Only as a warrior can one withstand the path of knowledge. A warrior cannot complain or regret anything. His life is an endless challenge, and challenges cannot possibly be good or bad. Challenges are simply challenges. Tales of Power, Carlos Castaneda
Recent polls indicate that we Americans may not be learning much. Maybe we’re regressing, at least temporarily, on the path of knowledge. On September 13 in The New York Times, David Brooks reviews some polling data that shows an increasing and self-destructive lack of trust of others and an increasing loneliness in the United States:
- Only about 19 percent of millennials believe other people can be trusted.
- “Over the past few decades, the decline in social trust has correlated to an epidemic of loneliness. In 1985, 10 percent of Americans said they had no close friend with whom they could discuss important matters. By 2004, 25 percent had no such friend.”
- “An AARP study of Americans aged 45 and up found that 35 percent suffer from chronic loneliness, compared with 20 percent in a similar survey a decade ago.”
- “Suicide rates, which closely correlate with loneliness, have been spiking since 1999.”
These are indicators of decline in people’s quality of life.
We don’t seem to be learning much about how to be intimate, how to connect with other people. We don’t seem to be learning much about how to enjoy this life of ours.
I have said here recently that our top purpose in life is to learn. But many people don’t seem to be learning much. I think it was Karl Popper who said that all evil is due to the lack of knowledge. The American malaise highlighted in Brooks’ essay is due to lack of knowledge.
Many people don’t seem to be learning much of significance and maybe that’s because they don’t know how to learn. Thus, they suffer, and their great potential remains permanently dormant.
When we learn the secrets to learning, our lives open to deep levels of potential, and we are able to live lives of vibrant joy and practical advantage.
How do we know if we are learning anything significant?
Much that we call learning may add to our lives in some way, but doesn’t go very far to assure a vibrant life of joy and practical advantage.
The key criterion for deep learning is the change that gaining new knowledge produces in the form of better explanations about reality and positive new behaviors.
As a beginner, grasping the fundamentals of music and practicing the piano will usually help you become a better piano player. You have learned something new. Have you changed? Maybe—a little bit: you can now actually play a composition on this musical instrument. You may have gained some confidence about your ability to play. You may have discovered that playing the piano is a source of enjoyment. You are also more capable of moving to the next level of piano playing, more ready now to tackling more difficult compositions or even creating your own. Having learned something about piano playing, you probably can better appreciate what the masters of piano have achieved, and perhaps you listen to them more often with appreciation. Your perceptual world has expanded.
Does learning to play the piano meet the criteria for deep learning? Well, the budding piano player has changed. Has she developed a better explanation for reality and has her behavior changed away from the piano?
Not likely. She is learning, but the learning is not at the deepest level.
Here are a few questions to assess how much deep learning you’re pursuing right now. Answer yes if you have evidence that the statement is true. If you don’t have evidence, answer no.
- I know the most important issue in my life that is demanding that I change my thinking and behavior.
- Every day I am examining a deep learning issue in my life, identifying the negative personal patterns and outcomes I want to transform.
- I have discovered that the deep learning I am pursuing is very rigorous, demanding my full attention.
- As I learn, I am becoming less defensive, self-important, and pessimistic and more open, humble, and optimistic.
- I have a friend, author, therapist, personal coach, or teacher with whom I get knowledge, support, and inspiration for my learning.
- As I probe more deeply my patterns of thinking and behavior, I am developing new explanations that set me on a more loving path than before.
- I am gaining more clarity and personal power as I learn and change.
- As I learn, I am less and less predictable—to others and even to myself.
If you answered yes to all of these questions, you are learning at a very dynamic level. You are polishing your warrior spirit, the epitome of physical and mental health.
You know what you’re doing, and your new explanations for reality are paying off in profound ways. You are achieving a mastery of learning that will serve you for the rest of your life.
You have already discovered the secrets to learning.
What to do next
Most people will not be able to answer yes to the questions above—maybe not even one of them.
Most people have only the vaguest notion of what real learning requires.
Real learning requires the heart of a lion.
If you answered no to question #1 above, begin your deep learning by identifying your key learning issue right now.
Do you have any fears? The first threshold of learning is fear. Most people never defeat their fears completely. If you’re still afraid of anything, you’re vulnerable. Your fear makes bad decisions. Your fear creates bad explanations. Your fear infects your relationships and your enterprises. You can defeat fear, so that it never makes any decisions and it never infects anything in your life. Learn about fear and how it plays out in your life. Go looking for it, the last thing on earth you want to do. You will be scared shit-less. Put yourself in front of it every day until you see it as the bad explanation it is. As your fear retreats, you will develop a new clarity, a new explanation for reality. Your fear finally defeated, you will become a buoyant warrior. You have just successfully conducted some deep learning.
If you are already fearless but not learning anything significant right now, figure out what is keeping you circling in an eddy, always moving but going nowhere. Are you locked into routines that block self-awareness? Are your relationships moribund because the people in your life have settled for a safe neurosis and you’re enabling, coasting along because you don’t want to disrupt them or your easy life? Maybe you will have to shake things up considerably, make some radical changes like quitting an all-too easy job or a marriage that has gone loveless. Don’t want to upset your life? As I said, real learning takes the heart of a lion.
Or maybe learning about your self-importance will fix your spirit and open your life to unusual opportunities.
If you notice that your ego is easily pricked, that you get offended by others, that you are often irritated or resentful, you are ever vulnerable to the behavior of other people. You are a leaf at the mercy of the wind. Your self-importance that demands respect from others is self-pity in disguise. Recapitulate all the times that you have been offended lately and then remember all of the times in your life that you were offended by others. You will learn that your fragile ego is your enemy that must be pushed from the foreground of your life into the background, where it can’t interfere with your life but can only whimper pathetically from time to time.
So, three places to look for deep learning opportunities: fear, routines, and self-importance, all of which reduce our spirits to shadows that can only dodge furtively from day to day, pretending to be real men or women.
The great adventure of our lives
We are mysterious beings with immense capabilities. If we are living in awe every day, we are learning at a deep level. Living in awe, our cups are filled to the brim. We are living without complaint. We are joyfully taking full responsibility for the lives we are creating. Our lives may have little in common with our fellow humans, who are mostly playing it safe, plodding along with what they’ve been told to believe and do.
As a result, the world is always in need of more love, courage, and creativity.
The world needs us to learn.