Children are often seeped in wonder: Where do babies come from? How does a worm become a butterfly? I don’t recall many wonders in myself as a child. From a very young age, I remember my father had a rational and mechanistic explanation for all my questions. He was a scientist and so for him, physics and chemistry were THE way of understanding the world and this became my understanding of the world.
As an adolescent and early adult, when I couldn’t predict the outcome of my actions or when I had a decision to make but couldn’t decide which was the better option, I would get frustrated.
Making a decision was so scary, like stepping into an abyss. I wanted to be 100 percent sure that I knew what, when, and how something would happen. Even a scientist sees the impossibility of predicting an outcome with so many unknown variables in the equation!
I have come to learn now that there are vast realms of existence that I know almost nothing about. I may know about some small corner of the universe, but if I move beyond, to asking questions such as: What is the purpose of this life? What is it to live a good life? How can I be of service in this world? …things get a little more complicated.
To live with these questions—and to learn—requires that I enter into not knowing and uncertainty. To live in questions is to be in a liminal space where I may feel I am neither here nor there. It is to embark on a never-ending journey.
For a long time, I resisted uncertainty, which led to a lot of stress, anxiety, and inaction around making decisions or commitments. But, when I was finally able to give in to not knowing, magic started to happen. I let myself do things or take action without needing to know exactly how it was going to turn out. I allowed myself to take risks, and to begin exploring spirituality, the wisdom of the body, and other aspects of my being that could not be pinned down with a scientific explanation. It was freeing and expansive. It was messy, but I was no longer paralyzed by fear. Of course, I have times when I fall back to feeling scared and I try to control and predict. That’s when I have to remind myself that learning is a journey.
“The big questions of life do not necessarily lead us to clarity, but rather to spaces full of doubt, confusion, and a lack of understanding. To get to knowing, we must pass through not knowing. To get to the light there will be moments of darkness.” - Julio Olalla
Enemies of learning are obstacles that prevent us from diving into the learning that is available to us. I have come to recognize that one of my biggest enemies has been avoiding uncertainty and not knowing… and clinging to clarity. Enemies of learning, however, are not just random personal quirks. They arise from our current cultural values and understanding regarding what learning and knowing are. Julio Olalla, the founder of Newfield Network, points out that in the U.S. and many other western countries, the educational system rewards us when we have an answer. Not having an answer, not knowing, is perceived as wrong. This system also does not reward us for our questions, which are the keepers of awe and wonder. When we grow up in this environment, certain enemies of learning are likely to take hold.
“As human beings, we need an approach to learning that is much wider and deeper. What is missing is a discourse that is able to hold the fullness, the variety, the depth, and the unity of the human experience. It is a discourse that allows us to investigate our ways of learning and that aspires to engender wisdom, well-being, and the ability to live in harmony with others.” - Julio Olalla
Questions are a powerful way to move away from habit and into possibility. These questions are for you to explore this enemy of learning for yourself:
- How does ‘wanting to be clear all the time’ show up in your life? What has been the cost and the benefit of seeking clarity?
- In order to hold “the fullness of the human experience,” how can we be with uncertainty or discomfort? What gifts do they hold for us?
“My invitation is for us to return to a space of wonder… to return to the knowledge that I may know, but all that I know is but little when I stand before the magnificence of existence.” - Julio Olalla