What is the mechanism of effective learning in life?

Thoughts about the strength of spiritual retreats
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1. Alternating good and bad periods are needed for learning in nature. During the past centuries mankind increasingly identified the idea of good with wealth. However, escaping from the bad is a wrong strategy because hardships coming from time to time are necessary to slow down, to stop, and to think about that from all that we have collected what are the few ones worth taking forward. It is important from time to time to deprive ourselves from the comfort and from the unbelievable information input in which we have lived before and go to "meditate in the wild". Spiritual retreats are very good forms of this. It is crucial to help our fellow human beings, who live their lives continuously in poor and bad times letting them to overcome this situation. (If you would like to read more about this, please read my essay here.)

 

2. Alternating good and bad periods are also important in the development of our souls. In nature learning may only proceed by the alterations of resource-rich and resource-poor periods. Alternating good and bad periods play a very important role in soul development, too. Alterations of good and bad are required that a nation, a church, an anything, which is valuable in the long term, may be formed. Thus the consecutive emotional "ups" and "downs" of sermons and spiritual retreats reflect exactly the same Knowledge which appears in the whole nature, and which is the most efficient way to obtain new experiences. (If you would like to read more about this, please read my essay here.)

 


3. What is the result of the learning process? There is an increase in the complexity, response-range and information content of the system, which learns. In other words: those who may learn from the ups and downs of life become wiser. Still in other words: the soul, which successfully passed some spiritual exercises gets closer to God. God is the Totality of knowledge. If we think about this, we may recognize that the three processes described here, are, in essence, exactly the same. Nature seeks after and heads to the place from where it was born: God’s Totality. (If you would like to read more about this, please read my essay here.)

 


 

Introduction. It became clear only in my last essay before the summer holiday that all the previous blog posts that far had been interpretations of each line of The Lord’s Prayer. I’ve decided that in this season I make it clear from the beginning that until the next summer essays will follow each other according to the course of a spiritual retreat. "Why?", my Reader may ask. Please find three answers to this question.

  1. Let me start with a personal reason. I have accomplished two Saint Ignatian spiritual retreats. I completed the 32 weeks’ long everyday retreat in 2017, while in June, 2018, I participated in a 30 days’ long retreat. In the meantime I was given unthinkably lot of joy, poise, wisdom and depth. In the coming season of the blog I would like to share the joy and knowledge I received during these spiritual retreats.
  2. I continue with a scientific reason. The course of spiritual retreats follows a W-like emotional path. Spiritual retreats begin in happiness. Then they lead to the depths of recognizing our sins. After that as the middle upwards segment of the letter "W" retreats raise us to the heights of joy, then they show the depths of Christ's suffers and death. Finally, the wonderful, redeeming joy of fulfillment comes. In this essay I will sum up why these "ups-and-downs" make an amazingly effective form of learning not only in Saint Ignatian spiritual retreats but in the whole nature, too. Let me encourage the Reader to try this out. It has been working for a few billion years by now...
  3. Last but not least: I would like to ask also those Readers who do not feel any willingness at all to follow the course of a spiritual retreat, keep reading the essays of the blog. Here are some of the topics potentially raising their interest, too:
  • What is the secret of a happy life?
  • What does a good leader look like?
  • Networks of love
  • Depths of silence
  • Strength of the Child within
  • Thoughts about  the biggest task of the coming decade
  • How can we overcome our faults?
  • How can we make the right decisions?
  • Is freedom useful?
  • Difference between a task and a service
  • What is the difference between hope and expectations?
  • In how many ways can we enjoy the totality of life?
  • Life situations of fulfillment
  • Forms of presence of mind (and soul)

And many more exciting and deep thoughts.
I wish you All a pleasant reading!
Thank you if you accompany me during the coming season.

 


 

1. Alternating good and bad periods are needed for learning in nature
 

 

During the past centuries mankind increasingly identified the idea of good with wealth. Certainly this is not a consequence only of the increasing amount of available goods. It cannot be identified as a sign of "decaying morality" either. Human nature remembers much better the good than the bad. This can be perceived in languages, where words having positive meanings are used much more frequently and much more emphasized than those having negative meanings. Searching for the pleasant, the plenty and the rich is also connected to that people are much more sensitive to the bad than to the good. Thus searching for the good is, in fact, an escape from the bad.

 

Our continuous escape from the bad is a wrong strategy. It is not only wrong because  in a status of being filled with richness and good we become insensitive to both, and we have to get more and more of them in order to feel good, which is a HUGE trap both for ourselves and our Earth. Continuous escaping from the bad is false also because hardships coming from time to time are necessary to slow down, to stop, and to think about that from all that we have collected what are the few ones worth taking forward. In time of hardships we may realize that quite a lot of things we have considered to be "necessary", in fact are easily dispensable. We may also realize that the lots of stuffs, plenty of habits, vast amount of "forced joy" with which we have surrounded ourselves did not let us to have time and energy to notice the real happiness. So sometimes it is necessary to "move out a bit from ourselves" and with this to renew ourselves in exactly the same way as nature does it every spring. Having a rich life experience you can realize that every hardship is an important occasion to learn.

 

Some Readers may become upset by now. (Which is very much understandable.) "Poor Peter", they think, "he has probably lost his mind in the summer hotness." Let me reassure those of my kind Readers: I do not suggest that we should seek for trouble and sorrow from tomorrow on, because only those can refine us. But I do recommend that the changes of "rich and good" times and "poor and bad" times are so important in the progress of our lives that if our fate has saved us from disasters, then we have to find such situations for ourselves that can be considered as "poor and bad" times. It is important from time to time to deprive ourselves from the comfort and from the unbelievable flow of information in which we have lived before and go to "meditate in the wild". Spiritual retreats are very recommendable forms of this. As a key closing statement let me underline that it is crucial to help our fellow human beings, who live their lives continuously in poor and bad times letting them to overcome this situation.

 
Why is it so significant to have changes of rich and poor times in our lives? The vast majority of biological systems live in one of two basic states. Their "plastic" state has adapted to resource-rich environments. The network structure of a plastic system is fuzzy, thus there are no distinct groups (modules) or hierarchy in it. There are a lot of source-nodes providing input to other nodes and there are plenty of random connections in plastic networks. The "rigid" state has adapted to resource-poor environments. The network structure of a rigid system is characterized by distinct, non-overlapping groups (modules) and a strong hierarchy. There are a lot of sink-nodes "asking" for input from other nodes in rigid networks. In nature learning can only happen with regular changes of resource-rich and resource-poor environments. On our Earth seasonal and daily changes of weather had an important role in the evolution of complex organisms. Human learning and creativity also require the changes of resource-rich and resource-poor phases both on the individual and the collective levels. I have summarized this topic in the article here.

 


 

2. Alternating good and bad periods are also important in the development of our souls

 

Alternating good and bad periods play a very important role the development of our souls, too. In the absence of positive impulses and love our souls become closed and suffer. At the same time, a permanent shortage of desired things (if we do not fall into the vicious circles of unsatisfied desire...) may reveal such other deficits in our lives that are much more important shortages than the original ones have been. A (resource)-poor life may make us realize also that we have attached a far too big significance to many things in our lives that are not so important to the essence of our lives. Having a necessary life experience we may realize that in most of the cases those things to which we had attributed "far too big significance earlier but they are not so important” – have been our Whole previous lives. It is quite substantial to experience deeply the distress and harm we receive in life also because our wounds became healed only if we open them up and let them be cleansed. (If we cover a tree’s wound, a lair will be there in its place where the whole tree will be broken later on. But if we let the tree's wound open to be healed, then the wounded part will become the strongest one of the tree. It is worth thinking about the take home message of this for our own lives.)

 

At my spiritual retreat in July, 2018, I heard the following story from Father Monty Williams (who, if you call him Father Monty instead of Monty, threatens you to call you Father, too...). A drunk man has lost his keys. He is looking for them in front of his house in the light. The night patrol of the village passes him several times. He is still searching for his keys. They feel sorry for him. They start to help him to search. They do not find the keys either. At last one of them asks: "Hey man! Where have you lost your keys?" "Over there, in the dark." "Then why are you searching for them here???" "Because the light is here." It is also worth thinking about this story thoroughly... As Father Monty Williams posed it rightfully, this story tells much more than the "observational bias" of the streetlight effect. Not only our perceived "light" gives treasures to us.

 

   
 

A lot of examples of the Holy Bible can be cited about the wisdom coming from the alternating good and bad times, just like e.g. when God's people crossed the desert or the early church was formed. The book of Exodus contains a continuous change of "good and bad times". Moses is sent to Egypt by the Lord. Moses does not want to go. He is given several miracles, off he goes, people are listening to him. The Pharaoh does not let them go, people rise up. God releases a series of disasters to the Egyptians, people escape with rich donations. The Pharaoh starts to chase them. The Red Sea is split, then the Pharaoh’s army perishes in it. People starve in the desert and rise up. Quails come and manna falls. People thirst in the desert and rise up. Moses strikes the rock and the receive water. And so on, and so forth... The Acts of the Apostles also contains a continuous change of "good and bad times". Jesus ascends to Heaven. The Apostles are left on their own for ten days. At Pentecost they are filled with the Holy Spirit, three thousand people became convert. Apostles Peter and John are arrested. They must be released, believers are filled with the Holy Spirit. Apostles are imprisoned. The dungeon’s door miraculously opens. The Pharisees have the Apostles brought back. Gamaliel speaks in favor of them. Beaten they can leave. Congregation grows, deacons are elected. Saint Stephen is stoned. And so on, and so forth... This long line of examples teaches us that "good and bad" together (and one after the other) is necessary to that a nation, a church, an anything which has a long lasting value can be formed.

 

 

Changing of good and bad is followed faithfully by the order of church services and spiritual retreats, too. Most of the church services’ emotional course follows the shape of the letter W: 1.) Joy of the presence of God and Jesus. 2.) Recalling our sins and unworthiness. 3.) Sermon, the good news of the Gospel. 4.) Confessing our sins/pleading prayer. 5.) Absolution/sacrament/blessing. As I wrote in the introduction, the emotional course of the Saint Ignatian spiritual retreats can be characterized with the same W letter shape (not concentrated in one hour but in a few days, weeks or in a year): 1.) It starts in happiness. 2.) It leads to the depth of knowing our sins. 3.) It raises us up high again by the birth of Jesus. 4.) It shows the depths of pain at the Cross. 5.) It ends with the wonderful, redeeming joy of fulfillment. After all I cannot avoid concluding that the same emotional course of church services and spiritual retreats is the reflection of the Knowledge which appears in the whole nature and which is the most effective way of acquiring deeper knowledge.

 


 

3. What is the result of the learning process? Nature seeks after and heads to the place from where it was born: God’s Totality

 

"For I am sure that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers,
nor things present, nor things to come, nor might,
Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature,
shall be able to separate us from the love of God,
which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
(Romans 8:38-39)

 


 

How can the result be described which is formed during the learning process detailed above? The complexity of the system, its ability to find correct responses and its information content increase. To phrase it in a different way: the one who is able to learn from the changes of life becomes wiser. To rephrase it again: the soul that has successfully accomplished church services and spiritual retreats gets closer to God. One of the most fundamental characteristics of God is that He is the Totality of Knowledge. If we think this over then we may realize that the three processes mentioned above are exactly the same in their essence. Nature seeks after and heads to the place from where it was born: God’s Totality. Amen.

 

 

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