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Vulnerability

An excerpt from “Part V: Learning” in the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Bikram Yoga Teacher’s Self Study Guide for Wellness (available June 1 at Amazon.com)

Vulnerability

“Vulnerability is not weakness. I define vulnerability as emotional risk, exposure, uncertainty. It fuels our daily lives.”
Brene Brown

To be human is to be vulnerable. Allowing yourself to be open to experience and vulnerable is how one learns, grows, and thrives, but being vulnerable also invites the potential for pain and suffering, even death. Vulnerability is a double-edged sword. Vulnerability is a challenge, and how you accept, respond, and cope with it defines who you are. To know oneself is to understand one’s own vulnerability.

Bikram Yoga & Vulnerability

Many people question the level of challenge of Bikram Yoga, wondering why it’s not more relaxing and peaceful. Why is Bikram Yoga so hard? Why the high heat and strict discipline? Why can’t I close my eyes? Why do I feel so exposed and vulnerable to emotional and physical discomfort? Why must I labor through the poses for ninety minutes? There’s lots of resistance to Bikram Yoga practice—- and that is the point. The practice is about paying attention to the nature of your resistance and emotional reactivity to vulnerability. Learning to be with one’s vulnerability and practicing ways to transform it for wellness is an important part of the process of self-realization and self-actualization. 

In Bikram Yoga, the poses test a person’s response to their own feelings of vulnerability, whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. These asanas are an opportunity to experience what vulnerability feels like in one’s body and mind repeatedly in small doses within a safe environment (as exposure therapy). The class is like a laboratory to observe oneself and one’s stress. Through this practice of staying open to one’s own vulnerability, or learning through exposure therapy, vulnerability becomes less frightening over time. The practice and exposure teaches people to be open-minded about feeling their own stress, anxiety, and other fears and challenging sensations in one’s body and mind.

Rather than trying to avoid these postures, compromise them in order to control them for more comfort and less vulnerability, or to “perform” them for the sake of achieving physical prowess or perfection, we encourage our yogis to “trust” the process of the posture– to be with it– to do one step at a time, the best they are able and breathe. To fully experience the attempt to do what one is able in order to understand oneself better is the goal.

Again, this is how Bikram yoga is not about achieving the full expression of any pose, but it’s about living with how you are in each moment — exploring and observing the way one may refuse to experience and cope with vulnerability or the ways one becomes more willing to stay open and flexible in response to challenge to learn and grow.

It might hurt a little bit

As teachers, we are instructed in our Bikram Yoga Dialogue to alert practitioners that parts of some postures “might hurt a little bit” as a loving warning that they may and should experience some therapeutic discomfort that comes from vulnerability and opening themselves up more than they are likely to do otherwise because of their trepidation or reluctance to “be present” with discomfort and stress. In fact, in this way we are inviting them to cultivate being more comfortable with being uncomfortable and to get to know the pain and suffering associated with vulnerability rather than to fear it or run from it. Most people don’t understand their own bodies, thoughts, feelings, pain, or vulnerability, but when they come to Bikram Yoga class, they can learn more about these things. When people begin to discover more about themselves and develop more awareness, anxiety and stress lessens and wisdom and wellness result.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”
–Brene Brown

Just as some Bikram yogis try to modify and control their practice rather than following the commands of the teacher’s Dialogue during class as a way to avoid vulnerability and discomfort, many people, in general, strive continually for permanence in their lives and in their environment because this gives them a perceived feeling of safety and security; this is a way out of feeling vulnerable, but permanence is an illusion. Being human means being subject to constant change, relative security and insecurity, and vulnerability on an ongoing basis, but such fear, change, insecurity, and vulnerability can be motivation, inspiration and potential opportunities to grow, create, and fully self-actualize. It’s very challenging for people to accept this truth and gain the courage to trust this process. It is common for people to take one look at the Bikram Yoga series and say, “No, thanks. Who wants to voluntarily suffer? And to what end? I refuse to expose myself to that and face my fear.” We assure you that the environment you will enter is a compassionate, safe place to do what’s difficult to grow wiser and more well.

Letting Go of Control: Trust the Process

Also common is rather than taking personal responsibility and ownership over oneself — one’s particular emotional sensitivities, buttons, and triggers (the aspects of ourselves that can be discovered in Part II Self-awareness), some people often try to manipulate their environment or influence, overpower, and otherwise control other people and their environment to prevent their own feelings of insecurity or to protect themselves from the potential discomfort or loss that may come from such vulnerability. This is a very common human tendency, because we are wired biologically to react to threat and danger and in previous times needed such reactivity for our survival. In a more progressive modern world, sometimes we hang onto that reactivity and fear unnecessarily.

To an extent, a degree of reactivity and defensiveness is self-preservation and self-protection, but in many cases, people avoid personal responsibility because they don’t know they have choices about how to respond, have never been taught or trained to, or because it’s become socially common to blame, distract, or avoid challenge. They avoid doing the difficult work within themselves and instead put their attention and energy toward manipulating the external world, including other people, to suit them or give themselves a sense of security. This can cause a lot of unnecessary stress for oneself and for others.

Vulnerability & Overprotection

I observed in my high school teaching career how many parents try to change an environment or attempt to manipulate and regulate other people’s behavior in order to protect their kids from from uncertainty, discomfort, or loss because they perceive such things as “dangerous.” They do their children a great disservice by trying to create “safe spaces” in the world and over-protection that is beyond trying to ensure their physical wellbeing (Lukianoff & Haidt, 2018). Rather than teaching children to stay open to understand the important role of vulnerability in learning and creativity and developing healthy responses to stress and coping skills within themselves, children are conditioned instead to turn to find comfort outside of themselves (running to authorities, drugs, or developing other unhealthy dependencies).

Since we will be tested by truly threatening external stimuli and because much of life is beyond our control, it is better preparation and protection to build up our ability to respond to what life gives us than struggle to control the world or hide defensively in our comfort and security zones where no change or growth can possibly happen.

Learning & Tough Love

If our attention and effort is overly-focused on controlling and manipulating what is outside of ourselves to make the world conform to our desires—to make it conform to just how we’d like it (whether in a yoga class or in our “real” lives when we are uncomfortable), then we not only create more disappointment for ourselves and unnecessary suffering, but we also neglect using and thereby strengthening our inner resources to grow. We miss the opportunities to learn more about ourselves and who we really are. This is why a central tenet of teaching the original Bikram Yoga practice is to encourage people to refrain from “adjusting” things to comfort themselves, to make a posture more accessible, or to make their experiences easier or more enjoyable.

In Bikram Yoga, we don’t modify poses to suit people. We don’t use props. We don’t turn the heat down if people are uncomfortable or struggling to breathe. The conditions of the environment are specifically designed to challenge people to rely on themselves only— to turn inward, study their own mental  and physical habits, reactivity and responses to vulnerability and stress; to face their limits; to observe their specific kind of suffering, and practice coping skills rather than denial or running from such challenge. To know your vulnerability and suffering is to empower yourself to cope and thrive. That’s why Bikram says, “hard way is right way”–tough love, to allow space for people to grapple with their challenges. We stay in the here and now, with eyes wide open, to learn how to suffer as best we can for wellness. Ironically, there is a tremendous amount of freedom that comes from building such courage through personal discipline.

Explore Your Vulnerability

Sometimes people think Bikram Yoga teachers are unsympathetic or lack compassion when we encourage you to do what is uncomfortable or to refrain from relying on externals beyond yourself, but the opposite is true. We won’t spare you your suffering because to do so would rob you of what you need to become the best and most authentic person possible. Some people develop habits of relying on drinking water, wiping sweat with a towel, using straps or other props, or they develop other rituals (ways they try to control rather than letting go and trusting the process) that “help” discharge their discomfort. They do asanas their way rather than according to the teacher’s Dialogue, as a way to feel “in control.”

Bikram Yoga is designed specifically to encourage people to face their limitations and break attachments (or “let go”) to external dependencies. When we continually turn outside ourselves for answers, comfort, or to deny our suffering and vulnerability, we remain ignorant to ourselves, and we stop learning, growing and thriving. Imbalance results because we are focused too much on the external and not enough on the internal, where our true self resides. 

Freedom isn’t conditional on the environment or other people behaving “just so.” If you are waiting to be happy when everything is just as you want it to be, you’ll likely be waiting a long time or disappointed and frustrated. Perhaps you will call yourself unlucky. Through Bikram Yoga practice, you can learn how to be free and peaceful no matter the circumstances—and perhaps even learn to love your experiences (your life, other people, “what happens,” reality) unconditionally– that means without required conditions. This kind of freedom that comes from practicing and building discipline is possible and can be cultivated through Bikram Yoga. All you have to do is show up and be vulnerable.

HONEST PRACTICE

Writing About Vulnerability

In Bikram Yoga class, one has a wonderful opportunity to see how one handles their own vulnerability. The poses are opportunities to notice one’s reactions to discomfort and insecure feelings. How do you manage your anxiety and stress, whether physical, mental, or both?

Notice during your Bikram Yoga practice when you felt most vulnerable. Write about those experiences.

Notice during your Bikram Yoga practice how you responded or reacted to feelings of vulnerability. Write about those reactions and/or responses.

Notice during your Bikram Yoga practice how much of your thinking related to your own feelings of vulnerability caused you to feel stress compared to the physical feelings in your body from the movements of the asana.

Answer the three prompts above but replace the term “uncertainty” for “vulnerability.”

Think and write about times and situations where you have felt vulnerable. Be specific about when, where, why, and how vulnerability occurred. Write about your feelings of vulnerability and exposure to risk or potential or real danger.

Think and write about the various times and situations where you have been in a state of uncertainty. How long did it last? How did you feel while in this state of unknowing? What, if anything, did you do to cope with such feelings of uncertainty or unknowing?

Think and write about life experiences where you were protected unnecessarily (either self-protection or from others) and missed valuable opportunity to grow or learn more about yourself and the world. Were you “too sheltered” or not protected enough?

Think and write about various situations wherein you tried to manipulate the environment and/or others in an attempt to achieve safety, a sense of security, or personal gain. What motivated such behavior? What might you have learned from a bit more exposure or risk as opposed to over protection?

What can you learn from observing and reflecting on your own specific insecurities, uncertainty, fears, and vulnerability?

When, where, why, and how or with whom do you feel most vulnerable? Try to sit with the feeling of vulnerability to know it better. Write about your experience and what you learned.

*Excerpted from Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Bikram Yoga Teacher’s Self Study Guide for Wellness (available June 1 at Amazon.com)

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Yoga is Union

“You don’t know who you are!”

When Bikram Choudhury, the author of the specific type of yoga I practice, said, “You don’t know who you are” to me and my fellow prospective Bikram Yoga Teachers on our first day of Teacher Training, I immediately got defensive. I balked, “What does he mean that I don’t know who I am? Of course I do! I know exactly who I am!” And then I silently recited to myself  a reassuring list of labels and titles: mother, divorcée, girlfriend, college graduate, professional educator, published author, in addition to an endless list of personal preferences, skills, physical descriptors, and other mental images I lived according to and that I believed defined “me.” Soon, I would add Bikram Yoga Teacher to this list which would make me… who exactly? 

Self Image or Truth?

I had heard the many criticisms about this controversial guru and his antics, so I chalked up his statement to his notorious reputation. I focused on psyching myself up for “getting through” the physical challenge his rigorous nine-week training would bring, yet my own resistance to long held notions about who I thought I was would become the real challenge. Studying my long held conception of my “self” would be the impetus for major transformation of my perspective of reality and about the meaning of my very own life. Bikram was 100% right, of course: I had no clue about who I really was. But I was about to learn, continuously, without interruption and without intermission, that this yoga I was practicing and hoping to teach wasn’t only about physical fitness and wellness. For me, Bikram Yoga is about the wisdom that comes from self study for self realization. The toughest part of it, for me, is that it requires radical honesty. It is about facing and accepting reality as it is, not abandoning suffering or pain, learning, and change. Funny to look back now at my fairly random choice to just try a little yoga for a good workout. 

Values & Wellness

Understandably, it seems a bit crazy for anyone to suggest that you don’t know who you are. But the truth is, most people really don’t know who they are, likely because they have been raised in a fast and furious Western culture with values and priorities that not only fail to include introspection and self understanding but that in many ways condition us for un-wellness.  Yes, our values are directly related to our health and wellbeing. 

Time on Learning

In addition to my own lifelong, personal educational experiences, I saw while working as public school teacher how American students are taught to focus primarily on and value what is external—by that, I mean, we value “time on learning” practical skills and content knowledge in order to compete in an economic landscape, one filled with comparison and a race to some “top” or “end” where we are told we will find our happiness and fulfillment— the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We are schooled to achieve— to find happiness and satisfaction once the prize, award, grade, salary, acceptance, or fame is gotten…and then the next and the next and the next, and if we die too soon, the tragedy is that we did not achieve our full potential. Although hard skills and economic survival are critically important, of course, it isn’t the entire preparation required for being a good, healthy, whole human being and living a fulfilling and meaningful life— no matter how short or long we are fated to be here.

Wholeness

Our education system pays lip service to the development of the “whole child,” while in reality, the  institutionalized approach to teaching and learning neglects character development, creative expression, and soft skills. The imbalance in where we pay our attention—outward more often than inward is clear when we look at the results: increasing mental illness, anxiety, obesity, addiction, and other forms of unnecessary suffering that permeate our society. We really don’t know who we are. 

We teach kids about what to do with their “outer lives” and how to shape their “self” image rather than showing them how to cultivate who they are as human beings by exploring their “inner lives.” 

It’s Not About the Grades

I saw firsthand as a teacher and parent of four how school administrators, guidance counselors, and parents were more interested in the achievement of grades and prestigious college admission than time spent learning what it means to become oneself as a human being– it’s simply not our priority. We don’t value integration and wholeness perhaps because pain, problems, suffering, and sacrifice are involved with the process of becoming a true person— a person of integrity, authenticity and uniqueness. And we wonder why even the most successful and highest achievers in our society are unfulfilled or ill. We’ve simply not dedicated enough attention and energy to wholeness, being rather than doing, truth, and love. Instead, we have conditioned our children to live by primarily relying on their thinking minds and the frantic acquisition of knowledge for material gain rather than remaining open to listening to and following their heart and soul for wisdom and wellness. 

Yoga is Union: Antidote to Disconnection

We are, indeed, products of our environment, our modern lives defined by information overwhelm, artificial intelligence, excess, avoiding discomfort and pain at all costs, loneliness and disconnection, and illness rooted in chronic stress. It’s more challenging than ever to find balance, connection, peace, and wellbeing in a place where we are continually bombarded to consume empty values, treated for symptoms rather than causes, and continually manipulated to look outside of ourselves (to diets, fitness regimens, the Self Help industry, and other perceived authorities) for answers rather than within—one’s own body, mind, and spirit— for loving acceptance and connection.   

We’ve been conditioned to not know ourselves by being taught to play roles, wear masks, and pretend rather than to be who we truly are (Singh, 2019). Thus, we become alien to ourselves because we are so distracted and manipulated to focus our attention on everything and everyone else but our true inner being. As a result, many of us fail to observe and understand our own feelings, behaviors, and thoughts, (there’s simply no time in the day to meditate!) never mind learn how to accept, cope with, and leverage them for wellness and a good life. Because we are so busy competing on the external landscapes of life, we simply aren’t taught how to travel our inner landscapes to learn about who we really are and express our true nature and uniqueness.

Classic Wisdom for Modern Humans: “Know Thyself”

I, too, am a product of such cultural conditioning, living most of my life according to and amidst comparison and competition to achieve goals I was encouraged to pursue by others. Because I was “a good kid” for the most part doing as I was expected, avoiding mistakes, and was successful in “my” endeavors, such outward focus and attention to external pursuits kept me disconnected from following my heart, loving myself, and living according to my true nature. Thankfully, two forms of introspection, or self study, guided me inward towards a reconnection and reunion: Bikram Yoga and daily journal writing. I’ve decided to share my personal tools for “knowing thyself” in the form of a Self Study Guide. 

           When I discovered Bikram Yoga, or should I say, when Bikram’s yoga found me, by accident, I found a prescription for personal transformation and wellness that I think all modern people could use, and, as it turns out, it’s the same wisdom the great sages have recommended since ancient times: “know thyself.” 

If you could use a little help answering the question, who am I, to become the person you really are and thus become more wise and well, this Self Study Guidefor Wellness can show you how to engage with reflective practices and healing modalities including Bikram Yoga, meditation, journal writing, and more. You can teach yourself: 

  1. about your own attention and how to turn it inward 
  2. to become more introspective to increase your self awareness; 
  3. about the purpose and value of facing challenges and fear (a little bit at a time!);
  4. about how making more informed and mindful choices from a central locus of control are keys to wellness; and 
  5. about how adopting a landscapes for learning mindset will help you become far more open to experience, curious, humble, and flexible.

Be Your Own Guru

No guru or guide can provide answers, cure you, give you self realization, awaken you, define your identity, or give you a secret for lasting contentment– not me, not Bikram Choudhury, nobody. A teacher can certainly open a door for learning for you, but only you, the student, can learn through your own conscious and deliberate application of the knowledge gained through learning and through your own direct experience of yourself and your life. You have to be your own guru. Only you can answer who you are and become the person you are meant to be.

“Look in the Mirror, Concentrate, Meditate and Begin…”

My most important teacher in my Bikram Yoga class is not the individual on the podium supplying me with the words to move and pose for ninety minutes. My teacher is in the mirror looking back at me— applying the prescription for wisdom and wellness, struggling to be honest, as she continually changes and reveals that she is always more than who she may think she is. 

 It’s not selfishness to study yourself to know who you are. It’s a process of self acceptance and self love so you can love others. People often talk about radical empathy as the impetus for creativity and healing (Heller, 2019), but our empathy and compassion for others must begin with showing ourselves empathy and compassion first. To truly serve others and share one’s gifts with the world is to be whole as oneself— to discover and live one’s truth. The entire process is a tremendous challenge which is exactly why you should do it. 

So, if you are curious about what it means to become the real you; if you are open and willing to learn about living in this time of rapid change as the true being that you are; and if you are interested in expressing your unique nature to live with more love, integrity, and vitality, then the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A (Bikram Yoga Teacher’s) Self Study Guide for Wellness provides five directions and tools you might find useful to access your own wisdom as you travel your own unique path of self discovery for self realization.

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Know Thyself, Part V: Learning

“Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself, and know that everything in life has purpose. There are no mistakes, no coincidences. All events are blessings given to us to learn from.”
—Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Self study is authentic learning. It’s about self-realization. It’s about becoming more uniquely YOU, as a human being. It’s about continual growth, vitality, and wellness—the kind of wellness characterized by truth, uniqueness, and wholeness, as opposed to the narrowly defined conventional standards of strictly intellectual, material, and financial success.

“Real learning comes about when the competitive spirit has ceased.”
–Jiddu Krishnamurti

Schooling, or the acquisition of knowledge for social and economic achievement, is a limited kind of learning precisely because it is based on competition, measurement, and comparison. Although intellectual development is obviously very important, it is only one part of becoming a more integrated and whole human person. Broader, more authentic learning is a never ending process; it is steeped in direct personal experience, trial and error, careful reflection, deep introspection, and characterized by humility. There are no grades, no besting others, no winning or losing.

Part V, Learning, of the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide for Wellness is about cultivating the perspective of an authentic learner, an individual who consciously and deliberately chooses to see life and all its experiences as landscapes for learning and for developing one’s unique nature.

Learning is both the impetus and  momentum for following the directions that guide you throughout your entire journey to know yourself. You might think of learning as the map of the landscape of you, while attention, self awareness, challenge and choice are directions to follow on that map.

Adopting learning as a lifestyle, as growth-mindset, is integral to the other four directions in the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self-Study Guide because without the attitude of the curious student, the wheel stops moving forward. As you learn, the wheel turns and gains momentum, further inspiring and motivating you to continue moving forward to steadily acquire wisdom and wellness.

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.”
–Louisa May Alcott

The practices within the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide are designed to help you learn to regulate your body and mind and skillfully develop more focused attention, calm, and self control through deeper self-awareness, so you will be more apt to see the world and everything in it as a classroom—a lot less frightening, much more intriguing, and full of possibilities and opportunities for becoming more of who you are meant to be!

When you adopt the attitude of a curious learner, approaching yourself, people, events, and all your experiences as interesting phenomena to examine in order to learn, you’ll be less likely to react to life out of fear, defensiveness, or perceive yourself as victim.

“The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.”
― Carl R. Rogers

Many people tend to cling tightly to the need for answers and permanence and will fight hard to remain closed within their carefully curated comfort zone that provides the illusion of safety and righteousness. But you don’t grow if you don’t sustain a tolerance for ambiguity, stay open to life’s process, and move mindfully with the flow of change– that is, if you don’t learn. And if you don’t learn, you aren’t fully alive and well.

Humans are conscious animals who are aware that nothing is certain and that much of life is a mystery which causes great anxiety. As a result of such underlying existential fear, we have a tendency to resist change, and so try to control our environment, other people, and master all unpredictables; progress in this pursuit of manipulation, domination, and desire for a lasting legacy gives us a sense of great pride and self-esteem (Becker).

We work hard at this false sense of security and the illusion of permanence in order to make ourselves feel less vulnerable. We frantically search for “the answers” and lasting order, but such drives for ultimate knowledge and immortality distract us from the truth of our own humanity as limited, mortal animals. Our fear-fueled expectation that we must always have solid ground to stand on, answers that are indisputable, and consistent order for total security causes us great suffering.


Man can learn nothing except by going from the known to the unknown. — Claude Bernard

The particular disposition of a learner is one who can courageously enter into the unknown to learn and grow. A heroic learner must sustain a tolerance for ambiguity and be like water; that is—be fluid and flexible, flowing with what is and what unfolds and responding as well as one is able through deliberate self control and mindful choice, all of which can be cultivated through practice. For many, to flow with constant change and to learn from it is scary because of how they have been taught to cling to permanence or have been socially conditioned by distraction from the truth of their own human condition.


“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”
–Confucius

We don’t know all there is to be known, even about ourselves, and likely never will, but our ignorance should incentivize us to be humble and ever open to learning and change rather than cause us despair. If you adopt the mindset and attitude that life is for learning, for making yourself vulnerable in order to explore and know more, and for taking risks and incurring lots of trial and error, then “failing forward” with enthusiasm and the attitude of an adventurer will give your life meaning and purpose.

To learn that you are never a stable, unchanging, permanent self is to know your true nature. All is change, including you, so there will always be more to learn, and more meaning to create.

Rather than clinging to socially approved masks, copying others, or dogmatically subscribing to ideology that offers the illusory feeling of safety and security, authentic learners live life with the mindset of an adventurer who is ever-open to discovery. And people who are open, flexible, humble, and view their own life as a landscape for learning with its ups and downs, gains and losses, births and deaths will be more apt to cope successfully with the rapid and ubiquitous change that characterizes modern life.

Learn from experience, hold your beliefs and opinions about what is known, but be open-minded, tolerant of other possibilities, and willing to change because this is the kind of flexible person the modern world needs now more than ever to lessen the political polarity pervading our culture as well as to address the overwhelming disconnection from ourselves and from one another that appears to be causing so much unnecessary suffering.

Love the hand that fate deals you and play it as your own, for what could be more fitting?” 
– Marcus Aurelius

Living with the mindset that all experience is meant for learning, growth, and becoming more uniquely you isn’t easy, and it requires courage, but it helps you open up to whatever life gives you (whether positive or negative, pleasant or painful) and trains you to accept your fate with less resistance and unnecessary suffering. Less resistance, letting go of fear, and accepting reality as it is rather than how we would prefer it or like to control it is true wisdom.

And more wisdom means more wellness.

References:

Becker, Ernest. The Denial of Death. The Free Press, 1973.

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Know Thyself, Part IV: Choice

Your Choices Define You.

The Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide will help you learn to manage your attention, become more self-aware, and develop resilience in the face of challenge, so you’ll inevitably make better, more mindful choices from a central locus of control.

More self knowledge from self study will help you learn to respond to reality in the present moment, mindfully, rather than reacting irrationally or unconsciously.

“It is not external events themselves that cause us distress, but the way in which we think about them. It is our attitudes and reactions that give us trouble. We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.”

–Epictetus

When you are more aware of the way you behave under pressure, understand your habits, and know your strengths, weaknesses and triggers from working your way through the Self Study Guide, you’ll be able to make better decisions and choices from a central locus of control.

Rather than trying to manipulate the world and your experiences to be as you’d prefer, you’ll learn to accept what happens that is beyond your control and respond mindfully in the best way possible for your personal growth and wellness.

“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how”

—Friedrich Nietzsche

As you work your way through the Self Study Guide, you will become more centered and more grounded in the truth of who you are because you will discover your values, that is— what you’re aiming your attention and effort at. When you know what you focus on that is good for you and that matters most, you can choose more of what’s good for you and what is in line with your healthiest values.  Your choices will be informed.

Are you Responding Rationally or Mindlessly Reacting?

Reactivity that creates additional suffering is not worth compromising your wellness. Instead, you can make better and more deliberate choices, cultivated through direct experience, introspection, and reflection– practices you can find throughout the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide.

With honest practice and self-compassion, you can learn to accept  insecurity and vulnerability as part of being human. You can figure out how to “let go” more quickly of your internal resistance as well as your reactive, negative habits rooted in fear and cause “bad” stress in your body.

For example, when that person cuts you off in traffic, you’ll choose not to react irrationally toward the offender in order to keep your stress-levels in check to keep yourself well.

Instinctively reacting to the danger of potential physical harm is built in to human beings, of course, but the extra mental suffering that comes from the anger you decide to hang on to or project onto others will wreak havoc on your body unnecessarily. That sort of stress and suffering is a choice. Unnecessary struggle and suffering is preventable. By tapping into the higher levels of attention to your values and the self-awareness you’ve gained in Parts I and II of the Self Study Guide, you’ll be empowered with self knowledge for more self control which means better, more mindful choices for your wellness.

“Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

–Eleanor Roosevelt

Because you will learn throughout your own self study process that your flawed thinking patterns, projection, and irrationality is common human behavior, you’ll be far less likely to take things personally or reactively blame others for behaving in the ways that you can recognize in yourself and in all other human beings. Your honest self study of your own nature will teach you empathy and compassion for others who also act as human, thus flawed, struggling along and suffering just like you.

It is true that when you know better, you can choose better, but when you know who you are, nobody and nothing can steal your peace— at least not without your conscious consent.


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Look Inside

The Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide has been designed to help you look inside– to travel inward bound and make self-inquiry and self-discovery priorities in your life. It’s intended to help you learn how to collect and mine the data from your own life, encouraging you, like Dr. Gabor Mate suggests in the video below, to look inward at least as often as you look outward to understand yourself for wisdom and wellness.

The Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide is a foundational program that can be used in concert with other self-help resources, many of which I include in the Resources and References sections of the Guide, (like the clip below of Dr. Gabor Mate interviewed on London Real), but ultimately you have to trust your judgment to do what is best for you based on your own self knowledge.

It is easy to get distracted or lost on the outer landscapes for learning by being overly enamored with a guru or teacher or wrapped up in trendy new strategies, apps, and resources rather than spending more time studying yourself and your own direct experiences.

Sometimes we get too focused on the “help” in “self help” when it becomes just another way to distract ourselves or avoid focusing on the hard work of studying the “self.”

Dr. Gabor Mate’s advice to his younger self is what the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide asks you to do:

“Look inside and pay as much attention to the inside, if not more, as you are paying to the outside.”

Indeed, wise advice from the good Doctor and Classic Wisdom especially relevant for our Modern times.


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Why A Self Study Guide? Why Now?

Modern American life is defined by rapid change, information overwhelm, artificial intelligence, excess, avoiding discomfort and pain at all costs, and illness rooted in chronic stress. People are finding it more challenging than ever to find their balance, a sense of security, and wellbeing perhaps because they are conditioned and manipulated to look everywhere else than inside of themselves.

I believe personal wellness and wellbeing can be cultivated by knowing oneself through self study.

To learn about human nature and one’s own specific, individual nature is the foundation for a high quality life in our modern world.

The Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide is a lifelong, process-oriented program for individuals specifically designed to promote deep, authentic learning about oneself for wellness.

Other forms of self-help, education, and training programs rely on the foundation of one’s degree of self knowledge which can only come from introspection and deliberate self examination.

New Education for Wholeness & Wellness

While working as a high school teacher, I observed the increasing anxiety and depression among students, an over-indulgence in safe-space mentality among parents and school leaders, increasing problems with attention and a loss of deep focus, excessive social media use and its detrimental focus on social comparison, and an over-valuation of competition. School culture merely reflected wider culture’s excesses, illness, and imbalance.

I tried to leverage the traditional, standardized school curriculum the best I could to address the new needs of students. An English teacher, I regularly taught students to engage in understanding their own humanity through great archetypal stories of world literature but also through introspection (a form of listening to oneself), reflection (a way to “read” one’s own experiences), and writing (a modality for discovering what one is thinking and feeling).

Similarly, as a yoga teacher, I work to be present as a compassionate guide to help individuals work towards self-realization through their practice of focused attention, physical and mental discipline, and self control, trust, and faith in oneself despite one’s limitations. I watch people both struggling and thriving physically and psychologically when they face themselves in the mirror, learning about how their bodies and minds work and managing stress through pursuing balance. I wondered, how I could possibly bring the principles of yoga: integration, wholeness, and balance through the process of self-realization into my school to improve individual wellness among students?

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The Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide is my solution, which I hope inspires and motivates people to pursue personal meaning and fulfillment by deliberately developing their ‘human literacies.’

The Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide is a new kind of curriculum created for students, but packaged and delivered in a way that scales to reach the masses of people I couldn’t otherwise possibly know or help if I were relegated to one brick and mortar classroom.

This Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide is the new humanities curriculum specifically designed to promote the type of learning that’s necessary not just for young people but for all people in the modern world to become more human, more wise, whole, and well.

Classic and Unique

The five central tenets of the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide are derived from the humanities traditions of both East and West. There’s nothing original about the wisdom to “know thyself,” hence the moniker “classic.” What is unique and original is how this Guide interprets, simplifies, and delivers the classic wisdom in a way that’s accessible to the widest possible modern audience and is useful for every individual’s pragmatic application to their own unique lives.

It’s a new type of individual education plan for authentic learning about oneself that is foundational to all other types of learning, growth, fulfillment, achievement and success.

The Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study curriculum guides readers to:

(1) understand attention and it’s value and learn to manage one’s own,

(2) gain self-awareness,

(3) realize the value of embracing challenges to build resilience,

(4) make more intentional choices to respond to experiences rather than reacting unconsciously, and

(5) approach one’s life experiences with curiosity and as opportunities for authentic learning.

Living in a world where the power of artificial intelligence has radically changed how we think, feel, and relate to one another requires us to understand human nature and know our unique, individual nature to become more human than ever before, if we want to be optimally alive and well.

It is a mistake to assume that we know how to be our best and most complete human selves.

It turns out that we have to intentionally and consciously work hard to know who we are if we hope to have a high quality human experience for the short time we inhabit this planet.

I hope that explicit instruction for engaging in the process of self-study will help.

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2018 In Hindsight

If 2017 was a year of travel for me, then 2018 was the year of writing about my various journeys across the landscapes for learning, inside and out.

Much of what I have written in my life is based on observation and reflection about learning—my own, or others’, as well as learning in the broadest sense.

Sometimes I share my “professional” learning with others publicly as I did when I published The Graphic Novel Classroom (Corwin Press, 2011) for educators. Most times I don’t share my “personal” learning that I’ve been recording almost daily in paper-bound journals over the last two and one half decades. A hybrid of both professional and personal writing is this blog and the soon-to- be-completed Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide. 

In hindsight, I am glad I have consistently written about my life both professionally and personally because I can revisit my history and see its value, especially in terms of learning. I can see how far I have come and how I have grown. I can see “mistakes” and “wrong” turns that were responsible for such growth and now inform my future direction. I know where some of the potholes are and am better at avoiding them. As Louise May Alcott wrote, “I am less afraid because I am learning how to steer my ship.”

Because I have recorded my learning in writing, I can see the personal strength and flexibility I’ve built over time through the trial and error process and this motivates and inspires me to keep struggling forward. It reminds me that the current pain will be worth the health, integrity, and satisfaction of my future self.

I can rely on myself in the future as a result of my attention to the work of being me in the past, and for taking on the responsibility for knowing who I am. Without self-study, without writing about my learning experiences throughout my life, I’d be useless to others, unable to connect with them, serve, or teach.

By looking back on my personally recorded history, I can have faith that life will happen for me exactly as it should because it always has, and that I don’t need to try to force things to happen or control the future. I can see how my attempts at control merely postponed acceptance of truth. I can also stay more open to the mysteries that will inevitably unfold (like a flower petal blooming) and cultivate an attitude of curiosity about the unknown– the potential that will actualize– instead of being afraid of it or resisting it. Surrender is powerful.

I have also learned that my current pain and suffering, whatever it may be whether self-induced anxiety or from external “accidents” beyond my control, shall pass, as these always have and always will. I have the stories of my past, in writing, as proof of the truths of what it means to be human and what it means to be specifically and uniquely me.

If I continue to approach all of my experiences as opportunities to learn, to observe my life as it unfolds organically, then I can enjoy it, be grateful and appreciative, and use what I have already learned to continue to be healthy, secure, and well and help others do the same.

I am not a Pollyanna nor am I wearing rose-colored glasses.

It’s not that everything works out the way I want it to or that everything always turns out well; it’s not that I don’t make the same mistakes twice (or more). It’s simply that, for me, using writing for reflection has been an incredibly useful tool for becoming more wise over time and more well. And as I keep becoming more of who I am, well, it just so happens that that’s the meaning and joy of my one, short, precious life. If I am reflective and continually witness the unfolding of my true self, and accept that truth, especially when it’s difficult, I can love my life even more and resist its discomforts less!

As I age and become even more experienced, more keenly reflective, and more honest in my writing, the more alive and robust I feel, yet at the same time, I feel less rigid, less anxious, and more humble about all there is still yet to be discovered. I continue to see how much I really don’t know. Now, at almost 50, I am surely not the same person as I was at 40 or 20. Who will I be at 60 or 80?

My life, as I record it through writing, has taught me that a sense of security is not the same thing as permanence, and trying to control and cling to safety is not the way to live well. Just because my life has been constant change, that the world is constantly changing (faster and faster most recently), it doesn’t mean I am not secure and safe. The one thing that has remained consistent is the entity called “me”– the experiencer, this reflective, evolving being who writes. Writing has been a critical tool for my self-knowledge. And knowing myself better is foundational for my good health and wellbeing.

I write to articulate my life to myself, not as self indulgence, not as self-obsessive or selfish, but as self-care, as therapy. I also can share who I am with others, if I choose, certainly not to give prescriptive advice about how to be or do life (I don’t recommend anyone be like me! and I don’t have the answers for you!) but to let others know they aren’t alone on this journey of figuring out how to become a person (Rogers). I can share my struggles and successes with others, but like any diet or recipe, what “works” for me may not apply to others’ unique constitutions. We are all so specific which is why we have to understand ourselves as well as possible to apply the exact prescriptions for our individual selves.

The Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide is my newest way of publicly sharing my learning from a life of writing, teaching, and yoga practice. I outline a few insights, practices, and techniques I have learned along my travels, both professionally and personally, on the outer and inner landscapes of life, to help me be wiser and more well.

These insights, practices, and techniques are not a secret, nor are they original. They’ve been in the toolbox of humanity for a very long time. They are recorded in the literature and history of the ages, rooted in the wisdom traditions from both East and West. I’ve discovered them, applied and tested them over time, and found they work very well for a meaningful trek to knowing oneself in our modern world. I hope you discover that they can work for you as well, in your own way, to meet your own individual and unique needs to know who you are and express that truth.

I hope next year when I reflect in writing about 2019 that I will be able to report that the personal learning I chose to share publicly in the form of the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide has helped propel my life and others’ lives in the direction it’s meant to go. I trust that it will.

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Know Thyself, Part III: Challenge

Although the classic wisdom, “know thyself” sounds simple, it’s not easy. It’s not easy being human and it’s certainly not easy learning the truth about yourself, so challenge is part and parcel of gaining wisdom and wellness. Challenge is Part III of the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide.

As the wise Eastern sage, the Buddha said, life is suffering, and this is the reality most people would rather not accept nor grapple with. The problem of facing our own anxieties, depression and pain, and the truth that life is hard and that we are limited directly opposes our modern cultural values that promote only happiness, comfort, and pleasure.

“What is needed, rather than running away or controlling or suppressing or any other resistance, is understanding fear; that means, watch it, learn about it, come directly into contact with it. We are to learn about fear, not how to escape from it.”

—Jiddu Krishnamurti

In the first-world, we are educated to avoid voluntarily challenging ourselves or confronting our dis-eases head on. We are encouraged to use hacks and short cuts to avoid the deep learning approach that requires real challenge and real change.

We are given pills and “easy,” quick ways out and away from facing any discomfort rather than nourishing and nurturing our own bodies and minds which takes attention, time, sacrifice and effort to cultivate. Prevention is hard work and sometimes without immediate payoff, so we are conditioned instead to live a life of pleasure without sacrifice. We stay ignorant about the negative effects of our choices and actions because they exist in some far off future that doesn’t seem immediately threatening. (Think Global Warming)

Materialist and consumerist values coupled with technological progress aggressively sell an intentional avoidance of difficulty. The messages of advertisers are to feel no pain, or to pretend, or that we are not good enough as we are. The system is designed as a race— to hurry up and acquire the latest and greatest, playing on our deepest fears of feeling left out of the group or alienated. We are not taught that to grapple with problems and work persistently to solve them defines the best in us. We miss out on the fulfillment and meaningfulness of building our character and spirit. And we wonder why we are sick.

Through technological and other forms of manipulation, advertisers, politicians, media and other organizations steal our attention away from our inner worlds, capitalize on our lack of self-mastery, and divert us from knowing ourselves and our truth. All of this blocks our ability to grow stronger, develop grit and resilience, and invite failure as a way to learn, evolve, and thrive.  

We are continually seduced by constant distractions that play on our irrationality, desires, and emotions, and we are socially conditioned to pay attention to those who are “in the know” to tell us how to live our lives, rather than turning inward to trust ourselves. It’s time to stop listening to others and listen to ourselves through intentional and deliberate introspection. We have to stop and make time to know who we really are rather than who we have allowed ourselves to be conditioned to be.

The Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide encourages you to face challenges and limits to grow wiser and more well, enabling you to be your own best authority and trusted advocate of yourself. In the modern world, facing challenge to know thyself is both an act of self-defense against cultural conditioning and necessary for positive self actualization.

What only seems ironic in this modern world of constant dopamine hits from excessive immersion in gaming or social media, moving beyond one’s comfort zone to voluntarily face fear and challenge is the antidote to suffering more and suffering unnecessarily. It’s simple. If we humans don’t use our muscles, they atrophy. By paying close attention to fear and exercising courage, we become both brave and more confident about exercising it in our future endeavors. Helicopter parents rob their children of actualizing when they create safe spaces, hover, and prevent failure. Again, we wonder why anxiety and illness continue to rise among young people.

If we take a small risk, succeed, and we survive the trauma, we are more likely to try and try again. If we burn ourselves once, if we fail and fall, we learn quickly to figure out other paths and possibilities for succeeding the next time. Our fear and weakness lessen, our confidence and faith in our own good judgment and abilities grow. We find out what we are like and what we are made of.

When we make sacrifices that may hurt today, we are more likely to be rewarded with more freedom tomorrow. Such small and great character-building actions using one’s carefully directed attention and self-awareness developed in the first two parts of the Self-Study Guide program are practices that lead to developing discipline and grit in the third part.

None of this: developing courage, discipline, and seeking the truth of you is easy. It requires hard work, pain, and struggle but discipline leads to freedom-— and just think about the amount of freedom and independence that comes from good health and wellness.

“Always do what you are afraid to do.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Taking “baby steps” through the trial and error of learning is growing, and growing is thriving, and thriving is wellness. Modern psychologists have used the technique of exposure therapy to effectively treat severe phobias, but it is a tool available to all of us for developing wellness regardless of the severity or scale of our fears.  

If we remain hidden in our self-constructed safe spaces, buffered from danger or risk and other opportunities for learning more about ourselves and the world, protected from oppression all the while maintaining the mentality of the vulnerable, helpless victim, we become dependent on others to shield us and thus remain weak and static. We can’t be certain of whether or not what comes from the external is good for us because we don’t really know what we are made of.

Because we haven’t risen to the challenges that enable us to build our character and our constitution, we really don’t know who we are and that causes even more doubt and trepidation. We lack trust and confidence in ourselves, so our personal growth, wellness, and well-being remains in the hands of others, and we are forced to trust their power and their moral character instead of our own. Thus, we are more likely to be oppressed, manipulated, and victimized.

Avoiding difficulty, whether difficult truths, discomfort, or exposure to risk by making ourselves vulnerableresults in a failure to cope. Poor health is far more threatening and damaging than facing challenge in the first place.

Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone

When you avoid discomfort, distract yourself, pretend, or run away from pain– one of your greatest teachers, you lose the opportunity to actualize your potential and build your resilience. Like unused muscles, your mind, body, and spirit remain static and weak thus causing additional unnecessary suffering.

When you learn to grapple with challenge, voluntarily through practice, you’ll build character and confidence. You will learn more about what you are made of and who you really are, so that when the unexpected tragedies of life hit, as they inevitably will, you will be the stability and comfort for yourself and others, thus minimizing any unnecessary, additional suffering. You’ll be the hero of your own life story.

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Know Thyself, Part II: Self Awareness

“If you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”

—-Daniel Goleman

Self Awareness is Part II of Landscapes for Learning’s Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self-Study Guide.The Guide provides tools and techniques for learning to turn your attention inward to become consciously more self-aware so that you can make informed, intentional decisions for your well-being and develop the discipline it takes to avoid being distracted or blown off course by powerful influences in the external environment ever vying for your precious attention.

Aside from owning and managing your own attention (learned in Part I), another important “soft skill” in our modern age of artificial intelligence is trust– that is, trusting yourself.  But you can’t trust yourself until you know yourself well. And you can’t develop self-awareness and self-understanding if you don’t pay careful attention to yourself.

Focusing attention inward to gain self-knowledge and self awareness is what it means to travel the inner landscape for learning. Part II of the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide empowers you with practical activities to become more self aware– to know thyself to be the best you possible.

Turning your attention inward is like shining a spotlight on yourself to understand who you are, and this is the beginning of becoming more self-aware and conscious that you are a human ‘self’ with a specific nature.

If you study your personality, habits, patterns of thinking and emotions, and learn about your mind-body connection, you will know more about who you are, how much of you is under your own control, how much is not, and the qualities of human nature that you share with other human beings.

You will discover that you have limitations and challenges and so does everyone else. This knowledge will positively transform your relationship with yourself and others.

Your increased self awareness may motivate you to welcome new challenges in your life, motivate you to use your strengths to thrive, inspire you to face your fears and insecurities, and provide you with more concrete information about yourself to make better, more informed choices from a locus of control, all of which leads to more wisdom and wellness.



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Know Thyself, Part I: Study Your Attention

Attention

“Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.”

–Jose Ortega y Gasset

 The Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide is about disconnecting from the competing stimuli in your outer world to reconnect to your inner world. It’s about the fear of missing “in” rather than the fear of missing out (FOMO).

Paying attention to yourself and learning about what makes you, you will not be quick nor easy because it includes spending time alone, quietly, and reflectively which many people find intimidating or downright scary to consider.

For many others, attention to oneself is simply not a priority,  what with so many other interesting things that capture our attention outside of ourselves and how busy we like to be (usually to stave off anxiety and boredom).

“To be that self which one truly is”

–Soren Kierkegaard

Learning about oneself through focused attention inward is also challenging because it requires honesty and courage to accept unpleasant or uncomfortable discoveries, though one may also find  answers that free one from suffering and pain.

Many of our unhealthy habits are deeply ingrained, and important truths are buried without our conscious awareness, which is why Part I of Landscapes for Learning’s Classic Wisdom for the Modern Self Study Guide is about paying attention to attention.  Learning about the nature of attention and one’s own attention to better understand and manage it will bring optimal personal growth and wellness.

Paying Attention is Self-Defense

It’s downright frightening that artificial intelligence can control your attention: where you look, what you look at, and manipulate your perceptions and feelings about what you’re paying attention to, to nudge you in particular directions while fooling you that you made your own choice– if you allow it.

How can you make sure that you can choose who influences you?

What’s your best defense?

Begin with Part I of the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide and learn how to examine your own attention to understand its value and thereby what you value which is what matters most in your life. Get offline, get with yourself, and study your human nature.

Values

When you understand the nature of attention and learn about your own you attention, you become more consciously aware of exactly what it is you are aiming at, focused on, believe in, and live by.

Attention is linked to your values, thereby directly linked to your priorities, goals, actions, and habits. When you own your attention consciously, you can take responsibility for it and better manage and control it for more wellness.

When you get to know yourself better from self study, inside and out, you will gain deeper understanding of your nature, becoming more likely to trust your own judgment, rather than helplessly relying on others, developing unhealthy and excessive external dependencies, or allowing yourself to become a victim of manipulation.

Learning more about your attention by paying attention to attention in Part I of the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide will empower you to know who you are to be wise and well.

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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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Know Thyself: Simple, Not Easy

“There are three things extremely hard, Steel, a Diamond, and to know one’s self.”

— Benjamin Franklin

The Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self-Study Guide itself is simple, but knowing who you are is not easy. The five parts of the Self Study Guide contain simple directions to send you on your way, but you must navigate the unique and complex map of you on your own. What you discover will be unique, and how you process the information and what you decide to do with the truth that you learn will be 100% up to you. You will get out of it what you put into it.

The activities contained within the Self Study Guide are meant to get you started on your journey to know yourself better. Once you become adept with using these tools and thereby form habits that will come to seem like second nature to you, the fruits of your own labor will further inspire and motivate you to continue growing in wisdom and wellness. The Self Study Guide is the starting point for designing your life of personal independence and wellness.

Subscribe to be first to receive the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide and receive discounts on products and services at LandscapesforLearning.com!

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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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Building Curriculum

“It’s not about the “A” I may or may not get on this “paper” I am writing, this new life I am building. It’s about allowing the creativity to come and work its way through me, participating in the building without total control or clinging, and observing myself on the journey, noticing that I am a merely a conduit of something way bigger than I could ever conjure on my own with all my limitations. Indeed, I am only part of the story.”

Reflection on Building: Going the Distance

As I await critical feedback and help from friends who are reading my book draft It’s Not About the Grades: Landscapes for Learning Beyond Schooling, I am continuing to create professional development curricula for teachers and motivational speaking content for high school students that I hope to launch in the future. This Landscapes for Learning mission is all very slow-going which is great because the process is teaching me to practice slowing down, patience, and self-compassion. The old Field of Dreams mantra, “If you build it, they will come” is something I’ve been repeating to myself often.

I am checking myself (before I wreck myself) to see whether or not I am trying to “fill uncomfortable space” by “staying busy” with more work (just another form of distraction or avoidance) or engaging in creating from a place of love rather than fear. Awareness of my motivations and intentions is a regular practice each day to observe whether I am running away or running towards or a little of both. I am definitely uncomfortable with having let go of the draft to be read by friends and awaiting their honest response.

I am aware of my self-doubt and its accompanying anxiety, and I am taking time to be with it. I am watching myself repeat old scripts: “you aren’t totally stupid but maybe you aren’t as good as you think you are” and “why can’t you just live like a normal person and get a normal job” and “you know how much money you are losing?” and “you are being so irresponsible” and more; however, I watch these thought patterns spoken by “The Judge” come and go. They come and they go and I don’t attach. I notice. I try to notice how my body feels while these thoughts are happening. I acknowledge them, pay some attention to them but only to let them go. I don’t fight or resist their presence. They’ll be back again and again.

Awareness, discernment, and intentional response is something I’ve learned through yoga practice and personal writing. These are two healing modalities that involve self-study that have shown me that awareness is the opposite of insecurity. Shedding light on my inner landscape, although a challenging and difficult process that requires time, energy, and grit, beats floundering around helplessly ignorant on the road of darkness which usually ends up being more painful.

My manuscript took five months to complete and it isn’t even close to reader-friendly, so I anticipate it will take even longer to learn how to revise and reshape it before finally polishing it and, ultimately publishing. I’ve been through this process before, so I understand some of what lies ahead.  I’ve got to take the best possible care of myself so that my mission continues to manifest. It would be irresponsible to do otherwise if I want to “go the distance.”

Watching the process unfold for me rather than trying to control it enables me to see more clearly what part I need to play along each step of the way. Writing is total control that gives me a sense of security. But, if I resist, if I fail to let go of the control, or insist readers see my story my way rather than listening carefully to how they see it, their way, and accepting their insight, I am screwed.

Also, if I fail to see any or all of this process as my own landscape for learning, that too would be a travesty. If I treat this creation process as just a bunch of tasks to complete before I can enjoy the results or “cash in” on all the hard work sometime in the future, then I am going to miss the joy of the present moment.

It’s not about the “A” I may or may not get on this “paper” I am writing, this new life I am building. It’s about allowing the creativity to come and work its way through me, participating in the building without total control or clinging, and observing myself on the journey, noticing that I am a merely a conduit of something way bigger than I could ever conjure on my own with all my limitations. Indeed, I am only part of the story.

 

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

The heart of my story, “It’s Not About the Grades: Landscapes for Learning Beyond Schooling” is about living with integrity, authentically, as the true me who I was born to be. It’s about how my essential nature was co-opted by society’s values of competition and comparison. It’s about my long journey of loss and recovery. It’s about living from my soul, from love, from the inside-out, not from the outside-in in order to please the world and its egocentric values (Plotkin). It’s about my story being common, maybe a little too familiar.

“Doing You” is the best and most efficient and effective way to truly serve others. When you know who you are, you can understand how to take care of yourself. It’s an ongoing process of awakening and awareness. You are your own best teacher for life across the landscapes that are here for your trials and errors, transformation, and transcendence– your learning.

If we look at our life experiences as opportunities for learning, we are empowered rather than victims.  Ironically, by exposing ourselves and being vulnerable and afraid we become courageous, strong, and flexible. We learn and change and grow. And that is who we are– constant change, growth, becoming, like a flower-petal blooming (Choudhury). Beneath that gorgeous blossom is all of the hard work of waking up–the mud: the practice of brutal honesty required, the struggle, the doubt, the resistance, and the failure that is intrinsic to the beautiful reality of being human and being truly alive,flourishing. What is flourishing? It’s meaning, purpose, passion, and vitality. No mud, no lotus (Hahn).

My story is unique, but not unusual. I see lots of others traveling the same path I was on– unaware, disconnected from their core self, and not knowing how or where they might find the tools to awaken and live truthfully, despite appearing “normal” and “successful.”  The details differ but the journey is the same. I see that we are educating and raising kids the same way I was raised–to the detriment of the true self and the unnecessary suffering that results from such disconnection.

Teachers (including parents), by explicitly promoting approaching life as a learner, not just an academic achieverwill provide kids with a more complete education–one of character not just career, wisdom not just knowledge and information, in order to live, love, and appreciate (gratefully) each moment– the present moment, instead of focusing so much on what kids are going to be “when they grow up”. Kids need to be here, now (Ram Dass). We all do.

I wish I had such an education earlier in my life, awoken to this truth about building the courage to stay connected to my essential self and gaining the tools to practice living my truth.

I wish someone told me there was this thing–” truth,” that existed within my inner landscape waiting as potential to be actualized and that it was my responsibility to “do the real me” instead of merely copying models or crafting myself into something valid and legitimate in the estimation and judgement of others.

I wish I had a warning that I would suffer because I am human, and then also be taught that to lean into, explore, and learn from that suffering would be the exact antidote to the type of worse suffering that would persist if I ran away– which I did and so many of us do without even realizing it.

Is learning by direct experience about one’s own human nature and character too spiritual? Is becoming authentic, truthful, and true the humanities education for the 21st century we need to quell the postmodern relativism that prevails?

We should encourage students to trust teachers less and trust themselves more.

We should guide them to go inward to travel their inner landscape, beyond the eyes and judgment of schooling, to see clearly their pure essence which is love, allow it to unfold as their witness, and then stay out of the way of such unfolding. Instead, we interfere with narrow expectations and an obsession with grades, measurement, comparison, and competition. We co-opt authentic learning with too much schooling.

We should not steal their suffering, but rather show them how suffering is done better so they can suffer less or at least not unnecessarily.

We should educate them such that unconditional love of oneself is the norm rather than the exception.

We should teach them more yoga.

References

Dass, Ram. Be Here Now. (1971).

Choudhury, Bikram. Bikram Yoga Teacher Dialogue. (2002).

Hahn, Thich Naht. No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering. (2014).

Plotkin, Bill. Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World. (2007).

Definitions

Self-realization (Wikipedia, Merriam Webster’s Dictionary)

Self-realization is an expression used in Western psychologyphilosophy, and spirituality; and in Indian religions. In the Western, psychological understanding it may be defined as the “fulfillment by oneself of the possibilities of one’s character or personality.” In the Indian understanding, Self-realization is liberating knowledge of the true Self, either as the permanent undying Atman, or as the absence (sunyata) of such a permanent Self.

Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines self-realization as: Fulfillment by oneself of the possibilities of one’s character or personality.In the Western world “self-realization” has gained great popularity. Influential in this popularity were psycho-analysis, humanistic psychology, the growing acquaintance with Eastern religions, and the growing popularity of Western esotericism.

In Hinduism, self-realization (atma-jnana or atmabodha) is knowledge of the true self beyond both delusion and identification with material phenomena. It refers to self-identification and not mere ego identification

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Podcast 013: It’s Not About the Grades: INTRODUCTION

It’s Not About the Grades: Love for Learning Beyond Schooling is very close to completion, so I am recording a reading of a few chapters for feedback, as a faster way of getting “peer review” before I write proposals for publishing the final manuscript.

INTRODUCTION 

Download Episode HERE

I would LOVE your input, insight, constructive criticism and HONEST feedback to improve this manuscript draft. And, of course, please share with teachers, parents, yogis, friends on your social network so I can get lots of good input! I would appreciate it!

I am days away from putting the final touches on the manuscript and readying it for readers for review. Enjoy (I hope!)

 

 

 

 

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Podcast 012: Preface, It’s Not About the Grades

It’s Not About the Grades: Love for Learning Beyond Schooling is very close to completion, so I am recording a reading of a few chapters for feedback, as a faster way of getting “peer review” before I write proposals for publishing the final manuscript.

THIS PODCAST IS A READING OF THE PREFACE, A LETTER TO STUDENTS

DOWNLOAD MP3

I would LOVE your input, insight, constructive criticism and HONEST feedback to improve this manuscript draft. And, of course, please share with teachers, parents, yogis, friends on your social network so I can get lots of good input! I would appreciate it!

I am days away from putting the final touches on the manuscript and readying it for readers for review. Enjoy (I hope!)

 

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Tools FOR Inner Landscape Learning

I write a lot about how we need to encourage young people to travel the inner landscape FOR learning.

Here’s one way (Vipassana/meditation)

And another way: 

 

And, of course, my favourite way: 

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Becoming a Teacher

On Becoming a Teacher

When you find out who you are, you find out you are limited: by rules, norms, laws, other people, physically, mentally, psychologically, intellectually. Your mind limits you as does your body; your birth limits you, as does your environment– all that is external to you, nature, and internal, by nature.

Limits are twofold: they can be restraints that save your life and nurture you, or they can be obstacles to overcome.They can preserve your life or keep you from flourishing. Limits can be imposed from the external landscape or from within your own inner landscape. They’re everywhere, always.

Limits are the teachers in your life who will always be ready with lessons. If you approach life as if you were perennial a student, then you will continually learn from limits. This won’t be an easy curriculum, but the more engaged you are with this kind of learning, the more you participate, ask thoughtful and sincere questions, and work hard with honesty and integrity to understand, the more you’ll grow and flourish as a the best you possible. You will be alive and well.

You will be a teacher.

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Podcast: A Parent-Teacher Conference

Solo Podcast: A Parent-Teacher Conference

“A Parent-Teacher Conference about Values” is a solo episode about my book-in-progress It’s Not About The Grades: Love for Learning Beyond Schooling which I hope to revise and publish in the coming months.

I provide a brief, yet incomplete, overview of the book in progress and read an excerpt from a chapter that is about the parent-teacher conference I wanted to have while a high school teacher but never really could. Now that I have resigned from my position, I am able to discuss what I see as the critical piece missing from a complete education for high school students and how it is severely overshadowed and almost drowned out completely by the over-valuing of grades.

I invite parents (and schools) into a conversation about a serious reflection on their values and our culture’s values and the mental health of teens, not merely to help kids to be successful students and achievers but rather to be whole, healthy, individual human beings who are able to self-actualize and blossom throughout their lives. This is the process of yoga, an exploration of the inner landscape!

I welcome your comments on the podcast in iTunes or feel free to share your thoughts by emailing me at landscapesforlearning27@gmail.com or leave a comment on this post.

Thanks!

Image credit: https://www.geeksaresexy.net/2011/02/12/bad-grades-1960-vs-2010-cartoon/

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

This is a hypothetical letter to high school students that I am using for the opening of my book-in-progress, It’s Not About the Grades: Love for Learning Beyond Schooling. I am under no illusion that a high school student, a 14-18 year old, would likely be engaged in actually reading such a lengthy “text” such as this, nor would I write with this voice and style if I was honestly trying to engage a high school student. The “Dear John” is merely a tool created to engage the primary audience which is parents, mainly, or others with any casual or serious interest in the world of learning, school, or education.  Partly, I imagine that parents may be concerned about a teacher who is attempting to influence (or otherwise inculcate) their child and so be interested in reading. They ought to pay attention if they aren’t already.

Dear High School Students,

There are landscapes for learning which extend far beyond school, one of which is an inner landscape that is waiting for you– waiting to be explored in order for you to know your truest, most essential self– your authentic self. You will acquire knowledge on the external landscapes that will certainly help you navigate the social world, the world outside yourself, that one clamouring for your attention all the time, but you will also gain wisdom from time spent learning on your inner landscape– the landscape that you might have an intuition exists but perhaps you haven’t been able to access properly or effectively. You need both landscapes for learning, where you can acquire both knowledge about the external world and deep, important wisdom within to be 100% authentically you– the truest you that the world needs– who you are in each and every moment and destined and meant to be as you continually change and grow.

After a long career in education—as a student on many levels of school, as a softball coach, high school English teacher, and teacher-educator, and single-mom of four college-educated young adults, I finally discovered, at midlife, that being “educated” in the traditional academic sense is not the key to a meaningful, quality, healthy life. I wished someone had taught me about the landscapes for learning sooner, especially the untapped inner landscape, which is why I am writing to you. I was limited in my understanding of learning and I discovered that my “education” was, indeed, incomplete, in the same way I believe formal education, especially high school, still is today. I’d like to offer you insight to possibly improve your experiences at school, to value the process of schooling in a new way, and challenge you to do something difficult that will afford you the great payoffs of fulfilment and meaning for your life: spend time alone, quietly, reflectively, through introspection getting to know yourself–your truest, most authentic self, as often as possible, every day. If you can manage to eat each day, then you also can feed yourself daily, regularly, repeatedly with your own attention— which, like good, nutritious food, is life-sustaining and necessary for vitality, wholeness, and wellness.

In order to be a successful social creature, you need to know who you are, as an individual—before you can consciously agree to identify with or define yourself as a member of a particular group or groups in the external world. If you do not gain the courage or the ability to spend time focused on your own inner landscape– the world of you, and value this lifelong quest as critical to becoming the fullest and truest you possible, then the social world: your parents, your friends, your society, the media and the market will shape you relentlessly without your consent, as you remain blissfully unaware, a product of your environment unbeknownst to yourself, childlike, and immature. Growing up, being an adult and “joining” society at large is not about going to college, getting a career, gaining prestige and money; rather, it’s knowing who you are at your core– it’s an understanding of how your body, mind, and spirit works; it’s about understanding human nature and your own specific human nature– all of it: good, bad, and continually changing, and taking 100% responsibility for this person that you ought to know (and love) better than you know anyone or anything else in the world. I learned most of this when I left the world of formal education to become a yoga teacher.

It’s Not About The Grades: Love for Learning Beyond Schooling is one product of my larger Landscapes for Learning project, which is my way of escaping the narrow confines of the high school classroom to begin a serious conversation with you and your parents and teachers about what I see missing from a truly complete education for teenagers— that is, teaching and learning about the wholeness and vitality of the individual human being, from the inside out. I hope to show you that a more conscious application of the principles of yoga can change your life, as they did my own.

Ironically, I quit my job to dedicate myself to yoga, writing, and more authentic forms of learning– that is, to continue to teach unencumbered by the inherent problems of a formal schooling environment.  My personal story about what I learned about myself from the experience of teaching inside high school and getting outside the confines of the classroom is meant to make you and other people think, mainly your parents, about the definition of education and its purpose and challenge them to rethink the “why” of educating you. I hope to encourage reflection from educators about their identity as teacher and the role they play in schooling as well as more authentic forms of learning. It’s also meant to positively influence you to be the best possible individual you can be which begins with encouraging you to look up from your phone and inward. Rather than aiming at a narrow definition of achievement in school prescribed by tradition or following the contemporary cultural narratives about material success continuously and relentlessly vying for and dominating your attention, which appears to be in ever shorter supply and severely limited, you need to focus more attention on what it means to simply be— be who you are, in each moment, rather than overly-anxious or “stressed out” about “finding your passion” or what you are supposed to do based on what everyone else thinks you should when you grow up. You have no idea who your future self will be if you don’t get to know the you of now!

The story of my travels both in the classroom and beyond school is about the journey of self-actualization that took place both geographically, around the world and back during my brief absences from teaching high school, and within my own inner landscapes through yoga. As an escaped teacher freely roaming the landscapes for learning, my story contains observations about what I learned about my own humanity and our shared humanity. Ultimately storytelling is about empathy, a shared experience between the storyteller and the listener, so in this respect, I hope that your experience with my story will inspire you (and your parents and your school) to find more balance upon the landscapes for learning, that is, to do more yoga in order to become more vital, more alive, and more healthy and well throughout your life. I will help you do just that, by example and through explicit instruction, as I lay out my experiences in the pages ahead.

Namaste,

Your Yoga Teacher

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Education: Busy-Work or Authentic Learning?

“Authentic learning, inner wisdom, ought to be developed as soon as possible and it ought to be part of education for young people. Currently, it is missing from the public school curricula, or if it does exist, it’s drowned out by the noise of achievement and grades, or buried under the heavy list of more important priorities like the status quo of competition, socialization, and indoctrination.” 

 

When I got quiet in yoga, silently, consciously breathing and moving for 90 minutes in the heat, when I repeatedly faced myself in the mirror and was directed to look into my own eyes and to concentrate and meditate, to attend to myself, I couldn’t help but become more consciously aware of and curious about the person staring back at me.

I never made the time, or had the time and attention, to do this with myself. Life was busy, and I didn’t have the luxury of focusing attention on me in any consistent way. And, it simply never occurred to me that such a process existed or that studying myself in this way was an important activity to do to be more me, to be more alive and well (not just to feel better and be happier). It wasn’t something I learned about in school. 

Like so many other middle-class Americans, I was busy: surviving– working a job, raising children, navigating relationships, earning my way in a world that was expensive and costly.

I thought yoga was exercise –stretching for old ladies. I knew nothing of ancient yogis or Eastern philosophy. Why would anyone spend time “being” for the sake of being when all of our time is spent on doing— producing, creating, striving, competing? I did not know what I did not know! I was not unique in my ignorance.

I was conditioned, in my education (formal and informal) and by society and culture, like so many of us Westerners are, to think of knowledge as something to amass about the world– science and math and language and health and law and so forth– useful, concrete, practical forms of knowledge and skills to help me survive and properly function in the economic world so that I might feed and clothe and house myself.

I loved knowing more and more, and education was something I valued. A big part of that education was about being trained to compete– survival of the fittest and all that jazz.

Contemplation, intuition, compassionate listening –how could such things be of any economic value? Useless privileges for the wealthy. Unless you were raised with formal religious education (or raised with religion that was prescriptive and heavily dogmatic or otherwise perverted) such “spiritual” things were simply never part of any curriculum, at least not for me.

Since religion seems to be culturally passe in the West (whether it has self-destructed or is misinterpreted or misapplied is irrelevant), what fills the void for learning about what it means to be human or how to be human?

At first, when this path laid itself out for me, by sheer accident, (there are no mistakes), I was overwhelmed by the process of getting to know myself through practicing Bikram yoga. The process was challenging and disturbing and rewarding and freeing and joyful and scary all at once. I am not referring only to the physical asanas, or the hatha yoga. I am talking about the entire process of self-realization, which necessarily includes the body and mind.

It took persistence and courage to be honest– to see myself honestly, and to do this alone. (It still does.) It was/is hard.

The reward? The payoff? The practical and concrete outcomes?

Vitality.

I am simply more alive, authentic, and well. I don’t need anything to fill me up fuller than I already am simply being me. I don’t need to consume more because I am enough. I have enough, and I have my integrity and my truth. I trust my intuition, my heart, to guide me to not only live in the real world and survive, but to thrive.

Most people, I think, if they even know such wisdom exists within them waiting to be discovered, are still too afraid to trust and leap without the usual nets they’ve been conditioned to rely on. Perhaps they need more mentors and models (more stories!), guides to show them the journey exists and they ought not neglect a trip through their inner landscape. I am lucky I had good mentors and models who understood the experiences I was realizing on my journey inward.

The result of the process of self-realization is that that stranger in the mirror I saw more than six years ago is now my best friend– the being I trust and love and rely on more than anyone or anything. I regret that I didn’t know her sooner. I understand her capabilities, her limits, and that endless possibilities and unlimited potential exist beyond those very limits and capabilities.

She is always changing and growing, often in a one-step-back and two-step-forward way. I have learned to be compassionate with myself during this type of learning. There’s still so much more that I don’t know (certainly more compared to what I do know), but I know her better than I know anyone or anything else. I know this intuitively, not only psychologically or emotionally or rationally.

On a deep level, I am connected to myself more than ever. I am rarely lonely. Many people have asked me how ever did I travel for nine months alone, by myself; “weren’t you scared?” they’d ask, which was a question  more about the danger of my own company rather than the potential danger of the external world.

Because of Bikram yoga, a way of being through which I was able to travel extensively within my inner landscape (and there are certainly lots of other ways inward), I have the intimate relationship with myself that is foundational and absolutely necessary and required to connect with others. I can be me AND function in the world.

Yoga is about balance, after all. Connecting and being intimate with any other beings, maintaining any other bond, friendship, or interaction with other beings in the world requires self-knowledge, self-understanding, and self-realization.

Blaise Pascal famously said that “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Man is, indeed, a social animal, but we are born alone and die alone and must learn to be who we are first before we can be with another or others.

Sure, you can be afraid of your own company, but you can also be courageous and make friends with yourself. The first step is to simply show up. 

To live well, to live with integrity, all I had to do was show up– do my yoga; be there, alone, on my solo mission with myself, for myself.

Now, in my current work as a writer, podcaster, and coach, I’d like to share my experience with people so that they know a thing called self-realization and self-actualization exists. I was half way through my life before I stumbled down this path that, as a teacher, I believe can be made explicit for people sooner in life so they can live healthier and wiser, rather than missing out on their own authenticity. 

Authentic learning, inner wisdom, ought to be developed as soon as possible and it ought to be part of education for young people. Currently, it is missing from the public school curricula, or if it does exist, it’s drowned out by the noise of achievement and grades, or buried under the heavy list of more important priorities like the status quo of competition, socialization, and indoctrination.

Parents don’t demand human literacies or they innocently don’t know what they don’t know.

Teachers are over-burdened with the requirements of the schooling process and administrators are accountable to, well, the accountability movement and its institutional demands. All they’ve got is their own humanity which is why the moral quality of each individual educator is absolutely paramount to the development of the students they can influence, even if no explicit “inner landscapes” curriculum exists. 

My discovery and road home to myself, my yoga story, has transformed my perceptions of myself and the world. I am changed, but the world has not. The nature of formal education has become ever more clearer to me since I stepped outside of it, since I understand the meaning and value of my own life, and life in general.

I see much more clearly the distinction that exists between authentic learning and the process of schooling.

I understand my previous frustrations I experienced as a high school teacher where I was focused on learning rather than the process of schooling, and that was an uphill battle; one of conflict and difficulty.

I see now that an obvious dearth of authentic forms of learning, including any explicit instruction or curriculum about the process of self-realization is missing in the education of young people.

Our schooling process  simply reflects the imbalances of our society, culture, our world. I am not interested in improving the current system schooling, for perhaps it isn’t even the business of schools to implement a curriculum of connection to the self.

But who shall, if parents aren’t?

If religion can’t?

If schools shouldn’t?

If there aren’t enough therapists to go around or can be afforded?

The rising lack of wellness, the increase in illness and addiction of all kinds among all kinds of kids (and adults) can be addressed by at least starting a conversation about ways to alert people to and promote more authentic learning.  A conversation to shift our values in education (and cultural values), re-balance our priorities, and redefine and refine the definition of a complete education and its ultimate purpose for human beings, not merely for human doings.

I believe that right now, the best I can do, as one individual person, is share my stories, my experiences and my beliefs.

I believe it is important for kids (and adults) to start spending time on their inner landscapes at least as much as they spend time on social media. And I am trying to figure out ways to help them find the path to self-realize and self-actualize: to deal with their fears, isolation, disconnection, inability to pay attention, and their varied illnesses which are symptoms of the current cultural health crisis. My first step is the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide.

In Walden, Henry David Thoreau observed that Most men lead lives of quiet desperation” and I believe this is still true today. Radical in their day, he and the other transcendentalists believed humans ought to be spending more time focused on learning from personal, direct experience rather than blind acceptance of dogma. They understood the value of exploring one’s interior world as well as its interconnection to the natural world.

Yet, still, our attention these days is focused externally far more than internally; we are more interested in and attuned to outer landscapes than inner ones.

He also predicted that man enjoyed riding upon his railroad but that one day the railroad would ride upon him; also true. Just substitute information technologies or the internet for railroad, and I would question whether or not we have made any “progress” being humans at all. 

What do we want the future to have that we cannot already find and be with in the present moment?

What are we searching for?

What needs met, outside our ourselves that cannot be found and met within?

Can we teach our kids to make time for themselves to get to know themselves rather than focusing on external tasks and social connectivity? To not allow the railroad to ride upon them?

Can we teach them not to miss out on what’s happening within, rather than consoling them or attempting to control the external environment for them?

Stories are powerful agents of change. If we want to make the world better, if we want to make the people we love better and strangers and friends better, then we all ought to share stories and tell our stories.

My individual journey home to myself through yoga is one small, simple individual story among many that may encourage others about the value of focusing inward. I am sharing mine through my writing here, and in my books, and inviting others who have traveled the path of self-realization, self-awareness, self-love, and self-actualization to tell their stories on my Landscapes for Learning podcast.

The hero’s journey, the archetypal story of mankind, is the story each of us can take and it is the way home for each human being to fulfillment and joy, a life worth living, a life worth enduring pain and suffering that is the inevitable reality for each and all of us. 

Sharing stories is one way we can think critically about and discuss the way we educate our kids, because the way we spend our time and attention in the educational process will determine the future of what it means to be a human being and how we determine what is the meaning and value of life, our lives– each and every one. 

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Like a Flower Petal Blooming

“My book is  a story of the process of self-actualization, me as the central real-life character to whom others might also relate. It’s about how yoga provided me this portal to enter to deeper consciousness of my own life, my self and therefore my purpose, my identity, my existence. It’s also about how this portal is available to all of us, to individuals, to make our lives more meaningful through fostering our own growth, our own individual process of nurturing ourselves and our own vitality, to embark upon the hero’s journey consciously and most deliberately.”

 

I participated in two extensive, insightful, inspiring, and concretely practical and helpful conversations with my fellow Bikram Yoga Teacher Training buddies (a.k.a my “litter mates,”) this week– one by phone and one via FaceTime. Neither one of my fellow teachers are writers or authors, but they are yogis rooting for me to express myself — and are supporting me in my effort to be the change I want to see in the world. After hours of great dialogue with these extraordinarily ordinary wise sages, I am one tiny step nearer to birthing a book. The writing process isn’t only about sitting at the computer and writing as I am doing at this very moment, it’s about listening to other people, connecting with people, connecting with self, and observing and learning more and more and more. In the end, my book will have been a collaborative effort, despite me being its sole author.

Anyway, funny thing was that yesterday I listened to a wild and weirdly interesting conversation between Duncan Trussell and Paul Selig, a well-known “channeler” who hears voices that he calls the “The Guides.”  These Guides speak through him and he has written five books dictating what they say. He called himself, not so much an author of the books but a stenographer or recorder. I have no idea whether or not the guy is a highly-skilled manipulator or a conduit of truth! And I know! I know! — this is a bizarre comparison, but I believe my book will be a similar sort of compilation of wisdom gained from the conversations I’ve been blessed to have with people, whether in person or through engaging with their work (books, videos, podcasts, etc) and all my shared experiences with others. I cannot possibly take all the credit for the final product. I was worried that being a writer would be a lonely endeavour (and although technically I am alone a lot if you don’t count my dog as company) but it’s anything but! I have my Guides to help.

My book, Like a Flower Petal Blooming, is still in its first trimester, I would say, but the seed is a definite being and is growing, slowly but surely. And to feel like you are going forward when creating a work of art is very encouraging, especially when those very few moments of inspiration and confidence are buried beneath loads of self-doubt and resistance, or squished in between days where I am feeling entirely disillusioned by the project, myself, other people, the state of the world.

But, at this point in the book gestation process, I believe I have written all of the words necessary for it to come into complete fullness– all of the content has been created already (I have a gazillion separate Google docs and thousands of journal pages from years of writing). So, I am currently, today, working on a central organizing principle/strategy, a central theme. And, maybe I am procrastinating a little bit by writing this blog post or maybe this is part of the book drafting process.

So, using a tip from one of these friends with whom I spoke with this week, I created the following word wall using post-it notes. Such an English-teachery thing to use a graphic organizer, isn’t it? My son called it “so cliche.”

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After arranging and consciously ordering the various ideas and motifs on my wall, I noticed that the sticky note, “DIALOGUE” landed exactly in the middle. The foundation of my book, it’s central ordering principle and theme, finally, came into clear focus, in a concrete, useful way. I now have an anchor around which I can order all my other ideas. I have a structure into which chapters can live and be strung together– “the beads of a pearl necklace.” I have real, dependable guidance to navigate forward. Now I can work on one chapter at a time, building brick by brick until it’s done– “like a flower petal blooming.”

For me, “Dialogue” has multiple literal and symbolic meanings as will be revealed and discussed throughout my memoir (I can’t give it all away here), but it’s primary meaning is a reference to  Bikram Yoga and how it’s taught, that is, through delivery of a Dialogue which is the yoga series’ foundation, its organizing principle, and most honest expression.  It is the thing that differentiates it from other forms of yoga. It is what makes Bikram yoga, Bikram yoga.

Actualizing one’s possibilities and potential as a human being is an ongoing process, and  the degree of actualizing that is possible through becoming more flexible and strong by doing what is HARD and doing what is RIGHT/HONEST defines what it means to be fully alive— it’s dealing with suffering—and this is what is written in the Dialogue. In my small, insignificant opinion, I believe this so happens to be the meaning of life.

The purpose of Bikram yoga, what gets expressed in individuals who act out the dialogue, or who actualize, is: Vitality. It is a process of continual death and rebirth. A constant coming-into-being or becoming. It is blossoming. Hence, my book title, “Like a Flower Petal Blooming.” My book is  a story of the process of self-actualization, me as the central real-life character to whom others might also relate. It’s about how yoga provided me this portal to enter to deeper consciousness of my own life, my self and therefore my purpose, my identity, my existence. It’s also about how this portal is available to all of us, to individuals, to make our lives more meaningful through fostering our own growth, our own individual process of nurturing ourselves and our own vitality, to embark upon the hero’s journey consciously and most deliberately. My landscapes for learning blog is about creating conversation, a dialogue, in the realm of education about this process of self-actualization, the hero’s journey, and how to help young people (and their parents) develop skills to embark upon such a journey early in life rather than later.

The practice of Bikram yoga is meant to be physically and psychologically hard; it is difficult, challenging. It requires “tremendous focus and concentration.” It is a discipline requiring you to be still, focusing on oneself in a mirror, concentrating and meditating. It requires honesty and it demands commitment to self— it’s about trying, honestly, to discover your limitations and push beyond them (“beyond your flexibility”) and realize your strengths in order to fully actualize as an individual person. But ultimately YOU decide whether or not you want to make that commitment to yourself and to do  what is hard. You decide to try. You have all the responsibility to try or not try, to do or not do, to cheat and cut corners or give your honest effort, whether that means you end up doing 1% of the posture or 99% on any given day. Only YOU can hold yourself accountable. The yoga isn’t about the postures– the yoga is about YOU.

This is why Bikram teaches his teachers to emphasize trying the right way, the hard way. There is no other way. It’s this philosophy that is rooted in the words of the Dialogue. And it’s also what makes this yoga less appealing, to some people, who don’t want to be uncomfortable or have to face themselves and their limitations. The truth can be difficult.

This yoga was designed and written to be forceful-–a force for good—a force for healing and growth and self-actualization. It was not intended to invite people to merely go through the motions to get a little workout and go home unchanged as the same limited, sick, and crazy person they were when they walked into the studio (and we are all these things to some degree or another because we are human). As Bikram says, “We don’t sell cheesecake.”

Growth is change. Change is hard. There is no other way—- and this is the truth.  You are born alone and you die alone, so it’s a solo mission to become stronger, wiser, reach your untapped potential, find your limits, explore possibilities that are uncertain, and to face your fear and to face yourself and what you might learn about yourself– it is the unknown and the unknown is scary. The unknown about yourself is unchartered territory and you might not think you are capable of handling it. But you just might find what you’re made of and your strengths and capabilities also can become clear. It’s up to you how you want to be you– how you want to be in this world, how you want to live and be alive. Nobody can be you. Nobody can make you healthy. Nobody can make you come try Bikram Yoga. Nobody can make you stay. The yoga cannot cure you without your voluntary entry into the conversation and your honest participation in the Dialogue. Only you can do that, and you must do it alone through your own honest effort. Your teachers will be there to invite you into the discussion, the conversation, to Dialogue.

If you were to analyze the Teacher’s Dialogue as a text, that is, closely examining the diction, syntax, and tone, you would discover its meaning and the Bikram Yoga philosophy becomes crystal clear. Bolded words or phrases are almost entirely adjectives, adverbs, and verbs— all of which are terms of either ACTION or refer to QUALITY AND DEGREE.  This is about you and how you are– the degree and quality of how you act, behave, do, or do not. You can see yourself for who you are or you can continue to avoid or lie to yourself usually in the form of excuses and justifications and elaborate, well-spun stories, or through blaming. As I said, it’s a forceful practice, most times a hard, healing process of slow and difficult transformation.

The purpose and meaning– the forcefulness and the healing, growth process of self-actualization gets muted and nullified if teachers merely parrot the words of the Dialogue to students.  If a reader dispassionately read the words and repeated them aloud without proper emphasis– that is louder for bolded terms— or without the proper tone (Tone is the author’s attitude toward the subject) or without inflection and clear articulation of the specific words given, in their intended order, the philosophy and the meaning of Bikram Yoga gets lost, compromised, lessened, improperly applied, and weakened and watered-down.  It loses its force. Fewer people change, fewer flower petals blooming, less vitality.

The meaning of Bikram Yoga is the Dialogue and a teacher’s role is integral, essential to its delivery.  A Bikram yoga teacher must be an experienced student of the Bikram yoga practice rooted in Dialogue and its inherent philosophy to properly understand the degree and quality of energy required to implement it effectively with students.

Proper understanding of the meaning of the Dialogue with all of its emphasis on action words as well as the essential nature of its energetic delivery– including tone– and not just tone of voice but the teacher’s attitude toward the subject and Bikram’s original intent as the author–is essential to its integrity, to its existence and its essence. The text is alive and a teacher’s proper understanding and delivery are crucial to its continued existence, degree of liveliness, its effectiveness for students, and its potentcy to foster individual change, growth, and self-actualization. Teachers must embody the Bikram philosophy, which IS the Dialogue, to maintain their own integrity as well as the integrity of the yoga and to preserve it for the future.

It’s hard to care about the details in life– the seemingly little things that take effort to preserve and care for. It’s hard to preserve integrity (your own or something that matters ) when many people think what you care about is insignificant or unimportant, or they are passive due to fear or ignorance or apathy. It is hard to stand up for what matters. It is so much easier not to care or be honest or stand up and do what’s hard, what’s right. It’s easier to stay home on the couch and zone out eating Twinkies than it is to go practice yoga or do something that is hard. It’s also so very easy to become nihilistic, as I sometimes do. I have moments and days when I wonder why I even care about yoga at all, or writing, or people (all of which are full of complexity and details and challenge!)– and I begin to slide down the slope of “nothing really matters” (I actually start humming Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody). But then I know that doing something hard makes me feel more alive. I come alive when I move and breathe and exert my energy with purposeful focus and concentration to nurture my own growth. And I am here, so why not try to be as alive as possible— be vital rather than just take up space, and do what is honest and difficult to the highest degree and quality possible?  Why not do my yoga? I know it will make me better, stronger, and that will certainly improve the quality of my life now and in the future and more likely the lives of everyone around me.

My friends who I spoke with this week told me how inspired they feel each time they step onto the podium to teach a Bikram Yoga Class– to lead people through their practice, and I share those feelings of inspiration. It’s overwhelming to be part of people’s individual journeys. It is actually a physical rush of energy in my body that arises when I acknowledge the individual energy of each body in the room and their honest commitment and effort. This is what I witness as I ask people to look into the mirror to begin the Pranayama Breathing.  It is not coincidental that the definition of “inspiration” means the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative, and the drawing in of breath; inhalation. We are literally, intentionally, filling our lungs, our bodies, our inner worlds, with life and the life force. Each person’s individual promise, their commitment to themselves, the sacrifices they make on behalf of themselves, their willingness to enter into the space of discomfort that is necessary for change, and to participate, honestly, in the yoga— which is a Dialogue– is a good faith conversation— an entryway into themselves to become more alive, to blossom–just like a flower petal blooming.

 

 

 

 

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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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Calling a Spade a Spade

“To Err is human; to forgive, divine”—Alexander Pope

Softening, or “pussification,” as the late, great comedian George Carlin defined it, is destroying the integrity of authentic learning.

When people fuck with the integrity of the learning process, when they weaken it and make it soft, it corrupts individuals and society far more than we know or are willing to admit. Maybe, it’s that the can of worms is open and nobody knows how to get them all back in, or the culprits, kind people with likely decent intentions are afraid or embarrassed to admit their mistake and try to fix it. Maybe they feel too guilty to deal with the negative results that they just could not have predicted? Maybe they’re just weak and undisciplined. Maybe they are evil. I cannot talk in exact terms of correlation and causation. I am not a scientist, but after years working as a teacher in more than one field, my gut tells me that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

A former Facebook executive came out publicly to admit that Facebook contributed to corruption in the form of addictive feedback loops among users of social media. That’s an honest admission of guilt. Most people respect honesty, even from someone who is corrupt. At the time, the people at Facebook may have been unaware of the negative outcomes of their choices, decisions, or creations; maybe the consequences were intended or not; perhaps the creators did not understand the scope of the potential negative consequences at the time, but at least this one executive admitted to having erred and learned a terrible lesson. A big game of trial and error, where there’s now one score for that exec in the integrity category. Yes, people can still earn our respect (for these people can be our best teachers) even when they do terrible things, pre-meditated or accidentally with the best intentions. It’s really okay to admit an error; it’s okay to fail. It’s even better to be honest about it.

If we could only stop judging and communicating about complicated human issues using black and white approaches, reductionist thinking, and all-or-nothing terminology, perhaps more people would admit their mistakes and even work to correct them– ya know, stay humble, keep learning, make amends?

We are ALL flawed– each one of us. Everyone makes mistakes, which is actually the tragic irony here– because learning, by its very definition, is a simple process of trial and error. When you alter that very process, as many K-12 schools and universities seem to be doing, whether by “softening” or eliminating the “error” part, or by perhaps making the “trial” part too easy to guarantee success and avoid failure, or by substituting a safe space where no trials are allowed to happen at all (not sure what actually does happen in those spaces), you corrupt real learning; you weaken the learner. You alter the very definition of the term when you falsely manipulate or eliminate the necessary, usually painful or difficult, experiences a learner needs—er—to learn.

Yes, it might hurt a little bit.

We can already see the damage that weakening the authentic learning process contributes to in the form of skyrocketing levels of anxiety and depression, a lack of independence and coping skills, an increasingly longer list of “learning” disabilities, and lack of self-control and personal responsibility among young people; it’s also part of the equation of lack of consistent and effective discipline and safe-space-micro-aggression mentality and pedagogy in schools. The balance has been lost.

I cannot emphasize enough the degree to which the consequences of such alterations to the learning and teaching process will contribute to damaging young people and weakening the teaching profession and therefore damage and weaken the rest of our society. This cannot be blamed on a cultural shift, or increasing technology use, or the “kids are different these days” assumptions— the people in charge are fucking up, with wonderful, heartfelt intentions (sometimes, but I often wonder), but fucking up nonetheless.

Can we become responsible for our errors?

Can we stop ignoring morality or any discussion of right and wrong in this world simply because we are all deeply flawed and immoral?

Can we reinstate the integrity of learning?

When we mess with the learning process: slightly changing it here, and then a little bit there, and oh, just cut this seemingly small corner here, and make this tiny little exception there– just this once, for this one person only, I swear! When we alter a philosophy, even the little applications of that philosophy—and we don’t allow authentic learning to be what it is—often difficult and uncomfortable, maybe painful, at what point is it no longer learning? At what point, to what degree does it lose its identity as itself? Where is the line? How do you know your crossing it? When is it entirely corrupt and transformed into something else, beyond recognition? How far down the road have we traveled, and can we turn back? Balance needs to be restored.

I see this sad phenomenon of imbalance and compromising integrity happening within public education and  similarly within the now-fragmented Bikram yoga community.

Bikram yoga is a series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises assembled in a particular order, using precise, detailed commands to be recited in a specific order (called a dialogue) over the span of ninety minutes to achieve specific results and designed for beginners and every body type. This school of beginners yoga requires dialogue to be delivered orally by a Bikram yoga certified teacher who stands in a specific location in a “hotroom” (on a podium) which is a specifically designed environment with specific temperature and humidity levels.The students take their place in this environment in a specific way as well, on yoga mats, facing mirrors and under specific kinds of lighting. Bikram yoga teachers are trained by Bikram himself at a Bikram-certified training.

So, I ask you…

If a teacher who has not been trained and certified by Bikram walks around the room observing students from various angles while teaching and using words that differ from the commands of the dialogue, is that a Bikram yoga class? Can we call that teacher a Bikram yoga teacher? Can we call a studio with such teachers a Bikram yoga studio, or a hot yoga studio using the Bikram yoga method?

What percentage of Bikram yoga makes Bikram yoga, Bikram yoga? Do we need math to solve this obvious corruption? Where’s the line where the integrity of something is gone? If we are talking about school— a place where the learning process happens, then the degree to which this happens the right way matters— a lot! It doesn’t take much to alter the integrity of the process for the detriment of students. The same goes for Bikram yoga.

A popular argument espoused by some people who have corrupted Bikram yoga—-pussified, weakened, and softened it—-those who use the Bikram name to brand their own ripped-off versions, use a clever and believable sleight of hand argument to hide their own corruption. Because Bikram Choudhury himself, the man and creator of this yoga series and dialogue, has committed corruption in his personal and professional dealings, the people who stole his yoga use Bikram’s lack of integrity to mask or hide their own. And it stinks of hypocrisy. Justifying theft and dishonesty by pointing a finger at a weak, corrupt person—and away from one’s own weaknesses and corruption— how cliche. It’s exactly like a child’s emotional reaction when accused by his parent of bad behavior to spew, “Yeah, but he did it too!”

Another popular argument is based on a few former-Bikram teachers’ anger, frustration, and disappointment over Bikram’s stubborn foolishness– his stupidity as a businessman because he will not allow these people to take over or change his Bikram Teacher Training model and methods. Bikram has surely shot himself in the foot. These former Bikram-loyalists, those who love this yoga and understand its power and beauty and its value (which is why they want to spread it and be part of its success and benefit from it, exploit it for gain, personal and professional) wanted the ability to train teachers themselves, in locations of their choosing and convenience. Perhaps they also wanted to correct what they deemed flawed about the series or the dialogue, or the philosophy of strict discipline, or add their own flare, or unfranchise it, if you will.

But because Bikram did not give them his blessing or whatever it was they wanted, because he was unrelenting or uncooperative or just a downright dumb asshole and said no, which was his prerogative and it doesn’t matter his reasons or lack of rationality or rationale, these very nice, smart, capable lovers-of-Bikram yoga went ahead anyway and started their own teacher trainings. Some other of these very awesome yogis (I am not being sarcastic) were studio owners or became studio owners and began training their own teachers, using Bikram’s dialogue or slightly altered versions they created. Next, the dishonest actions of a few justified the dishonest actions of many, the floodgates opened, and now we have an almost entirely weakened, confused, and less-than-optimal Bikram yoga community, it’s identity and integrity not-entirely-ruined by diluted methods, changed philosophy, and dishonesty. But, I am confident that the truth shall prevail.

Studio owners who promote or define themselves, in one way or another, as a Bikram Yoga studio (even if the business name does not contain “Bikram”) and work to preserve the integrity of Bikram yoga– its philosophies, methods of instruction, conditions and environment, as well as its certification of it teaching staff—- is a true Bikram studio, 100%. It’s a studio with integrity. Most people appreciate integrity and honesty. And Bikram yoga, properly, is undeniably one of the most healing, transformative forms of yoga around and has been for almost 60 years. Integrity and truth will always prevail.

But is it right for studios that only do 75% of what’s required to call the yoga and their studio, “Bikram?” What if only slightly more than 50%? What about 85%?

Fake-Bikram teacher trainings that now “certify” teachers to teach Bikram yoga and studios who claim to be Bikram but are not, dishonestly capitalize, financially and otherwise, by hiring these unofficial Bikram teachers. Sorry, but that’s just wrong. Why can’t people object to bad behavior anymore? Will I be attacked for even writing about this?

Many of these unofficially trained teachers refer to themselves as “Bikram Yoga Teachers,” and that compromises my integrity as a genuine Bikram yoga teacher, something I worked hard to earn and something I believe in very deeply, something uniquely meaningful to me, as it is to so many of the other official Bikram teachers from all over the world who have shared this concern with me over my previous year of travel. Just because a few students had severely negative experiences and resent their trainings and hate Bikram, doesn’t mean that the entire training was corrupt. It simply is not true, yet an illogical conclusion that many consistently claim and use to justify their own bad behavior.

Fake-Bikram teachers use parts of the Bikram method, compromise the series of postures in various ways (for the express and other hybrid classes, for example), and alter the original Bikram dialogue by changing words and order of words, diction and syntax–which the last time I checked in my English teacher manual are key parts of the grammatical structure of our language. It’s how we understand one another and make meaning– specific meaning. There’s no such thing as, “well, close enough” when you are trying to help people be the best they can be by following a prescription to heal and be well. Would you use that logic with your sick dog? “Eh, it’s okay if Rover only gets bits and pieces of his medication. Close enough.”

The Bikram series is a disciplined practice where you do what you’re told, not what your ego wants. You take your medicine exactly as prescribed, like it or not. Yes, it’s hard, and people don’t like that. They resist, or they don’t come back. Adults can be just as bratty as kids and they make excuses all the time, but weak teachers contribute to this monkey mind phenomenon among students by being afraid to hold the line with them– by administering tough love.  Just like overly-indulgent parents, the helicopter kind, this kind of teaching spoils students, thus making them weaker, rather than stronger, both emotionally, psychologically, or physically. Hence— pussification.

I know, I know. I say something that might be true, and it hurts, so surely I’ll be criticized for lacking compassion, because in the make-believe world where fake-Bikram yoga teachers live, apparently people cannot be truthful and compassionate at the same time. I believe we call that tough love, in the real world. I was also accused of being “mean” when I told the truth about an underperforming student at an IEP meeting at my former high school job. How dare I share honest observations about a child with disabilities! How insensitive to use the truth to reach accurate conclusions and diagnoses!

Spare the rod, spoil the child is happening all over our society and in our yoga studios. It’s why I see more and more yogis using towels, guzzling water every posture, and rolling around acting crazy in savasana, asking out-loud for more fan or please open the door, coming in to the classroom late, leaving early, insisting on cell phones because they have to, they have special circumstances. It’s the same “exceptionalism” happening in K-12 public schools and universities all over this country. It all sounds suspiciously snowflakish to me.

To intentionally violate Bikram yoga’s integrity, calling the alterations to the dialogue “improvements,” calling alterations to its purpose “necessary” or “safer” or whatever else works to justify such corruption is the same thing as manipulating an unsuspecting victim as follows:

“This [corruption] is for your own good, my Darling. Don’t listen to the conservatives who don’t welcome change. Don’t listen to the dialogue nazi’s who believe that individual words, sentences, syntax of language have specific meaning. We should all welcome change! Change is growth! Change makes us better! New! and improved! These people need to get with the times. They must not know how to deal with their fear and their clinging. They don’t understand “yoga.” We are just only slightly “different” that’s all; and Darling, these defenders of the integrity of the Bikram yoga and its dialogue that defines it– they don’t accept “differences,” they are what you call “intolerant.” And Darling, precision means uptight, over-bearing, too structured, and who likes that? Any old words that are close-enough will do– they  have to just relax and let go of their expectations; Go with the flow; there is no such thing as “good” or “bad”; it’s all how you choose to look at it.”

Ummm. No.

Oh, I would laugh if this wasn’t so sad and exactly what is ruining our society today in the realm of politics and education. It’s our post-truth world! It’s frightening that people think they can just change language because they cannot handle the truth, yet they do, and unsuspecting or stupid people go along with it.  An appreciation for the necessary existence of and interaction between left and right, liberal and conservative, order and chaos is missing.  But I digress.

All of these “harmless” alterations, yet, these thieves still refer to what they teach as BIKRAM YOGA. They have indisputably changed Bikram yoga, yet still use the Bikram name and brand, whether through marketing and promotion which includes Google search terms, word-of-mouth referrals, or other means. They not only violate the integrity of Bikram yoga, yet want to capitalize on the amazing value they know it holds! How is this individual corruption and dishonesty different from Bikram Choudhury’s? Oh– it’s a matter of degree, is it? Ironic. And tragic. All of it disgusting.

I don’t know if I am more disappointed and angry with Bikram— for not having had better business sense, better foresight for the survival and continuation of an authentic Bikram training– or those thieves who have meddled with the integrity of Bikram yoga. Both parties have contributed to create the mess that currently exists (see bulleted list below). This isn’t a question about the degree to which some party is more or less at fault, more or less corrupt, because the answer about integrity is clear—making a poor business decision is mere stupidity, but stealing and lying are stealing and lying. One is a violation of integrity, and the other, well just plain old stupid. And, obviously, people who lie don’t exactly like the truth or talking about the truth; usually they just use more lies, sleights-of-hands and semantics, to bolster their own corruption.

I enjoy listening people try to talk their way out of things, believe their own bullshit. I am familiar with it within myself, and I’ve spent my career observing it in others. Do we, or do we not, encourage yogis to discover their limits, both physical and mental, including their mental masturbation, during class through honest attention?

Bikram’s lack of personal integrity is an absolute fact, one his detractors and admirers definitely would not dispute, but his personal failures have nothing to do with stealing his yoga and calling it your own. You can be both, simultaneously, a perpetrator and a victim; nasty people can do good things; good people can do nasty things. This is our nature; this is our world.

  • When people looking for Bikram yoga google “Bikram yoga” they might find the following:
  • A Bikram studio called a hot yoga studio.
  • A Bikram studio called a hot yoga studio or some derivation or something else that may or may not include yoga.
  • A Bikram studio called a hot yoga studio AND has Bikram in its name.
  • A Bikram studio that is an actual (as in, self-actualization) Bikram yoga studio.
  • A Bikram studio that calls itself a Bikram yoga studio, but there are no Bikram certified teachers who teach Bikram yoga there.
  • A Bikram studio that calls itself a Bikram yoga studio, but there is some combination of Bikram certified teachers and non-certified or illegitimately certified teachers who teach Bikram yoga there.
  • A Bikram studio that calls itself a Bikram yoga studio, but there is some combination of Bikram certified teachers and non-certified or illegitimately certified teachers who teach something akin to Bikram yoga or a derivation (because of new training, illegitimate training, or lack of ability) there, and still call it Bikram yoga.
  • A Bikram studio that calls itself a Bikram yoga studio, but there is some combination of Bikram certified teachers and non-certified or illegitimately certified teachers who teach something akin to Bikram yoga or a derivation there (as in, a 60 minute or otherwise altered classes and environments) and, still, call it Bikram yoga.

Maybe there are more but I cannot continue to enumerate the seemingly endless permutations of how a pure and simple form of yoga has been watered down, pussified, and weakened. Seriously.

Here’s the good news, folks. ALL kinds of studios can survive, if they conduct their business with integrity. And, please, my friends who are reading this, especially my actual friends, my description of the current state of affairs within the yoga community is not personal. I truly mean that. I love the people I work with who don’t teach a lick of dialogue. I love my friends who are excellent 26 & 2 teachers or whatever non-Bikram label they should be calling themselves. I love the studio owners who ask me to teach the express class and to whom I politely refuse; the owners who employed me and treated me well while running their own trainings with their own altered-dialogue. The studio owners who turn a blind eye to students who are confused because they are getting conflicting information in class due to the differences between Bikram and non-Bikram teachers. I am not waging a personal attack– I am shining a spotlight on the current state of affairs, based on my personal experiences and observations.

What I know about the non-Bikram trainings and their staff is impressive, competent, dynamic, life-affirming. Awesome, but technically, you’re existence no matter how talented and kind, is still rooted in inauthenticity. The people who run illegitimate studios and trainings, those who are known and unknown to me who have ripped-off, watered-down, or otherwise pussified the integrity of Bikram yoga– I would guess that probably, most likely, maybe nearly everyone is a lovely, kind, human being, with the best of intentions, but can we just call a spade a spade?

Can we make the distinction clear for everyone? Can we tell the truth to be clear to the public, to current students and potential students, and potential teachers?

The engineers at Facebook manned-up, so I think redemption can happen within the Bikram yoga community too. Each individual involved with this yoga can start defending its integrity, to name it properly, accurately and specifically, teach it the right way, try to practice it the right way, even if it’s the hard way.

If our still-loyal, dialogue-driven, Bikram Yoga community can be clear about its identity and its integrity, then it should clear up a lot of confusion and more people can thrive– especially the clients, who are the future of Bikram yoga and the people we are trying to serve with this yoga in the first place.

“It’s never too late, you’re never too old, never too sick, too bad, to start from scratch once again” as Bikram likes to say. And, since he gave us this yoga, maybe, just maybe, his detractors could even begin to forgive him for his limitations, his errors, his ugliness– the human qualities we loathe about him— the same ones we fear and struggle to manage within ourselves—-with the help of mirrors, under the bright lights, in the torture chamber– because that is our yoga, after all.

External Links:

Call a spade a spade

In case anyone thinks my title is racist.

https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=pussification

George Carlin’s bit on pussification.

http://www.dictionary.com/browse/something-is-rotten-in-the-state-of-denmark

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/dec/11/facebook-former-executive-ripping-society-apart

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2017/12/12/former-facebook-vp-says-social-media-is-destroying-society-with-dopamine-driven-feedback-loops/?utm_term=.e2dd6e57a0c7

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/canine-corner/201711/why-people-sometimes-care-more-about-dogs-humans