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What “Unlearning” Really Means and Why It’s Important

Hi, dear souls.

I hope you are staying well in this wild, wild world of ours. While justified and very necessary, the turmoil and upheaval of the #blacklivesmatter movement likely has many of your empathic hearts feeling a little out of whack. Know that this is normal and you’re not alone.

In the midst of this mass awakening of consciousness, take good care of yourself. Feed your body a nourishing meal made of whole foods today. Avoid overdoing it on foods that tend to be inflammatory like dairy, gluten, and sugar. Meditate for 10-20 minutes in the morning or evening. Move some stagnant energy out of your body by having a mini dance party with yourself or going for a walk. Allow your feelings to come up and be honored along the way. Share them with a trusted friend.

Self-care is vitally important in times of imbalance. However, it’s important not to use exhaustion or overwhelm as an excuse to shy away from the deep anti-racism work we all have waiting for us. I am currently working through Layla F. Saad’s workbook Me and White Supremacy. Saad makes clear that the 28-day challenge that makes up the book does not involve a “rest day” or time off. This is because, as she knows so painfully from personal experience, racism and the white supremacist foundations of our institutions in this nation do not take days off.

In order for true and lasting change to amount from this massive and warranted outpouring of pain from the Black community, we need to make a commitment to daily work. I’m not saying we have to be studying history for hours on end each day and donating our life savings. This daily work can be doable. It can be one small step at a time.

If you’re in need of some guidance on where to start and how to make this sustainable, Every Day Spirit is launching a beautiful 30-day action series, in which one small action will be taken each day in service of the movement.

The daily work doesn’t have to be monumental. It shouldn’t have to detract from your mental health. You can draw on your passions, strengths, and talents to tailor your work in a way that resonates with you. But no matter what it looks like, it has to happen. Because what we’re doing is not working. Our Black brothers and sisters continue to be marginalized, left on the sidelines of many communities (including the spirituality and wellness community), and in the worst cases, killed mercilessly at the hands of police officers. It is past time for a change, and it has to start with commitment at the individual level.

Will you commit to a doable amount of daily anti-racism work with me? If you want to find out more about how you can make this possible in your life, please reach out to me!

Now let’s get into it…

Unlearning – What is it?

I want to discuss a term that I have seen tossed around a lot recently in the spiritual community, mostly in reference to the Black Lives Matter movement.

That term is “unlearning.”

I first heard the word “unlearning” used about two weeks ago. It was part of a larger post which sought to draw parallels between spirituality and anti-racism work. At first, I was confused. Was “unlearning” a spiritual concept I had missed?

After a quick Instagram deep dive, I realized that “unlearning” is another word for a term that I have come to understand as vitally important to spiritual growth and self-awareness: “deconditioning.”

Deconditioning and unlearning are synonyms. They both refer to the process of undoing our worldly conditioning, or the ways we’ve been taught – consciously and subconsciously, spoken and unspoken – to think about ourselves and others, behave, act, feel, and perceive.

Let’s break that down a bit.

Imagine that you’re five years old again. You’re confident, fun-loving, innocent, and brave. One day at school, someone makes a negative comment about your appearance. Suddenly, everything you thought you knew about yourself has shattered.

Just like that, you’re highly aware of your body, the way it looks, and how it might be perceived by others. Years go by, and you’re not able to shake that feeling of self-consciousness, wondering if another negative comment is being made about you behind your back or in someone’s mind. As you grow into an adult, this translates into low self-worth and a belief that certain things (careers, partners, lifestyles) aren’t possible because you don’t feel deserving of them.

Now multiply that experience times a BILLION. You have been taught an unquantifiable amount of information about how the world works, your place in it, and the standards you’re expected to uphold. Whether it was purposeful or not, your parents, your community, your friends, and your peers conditioned you to understand and perceive things in a specific way. While their intentions may never have been malicious, it’s highly likely that they led you astray.

When I say “astray,” I don’t mean they led you in the “wrong” direction. In many ways, they probably led you in a positive direction, teaching you a core set of morals and values. I simply mean that they led you away from your true nature.

Your true nature is your soul, which is eternally calm and loving, deep underneath the surface noise of the world. Your true nature is your connection to Divinity, available to you at all times, so long as you get quiet enough to hear it. Your true nature is that of the observer: the one who watches the swirling thoughts, the negative comments, and the pressures of this world without judgment. You are not what the world has taught you to believe. You are much, much bigger than that.

The people who taught you about this world probably didn’t mention this because they didn’t know their true nature. They saw only the limited perspective that was available to them, and they passed it onto you with loving intentions.

This was a blessing in disguise, because it set you up for the journey of a lifetime. The journey home to your soul, your loving nature, your eternal and irrevocable worthiness, and your connection to Divine guidance.

So begins the unlearning – the peeling back of the layers of your worldly conditioning.

Unlearning in Practice

Let’s say you’ve been taught that material gain is the only way to succeed in the world. Your father believed this fervently and instilled it in you. You chose to major in business, a seemingly “safe” career option, so that you could ensure you’d have a high-paying job right out of college. You moved to a high rise in New York City on the Upper East Side. You go to work for eight hours a day and then come home to enjoy a very expensive meal and fancy bottle of wine.

Your father would say you’ve made it, right? You’ve accomplished every external goal that was laid out for you on the perceived path to success.

But what about happiness? What about leaning into the things that bring you joy and make you uniquely you? What about self-discovery, going inward, learning to listen to your intuition, digging into your childhood wounds so that you can be free of them? What about learning about your heart – the place inside you that knows that softness and vulnerability makes you stronger than any external success could?

Each of these ideas is covered up by many layers of worldly conditioning that discredit matters of the heart as weak and unnecessary, believe that money is happiness, and that your intuition couldn’t possibly lead you in the right direction.

In this example, there is a lifetime’s worth of unlearning work to do.

I hope that in your life, the conditioning has not been so extreme, but if it has, simply by reading this information, you’ve already begun.

Unlearning is challenging work. It is not comfortable to discover that the things you’ve been taught to believe about this world and yourself are not serving you. But it’s also part of the incredible gift of being born into these human bodies. You get to do the sacred work of self-discovery. You get to come to this earth to lose yourself and find yourself all over again. You were born knowing our true nature – matters of the heart: joy, peace, love, compassion, togetherness – and you were born to lose them so that you could in turn, through whatever lights you up with authentic joy, find your way home.

What Does Unlearning Have to Do With Activism?

The concept of “unlearning” has been cropping up in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. This is because many of us are unlearning our numbness and ignorance to the pain and trauma of the Black community in this country. We are waking up. Because we are privileged, we’ve had the luxury of not having to face their pain head-on until now.

I don’t know about you, but this iteration of the movement is the first time I’ve truly allowed myself to marinate in the pain. While uncomfortable, this processes has called me to action in a deep and powerful way, and as you know, I’m committed to alchemizing my ignorance into activism.

There’s a reason they say ignorance is bliss. It’s much easier to stay in our conditioning, to believe the world is the way many of us were taught – that yes, racism still exists, but only really bad people are racists, and everyone else is a good person and not racist. You were likely not taught to look at your own racist beliefs, and you buried them in the recesses of your subconscious, never to see the light of day. But they are there, because our white-dominant society has conditioned us to see things a certain way, even if we would never outwardly express racism or treat a BIPOC differently than a white person.

In order for effective activism and allyship to happen, we must take it upon ourselves to unlearn what white-dominant society has taught. This is a spiritual process, because just as you peel back the layers of your worldly conditioning to come home to your soul, you peel back the layers of your white-dominant conditioning to come home to unity, equality, and love. The goal of Black Lives Matter is rooted in spiritual truths that we all came into this world knowing.

That we are all equally worthy of love. That friendship is seeing someone in the fullness of who they are – not looking past a color and ignoring the different backgrounds and experiences between you. That all humans have stunningly beautiful souls with the power to uplift, inspire, shine, elevate, and change the world. That unity – not division – will heal our wounds.

Unlearning is the work. The hard, messy, uncomfortable, shatter-everything-you-thought-you-knew-about-yourself-and-the-world work. You can choose to stay in blissful ignorance. But you’d be missing out, because unlearning is also the reward. The unity, the love, the equality, the truth of who we are. I hope you’ll meet me there.

Sending you all my love. Xo


Vikram Bhujbal
Vikram Bhujbal
May 21, 2022

This is so well written.. I searched for unlearning on Google and this one is the best answer I must say. Thanks a lot n stay blessed


Scott Davis
Scott Davis
Jun 23, 2020

Maya - This is a beautiful and meaningful fusion of the spiritual and the political/social. I'll meet you there!


Jun 22, 2020

Thank you for exploding my heart in a million pieces. And for being a beacon of wisdom and love. xo


I can't even begin to say how deeply this touched me. Much wisdom to reflect on. Thank you!


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