Can I learn by disciplining myself?

Commentary by Isabel Hernández Negrín, Las Palmas, Canary Islands, Spain.

In chats with people attending courses on Attention to the Present, I meet many people, the majority, who show how accustomed we are to thinking that learning necessarily forces us to exchange what is “bad” for what is “good”.

This implies obligation and censure. We treat any form of learning as if we had to take a spoonful of an evil-tasting syrup that is nevertheless necessary for us to get better. This implies compelling myself to do something. Forcing myself, essentially, involves a degree of violence. And, what is more, we immediately set ourselves to identify those things that we need to eradicate from ourselves to become, in some way, acceptable in our own eyes or those of others. This is normally done on the basis of finding “bad” things about ourselves. This also causes inner violence.

In this way, we consider that learning consists of disciplining ourselves to follow a path that promises to be beneficial.

Here we are not suggesting this to you, although you may continue to see it that way, because that is the norm.

To learn anything there should be no censure or compulsion or intolerance. Learning should be something joyful.

Liking and learning go hand in hand. When you like something or it invites your curiosity, you learn without needing to force or censure yourself. Look what happens if you want to learn to dance a particular style. If you force yourself, for whatever reason, you lose your enjoyment, you lose your original motivation and it becomes a chore: you go seeking success and you judge yourself as being a failure whenever something does not go well. But when you do it for the pure pleasure of doing it, happily and without censuring yourself when something does not turn out perfectly, you learn a lot in a short period of time.

That is the attitude we learn to live by when we pay attention to what is there: without seeking to achieve (to do it “well”), each step is an end in itself (without any haste to get somewhere) without judging in terms of progress or errors, but being kind to yourself, observing the facts (not judging them or interpreting them). Whatever your age you learn better like this, as if you are playing.

Therefore if you want to learn to live in a healthy way, I recommend that you do it by dancing for the pure pleasure of doing it. You will learn. Remember that you wrote out lots of pothooks before you learnt to write properly and it is not something of which to be ashamed.

You learnt because you practised so many pothooks!! Enjoy each pothook!

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