Life Long Learning
“Education is a powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” This sentence is written by the celebrated Nelson Mandela which perfectly describes the importance of education. Our education starts with the first question asked and ends with the last question asked. Which means that learning lasts a lifetime or at least it should, but it doesn’t seem to be something that we talk about as busy parents while so focused on getting through the day. “Hey, Ryan, what did you learn today?” What if I asked my husband this question each day? It’s something we ask our kids every day, but as adults we don’t think about our education much anymore.
The truth is that our personal education impacts our personal growth, which impacts our relationships and career success. By enriching our brains, we have new and valuable information that improves the way we think, our ability to analyze, process and relate. One of the insights I have heard from a neuroscientist is that learning is not just a brain activity, but a whole-body activity.
Over Christmas break I went to the Phoenix Art Museum to see the Mexican artist, Carlos Amorales’ famous installation, Black Cloud. He was inspired by the annual migration of monarch butterflies from Canada to Mexico and out of that he conceived a work of 25,000 black paper moths and butterflies hanging from the walls and ceilings of the museum. One can only imagine the whole-body experience felt when in a stark white room full of three-dimensional butterflies coming out of the walls while a group of musicians are moving about freely improvising with their various instruments. Everything each musician played independently was magically woven together like a knitted shawl and the evening was absolutely enchanting.
Besides being such a lovely evening, it was an educational encounter that touched all the senses. What I took away from it wasn’t that I wanted to hang butterflies in my living room to imitate the installation, but I wanted to create. I was inspired. It also made me realize that I need more of this in my life… “this.” When we are moved as I was or have the experience of a “light bulb moment” we thirst for more learning, more growth, more knowledge, right? What I am contemplating is the idea of being completely immersed in something to emerge with a new sense of wonder.
A sense of wonder of what keeps us alive; keeps our brains curious and full of amazement. I feel it’s as important to invest in our minds as it is our bodies. However, it takes self-motivation. As a busy working mom I have to make it a habit to learn and to engross myself in experiences such as the butterfly installation. Every day, each of us are offered the opportunity to pursue intellectual development in ways that are tailored to our learning style. We can take online classes, sit in a Bible study, read a newspaper cover to cover, watch a Netflix documentary. So why don’t more of us seize that opportunity? We know it’s worth the time, and yet we find it so hard to make the time.
While few studies validate the observation that lifelong learning has a profound impact on our well-being, I’ve noticed in my own interactions that those who dedicate themselves to learning and who exhibit curiosity are almost always happier and more socially and professionally engaging than those who don’t. Hmmm… Have you ever had a personal “snow day” and finished a great novel in one sitting? Do you remember the fulfillment you felt when you knew the answer to a difficult problem or understood something that others were struggling with? Have you ever created something truly spectacular and stood back to take a long look? These experiences can be electrifying. And even if education had no impact on health, prosperity or social standing, it would be entirely worthwhile as an expression of what makes every person so unique. And with everything we learn, we become more extraordinary because of what we are giving ourselves… we have that gift of knowledge. Hey, what have you learned today?