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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!

 

 

 

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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.

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How and Why Self-Study, Podcast #16

Landscapes for Learning is podcasting again!

I took the year “off” from recording podcasts to write the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self-Study Guide for Wellness (2019, Amazon)!  Now I want to continue sharing the mission of LFL and teaching its self-study curriculum through podcasting and conversations online!

Since the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self-Study Guide for Wellness is a curriculum, the podcast will supplement, explain, enhance, and extend its contents and add to its already great collection of resources!! Yes, Bitches!! You’ll be able to learn about all things related to self-study and self-realization (yoga, learning, writing, challenges/ problems, etc) through listening AND consulting the practices and information in the book however you like, whenever you like, in a variety of formats you enjoy. ( e.g., Sitting in traffic or taking a walk are both great opportunities for listening in to learn more about YOURSELF!)

MY UPDATED LIVING WELL CHECK LIST 2018-2019

  1. Learned how to podcast (check!)
  2. Created a draft of an online course (check!)
  3. Turned online course into a self-directed learning curriculum: a Self Study Guide for people to use privately, in their own space (check!)
  4. Wrote and published said Self-Study Guide on Amazon. Sold (and selling) to Bikram Yoga studios and online! (check!)
  5. Incorporated as Landscapes for Learning, LLC! (check!)
  6. Having loads of ideas (about present book and for next books) and wanting to talk about them via podcast (check)

LFL’s Episodes 1-15 from 2018 helped me to flesh out ideas that ended up coming together quite nicely in book form. Now, I am shifting gears and going in a more deliberate direction by drawing on the CWFTMHSSG’s 5 main principles to create podcasts where  I will be inviting more guests to talk all things related to learning: yoga, self-study, mental health (all while I am learning Counseling Psychology to become a mental health counselor), self-realization, self-actualization, shared humanity, nature, and education!

Have a listen for an informative hour to

Podcast 016: How and Why to Self-Study for Self-Realization, Wisdom and Wellness.

Click and listen below or Download. Also listen via iTunes or Spotify.

 

Subscribe to LFL on iTunes & Share with those who you think may benefit from looking inside themselves for wellness!

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A Reading List for Hannah

A few months ago, a yoga student at my studio asked me what I read. She wanted a list of recommendations. So, Hannah, this is a visual of what’s on my Kindle App and the few books in my living room at the moment! This list is incomplete because, well, I am old and I have read a lot throughout my life. And, a few years ago, I was too attached to who my library told me I was, so in a minimalist-inspired moment, I donated MOST of my books. (I wrote a blog post about that experience called “Real Teaching is Risky Business”) More recently, I moved, and so many of the books I did keep are packed away in boxes. Their wisdom is in my heart and manifest in my behavior (for good I hope more than for ill) because I am not very good at keeping information in my mind for very long. If it really matters and impacts me deeply, then I internalize it. Oh, and just so you know, some of the books below were for my continuing professional education as well as others that belong to my kids! e.g. The Hunger Games, Sarah’s Key 🙂 Yes, my AAA card is there too. I highly recommend AAA as they have rescued me from many a flat tire. LOL.

Many more books also live in my Audible Library, as I have begun to listen to books while I walk my dog, Finn. I also listen to a boatload of podcasts (find a short list of those in the blog post called “Practicing Gratitude”) which in a way, I consider part of my library for learning.

In addition to the books below, many more titles, online articles, podcasts, and videos also live in the References pages at the end of my most recent book, Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self-Study Guide for Wellness available in Kindle and Paperback versions at Amazon.com.   The Kindle version is cool because you can click on the many resources I used to write the book and travel down the same rabbit holes I did to learn more about yourself.

So, for Hannah and anyone else interested….here’s a short, visual reading list below.

I bought this last book in Kauai, Hawaii, while waiting in line to pay for my groceries. It’s called MORE: Do More of What Makes You Feel Alive written by Kobi Yamada and designed by Jill Labieniec.

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Adventures in Learning Familiar & Foreign

I have heard Joe Rogan interview Jordan Peterson many times, so often that I was reluctant to listen to them talk again.  As I plugged in my headphones and headed out the door on my usual morning walk with my fantastic dog, Finn, I asked myself, what else can I possibly learn from these guys? Should I get out of this rabbit hole? Are they going to talk about the same things they always do? It’s all so familiar to me. Then I started thinking about the nature of the word “familiar” and all its associations: family, sense of security, home, contentment, but also complacency and boredom.

I noticed that once I think I “know” a thing really well, I like to switch the focus of my attention elsewhere, to what’s novel. I like constant stimulation. I like newness and challenge. But, on further reflection, I also know I like and need stability, order, and sameness for a sense of security, a base from which I can take new risks, handle new stimulation, and build more insight and experience. I am describing the yin and yang of authentic learning (which is an entirely different thing from schooling and academic achievement.)  Broadly speaking, learning is a psychological balance between a sense of permanence and novelty.

Personally, I am conscious of the value of the learning process in my own life, and am working hard here at Landscapes for Learning to make this process available to others in the form of a more complete and ongoing education for personal development and wellness. My way of keeping my wheel of self-study turning and rolling forward is to share my love for learning with others.

Sometimes I cling too tightly to security and resist change; sometimes I roll to the other extreme and risk too much and fail a bunch. The process is a balancing act on the landscapes for learning, but as long as I am active and consciously aware of my own learning, that wheel rolls. I believe that if more people can become consciously aware of this process of learning and understand themselves better, they’ll manage the balance most effectively for a happier and more fulfilling human experience.

Landscapes for Learning’s Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide contains motivation, tools, and practices to help people become new kinds of learners for a modern world that requires balance and change management more than ever before. It’s my way of sharing my personal tools and practices for wellness developed through my life as a humanities teacher, writer, Bikram yogi, and student of many amazing teachers (including the two men in the podcast embedded in this post). Knowing thyself is the key to self-realization and unlocking one’s potential and therefore wellness and wellbeing, especially now, in modern times. An attitude of openness to learning, flexible mindset, and humility– the realization that there’s always more to learn to grow— is essential for thriving with vitality in this new age. We cannot afford to stay stuck clinging to security and permanence which aren’t real but rather we must learn to find the balance between the familiar and foreign.

The landscapes of life are for learning– always —because we (and everything else) are always changing. Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson are always changing and learning; the interaction between them will always give birth to something new and include what’s stable between them. I can learn from them. I can learn more about myself because I am different from the last time I heard their previous conversations. Because we are alternately familiar to ourselves and foreign to ourselves, as the yin and yang of who we are, we can always know and learn more.

There’s no such thing as mastery when it comes to learning. You can never know it all, ever.  Jordan Peterson would say the process of learning is to walk the edge between chaos and order, and he is only restating in his own terms what the greatest minds over the course of human history of the East and West have discovered and said already; it’s the wisdom of humanity.

Jordan Peterson is only one of many who articulates the wisdom of humanity in interesting ways that make it particularly accessible to people struggling to find meaning in their lives. He’s made ancient wisdom modern self help. I am trying to do the same  through my Landscapes for Learning mission and the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide. which is curriculum that empowers people to figure out who they are.

Lots of people inform others about the keys to wellness or the wisdom of the past; my work in the Self Study Guide is about “the how” to inspire people and give them the motivation, support, tools, and practices to implement today, in their everyday lives, for wellness.

The video above is purposely cued for you to begin at the end of their almost three hour conversation because it is when they talk about how finding meaning in life is more about ATTENTION than it is about INTELLIGENCE. A meaningful life is more about DISCOVERY than it is about CONTROL.  (Listen to them talk about the antidote to moral relativism and the danger of intelligence from 2:09-2:19…)

Around the 2:20 point in the podcast, JRE and JBP talk about how much we don’t know about who we are and how you have to watch yourself and learn as YOU and life are constantly coming into being, as a series of continual births and deaths, as JBP says. Reflection is key. That, and honesty, are the foundational principles of the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide. Honest self reflection and writing go hand in hand to know what you think and feel in order to grow and learn, and to grow and learn is to be more alive and vital in the world. You provide yourself with your own therapy when you use the tools in the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide.

“Logos” is an interesting concept Jordan Peterson often talks about which is about how we articulate our selves through speech. Reading or observing ourselves and our experiences and articulating them by writing them down or talking about them is the crux of self-reflection and introspection that is necessary to know who we are. The Self-Study Guide I have created is designed for people to do just that– articulate who they are to themselves. Like my Bikram Yoga practice has been for me, introspective writing is another tool for self-realization, for unlocking one’s potential. As Peterson says in the interview with Rogan, personal reflection is essential for understanding how to get back into the place of FLOW, where you want to be– where meaning lives and where you are connected to the core of your being. Yes and Yes!

I have made it my job at Landscapes for Learning to help people discover themselves, who they really are to unlock their potential, find their “flow,” and be the best and most unique individual they were born to be. Through providing inspiring examples, motivation, various forms of education and curriculum, and coaching, I hope to empower people to self-actualize which is a lifetime process requiring tremendous honesty and effort. This is more than another self-help endeavor. Knowing who you are is your life’s work and totally worth the time and effort for the meaning and purpose it provides.

I didn’t think I could learn more from JRE and JBP because I am so familiar with them, but I always learn more both from what’s familiar or secure and from what’s novel or foreign. There’s always more potential waiting to be actualized if you intentionally engage with the path that lays itself out for you keeping that attitude of discovery Peterson talks about. Life is an adventure story and you are its hero.

Follow what you are drawn to as the way forward on your path, consciously choosing to approach all of your life as landscapes for learning. And if you pay careful attention to yourself to learn more about your own nature and who you are, that is– if you travel the inner landscapes with the attitude of a curious learner, you’ll never be stunted, bored, or complacent. The Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide will show you how and give you concrete activities and exercises to do to learn to navigate the interior of you for a life of meaning and vitality.

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Everybody Wants More Wisdom & Wellness

Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human  Self Study Guide Coming Soon!

I believe so strongly that dedicating more time and energy to understanding oneself is the foundation for balance and wellness in this day and age of speed and data overwhelm that I left the security of my career as a high school teacher to create Landscapes for Learning, an online classroom where my mission is to foster the growth of individual uniqueness and encourage individual expression through learning.

I had been grappling with the increasing anxiety and unwellness among my teenage students and observing it throughout the school’s culture (and our wider culture), while at the same time I was helping people to grow in healthy self-realization as a Bikram yoga teacher. The philosophy of Bikram yoga with its aim of self-realization seemed to be a viable antidote needed to address the problems pervading not only school culture but our American culture at large.

I wondered how I could possibly bring the principles of yoga into schools to improve wellness and balance. How could I marry the yoga with education for wholeness and wellness for individuals?

One answer is my soon-to-be-published Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide, curricula for promoting wisdom and wellness. 

The five central tenets of the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide are based on what I learned both as a Humanities teacher and within my personal yoga practice, a combination of the wisdom traditions of both East and West, and are meant to help both teens and adults heal themselves through self-development for optimal health and quality lifestyle.  

The Self Study Guide directs you to (1) understand attention and it’s value and learn to manage your own, (2) gain self-awareness, (3) realize the value of embracing challenges and limits, (4) make intentional choices to respond to experiences rather than reacting unconsciously, and  (5) approach your life experiences with curiosity and as opportunities for learning.

Through this process of self-study, you will likely become your own best trusted friend, teacher, therapist, and parent capable of independently traveling the landscapes of your life as if on the most interesting adventure.

You can learn to “do you” and express your uniqueness which is exactly what you need to be well!

If each of us is well and expressing our uniqueness, then all of us are better off. 

Knowing thyself is about our individual humanity and our shared humanity. If you want to make the world a better place, it’s starts with knowing who you are and living the full expression of you!

The Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide can show you how!

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Problems, Purpose, & Shitty First Drafts

“The meaning and design of a problem seem not to lie in its solution, but in our working at it incessantly. This alone preserves us from stultification and petrifaction.”
— C.G. Jung

Problems define us. Rather than ignoring them, pretending they don’t exist, or that they are someone else’s responsibility to solve, facing problems and taking on the challenge to solve them gives us something to do to define our (better) selves. 

WRITING FOR PROBLEM-SOLVING

Writing is a tool that helps me define my problems and work to solve them. Writer, Anne Lemott, famously promotes the “shitty first draft” as a way to begin to articulate oneself without concern for a final product. You just write with the reassurance that you’ll shape something out of your shittiness later. Usually, the process of shittily drafting will lead you closer to articulating a problem more clearly, sometimes by bringing the unconscious to the conscious level, and thus, in the general direction of a possible solution. As you might imagine, this is quite a messy process. It requires vulnerability, willingness to remain in a temporary state of ambiguity and confusion, and trust in yourself that the trash that’s being drafted might eventually turn into treasure…or not. When writing, one is continually tip-toeing along the line of security and insecurity– that is, learning. I actually enjoy the process, as uncomfortable as it can be.

Since pregnant with my first child who is now almost 25 years old, I have written almost daily in a journal. I did not deliberately set out to use journaling as the therapeutic tool it turned into, rather I only wanted to record my son’s life for him and his three siblings that followed. But, over the years, my journal has been the friend, therapist, and doctor I needed to know myself better and make sense of my experiences. Problem-solving and truth-seeking can be done through writing because it allows the writer to, among other things, sort through, organize, and assess one’s thoughts and emotions honestly, honesty being the key. And here’s another bonus, telling the truth in writing is linked to wellness (Pennebaker).

YOGA FOR PROBLEM-SOLVING

In addition to journaling, I have always found physical activity, including athletics, physical labor, and exercise helpful for the same reasons– to solve problems and manage the crazy, that is, to find balance between the rational and irrational for wellness. Body and mind are intimately connected, so working the body is essential for clear reasoning as well as exercising the imagination and for regulating emotions. If we are functioning predominantly from the strictly rational and neglect the body, our health is less than optimal. We might say we are out of balance. Similarly, when we function predominantly from our emotional base or rely too much on feelings, we experience imbalance as well. Like writing, yoga has been an important modality for balance and wellness, where more integration and wholeness can be realized.

Because I had begun a yoga practice in 2012, where I learned to pay careful attention to what was happening within my mind and body, and I was writing about my everyday  experiences in a journal, I discovered the very problem I am currently working to solve, a problem that’s been transformative in great ways and small, thus continually defining who I am. The problem has provided me with the challenge I need to feel vibrant and purposeful!

THE PROBLEM

I became a teacher because I love learning and cultivating growth, but over the many years teaching high school English, I saw how the school’s values and culture had become too much about grades and not enough about authentic learning, wholeness, and wellness. The time, energy, and attention that schools, students and parents dedicate to grades whether implementing a school wide electronic grading system and everything that requires, communicating about grades, complaining about them, comparing them and using them to compete, students burning out trying to achieve them, losing friendships and integrity because of them, feeling continually disappointed in oneself because of them, and on and on and on—is excessive and unhealthy. Everyone seemed to be playing the game of “jumping through the hoops” to meet expectations for the college application, an empty, disingenuous race to some top as if this would guarantee some future “happy” life full of economic gain, while I was playing the “love for authentic learning for wellness” and “life in the present moment” game. My integrity as an educator was challenged too often due to the differences in my values and the values that were lived out within the school culture and our contradicting definitions of learning, and this is what ultimately drove me out of my job, but not away from my passion for learning and teaching the humanities.

IT’S NOT ABOUT THE GRADES

Many good schools like the one I worked for over-promote academic excellence in the form of high achievement and grades to compete for college admission to the detriment of overall balance, health, and wellness of its students. The grading system itself is a problematic feature of all schooling, but even more problematic is how grading is used and to what ends, what grades have come to signify within a school’s culture, and parents’ skewed understanding of the purpose of genuine assessment, and thus, the damaging effects on students’ developing identities– who they think they are and who they think they might become– and their perception of their own human potential and abilities to actualize. I found all of this particularly disturbing. I observed over more than a decade of teaching that the values that are tied to the grading system and lived out in school culture stunted students’ individual growth and severely compromised their mental health as well as limited my own professional growth, creativity, and wellness.

CULTURAL VALUES

I believe that many parents are likely motivated by fear rather than love to push their children to adopt the values of competition and comparison to the extreme, which is, sadly, likely representative of our American culture in general. A lot of times, people approach reality, or parent, or make decisions from a place of lack rather than abundance– the fear of not being enough or having enough. Our irrational fear often drives us and clouds our vision so much that we lose sight of what really matters– which I believe is health. Most people agree that without good health, you’ve got nothing. It broke my heart to see kids suffer unnecessarily and struggle to know themselves and love themselves for exactly who they were as human beings, unconditionally, not for their GPA, not for how they compared to others, not in light of how their parents or teachers valued their performances academically or athletically or whatever other things you put on a college application to gain acceptance.

Because so much attention is dedicated to grading and its value for competing and comparing, less attention, time, energy, and resources are dedicated to valuing, promoting, and developing psychologically, physically, and spiritually whole human beings. I observed excessive anxiety and depression among teens, but also a lack of spirituality, moral character, and resilience, all of which related not only to the grading and identity-development problem but also likely correlate with the continuous and rapid change in our culture, socio-economics, and other related factors like social media, information overload, lack of time spent playing, a disconnection from nature and thus disconnection from oneself. The lack of wellness among teens is not all about the over-valuation of grades, but it factors greatly into one’s developing sense of identity and has an incredibly huge impact on one’s mindset and attitude toward learning. I could be mistaken about my conclusions, but I am sure enough to have walked away from personal financial security to find a solution.

MY SOLUTION

My solution began with quitting my job. To use a surfing analogy, I started paddling and looking for “the” next big wave to ride. When you start in a new direction, even if you don’t know the ultimate end or you can’t visualize the finish line, you just start where you are and take a step forward. You start paddling. So after writing blog posts for no apparent specific purpose except to write more, this led to trying my hand at podcasting, and that led to writing my shitty first draft of a book called, It’s Not About the Grades: Landscapes for Learning Beyond Schooling. The book writing process helped me to articulate the problem more clearly, leading me to answering the question that the title begs, “If it’s not about the grades, then what is “it” about?”  

My answer is that “It” is learning in a much more encompassing sense beyond merely schooling which has become hoop-jumping for grades for transcripts for college acceptance. “It” is the kinds of learning available for the full health and wellness of a human being beyond merely academic achievement or some fixed, content-heavy curriculum. “It”  is about soft skills like emotional intelligence, understanding the mind-body connection, character development, morality and ethics, and intuition; ‘it’s” about what’s unconscious, subconscious, and other ways of knowing to become but more wise as opposed to smart in the conventional sense. “It’s” about paying more attention to our uniqueness and our human nature. “It’s” about human being, not just human doing or productivity and progress. “It’s” about our shared humanity, not just status, signaling, and power, or comparing and excessively competing. “It’s” about knowing who we really are, deep down inside, rather than what culture tells us we should be because we are so much more than the surface role-playing or masks we wear.  I am not disregarding the value of hard, practical skills, academic knowledge, achievement, or progress as long as balance and wellness accompany them. My goal is to inspire people and promote more attention, time, and energy to gaining wisdom, balance, and wellness—three interchangeable terms.

Shitty first drafts are indispensable precisely because they are a form of failure, thus learning.  By  fleshing out as many of my thoughts and feelings as possible in that drafting process, I was able to move beyond criticism and the unpleasant process of hyper-focusing on the problem with all its inherent negativity to create a positive, simple and effective solution that benefits me and those its intended to serve.

I thought that writing the book would be “the” wave, the answer to the problem and my ultimate purpose, but it turns out, it was merely the precursor, another step forward in the process. It’s all process, if you are willing and open to seeing it that way, if you are willing to see yourself as traveling on the landscapes for learning… forever. So, rather than being too terribly disappointed for too long by the book’s “failure” to become a book, I am delighted that the shitty draft propelled me forward closer to the truth. I am sharing my process with you because it is the foundation of the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self-Study Wellness Program I have created. 

 

I am continuing to do what I have always done as parent, school teacher and yoga teacher which is to teach people about humanity and personal expression by enabling them with tools for self-study, so they can each become the exact person they are meant to be, live out their passion and purpose with integrity and a sense of meaning that will benefit themselves and the world. This is the journey, each person’s unique journey– to become more of who they are each and every moment.

To this end, I have created this online classroom open to all which includes the blog you are reading, a podcast, a Youtube channel, as well as various Wisdom & Wellness products and services. Two self-study programs: the  Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self-Study Guide and the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Teen Self-Study Guide will be available both online and in print.  Additionally, workshops, speaking events, online courses, journaling programs, and other resources will provide people with simple, straightforward information, tools, and practices to embark on their personal life-long journey on the landscapes for learning for self-knowledge, wisdom, and wellness.

 

CLASSIC WISDOM FOR THE MODERN HUMAN: SELF STUDY

Through my own journal writing and yoga practice, I continue to know myself as well as I can. The process is always about problem-solving and transformation. I am always changing, so I am always learning new things about myself, and you can too– this is the meaning of traveling the landscapes for learning.

I have learned through writing and yoga to (1) carefully manage my own attention, (2) direct it inward to gain more and more self-awareness and self-knowledge, (3) face the problems and challenges in my life— my limitations and the limitations of others— and grapple with them to build strength and vitality and to realize my potential, despite it being alternately uncomfortable and risky. I use my hard-won discipline and resilience from facing my fears and challenges to (4) respond to experiences rather than reacting unconsciously or irrationally, making better, more mindful choices from a central locus of control. Because I understand my own nature better, I can better understand others and use empathy and compassion in how I relate to people. My mindset is to (5) continuously respond to every experience in my life as an opportunity to learn which means I stay open to making loads of mistakes with a sense of humility because there will always be more for me to learn about myself and the world. These are the five aspects of the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Programs I have created drawn from twenty five years of my own experiences with self-study. They are the directions for my travels on the landscapes for learning. If they work for me, I am certain they’ll work for you too!

YOUR PROBLEM & YOUR PURPOSE

Rather than fearing problems or challenges, wishing they didn’t exist, or trying to ignore them, instead, be curious about them, reflect on them, write about them, grapple with them, learn from them, for these practices and this process will not only give your life a sense of purpose, but you’ll grow in wisdom and wellness and come to know who you really are.

 

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Return to Uniqueness

Why can’t we inform people that they can be their truest selves sooner, encourage them to slow down to  practice stillness, to listen to their inner guide, and give them the loving support and tools to do so? That’s a question I ask in my book and am answering with the creation of my coaching workshops, curriculum, and journal program.

Return to Uniqueness

In “The Key to Transforming Yourself” Ted Talk below, Robert Greene articulates better and more concisely what I attempted rather poorly to convey in my first book draft of, It’s Not About the Grades: Landscapes for Learning Beyond Schooling. I won’t bore you with the details about the failures of the draft, except to say that I am back to the proverbial drawing board. (Revision is writing, after all according to Stephen King)

Greene talks about a “return to uniqueness.” He talks about how each of us are exactly who we are, different from everyone and everything else in the universe, but how we lose our sense of this uniqueness when we are socialized. He says when we listen to other people tell us what is good or bad about ourselves (and believe it) we often become strangers to ourselves. It is a crisis of identity when we know ourselves to be who others say we are or when we define ourselves according to what’s conventional or “normal” rather than according to our own inner wisdom. 

He also talks about “primal inclinations,” our desires and interests, which he says are beyond rational. These are the activities and subjects we are simply drawn to as children. He claims that it is our path in life to return to our uniqueness and those primal inclinations that define the true self in order to be the person we were actually born to be, a one-of-a-kind individual. 

In my book draft, I tried to convey how I came to understand this disconnection and reconnection that Greene describes. I explain how my identity as a child had been co-opted when I went to school and was shaped by its norms and the inherent cultural values of competition and comparison transmitted by parents, teachers, and friends. The inculcation from my environment thoroughly influenced how I understood myself. My interpretation of who I was lacked depth and authenticity because I had become too distant from my inner world, not entirely but enough to do some damage. Though compared to everyone else, I was “normal.” Because my typical, American, middle-class, suburban life was so busy, fast, and competitive in the drive for wealth and achievement, (you are productive and successful if that calendar is jam-packed, yes?) I had very little time to find stillness, meditation, or introspection, even if I had known those would be helpful habits to cultivate for my health and wellbeing. Nobody filled me in.

I established a relationship with myself based on who the world told me I should be, which was inauthentic, but who is conscious that this process is happening to them when they are young? I recognized the same development pattern and process of co-opting identity while teaching high school students. I saw teenagers suffer with a lack of self-understanding, integrity, and self-compassion. They consistently defined themselves according to the values of competition and comparison, never felt good enough, were forced to “find their passion” on the external landscape which really should come from the primal inclinations that school or parents likely squashed out of them long before. I saw them frantically completing their to-do lists and packing their resumes with activities and awards to gain college admission. I saw them hustle through the hoops of schooling rather than authentically enjoy learning. I saw their mental and physical health decline. I saw them suffer–and in my opinion, unnecessarily.

Greene seems to believe this phenomenon of disconnection from our unique selves happens to a lot of people. It’s something I’ve also heard podcasters, Joe Rogan, Cathy Heller, and Rich Roll talk about often. Roll wrote a book about his “midlife crisis” of sorts when he realized he only went to law school because it was expected of him and he didn’t know who he was enough to decide for himself. His awakening came initially when he found sobriety and later, more earnestly after a health scare in his late forties shocked him into reconnecting with his truth. I hope these stories of recovery are more common than not. I feel lucky to have found yoga and journal writing as my tools for my eventual “return to uniqueness.”

So I say, why can’t we inform people that they can be their truest selves sooner, encourage them to slow down to  practice stillness, to listen to their inner guide, and give them the loving support and tools to do so? That’s a question I ask in my book and am answering with the creation of my coaching program, curriculum, and journal program.

Stay tuned…

*Check out Rich Roll’s conversations with Noah Harari about meditation, AI, and education, and John Joseph on Bhakti yoga and PMA, transcending labels and transforming lives.

Also Joe Rogan’s conversation with Henry Rollins

And Cathy Heller’s conversation with Martha Beck

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Podcast 015: Future of Education: Learning Beyond Schooling

“I hope to help dismantle traditional schooling and its unhelpful,

outdated, damaging values and persuade teachers, school leaders, parents, and students

to focus their attention on better, more important ways of learning.

My goal is to support ALL parties in this transformation

with their humanity and a love for our shared humanity in tact.”

 

Reflections on Education, Yoga, Humanity and Change

This podcast episode is about my own learning about kids, yoga, and self-knowledge over my years teaching high school and raising my own kids. I talk about the future of constant change and how we need to radically alter education to help kids find and live their unique truth. I talk about interpreting images in a text, soft skills, values, the grading system, rescuing and preserving our humanity, and the differences between the usual business of traditional schooling and authentic learning, and much more.

 

The Landscapes for Learning Mission is to help kids thrive and flourish using tools they already own within them to navigate a future that will require them to surf the waves of change on novel landscapes.

I hope to help dismantle traditional schooling and its unhelpful, outdated, and damaging values and persuade teachers, schools, and students to focus their attention on better, more important ways of learning.  My goal is to support all parties in this transformation (and especially through loving and caring for our most valuable asset—our teachers) with their humanity and love for shared humanity in tact.

015 PODCAST DIRECT DOWNLOAD

Show Notes/References:

Johnathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff’s The Coddling of the American Mind

More Tough Love, Less Coddling

 

Help the Landscapes for Learning Mission catch fire! Please share!

Please “Like” on Itunes.

Follow Landscapes for Learning: @ LandscapesforLearning.com

Twitter @Landscps4learn

Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/landscapesforlearning/

Instagram: LandscapesforLearning27

Podcast Music: Creative Commons License for “Political Lunatics” by Earthling (intro and outro music)
“Political Lunatics” by Earthling

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List for Learning: 27 Take-Aways from It’s Not About the Grades

 27 Take-Aways

from

It’s Not About the Grades: Landscapes for Learning Beyond Schooling

Since everyone seems to be publishing books with rules for life and lists for “best” something or other, I thought I would make a list of possible take-aways from It’s Not About the Grades: Landscapes for Learning Beyond Schooling, my newest memoir of a life in school currently in progress. Truth be told, I am revising the manuscript and wondering what the heck it is I am trying to convey to readers, so I wrote a list for myself and so why not share it with you?

Here goes…

  1. The landscapes of our lives are for learning. Experiences are opportunities for change and growth.
  2. Schooling: content knowledge, prestige, and degrees aren’t the key to happy life. Keep the value of schooling in proper perspective, especially if you consider the potential demands of the future.
  3. A “successful” or meaning-filled, healthy life of wellbeing isn’t pain-free and it isn’t about the grades.
  4. Know thyself. This will be the way to self-realize, self-actualize, leverage schooling AND meaning for wholeness and continual growth throughout your entire life.
  5. Connecting with your inner landscape requires more time alone and more attention for introspection and less time traveling the external landscape of social media, screens, distraction, noise of society and culture.
  6. The values of culture in the extreme (competition, comparison, consumerism) will fuck you up if you stay asleep/ignorant to the influences upon you and don’t know who you really are.
  7. Passion happens for you; you need to practice listening and pay regular attention to your inner guide.
  8. Disconnect and reconnect to one’s truth: more mirrors (through writing or yoga) and fewer screens (see #5 and #6)
  9. FOMI instead of FOMO will better serve us for the unknown future.
  10. PAUSE: Pursue An Understanding of Self by detaching from Externals.(see # 5)
  11. Yoga is union and self-realization. Connection to one’s inner truth and divinity can get lost or watered down substantially, but can be recovered with attention, compassion, and hard work over time. If I can do it, anyone can.
  12. The answer to “who am I?” is right under your nose (your breath).
  13. Life is suffering.  Don’t run away. Pick the better poison, instead.
  14. Pain and fear are your best teachers. Face them with an attitude of interest and as lessons for learning. (A crack or a canyon is also an opening– peer into it and see what you can find.)
  15. Put your oxygen mask on first. The world needs more heroes and fewer martyrs.
  16. Good teachers aren’t models to copy but witnesses who walk alongside you on your journey. They have no real authority over you. You can learn from them but you aren’t them and never will be.
  17. Humanity, shared humanity, and one’s own humanity should be the center of every curriculum.
  18. Education for the future should be more about soft skills than hard skills and take place in person with moral and ethical teachers who know their own truth. (see #17)
  19. A lack of integrity causes illness of all forms within individuals and institutions.
  20. Be authentic from inside out. Be loyal to truth, not merely social roles and identities. Avoid labels.
  21. Travel all the landscapes beyond schooling.
  22. Wake up. Express your truth with your unique voice, without shame. Be vulnerable to learn. Tell yourself the truth. DO YOU.
  23. Love yourself unconditionally so you can do the same for others. That’s foundational to social justice.
  24. Learn about the nature of limits. Test all limits (internally and externally). See forks in the road and obstacles as endless possibilities for change and growth.
  25. Teaching discipline is the most important part of parenting.
  26. Live with the desire for balance. Keep trying to achieve it. Avoid extremes.
  27. It’s amazing how much we don’t know.  Reason to keep learning…forever and to be humble.

 

27 is my favorite number, so I will stop there.

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Know Thyself & Save the World

We need to stop subscribing to traditional, outdated schooling and

attitudes about conventional education

and instead engage in authentic learning for psychological

health and wellbeing, balance,

 to preserve our shared humanity,

and

prepare for a radically different future.

 

Q. How should we be educating people for the future? What should we study?

Some answers:

-How to change (often) and reinvent ourselves over and over again.

-Forget about hoping to stay in one profession for your entire life!

-Self-study, contemplation, and philosophy (for its practical applications)

-Study our shared humanity and the history of story-telling and its functions (to be able to decipher the difference between fiction and reality).

-Focus on the practice of physical and psychological balance and wellness.

-Understand suffering. It’s our greatest gauge of what’s real.

 

In the context of Harari’s talk and the above Q &A, it’s more obvious than ever that our methods of schooling are totally antiquated and in need of rapid, radical change. Landscapes for Learning will play a part in that transformation through consulting, coaching and support to prevent unnecessary suffering, and to help educators, parents and kids manage continual change and thrive.

We need to stop subscribing to traditional, outdated schooling and attitudes about conventional education (because it’s what we know and rely on and so comfortable, and it’s probably easier) and gain more understanding and execution of authentic learning (which won’t be easy)! We have the tools built into us!

As Harari says in this interview, social-emotional learning and psychological balance isn’t something that you can learn from a book. Self-study is the way. Landscapes for Learning can give you information and tools to get started on the road to self-knowledge so that you can discover and nurture a strong foundation of stability within.

*Stay tuned for my Landscapes for Learning Udemy courses that will provide people with tools, resources, and support to get started on this radical shift in how we learn, what and why we learn, attention and values for living in the present moment as well as preparing for an unpredictable future.

 

 

 

 

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About LFL Podcast

In this first podcast, I introduce myself and my purpose for the Landscapes for Learning podcast.

I was motivated to create the Landscapes for Learning project to counter students’ and parents’ and schools’ over-valuation of grades and competition for college acceptance as the key to “the good life.” As a long-time educator, I saw this value and its related goals derail kids from exploring their inner lives and cause major anxiety and negative attitudes and mindsets about real learning. Students who failed to achieve hated learning because they defined learning and schooling as the same thing, which they are not. We have to teach our children by living out values each and every day that are more informed and healthy based on the true purpose of a whole and complete education for a human being in the 21st century.

I would like to create a new narrative about schooling– that it ought to be in service to the more important and broader umbrella of authentic learning, which includes real risk-taking, and the important trial and error process that fosters self-awareness, self-love, confidence, grit, patience, entrepreneurial spirit, and the conscious and deliberate self-actualization of each individual.

Every kid has potential that deserves to be actualized so they can become the truest and best version of the person they were born to be!

A wisdom curriculum and promotion of a love of learning beyond schooling must be an essential part of the curriculum in secondary education (grades 8-12) especially if the system continues in its current (nearly outdated) form.

I hope the stories of ordinary people traveling the landscapes both inner and outer inspire and support a love of authentic learning among all listeners.

 

 

 

 

 

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No Mud, No Lotus: A True Story about Limits

I was nine years old the first time I ran away from school.

The nuns at St.Mary of the Annunciation had a strict rule: “the boys play with the boys and the girls play with the girls.” I ignored that rule, mostly because I thought of myself as more of a boy than a girl, thusly assuming that that particular rule surely did not apply to me, and partly because I liked the rush of risk-taking. So I broke this maxim daily by engaging in physically demanding games with the boys like Chase, 4-square, and Rumble which was my absolute favorite, its simplicity found in the one directive: tackle the person with the ball. The group of the aggressive hungry lived to destroy the one brave and masochistic individual holding onto the ball, the player willing to get ripped to shreds before ever giving it up. A trip to the nurse’s office for bandaids and ice packs was routine. Ah, the glory days of a rough and tumble, bruised, and banged up childhood! Revelling in the sweat and physical exhaustion of the outdoors at recess every day, we were then lined up at the door (by sex, of course) to re-enter the classrooms lined with desks and chairs in rows to receive our academic instruction, which I enjoyed immensely. My body got what it needed, so my mind was ready to re-engage with intellectual pursuit. 

Apparently, a mass of sweaty boys jumping on top of a nine-year old blonde with spindly legs, wearing a skirt no less (I wore gym shorts underneath), didn’t quite sit well with the nuns who were understandably horrified by my unusual proclivity for expressing full-fledged aggression and hard core competition. “Mrs. Bakis, the boys are jumping all over Maureen in the schoolyard” poor St. Helen Julia pleaded with my mother, in order to make it stop. I was causing mayhem. I represented disorder, crossing boundaries, breaking the school’s limits. This would not stand, so one fine day in the spring circa 1978, the recess monitor shooed me away from playing with the boys and insisted I go play with the girls. Devastated to be separated from my best friends and also furious, I was the captain of our team after all, I dutifully walked away from the boys toward the furthest boundary of the playground, the edge, nearer to where the girls were drawing with chalk, and kept on walking– past the girls, up the steep hilled driveway of the school, and around the corner toward freedom– or so I thought. My heart was pounding with fear and excitement, my “I’ll show them” mindset gaining momentum as I walked down the sidewalk homeward. “Keep me from doing what I love? I don’t think so.” I was in a fight against “the man,” even though I had no vocabulary or clue about what that meant. If you are thinking, “You go, girl in your fight against unjust rules based on gender norms” you’re about to be very disappointed.

When the school discovered I did not return from recess, the secretary in the main office, Mrs. Ann Cyr, drove Sr. Helen Julia to my house. They didn’t even knock! When they came into my house, I fled upstairs to my brother’s bedroom– the only room in a house full of females that had a lock on the door, barricaded myself inside the eves and refused to open it.  I don’t remember what happened after that, only that I didn’t get into trouble with my parents because if I had, I would have recalled the punishment. My father was not one to spare the rod to spoil the child.

To credit my mother, a devout Catholic yet living in the exciting reality of the women’s liberation movement, her response to the nun’s fury with my rebellion and inability to follow the rules to play with the girls, and indeed, act like a girl, was not to demand equality on my behalf or to change the rules of recess for me so I could play Rumble with the boys. She and I did not raise awareness or command social justice. We didn’t rally or protest. Nope, my mother apologized to the school, told them what they wanted to hear, and promptly disciplined me– that is, she told me to follow the rules whether I (or she) liked them or not. This was called tough-love, something in short supply these days not only among parents but in many other milieus. People don’t want to do what is difficult. It’s hard to do the right thing. But without mud, there can be no lotus, an adage recently made popular by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist spiritual leader. 

I didn’t like being disciplined one bit– does anyone enjoy doing what’s difficult but that is good for them? Our default wiring is fight, flight, or freeze, after all.

My mother’s insistence that I play with the girls at recess was not intended to change me intrinsically, to deny my personal identity; it was not an attempt to alter my essential nature or to make me act like a lady or behave like a typical girl; it was to teach me that life has limits, that I was limited, and I had to follow rules. I could play with boys after school and whenever else I wanted, and so I did. I climbed trees, built forts and bikes, played whiffle ball for hours on end, spit like a cowboy, got into shouting matches and fist fights with other boys (and naturally made up quickly after) and played Little League baseball, one of the first to do so in my small town. I learned to live with the compromise, not at first, but well enough soon after. Yes, I had to repress a small part of myself, and yes I was angry at the school and deeply disappointed to be forced to play with the girls, but I made more friends and learned an important lesson: how to make lemonade out of lemons, make the best of a bad situation, to pivot. All of this as the result of one “problem” and a swift and deliberate parenting decision for which I am eternally grateful.

Despite my mother’s understanding that gender norms were changing, I had to respect limits set by the institution where she chose to send me for an education, a necessary trade-off to receive the plethora of other benefits the school provided for me. I was not a boy despite thinking I was in my own mind, and my mother was not about to go along with a fantasy a nine-year old held about her identity.  I was exceptional in terms of being outside the “typical” or the “normal,” but that did not mean I would be excepted from rules.  I was not special in that respect. I did not deserve accommodation.

My seemingly huge “conflict” was really no big deal for my mother, as I was the youngest of five and she was experienced with raising children. She had been seeing the positive results of enforcing the values she implemented in our family for years, duly reinforced by my father. Her disciplining me did not mean I was wrong, my feelings were wrong, or that there was something wrong with me intrinsically, but only that I was to learn about compromising a piece of myself for the sake of the group— for the sake of order– same as I was expected to do at home in a family of seven. I had to learn that I did not always get what I wanted and that I could not always express my authentic nature when, where, and how I wanted at any and all times of my choosing. And most certainly not at the age of nine. She wasn’t going to a raise the type of child people wouldn’t like or want to be around and therefore treat poorly; to say she did me a favor is an understatement.

My mother did not try to change my environment to better suit my authenticity; she did not make demands of the school on my behalf—rather, she taught me to cope with the environment within which I found myself, my external circumstances, and that it was my individual responsibility and only mine, within my inner landscape, to figure out how to both be true to myself, retain my integrity as me and respect limits, even if I was uncomfortable with that, even if it caused me pain. She did not teach me how to be a victim of an outdated and patriarchal institution, nor did she criticize the institution itself and call for its destruction. She recognized the school’s and society’s norms had to be updated, to grow, but she also knew that, in the meantime, empowering me, the individual, to take responsibility to live authentically, to compromise when necessary, and to deal with blows whether to my ego or my feelings that really hurt was the proper way to raise a child and create change, over time. Indeed, both the institution and and I have transformed rather steadily over the past forty years, not to say that either process has been easy. But, an easy life is a virtual life, so not really life at all. 

Often, the change we want in our social world is slow and requires great patience and ongoing persistence, something most people living in our current world of instant gratification and speed cannot compute. I mean, it just seems so inefficient to have to wait! As well, a severe lack of appreciation for everything that is good about the more traditional institutions we’ve built is pervasive among those who choose to focus solely on its inequities. What person or institution doesn’t have its corruptions? 

My mother, in concert with the school, taught me the nature and value of external limits imposed on people by others: by parents, peer groups, small social groups like in a classroom or on a sports team, and by larger institutions, but more important, she gave me opportunities to create internal limits I would be required to set for myself and be accountable to myself for, forever, which would inevitably include when she wasn’t around anymore. It appears that, in life, someone else or something else has to keep you honest as you learn the process of doing it for yourself. And when you learn to effectively answer to yourself–to your truth, that’s called personal integrity– total accountability to an honest self which enables you to respect yourself and, in turn, respect others.  

Instead of keeping me locked up in a safe space away from pain, away from the uncomfortable consequences of discipline, my mother used my absconding from school as an opportunity, a “teachable moment,” for me to authentically learn– to practice coping with my own discomfort and take responsibility for my own pain, my own suffering, that resulted from not only not getting what I wanted, which was to play with the boys at recess, but also the struggle of not being able to express myself, as me, completely. And this is the way of one’s identity– a continual balancing act between the individual and the group, a give and take, a yin and yang.  

Parents and schools must allow children to suffer limits, for “without grit, there is no pearl” says Thich Naht Hahn and that “when we know how to suffer, we suffer less.” This is what I compare to yoga which is practicing doing something hard, something I don’t want to do because it’s uncomfortable, something my ego rebels against but that simultaneously creates amazing growth.  In the process of yoga, or self-actualization, limits are indispensable; they are the crucial component, the double-edged sword that at once helps to carve and carefully design you into the truest you you can possibly be while also inviting you to work hard, with patience and persistence, to transcend them. 

 

 

 

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Love for Learning Beyond Schooling

A love for learning is much different than a love for school.

My greatest concern during my tenure as a high school English teacher was kids’ lack of understanding of and appreciation for learning. I don’t mean that they did not appreciate or love my lessons (some did, some did not). I mean, they thought they didn’t love learning because they didn’t love school. And I heard too many kids say, I am never going to school again once I am outta here! Most kids, likely subconsciously or unconsciously, associate learning with schooling and think they are the same thing. If that is true, then,  “I am never going to learn again” is a scary prospect. Yikes!

Students have been conditioned with an overly-utilitarian attitude toward “learning” (that takes place in school) which by nature of its very definition does not encourage them to learn for the sake of learning, for its sheer joy and love, nor see how learning would automatically water their seeds for personal growth even without their conscious effort.

My students’ perception of learning was that it was the same exact thing as schooling: a set of requirements done in a particular manner toward a particular end. For some, the end was college entrance and preparedness for more academic forms of learning. This narrative of competition for college acceptance (as if it was the guaranteed key to a happy life) was implanted in their minds from a young age by their parents and reinforced by school. “Learning” thereby became a job, a duty, an obligation, something weighing upon kids and causing tremendous amounts of stress for many. For many others, “getting good grades” shaped their identity– their job defined them! (I will not describe the nature or degree of the stress here or the conflict and suffering involved with developing identity among teens, though these problems are the result of over-valuing of schooling rather than learning.)For others, “learning” was about gaining the diploma to enable them to qualify for the world of employment. Again, a hoop to jump through to get to “the next thing,” and a requirement imposed by an external force, the state (that basically needs daycare until kids can become productive workers and contribute to the economy. A holding place.)

Notice that for both types of students described above, neither were living in the present moment in terms of their learning, but rather living for their future selves– people they could not possibly know but only make guesses about. There’s nothing wrong with setting goals for the future, for additional academic training or work in the world, or duty, or managing responsibility, or being asked to meet expectations for performance or preparedness to live in a reality that is economic. I only argue that a definition of learning that is limited only to school and utilitarian ends is counter to fostering a genuine love for learning, all forms of learning, beyond school, and that it neglects the developmental needs of a fully-actualizing individual human being. It also makes it extraordinarily difficult for the learner to live in the present, to appreciate life, learning, as it unfolds in each moment. Perhaps this is also why some students don’t seem as alive as they might be.

I worry that young people will leave high school believing that schooling is the same thing as learning and that that narrow understanding will prohibit them from realizing their own possibilities on the many landscapes for learning. I worry that they will miss out on knowing what a love for learning as a lifestyle would do for their growth and their potential as human beings, not just human achievers, accomplishers, competitors, or doers.

Learning isn’t the same thing as schooling; it’s much more than acquiring useful information and skills laid out in a curriculum that couldn’t possibly cover everything that is “essential” to know for life. School is bounded learning whereas the landscapes for learning are limitless, and that is exciting– just like love is exciting. Similarly, as they say about finding love, “There’s someone for everyone,” there’s also  learning for everyone, beyond school, across the landscapes, no matter what level of academic or formal schooling anyone has attempted or completed. And whereas you can fail at school, you can never fail at learning. I want kids to know this.

Schooling is definitely a very important part of the equation of self-realization, but it isn’t the whole story, and I know most people know this. But the confines of school prohibits us in many ways from enacting what we know to be true and right. I do hope to invite people, especially parents, educators, and students to join me in putting school in its proper perspective, not just intellectually, but by taking action— focusing attention, resources, and effort on learning beyond schooling.  Literally, schooling needs to be minimized and frankly, valued less or at least properly understood for what it provides for overall learning. Schooling ought to be nested under the umbrella of authentic learning which is much more broad and wide, full of possibility, love, and potential for individual people.  Ironic–yes, but less would definitely be more in terms of a complete education.

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Restoring Balance: Too Much Schooling & Not Enough Learning”

Part of the this Landscapes for Learning mission is to draw attention to teaching and learning in a broader sense than schooling and to begin a new conversation about the kinds of learning we currently value in our American public schools.

What I think is based on my own personal experience as a student, as a former teacher in a parochial and public high school, as a coach, as a teacher of teachers, as a graduate student, as a parent of four grown children, as a yoga teacher.  Feel free to dismiss me as any sort of authority, as this is merely my opinion.

I think we, as Americans, value human “doing” more than human “being.” I think this value is apparent in the American psyche of parents and in the process of schooling. I think it’s a big problem.

I quit my job because my high school is overly-focused on values I do not share. I gave up my income, my benefits, a pension, because of a difference in values— Simply put, my definition of learning isn’t the same as theirs and this was a deal-breaker for me. I was unable to teach authentically or honestly without conflict which makes for an unhealthy and difficult relationship.

If humanity, health, and wellness comes second to achievement, even a close-second, I am not okay with that. I am as competitive as the next person, I was a high-achiever myself, but not when it comes to the learning process. Learning is a whole different game. I saw too many kids suffer because of the community’s priorities that do not match what I know to be true about authentic learning and teaching, humanity, health and wellness.

I was asked in various ways (both systemically and personally) to compromise my integrity as a teacher; my methods and approaches to learning clashed too often with a system (and its people) that values achievement above all else, even at the expense of individual students’ health and wellness. I got tired of unschooling junior and seniors, acting as therapist, mom, and English teacher. The energy it took rescuing students from the edge of hatred of anything and everything even remotely related to learning in school was enormous. I was really good at reviving a love of learning among damaged, difficult, challenging, and discipline-problem-kids.  I was even better at helping the high-achieving, way-too-stressed, parent-pleasers-who-never-got-to-be-kids, hellbent on Harvard entrance understand the difference between schooling and learning. I talked more than one kid off a ledge. I lost several others. My teaching experience is probably not unusual.

I never told people I taught English– that’s a subject area– I told them I taught kids– human beings. I tried to teach them how to be good, healthy human beings through reading, writing, talking, and listening. I showed them through my own example as a human being and the examples within history, literature, and contemporary life.  Real teaching is about the who of teaching, not the what or the how or the scores or awards, and this is especially true if you are teaching in the humanities.

Now that I am officially unemployed, I can actually do my job–I haven’t lost my identity or my integrity as a teacher— which is to teach young people about human nature and authentic learning.  Schooling in the traditional sense damages at least as many kids as it benefits. I don’t know the exact ratio or numbers– only that it was enough to give up a pension and health insurance for the rest of my life. I loved teaching (not my “job”) and my colleagues.  We did good work! And schooling itself isn’t all bad– it’s just far too limited, too narrow, and too over-valued in our culture. It needs to be put in its proper place among the far more expansive and broad umbrella of authentic teaching and learning that happens across the landscapes of life.

I can’t fix the school system from the inside; nor am I silly enough to think I can change it through writing a blog or by publishing a book; but what I can do is start a conversation that might get people to think; to reconsider their values; to think about to what end their attention and effort in education is directed; to perhaps look more closely at why a mental health crisis exists among young people; to offer an alternate definition of learning that is more expansive so parents, schools, teachers, and students can feel empowered to authentically learn and teach in whatever ways and capacities possible for each of them; to not cause more suffering, to prevent additional suffering in the future, and to help anyone involved with schooling cope and perhaps even thrive…if they can put schooling in its proper perspective and understand the important differences between learning and schooling.

I also hope to encourage people to value an exploration of inner landscapes as much as, if not more than, “schooling,” studying abroad, or focusing too much attention on the external landscapes– other people, other groups, other-than-ourselves. Yes, I suppose I am asking people to become more self-centered, not in terms of being selfish or self-obsessed, but rather more self-aware, self-loving, self-compassionate, self-knowledgeable; I am, indeed, encouraging everyone to do more yoga.

I hope to encourage teenagers and teachers to discover that they have all the answers to their own lives right within them, if they only spent time getting to know themselves and all that they contain– to tap into inner wisdom, and  spend time within, befriending and becoming more familiar with their inner life maybe more than they focus on their external circumstances or “what’s out there”– whether focusing on social media or paying so much attention to what everyone else is doing. We ought to have more FOMI (Fear of Missing In) instead of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). So many people have lost their connection to themselves, despite being so electronically connected to everyone else and everything else in the world.

Kids need mentors to guide them within and to help them travel their inner landscape. It’s up to teachers and parents and anyone else interested in preserving the humanity of humanity.

 

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Who am I?

My previous “Calling a Spade a Spade” post is about telling the truth– something our world desperately needs at this exact moment in time. Each of us has to talk about the truth, within our seemingly small and insignificant spheres of life, however uncomfortable or however much it may threaten our reputations.  Our integrity and identity need to be taken seriously.  It matters. But apparently there was a bit of confusion over the topic of that post, so I would like to clarify what in the world yoga has to do with the problems I am seeing within education today.

Who Am I?

The central topic of this post, then, is about the question, Who am I? or even perhaps more specifically, Who am I trying to be in my life vs. What am I trying to do in my life? One is about values, meaning and purpose, while the other is about practical goals to achieve “success.” Figuring out the answer to this question over the past two years in my own life generated this very Landscapes for Learning project. It turns out that I discovered my goals weren’t in line with my values, so I chose authentic living over and above expedience. YOLO, and I could no longer compromise my own values about learning which conflicted too often with my employer’s. If I cannot teach with integrity then who am I?

My Bikram yoga practice has led me, and continues to lead me, to the truth of who I am through a continual rediscovery of self, a continuous reconnection with authenticity.  I am trying to express myself here, on this blog, honestly and candidly  as part of  an ongoing, life-long process of learning across the landscapes. I am not necessarily trying to make friends here (although that would be great!) nor am I trying to make enemies or alienate people! I am simply trying to voice my truth and invite people into a dialogue about the things I care about.

At home with my four grown children, in high school, and in the Bikram yoga community– these are the spaces in which I live; this is my tiny sphere of influence; this is where my reputation matters. Because these places are where I both learn and teach,  obviously they shape my perspective. I have also been influenced by a number of intellectuals, writers, poets, psychologists, yogis, and podcasters from whom I have learned a tremendous amount about the nature of what it means to be human, therefore informing what it means to be me (see list below). Writers write about what they know. I am simply sharing the overlaps and interplay between both worlds of learning, which I discovered in my observations, experiences, and personal research. I am writing about what matters to me.

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It turns out that the principles I learned for myself, by myself, through my Bikram yoga practice are the very same principles that I believe are needed in contemporary parenting and public schooling. If we applied such character-building principles to the education process, it might help parents to parent better and kids to learn more authentically. Schools might be able to create a more balanced curriculum based on an updated value system that focuses on exploring inner landscapes as well as the external landscapes for learning.  And perhaps, I hope, this shift and rebalancing, would help address some part of the mental health crisis among teens. Bikram yoga is, afterall, a healing process. Although a focus on self-understanding, wisdom, and self-actualization is missing in lots of other areas throughout our culture, my focus is on my own limited range of experience which is within the world of teaching high school English, parenting, and Bikram yoga. This is my unique path, my niche, my angle.

The Landscapes for Learning mission is to revive authentic forms of learning and rebalance it with the aims of schooling– “balance” being the key term. Like yoga, my writing is about integration, connection to self, wholeness, and the kind of learning that comes from traveling both inward and across the varied landscapes of life, not just limited to within school or the academic realm.

Facing Discomfort as the New Normal 

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To understand oneself, to answer “who am I?” requires a deep and consistent exploration of one’s inner landscape.  This question arises (sometimes subconsciously and later may or may not surface to consciousness) when a person steps into the Bikram yoga room and looks into their own eyes in the mirror in front of them, under very bright lights. The mirror and lights are a spotlight on the self, and the conditions for the practice are meant to challenge the practitioner with discomfort. This crucial experience is what we have stolen away from kids by overly-focusing on achievement. Individuals in the yoga room are confronted with the question, Who is that person looking back at me? It is a very difficult question for many people to grapple with; some who try Bikram yoga might not come back because the discomfort is too much– it’s simply too hard. Those who remain learn to face their own pain and suffering. Over time, with effort and grit, they become more agile and flexible in body and mind. They wrestle with their inner world- their emotional bodies and their monkey-minds. They learn through an often difficult and painful process of trial and error. They grow. Adolescents and teenagers are asking this same “who am I,” question often– whether subconsciously or intentionally. They begin to grapple with the notion of identity and experiment with their own. Their bodies are changing, hormones are raging, the limbic system is still trying to figure out how to work better with the pre-frontal cortex that continues to grow into their early twenties (Sapolsky). They likely spend lots of time either in front of mirrors or avoiding them. They need teachers and parents to guide them through this very important period of their development, but not take away their struggles— their opportunities for authentic growth however painful. We damage them through over-protection.

This deep and difficult exploration of one’s inner landscape to answer the question of who am I should be something we teach our children early on, at home and in school, so they can become more consciously aware of the existence of their inner world rather than carried away entirely or unconsciously manipulated by the outer world that will most certainly define their identity without their conscious consent. They don’t have to practice the physical asanas of yoga per se (but they could and should because the body and mind work together), but they really ought to embrace raja yoga in combination with exercise and a commitment to physical health.

Search Inside Yourself

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Unfortunately we can never be another person, no matter how close we are or how much we love them; we can empathize with them, but only to the degree that we first understand ourselves; everyone has to travel their own path and shoulder the responsibility of knowing oneself. Talking about identity as a theme in English class can help; great stories, especially archetypal or universally applicable ones can be great models; however, an academic exercise isn’t the only kind of learning kids need. They need explicit instruction, including regular practice and failure, to learn how to become the hero of their own lives which has to take place in their real, live journey to the self, not just within some artificially constructed simulation.  It’s a solo mission for each of us, but parents and teachers have to be competent examples and guides through their own deep, inner work. And they can’t help kids too much. Less is more.

Attention, Concentration, Meditation

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The external world is a enormous sea of information that contains messages about who kids should be, how they should feel and act, what they should think or buy— a level of manipulation and influence like nothing we have ever seen in our world before. The world online is persistent, relentless, insidious–that is,  if we allow it to dominate our attention. Is it really no wonder the levels of depression and anxiety are out of control? Is it really so surprising that so many undergraduates get swept away with identity politics? One of the more positive attempts to address this phenomenon is the Mindfulness movement which has arrived in many schools. I am glad to see this happening, unfortunately I witnessed how such attempts at teaching kids meditation get co-opted in service to external goals rather than values rooted within the inner landscape. If a teen is using meditation to relax and escape their thoughts, clear their minds so that they can perform better on a quiz the next period, that isn’t really helpful. I know we can do better in guiding kids to be connected to themselves, to become grounded in being, not merely in service to doing. Maybe kids will learn that they are “enough” and loved just as they are, not just for what they can appear to be, complete, do, or achieve.

Schools don’t focus enough, in my estimation, on the inner world of kids; perhaps because parents don’t demand it. For whatever the reasons, it does not appear to be an important value that is lived out on a daily basis. What is the focus of attention, what is at the forefront for parents and schools are grades-–the symbol of academic achievement, mastery of content knowledge and skills which is revered over and above any notion of developing inner wisdom or nurturing the process of self-actualization. But if kids can easily acquire content knowledge and skills online, a new discussion about values and answering the “why” of mandatory public education are in order.  Should we take a closer look at exploring the inner landscapes and discovering the value of and within that landscape? Or should we continue with the status quo of schooling? Perhaps we can create a balance.

Love, not Fear

Unfortunately, it seems as though some schools and parents create their values from a place of fear rather than love– afraid their kids won’t survive in a knowledge-economy; fear they’ll suffer from a life of hard work; fear of losing to the competition. Fear their children will not recover from failure. Such motives seem to crowd out the desperate need for more love– a love of self, a love of authentic forms of learning.

If we, adults, continue our over-emphasis on conducting school as a business, encouraging kids to focus their attention primarily on the external landscapes; if we continue to over-value such focus on and attention to achieving goals that lack foundation in real values built within the inner landscapes; if we continue to neglect teaching kids that an inner world exists within them that is ripe for discovery and that is essential to attend to for their vitality, wholeness, and wellness, then we will continue to see our kids suffer with mental health problems like anxiety, depression, addiction, suicide, eating disorders, and senseless violence.

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Too Good, No Good

Kids are malleable and easily manipulated. Most kids are good kids! But what does “good” in this context of school mean? Our definition of “good” in formal schooling appears to be limited to academic achievement and performance. Nobody gets a trophy or an A for noticing that they have an inner guide or that they developed courage because they faced a fear. They don’t get a reward for taking time for themselves to just “be.” It’s all about the “doing”– the resume building; the homework completion and consistency; the degree to which they are able to find answers; how well they score on tests, rather than to muse, reflect inward or meta-cognitively; rather than to imagine, play, or focus on observing and understanding emotions and thoughts in order to know what it means to be a human being not just a human-doing. We don’t celebrate or talk about those things– they are private, unspoken victories (if one even recognizes that this is a good thing!). Inner landscapes are none of our school business; they’re too intimate–  too emotional, messy, tangled in confusion– too human. For every STEM lab there ought also be a Humanities Lab, each being valued equally! Students and teachers are in the business of school, not in the business of raising human beings. Such inner-world accomplishments and authentic growth and development aren’t tangible or measurable– so therefore within the narrow confines of school, they don’t hold real value. If they aren’t on the transcript, they just don’t count.

As well, because we adults jump in and do everything for our kids and over-protect, because we manipulate their environments and pad them for safety and sanitize them, because we insist kids remain within the safety of the indoors, because we hardly ever leave them to their own devices among their peers (because we are, again, working from fear) without constant adult supervision or cheerleading from the sidelines, we ultimately rob kids of the crucial and necessary opportunities to explore their inner landscapes in authentic ways (Haidt). We don’t afford them the opportunity to learn authentically—that is, to be uncomfortable through the process of trial and error so that they can develop self-knowledge, wisdom, deep trust and faith in themselves and their personalities and abilities, along with the coping skills to thrive— to feel physically and be psychologically alive and well. Instead, we are raising half-dead zombies addicted to their phones or whatever else they decide to pay attention to rather than themselves.

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Teenagers who are disengaged, those who are disconnected from their inner lives are weak, which makes them far more vulnerable to manipulation. They remain unaware of the existence of their Jungian shadow or what to make of it or how to respond to it when it rears its ugly head. They develop addictions to phones, to porn, and drugs and alcohol and develop co-dependencies on authority, needing protection and rescuing from the smallest of micro-aggressions that invade their safe spaces. Their narrative becomes one of victimhood and they find others who live the same story. The world within and without appear to be places to fear rather than to love and engage with. These are kids with serious problems; these are kids who are more vulnerable to manipulation by extreme ideas and violent people.

Disconnection and Reconnection 

Another problematic observation about the kids I taught in my fourteen-year tenure as a high school teacher was how many of them were passive, did as they were told, and copied the models they saw in their school culture. And many of them wound up sick. We are responsible for teaching kids where to put their attention– and it has to stop being overly-focused on external achievement. They need to value their inner lives as much as, or if not more than, they value the life of the external world. I am not arguing for no grades or no accountability or no skills and knowledge growth. I am lobbying for correcting what I see as an imbalance resulting from skewed values. Once kids are focused on everything outside of themselves, they  can very easily remain disconnected from their inner guide, their inner sense of themselves. If they aren’t taught earlier about how their bodies and minds work (how to recognize, feel, and manage emotions and thoughts), if they remain unaware that they can be an active and conscious participant in their own becoming, or that a self-actualization process exists for them, tragedy will continue in the form of addiction and illness.

Friend Yourself

Exploring the inner landscape is akin to becoming your own best friend– getting to know what makes you tick, your human nature, and discovering that you are a story-teller. These are the same things we learn as we practice Bikram yoga. You have thoughts and feelings that exist that are data to mine, not necessarily directives to live by (Davis). Kids will remain unaware of their own inner landscapes unless we reinforce their own discovery of it. Some kids are more intuitive than others– so we need to encourage these intuitive kids to honor their inner-knowing and actively, consciously, and consistently develop it.  An active transfer from receiving guidance from adults in their environment about their inner landscape to them taking full responsibility for it should happen throughout adolescence and adulthood. We all need to mentor children by exemplifying such attention to the inner landscapes of our own lives. An exploration of the inner landscape will help inform and re-contextualize kids understanding of the gazillion influences from the external world that are upon them. Just think of the simple notion of comparing oneself to another that teens have the tendency to do. Perhaps more enlightened, self-grounded, and inner-connected teens can say, “well that’s nice for that person, but that’s not what I am all about.” You cannot say that if you don’t actually know what you are all about! We must all do our own yoga practice. More conscious  judgement, discrimination, and therefore wise, informed choices can be made if a person has a better understanding of who they are at their core.

So how do you figure out who you are at your core? Well, when, in yoga, you stay with your discomfort, whether physical or mental or both, you create a space (the same one Victor Frankl is so famous for describing in his, Man’s Search for Meaning) — the space between stimulus and response, rather than automatic, unaware reactivity. You notice how you think and how you feel. You identify and name such thoughts and feelings and become familiar with them. You notice that some of the labels you apply to your thoughts and feelings may not be true! You recognize that not all the stories you tell yourself are true! You learn why you may have told those stories and that they no longer serve you,  and then you have the glorious opportunity to change them.  With repetition and regular practice, you become friends with your self and the inner world isn’t so foreign or scary as it once was. You know your own suffering and you develop responses to cope. This is not happiness, or high self-esteem, this is wholeness and wellness. This is a prescription for good health. It’s often a painful journey requiring lots of attention and honesty and grit, but one that is absolutely foundational to real happiness. This is the hero’s journey! (Campbell; Peterson)

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Values can be and should be rooted in such self-understanding that you have actively culled with attention, time, and great effort whether through yoga, journal writing, mindfulness practices, meditation, or other therapeutic techniques that are uniquely helpful to you. This must be an honest process, a difficult, uncomfortable process at times, and it is challenging for most. But there is so much value in doing something hard; in facing your fears — doing the exact thing you do not want to do (Jung; Peterson; Davis; Haidt). Once you begin to know yourself in a really deep, intimate, and loving way, you are better suited to realize the highest good for yourself and what promotes your best and highest self (Peterson). This will benefit the world. This is the path to social justice.

Strength, Flexibility, and Balance

My mission with Landscapes for Learning is to draw attention to and start a conversation with parents, kids, and schools about how this exploration of inner landscapes is the foundational value to better navigating the external landscapes (content knowledge, skills, practical forms of education, achievement and goal-setting that schools and parents over-value in my estimation) and seeing how the interplay and interconnectedness between the internal and external is essential for being with purpose and authenticity in the world. Rather than a teenager’s self-development focused primarily on ego-driven goals (Plotkin) he or she must achieve according to social norms, set by parents, schools, other institutions of influence and authority— external achievement and financial success, the focus should be on the intrinsic values that motivate a person to be their authentic selves.  In the process of self-actualization, the Bikram principles apply: balance between strength and flexibility,  proper alignment, and trying the right way— which is the hard way.

Setting Intentions for Your Practice

I don’t believe the problems we are seeing among kids today in schools result  from malicious intent— far from it. If anything, I think parents and schools are trying too hard and are too present and too helpful to the detriment of their kids’ independence and level of engagement with their own lives. Less might be more. I also don’t believe parents and schools are fully conscious about how their values and goals are so terribly misaligned. I think we’ve all simply lost our way in a sea of information, misinformation, and complete overwhelm and busy-ness due to economic, technological, and other forces that have happened upon us in the past few decades. Understandably, with so much rapid change, we struggle to find our balance, and this is exactly why yoga may be the antidote in shepherding us back home to ourselves.

 

Here is A Terribly Disorganized and Incomplete List of Influences, Resources, References, and inspirations cited improperly and according to no style manual. (I will professionalize it shortly…)

Tony Robbins, I am Not Your Guru netflix special

Dr. Susan Davis, her Ted Talk, appearance on Rich Roll Podcast, Emotional Agility

George Carlin (standup acts online, youtube)

The Rich Roll podcast

Rich Roll, Finding Ultra: Rejecting Middle Age, becoming one of the world’s most fittest men and discovering myself

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Lectures, Interviews, Maps of Meaning, podcasts

The Joe Rogan Experience (podcast); personal conversation with Joe Rogan

Bret Weinstein (interviews with Dave Rubin and Joe Rogan)

Eric Weinstein (interviews with Sam Harris, Joe Rogan, Dave Rubin on The Rubin Report)

Alan Watts,  lectures, The Way of Zen, The Wisdom of Insecurity, In my Own way: an autobiography

B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, inner peace and ultimate freedom

Duncan Trussell Family podcast

Sam Harris, Waking Up with Sam Harris Podcast (#121, telling the truth)

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way: 25th Anniversary Edition

Stephen Pressfield, The War of Art

Jon Kabat-Zinn: Full Catastrophe Living, Coming to Our Senses:Healing Ourselves and Our World through Mindfulness

Anne Lamott, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovery Mercy

Ken Robinson, Ph.D. The Element: How Finding your passion changes everything, videos about education system

Pema Chodron, Meditation: How to Meditate: A practical Guide, The Places that Scare you, 

Jack Kornfield, interview with Tim Ferriss; audio meditations and talks, The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings

Carl Jung: Modern Man in Search of Soul and other writings

Mary Oliver: Upstream, and other poems

Ally Hamilton,  Yoga’s Healing Power: Looking Inward for Change, Growth, and Peace

Bill Plotkin Nature and The Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World

Steven Pinker, videos and interviews with Sam Harris, Joe Rogan; A Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st century, The Blank Slate, and Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

David Hawkins, Letting Go The Path to Surrender

Tori Hicks-Glogowski (Views from the Podium blog)

Rumi: The Book of Love (Coleman Barks); the essential Rumi

Rilks’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God (Anita Barrows)

Writings in ecopsychology.

Writings of the Transcendentalists (Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance, Henry David Thoreau, Walden, other writings)

On the Ragged Edge of Silence John Francis

John Muir, writings

Daniel Goleman, A force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World

Shakti Gawain, Living in the Light

Thich Naht Hahn, Silence. The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise, list other books

Joss Sheldon, The Little Voice: A rebellious novel

John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling

Wayne Dyer, Change your thoughts, change you life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao

Zachary Slayback: The End of School: Reclaiming Education

Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

Mary Karr, The Liars’ Club:A Memoir, Lit, The Art of Memoir

Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Parker Palmer: The Courage to Teach, online videos

Kevin Griffin, Recovering Joy: A mindful life after addiction, One Breath at a time: Buddhism and the 12 steps

Tommy Rosen (online Recovery 2.0)

The Mindfulness Summit Online Conference (the mindfulnesssummit.com)

Gabor Mate (videos, and podcasts with Tim Ferriss)

Benjamin Lorr, Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for???

Chade-Meng Tan and Dan Goleman, Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to

Tim Ferriss, Tribe of Mentors, blog, The Tim Ferriss Show (podcast)

Behave, Robert Sapolsky and other online appearances and speeches; lectures on Youtube

 

 

 

 

 

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A Meditation on Learning

Every moment has something to teach. Can you look closely, deliberately, at the landscapes in your life as opportunities to learn — to live fully and authentically as you, as nobody else can ever do, except the one and only you? You don’t have to do it well. Just try. Learning lends life its meaning, and that meaning is tailored specifically for you and only you.

The landscapes have so much to offer. Can you be open to what they have to say? They speak, if only we might get quiet enough to hear, to develop the ability to listen deeply. If only we might slow down. Just stop. Be. You don’t need to “use” the landscapes. You only need to be there: in them, on them, with them, and experience them fully, to appreciate them. You cannot wrestle meaning out of them; you must allow for that meaning to come to you, and it will. But it takes courage and patience and fortitude to act in a way that may be unfamiliar– to be a receiver, to be gracious, to allow. It is our true nature to live this way, in harmony with landscapes both inside ourselves and across the natural landscapes of the earth.

Listen to the landscapes– what stories do they tell? What lessons will you learn? What do the landscapes teach us? How can we learn to listen to them? In listening to landscapes we are listening to ourselves, our true nature. Indigenous people know this, intuitively, spiritually. We tend to disregard that type of “knowing” because it isn’t rational. It seems “beyond” us, a little bit too “out there” for us because we tend to want to master or utilize the products of learning for some sort of gain, to get ahead, to profit. But, there are more ways to “know,” beyond logic. It’s sort of like taking a leap and hoping a net appears. If you trust, the net appears, without fail.

Stay open to receiving the universal life force and energy which provides guidance to you; this is the other way of “knowing.” This type of learning through listening for what life is telling you can serve as an important reminder of how much you cannot control. It will show you your limitations and guide you to accept, let go, or move beyond those limits.

Have you ever had the experience where an answer to your problem just comes to you, seemingly from nowhere? A great idea just drops itself into your lap, like a butterfly lighting on your windowsill? The truth is that we are dependent creatures– dependent on the messages and unexpected experiences — the gifts and struggles– life sends to us. We are not as independent as our ego leads us to believe. For this, we should be grateful.

You don’t have to be in control or utilitarian when you are learning, only awake and willing and attentive. Lifelong learning isn’t like school. There are no grades. It’s not about progress. There is no competition. There are no parameters! Simply become a student of your own life to see what you can learn. As HD Thoreau wrote in Walden, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” I hope to inspire and encourage you to recognize all that you have to learn about yourself and the world, each day, each moment over the course of your entire life. You have an inner wisdom waiting to be heard.

Learning requires openness, vulnerability, willingness, and humility. Children have such qualities, by nature. They are human sponges, intrigued by everything in their environment, but sadly that intrigue and openness stops. Why? School happens; western culture happens; socialization and conformity happens. But we can learn to recover from our conditioning. Learning can re-open us to our innocent and youthful natural curiosity. We can become a flower petal blooming, over and over again.

Learning will inevitably lead you to growth, but some people resist learning because they fear change, and fear overwhelms. This is also why we need to explore our interior landscape so we understand our emotional body, our psychology, and our physical body and how they work together to make us uniquely an individual human. Self understanding will enable us to do what’s best for us rather than copying the responses or choices of others. We don’t need to follow the crowd. We can trust ourselves.

Fear is so manipulative within the physical body and the mind, it can literally cause a person to see black as white or down as up. Reality becomes distorted through the lense of fear. It doesn’t just cloud our judgment, it changes our perceptions of reality! So much so that valuable learning is resisted or denied, and that is a tragic loss of opportunity for growth. Indeed, the hardest lessons are the most impactful, valuable, and memorable– but they hurt because they usually involve fear and other overwhelming emotions and reactions in the body. Nobody likes pain, and few learn about why it happens or how to cope with it when it does. We can learn to embrace our pain, our suffering and transform it through learning. Then we can find meaning, even in pain and suffering.

The fact is when you stop learning, you start dying; you wither. Water corrodes when stagnant. Human beings have to keep laboring, moving, thinking, feeling, learning, and thriving. Through constant and continual learning, that is, when you deliberately pay attention to life and see all your experiences as landscapes for learning, you will discover there is joy and wonder all around you, all the time (and always will be!), no matter what.

Even in the most brutal of situations there can be opportunities for learning and growth. At Auschwitz, Victor Frankl observed human beings, despite their tremendous pain and suffering in the concentration camps, continually finding reasons to live through learning. He writes in his famous, Man’s Search for Meaning:

The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity–even under the most difficult circumstances–to add deeper meaning to his life… What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life–daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. (p.67,76)

Perhaps because most of us do not live under such duress, we take the power of learning for granted. Do we think learning or “education” is only for the privileged? Do we think it occurs in a particular or conducive environment? Do we forget or become complacent about the opportunities to learn and continually grow throughout our lives, across every landscape? Perhaps we are just too busy or distracted by the hustle and bustle of life in an industrialized economy that puts tremendous demands on us and constraints on our time, even though some demands we put on ourselves and are excessive or unnecessary.

You will find opportunities for learning in the places and faces that you meet each and every moment of each and every day of your life; you are surrounded by nature as well—that is always available to you as a landscape for learning! You will find learning opportunities in the steps that you take across the landscapes of your life, whether those steps are tentative, merely casual, or aggressively intentional. Together, we are all travelers over the landscapes of life where love, fear, pain, and joy are only some of the very best teachers, but only IF you are open enough and only IF you are aware enough to receive the lessons. Adjust your frame of reference to learning and the world will change right before your eyes.

Become an enthusiastic student of life. Take learning into your own hands, rather than living merely as the victim of what happens to you in your life. Rather than thinking that things happen to you, perhaps you might come to understand instead that things happen for you– they occur as continuing education, as Frankl noted, even within the most challenging environments and times. Developing the attitude of a student will transform the way you see the world and all of your experiences.

To develop a disposition for learning and openness you might be required to complete a considerable amount of unlearning as part of the process of growth. You have been taught and conditioned in ways that likely have severely limited the way you see the world and the way you see and think of yourself. Examining your own life– your mindset, your worldview, your values, your beliefs, how you spend your time, your habits, your carefully constructed perceptions about yourself (your identity) is a process every capable person can learn to address to better understand what it means to be human, so that self understanding can be gained as well as understanding of our fellow humans.

Indeed, it is every person’s responsibility to “know thyself” as many great teachers from Socrates to Buddha to Emerson to Martin Luther King have urged. What comes with self-understanding, though, is the often challenging process of unlearning, which is why many people start toward self-knowledge but abandon the path. It isn’t easy to deconstruct yourself because you feel like you might come undone or completely fall apart: emotionally, psychologically, physically, and socially. Loss is part of the learning process. It takes a great amount courage to confront yourself, do the work, and rebuild yourself– to get your shit together, but the payoff is worthwhile both for you and for the rest of the world. This is what the hero does! This is what Frankl did and watched his fellow prisoners do, each choosing to “take up [their] cross.” Brave people look in the mirror. Cowards run, pretend, hide,or give up. They become closed, unwilling, ignorant, arrogant, and stuck.

Shedding limiting ideas about yourself, others, the world, and an inflexible mindset will allow you to become more pliant and supple, more flexible and strong (this is your yoga). You will discover your true self, the pure self you were born to be. You will have to excavate all of your social and cultural conditioning. You’ll have to go back and reclaim that innocent unadulterated, wild child you were, so full of potential and life force, that self you were before your were subjected to the “industrialized” world and “ schooled” and “socialized.” This is when you lost all that lovely divergent thinking and when your imagination was put to the side, or minimized, or put into the all encompassing service of your logical thinking / academic brain. It’s when you went indoors for hours and hours to be tamed and taught self-regulation and conformity and order; your head was then filled with “shoulds” and “oughts” and “musts,” and when you wandered away or imagined anything unconventional or you questioned authority, you were scolded back into the carefully shaped reality that was efficiently managed for you, lest you be labelled and cast aside as “abnormal” or a “trouble-maker.” It’s when you became disconnected from nature and thereby yourself.

You were kept inside the container of school, institutionalized, confined to a chair in front of screens for hours on end, and those who did not rebel, the do-wellers and the get-along-and go-alongs, who blindly accepted what they were fed without question grew up to be the same people who keep the system chugging along to inculcate the next generation in the same ways. This will stop when we begin to reconsider the real purpose of real learning. Rehabbing the current education system from within is not the answer. Reconnection with nature and ourselves, our souls, is.

It is my contention that the current mental health crisis among our youth, the skyrocketing levels of anxiety and depression, is a result of our long-held Western cultural values based on materialism, excessive consumerism, ego-based competition, and progress. We have raped and pillaged the natural landscape and as a consequence soiled and littered our interior landscapes —the body, mind, and soul. The sacred has been replaced with science; beauty and mystery replaced with information and answers for gain. Yet, what we fail to recognize is that we are the natural landscape; we are not separate, as we have been conditioned to believe. So how can we create a more meaningful, healthy life for ourselves and others?

We can immerse ourselves in landscapes– that is, we can commit to lifelong learning. We can commit to learn about ourselves, our inner landscapes, finding good teachers (counselors, therapists, mentors, coaches) to help us explore. We can learn from the natural landscape to care for our world and all forms of life. We can learn how to learn better and more often, and we can make learning– authentic learning—our most important value, priority, motivation, behavior, habit, identity, right and ritual. Finally, we can find people to share our lives with –next door, across the street, or across the globe. We can share our humanity through learning.

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Podcast 000: About Me

cartoon me

In this, the inaugural podcast, I introduce myself, the purpose of the Landscapes for Learning platform and the LFL Podcast Features.

I look forward to sharing the inspiring stories and conversations I’ll be having with extraordinary “ordinary” people from around the world.

I hope you’ll tune in and enjoy the journey with me!