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Learning by Discovery: The World of the Autodidact

Learning by Discovery: The World of the Autodidact

Are you one of those people who not only enjoy studying but have crafted their entire existence around learning, research, and finding awe in nearly everything? Do you thrive when learning by discovery over learning by instruction? Me too. That’s what drew me to the book How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J.Learning by Discovery Adler and Charles Van Doren.

Being an autodidact, or one who is self-taught, is a life belonging to the passionate. One cannot be compelled to this life, it’s an intrinsic drive toward self-actualization, a thirst to know the depths of a topic, seeing the web of connections that usher forth new ideas and embodied understanding.

In Adler and Van Doren’s book on how to be a better reader, one who reads to understand, we can explore what it means to be an autodidact who learns from reading, experience, and the world itself, and what skills are acquired and required in this lifelong dedication to learning by discovery.

What is learning by discovery?

Adler and Van Doren state:

“In the history of education, men have often distinguished between learning by instruction and learning by discovery. Instruction occurs when one person teaches another through speech or writing. We can, however, gain knowledge without being taught. If this were not the case, and every teacher had to be taught what he, in turn, teaches others, there would be no beginning the acquisition of knowledge. Hence, there must be discovery – the process of learning something by research, by investigation, or by reflection, without being taught.”

Questioning is the beginning of learning. When one has a curious mind and doesn’t take what’s on the surface as the ultimate knowledge of a thing, they are immediately poised to be a deep diver for meaning and truth. To learn by discovery is to be asking questions of the world and then listening with elephant ears and owl eyes.

Why would someone wish to be an autodidact?

Why would one want to dedicate their life to learning? They’re likely compelled to seek truth, understanding, greater meaning, and advanced personal growth. This drive is part of their essence, a mandated mission that calls to them at every turn.

With infinite questions about everything in existence, including oneself, desiring the truth about things often presents as a voracious hunger. The ability to see meaning as a transmutable, flowing, contrived and configured thing can lead a person to submerge themselves in an ocean of wisdom in hopes of even the smallest bit of living, green sustenance sticks to their limbs.

“If you remember what an author says, you have learned something from reading him. If what he says is true, you have even learned something about the world.”

As Adler and Van Doren note, not all we read will be truth, but what is memorable can still be used as fodder for personal growth. The sensitive and objective autodidact will learn to sense and see the difference between truth and conjecture intuitively.

It is this sorting and sifting that eventually illuminates new avenues of understanding, satisfying, at least momentarily, the voracious curiosity of the lifelong student. This path provides unlimited opportunities for personal and societal evolution, as one who is motivated to learn is often motivated to make a positive contribution to the world.

What’s the difference between being informed and being enlightened?

Being informed is par for course on the journey toward being enlightened about any given topic, but one must not stop there.

“To be informed is to know simply that something is the case. To be enlightened is to know, in addition, what it is all about: why is it the case, what its connections are with other facts, in what respects it is the same, in what respects it is different, and so forth.”

In this quote, Adler and Van Doren show us that knowing something “is the case” is not nearly enough to consider oneself knowledgeable about a topic. In fact, this can lead to misinformation and misunderstanding. To truly attempt to learn the breadth of what is to be known one must explore the corners and shadows and connections and comparisons available to us. They sum up this notion by saying:

“Enlightenment is achieved only when, in addition to knowing what an author says, you know what he means and why he says it.”

How does one go about learning deeply while reading?

syntopical readingSyntopical reading, or comparative reading, is not only a method of reading, it’s a way of life for the autodidact.

If one has a specific fascination or topic of study, all that one reads, watches, sees, and otherwise encounters, becomes part of a web of connections feeding into understanding that topic. Alder and Van Doren introduce us to syntopical reading by explaining:

“When reading syntopically, the reader reads many books, not just one, and places them in relation to one another and to a subject about which they all revolve. But mere comparison of texts is not enough. Syntopical reading involves more. With the help of the books read, the syntopical reader is able to construct an analysis of the subject that may not be in any of the books. It is obvious, therefore, that syntopical reading is the most active and effortful kind of reading.”

For example, I’m passionate about studying intuition, identity, the unconscious mind, and meaning. Pieces of conversation, the movement of a tree, or the day’s challenges all give me fodder for my research whether directly or through metaphor. The books I choose to read, fiction and expository works, regardless of their specific topic or theme, help me gather seemingly unrelated information and wisdom which can lead to innovation, insight, and deeper understanding.

As Alder and Van Doren tell us, “The art of reading, in short, includes all of the same skills that are involved in the art of unaided discovery: keenness of observation, readily available memory, range of imagination, and, of course, an intellect trained in analysis and reflection.”

It’s Not All About Intellect

And lastly, Alder and Van Doren know that intellect and analysis are only part of the world of learning by discovery.

“Thinking is only one part of the activity of learning. One must also use one’s senses and imagination. One must observe, remember, and construct imaginatively what cannot be observed.”

Reading, analysis, research of any kind, are all essential aspects of lifelong learning, but only in equal proportion to the world of sensuality and imagination.

How fortunate we are to have bodies that take in information that then triggers feelings, memories, connections, which can lead us to insight and even transformation. Just the act of observing in silence is a gift to anyone seeking truth and expansion, and a sense of the oneness that connects all things.

The imaginal realm is often said to be the world of the right brain, and the free association plane of dreams and our unconscious Self. This is where the truest form of magic happens within, and where the fruits of analysis and knowledge can be effortlessly incorporated into something new, something unique from one’s own perspective. It’s from this place our intuition sends our conscious mind its most creative discoveries.

To learn by discovery, to be self-taught, and to live life as an autodidact, is to be constantly receiving, integrating, and transforming. We are permeable and transitory filters of this human experience, moved by a will to create and evolve. Are you an autodidact too? Would you have it any other way?



Is Ancestral Knowledge The Same As Intuition?

Is Ancestral Knowledge The Same As Intuition?

Beliefs and tradition can be a source of comfort and hope. We may adopt rituals and practices from ancient religions or ancestral knowledge to make sense of our current challenges, our environment, our relationships to all within and without. The search for existential meaning is alive in all of us with varying degrees of passion and purpose. These forms of meaning creation don’t originally come from intuition, rather, they become part of our intuitive knowing through repeated stories, traditions, and rituals.

In many cases, beliefs come not from intuition, but from the collective consciousness. Interpretations of the world and its nuances are taken from society, whatever social groups to which we belong (and sometimes from groups to which we do not belong).

ancestral knowledge

What Is Not Ours, Is Not Intuitive

When we take from societies we aren’t a part of, for whatever reason, this borrowing of consciousness, and of ritual, may feel or appear inauthentic because our own experiences and environments are not the same as those who developed these particular perspectives. We may mimic or agree, but we are not of the world where these ideas and traditions were born from. We may share in their reverence, but these are not our inherited stories, nor are they our stories to tell. We may take pieces of their wisdom and align it with our own, seeing connectedness and honoring humanity’s many tender facets, cherishing symbols of the indomitable spirit of our inner Self, but to wear the traditions of another as our own when we are only visitors in their ancestral plane is a spiritual facade or not part of one’s own intuitive ancestral knowledge.

Ancestral Knowledge Comes From Many Sources

Ancestral knowledge can be physical, as in the lineage our DNA passes down or as what Carl Jung refers to as the collective unconscious, a heritage of symbolic knowledge from the beginning of humanity; environmental, what we learn through absorption and experience; historical, the stories, legends, myths, and rituals that are given to generations to come. We hold all of these forms of celebration of the past within our bodies and minds so deeply the information feels intuitive.

For the most part, these things that enrich our life experience are learned, not things we magically arrive at by way of a deep meditative state or channeled from a spirit beyond. Although, meditation and other spiritual rituals can bring us into a state of presence more conducive to unearthing our subconscious wealth.

We Are Tied to One Another By Emotion

Traditions themselves aren’t magical, the way we interact with them is. Our feelings of sacredness, connection, ecstatic revelation, suspension of mundane reality – our emotions are the magic. The wands, cards, dancing, chanting, and other practices and tools are a means to which we create an emotional landscape of reverence and celebration. The stories of traditions and myths create a shared reality that links us to those before and amongst us. They give us meaning in a world where seemingly infinite possibilities overwhelm us in their unraveling.

Beautiful and confounding is this ability we humans hold to craft an entire world within our mind, reinforced by meaning-imbued words and actions. This is the magic I see in spirituality. It’s the magic of consciousness embodied in a form blessed with language and rich complexity. Stories and traditions bring our individual histories and our shared history to life in new ways. We visit each other’s cultures and share experiences this way, and we honor what feels intuitive inside us by making conscious the embedded stories that bring deep meaning to existence.

Heal Your Inner Critic with the Internal Family Systems Model

Heal Your Inner Critic with the Internal Family Systems Model

You’re sitting down to write and that darn critic inside your head starts with the same old attacks and insults. The inner critic knows exactly what’s needed to trigger your tender inner child’s worst fears of not being good enough, smart enough, or of being too much.

While this interaction takes place entirely in your head, it can leave you feeling drained, alone, worthless, and paralyzed in creative endeavors.   

inner critic

The cycle of the inner critic has me wanting a cookie and a little wine.

There’s another part of you that tries to calm the inner child and quiet the pain with coping mechanisms learned long ago. This is when addictions and unhealthy choices may come into play further fueling the critic’s attacks and continuing this injurious cycle. These patterns will repeat until you change how you relate to your injured parts.

Lasting change to internal dialogue happens by becoming a loving, wise leader and healer of these inner parts of yourself. Reparent yourself and update those old survival techniques by accessing inner wisdom and compassion.

What is the IFS Model?

The Internal Family Systems Model (IFS), developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz, is a gentle and productive way to unite and heal aspects of the mind by developing self-leadership and changing learned behaviors and perspectives. Using this model can help you develop self-compassion for all aspects of yourself, even the parts that feel critical and controlling.

The basics of this model of healing assert that it is natural for the mind to be divided into parts, all of these parts have good intentions and have taken on roles they weren’t ready for at an early age, and we all have a Self that naturally knows how to heal and lead all of our parts skillfully.

“A person who is leading with the Self is easy to identify. Others describe such a person as open, confident, accepting — as having presence. They feel immediately at ease in a Self-led person’s company, as they sense that it is safe to relax and release their own Selves.” Dr. Richard Schwartz, PhD

To integrate these parts and create a harmonious internal environment, we must be able to recognize the guidance of our higher Self and allow it to be the leader.

As a good leader, this Self values the skills and contributions of all parts and sees their worth even in tough times. This compassionate acknowledgment provides the safe space each inner aspect of ourselves needs to feel connected and creative. All of our parts will feel represented and acknowledged and be able to contribute their skills and talents without going to extremes or being aggressive.

Let’s take a look at how to work with your inner critic and perfectionistic tendencies using the IFS Model. We’ll try to tap into that Self that knows mistakes are beautiful too.

How do I get that inner critic to stop calling me names?

Confronting your critic harshly will not work. These parts of you are like parts of a family. They are all your inner children who have been forced to take on roles beyond their abilities. Compassion is necessary to get these parts functioning at their best.

To re-parent yourself and develop a healthy inner world you must hear the stories of your inner children and gently release them from the past where they had to protect your more vulnerable parts from real threats. To heal is to integrate all of these parts, understand their purpose and their mission, and create space for them to feel safe and cared for.

To do this, you must focus on one aspect of your inner world at a time, and ask any extreme voices to step back and allow you to talk only with the inner critic, for example.

You want to get to know the critic, their mission and their worries. Asking parts that have judgments against the critic to step back, can make accessing the true Self easier. This creates an entirely new emotional space where you invite the curious, compassionate, and calm Self instead of feelings of confusion, ambivalence, and frustration from other inner parts.

For examples of this “stepping back” process, you can learn more about the IFS Model at The Center for Self Leadership.

Are you excited to try this process, but don’t know where to start?

Healing Journal Prompts

Click here to download the prompts.

I’ve created a series of journal prompts to help you use the Internal Family Systems Model to heal your inner critic. Click the image below to download immediately.

How do I become a compassionate leader to my inner aspects?

Inside of all of us, we have access to our higher Self. It’s the container for all of our parts, the trolley that takes us to our destination. This Self is a compassionate leader and knows how to heal intuitively.

Many spiritual practices have a name for this Self. It is the soul, Atman, Buddha-nature, Advaita Vedanta. It is pure awareness.

When we relax our thinking, judging mind and create a healing space inside, we access this connected, loving Self. Allow this Self to be your guide inside and out and you will operate from a place of intuitive knowing and relating. 

What are the 8 Cs of Self-Leadership? 

internal family systems model

Have you ever been in the presence of someone who felt rooted like a tree and exuded such a secure sense of themselves it calmed your nerves immediately? It’s likely this person embodied the 8 Cs of Self-Leadership seen in the graphic here.

Learning to accept all of our parts and to relate to ourselves with unconditional love and compassion eases the anxiety that often keeps us from being present. Releasing anxiety as a way of being creates a vast space for these eight qualities to express themselves.

Being calm allows us to be curious and connected. Feeling confident brings clarity and courage. Compassion paves the path for creativity to flourish. Using the IFS model regularly can help ease your critical inner voice and create an environment conducive to embodying these qualities.

It’s easy to continue on with the internal dialogue we’re used to, but that means the same results continue too. Relating to ourselves compassionately must be an intentional process. This is why the Internal Family Systems Model is genius. It provides a framework to have an internal therapy session or just an honest and supportive familial conversation with the hurting and burdened parts of ourselves.

Every aspect of your inner world deserves love and compassion. The inner critic has dedicated their life to protecting your most wounded parts. Respect and appreciation for this once necessary function creates an environment where peace can grow. With a little love and tenderness, maybe that critic will become your champion.

Many thanks to Thomas Hübl and the Collective Trauma Summit 2019 for featuring the conversation with Dr. Richard Schwartz, Ph.D. and Terry Patten on using the IFS Model for personal healing. This post was inspired by that transformative exercise. 

Let Go of Control: A Brief Visual Meditation

Let Go of Control: A Brief Visual Meditation

Life is a practice in letting go.

To immerse ourselves in the present moment, we must let go of control, and let go of stories that no longer hold true.

When we practice letting go without resistance, we allow ourselves to flow with life.

Letting go includes welcoming something new, or something changed.

I made this meditation the morning after I decided to let go of a few things in my business in favor of listening to my intuition, my heart’s calling.

As I observed the smoke leaving its place of origin and becoming its own work of art, I let go of control.

Each day, I remind myself to surrender to my experience. I will allow myself to be guided by the voice inside me that connects us all.

How I Brainstorm – Quick Tour of My Business Grimoire

How I Brainstorm – Quick Tour of My Business Grimoire

I love the glide of a fine tip, black gel ink pen on fresh textured paper.

Writing this way feels like my heart and mind are pouring out through the ink in slow motion.

When I need a blank canvas and no constraints, this is where I start. All of my projects, big and small, begin with free-form brainstorms in my Business Grimoire.

Why is it called a Business Grimoire?

business grimoireA grimoire is traditionally where a witch keeps her spells and invocations, magical instructions.

This book is where I write down my business goals and intentions and make dreams, once ephemeral, come to life on the pages. It contains instructions on how to bring about what I, and those who work with me, most desire.

While I’m a very practical woman, I’m also deeply spiritual. I see magic in all that is. I believe in synchronicity, energy, and the power of focus. What we focus on, or practice regularly, creates our reality. My grimoire helps me focus creative energy and practice birthing the gifts that live inside.

What types of stuff do I keep inside?

Ideas are born in my Business Grimoire. Any newborn thought or conversation is first spoken to those pages, then put inside my main writing drafts container, Scrivener, for further development.

mind mapIts pages hold:

  • mindmaps
  • brainstorms
  • outlines
  • timelines
  • journal entries
  • rough drawings
  • thoughts and ideas from conversations with kindred spirits and clients
  • explorations of my fears and hopes

I review this book monthly to choose the best ideas for the next stage of creation. For example, you’ll soon see a workshop on how to make your own mindmaps to work out problems, and I’ll include a video of how I set up my meal plans in Scrivener in my next online course.

How do you brainstorm? Do you have a system for reviewing your ideas? Is there something from my grimoire you’d like to know more about? Let me know in the comments below. 

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Do You Self-Sabotage by Taking on Too Much at Once?

Do You Self-Sabotage by Taking on Too Much at Once?

Do you self-sabotage by underestimating how much time you need to get things done?

One of the biggest causes of overwhelm is underestimating how much time a task will actually take to complete, and taking on too much as a result.

Before I paused my coaching practice to focus on creating online courses, I had a client who consistently didn’t allow enough time to complete her big dream projects, thus setting herself up for disappointment and overwhelm.

She wanted to launch a podcast and gave herself one week to locate and price a recording studio and complete five interviews, which had not yet been scheduled. She didn’t consider many of the other tasks that go along with starting a new podcast such as, setting it up with iTunes, creating a home for it on a website, writing the questions and plotting out the storyline and theme, etc.

This wasn’t the only project she was underestimating. She had previously planned to create an opt-in, have her web person program a pop-up, create a landing page, and send out an email to a cold list of subscribers all while she was working on a deadline writing project from a client. On top of all that, she was coming down with the flu. She gave herself three days to do this, without considering the emotional work and day to day stuff she had to do.

Does this sound familiar? We all do this at times. Time management is a multi-faceted skill set with deep emotional ties for some of us.

Could the Issue Be Fear-Based?

There are emotional and logistical factors involved in estimating the scope and weight of any project you take on.

Emotionally, we create situations that seem familiar or reinforce our long-held limiting beliefs about ourselves. If you have a belief that you’re “not good enough,” taking on too much may serve to confirm that belief.

If you’re used to being under stress and pressure, you may overload your schedule because it feels familiar, even if it’s not serving your new goals and beliefs.

There can be many emotional payoffs for staying in overwhelm. My client was setting herself up for failure, she could confirm her long-standing beliefs that she was unworthy of success.

You may be saying to yourself, “Why would anyone want themselves to fail?”

Think about how much more comfortable known disappointment is versus the fear involved with succeeding and entering an unknown world of challenges and vulnerability. Clinging to limiting beliefs, and staying in a state of overwhelm, may seem more comfortable to our subconscious minds.

Logistically, my client didn’t have a system for estimating just how much work she was committing herself to, and how to realistically set aside time for the tasks. She needed to slow down, do a little planning before committing to a project or deadline, and establish a visual way to see where her time was going.

Do You Want to Stop Taking on Too Much at Once? WATCH THIS VIDEO.

With a few practices that elevate your self-awareness, you can start to know exactly how much time you have for new projects and identify your personal working style.

I’ve been using the same system for over a decade to help me estimate how much time I really have available and the amount of time and energy new tasks will require from me.

How to Do This For Yourself

It starts with setting realistic, yet ambitious goals, then break them down into next actions.

If you’re doing something for the first time, you likely can’t predict every step or action needed to complete the project. You may just have to jump in there and try it out. You will soon see more of the picture as you start doing.

For example, my partner is new to pitching freelance writing prospects. He set aside one hour for researching companies to send cold emails to. When he actually did the task, he realized it was going to take more work.

He broke down “researching companies” into smaller next actions. He had to dig deeper than finding a general email address and find the right person to send the email to, someone who could be a contact for him.

I suggested he envision what else may need to be done in this process. He would need to draft the pitch email, consider what areas of the email would change for each pitch, edit the final drafts, format them in the email program he’d use. While he was waiting for responses, he would need to draft and edit a follow-up email. I also suggested before he starts this process, he set up a spreadsheet to collect the information he would need to track his pitches and responses.

What he originally estimated to be a one-hour job was actually a two-week sprint. He would set aside 1-2 hours, every other day, for the next two weeks, not including the waiting period for responses, on his Google Calendar.

When he thought the project would only take one hour, and he failed to achieve what was planned, it was disappointing, even a little deflating. Now he feels confident he can accomplish the project, and do a great job, in the time he’s earmarked.

Is the Effort Worth It?

When you’re doing something new, fear and doubt will often linger around your head. You’re making new neural connections, establishing new habits and ways of seeing. It takes extra time and focus to get new habits going. Be persistent. Don’t give up because it takes extra effort to start something new. Your effort will pay off in no time, and you’ll have the new skill of being the master of how you spend your time.

What goal or project are you going to break down into next actions and plot on your calendar? Let me know in the comments. Have you tried this system or another system? I’d love to hear about it!

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