ON EMERGENT LEARNING

BY SWAMI CHETANANANDA

As we engage in self-cultivation and express that engagement as service, we will get feedback. Because everything is a dynamic system, and the energy is constantly feeding back to us, every flow cycles back, it’s possible that the feedback that we experience will shift our awareness. If we are able to hold a place of equanimity through the experiences of negative feedback, eventually we can come to a place where a new skill set can emerge within us. I’d call it emergent learning.

The work of biochemist Stuart Kauffman focuses on biocomplexity. He asserts that consciousness is an emergent quality of complex dynamic systems: that increasing complexity requires what some would call an “evolution of consciousness.”  When a dynamic system is not very complicated, it’s intrinsically limited to one range of frequencies. When there is increasing complexity, there are more frequencies that are encompassed in the same field, which becomes an evolution of consciousness. We can say there is a kind of learning that happens, but this learning is something that is really a function of the dynamics within the field. So we don’t exactly “learn lessons.”  The way I see it, we do seva, we participate in flow, and, as we dissolve our tensions and our boundaries, and the dynamics of our own system are expanded, then the system itself reorganizes itself to express an appropriate balance in a new dynamic environment. That balance becomes manifest in a person as new skill sets.

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When most of us talk about learning things, we don’t express what we think we’ve learned in the positive. We mostly express what we think we’ve learned in the negative. For example, one common lesson is “I’ve learned that most people are assholes and I’m going to protect myself from them from now on.” Well, that pretty much undermines the whole impulse that people have toward connection and bonding. So that’s not a positive. It only builds boundary; it doesn’t dissolve it.

Learning is not, in my view, an intellectual activity. We can read books, we can accumulate information, but that’s not learning. Whatever information we accumulate will be eventually replaced by new and different information, and that all depends on what activities we engage in.  We really have no control over that kind of accumulation.

Through service, we increase the rate of flow and the dynamic range of our own energetic mechanism. As we release tensions and allow our Creative Energy to flow from within our own essence, transformation takes place, and it is expressed as learning. If we look at it from a dualistic point of view, we’re learning, because we took on something from outside ourselves. If we look at it from a non-dualistic point of view, what we have really experienced is the flowering of wisdom that automatically happens as the life expression that we are unfolds. A rose, after all, doesn’t learn to be fragrant; it’s just the natural expression of the rose.