“You must unlearn what you have learned.”
As I wrote in Undercover Tao and the Philosophies of Life, the Tao Te Ching (Tao for short, pronounced: “Dow”) is a spiritual text of 81 verses that is attributed to Lao Tzu, a philosopher of ancient China. Tao means literally “the path” or “the way.” Studying the Tao has given me a framework for figuring out who I am and what I want during this life. It helps me reflect and think deeply. It helps me pay attention to WHAT I am attracted to, and then to ask WHY. The Tao is helping me discover my path. It’s showing me how I can become everything I am meant to be.
It surprised me when I realized the Tao is teaching me that I must unlearn much of what I was taught during the first fifty years of my life. For example:
Verse 48: One who seeks the Tao unlearns something new each day.
Verse 64: What he (the Master) learns is to unlearn.
This was another one of the many Tao ideas I simply couldn’t understand in my first pass through the book Change Your Thoughts – Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao, by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer. Over time, though, as I came to understand more and more, I think that the unlearning spoken of in the Tao is responsible for the biggest and most important transformation of my life so far. It has taught me to unlearn many things:
- I had been taught to fight for what I wanted from life. Unlearning is teaching me to surrender to what life has in store for me.
- I had been taught that more is always better. Unlearning is teaching me that less is more.
- I had been taught to trust my mind. Unlearning is teaching me to listen to my heart.
- I had been taught that success is getting more. Unlearning is teaching me that success means giving more.
- I had been taught to push against resistance. Unlearning is teaching me to recognize resistance and flow with it.
- I had been taught to be hard. Unlearning is teaching me to be soft.
- I had been taught to lead by using force to get others to do what I wanted. Unlearning is teaching me how to use quiet power to help others get what they want as I follow my own path.
Studying and reflecting on the wisdom of Lao Tzu and Dr. Dyer has created a profound shift within me. Forty years of competitive athletics and a cutthroat business environment taught me to fight hard and become better than the next guy. I was constantly trying to force life to fit my desire for some future goal. Unlearning is teaching me to pay attention to the moment and accept life as it is.
By this process of unlearning, I’m shifting my Ikigai (a Japanese concept meaning “a reason for being”) from striving for outward success (i.e. money, trophies, accolades, celebrity) to the inward contentment of doing my work well and helping others. As Dr. Dyer teaches, “To touch someone’s life is more valuable than any amount of money.”
Unlearning has also made me more aware of the inner spirit that dwells within me. I’m learning to trust myself enough to follow my heart wherever it leads me because I understand now that it knows where my happiness lies. If you find yourself drawn to the Tao as I have been, may I wish you Happy Unlearning!
This post is an excerpt from my book Turning Inspiration into Action. If you like this post, you’ll love the book!
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