To learn or to unlearn… This is the question… In order for us to learn something, we must first unlearn something else … How do you feel about this statement? I met people who did not understand what it meant … “What do you mean by unlearning?… “, I was asked.
Lessons from nature
Well, for more than a month, I watched the hills in front of the place where I used to live, burn. When I moved there almost 4 months before, the hills were green and full of vegetation, marvelous to look at. Slowly, slowly, the green had been replaced by brown. There were still some green patches left (mainly around the areas where people lived, because they would not allow fire to come near their homes), but the hills were on a mission to destroy themselves.
And yet, no one was alarmed, except us, the people who were not used to this phenomenon. The hills catch fire like this every year, it seems. As I was watching them one evening, I realized: this was their way of saying, ‘out with the old, and in with the new”. They self destroy so that they can be renewed. Everything that has to be burned will disappear and new vegetation will grow. And then, next year, the hills will burn again.
So, as I was standing there watching nature in action, I had a thought: when it comes to our lives, we need to be more like these hills. Many times we become stuck in old ways and refuse to allow new patterns to enter our lives, when, actually, we should allow nature to teach us how it is done. Our brains build all these connections that make us do things unconsciously, and we fail to recognize that sometimes we need to break those connections and build new ones. This is what unlearning actually means.
Working with the mind
In neuroscience, the brain’s capacity to transform itself, brake old bridges and build new ones is called neuroplasticity. You can think of your brain as a big piece of playing dough that can take whatever shape you want it to take. All you have to do is get rid of the old form (unlearn) and build a new one (learn).
I am a big fan of Dr. Joe Dispenza (if you have not heard of him, make sure you check him out), who has talked a lot about the power of the brain. In his books, “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself”, “Becoming Supernatural” and “You Are the Placebo”, Dr. Dispenza talks about his favorite subject: the subconscious mind. He explains the way our minds function and writes about how our brains and our subconscious minds alter our realities and can even determine our health. Dr. Dispenza stresses the importance of programming our brains so that they can work in our advantage. However, he explains, some deprogramming will have to be done first.
I’ll give you a very simple example from my own personal life. One of the things that I want to do is to learn how to drive a scooter. Somehow, I end up in places where scooters are one of the main means of transportation, and it is very inconvenient for me that I don’t know how to drive one. But this is not only a matter of know-how for me, it goes deeper than that. Let’s just say that in my childhood I developed a fear of bicycles, which continues to this day. I have a bicycle phobia, which extends to everything that has two wheels. Not only that, some years ago, after I gathered the courage to go on a scooter (with someone else driving it, of course) and I had become pretty comfortable, I suddenly had a scooter accident. I was in deep pain and I couldn’t walk properly for months, not to say that one of my knees has been really damaged and has never completely recovered.
If I want to learn how to drive a scooter, I will first have to deal with my phobia and with the trauma the accident caused me. I’ll have to unlearn some old lessons that program me to think that bicycles and scooters are unsafe.
We keep being conditioned by our environment, by our parents, peers and educators, by our life. We keep being fed all these lessons, some of them useful, some not so much. However, at some point in our lives we have to start deciding for ourselves how we want things to be. We have to start taking responsibility for our lives. And that is the time when some burning down is needed. That is the time when some destruction (unlearning) is necessary, so that we could start fresh and new.