“The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn.”
As an educator, I spend a lot of time thinking about learning, how to enhance my own and that of my students and clients. While school teachers don’t talk much unlearning, my spiritual teachers have. Dr. Kenn Gordon, co-pastor of the Centre for Spiritual Living in Kelowna, British Columbia, likens our minds to gardens, which require not just planting, but regular weeding. It’s great to take on new ideas, but they’ll get crowed out by the worn-out lessons that no longer serve us if we don’t prune those out periodically.
I have been studying, writing, and reflecting on receiving for over four years. As I look back, I’ve done my share of unlearning. One of my first blog posts dating back to May 2010 was about giving up the idea that asking for things, even simple items such as towels that weren’t frayed, was selfish when people were starving. If I did manifest more abundance, shouldn’t I give it to those living in poverty? My first New Thought teacher, Rev. Lei Lanni Burt, began to help me unlearn the view of the world as lacking and limited. I needed to let go of the message that my having somehow takes from anyone else. It doesn’t. My Source is unlimited, and so is everyone else’s. The only limitations on my supply are those I create.
I’ve written and even given speeches at Toastmasters that the “it’s better to give than to receive” message is one we must unlearn, as it doesn’t even make sense. I’m absolutely convinced that giving and receiving are equal in importance and value, yet I still have to stay alert not to slip back into old thinking. (If you need a refresher, check out this post.)
Then there is the notion that we get what we pray for. I needed to modify this idea, as well. Even the Master Teacher was clear on this: we get what we believe we have received. Prayer without belief is just a wish.
Now as I continue to discover things I need to rethink, I realize that unlearning is an ongoing process. Here are some of the thoughts I’ve been revamping this year:
- “Hard work is always rewarded,” or “To get money, I have to work hard.” I know the first idea is not accurate from my own experience, and I imagine you do, too. While I can’t speak from personal experience about the second notion, I can think of plenty of examples of people with money for which they did not exert extraordinary effort (or in some cases any effort).
- “I must always be doing something or have something concrete to show for the time I spent on the planet today.” Anita Moorjani’s book, Dying to Be Me, challenges the various versions of this line of thinking, and she’s really got my attention. No one is keeping track of how my use my time or grading my checked-off to do list. My life would have greater meaning if I focused more on being than doing, and the more meaning our lives have, the greater the positive impact we have on others.
- “Being concerned about how I will pay my bills and keep my commitments is the responsible, mature thing to do.” I see now that “being concerned about” is code for worrying, and that had become a habit. If I didn’t get enough worry time in during the day, I’d wake up at 4 a.m. to do some more. Another of Moorjani’s lessons is helping me overcome this pointless practice: be fearless. She attributes excessive fear as the cause of her cancer and has resolved to remember that she is unconditionally loved at all times and has nothing to worry about.
One of the most challenging parts of unlearning is recognizing what we need to unlearn. Beliefs we’ve held since childhood are so much a part of us that it takes a concerted effort to even identify them as a view we can choose to revise. A good place to begin is by paying attention any time you feel bad. Stop to notice exactly what is causing the pain. Is it a thought, and if so, is it an accurate one? What arguments can you make that challenge the validity of the belief?
Give notice to your feelings. Identify the thinking that underlies those feelings. Weed out any problem thoughts, making space for more constructive beliefs. This will change your feelings – and it might just give you a better night’s sleep.
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