Featured

Another Simple (not easy) Practice: Learning Mindset

What if you chose to believe or played with the notion that everything that happens to you happens for you instead?

How would such a shift in perspective to a “landscapes for learning” mindset change your life for just today while you try it?

Today’s Simple Practice invites you to try out a Landscapes for learning mindset—to practice it consciously throughout a day or so and write about your experiences.

Get curious about how the world might look, your reality, if you view every experience you have as an OPPORTUNITY for learning rather than reacting out of unconscious habit or per usual. This daily practice, as the others, encourages you to disrupt your own status quo for growth and wellness!

Just try!

 

 

Helping Ourselves & Others, Together.

Hello Friends,

I hope this blog post version of an email finds you happy and healthy!

I continue to thank my lucky stars for having connected with you at some point in my life, whether I met you as my teacher, coach, mentor, colleague, or friend, or you were my student  in yoga class, a professional development course, or in a high school English class. I am a healthier, wealthier, and wiser person because of our shared experiences together!

I created my website, LandscapesForLearning.com to invite people into a private space for personal learning and transformation through self-study that exists beyond the limitations of institutionalized education and healthcare.

I’ve created online and in-person behavioral health educational tools with accompanying coaching services that enable individuals to explore the landscapes of their “inner,” embodied lives in order to better both manage and enjoy all their experiences on the “outer” landscape of the social world. Both landscapes, which I believe exist for learning and growth, are challenging to navigate. And although being the best “you” is a path only you can travel, everyone, even the strongest and most successful, needs help lifting the heavy weight of being human.

My “Workout Within“ and “Landscapes For Learning” concepts come from a strength-focused, relationship-based orientation to teaching and learning about self-realization and self-actualization that are firmly rooted in the traditions of Humanistic Psychology and Eastern Wisdom. My own personal experience living according to the the classic mantra to “know thyself” for wellness in mind, body, and soul has taught me how essential this advice is for thriving in a stress-filled, rapidly changing modern landscape. My purpose is to continue to share my love for authentic learning with others far and wide!

To this end, I created Self-Actualization courses and a Workout Within Writing program designed for people to know themselves for wellness, on their own terms, at their own pace. I also create integrative/holistic health workshops to inform and inspire educator and parent groups, community organizations, local gyms, and yoga studios––anyone whose work is to grow healthier humans––with information about learning, integrative psychotherapy, nervous system health, mindfulness-based stress management tools, interpersonal neurobiology, trauma-sensitive relationship building, yoga, and more.

Since each individual and organization is unique with its own unique ecosystem and culture, I create content and provide compassionate coaching services according to clients’ needs, on demand. Although that requires more energy, attention, time, and learning from me, this approach is far superior to a one-size-fits-all approach which tends toward speed and outcomes rather than attending carefully and compassionately to the complexities and nuances of human learning and the trial and error growth process.

Just as in my previous careers in parenting, yoga, writing, and education, I continue to absolutely adore helping people learn, and I relish my role in safe-relationship building in this deeply nuanced, human-to-human endeavor of behavioral health education and coaching. I am super excited to continue answering this call to service as an entrepreneur!

I invite you to visit LandscapesForLearning.com to learn more about the story of my company, its creation, and the mission. Enjoy perusing the educational products and coaching services described in more detail, so you might share them with your social network in good faith, fully informed.

I am grateful for your influence on my learning and development over the years. It really is true that we all go further together than on our own. I shall be forever grateful to you for helping me help others to “get honest” and “get healthy!”

All the best in love and learning,

Maureen

Maureen Bakis
Behavioral Health Educator & Coach
LandscapesforLearning.com
“Get Honest. Get Healthy.”

Email to A Friend

Hello My Friend,
I was looking for John O’ Donahue’s quote from Plato’s Symposium (which I heard on an Audible version of his book of poetic blessings, To Bless the Space Between Uswhile walking my best furry friend, Finn) and came across this entire article about this Irishman which I thought was spectacular. Naturally, I thought you might enjoy reading it.
I was struck by the reference to Plato when I heard it, well because I love the Greek philosophers, but also because Jordan Peterson had just been talking with someone on his podcast the other day (a cognitive scientist who has written about Maslow and Self-Actualization and Humanistic Psychology– sort of setting the record straight about Maslow– did you know that Maslow HATED pyramids? His Hierarchy of Needs was NEVER about a pyramid scheme) about what Peterson believes as the most gratifying thing in life which is helping people discover and live their potential, i.e. to actualize fully. And that actualization– the expression of potential–is a core feature of health, for an individual and a business; he was saying something along the lines of businesses that thrive are those that are most efficient and effective at helping each employee reach their potential– getting them into the proper position according to the individual’s abilities etc… and supporting their growth.
My fellow mental health counselor with whom I went to grad school has spoken about his career in such a role and how gratifying his position was to him– to impact people in this regard, as service– and indeed a valuable one! How awesome that nurturing someone’s potential is good for the individual and the organization and society!
This, Peterson pointed out, is in contrast to the critics who define and rail against corporations and important institutions in our society as nothing but pure power, domination, oppression, and greed; not that they can’t be and are indeed admittedly corrupt, but that isn’t their sole purpose or what defines their nature. Do we too often mistake being or authenticity with its corruption and then act on this mistaken perception?
Peterson and this other professor also talked about the life of teaching where the MOST gratifying and fulfilling purpose as an educator is to do the same by students–that is, to attend to and guide them toward actualization. Like, yeah! Each of us, I believe, must be taught and learn to turn inward and attend to and nurture our own potential and actualize– to become our own teachers and let life and experiences teach us about who we are (as one of many. I mean you could ask yourself “who am I” and also “who are we”– they aren’t very different questions at all). And, as a parent we do the same. Parents are the first teachers of the soul (by way of the body, since our rationality comes online so to speak so much later in life) and if they knew it (as O’ Donohue also writes about in To Bless the Space Between Us) would likely be crushed under the weight of this responsibility! Oh and another thing I was happy to learn about O’ Donohue in this article— the unsurprising fact that O’ Donohue and Dan Siegel became friendly over their discussions of interpersonal neurobiology.
Anyway, back to Plato’s quote–So it seems, this is, to me, a grand purpose of service/existence– each of us all helping one another express our authentic being in the world. I LOVE being in this world as educator, coach, clinician, mom, friend because my sole purpose is to get to unlock my own potential and live authentically, as me, AND I get to help others “do” them, as fully as possible, and I love that concept of possibility. It’s so cool! Right? I am blessed to have been called and be answering it– to do what is unique and specific to me that also serves others.  My life is a win-win. And the value of this way of being is beyond money. It’s a different sort of gold.
Here is the cool quote cited from Plato’s Symposium within a couple of paragraphs from the article:

O’Donohue seemed to tap into a yearning in his audience not often addressed in today’s therapeutic culture. At a time when the pressure is on to do ever briefer, more technical, symptom-focused, “evidence-based,” standardized therapies, to make ever greater use of psychopharmacological agents, to slavishly follow DSM diagnostic categories, and to rationalize every moment of a clinical encounter, he reminded his listeners what a noble, even sacred, calling therapy can be. Quoting Plato’s Symposium, he said that “one of the greatest privileges of the human being is to become a midwife to the birth of the soul in another person.” This is what therapy is about, he added–“helping people retrieve what has been lost to them; wakening and bringing home their fundamental wholesomeness.” Therapists are like poets or priests, he noted: they draw on the power of words in the profoundly creative work of bringing people fully alive to themselves, awakening in them the human capacity for divine imagination that “dreams our completion.”

But perhaps most of all, O’Donohue reawakened his listeners to the fundamental mystery that surrounds our existence. “In focusing on how people work, we’ve lost a sense of reverence for the deep mystery of who they are. We have lost sight of the mystery in the primal fact of human presence–that we are here at all.” He suggested that the most important dimensions of human experience are those we can’t see and grasp and measure, which demands the most reverent attention from a therapist. “I’d love a return to that old way of considering human identity not just as biographical drama, but as sacred mystery.”

So, my friend, I suppose I was onto something in my attempt to write my book, It’s Not About Grades, after all, however poorly the attempt I had made was to articulate such philosophical ideas and mysteries of being human. (I must re-write it!) As a teacher, now as coach and therapist, as a mom–I realize why I always resisted the powers that be who insisted on measurement (the necessary organizational and categorizing tools of utility for societal functioning which do serve a purpose and of course, it gives us vulnerable and fearful creatures a sense of knowing, answers, and security albeit partial) within these humanistic domains.
I understand why we measure, but if we focus solely on the measurement and define the being as merely that which is measured, we seem to lose sight of humanity or forget the natural and wild, the unseen, unknowable, mysterious, the immeasurables of life, of living beings. And what a grand loss–And no wonder people are continually grieving. No wonder the sense of absence, of not belonging, of not being enough, of not measuring up, and the lack of wholeness within us and among us. No wonder. Literally– No wonder!
Here’s the link if you want to read the rest Mary Sykes Wylie‘s article about O’Donahue. It’s gold!
In love & learning,
-M

Maureen Bakis

Behavioral Health Educator & Coach

Learning is willing to be uncomfortable

Learning is willing to be uncomfortable in order to grow and thrive!

Take Baby steps toward surrounding yourself with good energy and love, honesty and good health. You may not be less uncomfortable over time, but the discomfort will be familiar— and those people struggling alongside you? They’ll become your family!

Why I Created Landscapes for Learning

A LOVE FOR LEARNING & HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS

My “WHYS”
My experience observing others within learning environments has taught me that when people fall in love with learning (especially about themselves but not in a narcissistic way!) everything gets better, including physical and mental health, schooling, work, and relationships with self and others. The problems of being human never cease, but the response to them gets better when one chooses to see life as a landscape for learning and all experiences as opportunities to grow!

No Ordinary Curriculum 

After fourteen years in the classroom, I quit my job in public education to create Landscapes for Learning as a new platform to promote a learning beyond schooling––that is–– learning as a lifestyle for good health and wellbeing among people of all ages without grading or excessive competition or any other limitations of school. Unlike schooling, Landscapes for Learning is not a safe space where we give trigger warnings and avoid discomfort! Landscapes for learning is where we get real, honest, and learn authentically for health and wellness.

Learning Beyond Schooling

I expanded my classroom beyond the brick and mortar institution to offer empowering mind-body curriculum and counseling to more people to develop their attention, personal discipline, coping skills, power of introspection and reflection, character development, and other “soft”skills.  Schooling simply doesn’t focus enough on such immeasurably important life skills, yet cultivating them is critically important for good health and wellbeing as well as appropriate preparation for the challenges and changes in life in the upcoming decades.

The majority of formal schooling limits people’s understanding of the nature and value of a more expansive definition of learning. I saw how it limited my students to believe that learning was only academic, or only about acquiring practical skills and knowledge for college and career pursuits, or something to be graded. Real learning includes wisdom and is about knowing oneself as well as possible for a fulfilling and meaningful life. And, now, In this day and age, it’s woefully incomplete to be smart without also being wise.

Tough Love Curriculum & Coaching for Modern Life

We’ve got to travel the landscapes of our lives, inside and out, to be wise and well, because how meaningful or fulfilling is achievement if balance, wholeness ,and wellness are missing? We see highly “successful,” “smart” people everywhere sick and unfulfilled; I saw it in many of my students. I’d like to shift our limited understanding of learning, expand it, and inspire more people to embrace learning as a lifestyle.

The Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self-Study Guide for Wellness (2019) is curricula that I always wanted to teach to properly meet the needs of students. This book (and my online course version of the book) is designed to address problems of our modern culture among all people, not just teenagers, including:

problems with attention; 

anxiety and depression; problems with the social negotiation of personal identity

loneliness and disconnection (from self and others); 

fragility, the need for trigger-warnings and safe spaces;

suffering and weakness resulting from victim-mentality;

unhealthy chronic compulsive behaviors & addiction (including to phones, social media, and FOMO) 

Integrative health has integrity and truth telling at its core!

I wrote the book and created the course curriculum at LFL to inspire, motivate, and teach people to learn to know who they are, in mind and body, through writing, other exercises, tools, and practices so they can live well, with integrity, and care for themselves better than anyone else ever could.

Know Yourself & Discover Shared Humanity


I truly believe that the more people can connect with themselves––through developing a more intimate and understanding relationship with their body and mind––the more they can connect with others for stronger and healthier communities. It’s simple, but not easy.  And most people need humanistic help– that is, honest, informed and compassionate support.

East meets West
Yoga’s Self-Realization & Maslow’s Self-Actualization

The Self-Study Guide and the online Self-Study Course Curriculum contains principles and practices for creating a life worth living–– a life of wisdom and wellness. It draws on my years of experience teaching the great hero stories of Western culture as well as my yoga practice rooted in the wisdom traditions of the East and is bolstered by my graduate education and clinical training in Counseling Psychology.

INFORM TO INSPIRE “DO YOU!”

Knowing thyself (or self-realization) is the simple, classic wisdom but not easy to follow. I designed Landscapes for Learning to help inspire and motivate you to look inside and learn how to “do you” as best you can because the world needs you to be exactly who you are! 

Check out the Products and Services @ LFL!

Your Body Your Self

In the Workout Within blog series, I ask you, reader, to take time to consider one question. I ask you to go within to sense, feel, and think deeply about this question. Contemplate, meditate, and be with the question in your own way to see what you can learn about who you are.  

QUESTION: How do you relate to your body?

This is a question I first encountered, consciously and viscerally, when practicing Bikram yoga. I was looking in a mirror at myself– that is, my body, while my mind was interpreting what it sensed, primarily through vision. I learned a lot over the years talking with people about what their  experiences were like with  looking at themselves in the mirror while practicing Bikram yoga. I think relating to the Self, through the body, is the yoga. I also believe that this process of relating to oneself, the embodied self, is the heart of the psychotherapeutic process.

As I remember listening to people talk about their experiences relating to themselves, to their bodies, in the mirror, I recall there being much more shame, denial, and negativity than positivity; lots of “I am not this type of person; I am not that. I am so inflexible, fat, in pain, limited in this way or that.” There was predominantly criticism about the attractiveness and of the aesthetic experience of their body which involved fragmenting it into parts, separating, a dissection and measurements according to external conventional expectations or ideals. This is the opposite of seeing oneself as whole, as a synergistic and vital organism.  To acknowledge our limitations is reasonable and healthy; self-rejection and loathing is not.

People also often conveyed well-practiced defenses of their relationship toward their body and their position on “the body” in general. There was also the common criticism of how Bikram yogis are barely dressed, i.e. not defended or hidden or covered up; that Bikram yogis are almost naked, sweaty, and smelly– which was usually conveyed with a very visceral disgust, and reactivity.

There was so much resistance associated with “the body” among a great many people I spoke with as a fellow student before I was a teacher and with even more people when I became a teacher, especially new people who came to try the yoga for the first time. To many, many people who came to try Bikram yoga,  bodies repelled them, including their own. Some stayed long enough to transform their relationship to their bodies, to their Selves; others tried, and after giving it a fair number of classes did not return; others fled from the room before the end of their one and only (incomplete) class.

Trial and error, i.e. learning, happens uniquely for each individual. There are multiple factors influencing how and why people think, feel, and behave in the ways that we do. Each person has their personal history, their story. I happen to believe that It may be better, and far more interesting, to remain in the (maybe uncomfortable) realm of possibility than to automatically pursue the anxious desire to reach conclusions about other people.

So, I have always wondered, why did these people show up at the studio in the first place?

I arrived there by accident, with a load of reluctance to the Western yogini stereotype and only a shred of openness to some thing unknown to me, and although I had a positive relationship to my body as a mother of four, an athlete, and someone who has always enjoyed movement and being in good physical fitness, I had a long  and arduous journey in learning to relate to my body, myself, my Self.

I spent many classes narrowly hyper-focused on the clothes I chose to wear, how they looked in the mirror and how I felt they looked on my body. I focused on what others thought of my body; intrigued with how I believed they saw it– how they saw and measured me.  All of the socially conventional ways I understood who I was and how to appraise my body, my self.

Slowly, over time, with a lot of emotional, visceral experiences and pain and psychological discomfort, my relationship with my body transformed into something far more positive and healthy; something unconventional, more sustainable and fulfilling; more meaningful on more levels– physical, psychological, spiritual.  I became more integrated and whole through this yoga practice, relating to my body as myself. No more parts– just me.

My hunch is that for others, curiosity may have had something to do with why they arrived to the Bikram yoga mirror as well as some inner need for courage– an intuition motivating them, maybe consciously but probably subconsciously, to try to face their disgust, rejection, limitation, fear, and denial related to the body.  Perhaps to tend to their fragmented sense of self; their inner drive for wholeness, integrity, unity and community. Perhaps all of the stories within that they were projecting outwardly were the beginning steps along the way of the larger process of change, part of their larger journey. Who knows?

The sages and scientists say that the human organism is built to pursue mastery; always moving forward, not just for survival but to propel ourselves into the future– that this is actualization and vitality. And, of course, obstacles serve their purpose on our paths, as they are just part of the deal of vitality and meaning.  Bikram Yoga has been my obstacle. Some go around the obstacle, some through, some stop and turn back, some see the obstacle as the way.

So, some people hate their bodies; they may have a strange relationship to it, a non-existent or weak connection with it. Perhaps they feel betrayed by it, embarrassed. Whatever such negative cognitions, these thoughts become embedded in their perceptual and visceral repertoire long before they entered the yoga studio for the first time. For these people, their visual experience of their body was apparently irrelevant because such negative thoughts about their bodies were so deeply embedded into their neurology, so patterned and automatic, that they went unquestioned as fact or truth. These individuals literally could not see themselves in any other way. Such is the power of procedural learning, the power of the mind and minds shaping other minds early in life and over time.  Indeed, we can become rigid and inflexible in our mental life– toward the assessment of our own bodies, our selves, and others and all quite unconsciously so.

Hope for plasticity and change!

My own experiences paying attention to my body in the mirror as it moved through the Bikram Yoga series of postures taught me that my perceptions of/about my body changes ––between postures, within a posture, or sometimes over the course of a class or each day or a week, so I knew that there was hope for those people with their rigid, inflexible, automatic negative thoughts  about their body and what it meant to them.  I knew it was possible for them to change how they perceived and categorized their bodies, themselves as a body, thus how they related to their body and related to themselves.

They say in Bikram yoga that the practice can cause you to fall in love with yourself. I believe this to be true. We all have that potential to love ourselves all over again.

I know that change, even the very thought of change,  scares some people,  even though I see the potential for change and change processes as  hopeful, healthy, and the key to a meaningful life.  Noticing change and that the change process is about possibility (rather than rigidity and inflexibility) is hopeful.  Consciously engaging in change, flowing along with it, no matter how challenging and scary that is, is healthy and meaningful. There are opportunities for change in each and every moment, each and every day. I want to encourage you to be curious and a little bit open to learning about change, to pay attention to and try something different, new, novel—  to slowly and kindly explore the unknown about yourself. Maybe start with how you relate to your body.

I know as a parent, teacher, and mental health counselor that people appreciate you and your presence when you show them that you understand what they may be experiencing in relationship to change and in relationship to learning about who they are, the way they are, the way they think and feel, even when they cannot articulate it for themselves– when they are scared to think, feel, sense and know for themselves.

And I also know and am so grateful for the most amazing experience in the world which is to be there for and with another person as they learn, which is the same thing as saying– when they grow and engage in the self-realization and human actualization process. This has been the privilege of my life for which I am most grateful. My own learning and others’ learning is what I live for and what fuels and nourishes me in mind, body and soul.

To see that even the most deeply automatic processes within someone can be transformed to promote growth and wellness is inspiring and hopeful. To directly witness and feel in my own body the rigidity and inflexibility of another person becoming softer and more supple and resilient is a gift, a mind-body experience, that money can’t buy.  This is my definition of success, of meaning, and of worth. It makes me feel most alive.

So, how you relate to your body is a story. Your story. Contemplate how you created your story.

Everyone has a story. Everyone also has a story about their body and what it means to them and how they relate to their body. These stories are influenced by other people’s stories and the stories from history, and the stories that happen in times and places, in cultures. Those cultures can be your family, the culture of your peer group, the workplace, online within social media at large or within your snap chat groups; the stories of groups can come from your church or a church from thousands of years ago that embedded the stories into our civilization and Western culture at large. You see, you don’t just make up the stories yourself about how you relate to your body and the story YOU tell yourself and others about it; you internalize stories and thoughts and ideas about who you are and who your body is and what it means from others.

So, in contemplating the question, we have 3 things at work: We have thoughts (that occur within the mind which is in the brain which is in the body), emotions (sensations interpreted as meaningful) and sensations of the body (taste touch vision hearing etc) that all contribute to how we relate to our bodies, how we relate to ourselves. And the three are not separate, despite their categories and distinction. Thoughts about the body, emotions related to these thoughts about the body, and feelings and sensations in the body when thinking such thoughts about the body and experiencing the emotions about the body are all happening, all the time.

It’s a good idea to learn about and directly attend to this process in your own experience to know who and how you are– to know yourself, as a mind-body being. Because knowing your body is knowing your self and that is foundational to wellbeing.  Take some time and contemplate the question: How do you relate to your body?

 

Go There–– Where Your Dragons Live

Studying yourself is not some narcissistic exercise so you can feel better about yourself and your life. It’s about taking the time to investigate what’s really going on inside you, as opposed to what you assume on a surface level appears to be true.

Self-study for self-realization takes some real digging– some working out within-– in the same way you might get after it at the gym or playing a game  seriously, to win. This is necessary to know who you really are.

It’s about understanding where your limits truly lie, instead of believing some story about what you can or cannot do that you subconsciously may have learned/told yourself a long time ago. We need continual updating to be sure that we really are living optimally, rather than settling for what’s familiar and safe.

Do you feel truly alive when static in your comfort zone, or is that merely the temporary feeling of pleasure?

In the video below, Jordan Peterson explains the reference to Carl Jung’s discovery about the human psyche: the places we are least likely to want to go are exactly the places we ought to because in filth it will be found.  Be brave. Go there––where your dragons live.

Reflecting on Oneself as Social Animal

The “Right” Choices for YOU & The Group 

How do you balance actualizing your potential by being “YOU” and do right by “the group?”

This is a tough one! This is the inner landscapes meeting the external landscapes! Here’s the big secret that’s really no secret at all—separate landscapes don’t really exist; they are intricately and DEEPLY connected. Some believe they are the same exact thing. Throughout this entire curriculum, in almost every practice in every course, I merely ask you to look at yourself as an individual self rather than as a social self, but indeed, you encompass both, each influencing and interacting and “being with” the other. I have repeated several times how self-study will greatly improve your relationships with others.

You don’t “DO YOU” in a vacuum. You are a social being, and that is a critically important and substantial part of how you are who you are–that is,  in relationship to other people. We haven’t been talking about relationships with others in these courses because my focus is on getting you to develop a healthy relationship with yourself. That does not imply that relationships with others is any less important. We are simply paying more attention to one thing more than the other.

Noticing Imbalance & Balance

These courses work from the premise that many modern people experience an imbalance between how much and how often we focus on others and the external world, whether that means fixing others, blaming others, being responsible for others, helping others, or being manipulated by the world of social media and super-corporations, versus how much we focus on ourselves and our realization and actualization. We wish other people were more self-aware so they would treat us better, and we do need to understand how we can take back our attention and make choices to avoid unhealthy manipulation.

We wish other people would understand us, we wish the laws would change and policies would be different, and on and on it goes, but, in these course we are doing OUR OWN personal interior work, that is– what we can, and owning our small part in the social world. Hopefully we can become more response-able for ourselves and know ourselves in order for our relationships with others to improve and thrive and to be response-able enough to resist nefarious manipulation by very strong forces.

Look around at how disconnected we are from one another due to the pandemic and how polarized we are as Americans due to the state of political life. PART of the remedy is for each of us is an inside job, if we want to solve these relational problems and improve relational dynamics in our personal relationships as well as politically, socially, and globally. Certainly, other work on the “external” landscape also needs to be done as well, (reform, collective action etc…)and you can do that better if you are better, more whole and well.

Put your own house in order, so that you can participate constructively as part of the group.

In this course, you are being asked to observe your personal, individual experiences as a human being, and thus being yourself and “doing you” includes making choices in line with your values which could certainly include deciding to do collective, social and political action and making choices about family, communal, and spiritual life.

In the practice below,  observe, reflect and write about values and groups.  

Reflect on relationships you choose and those you did not choose.

Write about your group membership(s) and values.

Write about who you are in terms of the groups you belong to and those you do not. How do you qualify to be in those groups?

Are the values of the group, the same as your personal values? Are there some values that are the same and some that may be different? Is there conflict there or not? If not, why not? If so, why? Explain.

Write about your membership in the human race. How do you qualify as part of the human race?

What groups would you like to be part of and why?

What groups would you like to leave and why?

The QUESTIONS are more important than the ANSWERS

How do YOU do the right thing– right for you AND that will not harm others– that will make things better and not worse for you and others? THIS IS SO CHALLENGING! Describe an example. Note your emotions as you respond to this prompt.

How do YOU make the healthy choice that fosters wellness and peace and balance for you AND for the group? This is the same question, written slightly differently. (My point is to get you to ponder the question not to provide “the” answer.)

Reflect on and write about fairness and harm and what those terms mean to you. Notice how you FEEL, emotionally and physiologically, as you reflect and/or write about these topics. (Notice which terms you use to describe your emotions, e.g. guilty, ashamed, resentful, angry, hopeful, etc…)

How do YOU Make the correct choices in your life– to make your interior self thrive as well as the social self thrive? Explain.

Perhaps you think you are making the “right” choices for yourself, but that turns out to be false. Perhaps you think you are not making the “right” choices, but that turns out to be false. Find out what you are really up to with your personal choices and choice-making that impacts others. It will take courage to accept the truth of what you discover while noticing the resistance that comes up.

Negotiation, Sacrifice, Balance
(Give a little, get a little, sometimes, and it depends…)

You have to negotiate within yourself—amongst your inner impulses, desires, needs, thoughts and feelings, and negotiate and cooperate with others which means making compromises and sacrifice. It’s a tricky balance. Just as within you, aspects of yourself must “die” for others to grow and flourish, so too with “letting go” of desires or beliefs to allow the social body to flourish and grow. And, as you have been learning all along, this is a difficult process requiring courage to notice and manage resistance (to change, loss) and honesty accept the truth.

Try to notice yourself in terms of choice when it involves you and a group and how you sacrifice or refuse to, compromise or not, let go of your ego’s desires or not, let go of a belief or not, cooperate or not.

Trusting your gut is related to social rules and standards for survival and membership in the group, as we are social animals and need to belong and be accepted by the group. Our bodies (and minds) know this and need connection and belonging. We are bodies and emotional as you learned in the Course on Self-Awareness. We didn’t just become civil in our minds alone nor rationally make this fact about human nature up.

Our humanness tells us to play nice and cooperate. We have altruism, empathy, and compassion built into us, as well as the need for order and control. Just like you learned in the Challenge Course, self-discipline gives you more freedom. So too for the group or social organism as a whole, proper discipline is necessary, that is, good, balanced parenting that supports growth and actualization for as many of its members as possible, if not, ideally, for everyone of them.

Avoid Extremes to Be a Good Playmate!

When people behave in the extreme or pose a serious threat to the group, the group collectively decides upon discipline to maintain the balance and survival of the group. It behooves each individual in the group to discipline themselves, to become a good parent to themselves which will allow them more personal freedom. If people struggle and fail to do this and pose a threat to themselves or others, the group provides help, support, and discipline as a good parent (not an authoritarian brutal dictator!) This is the ideal, of course, which in reality never works perfectly nor consistently.

Finally, the group, parenting, mentors, and elders all model both healthy and unhealthy human choices. They model responsibility, courage, and other aspects of character and virtue as well as vices and failures, abuses of discipline, and lack of insight etc…You get to choose which models to follow and you will be held accountable for your choices by the group.

Becoming aware of your own human nature and observing social life in all its complexity is A BIG CHALLENGE. When you think about it this way, holy cow, there’s an overwhelming amount of experiences to learn from. There are so many opportunities  to choose, make good and bad, right and wrong, extreme and balanced choices, which means so many opportunities for us to be more alive and well and fully expressed as ourselves!

PROSOCIAL BEING 

Obviously, ideally, we’d like to make decisions and choices that are good for us rather than harmful, individually and collectively. And, ideally, since we are social creatures and our relationships with other humans are such a HUGE part of who we are, our choices should, ideally, benefit the group or at least not harm the group or make its health worse! We are a constant work-in-progress, continually swinging between yin and yang. REALISTICALLY,  where do you fall on the social wellbeing spectrum?  Reflect and Write.

Notice how the pendulum swings!

As you may have already experienced in your life, humans are imperfect, health is a spectrum, and thus balancing your choices as an individual who lives among other humans is challenging! What I am suggesting here is “relative balance” which happens within the human group– some people get more, some less; some people must give up something, and others get something; and on and on it goes with extremism as pathological. If we completely abolish the political left or ignore it entirely, the whole political organism becomes dysfunctional, just as if we completely ignored the right– same outcome. When we choose to believe that all republicans are bad people and all liberals are good, that dichotomous all-or-nothing thinking polarizes us further and further away from cooperation and unity.  As social selves, we need each other for our individual health and fullest actualization, whether we like it or not.

Just as I explained the relative balance and imbalances that happen within you in your organism, the same is true for the social organism.  I think Modern Life shows how many people are unwilling to make sacrifices within themselves for their own growth, health and actualization AND make sacrifices for the group’s vitality.

Reflect & Write on your Groupish Nature

How groupish are you?

How much of your personal identity is defined by the group?

Reflect on your feelings and emotional life as it relates to relationships and groups.

What important emotional, mental, and physical needs are met by your group membership?

Write about a time where you sacrificed for the sake of “the group” (you define the group).

Write about a time when the group sacrificed for your benefit.

Write about one time when you were unwilling to “let go” a part of yourself when the group demanded it.

Write about one time when you were demanding someone in the group let go of something for you or your group.

Reflect in writing about your emotions, physical sensations, and ideas in response to the prompts above. Even though these are memories, notice both the more visceral and rational qualities of your experiences, as you remember them, and write about them. Just notice your responses.

Individual Values and Shared Human Values

So, making good choices within you and for you is connected to attention and knowing  your values. Living your values rather than follow distractions which include the urges and impulses from within you and the temptations that arise from the external landscape (other people, nature, living in the world) is the challenge of our age.

Another challenge is paying attention to how your values contribute to the health of the human group, shared humanity, because this is important for your own health. Why do you need to know this? Because you are human which means you are social and you need group inclusion to thrive to your fullest individual actualization.  You can’t be an entirely selfish asshole because it benefits nobody (you can be a little selfish, you can be a little tribal– again, it’s the extreme all-or-nothing that causes dysfunction within and “out there”).

What happens if your values conflict with the group’s values or the group’s values aren’t healthy for you or yours aren’t healthy for the group? Well, choices need to be made. Either the group changes, or you change, or you negotiate (ideally); that is, you compromise and cooperate.  Sacrifice, loss, and change (willingly or unwillingly) are how we survive ad thrive in groups. As always, balance is the key on both the individual or personal level (response-ability within one’s inner landscape) and on the community and global level.  If you have not yet noticed, do you see how a person on the inside isn’t so distinct or separate from the “outside” world?

You can choose to put yourself in healthy spaces and surround yourself with people  that support healthy, shared humane and humanitarian values. You can set yourself up, through choice, to minimize or eliminate unhealthy distractions– whether within you or from the forces of the world beyond you. So why do human beings fail to “do the right thing” or “make the logical choice”?  Why is it that  when we KNOW rationally or even by gut instinct, what the “right” thing to do is for our most healthy, authentic selves to flourish, that we fail to ACT accordingly? Because we are emotional, intuitive, fleshy embodied animals with human brains,  that’s why.

How can you be a good group member and be your own best advocate, friend, and wise guide too?

There will always be distractions and pressures pulling you away from your path toward values, and even the various urges, impulses, and thoughts within your own inner landscapes will seemingly be distracting and tempting you to go off course. If you are aware of them because you are paying attention, because you are practicing being mindful, you have a better chance of coping and managing than if you are oblivious and unconscious.

Super-corporations including the social media companies and conglomerates are reaching deeply into your inner landscape and manipulating your emotions, your physiology, and your mind in order to keep your attention, energy, desires, and self-awareness glued to their targets FOR PROFIT. They are manipulating YOU in unhealthy, nefarious, and negative ways, while also providing you with an amazing, progressive, useful tool that can be used for good health, healing, and wellness (individually and socially!) AND this is the conundrum of our modern time. THIS problem and the disconnection from ourselves as emotional, embodied beings is why I created this curriculum.

The wake-up call, a loud bell, and action you can take to defend and protect yourself and those you love is to know thyself. 

There’s no better reason than this to keep up your self-study for self-realization!

Yes– being a healthy human– both individual and part of a larger whole is a delicate and demanding balancing act on a constantly changing landscape—it’s the  challenge of modernity. Embracing the journey as a  learning process is the path to wisdom and vitality, individually and collectively.

FREE COURSE CONTENT: ATTENTION PRACTICE

WHY STUDY ATTENTION?

We are in a Crisis of Attention

“Besides the benefits that improved management of attention brings to the individual, several social critics and philosophers argue that our society’s decreasing attention is leading us to a new ‘cultural dark age’ in which individuals no longer have the deep, sustained focus necessary for synthesizing and assessing information or expressing complex thoughts. Instead, we live in a world of ‘Present Shock’ in which everything happens now, information is conveyed via memes and tweets, and we no longer have the skill or wisdom to separate the signal from the noise. One could argue that the crises and general malaise we’ve experienced in the West during the past thirty years is, at its core, a crisis of attention. We’re either paying attention to the wrong problems or too distracted by the next “controversy” to solve the issues at hand.  Bottom line: If you want to improve yourself and the world around you, the first step is to learn how to harness your attention. It’s the locomotive of human progress.” — Art of Manliness

PRACTICE
PAYING ATTENTION TO ATTENTION

 In the following practices, you will observe and evaluate your own attention patterns to understand where you are putting your attention, both intentionally and unintentionally, throughout your moments, hours, days…well… your life.

By auditing your attention—playing with it and exercising its various forms, deliberately, using the activities below, you will build your attention “muscle” which will help you be a more conscious learner so you can know yourself better.

Sit still for a hot minute.
Reflect.
Write.

“Meditate” for 2-4 minutes or as long as you want. Focus your attention (selective attention) on your breath going in through the nose and out through the nose. Notice only that. If your attention shifts elsewhere, perhaps to your chest or to the noises in the room, or your feet, or an itch; if it shifts to thinking, or your mind wanders to the past or the future, just notice. Try to bring your attention back to the breath. (It helps to sit up straight or lie down if you want to– it doesn’t matter so much, especially if this is new to you. When people try to “do it the right way” when it comes to meditation, they usually just focus on outcomes rather than the process itself, just the trying. The trying and failing IS THE THING. If you are trying and failing– you’re doing everything perfectly!

AN IMPORTANT NOTE

If any of this causes feelings– anxiety, fatigue, hyper-arousal, sadness, muscular tension…whatever, just notice. Stop if you get to a point where you feel overwhelmed. Do what you need to to calm down. Later, when you are in an even space, reflect on the experience and write about it. Each time you attend to your attention, your experience may vary! You are different each time you try. People vary in the ways they react and respond to paying attention to attention— it only matters that you TRY it and later reflect and record what happens. NO RIGHT OR WRONG; NO JUDGMENT. JUST OBSERVATION TO LEARN.

Reflect, in writing, on your experience paying attention to your attention in step one above. Describe, in detail, exactly what happened with your attention. Don’t just reflect— Write about it! Did your attention remain focused on the breath coming in and out of your nose? Did it wander? Where did your attention shift towards? How many times did it shift and change?

JUST NOTICE

NOTICE and write about: Did you judge your “performance?” Did you get frustrated or disappointed when your attention fell away from the breath? Or did you remain neutral when your attention shifted? WHATEVER YOU EXPERIENCED (THOUGHT, FELT, BEHAVED) JUST WRITE IT DOWN. THIS IS THE PROCESS AND YOU MUST TRUST THAT JUST BY DOING THIS, YOU WILL LEARN AND GROW.

Reflect on this process of noticing your own attention. Free write about your attention, judgment, and the difference between the two. Any other thoughts related to this activity are welcome! This is your personal learning, so you can write about whatever you want for as long as you want. Even if you are frustrated, angry, confused, unsure of yourself, or think this self-study is a waste of time, write about it because this will help you understand the nature of your relationship to your attention (which is really just how you relate to yourself and your experiences in the present moment)!

If you made it this far….you’re building courage AND focus!
Good for you!

NO…LITERALLY— These things are good for your body and mind.

 JOIN US

FOR THE ENTIRE COURSE ON ATTENTION! 

 

I Feel You, Teachers!

Most people just want to feel heard. Most people, when stressed or upset, just want someone to listen and empathize without judgement.

It’s hard to find a person who understands the special demands of teaching— someone who doesn’t have any stake in you or your status; someone who does not work with you or rely on you nor someone who will rat you out or make you paranoid or believe that you suck or are weak.

You need another person who understands the stresses and joys and challenges of teaching AND who is trained in empathic listening.

I am a former high school teacher, author, life coach and soon to be mental heath counselor. I want to counsel and coach teachers from now until forever because I think we get neglected and are severely misunderstood. This pandemic is surely twisting things even tighter for teachers, and I want to help!

If you are a parent and want to give your kids teachers a great gift, send them a nice note with a link to my site or my contact info below.

landscapesforlearning27@gmail.com

Tell them you don’t really understand what they must be going through but that you know someone who does and can be of service and genuine support.

I want to help as many people as I can during this pandemic using my unique skills.

Please teachers, don’t be shy. It’s totally confidential and you have my word on that! I’m on YOUR side!

Please feel free to reach out to chat if you want more information. Read my About page for a bit of my background, my blog to see the sort of things I write about, and listen to a podcast or two. Also check out my posts on Facebook. 

 

Honesty & Wellness

RADICAL HONESTY

This little video captures my journey from lover of stories and storytelling as an English teacher and writer to becoming a yoga teacher and psychotherapist. It encapsulates wisdom curriculum and some things I convey in both of my books, especially the

Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self-Study Guide for Wellness (2019, Amazon)

SELF-STUDY FOR SELF-REALIZATION IS CLASSIC WISDOM 

STOPPING TO BE WITH OURSELVES, TO KNOW OURSELVES DEEPLY AND HONESTLY, IS SIMPLE, BUT NOT EASY…

AND BECAUSE IT IS NOT EASY, WE STRUGGLE TO DO IT…

MY BOOK OFFERS SIMPLE WAYS TO BEGIN TO TRAVEL THE LANDSCAPES FOR LEARNING TO DISCOVER YOUR TRUTH TO MAXIMIZE YOUR WELLNESS AND LIVE A MEANING-FILLED LIFE

I USE SIMPLE LANGUAGE AND TOOLS YOU CAN PICK AND CHOOSE FROM AND USE ANYTIME.

I EXPLAIN WHY AND HOW TO KNOW YOURSELF FOR WELLNESS

I WROTE THE BOOK FROM PERSONAL EXPERIENCE AND PURPOSEFULLY AVOIDED USING THE TECHNICAL JARGON OF YOGA & MINDFULNESS, WOO-WOO SPIRITUALITY, ACADEMIC OR SCIENTIFIC EXPLANATIONS.

I AM HONEST ABOUT MY LIFE LEARNING IN THE BOOK AND SHARE IT WITH READERS. THAT WAS SIMPLE BUT NOT EASY FOR ME. IN FACT, IT CONJURED LOADS OF FEAR, SELF-DOUBT, AND RESISTANCE, WHICH IS EXACTLY WHY I DID IT.

EXPLORE THE BLOG  PODCAST, AND LFL’S FB PAGE FOR ADDED RESOURCES AND INTERESTING INFORMATION ABOUT SELF-STUDY, SELF-REALIZATION, WISDOM, LEARNING MINDSET, EDUCATION, BIKRAM YOGA, AND WELLNESS!

 

 

The Meaning Crisis

I am currently watching “Awakening from the Meaning Crisis” which are lectures by University of Toronto assistant professor, John Vervaeke. (The man has “Know Thyself” tattooed on his back!) I highly recommend his work if you want to learn more about the difference between modern self-help/narcissism and classical self-examination for wisdom and fulfillment.

Like Vervaeke’s lectures, my book, the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self-Study Guide for Wellness (2019, Amazon) is about awakening and meaning, aka self-realization, but unlike Vervaeke’s lectures it is a layman’s tool for its simplicity in explaining why to know thyself for wellness and how to engage in that ongoing, meaningful process on a concrete moment-to-moment basis throughout your life. I wrote the book and designed it as a self-study curricula, chunking it into 5 easily digestible sections in non-academic language for people of average intelligence like me. I am not a scholar like Vervaeke, but only a keen observer of my own life experiences– my best teachers––and a writer willing to share my learning to help others.

I think a lot of modern people are being pulled (physically, emotionally, psychologically, from their heart-center, conscience, or intuition) toward more love, wisdom and meaning in their lives––to what TRULY MATTERS–– rather than merely chasing more knowledge, information, status, material just to compete or win or achieve.

If that sounds like you, then pair  watching Vervaeke’s lectures for a most panoramic academic explanation of the process of pursuing a life of meaning and wisdom and read my Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self-Study Guide for Wellness to put self-study for self-realization into daily practice for wellness!

Simple (not easy) Practice: Walk Uphill without Complaining

This Simple (not easy) Practice is about understanding how meeting our responsibilities is an opportunity for wellness rather than something to complain about.

As much as we might complain, we all need the grind of responsibility to remain healthy, humble, happy, and purposeful. Shouldering responsibility helps us develop personal discipline, courage, and resilience, so it’s actually good for us and essential for wellness. 

Once most people get to the top or finish line, reach their goal of whatever endeavor or whatever problem they’re struggling to solve, they usually need another aim––more responsibility–– to keep them thriving. Often, people can feel lost after a graduation, winning a big race, or when they finish a career and enter retirement. Anxiety and depression can happen once the symbolic or actual mountain is summited.

So, why is it so common that people don’t know what to do with themselves or have an identity crisis at the summit? Because taking on responsibility, and facing and overcoming obstacles defines our lives as human beings. A comfort zone is only comfortable for so long before it begins to weaken us, and a life of only pleasure is not necessarily a healthy life. Do you want to be happy and fully alive only when life is pleasing and easy or all the time?

The obstacles and challenges that come along with responsibility are an expected part and parcel of the fulfillment and meaning of the journey! Engaging in this process of shouldering a load or trudging uphill is how we can get and stay strong to thrive both on the inner landscapes of our lives as well as the outer.

So, instead of dreading responsibility, avoiding the challenges that come with it, or expecting your days to be easy, practice looking at your responsibilities as opportunities, and be grateful, humble, and happy for the next mountain to climb— for the journey will keep you continually growing and feeling alive and well.

And today, try the simple (not easy) practice of changing your language from “I have to” to “I get to take on X challenge or chore,” and enjoy seeing how what you might have habitually considered dreaded tasks, to-dos, or burdens magically transform into opportunities for improved wellness, happiness, and vitality!

I get to walk my dog (uphill) in the freezing cold of New England, a daily responsibility that keeps us both fit and vital!

 

 

 

Simple (not easy) Practice: Looking at Pain

Today’s Simple (not easy) Practice is about pain.

“The most hopeful result of analysis finds the patient suffering more of his pain than he was able to manage before. More of his pain is held in conscious awareness instead of being discharged into behavior that jumbles up his life, injuring his relationships or his work. A successful therapeutic venture leaves the patient’s outer life improved, perhaps dramatically. Ideally, the patient will find more satisfaction and pleasure than before. But instead of being tormented by meaningless pain, he will suffer pain constructively. Pain is always part of life, and the wounds that have molded the person into exactly this or that shape will continue to channel his responses to pain in his unique ways.”
— Barbara Sullivan

Look at your pain and try to be curious about it. You don’t have to DO anything about the pain. The practice is merely to look carefully and for some time. Perhaps you look at your pain at short bits of time, some number of times, throughout the day. Maybe you can only manage a few seconds; maybe longer. It doesn’t matter because you are building distress tolerance no matter where you start. Just try.

Your pain could be something as simple as a nagging bruise on your shin from banging into a chair in your room; it could be a difficult diagnosis you just received; it could be an unsolved puzzle that’s causing you stress; it could be your annoying sister who bitches and whines to you incessantly about her weight problem but you’ve got your own; it could be the bitterly cold or excessively hot (rainy, snowy whatever you don’t want nor like) weather; it could be the tweak to your lower back from your workout yesterday. Whatever causes you some sort of distress qualifies as pain. You pick. It really doesn’t matter what you choose because all you need to do once you choose is the following:

  1. Describe how this pain makes you feel.
  2. Reflect on how you define and describe this “pain” to yourself. Why and how does it qualify as “pain?” (nobody else’s opinion of what qualifies as pain matters, only your own)
  3. Notice your relationship to this “pain.” How do you relate to this particular pain? Notice, do you want to push it away? Do you resent having this pain in your life? Does it cause anxiety? Does it make you happy? Do you find it useful or necessary? Are you excessively or obsessively thinking about it or hyper-focused on it throughout the day? (Be honest and don’t judge your behavior negatively, as this exercise is only to gather information to learn)
  4. List ways this pain can possibly benefit you.  List as many possibilities as you are able (honestly).
  5. After you complete the above, notice, has your attention to pain changed the way you see your pain and how you feel about it?

Pain is powerful and it can easily be a drama we get swept away with or something we react to mindlessly and habitually, but in this practice, you have looked at your pain, paying more careful attention to it, and perhaps learned a bit more about it.

You have been with your pain more consciously and intentionally than usual, perhaps now also seeing it more objectively while “at a distance” from it. (Visualize holding up a glass of water to the light, seeing it swirl and settle.)

Perhaps you see that you have feelings and thoughts about your pain, and those thoughts and feelings make the pain more or less painful or more or less persistent?

Try to repeat this practice whenever you get a chance (God knows there will always be pain to work with in life!), continually observing yourself and the ways you interact with and relate to the pain that happens in your life (whether it comes from your inner landscape or from the world outside you).

Hold your pain up to the light for observation!

Practicing this often will help you become more and more familiar with pain, and over time, perhaps you will begin to see pain as your greatest teacher, as something to be welcomed rather than pushed away, something to be with as a part of you rather than something to reject, run from, or resist.

You might like the following story about how pain can be a gift and a great teacher: https://tinybuddha.com/blog/my-pain-was-a-gift-and-a-catalyst-for-growth/

*Quote excerpted from Bakis, M. (2019). Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self Study Guide for Wellness. Amazon (paperback and Kindle)

Netflix & The Paradox of Bikram

The Paradox of Bikram:
A Response to Netflix’s “Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator”

by Maureen Bakis

My yoga class is that sweltering day. It’s one long, hot meditation. We put incredible pressure on you to teach you to break your attachment to external things and go within. Instead of blaming others for your own weakness, fear and depression, you will learn to take responsibility for your own life. You’ve got to face yourself in the mirror, every part you don’t like, every mistake you make, every excuse your mind creates to limit your potential liberationthere’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. No escape from reality (my italics). With these kinds of demands on your abilities and attention, you will soon forget that there is anyone on the next mat in the classroom, much less notice what they are wearing. After you learn to discipline your body and mind under these conditions, you will truly be able to concentrate; no external will be able to break your powerful focus. That’s why I say the darkest place in the world is under the brightest lamp. In the Torture Chamber of my class, you will find a beautiful light, and the source of that light is within you.
—BIKRAM CHOUDHURY

Perhaps it’s never been more heated and challenging to be a Bikram yogi, and that’s exactly why I and thousands more people continue to practice Bikram’s original yoga series without stopping and without intermission.

I began practicing Bikram Choudhury’s yoga series seven years ago, a kind of practice that is defined by coming into direct, embodied, conscious contact with my own unique suffering–– mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. In Bikram’s class, I receive an education in pain, challenge, surrender, self-inquiry, conscious awareness, radical honesty, compassion, learning, distress tolerance, flexibility, humility, and better, more balanced parenting skills on my path toward becoming a more autonomous, fully actualized, healthy human person. Yes– a long sentence listing loads of benefits. Each time I practice, I learn about the value of continuously observing who I am and what I am like, positively transforming my relationship with myself on the inside and improving my relationships with others on the outside. It’s a form of social justice.

Because of Bikram’s yoga practice, both inner and outer landscapes of my life take on much higher resolution and greater salience. And my attitude toward pain, suffering, limitation, possibility, comparison, achievement, and outcomes has transformed, a radical and overwhelming shift in perspective to process-living. I am joyful in the high heat and pressure of the present moment including all of its challenges from within myself and from the uncontrollable external world to which I am always exposed, naked, and vulnerable. Sounds positive but it’s often an ugly process. Most people have been conditioned to avoid challenge, exposure, and ugliness. We just don’t go there.

When I entered Bikram’s Torture Chamber at my local studio and years later when I left home in Massachusetts to attended Bikram’s Teacher Training in Thailand for 9 weeks, I  left a world in which I expended all of my precious attention and energy toward constructing a static, certain, and safe environment; the kind of approach to living that was focused on fulfilling my desires, gratifying my expectations, and meeting my “needs” that I was conditioned to believe would help me “win” at modern American life.  I entered into a present-moment awareness, process-oriented, fluid and flexible space, unexplored territory beyond my comfort zone, a place of uncertainty and adventure, of risk and doubt, of unknowing (and of stink, sweat, profanity, and grit). Therein, I was encouraged to “trust the process.” I soon recognized that Bikram’s torture chamber is the same metaphorical place where heroes from the great stories of antiquity enter, so really not Bikram’s place per se, but my own and every human person’s confrontation with suffering. Again, who is encouraged to look directly at their limitations and pain?

I was a well-educated, intelligent, high school humanities teacher and single mother of four who consciously and voluntarily chose to be at Bikram’s Training, to learn directly from the source––the person in the mirror looking back at me. Bikram was merely the facilitator, one example of the best and worst of our human nature,  who provided the conditions for my growth, just as we Bikram teachers do for others at our studios. I was not sent to training by my intelligent, wise, and powerful female studio owner as a pawn for Bikram to sexually exploit, as the misguided attorney so incorrectly and unfairly proposed in the Netflix documentary film about Bikram, the man and his hatha yoga series. I was sent to learn how to be a compassionate presence for myself so that I could provide that for others. As readers are already likely predisposed to interpret any language related to Bikram and his yoga as extreme, cult-like, or dangerous––and now “predatory,” the latest negative association being propagated through the media, I won’t describe my personal transformation during teacher training using cliche metaphors of “I was blind and now I can see” or “I died and went to heaven” or “I was asleep and now am awake.” However, precisely because of what I learned from Bikram, I am fully aware that I cannot control how other people interpret the meaning I am attempting to convey here, but that I can only do my very best to describe my experience.

At my Teacher Training,  Bikram lectured often about birth and death where he transmitted ancient wisdom to his students that to die is to be continuously reborn; it’s to shed parts of the (small, ego) self that are no longer useful to make room for one’s human potential to actualize (and allow the higher Self to shine forth). This process of actualization is a continual loss and painful, i.e. “torture” and obviously challenging, and Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn also teaches, “no mud, no lotus” about the path to liberation and vitality. This is only one of many important aspects of Bikram’s brand of yoga that many people don’t quite understand, his “torture” chamber metaphor often criticized or interpreted inaccurately to serve more twisted purposes. Bikram’s disciplined brand of yoga is simply too distasteful, too hard, too hot, to people who don’t like the idea of being solely responsible for their individual change and growth. It’s much easier to blame, and to blame someone like Bikram is quite convenient.

Bikram did not invent the self-realization and self-actualization process, but his prescription for vitality “works” because of the Dialogue, high heat, and gestalt-like methods that occur in a mirror-based, self-relational framework that is unique and uniquely misunderstood, especially by Western-conditioned minds that are surface-concerned, outcome-obsessed, and pleasure-based.  The Western egocentric mindset interprets yoga practice (and the meaning of life) narrowly, in surface, shallow, materialist ways, as the stereotypical image of the thin, hyper-feminized body, glistening with perspiration in her expensive leggings “posturing” in the mirror, and the even more sensationalized version that includes these type of women “posing” for Bikram Choudhury (and any other hyper-masculine, read “toxic,” man in the room) and inviting them to salivate over them as alluring prey, and hasn’t Bikram purposely shaped his yoginis to satisfy his personal appetite? Um, no. This picture is extreme and absurd, but undeniably convenient and effective for click-bait, attention-getting, and money-making.Labeling or creating such an exaggerated story about this healing modality of Bikram yoga using such a narrow, limited lens essentially closes its therapeutic possibilities to people, rather than opening up a future to those who might access the wisdom and wellness that comes from this practice.

Thankfully, another great aspect of Bikram’s yoga is that people don’t need to intellectually understand its intrinsic wisdom to reap its benefits; they only need show up and try the hatha practice, even for stress-reduction or physical activity, and it will work its magic on body, mind, and spirit. One only need have a slightly open mind, a crack, to allow the light  to shine through. Unfortunately, our media tends to feed people’s intrinsic fear of change, vulnerability, and anxiety through its use of limited camera angles and by constructing  narratives that promote dichotomous thinking and close-mindedness which causes more polarity both within individuals and among them. Ironically, a man came to the studio last week to try Bikram yoga because his interest was piqued after having watch the Netflix documentary about Bikram. I would encourage anyone who is interested in truth to come discover it, for themselves, within themselves, and in that mirror in Bikram’s “Torture Chamber.”

As one of Bikram’s yogis, I am happy for the heat of the hotroom, that is––my suffering, even the disillusionment and disappointment that results from something beyond my control in the form of a negative depiction of our yoga; Bikram taught me at training, through his intentional antics among other lessons, not to wait or waste time trying to control what I cannot or to allow anything or anyone to steal my peace. If I do, that’s lazy and that’s on me. I have learned through direct visceral experience in my yoga practice and at teacher training to welcome everything and push nothing away, whether good/pleasant or bad/unpleasant, so I can be alive in all of my life not just when it’s easy or convenient or preferable.

The purpose of the practice is to discover one’s human nature and not to deny any of it, to be fully, uniquely, wholly oneself––thus thriving, more healthy and alive.  It requires discipline and honesty– two things that don’t happen immediately or as easily as say, taking a pill to feel better. We don’t get rid of stress and difficulty; we don’t build walls to keep all illness or negativity that comes from a Netflix documentary out; we don’t fix other people or reactively and blindly fight against evil; we don’t help people “get into postures” or modify them for comfort; we integrate both negative and positive energy into ourselves and transform it to become more actualized and fully alive—a responsibility and heavy burden that makes us whole, wise, and well.

I am proud and humble to say that I am a product of Bikram’s yoga, a practice and environment that at first seemed foreign to me, smelly, uncomfortable, insane, abnormal, extreme, cruel, uninviting, strange, and something to resist and run from when viewed from my previous world where mainstream conventional thinking shaped my perceptions of myself and others. I observe this same resistance––the desire to run, push-away, or lash-out-at, and/or to “fix” in the name of virtue and social justice exhibiting itself in people’s reactivity to Bikram Choudhury and his failings, his corruption, and his tragic fall.

In the beginning of my practice, I, too, had a lot of resistance and aversion; loads of neediness for comfort and security. I wasn’t sure of yoga’s purpose, my purpose. I struggled to make rational sense of this yoga practice, then the practice taught me that the mental stories I created and paradigms I’d inherited and cultivated through repeated habit over time were insufficient and inaccurately labeling reality; I noticed I was closed and resistant, clinging to what I knew (or thought I knew). I thought I was my thoughts. I thought I was my feelings. When I could see, with more honest vision, I realized my own deeply ingrained, unhelpful, and undiscerning habits and my craving for sameness and stability out of fear, and then I saw the possibilities beyond my limits and a future opened up. Remaining in the present moment, concentrating, and realizing limits, however, were the necessary and painful first steps, part of a steady dose of gradual exposure therapy for better distress tolerance and a better life.

Bikram says, 30 days for a better body, 90 days for a better life. I, like many others, went to the studio to do yoga as exercise ––for the better, more attractive body––and discovered much later that Bikram yoga changed my life. Hundreds of other people can report the same. People, most often studio owners and lovers of the Bikram series often purport to, “Separate the man from the yoga” to justify a sort of permission to practice the hatha series without unsympathetically dismissing the pain and suffering of alleged victims of Bikram, the individual, flawed man. And I get that. I’ve often said it myself. And if this rationale for continuing to teach and practice Bikram’s original series with its implicit philosophy of self-study for self-realization with its grounding in Hinduism works for sustaining a modern business model and helping more people with this specific and uniquely designed practice, then it’s a practical and pragmatic solution to the branding and other problems Bikram himself has caused.

The yoga and Bikram have taught me to become, through challenging practice, less resistant and more forgiving. To accept everything and push nothing away, even when painful, evil, uncomfortable or undesirable. Accordingly, it seems dismissive to me to reflexively rely on “separate the man from the yoga” to quickly change an uncomfortable or embarrassing or hard conversation, to retreat back into a cognitive and affective comfort zone due to one’s desire for stability, to feel “right” or “justified” or to end the painful challenge that comes with human vulnerability and the subtle complexities of being human. To me, this is the opposite of what can be learned and has been learned by so many already from Bikram’s specific practice. Therein lies the paradox of Bikram and his yoga.

Observing my own psychological, physical and spiritual transformation encourages me to continue practicing, to allow Bikram’s magic yoga medicine to flow through me to be wise, well, humble, happy. I continue to share my story, the story of Bikram and his yoga, with others on and off the podium. So, when my guru is under fire for his bad behavior, choices, and human faults, so, too, is the yoga, and so, too, am I as a dedicated Bikram yogi. This makes me sad and uncomfortable and also happy and grateful for this opportunity to learn more from its challenge. Bikram taught me that.

Bikram yoga is an environment, a practice, a mindset, a space for action and contemplation in which peak experiences, self-realization, and self-actualization are fostered consciously, systematically, deliberately, that is–– mindfully. As a Bikram yogi, I am not merely more physically flexible or strong from stretching in a hot room for 90 minutes at a go, I’m deeply in love with my own life, all of my life––its wholeness and integration–– not only when everything is as I want or hope or desire it to be; not just when it’s good, comfortable, or happy and all my needs are met; not when the conditions are some version of perfect that my mind might conjure up based on my social and educational conditioning over time–– again, the paradox of Bikram and his yoga.

I say to the documentary filmmakers and their fans, rather than criticizing Bikram’s yoga by sensationalizing it and attempting to destroy the livelihood of studio owners and their students to capitalize financially on the residual audiences of the me-too movement, I urge you to practice Bikram’s yoga so you can truly understand it and simultaneously embark on a path toward wholeness and wellness both for yourself and others as a more positive form of social justice.

 

Antidote to Disconnection

The overwhelming problems resulting from loneliness and disconnection from ourselves and from one another in our modern world has motivated me to write a curriculum for self-directed learning for self realization to encourage more connection– within individuals and among people.

The Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide is a curriculum designed for people to find out exactly who they are so they can be wise and well. The Guide was inspired by, based on, and part of my Bikram yoga practice.

Growing in Awareness

Bikram’s hatha yoga series and other forms of introspection, including writing and meditation, are my forms of self study. I also learn more about human nature by studying the stories of the Humanities, ancient and modern, East and West, as a way to learn more about myself and our collective human experience.  

I noticed over many years as a high school teacher that the schooling process (institutionalized education) and modern parenting both lack an important focus on the individual person’s interior life.  People don’t talk about the soul or the spiritual. Young people are anxious and depressed for a number of reasons, some of which are the result of cultural conditioning and its over emphasis on “the other,” the material, and the “externals” of the social and economic landscape. The need for interior work is critical to restore balance within individuals and within culture.  Thus, my new purpose as a yoga teacher, writer, and mental health counselor is to bring awareness to this problem of a lack of attention to soul, spirit, and psyche and do whatever I can to help people find more balance in their lives. The first thing I must do is care for myself so that I am able to care for others. 

Focusing Inward for Self-Realization & Wellness

My Bikram yoga practice has changed my understanding of myself and thus has changed my understanding of reality, human nature, and how I live.  I have learned how to consciously learn about myself and that this is, in fact, my responsibility to attend to regularly for a life of quality and purpose.

Yoga is not only physical but psychological and spiritual therapy as well.  I am hopeful others can experience such therapy through yoga practice for growth and transformation, hence my desire to share the details of my own story which led to creating this blog and the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human  Self Study Guide for Wellness.

One striking result of my continual practice of self study for which I am enormously grateful is that I have developed an attitude of openness to my life experiences which has improved and expanded my relationship with myself and with others. I feel more connected to life, to my own mind and body, to others, and to nature, thus more able to overcome fear, anxiety, and the enormous amount of rapid change and chaos of our modern style of living.  Like many others, I had no idea that I would find the wisdom and wellness that comes from self realization when I initially tried Bikram yoga as a form of exercise.  It would be an understatement to say it was a pleasant surprise.

The Mirror: Who am I?

Bikram yogis don’t go to the yoga studio to find happiness, ease, or the answers to all their problems. A Bikram yogi exercises reflection–literally, as he or she looks in the mirror during class and is thus directed to more consciously notice the process of learning more about oneself.

The practice of this form of hatha yoga teaches us to cultivate an open awareness to our limitations: to watch how we think and act; to notice how we respond to our individual limitations and the challenges of and within our environment. We can see how we behave under pressure, in the face of physical or mental challenge; how we calmly respond or irrationally react to fear, change, and pain. We watch how we suffer, resist, or alternately embrace our struggle and fear; how we talk about ourselves to ourselves and judge our own behavior– how we judge our self-critical nature instead of showing ourselves compassion and love.

We notice and observe how we stay stuck with particular thoughts (often negative or untrue upon further examination); how we might cling to and or release from the security of our rituals and habits we have created for ourselves as a way of comforting ourselves and have come to rely on as ways to avoid, deny, or to appease the ego’s desires and expectations.  We observe what it is we are paying attention to and how the attention wanders, flits about, and sometimes settles…or not. It seems that attention has a mind of its own, and perhaps, indeed, there are two minds at work. 

Because of my yoga practice, I see that I am both rational, self-conscious, and aware, and also fleshy and animal in my nature. I learn about what I am like and to accept whatever is without judgment and with compassion.  Sometimes this process  of self realization includes answers, ease, and happiness, but not always. It’s not magic. It’s challenging, a burden meant to be carried in order to grow in wellness and vitality. As the wise Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, “No mud, no lotus.”

Reflection

On further reflection upon my yoga practice, I can ask: Do I give myself compassion when I struggle? Can I feel the tightness of resistance in my body from fear? What’s going on within? Who is in the mirror looking back at me? Is that my greatest teacher, or do I shy away from her and over-depend on the wisdom of others instead? Do I trust the “experts” more than I trust and have faith in myself? What more can I learn from what’s happening rather than critically judge it? Where is the root of my suffering? What can I learn from pain? 

Bikram yoga is not only a work out, stress reduction, or an opportunity to wear cute leggings. It’s not intended to be a social practice, though the collective works simultaneously in silent moving meditation together. The energy and love in the room is palpable, and it is encouraging to be in a space where people are becoming more human, more self-aware, struggling to accept and be more of their unique selves. Outsiders who might peek into a class will see bodies moving or lying in stillness, but they cannot see what’s going on inside each person, beneath the sweat and the physical posturing, as we yogis travel our inner landscapes.

Self Discovery

I find out more and more about who I am every time I practice—which is the final destination– to learn, and to be fully present within this process of ongoing change that is “me.” The Bikram series of 26 poses and 2 breathing exercises as well as its dialogue delivered by a teacher don’t ever change, so that I can see how much and how often I change, for no other reason than to realize my own impermanence. I don’t keep track of progress or grade myself in our usual culturally prescribed sense of achievement. I simply show up to be present in the moment and experience myself– this changing energy, being, presence, and vitality. 

Honest Practice is All

Yoga is so much more than positioning one’s physical body and balancing. Yoga is about developing more conscious awareness, and the discovery that it is our individual responsibility to continually learn more about who we are to grow and thrive. This is more than striving for and attaining happiness, zen, or tranquility after a day’s hard work; rather, it is engaging honestly in the process of self-realization and self-actualization, which includes the range of human experience, both pleasure and pain. It’s simple, but rarely easy. It is practice to fully experience one’s humanity and ongoing transformation, to actualize potential like a flower petal blooming.

Beyond the Studio a.k.a. Yoga Off the Mat

So, as a result of all I have learned and experienced in Bikram Yoga, I wrote the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide for Wellness based on its principles and philosophy of self-realization. I wrote it to help people transfer what they are learning in their yoga practice within the studio to their lives beyond the studio, as a collection of tools for introspection, including self auditing activities, meditation, yoga practice, and writing. People who already engage in yoga or meditation practice already can benefit too, particularly from the unique 5-Part Self Study Wheel and the many self-auditing activities and resources included.

The Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide is meant to invite people into authentic learning and the process of self realization so that they can connect more deeply with their truest selves so that they can connect more deeply with others. The antidote to disconnection from others is connection with oneself. When each of us knows ourselves better and cares for ourselves with love and compassion, the world will be a better place.

Simple (not easy) Practice: Becoming Response-able

Becoming “Response-able” for Wisdom & Wellness

For Simple Practice today, observe the way(s) you RESPOND to your experiences.

Hopefully, if you slow down enough and pay attention as outlined below, you can learn something important about yourself and how you are responding to life.

When you learn more about your thoughts and feelings (mind/body), you are becoming more response-able, that is “able to take responsibility” for what’s happening with you, blaming less, and coping better. You have to notice your habits first in order to create optimal, more mindful ones for your wellness. This takes willingness, practice, and commitment to knowing yourself to become more wise and well. Enjoy this challenge!

Choose from any of the options below, and you may like to write about what you learned from this practice after its complete.

A. Pick some thought you think today and notice how you RESPOND to that thought.

Maybe you meditate for like 10 seconds or 10 minutes to notice a thought and the response to a specific thought. Or, just try to sit (or stand/walk/practice a yoga posture) and notice a thought and your response to that thought.

Simple, right? not so easy! Wondering why it’s not so easy?
Read this book for more information about how the mind works.

B. Pick a conversation (with one other person face-to-face) that you will likely be involved in at some point today (in your job or personal life or at the gym, etc…).

Notice how you RESPOND to this person. Focus on the process of stimulus and response that is happening with you, not getting carried away with the other person. This is an exercise to know yourself better, not about the other person. You are being response-able for you, not them.

C. Pick any feeling or emotion you have today and notice how you respond to that emotion.

For example, when you feel hungry, notice how you respond to that feeling. Try to carefully notice exactly what happens in the moment when you notice you are hungry Don’t skip over the thoughts and feelings too quickly, noticing only that you ate food as the sole response. It takes time to feel the sensation, notice you are experiencing it, and then…what comes next, before “doing something” about it. Try to slow way down to notice what’s happening between stimulus and response. Is there a thought or thought pattern (perhaps a usual story) that immediately follows the physical sensation of hunger, feelings associated with hunger?

Another example is anger. Notice how you respond to feeling angry. Notice what happens (without judgment– only to learn about yourself).

Another is anxiety, maybe social anxiety. Notice exactly what is happening with you, in you (body and mind) when you feel anxious.

*Maybe it’s not the thoughts or the feelings or the people that are problematic, but how you are responding to them. Perhaps you need to continue to learn more to become more response-able.

Simple Practice: Neutral Observation

Simple Practice on the Landscapes for Learning!

Neutral Observation

For one day, or one part of one day, or one hour of one day— look at your life as your classroom, a landscape for observation and nothing more. Consciously and intentionally decide that you will commit to trying to see your experiences (within a given period of time of your choosing, brief or throughout your day) as individual opportunities to simply observe, to notice, to watch from within your interior world–– without critical or value judgment. It’s simply an exercise in mindfulness meditation; it’s to observe reality/what’s happening non-judgmentally.

Imagine the above applied to one experience with a person, perhaps someone with whom you have conflict. Perhaps today is the day where instead of reacting per usual, you simply remain neutral and observe this person. Simple (not easy) practice. This is about learning about YOURSELF not the other person.

Practice process living to “be with” or “fully in” each moment as each one unfolds.

You will have to slow waaaaay down, relax (exhale slowwwwlllyyyy), and focus on what’s happening in the moment (rather than being lost in the past or “getting ahead of yourself,” or if it’s with another person, then not thinking about what your going to say next).

TRY to be present with a neutral attitude, an attitude toward whatever happens today in your day as merely fodder for dispassionate observation, for curiosity– what happens when I just observe?

JUST NOTICE and “be with” whatever is happening.

If you feel resistance,frustration, or disappointment, joy, relaxation, or whatever– just notice these, too, as moments to “be” with, non-judgmentally! It’s all OKAY!

Simple Practice isn’t perfect. It’s PLAY.

Later, you might like to write about your experiences of trying to be the curious, nonjudgmental observer, recording and reflecting on what you learned.

 

Simple (not easy) Practice: Rewriting Challenge

Simple (not easy) Practice: Rewriting Challenge

Today’s Simple (not easy) Practice is taken from the “Challenge Audit” in Part III: Challenge of the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self-Study Guide for Wellness. Challenge is at the heart of knowing who you are which is one reason why it is smack dab in the middle of the book. Challenge is at the heart, the crux, of self-study for self-realization!

In the “Challenge Audit,” I encourage you to slow down, to stop and reflect in writing about your challenges.  (Writing is a powerful therapeutic tool!) Most people are too busy or too afraid to stop and take stock. But, if people are in enough pain or their lives are unsatisfactory enough or completely falling apart in various ways, they may finally be more willing to slow down enough or stop long enough to take stock of the landscape (i.e. look at what the hell is going on) of their life and the things that are causing such pain and dissatisfaction. Those things may be external, internal, or both, and it takes honesty and study to discern the truth.

Of course, you don’t have to wait until you hit rock bottom to start paying attention to your challenges–– you can practice surveying the landscape of your life regularly, as a habit built into your moments of your days, through practices like this one, journaling, meditation , yoga or however else you can be quiet, introspective, and breathe easy. Introspection and reflection are always available as tools for wellness, but for many they, too, are challenges. Sometimes when we are searching frantically for answers or to calm down, we miss the solution, literally, right under our nose.

There are several writing prompts listed in the “Challenge Audit,” but here’s a few for today’s Simple (not easy) Practice:

“Specify and categorize your challenges using the List of Common Human Challenges categories. Merely listing or writing about them (however poorly) may be a step forward in facing them, understanding them more clearly by using specific language to define them, and creating a plan to cope with them.”

“Can you define your challenges as problems to suffer with or as opportunities to define yourself and grow–– to become more alive? In other words, what’s your mindset when it comes to your challenges?”

“Can you rewrite one or some of your challenges as opportunities for learning?”

(This is playing with the very notion of challenge, how you perceive and define it, how you relate to it, feel about it, and behave toward it.)

Try writing about how a/some/all of your challenges contribute to your personal wholeness (i.e. the ‘whole of you’ as a human person).

Notice the way you look at things….

Notice the language you use when writing about challenge…

There’s no wrong way to answer these prompts or to write about them or to think about them. They are meant to get you to pay attention to yourself, reflect on the notion of challenge and your personal challenges, and to notice and learn, a little bit at a time. The more you learn about your challenges and the role they play in how you construct your world (inner– how you see and relate to yourself, and outer–they way you see and relate to “what happens” out there), the more wisdom you’ll acquire for your wellness.

Rather than relating to this as a task to accomplish or as finding the answer to your challenges or to making pain disappear, try to relate to it as a process. Focus less on outcomes and more on experiencing the process of learning.

PODCAST #18 ON CHALLENGE

PODCAST #17 ON OPPORTUNITY MINDSET

Simple (not easy) Practice: Choice

A Moment, A Pause… & Conscious Choice

 
 

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of drama (your own internal drama or one happening with others/around you) and realizing,  “I don’t want to spend my moments in this state over this topic. It’s not a priority. It’s not aligned with my values. It’s unwise and it’s contributing to my unwellness.”  GREAT. That sudden moment of realization is HUGE! 

I have found that if I am suddenly aware, especially in such “heat of the moment” situations, I can make the choice either to suffer more, engage in unnecessary drama and stress more, or less. But the point is—I discover that I have a choice.

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
Viktor Frankl

I have found through daily reflections in writing and building self-awareness through my yoga practice that I can catch myself far more often while in some heated moments or stressful situations, and I am able to pause, evaluate whether this “drama” is an internal problem or an external problem, whether or not I can respond to it or control it somehow or not, whether I am wasting unnecessary stress on it or not. Because of the noticing and a pause, I can respond mindfully: I can take responsibility for my part in the drama, remain engaged in it or let go; show myself or someone else compassion; and respond to do what I can, if anything, and learn something from the entire experience. Spending my moments this way– attentive and responsible–has dramatically improved the quality of my life. 

How will you spend your moments?

Looking at everyday experiences with stress or difficulties as opportunities to face challenge, I ask myself, “Do I really wanna be “that guy?” and “Am I really caring for myself by allowing myself to experience unnecessary stress or causing more stress for myself?” I can do better than that for myself! If I don’t, who will? My life is my own, and I take responsibility for being both a whiny little bitch or a courageous, mother-fucking ass-kicker. I fail continuously in this endeavor, but it’s still a great way to spend my time and energy, for wisdom and wellness are the results (not perfection or achievement).

Choose better, for wellness. 

So, how to have more of these moments of awareness?  Practice through mindfulness meditation or yoga (moving meditation), or even try to keep awareness on your radar as something that is important to you to practice– it’s something of value. Write about it. Make it a priority. Make it a “thing” you do and who you are. Make it your “why” so you can bear the “hows” to get ‘er done. And, guess what, falling in love with this process means falling in love with your life –– i.e. the moments. Who knows how many we have?

––Viktor Frankl

For more, Read Part IV: Choice
from the
Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self-Study Guide for Wellness (2019, Amazon)

 

A Video Message from LFL!

LFL’s Simple Practices: Listening

So Simple. So Powerful. So Healthy.

Make time to PRACTICE listening!

NEW FEATURE: Simple Practices on the Landscape for Learning for Wisdom & Wellness

SUBSCRIBE BELOW FOR SIMPLE PRACTICES FROM LFL

Another SIMPLE PRACTICE for Wisdom & Wellness

PRACTICE LISTENING to YOUR INNER LANDSCAPE

Practice listening to yourself today. (You decide for how long or how often, when, where etc…)

What did you learn from listening AND the act of trying to listen to yourself? (No right/wrong answers here– only your experience of your own life. Stop judging!)

Write about the experience. (No wrong way to do this; writing might help you discover what you learned, thus more about who you are!)

*Be honest. Be compassionate.

And remember, it’s okay. Repeated failure is learning!

When you practice listening deeply, compassionately and honestly to yourself, you commune and connect with your whole person and then you can better listen commune and connect with others.

Try Another Simple Practice for Wisdom & Wellness Here!

NEW FEATURE: Simple Practices on the Landscape for Learning for Wisdom & Wellness

NEW LFL FEATURE!

Simple Practices on the Landscapes for Learning are simple, self-study practices that you can implement for wisdom and wellness. One, simple step at a time in your day-to-day life can transform the world! Subscribe to Receive Simple Practices in your Inbox!

PRACTICE LISTENING to ANOTHER PERSON

 

To listen (and to be heard) is therapeutic for both the giver and receiver. It’s connection and communion and it appears to be in short supply these days, despite our technological interconnectedness. Reports of loneliness have skyrocketed, so what can one person do, in their own local sphere of influence, in their day-to-day lives to help others feel less lonely?

Practice listening to another person today, giving this person your full, undivided, quality attention which is an act of love. (You decide who, for how long or how often, when, where etc…).

Try listening without thinking about what you are going to say next; if you get distracted by your own thoughts while the person is talking to you, just notice and refocus on giving the person your full attention again. (This may happen repeatedly and it’s ok.)

Try listening NOT to get information from the other person to do anything with it, but simply BE present in the activity of listening. You can enjoy the practice of listening (not striving to be perfect at listening) in a nice, relaxed way. Enjoy the trial and error of your practice; enjoy gift-giving, even if your gift is poorly constructed or irregular, imperfect. Imagine a child tries to show you how much he loves you by making a “gift” for you in his childish, imperfect way. Those gifts are among the most meaningful and most fulfilling!

Simple practice, potentially HUGE impact!

You are giving this person who you commit to listening to a tremendous gift– your attention. Your attention is precious! Your attention is your life! By choosing to direct it and sustain it on another person shows that you value this person, and if you listen without expectations or conditions– well that’s even more powerful. Believe it or not, many people don’t value themselves enough, never mind value themselves unconditionally. They don’t think they “mean” very much. Or they believe that they have to do something or be a certain way to have value. Some don’t believe they are “worth it.” Even the people who appear confident and successful on the outside may not feel that way on the inside. Showing them some quality attention may have deep and lasting impact and matter more than you might guess.

It is an act of unconditional love to give your attention to another person. Cultivating that intentional practice for you will be healthy and provide others with opportunities to accept love (many have trouble receiving).

If the person you choose can fully and consciously accept your attention, great! If not, that’s okay too. If a person is unaware or unconscious of the gift they are being given, try not to be disappointed. We aren’t focused on results. We control what we can– which is our intentional choice to give, to offer another our attention, and we let go of what we cannot control, which is the other person and their choices and behavior etc…

In this modern world, people are very distracted and busy– so much so that they remain unaware of the rich and quality attention that someone may be offering them. If we give them enough opportunities, that will increase the likelihood that they will realize or awaken to the love that’s surrounding them.

Give people (and yourself) as many opportunities to learn as possible.

Rather than focusing on outcomes (putting all our hope and expectations into what will “come of this” act of listening), just focus on and be with the process— the listening. Just listen and enjoy your efforts to listen with your ears, your eyes, your heart, and your whole self.

At the end of your day, write about your experiences with listening. Write about what you learned from your act and efforts to listen deeply to another person, (write about yourself, about the other person, the experience– the connection). Written reflection about your experiences will reinforce your commitment to and appreciation of the moments of your life and help you develop good, life-enhancing habits that help you and others continue to learn and grow more wise and well.

*Be honest & compassionate with yourself as you write.

018: Podcast on CHALLENGE

This podcast is a reading of a couple of excerpts from Part III of the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self-Study Guide for Wellness (2019, Amazon) called “Challenge.” To know oneself deeply, to express oneself authentically, to be fully present for yourself, even in your pain, is a difficult path, but it is the way to a meaning-filled life of wisdom and wellness.

Grappling with our unique forms of suffering and problems, whatever that entails or however it manifests uniquely within each person, directly opposes our modern cultural values that are about promoting happiness, getting people to literally buy into the story that they need comfort and pleasure (permanently) and encouraging a dependence on everything outside of themselves rather than within. Guess what? You are enough and you can “fill” your life by getting to know who you REALLY are through facing your fears and challenges. It requires honesty as well as building courage and personal discipline, and that’s exactly why most people take pills, develop unhealthy dependencies on others, retreat to or stay forever in their comfort zones, and live lives of “quiet desperation” in the words of HD Thoreau.

Our sources of pain are diverse, but we are all flawed and we all suffer– in our own ways, great and small– because we are human. It’s scary and challenging to face our insecurities and vulnerabilities, but doing so is exactly the path to freedom. You can learn tools and practices to get better at suffering and to suffer less and live with more joy in this very struggle.

COLLEGE SCANDAL, VALUES & VITALITY

 REAL Priorities or Surface Concerns?

I read this article from Education Week this morning, confirming the need for what my LFL mission can deliver to students and their parents (who don’t have to get the wisdom curriculum IN school necessarily– they can access my book and online workshops!) to help them be wise and well, not merely to become well-educated in an academic sense/setting. I am trying to sell the idea that a quality life as a healthy and ethical and compassionate human being is the foundational education that underlies all other kinds of success. In fact, I would love to redefine success entirely. I don’t care about “performing well academically in college” as much as I care about nurturing healthy, whole, and fully-integrated human BEINGS (not just human DOERS). I left education to focus on teaching people HOW TO BE IN LIFE rather than only focusing on WHAT TO DO with their lives.

The article below is a classic example of how we talk about wholeness and wellness related to young people only as it relates to our current over-valuation of college success. Can we reverse this article’s priorities? Can we educate our kids for wisdom and wellness FIRST and then talk about college success as one of the many results of a healthy and meaningful human experience?

In There’s More to College Prep Than Academics b (Education Week 

Colleges place significant weight on a student’s grade point average, class rank, and standardized test scores in the admissions process. For decades, these measures have informed how K-12 schools design curricula and counsel students on college readiness.

Yet grades and SAT results alone are ineffective predictors of students’ college success. Other factors come into play when understanding why some students positively transition to college and persist, while others drop out. In fact, more than a quarter of first-year students who started college in the fall of 2016 failed to return to college the following year.

A wealth of additional skills is needed to thrive—not just survive—in college, including conscientiousness and effective study habits. A 2012 study on college success by Larry A. Sparkman, Wanda S. Maulding, Jalynn Roberts, and colleagues suggested that students who demonstrated stronger emotional intelligence were better able to handle the rigors of college.

School counselors are well-positioned to offer meaningful support that could lead to lower college dropout rates and stronger retention rates. Everything from sound mental health to social inclusion affects students’ experience on campus. Beyond just academics, school counselors and college advisers should also address the soft skills needed to flourish in college, including social skills, an appreciation for diversity, personal health care, financial literacy, time management, and organizational skills.

Conversations between counselors and students about mental health is especially vital, as evidenced by the prevalence of college students battling anxiety, depression, substance abuse, or thoughts and acts of self-harm. [Could it be that our priorities are inverted?]

It’s time to take college prep beyond grades, FAFSA applications, and test scores—the academic, financial, logistical, and competitive aspects of the process. Going forward, school counselors must consider the following steps to prepare students for all that college entails:

1. Revamp curricula. Preparing students for the academic, social, and emotional rigor of college requires a comprehensive curriculum implemented by school counselors. San Francisco State University researcher Patricia Van Velsor encourages school counselors to reimagine their curricula to include developing social-emotional learning, executive functioning, and social skills as part of college readiness. According to Van Velsor, this model of counseling students on the college-going process is just as important as academics to their mental health, adjustment, and persistence when they transition to higher education.

2. Encourage extracurricular involvement. Numerous studies conducted over the years by several researchers have demonstrated that students who physically get involved with their campus perform better academically and graduate at higher rates. Students need to be encouraged at the K-12 levels to join clubs, sports, faith-based events, volunteer groups, and other activities outside of school. These extracurriculars can help students be more outgoing, have more friends, feel a stronger sense of belonging, and demonstrate better attachment and positive adjustment to their schools and community. Students already engaged in activities in the years prior to college are better positioned to continue during college.

3. Integrate psychoeducational groups. Incorporate certain types of group therapy into school counseling and college advising curricula to help students develop the interpersonal skills needed for successful peer-to-peer interactions. In their 2007 book, Evidence-Based School Counseling, Carey Dimmitt, John C. Carey, and Trish Hatch argue that school counselors trained on group development and group facilitation are better suited to support students’ mental-health needs and offer strategies that encourage personal-emotional growth. 

4. Bring soft skills into the conversation. Connect with college-bound students about the soft skills needed to persist in college, including budgeting, establishing academic and personal efficacy and resilience, maintaining mental health, and knowing where to seek support if needed. Discussions about nutrition, hygiene, and physical activity are key, too.

Living with roommates, overcoming homesickness, effectively managing one’s time, and developing self-identity are often part of the college experience, too. For instance, making friends and developing the ability to network can make a large campus feel more accessible, while a circle of friends establishes a community, all of which can help ensure students remain in school. Researcher Janice McCabe studied the formation of college friendships, concluding that the friend networks students build during college can have discernible academic benefits—and even shape social and work lives after college.

Research also suggests that individuals with a good sense of executive function, including being able to read the emotions of others and regulate one’s own emotions, are better equipped for college and a career.

5. Think differently about the right “fit.” The College Board recommends that selecting a college with the right “fit” should be based on location, size, type of college (e.g., two-year or four-year), and majors. It neglects to mention how the college represents students culturally, racially, and ethnically in its demographic makeup. College campuses lacking diversity may cause psychological and emotional distress for students of color. Counselors need to advise students to be intentional in choosing colleges based on whether the campus reflects their racial and cultural needs, offers leadership opportunities, and is located in a community that demographically reflects their personality and identity.[Do young people know who they are?]

College-bound students with high test scores but poor social skills are not necessarily well-equipped to handle the nuances of college beyond the classroom. Far more benefit would come from actively developing high school students’ emotional intelligence, mental health, and organization skills, along with racial and cultural identity.

EYES ALWAYS ON EXTERNAL PRIZES

(and the nefarious and corrupt who will do anything to achieve them!)

Ultimately what I am trying to promote HERE AT LANDSCAPES FOR LEARNING is slowing down enough to be present in one’s own life (body and mind) and to look within to learn more about who one is. Rather than predominantly focusing on achievement, I am encouraging more attention to intrinsic understanding, acceptance, and love of one self. I  am encouraging and teaching about why and how to observe one’s own moment-to-moment experiences and reflect on them continually to learn more about what one’s own life teaches.

When I was teaching yoga and high school students, I could see clearly, when on the frontline with high school seniors, how much they (and their parents) would have benefitted from yoga, which I define as self-study for self-realization: this includes stillness, present-moment awareness, introspection and reflection, and it is practiced not MERELY to accomplish or achieve or reach goals on the timeline of their lives (horizontal landscape), but because of how much more fulfilled they’d be and how deeply engaged they’d be in their vertical landscape of their own being. This deeper connection, awareness, and awakening to one’s own truth and integrity is the foundation of “outward success” whatever that looks like for each unique person. This type of “success” in knowing oneself is wisdom that provides people with “enough” and a “feeling of fullness” so that chasing goals to fill one’s socially constructed, competitive and compared self becomes far less urgent, thus more balance ensues.

Of course, it is great to learn about what works for others and to gain information that could be helpful which is what self-help and standardized curriculum is typically comprised of, but what works for some does not always apply to each individual person. We are all the same to a degree, yet so unique in personality and physical, mental, intellectual, and psychological constitution.

At LFL, my aim is to encourage you to make the time to point your attention inward, at least more often or as often as you point your attention to others and the future and the external world that’s constantly demanding your attention.  Read the book of you in addition to what you can read and learn from the “outside” world. Experience in education and in the world of yoga showed me how much the balance is off because the outside world has got a death grip on our attention (thus our values– where we spend most of our time and energy, thus stress) without us really being aware of it!  I TRULY BELIEVE THAT EACH ONE OF US CAN BE OUR OWN BEST TEACHER, AUTHORITY, AUTHOR, AND WELLNESS EXPERT IF WE COULD SLOW DOWN ENOUGH TO PAY ATTENTION TO OUR INNER LANDSCAPES!

LFL’S MISSION IS TO INSPIRE  & MOTIVATE YOUNG PEOPLE TO PAY MORE ATTENTION TO THEIR INTRINSIC SENSE OF SELF  RATHER THAN ONE’S SOCIAL IMAGE!

To this end, I don’t love formal education’s over-emphasis on group identity or focusing predominantly on social-interpersonal skills (how to be nice to other people etc..) because I happen to believe (and feel free to criticize me and disagree) that if people knew, accepted, loved, and attended to their inner landscapes that they’d be far more compassionate and socially adept on the external landscapes of life. It’s no coincidence that a Mindfulness Movement has erupted yet SADLY I see how schools co-opt this by USING it as a tool to serve their utilitarian values which are outcomes and results-focused—that is, for kids to “do better” in measurable ways, to be more productive, competitive, higher achievers, and…umm… “successful.”

So yes, of course college students will be more successful in their endeavors by developing persistence and other “soft skills” that are related to their integrity— that is—of knowing on a deep, intimate level who they REALLY are. This is self realization that can come from self-study. And self-actualization (unlocking one’s potential) is the result of this ongoing process!  That’s BEING FULLY ALIVE AND WELL. Being a successful college student pales in comparison.

My LFL curriculum  (my self-directed wisdom curriculum for modern humans or self-study for self-realization guide and workshops and resources) is not social-emotional curricula; is not character-education, is not mindfulness meditation (but includes all 3). I never wanted what I am doing to get co-opted by the institution of school, and so that’s why I left education to create my own space online where learning, real inner and personal learning can be done on one’s own, privately, quietly, intrinsically motivated, without grading, and encouraging only self-assessment– authentic, real assessment that has value for the learner and is practically applicable to one’s own unique life!

 

 

 

Anti-fragility Training

Bikram Yoga as Anti-fragility Training

Bikram Yoga helps people develop distress tolerance which is the ability to withstand challenge– some of which include emotional distress, difficult physical sensations, mind-racing or distorted thinking, and general discomfort with staying in the present moment. What’s the point of being able to withstand challenge? Shouldn’t we just eliminate challenge to make the world and all of our experiences in it nicer? Um, no.

Bikram yoga is EN–COURAGING.

That means you become courageous through practicing self-study for self-realization. What is self-realization? You pay attention to how you respond to challenge– to being YOU, and you practice nurturing the thoughts and habits that make you flexible and resilient and discard the habits that make you weak and fragile.

Anti-fragility: Yogis bend; they don’t break! 

The fear, pain, and challenges NEVER go away (someone will hurt your feelings, steal from you, and other injustices, even the injustices you inflict upon yourself from negative thinking; shaming etc— count on it because this is human nature), but you CAN DEVELOP YOUR ABILITIES AND CAPACITIES to cope, survive, and dare I say even thrive! This development is one of both MIND and BODY.

QUIZ

QUESTION: So guess what the antidote to stress (whether from fear, threats (real or imagined), problems, mean people, oppression, offensive “violent” language, vulnerability, confusion, and bullying) is?

(*HINT: It’s not running away and it’s not distraction.)

A. Living in a bubble of protection, safe-spaces, and being coddled thus missing valuable opportunities to grow stronger, courageous and wiser.

B. Practicing with gradual exposure to difficulty and challenge to develop trust and faith in your abilities (that maybe you didn’t know you had!) and gain a greater sense of self, independence, and personal power.

C. See the world as good versus evil (without room for nuance) or worse “good groups” vs “bad groups” and fight the enemy until peace, justice, and perfect equality reigns (i.e. utopia)

D. Ignore compassion, forgiveness, friendship, and that people are prone to error, bias, negativity, and flawed and working through their own trial and error

 

Podcast HERE

The answer is B.

Yes, of course, there are actual injustices, abuses, and REAL threats to our safety, but the “concept creep” that Haidt & Lukianoff, 2018 talk about in their book has created a culture of coddling– a fear of fear and pain; a world where we try to control others to make our own always-pleasant-safe-spaces where trigger warnings will alert us to any potential intellectual offense that may make us feel emotionally distressed or uncomfortable. Where nobody gets hurt– ever. A place where behavior and ideas that differ from our own cannot possibly be tolerated because they cause us discomfort.

The best learning is uncomfortable and stressful because it catapults you from a safe space to an unsafe space; from a place of security to insecurity and back again and it never ends. Might as well decide you will try to enjoy this process, otherwise you will continue to suffer more and be forever frustrated that you cannot control other people and your environment or anything that may threaten. Accept vulnerability and pain and see them as your best teachers. This is the practice of yoga.

Sure, people make mistakes and bad things happen, but DO NOT accept continual extreme physical or psychological abuse or extreme danger, even the kind you might inflict upon yourself. There are extremes, but these are well, extreme, thus highly unusual or out of the norm. MOST transgressions are forgivable and can be managed as opportunities for personal growth.

One of the worst things you can do is deny people, especially young people/kids, opportunities to build resilience and hone their skills for stress management.  Altering the learning process of direct experience– by censoring it, sanitizing it, limiting it, short-cutting it, or overly-controlling it is disempowering too. This kind of tyranny will destroy creativity, cooperation, friendship and growth. It turns out that facing your challenges and learning to cope with them is what makes you healthy and gives you purpose. As we say in Bikram Yoga– we will not spare you your struggle– to do so is an injustice! You practice suffering to get better at it rather than fighting tooth and nail to be pain-free which is an exercise in futility.

Podcast 17: LEARNING as OPPORTUNITY MINDSET

In this podcast, I read Part V: LEARNING from

Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self-Study Guide for Wellness (2019, Amazon).

The podcast includes subtopics like:

*Vulnerability as intrinsic to learning process and creating meaning

*Parenting without safe-space or victim mentality

*Schooling discourages failure and uniqueness

*How and why to continue learning as a lifestyle and as a moment-to-moment mindset

*Curiosity and Possibility (Adopting a Landscapes for Learning mindset)

 

Stream the podcast here, Download it, or visit Landscapes for Learning @ iTunes.

Same Song, Slightly Different Lyrics

I loved this conversation between Rich Roll and Dr. Jud Brewer on the Rich Roll Podcast. My book, Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self-Study Guide for Wellness (2019, Amazon) overlaps with so many of the concepts and ideas Dr. Brewer talks about. I feel like my own life experience (especially in practicing mindfulness intrinsic to Bikram Yoga) is evidence for what Dr. Jud has been studying for a very long time. We are singing the same song with slightly different lyrics!

 

%d bloggers like this: