Have you ever attended a seminar that offered prescriptive behaviors to adopt, processes to implement and content to remember? I recently had this experience.

What’s missing from this scenario depends somewhat on our expectations of learning and, more importantly, our view of being human. Do we react to, manage, or adopt change? Or are we co-creators of change?

To accept the former view implies an understanding of being human as fixed, separate selves, independent of our circumstances that respond to change.

If we accept the latter view, as co-creators, we shift:

  • From doling out prescriptive behaviors, adopting “norms” to conform
  • To discovering descriptive practices, accessing “being” to co-create

To make this shift from behaviors to practices  a distinction unappreciated by many learning designs – first requires a fundamental paradigm shift in our understanding of being.

I will explore these questions in a two-part blog. In this blog, part one, I will first flesh out a new interdependent understanding of being. In part two, I will introduce the 12 practices that support this new understanding of being.

What Is Being?

Most psychological models relating to the self and human functioning imply that the self exists as a discrete, separate, and independent entity. However, ontological models relate to the self (being) or all phenomena not as a discrete stand-alone entity but as mutually dependent on numerous causes and conditions.

Consider the human body (part of our being), for example, as mutually dependent on the wind, sun, oceans, plants, and animals. Each offers us the vitamins and energy to breathe in and out of our cycle of life.

Being is not merely an internal state of thoughts, emotions, and sensations, nor is it some set of identities or discrete or separate self, independent of its world and experiences. Indeed, our thoughts and experience – an arising-together phenomenon – result from causes and conditions that interact with our world to give meaning to our existence.

This is a departure from our rational mindset and normative view, which seeks to find discrete causes to explain our experiences rather than appreciate the interdependent nature of our role in reality.

An Interdependent Awareness

The implications of being with our world are profound!

 We are related to the world in ways that are inextricably linked to our thoughts, experiences, multiple identities, and history, which is continually revealed in our mind, body, and language as we interact.

Our presence in the world discloses our potential, which is not yet realized or confined in the present and is always projected toward the future, and emerging in the present. The future we look forward to reveals a unique context: a possibility that brings aliveness as we co-create our moment-to-moment existence.

  Our consciousness precedes being in two unique ways. First, we are aware of the notion of past and future in the present. Second, we are aware of the inevitable certainty of our own death. This awareness gives life meaning. Our experiences reveal this unified temporal nature, as three dimensions of future, past, and present.

Key to accessing this expansive view of being centers on adopting an awareness as co-creators of our world – a mindset of continual inquiry that discovers and discloses ourselves with each interaction.

A Different Experience of Learning

As co-creators of our world, our experience can both reveal dimensions of our being and realize our potential with each interaction.

The fact that phenomena are fundamentally interconnected and interdependent (even without discrete boundaries) means that they are “empty” of a fixed essence or solid self. This nature of “non-self” is both “empty” of an inherently existing self and yet “full” of all things.

Zen Master and author Thich Nhat Hanh describes such an experience as “Interbeing,” dispelling any notion of “solitary beings.” He views us and the planet as one giant, “living, breathing cell, with all its working parts linked in symbiosis.”

“Ultimately, the purpose of learning, here, evolves from knowing and doing more to being more.”

Learning professionals, however, seldom appreciate this interdependent nature of being nor the generative capacity it reveals. They both impact learning and require unlearning.

  • Learning occurs between a fear and a need. The growth imperative is met by fear of the unknown, which reveals many causes and conditions that defy rational-only analysis; too many variables to codify in “behaviors” or to reduce to empirical measures.
  • Unlearning occurs between certainty and possibility. The willingness to let go of outmoded assumptions and beliefs often challenges our self-perception with latent doubt, guilt, and old insecurities. The remedy here requires greater wisdom and imagination rather than more knowledge and concepts.

To live between learning and unlearning entails a primary focus on intention, inquiry, imagination, and contemplation.

We must clear our minds to sort out identities, penetrate distractions, prioritize concerns, disclose concealed impediments, and tune in to experience for co-creating our existence. Indeed, the experience of our presence matters. To listen, relate, witness, and to be seen – all support connecting deeply with phenomena internally and externally.

Ultimately, the purpose of learning, here, evolves from knowing and doing more to being more. Tapping into our interdependent nature, we access new dimensions of humanity to expand intentional meaning-making as co-creators.

If we can become open to this possibility, the question then becomes how to clear ourselves to reveal and tune into the vessel that we are?

Why Practice?

Such profound questions and claims about our existence require a view of “self” beyond a rational, epistemological knowing self to also include an ontological felt sense of being.

Most pedagogical designs dismiss the tensions between concepts of knowledge and experience of being. We still view content and process as distinct, instead of inseparable phenomena. We separate language, time, energy, and action, managing each independently. And we’ve now begun to view intention and impact as distinct dynamics, preferencing the latter.

As we interact with our world – not via knowledge of concepts or singular events but as the connective tissue of our existence – we do not merely understand content, achieve goals, or experience impact. We also clarify our views and discern our intentions to discover the obstacles and choices that reveal the deep interconnectivity between thought and experience.

Ours is a journey not of increased performance or understanding concepts but of gaining new levels of clarity by examining the content of our consciousness.

  • Our aim is to experience being: to witness, experience, and co-create our existence.
  • Our ultimate goal is to calm our mind: to clear away the obstacles for tuning into the unfolding of wisdom.

In part two of this blog, I will introduce 12 practices that cultivate a new understanding of being and the kind of learning and unlearning to support an interdependent awareness.

Reading Time: 7 min. Digest Time: 11 min

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Tony Zampella is the learning designer at Bhavana Learning Group, which serves coaches, educators, and learning professionals and executives.

As an instructor, researcher, and designer of contemplative learning programs and practices, Tony’s work explores the human side of change by bringing wisdom to learning. His focus includes ontological inquiry, Integral meta-theory, and Buddhist psychology to sustain contemplative practice.