Emotion and Growth

The main barrier to learning is emotional turbulence. This is like the storm that forces our ship off course and back to safe harbour. In harbour the ship; or ego (our idea of self) is safe from shipwreck – the loss of face that comes from failure.

We should not belittle the ego too much; it is an important structure that we cannot live without. Its complete breakdown should be avoided! But equally it is not a structure in which we should build a life. Our idea of who we are should be a part of life, a structure we are constantly expanding in the light of deeper understanding. This is where the magic is – in the growth of the ego. Here we are exploring new territory and making the mysterious safe. But in our mastery we also lose our wonder – so we must constantly seek it out by expanding our interests, or by digging deeper.

Of course with self-growth there exists the danger of inflation – believing we are more and better than we are. But it is my belief that constant learning grows humility as well as competence. It is a humbling thing to realise how much we have to learn, and all there is we shall never know.

So we return to the opening statement – the main barrier to learning is emotional turbulence. To even begin learning we must be willing to allow the ego to be compromised – a little. If we cannot acknowledge that there is anything to be learned then the ego will be without breach, but will fast become stale like water that does not circulate.  Then we will become bad company, even to ourselves.

The secret is that our learning must be without end – there is no end point to growing up, there is no retirement. To stop is to stagnate. But growth is a painful process and before we can even start (or re-start) we must be willing to look slightly silly. The ego must relax its mastery; it must take off its crown and become the fool, in a land where it is not yet King. In such rebirth dwells a deeper emotion, and one that can sustain a lifetime of self-growth.

I leave you the Four Stages of Competence (which is a western version of a Taoist principle) – an excellent  model for growth. Whenever we start a new endeavour, or wish to expand beyond the horizons of our present limitations, we must be honest about which phase of learning we are at.  Only by this awareness can we plunge straight through the embarrassment and self-protecting emotions of the ego, and into the most difficult, but most rewarding,  second phase.

Unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, unconscious competence.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. charlesmashburn
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 22:11:42

    Brilliant, MB! I love it. Great advice! Thanks for sharing!


    • mbwilliams
      Aug 07, 2011 @ 15:37:29

      Thanks Charles, glad you got something from it. There is nothing harder than taking that first step, I find. Overcoming our own internal resistance is a skill most definitely worth acquiring!


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