Unlearning

I invite guest bloggers to contribute their musings on what is meaningful to their lives and personal evolution as it relates to our world at large. My intention is that readers learn from encountering individual, unique experiences in order to expand their capacity for kindness, compassion, and right action in all circumstances. —LS

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Middle age is a funny thing. Some of us reach this point after years of fighting, scrapping, jostling for position in a world that can be cruel, cold, and magical. Some of us have children whom we have loved more than we ever thought possible as we guided them through decades of life. Some of us have deep friendships that have seen us through the darkest of days and brought us more light than we knew we needed. Some of us are caring for aged parents who have transgressed to needing us as much as we needed them when we were children. We are often pulled in myriad directions, giving to others more than we care for ourselves and remaining happy to do it. But, when we reach this point, something changes, at least it did for me. I started to care less about what others think and more about what I need, what I think, and how I feel. This was new and, well, strange to me. At first it felt a little selfish, but then I began to unlearn.

A friend of mine told me that when her son was born, a psychiatrist said to her, “Your job as a parent is just a series of letting him go as he reaches different stages.” I thought about how this sums up life for all of us. Life really is just learning and letting go, repeatedly. Sometimes, we must let go of what we’ve learned—ain’t that a kick in the pants? We need to unlearn what we’ve spent years mastering. 

When, as young adults, we head off to school or start lives of our own, we need to unlearn being a child and become an adult; when we get married, we need to unlearn thinking only of ourselves and become part of a couple; when we start a family, we need to unlearn being only a couple and become a familial unit; when our children head to preschool and kindergarten, we need to unlearn being their only caregiver and begin to share that responsibility with teachers; when those children grow even older, we need to unlearn making decisions for them as they become their own people and start to make their own choices; when those same children leave the nest, we need to unlearn being parents and become a couple again; we need to unlearn that our family is what defines us and relearn who we are. It’s the cycle of life—learning and letting go, unlearning and relearning. We must shed what doesn’t work for us any longer and embrace what nourishes our soul. As we shed our former lives and bloom into another stage of life, we need to feed our passions, take time to ourselves, for ourselves. We do not have to sacrifice quite as much anymore as we enter the final decades of our lives. We can sit back and watch the fruits of our labors.

In a way, for me at least, my unlearning comes at a time when our country seems to have hit middle age as well. Like many people who fight the aging process and reject change, our country seems to be fighting it every step of the way. One of my favorite lines from a favorite television show is, “Nothing changes except what has to.” I believe you must allow change to happen for new and beautiful things to open before you. If it’s uncomfortable, that’s okay, that’s where the most growth happens. But to keep doing things a certain way because “that’s how we’ve always done it,” makes you stagnant and rigid, unaccepting and closed-minded. 

As a country, we have come to a point in time where there is much change, so many new and unfamiliar ideas that we may not understand are emerging. To stay the course and embrace the status quo of what is accepted and what is not no longer serves the good of all. Those who came before us did the best they could with the information they had. We have more and better information now. We must move forward, acknowledging past hurts to get through them. We must take responsibility for our part in the hurt and look for ways to change, to grow. We must unlearn ways of thinking that served a system meant to degrade and hold power over certain segments of humanity. Just as caring for my children and making decisions for them served us as a family when they were very young, that way of parenting does not serve us now that they are adults. I had to recognize that what was is not what is any longer. I had to adjust in order to best support those I love and for me, as well. I believe we are at that same place as a country. What was cannot be what is. We need to unlearn old ways of thinking. We need to listen, let go, and relearn. We need to become again.

Both on a personal level as well as a country, if we stop and listen, we will hear our heart song and know that love for ourselves exists and when we can love ourselves, we can love others. This is not selfish, as I at first thought it was. It is how life works. As we look inward to what our heart is telling us, we will start to recognize what we need to heal and move forward. 

Nothing changes except what has to. 

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Cindi Pietrzyk is a Connecticut-based creative consultant with almost three decades of experience in the publishing industry. Now entering a new phase of her life as her children leave the nest to become their very own people, she plans to push the limits a bit, care a little less about what other people think, and encourage and help those who wish to speak their truth. She spends a lot of time listening now and less time talking. She believes our world is at a crossroads and that what we do now counts. History is watching and when our children’s children’s children look back, she wants them to be proud of what we did. 

Top image credit: Nita