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?