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At the beginning of January, Desh Kapoor invited his friends on Facebook to list our five most important lessons of 2010. I at first replied I would have to get back to him later because I wanted to give this careful thought and use it as an opportunity to reflect carefully on what the key events of 2010 had been for me.  When I did reply, I was not certain that these were the top five, but they are at least in the top ten:

  • Pay attention. All the time.
  • Know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.
  • Puppyhood is really nerve-wracking. But also incredibly enjoyable. (Didn’t I learn that one before??)
  • Trust in my connection with Source Energy – with God – and in the steady evolution of my soul.
  • Be here now.

Part of my hesitancy about listing the lessons I learned last year is that I have not yet completely mastered any of these lessons. They just emerged as some of the biggest or most important lessons, the ones I most need to fully learn and master now. Life lessons for me and probably for most of us usually emerge out of somewhat painful, stressful, or distressing circumstances. They have to do with our relationships with ourselves or others and the circumstances that bring them to our attention.
Those are the situations that offer us a choice as to whether to learn from our past and from our less than perfect choices or to ignore or suppress them because learning from them is just too much bother, and because we often resent having to discipline ourselves. Each time we postpone learning that our inner being offers us, it will simply emerge again in a new circumstance or situation or in a relationship with a new person or a changed situation with a familiar person. When that happens we catch ourselves asking, “Why is this happening to me again?”
Really mastering these five lessons were not finalized for me on December 31, 2010. They are each at this point still a work in progress.
Now to elaborate on lessons and learning any new skill:  we each go through at least four stages of learning something new – or re-learning something we are in the process of mastering.

This is important to mention because although these were important lessons for me in 2010, I have not achieved a superior degree of mastery of any of them at this point. I’m kind of at the beginning of the learning curve in most cases.

Stage 1. Unconscious incompetence. This means basically that we don’t know what we don’t know about the skill or lesson. Example: learning to tie your shoes when you were a toddler, or learning to drive a car as a teenager. Applies to All new learning.

Stage 2. Conscious incompetence. This means we now recognize consciously that we have a long way to go to master the lesson or skill. This is a frustrating stage as we judge ourselves for not being as good at the skill or learning as someone else or someone older. We try and try but as often as not, we make mistakes.

Stage 3. Conscious competence. This means we have developed a high degree of competence with the lesson of skill but that we still have to apply conscious effort to stay at that level. A great example of this comes from yoga practices such as asanas and conscious breathing. Let’s say when I drive my car, I often slump or around my shoulders even though I have learned and become skillful at well-aligned posture for my spine most of the time, but not consistently in some circumstances, such as when my attention is elsewhere and I forget about how my body is experiencing the moment. So I slump until I become aware that I am slumping. From that awareness, I remember to release into gravity, become conscious of my breath, and allow my body to align itself in its optimal upright spine position. At that point, the relationship between my body and gravity is re-established once again in complete integrity with gravity.

Driving is a much more enjoyable experience with that simple correction, but I have not yet mastered the skill–that is, I have to first become aware of slumping and then pay conscious attention, engaging the thinking mind, in order to perform the skill consistently.
I also catch myself holding my breath when there is a traffic jam (normal in Dallas). Once I become aware of this, I relax and breathe freely. Even though I’ve been practicing and teaching Yoga for many years, I still experience inattentive moments. If you feel like you experience inattentive moments also, you might be interested in the yoga training here in order to try and practice mindfulness and better self-awareness.

Becoming aware of these inconsistencies is key to eventually mastering the skills or lessons. Without that awareness, we stop the progress of eventually attaining mastery.

Stage 4. Unconscious competence. This means we have learned the lesson completely to the degree that we no longer have to think our way consciously through the skill or lesson in order to execute it perfectly. I like to use the example of lacing and tying shoes or our awkward attempts at putting buttons through the buttonholes when we are toddlers and the example of learning to drive when we first attempt to drive a car. Most of us can relate to these examples.

Once you master the skill of lacing and tying your shoes or buttoning your shirt or whatever, you never again have to consciously think your way through the motions. Learning to play a piece of music on the piano or any other musical instrument, with sufficient practice, eventually becomes a skill the body remembers and performs with the thinking mind at rest and with the emotions, blending beautifully with the music, completely at one with the body’s efforts.

Same thing with driving your car. Once you have experienced driving your car to the point you have mastered it, you never again go back to the step by step process you had to think your way through when you were first learning to drive a car. When you have to drive a different car, for example, a rental car or someone else’s automobile, there will be another little learning curve of course, but unconscious competence will arise relatively quickly in this case. Driving can be quite daunting for the first time driver, I had a friend who took a new york defensive driving course to better help him on the roads and lower his insurance, I admire him as I bet driving in New York can be quite scary! Of course, it’s the same for people all over the world. City centers are extremely scary places for a learner to be driving, however, it can make drivers much more confident. That’s why it’s important to try and find some city centre driving lessons, whether you live in Manchester or New York. It’s always a good idea to try and drive in a city center for the experience, especially whilst you have the guidance of a driving instructor.

I think there may be at least one more stage in mastering a skill or learning.

Stage 5.  I AM THAT.

When learning or skill is completely mastered, it becomes an embodied part of you. I believe it becomes indelibly imprinted into your DNA, perhaps even carried forward to future lifetimes, and as such is a still higher level of mastery.

As Gandhi suggested, “You must BE [emphasis added] the change you wish to see in the world.”

The Master Jesus taught that he is a Light for mankind (not that he is “like” a light).

John 8:12, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”

John 12:46: “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.”

The enlightened ones are at that level of mastery. They have literally become the learning. So I consider this another stage of mastery.

The rest of us have the potential to achieve that state intermittently and we can increase the amount of linear time we remain in that state (of Being the learning), but to Be Peace, for example, is different from visiting that state from time to time, even though we eventually are able to achieve it instantly, without thinking our way into it, but simply by reconnecting, as a light turns on instantly when electricity flows.

Note: for more information on learning models, go to Conscious Learning Models