Learning Best In Community

I was talking about remembering my father too good or too bad earlier this week when my therapist told me the mind doesn’t unlearn or forget what’s already there, but I may be able to add new things. “Can you add anything?” she asked. I then remembered how my father would sit quietly in the balcony for hours on most evenings, retreat and write in his journal, go for long walks in the nature or lose himself in a great piece of music. I also remembered how he would hold my hand during long sick nights, sit patiently while I am in a 2 hour ballet class, or drive us around town in the middle of the night just because it’s fun to drive around. These moments of him simply being present with himself and with me, without trying to go anywhere, seemed to me like “neutral zones”. And bringing these neutral zones into the picture made me feel fuller and calmer.

This is the core teaching of mindfulness: seeing fully, everything that is already there. But sometimes when you are alone, you just don’t see those things that you are able to see in the presence of someone you love and trust. It seems that we add new things and learn new things so much faster and better in the presence of a guide, a teacher, a friend or a companion that we love and trust.

Recent findings in cognitive science confirm that we indeed learn better and faster in a community, and reinforces the idea that teachers teach themselves and their passion for their subject more than anything else. And students learn through loving the teacher, loving what they are learning about, and co-regulating with the teacher through good times and bad times.

We can all relate to this, right? We had those unexpectedly magical learning experiences in the presence of another person. It felt as if something “unlocked” in our brain, we became more capable of learning or the information diffused into our bodies as it was transmitted by the air we breathed in.

I’ve been wondering recently if these loving learning experiences are serendipitous or we can consciously create them with little effort and money. I decided it’s the latter, because I found so many examples of it around me:

#1 Three of my friends are on similar life transitions as me at the moment, becoming self-employed. When we saw ourselves in each other’s pain, we decided to have regular calls to update each other on how things are going. At worst, we walk away feeling heard. At best, we walk away rich with ideas and actions. It has been wonderful to learn from their experiences.

#2 My dear friend Sophie has learned and taught adaptive leadership for years. Recently she invited 8 of her friends to a lab: They read the book together and meet every 2 weeks to share how they apply the theory. Spending zero dollars, reading a great book and talking to great people is an amazing way to learn leadership.

#3 My mindfulness teachers Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield created an inexpensive and online teacher certification program. I was at the kick off retreat this weekend, and I meditated with 1100 people for 3 days. The room was filled with an amount of loving presence and deep learning I had never witnessed before, and it instilled something in me that I couldn’t have attained in any other way.

Meditating with Tara, Jack and 1100 people this weekend

So I want to ask you:

Is there anything you’ve been wanting to learn lately? Are there people you love who want to learn it too? Are there people you love who can teach it to you? Can you create a simple learning experience with them that will cost you zero dollars?

And then I want to ask the same question in reverse:

Have you been feeling lonely or disconnected lately? Can you use your hunger for learning something as an opportunity to connect and belong?