I got an Android tablet the other day. I use it a lot for internet browsing and as a book reader. However, I haven’t installed any apps on it, and I never take pictures with it. It is super fast.
I have another Apple tablet with a lot of programs installed in it, and with thousands of pictures in its storage. This device runs very slowly, and it needs a lot of unlearning. When I do this, by deleting apps, downloads, and pictures, it runs better for a while. Then it slows down again as more things get installed and more storage space is used up. It’s a constant battle.
We humans are very much like these devices. We have learned too much, we have too much knowledge, and we have installed too many apps in our brains. We have too many photographs stored in our memory. All of this slows us down and corrupts the files in our operating system. As we get older, we carry more burdens from the past and keep slowing down. We need to unlearn more things than we have learned during our busy lives.
How can we unlearn things? Where do we start?
When I look at myself, I realize there is a lot of emotional baggage. There are also tons of useless information gathered over a lifetime of reading books, getting an education, browsing the internet, and interacting with people. I need to unlearn a lot, just like most people I know.
A lot of memory space is taken up by emotional attachments. We get attached to people, places, and things. How do we even begin to lose these attachments?
One way is to get rid of things. Luckily, my wife is on the same track; she does not like to keep anything in the house that we don’t use. She will throw away clothes if they are even slightly damaged or worn out. The same goes for pots and pans and appliances that no longer work. I have to keep myself useful all the time, just to keep my place in the house.
We also got rid of a lot of things when we moved to North America. We sold our car, and a plot of land that we never used, got rid of all our furniture, got rid of old memories in the form of photographs, and we gave away all our appliances. We also lost a lot of emotional attachments when we moved to a new life.
It was unlearning on a massive scale and brought new energy into our lives.
The airline also proved very helpful. I moved to Anchorage, Alaska a few months before my wife came over. When I landed, the airline misplaced all my suitcases. For two weeks, I had to live off the few things I carried in my backpack, plus a pair of jeans and a shirt I bought in Anchorage, Alaska. Trust me, it was a liberating experience and I had never felt lighter in my life, as though a huge burden had been lifted from my shoulders. This is the power of unlearning, of doing without the things we have grown accustomed to, a clean break from our conditioning. This state of bliss only lasted a couple of weeks because the airlines eventually found my luggage and delivered it to me.
As we settled down in North America, we slowly acquired the things we needed, plus a few luxuries. We did try to keep simplicity in our lives, buying mostly what we needed and throwing away things when we no longer needed them.
Harder than unlearning our emotions is unlearning our knowledge. I learned a lot during my engineering studies, but only about 10% is of use to me in real life. I learned a lot of mathematics and engineering sciences during a fairly vigorous training program. Much of the mathematics is forgotten; I wouldn’t recognize a partial differential equation today if I met one on the street. The basic grounding in engineering sciences is a big help in my everyday work but the fundamentals are what is important. Most of the details are unimportant and many things have simply changed with time.
Unlearning is just as important as learning in today’s world. Unless we empty the vessel, we just cannot fill it with more water. Also, technology changes so quickly that it makes no sense to cling to the old ways of doing things.
Letting go of past hurts is also part of unlearning. It is, perhaps, the most difficult part. For me, letting go happened fairly easily when I realized I was not the only one. These things happen to everybody, it’s just part of the process of living.
Letting go of our attachments is even harder. We are attached to our families, to our children, to our close ones and we get hurt when they get hurt. Again, I find the only way to deal with this type of pain is to look at the bigger picture. These things happen to everybody. Also, why should we love our loved ones to the exclusion of others? If we can spread this love to everyone, then the attachments, and the pain that goes with them, are bound to weaken.
Unlearning is emptying the mind. There are many techniques for doing this including the various paths of yoga. Om Swami Ji has shown us the way using the methods of Kundalini Sadhana and Meditation. He has given countless talks about the methods he has used himself to achieve the highest level of self-realization.
All we have to do is to convert these methods into daily practice.