Learning the mind

The four stages of learning can be applied to any skill, task or competence. You might be familiar with them:
  • Unconscious incompetence - we don’t know that we don’t know
  • Conscious incompetence - we know that we don’t know
  • Conscious competence - we work at what we don’t know
  • Unconscious competence - we don’t have to think about knowing it
The question is whether they can be applied to the ultimate task of learning - the mind itself. Let’s have a look…

 1. Unconscious incompetence

 This stage it seems to me is the believing, the living out and acting out of whatever the mind creates. It has to be that way because we know no difference.

Thoughts about ourself and others might change and this new reality is still accepted as reality without any awareness of the creative power of the mind to create every aspect of our existence.

Everything that the mind creates is just assumed to be ‘what I am’ or ‘how reality is'. There might be tremendous resistance to those creations and this internal battle, a sort of ‘auto-immune’ disease of thought is, again, just taken as reality. The mind is the ultimate super power and yet at this stage there is no understanding of what it does.

Like a child in a car seat in the back of a car, we are being driven around without the slightest insight into the mechanisms and processes in action.

2. Conscious incompetence

I think it is this stage which can be most confronting but it is the start of freedom. It is confronting because up until then we believed we our understanding of ourselves and reality was perfectly competent.

But then we join a course to explore what the mind is and all of a sudden the patterns, resistance, conflicts and sufferings start to become visible. The impossibility of controlling what we thought we were controlling starts to be revealed.

It can feel much harder than the ignorance of unconscious incompetence (there is a reason for the saying ‘ignorance is bliss’ after all) because now there is a realisation of the enormity of what the mind creates and it now looks like a pack of wild horses running in all directions.

On my courses this can be where people get frustrated, annoyed and leave. Because up until then all suffering had been blamed on a fixed external reality: other people, circumstances, past events, limitations of the body or society… And there was comfort and a reassuring identity of separation in that. Now however, we are opening up the mind, thought, belief and how they create the world.

This would be the child watching the parent drive or the nervous teenager on their first lesson.  Mystified by the movements, feeling hopeless and helpless, thinking I will never be able to do this.

3. Conscious competence

But if we can stay on the course, stay present enough to watch the reactions of the mind self happen, understand what is behind those reactions, start to integrate and talk about the underlying fears and insecurities that drive certain behaviours… then old behaviours and beliefs start to fall

away. Different responses, that are more aligned to authenticity, love and understanding become available. The blindness, single track and knee jerk reactions start to be replaced by a way of living that is more transparent and honest and which supports the health of the whole.

There is an awareness that stress and suffering can take us deeper into the belief system, more into victim-hood and isolation. And now that feeling of contraction and resistance becomes a conscious signal to stay still, to notice what the mind is doing.

This would be when we’ve passed our driving test. We know what to do and how to do it. We know what is going on with the mind and the steps to take for a healthy, thriving existence start to become obvious.

4. Unconscious competence

At this stage the mind is aligning to the truth of our being. We could look at it as the left brain with all its analysis and protection is settling into the deep knowing of peace that the right brain connects to. And so all activity of the mind is peaceful and integral. It allows the power of the mind full reign.  No mental activity is turned back in confusion and resistance onto the self identity. Decisions are made from this space of openness and connection to reality. Enlightenment happens as each experience reveals a little more of what we really are and this movement through and beyond old limits starts to become automatic. It is a stage of enormous expansion.

As students of the mind we can add a fifth stage:

5. Conscious, unconscious competence

It is the stage at which the witnessing mind watches everything, all behaviour, all actions and all words with an understanding of what is happening and why. There is a freedom now to observe, impersonally the mind at play and the true miracle of what we are becomes apparent and fully lived.




Thank you a lot for this and the podcast about this. I was not aware of these stages also of learning the mind.
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Thank you very much Clare for this blog and the podcast about it!
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