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16 Mar 2019

On unlearning

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Give up learning, and put an end to your troubles.

Is there a difference between yes and no?
Is there a difference between good and evil?
Must I fear what others fear? What nonsense!
Other people are contented, enjoying the sacrificial feast of the ox.

In spring some go to the park, and climb the terrace,
But I alone am drifting, not knowing where I am.
Like a newborn babe before it learns to smile,
I am alone, without a place to go.

Others have more than they need, but I alone have nothing.
I am a fool. Oh, yes! I am confused.
Others are clear and bright.
But I alone am dim and weak.
Others are sharp and clever,
But I alone am dull and stupid.
Oh, I drift like the waves of the sea,
Without direction, like the restless wind.

Everyone else is busy,
But I alone am aimless and depressed.
I am different.
I am nourished by the great mother.


Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching: Twenty
Translation by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, 1972


A student of mine recently asked how it could make sense to spend silent time in nature as a way of developing an innovative project as “you don’t add any more information”. He was referring to “Theory U” by Otto Scharmer which we had just talked about in class. My answer was that what we are trying to do when we spend time in silence is not to accumulate more information, but rather to let go of our conditioned ideas about the world. In that way we can open ourselves to see alternative ways of organizing and impacting the world. If we want to go beyond the limitations of the possible, we cannot rely on knowing and learning.

This seems to be true when I work with project management as well as when I deal with my own personal development. I notice how I keep going into the trap of knowing where to go and how to do stuff.


“When someone is searching,” said Siddhartha, “then it might easily happen that the only thing his eyes still see is that what he searches for, that he is unable to find anything, to let anything enter his mind, because he always thinks of nothing but the object of his search, because he has a goal, because he is obsessed by the goal.

Searching means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal. You, oh venerable one, are perhaps indeed a searcher, because, striving for your goal, there are many things you don’t see, which are directly in front of your eyes”
Siddharta – Herman Hesse


For me it seems like the most important developments in my life has not come from learning something new, but rather from letting go of something I thought to be true about myself or the world. All these conditioned ideas that I have put around myself as layers of armor are keeping me from feeling the impact of life as it is flowing around and through me.

It seems to me that the less baggage I carry around in the form of certainties about how things are or should be, the easier I can navigate in the world without meeting resistance.