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My tryst with learning

Let us embrace

The green leaves, the green grass, and the green root;

The blue earth, the blue water, and the blue fire;

Lord save us from the yellow-red fire!

Let there be peace;

Shanti! Shanti! Shanti!

Over the years of my gradual awakening and understanding of how I learn, I realized that both reason and heart are part of the truth called learning; but at some point in the learning path the heart rules – be it in the beginning, middle, or, the end!

A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

– S.T.Coleridge, Kubla Khan

Apparently contradictory states co-existing at the same time in harmony and peace – reason and heart!

What I just shared is one of the innumerable threads of thought that moves around in my conscious brain. I believe that thoughts define our external actions and us to the external environment. My thoughts, in a way, define my SELF to the world. Here, I choose not to delve beyond the waves of thoughts into that deep abyss, the void which defies our senses, and there is no need for that too! Learning happens in that miracle (?) called brain. As per Dr. Joe Pulichino dopamine, hippocampus, and the amygdala along with the network of neurons plays a very important role in the learning process. (I happened to listen to one of his class in LinkedIn.) I forget quite easily! But I clearly remember the picture of my mother bringing out a pair of half sleeve and a short from the trunk for me when I was just 4 years old! And I am 40+ something now. Some neurons make permanent connection with an indelible ink! J It is the visual imprints with some sort of emotion attached to it that has stayed back as my long term memory.

I am sure all of us are familiar of using the keywords to remember things during our college days. I will share my experience to draw attention to one thing about the learning process, especially with regards to the recall factor: the power of association and the neural connections that it creates! During my graduation years, I had to prepare long notes and I had great difficulty in remembering it. One of my seniors came forward to help me out! In the process I found that I am not the only one suffering from this learning disability (?) of not being able to remember anything without understanding it, or, be able to produce in the answer sheet exactly what was written in the notes. My senior told me to take a keyword from the beginning of each paragraph and write it down in a sequence and memorize that sequence. I did that, and voila! I could recall the entire note easily! Next, I improved upon that system by adding keywords from each sentence of the paragraph to each bead (the keywords for each paragraph that I initially used to remember the entire sequence of the paragraphs). Now, I could recall the entire note and revise it many time quickly by just visualizing the keyword structure that I have written at the top of the note sheet. For practice, instead of writing down the entire note, I now only wrote down the keyword sequence!

So, that note went into my long term memory. Long enough to appear for the exam, but not long enough for a lifetime! I don’t remember a line not even the keywords that I memorized. Maybe, if I see it once again I will be able to recognize (not sure though!). Why am I unable to remember that note? Let’s look at this in another way. What information or knowledge that I acquired in my college do I remember even today? I remember many things from the Charyapada (the earliest text in the Buddhist Tantric tradition written in Early Bengali). I have not forgotten the basic tenets of art and literature. The list can continue but what is the difference between what I remember and what I don’t from a very long term perspective. I spent a lot of time in both but not in a persistent and consistent manner. I invested more mental focus on the Charyapada because I wanted to understand every bit of it. I was keen to learn. The liked chewing the words (yes chewing it!). The words time and again wandered in the alleys of my mind! I was passionate about them. I talked with them and slept with them. I loved the knowledge that seeped into my mind gradually with each interaction with the content; every discussion with my mentor, every research that I did at the library on the etymology, root, and philosophy. It kindled my interest in a host of other associated Bengali literature of early and middle Bengali period. My heart was there in the Charyapada! I was really in unison with the text from a linguistic and literary perspective – Heart and Mind!

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