The Phases of Learning


A conversation between Dr Pat Bacilli and Sarah Mane, author, broadcaster and founder of Conscious Confidence


Dr Pat:

We’re going to be talking about transitioning to adulthood, what it means and why is it all so hard now.  So tell me Sarah how did you get interested in this issue?



My concern about this area, young people transitioning to adulthood, grew out of my work with executives, helping them to transition in their careers, or into retirement, or in a personal family context.  I found that I could draw on my background and knowledge of Sanskrit and timeless wisdom. It was highly relevant to the problems of a twenty-first century executive needing help to make a significant transition.

I was led into this area of young people transitioning because I began to hear more and more stories of young men and women hitting a wall, lacking the resources, emotional, even spiritual, to deal with life’s challenges.  They were clearly finding it hard to deal with the adult world.

Everyone faces this move from childhood to adulthood but it just seems so difficult nowadays.  It concerned me. I suppose it’s the teacher in me.  I can’t just leave these young people hanging.  I wanted to help.  So I began to look at what’s missing, why were they struggling. Why is it so difficult to integrate and be a happy functioning, thriving adult? And then of course there are the mental health issues, stress, eating disorders, substance abuse that seem to be legion amongst young people.


Dr Pat:

I don’t think that up to this point we’ve had a good understanding of how important what you’re talking about is.  It raises the question of what we actually mean by “child” and “adult”. I’m an auntie of a little eleven-year-old soon to be twelve.  I’ve known her even before she was born. But now she’s so grown-up. You could easily lose sight of the fact that she’s eleven.



The process obviously starts with childhood. A baby’s born and then after five years of infancy you’ve got this period of childhood. When I was teaching we worked on a very traditional model that from birth to five-years-old was a period of love and play, where the child learns everything he or she needs to know through love and play.  Then at the age of five they enter a world where discipline becomes important.  This lasts until they are sixteen.  At sixteen they enter the adult world.  Then they move from a world of discipline where they are under guidance, to a world where they are treated as a friend.

I don’t want to be hard on pre-schools but overly academic programs are not necessarily appropriate for children under the age of five, when love and play is the natural way of learning for them. This is where they experience the world, they acquire gross and fine motor skills, and also learn how to behave, to say please and thank you, how to cross a road safely! But it’s all play-based and love-based.


Then from five there is a natural turn. A child is ready for school at that age, and that’s their first step out from the love and the protection of a family circle. They step out and form a relationship with their teacher. So from five to sixteen they come under some discipline, where someone in authority says, Do it this way, No you can’t do that, Stop doing that. Of course that happened when they were under five, but now it’s coming just from a different basis.  The love is still there but the discipline needs to come in.

The discipline in this five to sixteen year old phase does vary. The period from five to ten varies slightly from 10 and over.  Your niece is eleven, so she’s in that period of discipline. It’s such a crucial time because that is when all the fundamental principles of life – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual – are taught.  The child needs to assimilate all the simple principles of life. They need to be given, communicated and learnt.

It’s not because the child doesn’t have innate knowledge of these principles, but they do need to be taught to them. A human being is an eternal universal being.  This is what all the ancient wisdom scriptures say.  The wisdom tradition says that we are limitless and universal, but we do need someone to tell us that, in other words to teach us, to give us the knowledge.  What that knowledge from the teacher does is connect with the knowledge that lies latent within us and then it makes it available to us. So we have to receive it and then it awakens and what is within us becomes available.  But if we don’t receive that knowledge then that which is within us is largely unavailable.  If you don’t get these basic principles when you’re young you have to work harder to try and assimilate them when you’re older.

The best time to learn, for example, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, is when you’re five, and the best time to assimilate it through practice, through trial and error, is when a loving adult is there to guide you.

And we want to get the good, the true principles, into the child first, because there’s plenty of other stuff around that’s not so good, and that will find them too.  It’s all about principle and that’s what I’m doing with Conscious Confidence and the FUSE program.  I’m drawing on this ancient wisdom. I’m setting out simple principles for adults or young adults.

When I was teaching we were doing it for children from five to twelve because that was the age I taught.  You need to get those principles in between five and ten because between ten and sixteen you’re teaching them how to apply them.

From sixteen onwards in the adult phase you give guidance, you don’t just cast them off and say, Okay you’re an adult now. You’re still guiding them, helping them, teaching them how to make good choices, and that’s a very present situation. You treat them as a friend, a true friend.

But the five to sixteen period of discipline is so crucial.


Listen to the whole episode on Transformation Talk Radio.

Transitioning to Adulthood – Why is it all so hard now?