We know the saying, an elephant never forgets. I’ve loved Ganesh the Elephant headed God, patron of learning, since I was a wee one, rather unusual. His regal poses and knowing smile, all his elephant attributes. I even honor that love with a tattoo, and a growing art collection as well. Elephants have trunks so strong they could uproot a tree, yet still delicate and refined as to paint a single stroke or gently pick up a single blade of hay. Ears bigger than the mouth, to listen more than speak. A possession of strength that could topple most anything and a temperament to hold that strength in reserve, more than admirable. Fierce. Playful. Loyal. Calm.
There is something else about elephants I love, they remind me of ourselves. You see, elephants in the real world, when chained, could easily break free and trample their keepers in a path of utter destruction, and yet…they don’t. They hold back, surrender to captivity. They too, like so many of us, remain in imaginary chains for some time once they are actually removed. The thought, the memory alone, of the chains are enough to keep them still, to prevent them from exploring the world and being the beasts they are. Even their imaginary chains prevent them from unleashing their true strength. Elephants need to unlearn sometimes. So. Do. We. I am learning to unlearn.
I have grappled with the notion of unlearning because I believe in the power of education, even considering the idea has caused serious cognitive dissonance for me. I know the power of learning, even more so after literally tapping into Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance at school this year. I believe learning can make or break you. I am beginning to feel the difference between learning and education though…Truly.
There is power in education that can’t be denied. I can’t say that all doors will open once you are “officially” educated, but I know those doors leading to new worlds won’t be invisible, secret doors you need a spell to even see. You instead, with the power of that paper, are able to see those doors. You may still have to pound on them, or pick away slowly with relentless dogged determination until you can peek through. It can be a slow, slow process. But then, the reward. You can see with your own eyes if that door leads to a path you want to step out on to. At that point, the moment of confident clarity or curiosity when we see what lies on the other side, we know finally that we can if we want to. We could take that path… Education give options. Unchained.
Unfortunately, I know that so many people view a valid education only as a specific paper that says you jumped through the hoops, managed breakups, strings of benders, and broke weeks of nothing but beans for a week while managing school. Yeah, that paper means a ton to the world of HR and job descriptions and the like. Perhaps you finally earned that diploma or degree, learned some math and read a few books over the long, long years. I know I learned a lot of “book” stuff and a whole bunch of “rules” while I was getting an education. I learned to take a class because it was required, not because I had interest. I learned to sit quietly and take notes. I learned public speaking, but to be cautious of my words. I learned.
School isn’t the only place we learn, we’d all be in seriously deep shit if it was. Some of us find ways to paths in unconventional ways, and so many of us learn so much more outside the walls of a schoolhouse than we could ever learn in one. We learn all the time. Our squishy primate brains pick up subtle cues, memorize interactions and adapt to our environments whether or not we even know it. Unfortunately, along this ride, some of what we learn, instead of propelling us forward is in reality, what holds us back. We don’t even realize that we were programmed to sit quietly, to follow rules, to agree, to fit in. We didn’t learn to fly, we learned to squeeze the breaks, hard. We learned to not take risks, to slow down. We learned to worry about opinions of others. We learned whether latent or intentional, to chain ourselves like mighty elephants, and now, we have lessons that need to be unlearned.
As much as I am learning these days, be it a carb cleaning job, how to ask for help, taking a turn a little bit faster, or that I really do love dancing in my kitchen, I am unlearning as much as I am learning. For a while up until very recently, I bought into the idea that the right luxury sports car, gigantic house or designer outfit meant I made it, because I had learned that. But then, I found a journal from when I was 9. I wrote that when I had a back door I would be living in luxury. Perspective.
Unlearn the must haves.
Unlearn the should’nts.
Unlearn the mustn’ts.
Unlearn your uglies.
Unlearn your what if’s.
Unlearn your second guesses and the worries and the wont’s.
In writing that list I remembered. I smiled. These words were not quite my own… I saw the cover of the book I had as a kid. The hard bound book that is still in my library, and I knew. Shel Silverstein
“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”
Unlearning, as much as learning lets us evolve. Dammit, isn’t that why we are here? Unlearn a little, live a lot more, and remember the beast you are, and I promise…anything is possible, anything can be.