My friend KVSoon frequently quotes this particular phrase from The London Unschooling Conference whenever he gives his talks – Birds Fly, Fish Swim, Children Learn.
Often people lament how hard their schooling and learning process is and I hope that in writing this I can share why learning is almost never difficult for me.
Here are some processes I’ve managed to pinpoint with relative consistency. They may seem radical and contradict popular culture about learning which perhaps also explains why fewer people are above-average learners than most (because they play by different rules).
For starters :
- I don’t study one thing at a time. I learn MANY things at a time even if it may appear unrelated. The fun is in discovering correlations and experiencing synthesis.
- I don’t “study” a thing as in the school definition of studying, i.e. trying to remember the facts about it. My idea of studying a thing is detached observation.
- Sometimes I just allow a thought or idea to sit there in my mind without any reaction or response to it and at the most, pose questions into that repository.
- I never try to remember anything. I interact with material (words, audio, video) as if the author wrote it specifically with me in mind. Instead of an idea of separation between the receiver (student) and the narrator, I treat material I come across as a personal conversation between 2 people who are intimate with each other. Within these personal conversations, imagery appears the way it naturally does when 2 people are engaged in a conversation which stirs both emotion and imagination.
- I don’t highlight or mark something because I want to remember it. I only mark things which resonate very strongly with me, bringing into my consciousness and confidence that I have now found enough evidence to confirm a thought pattern I have been processing.
- I don’t approach learning as if it were a mere utility or an activity. Learning is incorporated as a seamless behavior so that there is a continuous, uninterrupted cognitive flow of learning until learning becomes a nature.
- A non-fiction should not be read in the same way as a work of fiction – or to attempt to remember the points or the plot, to read it back to back.
- I read just enough of a book to form a general, not specific idea about what it is and leave with enough mystery and questions to reflect on my own. These questions will then attract other sources of information. By the time I come across the book again I might already have formed a different level of scaffolding to better understand the other parts of the book as opposed to trying to get it all in one go.
- I never worry about not understanding something because most of the time I assume I already understand it because I am engaged in a personal conversation with someone who cares for me, who has written this specifically with me in mind. If I don’t find myself interacting with the writer’s voice, I find a different source that says it better.
- Whatever I don’t understand, I never re-read it again and again and again hoping to understand it but instead relax into the thrill of knowing there is something I don’t know! (Or ditch that and find a different source.)
- In other words, I don’t take learning seriously. Seriously! – Think about it; Would a fish be able to swim if it concentrated seriously on its effort to co-ordinate gills, fins, tail, sight,etc? Would anyone be able to learn if they treated learning as something that required serious effort?
Not understanding is better than understanding because why would I spend time or pay money to read something that doesn’t require a leap of imagination?
Many people don’t seem to realize that they allow their false ideas of learning to get in the way of actual learning. I had a student who wrote to me recently from the UK about whether she should pick the subject of her dissertation in Law school based on how interesting it would be to learn about it or on whether she could score an “A” for the module. It is a common barrier to learning many people have – to let other things like their insecurities get in the way of their learning. I’d dread to know that there are doctors who would pick a specialty or subject based on the chances they would pass it rather than the opportunities to extend their knowledge as a healer?
The answer is simple : people learn like fish swim. If you find learning of anything difficult, it’s a sign that you’re not in alignment with yourself. Learning should be something you do naturally and seamlessly even when sometimes it feels like you’re swimming against the current. The more autonomous you are in your learning, the more you actually learn. Unfortunately, most people make the trade-off of engaging their precious finite time and resources in a utilitarian process rather than in developing a lifelong affair that gets better with age.