What my friend and unschooling parent Hema shared with me the other day got me thinking for a few days! "There is something much more important than the skill or the technique that you learn. It is your relationship with learning itself." She was talking about her children's relationship with playing the piano. They used to play it a lot, and had suddenly stopped playing for a few months. Their piano teacher from the States, a wise one, told her not to worry as long as their relationship with piano-playing was intact. Though I instantaneously recognised that statement as being very profound, I had to sit with it for a few days to begin to understand its full implications.
When I look back at my own life, and most children and adults today, I see that we have such an unhealthy relationship with learning. We want to learn something in order to please authority figures, to get others approval, to prove to others that we are capable and worth their attention, to become famous, wealthy or powerful. I rarely see children do something for the sheer joy of doing it.
Learning could be seen as happening in three steps. First, we are curious to learn about the nature of things (eg. what is this? how does this work? what sound does this make? what is sadness? what is god?, etc.) Then, we want to use this information to have our own insights into things, connecting to our inner truths within. Then, we want to learn specific skills and techniques to express something that surges forth from within. (eg. speaking, writing, painting, cooking, dancing, etc.) In an undisturbed person, all these three steps are happening all her lifetime. Like Gandhi said 'She will learn like she will live forever!' Learning, to such a person, is always something that empowers her to connect with what her inner being is needing the most and to express what her inner being most intensely feels at any given point in time. Like joy, sorrow, sensitivity, fear, celebration, generosity, repulsion, etc. And when she grows up feeling free to connect with her innermost emotions and insights without fear, she also begins to see them more acceptingly in the others, without judgment. And when she does that, she connects with the divine and lets it find expression through her. And this, according to me, is the purpose of life on earth.
In a 3-year old like Isha, the primary preoccupation is with 'making sense of the world around her, and giving everything a name'. Isha has learnt names of most things, people and actions that she commonly sees around her - cooking, grandma, phone, etc. She is now going through a phase where she wants to learn finer distinctions, aiming at precision. 'Amma, face-na enna? head-na enna?' or 'Amma, middle-na enna? centre-na enna?' or 'Amma, 'baby-na enna? infant-na enna? toddler-na enna? girl-na enna? adult-na enna?' The second one, I actually had to think through hard before answering. And I told Isha that my answer was only tentative and that I needed to look it up myself. She checked again the next day to see if I had found out.
A few days ago, Isha took her notebook (an old diary) and a pencil. She opened a brand new page and read out aloud "I-S-H-A Isha". I watched her from the other room without her noticing me. Though she started writing a few letters a few months ago, this was the first time ever that she was writing her name (or any word) without help or prompting. After she was done, she looked at it for sometime, closed her notebook, put it back in her shelf and came to me saying 'Amma, come let us sleep.' I was pleasantly surprised that she didn't even care to show it to me. After she slept, I pulled her notebook and saw what she had written. The letters were all jumbled and reversed!
I am guessing that the very act of discovering for herself, how to write her name, must have given her immense and deep fulfillment that she didn't need the petty happiness from 'praise and approval' by me. It had something to say to me about her growing relationship with learning.