The Braided Path of Learning

(image via Jens Lelie)

(image via Jens Lelie)

In learning there are two paths that take us to transformation. Both can move us into our preferred futures and each are essential for learning and growth. These two paths are intertwined, and when in balance make our lives easier and more fluid. When braided together these paths become critical allies for personal movement and change. But when out of balance they can hinder our inner development and cause either misery or numbness. Both are ways to process information and seek clarity. And both are essential for making movement in life's struggles. Like dawn and dusk, evenness between these two must be sought to make our journey an effective one. The task is to walk the "both-and" of this learning relationship and to remember (as my grandmother used to say when asked the secret to life), "Everything in moderation."

The first path to learning is called "In and Thru".

"In and Thru" means fully involving ourselves in the experience we are currently in. "In and Thru" is all about being fully present in the moment, and is the path of emotional integrity and the heart. In this way of learning our attention is on "being". That is, we are being whatever we are experiencing, feeling it fully and using our fullness to take us through to a new level of transformation. Like a butterfly struggling to free itself from a cocoon, "In and Thru" is all about calling our creativity and resources forward in the moment, and using everything we have to engage in a new way of being in the present. It is less about understanding and more about our "being" taking us to a different place.

Think of a time when you were so fully in the moment, that the experience itself was transformative. Illness, crisis or love can be such a time--all examples of "In and Thru".

There are questions we can ask to move us along this path. They are:

  1. What am I feeling right now?

  2. Given my feelings, what is the braver, more intimate thing to say or do?"

"In and Thru" resides in the emotional realm, and the present moment is all that matters. This mind set is embodied by the Zen expression, "When chopping wood, chop wood. When washing dishes, wash dishes. There is nothing else."

The goal on this path is to so fully feel what you are experiencing that you are taken in and thru to the other side of learning. Breakthrough is created by the full embodiment of whatever you are currently in. And the way through is to feel the moment and continue to deepen and open to it's gifts. What you feel, you feel deeply, what you experience is full tilt. You do not hold back, but go for it. As Patrick O'Neil says, "Be bold or go home."

However, a life of only "In and Thru" is rarely happy or productive. To fully reside in the emotional moment, without the discernment that comes from experience and understanding, can be one of both misery and indulgence. Without a process of distance this path is a life destined to be lived without either meaning or movement, and like a floored car in neutral, your engine will race but not really go anywhere.

What's required for movement is the integration of the second path, called "Up and Out". This is the way of understanding and detachment, the route of stepping away from our experience to ask, "What does this mean to me at this time?" It is the path that utilizes the mind, and instead of aboutbeingis conversely aboutbecoming.Rather than focus on the present, it is about implications, learnings and the future.

"Up and Out" uses the skill of equanimity, defined as the ability to meet any disturbance that comes our way without creating additional internal disturbance. We do not get emotionally involved in the process, but instead take the cool eye of a surgeon and act from clarity and experience.

Questions that can move along this path are:

  1. What am I learning from this experience?

  2. What are the implications of this moment for my life moving forward?

An exclusive "Up and Out" path, however, is not without cost. When out of balance it leads one to numbness and emotional stunting. Brilliant surgeons are not always loving spouses or parents. A dispassionate doctor is one thing...a dispassionate lover another.

The secret is to know that each of us has a predisposition to one form over the other. Some of us take the path of emotion and heart, others the path of detachment and the mind. There is not one better than the other. Both must be used to be truly effective. A quick clue for success is to try and bring balance to your learning style. If you are one who tends to move into emotional indulgence then try bringing the question "What am I learning from this?" continuously forward. If you are prone to denial, then ask, "How can I express my feelings more deeply at this time?"

Robert Frost wrote, "We dance around the circle and suppose, but the secret sits in the middle and knows." Move to the middle in your change and braid your learning path.

Inspiring IdeasDavid Baum