spiritual teacher (or anyone else), to misuse and deceive others, and to get them to also willingly agree to surrender to that abuse, is done by cleverly blending and weaving lots of undeniable truths into the deception. Duping others, whether spiritual or otherwise, is done with a great deal of skill and subtlety, or else it wouldn’t work as often.

But I do agree with all you say about the need to relinquish ideas in order to allow learning. Absolutely. In fact, learning how not to be co-dependent in abusive relationships also requires a kind of painful stretching and relinquishments of old ideas.

anna wrote:I think that beyond learning, comes understanding, and by that, I mean integrating a lesson to the extent that we become that lesson. If we don't do that, then learning is just accumulation of facts, stuffed into an already over-stuffed brain.

That sounds like "integrating a lesson" is more than just an intellectualization of the lesson. And with that kind of intellectualization, one can use the lesson as just another way to be more firmly attached to opinions instead of less. So instead of a "willingness to learn," which is "openness" and "surrender," one can use that "accumulation of facts" as just a way to become even more rigid and deeply entrenched.

anna wrote:Growth, then, particularly spiritual growth, or transformation, occurs only by means of understanding or integration of life experiences. The more we integrate, the larger we become because of that integration, and the less limited our horizons, no?

Agreed. The more we integrate, the larger we become,yes. But isn't it also odd that the larger we become, the smaller we become? IOW as we integrate more and more, if we do so with a surrendered disposition, we find that our tightly held opinions start to pale, dissolve. As we see ourselves as part of the integral whole we become less impressed with our need to stand on firm individual opinions. But that kind of integration takes courage and an ability to relinquish our concern for the small individual. And being able to do that leads back to considering what you also said above...
anna wrote:...we consider ourselves to "be what we believe". So long as we define ourselves by our beliefs, we are, I believe, doomed to react in self-defense to alternatives because we believe our very survival to depend upon the survival of that belief system. And if that presumption is unexamined or accepted on face value, then we would be fools NOT to defend ourselves, because we believe our very survival to depend upon that defense.

When we integrate and become larger, and also smaller, we can also relinquish the idea that we are what believe. When we don't define ourselves by our beliefs, there is less need to defend ourselves based on those beliefs.


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