Sawing Off the Limb

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Parachute Minds

“Follow your heart and use your head to guide you, Mister Rico.

This is the way of the lifelong learner.”


Lua was well aware of all these environmental concerns and was not naïve about the difficulties we faced in educating ourselves properly to be able to address these issues globally and intelligently. She had traveled extensively throughout her life and had observed the extraordinary degree to which human behavior, and human nature, was the same wherever she went.


She had observed the same unfortunate pattern in higher education everywhere: universities turning out young adults whose chief interest was to find financial security, to become somebody important, or to just have a good time and seek happiness and pleasures with as little serious thought and concern as possible. Tragically, this conventional education snuffs out truly independent thinking and creativity and breeds conformity, which inevitably leads to mediocrity. To be different from the group or to resist the current cultural environment is undoubtedly not comfortable and is often risky as long as conventional definitions of success are the goal.


The urge to be successful in the pursuit of reward — whether in Tucker’s material world or in the so-called ‘spiritual sphere’ — is essentially the search for inward or outward security, the desire for comfort. And this perfectly natural instinct unfortunately smothers discontent, denies spontaneity, and breeds the type of fear that blocks the intelligent engagement with the whole of life. Then, for people like Tucker, mind and heart become disconnected. They get duller and more bitter as the years unfurl.


Too many people, never leaving their comfort zone, find a safe quiet corner in life where there is a minimum of disturbance. They finally attain that, and then they are naturally afraid to step out of that hard-won place. This fear of life — this fear of struggle and of new experience and of learning — kills any spirit of adventure and any passion for learning and living and solving difficult problems.


For so many, their socialization, upbringing, and education have made them afraid to be different from their neighbors. They are afraid to think contrary to the established pattern of society and are unknowingly slaves to corrupt authority, obsolete traditions, and wasteful ways. In contrast, lifelong learners are creative people who are not afraid to struggle in pursuit of new experiences, sensations, and frames of mind — and this openness to novel experiences is a significant predictor of creative output, of original ideas that have meaning and value.


Lua insisted,


“Openness to new experience is a strong predictor of creative achievement. A mind is like a parachute; it only functions when it is open.”


She told me,


“You know, Mister Rico, well-educated people have the best options in life and are far less likely to be cheated or misled or to wither and become dull in their later years. Education is related to freedom — the more education you have, the more choices you have. And culture and knowledge are what build great and lasting societies — not riches. I am afraid Tucker’s narrow self-serving education has made him unable to grasp the true calamity before him or appreciate the beauty of the Living Earth that we are destroying with our careless and reckless ways. It is really very sad. We all still have so much to learn and to understand about how to live intelligently — with head, hands, and heart in alignment — on this good and beautiful Earth.”


She added,


“And we should be learning every day. After all, there are few things as pleasurable as learning something really new. I try to step out of my comfort zone and learn something new each day — I am not afraid of a few passing storms when I am learning how to sail a ship. I am a person in process. I am becoming. I’m just trying, stumbling, falling, getting back up and learning, like everybody else. I try to take every conflict, every experience, every mistake, every success, and learn from it. Life is never dull that way, is it Mister Rico?”


“I hear ya, Lua. The best learning happens when we step outside our comfort zones and, when necessary, bending the rules a bit. Ultimately, we learn by doing, and usually by failing the first time, the second time, perhaps a third time — getting knocked down on occasion.”


Lua shot back,


“But learning never happens if you don’t get back up!


“True enough. You know, I’ve always considered myself somewhat of a ‘closet philosopher,’ because I was born with this prickly habit of having to question everything, especially what many describe as ‘conventional wisdom.’ But that is how I learn what has real value and what is just residue from ways of thinking that are no longer valid and have lost their relevance and may even be downright detrimental to personal or societal progress — kinda like Tucker’s ‘greed-is-good’ view of the world where everything comes down to competition, exploitation, and personal gain.”


With the confidence and conviction of a passionate lifelong observer, learner, and teacher; Lua professed,


“Education and learning should ideally be a never-ending, organic process of discovering and developing natural talents and abilities so that we can make our way confidently, effectively, and joyously in the world. It is about continuously gaining knowledge and skills for understanding the past, navigating the future, and developing the capacity to contribute novel solutions to challenging problems. One should live as if this day could be your last, but learn as if you were going to live forever.”


Lua went on to say that education only succeeds when it nurtures curiosity, improves performance, and stimulates creativity. And it clearly fails when it stifles talents and abilities and kills the innate motivation to question, to learn, and to create original ideas that have value. And this would be a real tragedy considering the great ecological challenges we could be facing in the coming decades.


Lua believed that everyone should be continuously learning and willing to examine human problems without prejudice or fear and with fresh minds. Without a proper education, though, there is no real spirit of discontent — of revolt. When we yield to our current environment without questioning, any spirit of discontent that we may have dissipates.


She explained that there is a deep psychological form of discontent that is the product of the intelligence of the head, heart, and hands operating in alignment with the evolving universe. This form of discontent is desperately needed in the world today, she believed, to address the mounting problems of human civilization.


And finally and most importantly, self-knowledge — the real fruit of lifelong learning and education — must begin with an awareness of the origins of one’s own thoughts and feelings. When we can fearlessly face experience as it comes and not try to avoid every disturbance, we keep intelligence highly awakened — which is intuition. And intuition, which blossoms from a life of continuous learning, should be the only true guide in one's life.


Lua’s advice to me was simple and direct,


“Follow your heart and use your head to guide you, Mister Rico. This is the way of the lifelong learner.”

Sawing Off the Limb

Mainland Madness >

​© 2020 Rich 'Rico' Leon