Conditions for Deep, Transformative Learning: The Learning Field
Through exploring and coming to understand ourselves as learners, as well as our research and work as teachers, artists, consultants and facilitators we have identified various characteristics or conditions, which when present, constitute what we call the learning field. We believe that when a learning field is truly present we are immersed in a shared evolutionary impulse that moves towards individual and collective growth, and transpersonal realms of insight and being.
The elements of a learning field are:
Relationship: Learning is a relational process. Whether our relationship is with other people or with an object such as a work of art, music, or the natural world, attending to the inner and outer dynamics of self and other – subject and object – can draw forth deep and lasting insights.
Learning in community provokes and encourages us towards and beyond individuation. Within and among a group of learners there is a dynamic movement between the destabilizing forces of differentiation and the harmonizing force of integration. This relational movement enlivens and encourages our will to learn. At another level there is a continually evolving relationship between our inner selves, our individual and collective history, and what is coming toward us from the future.
Equanimity: To learn deeply, we must cultivate equanimity. We have to develop the capacity to go to difficult places in ourselves, and to experience difficulty in relationship, without having to banish parts of our humanity, or the humanity of others. Equanimity helps us to remain fluid and engaged, inviting the unknown. In the same way, we need to bring equanimity to our exploration of knowledge, bringing a spacious view that invites continuing inquiry.
Individuality to Wholeness: Learning is a dance between me, we, it and all. For example, by learning who I am – what shapes and forms my way of being in the world – and by embracing my deepest longings, I develop a deepening appreciation and understanding for others and the longings that live in them. A connection is made. My capacity increases. I am able to bring a fullness of being to relationships of all kinds and to the activity of learning itself. Within a learning group or community, as shared awareness develops, so does the collective capacity to engage more fully in all aspects of our inner and outer worlds.
Unlearning: Implicit in the process of learning is a parallel process of unlearning. Through compassionate critical reflection we identify beliefs and views that limit our capacity and prevent us from opening into the movement of dynamic, relational learning. Such recognition and unlearning often gives rise to a sense of grief and loss of what is familiar. Over time and with intention we come to welcome change, and through practice and awareness, we learn to divest ourselves of these limitations.
Integral: Learning for whole human beings must be integral – involving body, mind, emotions, and spirit. When we overlook, or banish, aspects of our being we literally compromise our own integrity and that of the work we bring into the world. Contemplation, art, and movement; psychology and philosophy; experience, reflection, and theory; the practical and the imaginal; the intellectual and the intuitive – all are facets of our wholeness.
Field Conditions: Essential conditions for the emergence of optimal learning include: trust; honesty, with an absence of recrimination; personal responsibility and self-discipline; a non-exploitative environment; a recognition of interconnection and interdependency; a deep valuing of humanity and human relationships; awareness that what one learns benefits the other as well as one’s self; an openness to and inviting of critical reflection; a knowing that all is workable.
Mystery: Present in the learning field is that which is not-yet-known. In order to open ourselves to this continually emergent knowledge, we have to cultivate emptiness and un-knowing. We must come to the mystery of learning with a spirit of invitation, opening ourselves to the ever-changing ambiguity of known and unknown – form and formlessness.