There are two types of “learning” in the world.*
The first is the kind that things like mathematics fall into. There is a definite set of processes, rules, procedures, and methods that produce a solid and individual answer. 2 + 2 = 4. Physics is like this. Chemistry is like this. And, in many ways, most of our schooling is like this. Even the bits that aren’t, the bits that would fall into the second type, are generally taught in the same manner. Spelling, history/dates, geography/lines on a map, algebra: all quantifiable and capable of a right/wrong ranking. You either know it, or you don’t. You either have it, or you don’t. And to learn it means memorizing, logicizing, and proper reproducing.**
Which is all fine and good. Informational learning is important, vital, and can help us do a lot of things. We want the engineer designing and airplane to know their equations and figure things through. The brain surgeon should know the structures of the brain and how to diagnose problems, and what remedies to apply. Statisticians can help us make sense of large sets of data through rigorous procedures. It’s all great.
At the same time, this early instruction can create a strong context, feeling, and view (read: reality) that this is how learning happens, and that everything in the world can, and/or should, be known in this way. Outside->In, knowledge based, right/wrong result type learning. A context which then limits our access to, and comfort with, the second type of learning.
This second type is the kind of learning that is intuitive, fluid, and arises mostly from immediate, visceral, self-discovery. It is gotten, but it is not fixed; it lives in the present. It often bypasses the traditional take on what “knowledge” is. This is the domain of the arts, of all kinds, the broadest casting of arts, the arts beyond that of just aesthetic pursuits. It is the art of relating to others, the art of living, the art of movement, the art of the cosmos, the art of “emotional intelligence”, the art of mindfulness, the art of expression. They are the arts that form our experience of life.
These are very important arts.
They also cannot be “learned” like math; knowledge and examples and techniques can only be lighthouses to guide us towards the moment of personal discovery that makes it ours. Trying to stick to the rote routines gained by knowledge only leads to stilted outcomes. ***
It can be hard to do the second learning when you’ve walled it off, forgotten and unknown, and haven’t used it for a long time. Or maybe not. Maybe all it takes getting and transforming the contextual trap we’ve been in, opening up to the ability we’ve had all along.***** Let it out, let it exercise, play, explore, and get stronger.
Opening us up to new abilities, greater wisdom, and a plethora of new possibilities for our lives.
* Of course, we could probably create many more than two categories, or possibly there’s even a third or fourth category equally large to these two , but for the moment and for this exploration, let’s keep it at two…
** In later schooling, this tends to break open a bit more, such as with essay questions in English class, where a good teacher will allow for many modes of answers to be graded well. In the flipside, though, even the most open, such as art, drama, music, etc, can get bogged down under the need to rank things. The technique gets graded – something that feels as though it can be “learned” and demonstrated in a very right/wrong, have it/don’t have it kind of way (and which has much less to do with actual artistic expression). This further creates the context that can limit being able to be in and play around in the second kind of learning.
*** This post arose from something I’ve been noticing in my kung fu practice recently, which has blossomed into a meditation on the nature of the art part of the phrase “Martial Arts”. Especially as you delve deeper and deeper into the art(s), and, for me, as I teach others. Some of my students are caught in an, for lack of a better term, “engineer’s mindset”, a very strong adherence to the first type of learning. They learn the outlines of the forms quickly, but their progress hits a wall as the detail work comes along. Trying to do kung fu from the outside->in, coming from memory and reproducing all the correct angles and tensions and body linkages and movements and etc doesn’t work. The brain isn’t wired to do so, there’s too much there to keep track of and try to figure out or reproduce in the moment. That first way of learning doesn’t work here. ****
**** This is also starting to intrigue me and make me wonder about those who are “not good at sports” – could this “not good” be caused by the context of what learning is (ie, caught in the context of the first kind of learning)? It would be a barrier to being in their body and learning intrinsically… *****
***** Interestingly, it’s the way we all did when we learned to walk. We didn’t have language then, and thus no contexts and thus no idea of what “learning” is supposed to be… so we had to learn intrinsically.
****** For all of this, BTW, I had to break out of my own type-1 learning context (that, of course, I didn’t even realize I had) (And I still need to practice my type-2 more and more). My kung fu training accelerated by leaps and bounds once I started my journey into transformation, as that type-2 learning suddenly became available to me.