On a bright and hot Saturday morning I find myself sitting in an old historical house taking a botany class. It is Botany for Artists to be exact. I will not call myself an artist but I am learning to draw – plants of course. So this class is the perfect thing. I have taught elementary science for years, I have an on going love/hate relationship with my garden (don’t all gardeners) and I am learning to draw.
I will say up front it really is the perfect class but as I sit there thinking I can handle this I slowly begin to sink into the couch I am sitting on during the lecture. The terms and Latin are coming at me fast and furious. My spelling is failing me and as I try to correct my notes our teacher has now made 5 new interesting and important points that I have missed. I take notes as best I can and will review later I keep telling myself. I am now breathing fast and my shoulders are getting tighter and tighter. I assure myself it is just hot in this room.
We move to drawing and the microscopes – fun yes!! Well, I forget my eyes have aged and the bifocals are driving me nuts. I need to work with the microscope in a new way -another layer of learning – but I got this! Right?
I return to my desk to draw and see the beautifully detailed drawing of the botanical artists around me. (Oh yes, the comparison game is happening here.) They have been drawing for years and are really good. I pull out my drawing pad and slowing and shyly work in my corner of the room. See, it almost looks like the flower we are drawing – I am learning I tell myself.
As the 2 and half hours end I pack up and quietly leave with a sigh. My brain is swimming in new information, terms, ways of working and how to’s. Layers and layers of learning were taking over. I loved it but I also noticed the fear and sadness in myself in how much I did not know. There was so much to learn in so many different directions. My self concept was pretty low. When I got home the drawing journal and notes got put to the back of my desk and I have not touched it for two days. The words ringing in the back of my head are I can’t do this. Why did I think I was so smart and could handle this class? These people are way smarter than I.
Oh, that old negative self talk can slip out of it’s hiding place really quickly. I sulked all weekend and acted like a little kid. (Aren’t we all little kids when we begin learning new things? oh please tell me it is true!!!)
On Monday I went to yoga where my instructor pulls me into her garden. “You have to help me,” she says. “What is wrong with my plants ?”
For me it was easy to see there were aphids everywhere. We talked about how to get rid of them. We walked the garden and I helped her identify a few plants and gave suggestions on what might help or where to read about the issues she was having. She was please and I was thinking I know this stuff.
We moved inside and settled into a long yoga session of stretching and letting go and that is when I saw it or felt it – the layers and layers of learning and learners. The self concept issue dropped away and I realized once again we are all learners all the time.
Each of us at different levels at different times around different topics. I moved away from thinking that not knowing something is a failure or a lack of smartness. Not knowing is just a place to start – a beginning that builds over time to knowing. It does not connect to ability or smartness – not knowing is just not being exposed to these ideas, concepts, processes, skills or words at this time.
You know at 65 years of age you would think I could remember this and not sink into that old pattern of feeling bad or stupid. This thinking pattern goes way back to childhood and is hard to erase from our emotional self. It takes time, reflection and patiences with oneself to remember we are all learners.
It is ok to be a learner even when you are old!