Learning Through Joy

by Steven Kessler

As I've gotten older, I've decided to focus more on Learning through Joy, rather than the usual method, Learning through Suffering.

What is that? Well, one answer to the question, “Why is there so much suffering in the world?” is that we need suffering to make us pay attention and learn whatever lessons we came here to learn. The idea behind this is that we choose to be born into the jungles of time and space in order to learn. And the way we learn is through experience – typically through the experience of solving a problem or healing a wound. Some problem arises, and in order to solve it, we have to learn something important.

So pain and suffering both start the learning process and what keep us at it until we solve the problem and end the pain. As the Chinese proverb says, “A problem you cannot get away from is a teacher.” And the phrase “cannot get away from” is important here because, if we can avoid the problem, we usually do. Then we have to create another problem to help us have that same experience and learn that same lesson. Life is very generous with us – it will present us with the same problem over and over again – in slightly different disguises – until we finally decide to face it and solve it. Once we have learned whatever we need to learn from that situation, it stops being a problem. That same situation may arise again, but now we're able to handle it without much suffering.

So the basic process goes like this:

  1. we have an experience of pain/suffering (the problem)

  2. we attempt to solve it, heal it, learn whatever we need to learn

  3. we finally succeed and the suffering dissolves

While Learning through Suffering is the most common way to learn, it is not the only way. There's another method, called Learning through Joy, or Learning through Love. What makes Learning through Joy & Love different is that it is not prompted by suffering, and it is not an attempt to stop that suffering. It is prompted by love for whatever is being learned and the feeling of joy in the learning of it. Many people learn this way about the things they love, like music, or dance, or art – or even mathematics, or mythology, or farming. Anything can be learned this way if the impulse to learn it is coming from love rather than an attempt to end personal suffering. One way to understand the difference is to ask yourself, Are you moving toward something or away from something? Are you trying to get closer to something you love or get away from something you dislike?

And of course, both these mechanisms can be active at the same time. Many times a person is both moving toward something they love and also trying to get away from some personal suffering. One example might be a teenager diving into music alone in her room, both out of love for the feelings it evokes and to get away from her crazy family and the feelings they evoke.

So ask yourself: what is motivating you in each of the learning situations in your life? Are you moving toward something or away from something? Both are okay, but you can often decrease your suffering by deciding to embrace the process and the learning, instead of resisting it.

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