Random Blog Clay Feet: August 12, 2008
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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Learning to Learn

How do I learn? I mean, really learn, not just with my head, though that is an important aspect of it, but learn in a balanced, effective, thorough way so that it becomes a fully integrated part of my very being, my real, gut-level beliefs, my core identity? What are the attitudes and choices that might help me to learn more easily? What are the things that inhibit or block me from learning?

One problem I have in knowing the answers to these questions is my lack of learning already. For what I already know about this subject, like any other subject, I have already learned, at least to some extent. So I have to take what I have already learned about learning and trust that it is correct or at least useful enough to practice so that I can learn more. But if the skills or methods that I am currently using to learn are faulty or misleading or too restrictive, then the very means by which I am attempting to learn become the inhibitors that keep me from learning. That's a little scary.

Since I can only speak from my own experience and what I already think I know, I may not have the best answers at this time for these questions. But I have been sensing through my previous experience that it is better to ask questions and not insist on immediate answers if one wants to learn more effectively. Sometimes answers do appear rather quickly and are very useful and helpful. But other answers are blocked from coming to me or may be cut short if I have the habit of wanting a full or conclusive answer immediately. Unfortunately this is the model that I have seen in far too many teaching situations, whether in church or in school.

I remember years ago someone explaining to me how a highly effective teacher usually operates in relationship to their students. They told me that a really good teacher does not often give their students answers but instead induces a deep hunger and curiosity in their minds to know things they don't presently understand. Then the teacher provides the resources and opportunities for the students to themselves delve into the information provided or even seek out more resources to satisfy that deep hunger that the teacher has helped induce in their hearts. So according to this example, the greater the curiosity the more likely real learning is going to take place.

But one of the most important ingredients needed for that scenario to happen I believe, is that the relationship between the teacher and the student be a positive one of trust and admiration. The student's emotions must be activated to some extent and they need to have some level of admiration, respect and even awe for their teacher. They need to see their teacher as someone they would aspire to become like and be attracted to their inner qualities as well as their knowledge. There must be some sort of magnetic pull in the life of the teacher before the information he/she wants to instill in them becomes something they hunger for deeply.

If a hunger is always immediately satisfied, then it never has a chance to intensify. (That is also a symptom of addictions) And if a person is never very hungry they will never have that much deeper appreciation of things that really satisfy like those who have experienced deep hunger know about. A person who has endured very intense experiences of deprivation in any area of life and then received what they were craving and have known the immense relief and happiness and fulfillment that satisfaction can bring is a much bigger person inside as a result of that experience. They have greater emotional capacity which is important for growth in maturity. They are also much more qualified to be an effective teacher than those who have simply had their head filled with lots of facts but have never experienced the intensity of need to highlight the importance of those facts in their own experience.

But is it necessary that all answers need to be waited for and must be delayed in order to be more deeply appreciated? I don't know the answer to that question either. But I do know from my experience that it seems to be necessary to have at least a certain level of both skepticism and patience in order to avoid easy, glib and generally misleading answers to very difficult questions. Patience is always a very important virtue to have in most situations, but skepticism is something that must be handled very carefully or it can become more of a liability instead of an asset for us.

It seems that a certain level of skepticism is necessary to avoid falling into the trap of simplistic answers, of accepting the first thing that comes along claiming to be truth, of avoiding heavy use of the brain without the heart to uncover deeper truth or relying on others to spoon-feed us mentally and emotionally. There is far too much dependence on others these days and far too little real thinking and searching going on that produces real answers to real problems. It is not just mindless people flocking to popular religion that have this symptom. There are millions of “unbelievers” who tend to scoff and sneer at religious people and jeer at their hypocrisy and mindless solutions. But these very same people have their own forms of mindless thinking and reflective reactions and tend to follow their own leaders and depend on others to do their hard thinking for them instead of being open to sensing truth from an outside source in their spirit.

I firmly believe that truth is not something we are capable of knowing by simply trying to uncover it. I realize that this is the foundational presumption of the scientific method that is the most pervasive religion of our world today. And while it is certainly true that we may be able to discover many facts through research and observation, the scientific model carefully excludes some of the most important elements necessary to experiencing true life and a wholeness-based existence in proper relationship with all of our surroundings.

The root issue in this aspect is whether reality can be determined by the sum of our own discoveries and conclusions or whether real truth can only be received from an outside provider of truth that is the only source of it. This is where science-addicts and unbelievers begin to roll their eyes in scorn and turn away from the conversation to return to their favorite toys of self-based religion. For all religion or philosophy that is not a revelation from the only Source of truth and reality is false religion of self-worship and self-dependence. There is no third option in this case. We either trust in ourselves and our own abilities to provide us with knowledge and a true perspective of reality, or we must trust in God and believe that we cannot really know reality and truth without His self-revelation and provisions for us. And even when we claim to be listening to God as our source of truth, our deceitful minds may still be depending on self and the world around us while believing that we are following God. But the god we are following is most often a god that we have created in our image instead of the other way around.

But I still want to explore a little more these questions about how I learn effectively. I want to flush out more clearly into the open some of the things I am learning myself about the process of learning. Maybe it is because the way I have learned is changing so much in the past few years. And since it feels like it is much easier to learn and grow and mature and perceive more clearly than it was for me for the first forty plus years of my life, I would like to know what the difference is and how to amplify what works and minimize what inhibits so I can grow even more.

One thing I am noticing is that I feel more need to lay aside my own opinions, beliefs and pre-conceived ideas and open my mind to the Spirit of God in my own spirit and literally pause at times to see what might come to my mind that was not already there. It is not that what I already think is necessarily wrong. The problem lies in that, if I am unwilling to challenge, reexamine or temporarily lay aside my own opinions there is not enough room for my mind to consider something I am unfamiliar with up to this point.

One thing that is very necessary for me to be able to do this is a safe-feeling environment. If I am feeling coerced by someone to comply with their demands or conform to their opinions, then I simply do not have the desire to feel open and receptive. That is a very important point that I also need to apply to my own treatment of others. I need to be much more sensitive to how I come across when sharing what I believe and not cause others to feel threatened or intimidated into thinking that I am trying to force them to agree with me without their own time of quiet reflection on the things I am presenting to them. I need to respect not only where they are currently but also their personal accountability to God as their primary source of truth. I need to respect their right to take what I am saying with a grain of salt until they have had time to check it out themselves in their own heart on their own schedule and listen to what the Spirit wants to convict them of without my interference.

One of the things I am seeing in my study of Romans 14 is the importance of maintaining proper relationships with the proper partners in those relationships. Paul talks about the problems that arise when a person within the body of Christ tries to take God's place in another person's experience and in essence tries to be their Lord. That is really what judging and condemning is all about. When I judge someone else and view them with contempt as described in this chapter, I am in essence trying to set myself above them and insist that my opinions are better than theirs and they need to conform to mine or they are wrong.

But this passage reminds me bluntly that these people are my brothers and sisters and I am not their Lord. Furthermore, as one of the children myself, I am going to have to give an account of myself and my treatment of my siblings to my Parents in heaven in the day of Judgment and I had better keep that in mind now so it can temper the way I treat those around me. I don't want to have to try to explain to the only real Judge why I was trying to take His place in someone else's life and mess around with things in their heart that only He has the right to work with. That is too much like spiritual adultery, meddling with the intimacy that belongs to God, and God does not take kindly to that kind of treatment of His kids.

So part of the reason why I want to know the real methods of learning that are truly effective is so that I can also help others to learn without meddling in areas of their life that belongs only to God and them. As I better understand how God is working to grow me in grace and maturity and knowledge of Him, then I can better know how to relate to others and what to avoid so as not to cause damage instead of joy.

I have noticed, particularly in my private devotional times of meditation, but also more and more during my waking hours in spontaneous conversation with God, that if I lay out a question that comes up in my mind or heart and leave it with God trusting that He will bring me something in response, that very often if not always, I will encounter something or almost “hear” something in my head or heart that addresses this question in very surprising and satisfying ways. Sometimes it may come as an impression while I wait in expectant silence in His presence. Sometimes it will come in something I am reading or listening to. There have even been times when an answer came unexpectedly on a billboard along the road or in the words of something totally unrelated.

There are also many times when it seems that God takes things of science and nature and daily events and shapes them into profound nuggets of wisdom like parables that have deep subtle meanings very useful for life application in another arena. What I have noticed is that the more consistently I fill my head with things of the kingdom of heaven instead of the entertainment and music and thoughts all around me in the atmosphere of worldliness, that these insights come more frequently and more easily. It really does make simple sense but seems so easy to miss. The outcome of my mental activity is reflective of the ingredients that are available for its use. And my mental activity and choices about input greatly determine the atmosphere that inhibits or encourages my ability to hear the messages of the Spirit offering true wisdom, knowledge and revelations of reality.

To effectively learn in a balanced way, which means learning and growing both with the mind and in the heart, I need to pay attention to how much I am synchronized with the means and ways that God has provided for this purpose. The atmosphere that results from my choices that surrounds my mind and heart will act either as a receptive catalyst in which I can perceive the messages from God or will act as a filter that blocks those messages and impressions so that I do not notice them. This atmosphere is largely determined by my own choices in the little things, not so much in my professed desires for spirituality or holiness.

Father, give me the spirit of a learner today. Mentor me as a disciple and help me to more clearly focus on Your face, Your actions, Your attitudes and Your Spirit. Cleanse me of pride, of arrogance, of resistance, of blocking assumptions and lie-based beliefs that prevent me from hearing You more clearly. Teach me patience, joy and the art of resting in Your love as I receive Your wisdom.