The Brain Need Not Grow Old
From Martin LeFevre in California
By the time I take my seat beside the little creek that runs along the
perimeter of the town, thereís only ten minutes of direct, warm sunshine
left in a bright autumn day in northern California. The earthís rotation
slowly turns down the burner, and one feels the temperature drop as the
sun slides toward the horizon.
The lamp of lamps seems to sit on the horizon for a minute, speaking of
death and dying without a single tear. Deep lavender bathes the
foothills to the south and east. One turns to look at the sun setting,
and when one turns back toward the hills, they hold only their flat,
The sun and another day are gone. Does one let go completely, or look to
tomorrow, and so wear the chains of a thousand yesterdays?
A pale white sheet of light covers the flat surface of the creek
upstream. The sound from a washboard section directly below the great,
bifurcated sycamore tree washes over one. The stream competes with the
road a half-mile away for aural predominance, and despite the traffic
The fading light in the western sky holds back the night, and whispers
through the nearly leafless trees of mysteries beyond the power of
language to convey.
Without introducing a dichotomy, there are two kinds of learning, but
most people are aware of and only experience one. Learning, as we know
it (pardon the redundancy), is a matter of accumulation. Knowledge is
not knowledge unless there is accretion. Even when something is
discovered to be false in science, and is thrown out, it opens the way
to the enlargement of a body of knowledge. In other words, subtraction
is part of a larger process of addition.
Inward learning is of a completely different nature however. It is a
process of negation, with no intention or action of accumulation. Inward
learning is like science in its rigor of questioning and observation,
but it grows through a process of negation, not addition.
Understanding has no content. That insight is so foreign to most people
that it may make no sense, but once one understands it, it makes more
sense than anything.
The positive movement, essential to science, prevents spiritual growth.
Inwardly, in negating the false, the true is.
The two kinds of learning are not opposed however. As long as the
negative movement of inward learning is held first, the accumulative
processes of science are in harmony with it, and the unfolding of the
human being and the human prospect.
Another kind of knowledge that we all recognize is experience. It too is
accumulative, and though universally seen as a positive movement,
experience is actually the greatest impediment to inward learning. As we
age, experience grows like algae in the brain, clogging the spaces of
the mind, preventing fresh perception, and eventually destroying the
plasticity and elasticity of the brain itself.
It isnít that experience has no value; itís that when itís given primary
value, and not attended to and negated on a daily basis, memory
subconsciously accretes and slowly suffocates the individual, and the
The brain does not need to grow old. All the mental exercises in the
world make little difference if one doesnít understand this one
thingónegation of experience.
Given the growing glut of information bombarding us from all sides, and
because useful knowledge can now be stored in computers, the art of
unlearning has become an urgent necessity for the individual.
Children can and must be taught both kinds of learning. But to learn the
art of unlearning, a child has to see it operating in a primary
caregiver. Unlearning cannot be positively taught, and speaking about it
without actually doing it sets up another conflict in the child.
To question these things together and ignite shared insight is a
tremendous thing, the highest action human beings are capable of
What brings about such enquiry? First, the intent (not intention) by all
participants to follow the thread of a question as it unfolds, not a
leader as he or she directs. Second, there has to be a willingness to
hold beliefs and opinions, and even knowledge and experience, in
That is the most difficult thing for many people to do, but if one plays
with it, enquiry is fun. Of course, fun is in the eye the beholder.