Unlearning Your World
How We Learn
Every minute of every day, we are learning. We learn through every one of our five senses, through the tangible experience of the world around us, and (sometimes) through our conscious observation of that experience. For the first part of our lives, however, we rarely consciously observe. The easiest and fastest way for us to learn (and therefore, to survive) is to copy those around us, and that’s what we do. We copy our parents, friends, teachers and the media we are exposed to. This is how we learn to learn.
The Copycat Method
When our brains continue to develop and we gain a more conscious perspective as we move into adulthood, this somewhat outdated method of learning has already become a deeply ingrained habit. Even though our brains have become more capable of observation, discernment, and choice, we tend to revert to our old method of learning and continue to copy the world around us. We begin to copy politicians, lovers, religious icons, movie stars, and more…even when we don’t really mean to.
The Power of Patterns
What and how we learn becomes who we think we are. What and how we learn determines the ways we place judgment on ourselves and others, what we crave and what we detest, what we seek and what we run from. The patterns that we have developed throughout our lives end up dictating our choices far more than the reality of our experience of the present moment.
Let’s be clear - this is not always a bad thing! It’s incredibly useful, especially when it comes to safety and survival. The pattern we develop when we touch a hot pot on the stove teaches us to avoid it in the future. The social customs we learn in school and from family allow us to interact with the world around us on relatively common terms and ensure acceptance and familiarity.
However, if we remain unaware of these patterns and this way of learning, we give up a large part of our power to create our lives. We relinquish some of our capacity to, in each moment, make a new choice, embrace an unfamiliar situation, or see things from a different perspective. In a sense, we let our past selves drive us around in the present. And this not only stops us from experiencing the moment as it is but also self-perpetuates and more heavily ingrains our past within our present self. Our experience gets narrower and narrower, less and less tolerant, more and more fixed.
Get out the Map and Grab the Wheel
In order to take the wheel back, we have to start unlearning at the same rate as we learn. We have to open up our capacity to erase our human hard drives just as freely as we program them. And we have to climb up out of the wiring and look at the big picture. Right now, we’re driving down the same road over and over again, taking the same turns almost every time. We need to pull over, get out the old fashioned map and add some distance to our perspective. When we do this, often we’ll see there’s a shorter route to our destination, a different turn we can take, or a new place we want to explore. Maybe we’ll even notice that where we are heading is not where we actually want to go.
So, How do we start? Below are a few quick and easy ways to begin reclaiming your power to choose the experiences you have and the way you interact with the world.
One of the biggest roadblocks to the unlearning process is the lack of patience. In this fast-paced world, we are so used to getting what we need when we need it. Because the patterns we already know are closer at hand, they seem easier. Because they seem easier, we repeat them. And the more we repeat them, the further we get from choosing a new pattern that works better. To stop this momentum, we’ve got to slow down. Even the small choices in life offer us an opportunity to practice. Next time you head out to eat, avoid ordering quickly and actually read the whole menu. Imagine what different dishes would taste like at that moment and then make the choice that’s right for right now instead of the one you’ve always made before.
Take the Road Less Traveled
Next time you drive to work or home, take a new route. Maybe even turn off the GPS and allow yourself to get a little lost. Drive down some new streets, see some new places. Notice how taking this new route makes you feel.
Tune in to Cravings
The next time you feel yourself craving something, rather than a) running straight out to grab it or b) berating yourself for wanting something that might be bad for you, pause a moment and travel into the future. After you fill that craving, how will you feel? What makes that food or that activity that you crave so attractive? Do you feel like you have a choice in the matter? Is there something healthier that would make you feel even better?
These are just a few simple steps you can take to slow down the momentum of your thoughts and bring more opportunities for conscious choice into your daily routine. Try it out and see what happens!
About the Author
Inanna Jessup is a Yoga teacher, traveler and writer originally from Colorado. Ever since she quit her corporate job managing Yoga studios in 2017, she’s being roaming the planet searching for experience, wisdom and connection. She works remotely and enjoys the freedom and constant learning that come with her lifestyle. She believes deeply in the awareness, humility, tolerance and compassion that can be developed through the practice of yoga and meditation and through the experience of travel.