Unlearning

2015 October 3
by Tanya McGinnity

The process of unlearning has been front and center in my life these days. My mother is dying and had packaged up a box of some various mementos for me – photos, notes, baby shoes, children’s books and every single one of my report cards. I haven’t been able to look at the box until the past week after it has sat on my desk for several months.

I read through the report cards last night and it was like stepping into a time machine. In reading the perfect penmanship of many a teacher, a pattern emerged of their reports of a kid who was obsessed with reading and writing, needed to work on her math (year after year), who once failed to turn in a book report and who had on and off good, then horrible attendance during grade 4. This may have been the year I developed a nervous stomach and used to barf in class. I will never forget leaving a huge milky hotdoggy spurt pile on the linoleum after lunch and the shame I felt – even to this day. I think for some who remember me, that is likely all that remains in their mind of me. Milky hotdoggy barfy girl.

So we have the book smarts all documented in bright, cheery looking card stock format and gradings of percentages or letters listed row upon row. We have some cursory notes from the teachers wishing me happy holidays or telling me to pull up my socks and hunker down with my math lessons. Some offered to give me extra help – others praised my creativity knowing that I wouldn’t be likely to be a brain surgeon but more apt to write Buzzfeed articles about “The Top 10 Kitten Memes of Calico Kitties Dressed as Brain Surgeons.” My lot in life. I accept that.

We also have the personality insights they left in the comments boxes.

  • Polite
  • Considerate
  • Quiet
  • Very focused on her work
  • Results-oriented
  • Works well with the other students

OK. So that was good right? Anyone would be delighted if their kid came home with a report card listing that praise.

This is where the unlearning is now taking place. As a kid, I was raised to be a perfectionist. To do NO wrong. To hold it all inside. Hold it together. Don’t do anything to upset anyone. Don’t do anything to get noticed. Stay calm. Stay chill. Even if you felt like crying, running away, laughing, speaking even… you were a child and children were meant to be “seen and not heard.”

Books were my BFF. A way for me to easily be seen and not heard. I read stories about mischievous kids who had all kinds of renegade adventures and were definitely seen and heard. Smash the state little Madeline. Fuck yeah Nancy Drew.

TV was my BFF. There were kids on the screen who were solving crimes, reporting the news, hanging out with cool dogs. They weren’t barfing up their lunch onto the floor.

Music was my BFF. It was like the poetry and stories I was finding escape in- but just with the added melodies hanging around in the background. It was like a mix of books and TV except the visuals weren’t on a TV set, but being created in my mind based on the lyrics.

Fast forward to “today’s modern Tanya.” You are reading a blog post by a writer/journalist/editor/creative with a Netflix addiction who seriously nerds out over music. That kid is still there. That part of me hasn’t changed. All my teachers likely saw that this was where I’d end up – except for that guidance counselor who told me I should go to beauty school, which was less of a helpful bit of guidance and more of a snide remark to the 16 year old who sat in front of her with a blue-tinted hair cut which could best be described as a “reverse mohawk.”

What has changed is the “be seen and not heard” inheritance that was genetically passed along my way. I’ve been trying hard these days to spot when I hold myself back from sharing – for fear of being seen and heard. I’ve kept myself out of the spotlight for fear of failure, for fear of being called out as lame. I’ve cut myself off of many awesome experiences out of fear. I am now active in unlearning. Active in schooling myself in a new way. Chasing away the messages of Do Better, You’re Fucking This All Up, Try Harder, Well Maybe Don’t Try Because You Will Fuck This All Up, Ah Why Bother It Will Only Suck Anyways.

Self compassion is a big part of the unlearning.

Times have been quite difficult lately. What has emerged from all of this pain, confusion and heartache is a new approach to how I view my life. I’m engaging in the grueling work of letting go. I’m rubbed raw from holding on to the rope, having clung to my hope that some things in life could have worked out differently. I’m massaging salve into my hands and looking to heal. I’m resting my voice from shouting obscenity after obscenity at myself. I’m drinking some of that woo-woo herbal tea with honey that many of you are fond of after I had labelled it as the ‘weaksauce’ of a lesser vehicle vs. the powerful Gatorade of the Mahayana. I really thought I was in the weightlifting rounds of the Mahayana and ready to save the world with my Boddhisattva superhero costume, not realizing that saying you love yourself first is more than saying it and convincing yourself that’s the case, but actually doing the work day after day after day.

Lifting oneself up is the greatest gift to oneself and others. Tapping into what we’ve been taught and questioning that is a great place to start. Seeing that we’re not fixed, our circumstances aren’t fixed – there is nothing that we can cling to. Resting with that – as terrifying as that can be. Learning that there’s always a different way of seeing. Despair – Hope. Pain – Healing. Attachment – Letting go. Not all that’s bad is good and not all that’s good is bad.

And my process of unlearning continues…

3 Responses
  1. Natalie permalink
    October 4, 2015

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this.
    And sending huge hugs and strength.

  2. October 4, 2015

    I so resonate with your experience and all you’ve shared. It’s really about making the Dharma real in our own life and applying it to ourself too. Otherwise, it’s just another mind trip. It’s easy to get caught in the comfort of a mind trip though. So thanks for reminding us to make it real. I’m unlearning right beside you.

  3. October 5, 2015

    I find hearing about others journey’s so inspiring and reassuring, so thanks for sharing. As Sandra says, if we don’t apply the dharma to our lives, it’s just a mind trip. The real benefit is in doing what you’re doing. That’s what dharma is for. As with Sandra, I too am unlearning. It’s scary to trust the process sometimes, but the rewards are worth it.

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