In my limited perspective, this is how I view unlearning:
Unlearning is not reframing or refreezing or something along that lines.
They all focus on an end state whereas unlearning is about moving away
from something rather than moving towards something. In Indian mythology,
we talk about liberation or freeing oneself from the bondage. The process
of unlearning is about liberation or freedom from the conditioning or from
So unlearning is exactly what it says. Letting go of focus on learning
something but intending to let go of what we have already learned or
Obviously in this context, learning is used as acquisition of knowledge or
information. It could also be a behavioral pattern or a habit or a mental
I saw somebody using an example of zen master and emptying the cup as the
metaphor for unlearning. The essence is about 'emptying' and not about
'emptying so that we can fill it up.'
Dr. Benjamin used an example of a woman falling from the bicycle and her
sari getting caught in the wheel. While the focus for the helper might be
to get the woman to safety while the woman might rather focus on modesty
than safety. It requires unlearning on the part of the helper to see what
is really needed and how to help while including her need.
Another example is learning how to ride a bicycle (if anybody is
interested, you can read my story on bicycle and unlearning by visiting
http://www.mithya.com/bicycle.htm). You cannot focus first on balance,
then on peddles and looking ahead. You have to do all of them
simultaneously and it comes by letting go of the focus on any one of them
and mastering all of them.
Unlearning could be also described as stripping the existing paint of a
wall so that new paint sticks. As you know stripping is 70% of the job and
repainting is 30%.
Another metaphor that describes unlearning is removing the old plants in
the farm so that you can plant again.
Unlearning is also about a mental construct. For example, In my
experience, I found that people who have high cognitive focus do not like
the word unlearning at all. They would rather find another word.
In all these examples, the focus is on emptying and creating an opening.
Once openness is experienced, learning and creativity become easier.
If we think about learning to have two components: one that leads to tool
building (information and knowledge) and another that leads to wisdom and
transformation (subjective learning), unlearning is extraordinarily
important component of the second kind. So the phrase 'learning to learn'
probably is more closely related to unlearning though the focus is
'freeing from what we have learned.'
I have created a framework for learning that has the following
Instinctive learning (what we are born with)
Conditioning (what we teach our children and new employees)
Unlearning (breaking free of the limits and conditioning)
Openness (a state of freedom and possibilities and a larger
Manifestation (making things happen coming from a larger perspective)
Coaching (consciously focusing on others and helping them to go beyond
where we have been)
You can see the learning framework (www.mithya.com/models.htm) and stories
that elaborate the framework (www.mithya.com/learncoa.htm) if you visit my
website. I am planning to add more on unlearning in the next few days.
Again, these are some of my views and I am sure there are many different
ways we can understand unlearning. Of course, more we know about
unlearning, more we have to unlearn to be open to others....
Prasad Kaipa (408) 866-8511
Mithya Institute for Learning & (408) 866-8926 (Fax)
4832 Pinemont Drive Prasad@Mithya.com
Campbell, CA 95008-5714 Pkaipa@AOL.com
Welcome to Mithya Institute Web page: www.Mithya.com
Topic of focus for the fall of 1996 on website: Unlearning
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