“The chief aim of education should be to help the growing soul to draw out that in itself which is best and make it perfect for a noble use.” – Sri Aurobindo
Learning can sometimes mean putting down a long-held worldview in exchange for a new one. Learning is literally the act of changing your mind.
There are many models in modern psychology and education used to illustrate what we learn and how we learn — how fast or to what degree. According to integral theory, we (our selves and our consciousness) are comprised of various lines of development. Cognitive, moral, aesthetic, emotional, sexual, musical, athletic, spiritual, etc. These lines radiate out from the center of our being in all directions, and we unfold along these lines in stages — stages we can’t force, stages we can’t skip.
We push along into these newer and more inclusive stages when we are good and ready, when we have reached a tipping point between the old way of thinking or knowing and the new way of looking at the world. These new ways of understanding transcend and include the previous stages. They are inclusive of more perspectives, more methods. But we only lean forward into them when we are so tired and frustrated that it seems we have no choices left, and must somehow get “above it all.” We’ve done all there is to do, read all there is to read, met everyone there is to meet, and understood everything there is to know at the current stage.
If change is so necessary and so great, then why does it feel like death? We fear change, and we only surrender to change when we are finally ready to die to ourselves and be born anew from the flames.
Author and New Thought pioneer, H. Emilie Cady wrote in her classic Lessons in Truth, “Be assured, no matter what anyone else says to you or thinks, that the seeming failure does not mean loss of power. It means that you are to let go of the lesser in order that you may grasp the whole in which the lesser is included.”
According to the teachings of Shambhala Buddhism, it is very like sitting on a crowded beach, surrounded by the chatter and pollution of the world around you. Across the ocean, barely visible, is an untouched, uncharted shore — glistening and pristine. Eventually you get tired and frustrated with the pursuing, the abuse and the confusion, and will lean forward, walking into the water and swimming against the tide with all the strength you have — eventually reaching that faraway shore. When you sit on that undiscovered beach and stare across the water at where you came from, it is then that you have a better understanding of your old ways and the ways of those around you. And usually, we’ll ask ourselves, “What took me so long? What was I waiting for?”
For those of us who are modeling the bodhisattva path, or the “Kingdom program” as put forth by Christ, we may make a few trips back across the water to bring our friends along with us to that new land. Sometimes we have to carry them on our backs, kicking and screaming. But eventually we set up shop in that new place — eventually we live there.
In the digital and information age, unfolding into a new stage is similar to receiving an update to our operating system. We all get these notifications (“Your update is ready to download and install”). We can choose to download this update immediately or wait until later. Even though the benefits of installing this new framework are clear — increased support, more functionality, even new languages — still, sometimes we wait. We wait until the basic functions for which the system was designed start to fail. We wait until our apps start to crash or our email becomes glitchy. We blame our tools, we blame those around us, and eventually, we get tired and frustrated, so we lean forward and take action. And it is when we finally install that new and more inclusive framework — when we put on the new avatar and start unplugging the outdated connections — that real change can begin. It is when we inhabit that new circuitry and intuit that new skin that we are able to access those higher forms of knowing and methods of understanding. We are able to explore a newly expanded consciousness, that allows room for newer and more detailed structures to be built. Exploring this vast new territory is an adventure — indeed, it is the game of life. And eventually, we set up shop there, eventually we live there, in that new place — that new consciousness — until it is time to move on.
We all go through this series of death-like changes. We are all afloat together on the sea of unfolding — and we are never alone. We count on each other by counting on the same guiding stars. And we unfold together like constellations in bloom.
May we all mindfully navigate the shadows and the depths on this journey, and may we all land safely at our long-awaited next former place.