Unlearn Everything


Snowdrops by the river…..


…. on January 1st!

I’ve started to notice how car manufacturers are offering a spiritual experience by buying their latest model – “unlearn everything – let go of what you know” was the headline on an ad for a new Ford model, and prompted my thoughts for this piece.

The good news is that my health is improving, it’s slow going, but it’s happening. (And in case anyone reading this is wondering, I am open for retreats!)

As improvement has come, I’ve watched the river Dart as it’s risen to flood levels and back again – a number of times. Most mornings, walking Selkie, I see a dipper or two on or under the leat bridge, bobbing up and down as they watch for a moment to dive into the rushing water. And as I ventured further afield to Spitchwick, on the Dart upstream, I managed to catch a dipper diving for food, a remarkable sight.

And as January has blown by, it’s been encouraging to experience the underlying benefit of this experience with Lyme disease.  The best advice I had from someone who’s helping me recover, was to not burn up the energy I now have in “extra activity” but to let it grow stronger. And those words chimed with the deeper learning, or “unlearning” that’s been going on.

Reflecting on a gospel reading in Mark, in which it said “Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake…. he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him… He gave them strict orders not to tell who he was”, I wrote in my journal afterwards “That’s not what he was about!” By that I meant he wasn’t about wanting attention, or being successful, he simply wasn’t driven by his ego.

And the past three months of not having energy to do the things I would normally do, has prompted an “unlearning” of familiar patterns, most of which are, frankly primarily ego driven. To quote Richard Rohr, “The small ego-self hates all change. So someone personally needs to lead the way, model the path, and say this is a good and “necessary suffering”. Otherwise we will not trust this counter-intuitive path.”

On days when I could do very little, it was frustrating, but the slow drip of “unlearning” of conditioned activity, led to a deeper “knowing” that we don’t have to earn God’s love. It is always there. We pay lip service to that, and until something happens to put a spoke in the wheel of conditioned behaviour, it stays at an intellectual level. On the 30 day retreat I had a glimpse of this. The overall experience was of a love that pre-dated my birth and all the overlay of parental expectations that have dogged my life since.


Dipper on the river bank at Spitchwick


You can just see the dipper diving under water


Out it comes ….


…. with food in its mouth!

But what I now realise is that it’s not a once and for all experience. “You can’t put new wine into old wineskins”. The cultural, psychological, and social “wineskin” that we create for ourselves has to be re-made – and that means we have to “unlearn everything” to truly follow the path Jesus embodied.    That’s where the rubber hits the road – in any model of car!

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