Unlearning: Our inner light shines brighter with each unveiling 

By Karen Doyle Grossman, Executive Director of the Garrison Institute

 This month, we are planting seeds for an exciting fall harvest of events, ideas, and collaborations. As we plan ahead, the concept of unlearning is springing up.  

Unlearning refers to the process of consciously letting go of previously held beliefs, assumptions, behaviors, or meaning-making filters that are no longer relevant, helpful, or representative of an expanded view of reality. With that definition, we surmise how critical this process of letting go is, both to our thriving in a world riddled with insufficient institutions and broken systems, as well as to our own spiritual practices. In this view, our work in the world and our work within feels to be one and the same. 

Imagine that we are the brightest lamp in the universe covered by thousands of shades–an analogy that shows up in many faith traditions. Can we allow the sheaths that obscure our true identity to fall away, one by one, until we are simply and magnificently a brilliant source of light? Even during a time when our own neurobiology pulls us to hold onto our worldview more tightly than ever, can we reflect on that more primitive tendency with compassion and courage?  

Contemplative ways of being, mindfulness, and spiritual practices enable us to build these muscles of reflection and support us when letting go feels terrifying. And with enough practice under our belts, that impulse toward fear arises with less and less frequency. 

I myself am practicing unlearning as I plan a retreat for you in collaboration with Tiokasin Ghosthorse this November, intentionally set just after the presidential elections in the United States.  

I have been calling this retreat “Contemplative Regeneration” because those words bring together complementary fields we hope will work increasingly together. When I Googled this phrase, I saw that the theoretical space had not really been claimed in a big way. “Interesting,” I thought, “maybe we could own this phrase.”  

Oh my. There is much that’s wrong in that pattern of thinking. First, the whole concept of ownership or claiming territory is so deeply embedded in the Western mindset that it infiltrates behaviors and decisions without our realizing it. Letting go of that is a daily practice.  

Second, I was “thing-ifying”–or attempting to objectify–something that is a dynamic spiral of relationship by creating the label “contemplative regeneration.”  

As I am unlearning during this design process with Tiokasin, it becomes clear how the modern mind is plagued with an overuse of thinking. Considering life in terms of verbs instead of nouns is an enormous process of letting go. This is exactly what we intend with our time together at our upcoming retreat.  

As Geneen Marie Haugen wrote for the Institute in January 2019

This is the precious and vanishing world behind the human-made world. Before it is gone, we might turn again to the wild Earth who made us to ask for counsel and direction, to ask how we might participate imaginatively and consciously, even now, in Earth’s unfolding dream. 

We hope that you will join us in November for this unlearning and being process we are now referring to as “Becoming Earth.” And I am delighted to share that we will be joined by Vaishalee Patel and her offer of practices and wisdom originally perfected by the yogis and cave dwellers of the Himalayas. We look forward to welcoming you to this beautiful marriage of the sacred East and sacred West. 

Join the Waitlist for “Becoming Earth” (November 14-16, 2024)

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