For many of us, learning has become an after-thought. Perhaps, because of the current construct of our academic institutions and the “there is always something more” paradigm, we have actually started “fleeing” or “escaping” learning in order to find a more “comfortable” place devoid of curiosity and challenge. In this flight we can also start convincing ourselves that learning implies resolution and that when we get a multiple choice question correct on a test we have succeeded in actually learning something. Like any process, however, learning is a dynamic JOURNEY that is not restricted to lecture halls or libraries and encompasses something much greater than right or wrong. In order to truly embrace a life where learning is a pursuit, a process of integration, we must open our eyes to the many ways in which we observe, appreciate and understand the world.
Buddhist psychology offers us an interesting framework in which to expand our concepts of learning and understanding. Within this framework, the first level of learning involves the acquisition of knowledge through mere observation, hearing others speak, and reading the written word. In short, this level is basically accepting what you hear and read to be true and incorporating that into your understanding of the world. This level, however, is rife with bias and assumption and it isn’t until we enter the next level involving conscious reflection, action and reflection once more that we begin to truly deepen our understanding. Encouraged by curiosity and the conscious choice to dig deeper, ask questions, and test what you have heard and seen, this level allows for a broadening of your lived experience, but it too, has its downfall in being quite energetically demanding, requiring regular, conscious choice in one’s action and purposeful reflection. It isn’t until we reach the final level of understanding where, through the lived meditative experience, we seemlessly integrate and internalize our world of ideas, descriptions and practices into something that is simply “just us.”
For those of you wondering, what in the world does this mean?- this is just too out there for me, you are not alone, and so I offer real life example of these three levels of understanding in order to bring all of these conceptual ideas into a grounded, practical perspective.
Ever remember your mom telling you it was nice to say please and thank you? You might have thought this was important or on the contrary, rather silly, but in its early stages you accepted and understood this to be something you should do because your mom or dad said so.
Level one understanding.
Moving forward you started to choose to say please and thank you, greeting others with a friendly smile, giving a gracious hug or returning the favor of another with a thoughtful card. Consciously choosing and reflecting upon the acceptance or outcome of your actions, you actually started to understand that showing gratitude and giving thanks was something you did, not because your mom and dad said you should, but because it felt good to appreciate others, to connect, to rest in the joy that was that perfect hug.
Level two understanding.
Now many of us have likely stopped here, which isn’t a good or bad thing, it just simply is. To reach the third level, however, takes another experience all together, one of deeper contemplation and integration.
Anyone know that person at work who always volunteers first to bring in food for the potluck and not just chips or soda, the person who goes out of his or her way on a Saturday night to pick up that one thing from the grocery store you really didn’t need right at that moment, but would certainly be better off having, the person that offers you a ride home despite living on the other side of town, the person who is always there ready to listen as if you were the only person on Earth with problems? These people, it seems, are no longer "consciously" choosing to be gracious, to put others first, to embody compassion, it is just simply who they are and what they do. This my friends, is our attempt at describing the third level of understanding- an internalization that (in this example) gratitude and compassion are exactly what each moment requires, what every human deserves, and what the world truly needs, all of which, for the described “person” above, does not depend on the “conscious” mind, but on an innate understanding of human existence.
Pure, manifested love, embodied joy, and selfless giving realized at all three levels.
So what is your level of understanding?
Perhaps it's time we all stopped to see what it is we truly understand, for as I see it,
only then will we be able to discover what it we can actually seek to learn.