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Antidote to Disconnection

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

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

Growing in Awareness

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

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

Focusing Inward for Self-Realization & Wellness

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

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

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

The Mirror: Who am I?

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

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

Self Discovery

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

Honest Practice is All

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

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

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

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

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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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Self Study: The Beginning of All Wisdom

“Knowing oneself is the beginning of all wisdom”—Aristotle

As knowing thyself is the classic, foundational wisdom to all other kinds of growth, learning, achievement, and success, the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide is the platform upon which you can build, adding other advice, self-help programs, formal education, workplace training and more for ongoing personal and professional self-development.

Self study is your foundation because if you don’t know who you are, how can you know what help is truly beneficial for you? How can you know what career or life coaching advice suits you, or which prescriptions for wellness are most appropriate for you, or whose advice to seek, if you haven’t studied yourself carefully? You must do your inner landscape work, your part to know yourself,  in order to assess, accept and integrate additional help, insight, advice, and information from external sources. 

Since the wisdom of knowing oneself is timeless and classic, the Self-Study Guide will be useful both immediately and far into the future repeatedly throughout your life at the times and places of your choosing. And once you become familiar with the five aspects of the Self-Study Guide, you can revisit any or all of them whenever you’ve lost your way. You can focus on one, two, or all five of the aspects of the guide to improve your life.

This foundational guide for wellness is applicable to all modern humans, yet super-specific for each individual since each of us is so unique.  Once you own this program, it’s yours to adapt to your needs. When you embark on traveling the landscape of you using the Self-Study Guide, your life is in your own hands– literally.

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An Examined Life

“An unexamined life is not worth living”– Socrates

Landscapes for Learning’s Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self-Study Guide is designed to inspire and motivate individuals of all ages to live an “examined” life and give people simple, pragmatic tools for everyday use to begin their journey to know themselves better than anyone else ever could. The process of self study enables each person to specifically articulate him or herself and author their own personal destiny.

 

By engaging in self-study, you will learn why and how exploring your inner landscape to know who you really are will improve your relationship with yourself and as a result, with others. And relationships are everything!

You will realize more about your potential and how to actualize when you know what you are like through observing, analyzing, and reflecting on yourself. The Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide gives you directions that you can use constantly or intermittently over the course of your days, years, and life time! You will learn by teaching yourself, using your own direct experience and by tailoring the resources, tools, and practices contained in the Self-Study Guide to fit your needs. You have 100% control over the process once the Guide is yours and you learn how it works.

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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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Don’t Let Anyone Tell You Who to Be or What to Do!

If you don’t take responsibility for designing your own life by figuring out who you really are, then people will forever be telling you what to do and who to be, and you’ll be miserable.

I used Dr. Jordan B. Peterson’s Self Authoring Program and the Big 5 Personality Test he recommended a while back, which enabled me to understand why I was craving change– in my career, in some of my relationships, and my personal mental and physical habits. I recommend both tools to find out more about who you are. They are incredibly helpful, as long as you are honest about what you’ll learn about yourself.

Practicing yoga, writing, meditation and other activities that foster introspection and self-awareness and understanding are the key to deeper, more true and honest connection to your “self.” These are ways to know yourself better than anyone else, and will qualify you to be the authority of your own life! No more unhealthy co-dependence on anything outside of you– people, money, self-help articles!

When you understand MORE about who you really are on the inner landscape, it guides your successful travel on the outer landscape where you can design your life as you see fit.

For more information and insight, listen to Joe Rogan and Dr. Peterson’s excerpted conversation from the Joe Rogan Experience podcast. And once you are done, disconnect from the internet and connect to yourself in one of the ways suggested above!

The episode clip above is excerpted from the JREpodcast #877 with Jordan Peterson

The Joe Rogan Experience Podcasts

Self-Authoring.com

UnderstandYourself.com Big 5 Personality Test and More

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Podcast: The Value of Silent Meditation with Allen Gaskell

ITunes Podcast: 006: The Value of Silent Meditation with Allen Gaskell

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone”

— Blaise Pascal

One of my goals with the Landscapes for Learning project is to draw more attention to the need for an explicitly taught wisdom curriculum for high schoolers as a counter balance to all the demands of the external landscape put upon kids today.

To become wise is to know oneself– one’s essential or fundamental self which is always in a state of becoming and might be creatively developed throughout life. This essential self is foundational to the more social self—roles we play in the practical world, the expectations of others we try to meet. If we can help kids live from the inside out early on in their young lives, they may just be able to stay true to themselves– to their authentic selves so that they always have shelter, a home, to which they can return when life on the external landscapes get challenging.

One way to travel one’s inner landscape is through meditation. Meditation and mindfulness practice has become trendy recently, and it is useful as a relaxation tool, but it’s also an avenue to something deeper– to enter into the world of the essential self.

Allen Gaskell has been practicing meditation regularly for many decades, as well as practicing yoga, forest-bathing (which he didn’t know had that name until recently!), white-water rafting, and other outdoor immersion activities. He is a former Mental Health Counselor who worked in prisons, within the court system, and created a counseling center at Salem State University. He also worked for many years with Veterans with PTSD. A Vietnam Veteran (3 Tours of duty in reconnaissance and wounded in action), Allen enthusiastically enlisted in the military after high school in N.Y. and later attended college to study comparative religion at the University of Vermont. Shortly after, he stumbled across a book about Vipassana and the rest is meditation and mindfulness history.

He recently completed a 90-day silent retreat this past fall, so I was curious about what that experience was like and thought others might be interested as well. He talks with me about the value of meditation in his life, especially today in a very noisy and busy external landscape.

We talk about the workings of our minds when we observe it through meditation or yoga practice, thoughts about why, how, and who ought to be teaching about the inner landscapes, how to “sell” suffering to others or invite them into self-reflection and self-awareness, and how to learn more about our own humanity to recover it from a life in a technological-consumerist culture.

I loved our almost entirely unedited two-hour conversation! Enjoy.

Click Here for ITunes Podcast: 006: The Value of Silent Meditation with Allen Gaskell

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The Call to Insecurity

“It turns out that when you stop clinging to the safety and security that you think you have found in a particular lifestyle, other people, your carefully constructed identities, or material things, you find your way home to your truth.”

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The original title for this piece was “Meta: Choosing or Clinging.” I wrote it more than a year ago, but only now finding the courage to share it. This content includes a central theme of the book I am currently writing about life and learning called, Like a Flower Petal Blooming.

I was too afraid to post this reflection last year, probably because the content was far too personal, I doubted myself, and I was uncertain about my writing abilities. I am certain I shamed myself for being an idealist rather than practical (I have always been accused of being too idealistic!). I was at the very beginning of what would be a major change, so naturally, I felt insecure, vulnerable, uncomfortable. But, now, one year later, because I trusted my inner voice rather than trying to control my own destiny through pure logic, the world looks like an entirely new and amazing place.

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…….About a year and a half ago, in June, 2015, I returned home from a yoga training in Thailand where I studied Bikram yoga for nine weeks and made more than 175 friends from around the world. Life was never the same after training. Before I attended, I was told the experience would “rock my world,” but I wasn’t sure what that really meant. I suppose I thought that just being there and training for many hours per day and suffering through the intensity would make me stronger physically, emotionally, and psychologically. I knew it would be hard. I also assumed that being immersed in the yoga system I love with its original creator would be a wonderful affair, full immersion. It would be about living out my passion for this yoga and sharing it with so many other enthusiastic people who all had their own stories and reasons for landing at training. And, certainly, it did rock my world in all of these ways while I was there, but the real changes, the real “world-rocking” happened after training.

After the months away in a tropical paradise, returning to previous routines and relationships was a difficult transition, and I slowly realized that I was different–very different from the person who had left months ago. This took more and more time to fully realize. More evident things, like my diet, had changed as well as my tolerance for certain behaviors. My priorities shifted a bit too. But this was only the beginning of a longer, more gradual transformation that is still in progress.

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Do you know that inner voice? Call it your intuition or your authentic, most honest and pure Self? God? Consciousness? Life Force? Well, after training, that voice wouldn’t be ignored like it had been previously. That voice, so faint throughout my life, always there but barely recognizable, had become more prominent when I began practicing yoga, and more recently it has become much louder and clearer.

After I returned from training, it felt like a tidal wave of intuition was rolling through my heart, my soul, and definitely through my body, pushing me in very specific directions that I had no choice but to follow.

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My inner voice was prodding me, quite loudly, to change—- first, my career, which had been perfectly gratifying and financially secure, and also some of my important relationships; basically, I was being told to make one important choice: to focus on a deeper part of myself– a place where I hadn’t had the courage to go to yet.  I had to rescue myself– a deeper part of me that was struggling to be born, and I think that because I had learned self-compassion at training, I was ready to care for myself in a way I had been providing for others for so many years throughout my life. Training prepared me to embrace change, stay with the discomfort and instability that would naturally ensue from change, and trust the unknown and my inner compass.

The inner guide was insisting that I “let go” within the important areas of my life– my job and my relationships– the places where I was putting much of my energy and my heart on a consistent basis– to stop clinging to these identities. (And, by the way, clinging is MUCH different than choosing to be in a job or in a relationship.) I mean, I wasn’t hearing actual voices or anything, but it was just like, I had to do these things, even when my logical mind was screaming, “No!”

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How can you just simply “go with” a feeling or intuition when it doesn’t seem to make any sense?

As it turns out, the big decisions I was being pushed to make weren’t so much about the relationships themselves or the job of teaching per se; they were about the practice of letting go; it was about ME no longer clinging to those pieces of my identity and all the beliefs I had about myself in these roles. It wasn’t about love. It wasn’t about living with dysfunction. It was about how I needed to take time and space to attend to myself. I had to suspend each of them temporarily, to stand outside my conventional life, to take a much deeper look inside. I had to choose that voice, that core— me, and do its bidding.

Maybe THIS was the “rocking my world” part that people talked about who had been to this yoga training before me?

The suffering involved with these changes was real. It scared me. It was destabilizing. To think of myself as anything other than a teacher? Impossible! To not parent? To focus solely on myself and be autonomous and not be in a romantic relationship? I believed for many years that I was born to teach; how could something be telling me that I need to leave teaching behind? What about job security? My income? The students? My colleagues? Who would I be, if not a mom? And, such a directive without any guidance about where I was to go next! It’s not like I had all this passion for a new project or career just waiting to be followed. Why would I quit? I was not heading toward anything, only away from, well… “security.”

It is interesting to look back now, in hindsight, at how I reeled against this flood of intuition, pushed back against that tidal wave that was absolutely relentless. Once the idea of these changes entered into my body, my psyche, my heart, I couldn’t ignore them. They were there to stay, at least until I followed through with making decisions and taking action toward their fulfillment. I literally knew I had no choice, though that did not stop me from whining, complaining, doubting, struggling, and resisting. Did I mention I was scared? How the ego wrestles with itself! How the logic mind battles against the creative heart!  Courage, not confidence, was necessary.

Once I changed my relationships with others by choosing to listen to myself, I knew this voice, this intuition, this tidal wave of change (and what felt a little like tough love), was worth trusting, despite the fact that I was really sad and still a little confused about the decisions I was making.

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Nothing is ever cut and dry, especially when it comes to difficult decisions– that’s why they are so difficult! I also worked on allowing my title of teacher to change. I dipped my toe into the water of radical career change by applying for a leave of absence which I thought was doable and would buy me some time to  explore new possibilities….but which ones?

I was headed toward nothing in particular! I was merely trusting what that little voice inside was telling me. For all the times I hadn’t listened and been miserable, I figured I ought to really go for it and make the leap this time. I mean, life isn’t really an adventure if there’s no real risk at stake.

As I began to review my finances, my future, retirement, etc…this assessment turned out to be a review of my values and the way I was spending my time. We only have a limited amount of time and I want to be sure I am using it intentionally. All of this ruminating and planning felt a little like making a decision to have a baby…is there really ever a “right time” to begin a whole new life, a new career, new relationships?

So, I decided to see what others did when facing such change and risk. I read all sorts of encouraging articles about quitting and true stories about people leaving their uber-rich lifestyles built on corporate financial success to go live in Fiji or to surf all day in some tropical paradise. Or, humorously and ironically, successful entrepreneurs leaving their millions to go teach– to give back; Where would I, public school teacher, go?  Who would this one-time teacher become instead? I certainly don’t have any ambition to pursue a life of wealth and leisure. I am pretty happy with what I have already earned. So, why couldn’t I just be content with security like everyone else, I asked my inner voice. But, the voice didn’t drop an answer or a new passion to pursue into my lap. That’s the thing with passion and inspiration– you can’t call it; it calls you. You just have to be listening and ready.

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So, months later I found the courage to allow myself to let go of being codependent in all of my relationships (with money, with jobs, with people, with places) and I am learning to let go of defining myself in such limited and limiting ways.

To me, too much security means stagnation.

I had been shutting off all of my potential to be different and to continue to change and grow, and my body and heart could sense this which is why that Voice began to object! As I listen to it and trust it, it is allowing me to redefine myself and to see myself and the world in new ways. To let go of clinging to the particular identities that grew stale and had become prohibitive to growth, I had to embrace change for the sake of change, even if my mind told me it was unreasonable. Sometimes unreasonable is the most reasonable thing to be.

So, since I made this decision, this leap, I have been spending time living as anything but a high-school-teacher-suburban-mom-responsible-for-everyone-else girl. I don’t know yet who I am becoming, but maybe that’s just the point— to “become,” without any expectations, without any specific goals in mind for myself, and without a to-do list for my life. Maybe the “accomplishing” will be not accomplishing anything at all but to follow my inner compass, be true to myself, and take care of me.

END NOTE: It’s humorous to me that some friends and family thought I just needed a vacation  from work and parenting; that I wanted to travel and relax. I know that some people thought I was miserable and merely running away from the burden of my responsibilities. That isn’t the case and never was.  This sabbatical has been an exploration of my inner landscape just as much as I have explored the external and natural landscapes of the world.  I haven’t been taking a break from “real life,” I have been living it more than ever. And for that, I am grateful.

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On Being Honest

“The problem with creating the habit of lying, especially to yourself, is that after a while, you lose your bearings— you can’t trust yourself and you suffer even more. Your identity is compromised, making you less likely to be able to connect with yourself– your inner wisdom– or others. We need good, healthy relationships based on the truth, by being truthful with ourselves first and foremost, otherwise we slowly die.”

    

Why is it so hard to be truthful?

Has your life been one long battle of figuring out what’s true, struggling to accept inconvenient truth or living out said truths through deliberate action?

Sometimes living truthfully conflicts with living happily. There’s usually a bit (or more) of suffering involved. So, then why bother tell the truth, face it, or live according to it? Why not just do what’s expedient and not give it so much attention? Why does telling the truth or discovering and living your truth matter?

The way I see it, after years of trial and error, living an honest life is a life that’s respectable, ethical, scary, challenging, burdensome, yet full of meaning and satisfaction.

I am exhausted from my pursuit of the truth and trying to live a truthful life. I have to build myself up in every way to be fit enough to face the challenge of living a truth-filled life. I mean, actual time, energy, and attention. Commitment! Sacrifice! And I still kinda suck at it! Why do I continue to pursue truth and live according to the truth if it’s much easier and more pleasurable not to? Why should I continue if I’m not even good at it? Why should I continue to make truth-telling rather than happiness as a priority in my life?

Because I feel stronger more alive and more authentically me when I follow the truth and feel weaker and suffer when I don’t. Like I said, I have gathered this through trial and error. I guess it’s about choosing which kind of suffering you’d rather endure. Pick your poison.

Ironically, when I was a college student studying philosophy, I learned a lot about the pursuit of knowledge and truth. It all seemed so idealistic and honourable to pursue the truth– you know, in an academic way, and through being inspired by great mythical hero stories and such, but damn, real life has taught me that aiming at the truth is incredibly difficult. It’s a total bitch, actually. Studying human nature is one thing. Actually being a human being is another! The ideal gets real and the philosophical gets personal. It’s so much easier to hide in studying phenomena than being a phenomenon!

I have found, through hindsight, that when I weaken or tire of pursuing or telling the truth to myself and to others, and when I thereby let my guard down, when I ignore or dismiss truth, I feel absolutely miserable: emotionally, psychologically, physically. And, when I lie to myself, I fail and fall hard and then am forced to pick up the pieces which involves even more, painstaking work. In my experience, it is more expedient to tell the truth, face the truth, and live the truth and live with the consequences. Let the chips fall where they may– which is so much easier said than done– and it surely is unnerving to be at the whim of the unknown future. This process is a grind, never easy, but always the best choice. That’s just my experience.

I have no idea what the point of my life is. I don’t have the answer to why I exist, but I can control the quality of my life through the type of person I am and become– through character, and the foundation of my character rests on truth. I don’t believe this is a result of cultural conditioning, my upbringing, my genetics. I believe morality is far more deeply rooted than that.  

When denying truth, ignoring my inner voice, dismissing a gut-feeling, or lying, especially to myself, I have found that the results are consistently disastrous, whether the disaster strikes immediately or days or months or even years after the fact. Not telling the truth or living according to what I know to be true causes plenty of suffering– almost always my own and very often, others’. Lying sounds so harsh, seems so visible, even childish, but really, it’s a super-smart, sneaky bastard who slinks and skulks around—sometimes it lands in your shoulders or your scapula; sometimes, lower back. It sort of lounges around, hanging out lazily inside your guts. It taunts your brain to analyze it, justify its existence, tell stories about it that sound convincing. Maybe some people become good at ignoring all of this chaos within caused from lying, but I’m not. As often and as much as I try, those lies get me every time.

The tension that results from intentional lying, misrepresenting the truth, failing to tell the truth, or ignoring what I know to be true, persists in my body, but thankfully, yoga practice has taught me to pay attention to what’s happening within, not only when I am in the room performing the asanas or relaxing in savasana, but in daily life, outside the yoga studio. I’ve become acutely aware of how much my body can tell me about the decisions I am making and whether or not I am being honest with myself and with others.

One example of a challenge related to living a truthful life has come from choosing other’s happiness or stability over my own. When your truth conflicts with how others perceive the world, this presents a big problem. Rather than living according to what I know to be true in both my heart and my mind, I fail to live my truth because it might negatively affect another person, usually someone I care about. Mostly, I compromise and negotiate, but when the pendulum swings too far away from being true to myself, I know it. Often, I choose to live a lie because I don’t want someone else’s feelings to be hurt. Martyr syndrome? Probably. Take one for the team? Sure. Take one for the team every single time to the point where it makes you sick and you don’t recognize yourself? No. If people in your life love you, they’ll support you in living your truth.

Here’s another example: Should you avoid pursuing a passion that others’ deem unacceptable (Maybe, like, becoming an artist?) Should you avoid making a choice for yourself that is based on what you know, 100%, to be true for you but that causes someone else to have to make a sacrifice or compromise their understanding of reality or their own identity? The answer is No and No. Does any other this sound familiar? I am pretty certain I am not alone in this failure-to-live-according-to-one’s-truth scenario.

Another example involves denial. This happens when my inner voice and my body tells me the truth and I don’t like it— the truth is like scary, disgusting medicine I don’t want to take, even though I know, on some other level, that it’s exactly what I need. It’s gonna hurt if I accept it and act on it. It’s gonna hurt a lot. Who likes pain? Most of the time, my little mind rationalizes in every way possible, jumping into buttress my emotional resistance by providing a million and one arguments that are really only justification for denial or ignoring the truth or telling myself outright lies, usually in the form of rather elaborate well-spun stories. The perception of the truth happens, and immediately, my talented storytelling mind layers it with all sorts of crazy scenarios and stories that are a cover for the truth I’m afraid to face. And, man, am I a great story-teller! I fall for those damn stories every time! Do you?

Another simple scenario where I wrestle with truth is through yoga. The truth is that, when practicing, I should do the posture and work as hard as I can in it, but I tell myself the lie that it’s not that important. This is my inner battle. It’s like I have two little mini-personalities fighting against one another. Live the truth- do the posture and work hard versus live a lie and believe the story about why you should take it easy. “It’s not that important, Maureen. It doesn’t matter” one voice says. But my values do matter; they have to matter! Otherwise, nothing matters and that’s a path that leads straight to anxiety, depression, and a whole lot of mental, physical, psychological, and spiritual suffering. Seemingly, a small thing to try hard in a yoga posture, but if you meditate on this, maybe you’ll see its greater significance. Add up all these “little” cheats and over a lifetime—have you really lived an honest life? Practicing the right way matters.

Another infamous lie I tell myself is related to sacrifice and martyrdom. Our social and cultural norms encourage and celebrate sacrificing for others as a noble act, especially if you are a mother, but mostly, I make up stories to justify denying my own truth, mostly because it’s easier to choose helping someone else instead of facing my own truth that may be more challenging or because I am avoiding fear of living according to that truth. Busying yourself on “fixing” and “helping” is an inauthentic distraction. Most of the time, I am not brave. I am scared and weak and cling to what’s familiar and safe. It’s easier to run away from the fire rather than towards it. Making excuses is another way to describe this phenomenon. You are rewarded for being helpful and kind but to the detriment of denying who you really are. You’re living a lie.

Everyone knows that lying destroys relationships. If there is no trust, there is no real relationship. The problem with creating the habit of lying, especially to yourself, is that after a while, you lose your bearings— you can’t trust yourself and you suffer even more. Your identity is compromised, making you less likely to be able to connect with yourself– your inner wisdom– or others. We need good, healthy relationships based on the truth, by being truthful with ourselves first and foremost, otherwise we slowly die. Being honest with oneself is the foundation for being in honest relationships with others. It really is a matter of life or death.

One of the most important tenets I try to live by is to alleviate suffering, and if I cannot alleviate it, I will, at best, try not to create more suffering for myself or for others. Therefore, I must be brutally honest with myself and others. Always. Consistently. If I pay careful attention and dig deep to find the courage to be honest, well then, that’s a quality life worth living. 

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Plateau or Vista? Storytelling about Limits & Potential

Lately I’ve been focusing on limits. And transcending them. The clinical psychologist and university lecturer, Jordan Peterson, often talks about human potential, and he insists that we human beings are capable of so much more than we think we are. We do not know our own limits nor the limits human consciousness. Among his many videos and lectures, his Tedx Talk about potential and his lecture called “The Necessity of Virtue” have got me thinking about my own limits. What are they? Where did they come from? Do I want to transcend them? If so, how? And why? And why now?

I am consistently coming up against my own physical and mental limits in my yoga practice. You can only fix what you pay attention to, so I have begun to listen to the stories I have been habitually tell myself while practicing— most of them reinforcing limits that I know I am completely capable of transcending.

The usual story goes like this:  

I am not young anymore. I am an older woman who is reasonably fit but not super flexible; I am good enough for my age and stage in life. I lack incredible endurance and strength and lung capacity; I am consistent about my practice and overall fairly healthy; I am someone who tries hard (a relative term that I define and redefine as it suits the day or circumstances– in other words, I can make excuses for why-not anytime I please, and I do). Compared to other people, I am doing pretty well.

There are both negatives and positives within that story, but that’s not the most important point. The crucial point is that I have been believing this story; I have accepted it as true, and so have been living it out, most of the time unconsciously. As a result, I never push harder to challenge my own thoughts or my body’s capabilities. I don’t think in terms of my potential—- what I might actually do if I believed in my own untapped power and went beyond what my mind was telling me. Instead, the theme of my story is that what I am doing in my practice is just “good enough.” I have settled for “pretty good” because it’s easy to maintain. It’s comfortable. As a result, I have plateaued— mentally and physically.  

My thought processes both in my yoga practice and in my life have lulled me into a dangerous place of security. I feel in control and safe. I can predict the future for the most part, and I am settled. My parents would be proud of me for obtaining said security. For some people, settled might sound pretty darn perfect, but I have finally figured out that it’s exactly what’s making me, not discontented exactly, but itching to change. Optimal performance and meaning are lacking when I remain floating, treading water, fearfully hiding? in this kind of static, safe state.

An implicit assumption within the story I mentioned above about limiting myself in my yoga practice and elsewhere is due to my faulty perception that reaching one’s potential or focusing on one’s potential is something only young people do. I have been erroneously convincing myself that tapping into one’s potential is something limited to the young– people who are just starting out their lives (as if life begins at some specific age that is culturally or socially appropriate?). Young people are busy planning, choosing careers and partners to marry, having a family and so forth. Young people are ones who “have their whole lives ahead of them” and they are more apt to continually grow, move forward, and be busily realizing themselves and making something out of themselves. Their bodies are strong, capable.

I am not certain when I stopped believing in my own unrealized potential. Maybe because I work with young people and have been raising children for so long, I have come to think of myself as an old person— closer to retirement and therefore done with most of my “life-planning” or “life-making.” As the elder, perhaps I have been spending more time looking back at my life rather than forward, and so consumed with other people’s learning and potential that I have neglected my own.

At any rate, this implicit belief, a conclusion really, that I am no longer a person who has to reach her potential has made me act as if I have arrived— you know, the place where you can brag that you “made it.” But the more I think about this, I wonder, is this place a vista or a plateau?  Well, the answer to that question is that I get to decide. I get to decide which words to use, which story to tell, which sort of life to live.

Here’s the plateau story:

I have a family, a career, success, financial stability. I have worked hard to reach my potential, so why work so harder or strive to be more or something different? If it ain’t broke, why fix it?  I can hang out with loads of people at this very plateau and party my ass off, drink my wine after work, travel and lie on a beach somewhere amazing, and post pictures online of all the fun I am having until I die. I can spend money on “stuff” and have a great time immersed in the pleasures of consumerism, having worked hard my “whole life,” and I can  “just relax” because I’ve earned it! I could sit back and enjoy watching my kids make their lives instead of continuing to make my own.

But why should I settle for the story that I’m doing pretty well at middle age? Why should I blindly accept that maintaining the status quo is entirely acceptable, respectable, appropriate? Why should I settle because that’s what everyone else appears to be doing? Why should I accept that there’s probably not much more I need to do or to be? Why should I cease making my own life alongside all the young people who are making theirs? Perhaps the story our culture tells us at midlife needs revision.

I’d rather tell a vista story, a story about looking ahead, exploring my future prospects, about seeing what’s just up ahead on the road, tapping into my limitless potential, even if the path is mysterious or unclear and less than secure.

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I have accomplished a lot that I am proud of when I look back on my life; It is meaningful because I worked toward meaning; meaningfulness and purpose in my life resulted from hard work and dedication and passion. It came from having an aim, and then another and another; it came from the challenges, and the burden-bearing, and the blood, sweat, and tears. It came from working to my potential, not just at a specific age, but again, and again, and again.

So, after thinking about limits and potential, I have decided I need to climb the next mountain, to throw myself back into the young-man’s game of goal-setting and potential unleashing because I am capable of so much more than I think.  

But here is the truth about this decision. When I first looked at my own limiting beliefs and decided to change them and reached this epiphany about the need for more climbing, I instantly felt tired, overwhelmed, and intimidated. I resisted the notion, even though I knew it was the right and best and truest thing for me I could do.  I thought, do I really want to work hard to ascend the next peak? And, what is that “next peak” anyway— it doesn’t seem clear to me at all.  I questioned: Do I have the stamina, mentally and physically? Shouldn’t I be more realistic? Is this how I want to expend my time and energy? Change is hard!

Typical fear-based thinking. 

And so, I continue in my yoga practice to watch myself, to observe my thoughts, without latching onto them as truth; to acknowledge them and then move past them. And I trust that my will, the deep core of me that is strong and good and honest, shall combat the lies and limits that my habitual thinking tempts me with.

Learning about limits and potential has helped me come to the conclusion that I am not at all unhappy with my life, what I have done, or who I am. In fact, I couldn’t be happier and more grateful. But I don’t think I want to just sail along through life—coasting, or maintaining this sort of  unconscious auto-pilot state. I don’t want to stay at this plateau, and maybe you don’t either.

Maybe you have been wondering what’s wrong lately and haven’t been able to articulate your intuitions exactly. Maybe, because like me, you have been in the same place, surrounded by the same people, with the same or similar lifestyles for so long that you accept that this is the only or best path— the upside being that it’s familiar and safe. It’s a nice way of living; There’s nothing particularly “wrong” with it. But it’s complacent, a static state of being, and perhaps that’s why it lacks deeper meaning. (Too often when people feel something missing or not quite satisfying in their lives, they make radical decisions to “spice  things up” and so cheat on a spouse or do some other crazy things that define the mid-life crisis. Looking outside of yourself isn’t the answer. Dig deep and explore what’s going on inside and address the problem there.) 

Taking a year away from my job and the day to day life I have known for many years now is the first step in tapping into my potential. I don’t know what’s going to happen and that’s the beauty of it. It’s a step toward facing my limits– my limited thinking, choices, attitudes, and behavior and pushing beyond them. So far, I am learning that I am actually way more than what I had been thinking I was; I am realizing that, as the famous American traveling poet Walt Whitman wrote in Song of Myself,  “I am large, I contain multitudes.” 

I am living beyond my comfort zone and my own safe, self-created status quo; I am facing the unfamiliar– crossing into unknown territory to see what I can learn about landscapes without limits.

Definitions

Vista: a view or prospect, especially one seen through a long, narrow avenue or passage, as between rows of trees or houses. (2) a far-reaching mental view.

Plateau: a period or state of little or no growth or decline; (2) remain at a stable level of achievement; level off. (3) Psychology. a period of little or no apparent progress in an individual’s learning, marked by an inability to increase speed, reduce number of errors, etc., and indicated by a horizontal stretch in a learning curve or graph.

 

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Meta: Why Learning? Why Landscapes?

Some of the most amazing learning happens beyond academia, and many of the best teachers positively affect lives outside of strictly academic environments. I hope to find  lifelong students and teachers of all sorts, in various domains, to explore the exciting and valuable learning that occurs everywhere and deliver these stories to the world.

In this meta post, I share a little bit about where my ideas come from and my thought process behind creating a blog and podcast called Landscapes for Learning. 

I want to create something new— a project that reflects my most important values and embodies my everyday living. Basically, I want to have fun doing something that doesn’t require me to work very hard–a worthwhile, constructive endeavor and something that’s valuable and beneficial for others, not another obligation. I want to make the world a better place (cliche, maybe), and the best way I know how to do that is through learning. So, I guess you could call this Landscapes for Learning platform a “lived creative project,” and its measurement of success is how meaningful it is for me and others who are impacted. It isn’t going to be a job. The second it does, I am quitting.

I am leaving the formal classroom where I earn my living to learn more about learning. I want to learn something new and be the perennial student, so I am going to try my hand at online publishing in various forms: books, tutorials, podcasting, and blogging. I have been frustrated for many years that the learning done at school is not as valued as it should be by parents, students, and definitely not the state nor the many professional development programs I have attended that reinforce a data-driven, utilitarian form of schooling. It seems that in school, learning is not the most important thing—-grades are.

I hope to step outside a narrowly defined learning environment and reclaim an authentic love of learning that exists beyond the institution. Disillusionment often leads to change, and I hope wherever this little project goes that it will lead me to positive growth. If I can grow as a person, I will improve as a teacher, thereby positively impacting my future students, whomever and wherever they are. 

Even though my primary aim is to learn new things for myself, I imagine the stories I collect from people about their learning will instruct and guide others by default, so in that way, I suppose I am still providing a classroom of sorts where people can come to learn about learning. I will be providing space in which others might learn alongside me.

I have a feeling the stories I find will be inspiring, entertaining, interesting, and helpful for people. My hope is that they motivate people to become more consciously aware of learning and the important role it plays in life, whether it involves going to “school” or not. I’m not so concerned about assessing my own performance in this endeavor; I only want to share incredible stories of ordinary folks who embrace learning in their lives.  I can’t wait to see all the learning that occurs outside the restrictions of formal education on my personal journey to reclaim the authenticity of learning– learning that is unmeasured, done for its own sake, and full of ambiguity, creativity, and originality.

So the reason I came up with the “landscapes” part of the title, Landscapes for Learning is that I love studying nature– its geographical landscapes, and human nature, which includes the landscapes of psychology, philosophy, history, and narrative. I was also teaching American Studies with another teacher and we called our first unit, “The American Landscape” which was focused on the settlement of the West. In the unit, we explored the clash between white settlers and native people while also closely following the contemporary politics and protests of the Water Protectors and the North Dakota Access Pipeline. We studied the transcendentalists as well as John Muir. We were deeply engrossed in studying the American people and their relationship to nature, our earth, and ecopsychology. Also, at this same time, the American presidential election filled the political landscape with horribly divisive rhetoric and behavior. This word, “landscape” kept appearing– not coincidentally. As a result of these various experiences, I internalized the curriculum while simultaneously becoming more creative through my personal writing, and this is going to be utilized to add something positive to the world rather than more social media noise. I am hoping my work appeals to the folks who expect a bit more from their online experience.

The “learning” part of the Landscapes for Learning title resulted from a bit of an identity crisis. If I left the classroom, who would I be, if not a teacher? Well, I realized that I will always be in love with learning and probably still teaching in some capacity, even if outside of the formal environment of academia; even if I am unpaid. And, the thought also occurred to me that many people think they are finished with learning once they leave high school or university, and that when they are in school, it is the primary and superior form of learning. It’s simply not true. Great learning happens all the time whether people know it or not; and, see, that’s the point– I want to draw attention to that kind of everyday learning and make people aware of just how valuable it is and how it’s constantly happening throughout our lives. It’s also what connects us. And, in my humble opinion, learning is what makes life meaningful. We are always trying to make sense of our lives and figure out how to make them meaningful!

Some of the most important people in my life were my best teachers: my parents and siblings; coaches and pastors; lovers and friends; roommates and professors; authors (both contemporary and from antiquity) and podcasters; yoga teachers and fellow practitioners; my students and children; and, of course, my enemies. Most of these people are ordinary people living ordinary lives, but the value of having learned from them, in one form or another, has had extraordinary impact on me and as a consequence for many others too.

I sincerely believe that broadening people’s idea about learning is an important and worthwhile endeavor, especially during this time when formal schooling is quickly becoming antiquated and the moral and ethical demands on our children will be far greater if we want to have a sustainable future on this planet. The world needs more authentic learning, more humanity, more stories about learning and our shared humanity.

So, there it is. I got an idea and I have begun. It’s sort of a simple thing, really, to look closely at all forms of learning, but I do believe it will not only be interesting to hear stories from ordinary people but inspiring and beneficial to many listeners. I know I will enjoy learning from people about learning! Perhaps the stories I collect will be useful in transforming the current culture of schooling somehow.

I am clueless about how to make a blog and podcast and all the other things I hope to create, but I am going to try to figure it all out. I am learning about how all of this publishing online works from others who have ventured to the internet to share their lives, their insights, their questions, or their passions. I have a long way to go to figure out how the Google thing works and how to get an audience and all of that, but I just decided to start anyway– to write poorly and publish—to get used to exposing my thoughts in a limited way, to a limited audience of friends. Hopefully, as I improve, I will also figure out the aspects involved in gaining a broader audience.  Perhaps I will make new friends. I am also figuring out how to podcast, and I have a bunch of interviews lined up. I’ll be bringing lots of humility and vulnerability along on my journey, as these will be necessities for learning.

I like the name, Landscapes for Learning, because I think it captures exactly how I am trying to live my life— continuously learning all that I can across as many landscapes as I can. Learning about how other people feel about learning and the role learning plays in their lives will be fun, and sharing those experiences and stories will challenge me in new ways.

I have already discovered through shifting my focus to places beyond the classroom and through writing here that my life is most meaningful when I am intentional about learning. Because I am always learning, I am always changing. Rather than resist change, I am trying to embrace it, even when painful (as the best kind of change usually is). Surely, I am full of fear about what the future will bring, leaving my job and my conventional routines, but I am also hopeful about approaching the unknown and the risks ahead of me. 

I am excited about what I will learn from all the people I will meet across the various landscapes, the landscapes themselves, and all the inspiring stories I hope to gather and share with you, my future audience. 

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Real Teaching is Risky Business

Recently, I had a minimalist-inspired moment and decided to simplify my life, starting with my living room. I had no problem removing excess decor, but when it came to my beloved bookshelves full of my precious books, I winced. Could I, should I, part with my books? Why had I kept so many all these years? What was I hanging on to? The truth is that the books made me feel good, safe, kinda smart, and accomplished. I realized that they fed my ego and my need to feel knowledgeable. I mean, aren’t teachers supposed to become knowledgeable and impart that knowledge to others? My books reminded me that I am well-read, educated—but what the hell does that really mean? And is that all there is to teaching?

My mind flashed to the scene in Good Will Hunting when Matt Damon’s character, Will, tries to assert his intellectual prowess over Robin Williams’ character, the psychologist, bragging that he had already read all the books in the doctor’s office. But then Williams’ character responds to Damon’s character, questioning him about why he thinks he knows how life works because he’s read all “the books.” And here is the trope: Will sucked at life, even though he was “book-smart.” He struggled with affairs of the heart.

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Pondering the Good Will Hunting scene, I revisited an old question: Is amassing knowledge the same thing as learning? Is becoming educated the key to a meaningful life? Is knowing, in the strictly rational sense, the key to good teaching? In that movie, Damon’s genius character learned that having all the answers doesn’t mean you have all the answers, no matter how many books you read or math equations you solve. He got the girl but didn’t quite know how to connect with her or how to keep her. How about them apples?

themapples

Flash back to my minimalist moment. Off to the donation bin I went, with about 30 boxes of books, an outgrown belief, and a small piece of my identity; however, I kept a few token titles: a set of hardcover American literary classics; the Harry Potter series, of course; one Shakespeare anthology; and a bunch of paperbacks of my favorite authors: Tolstoy, Thich Naht Hahn, Mary Oliver. I also kept the The Tao Te Ching and some books about yoga. And there was one other random title I kept, and I am surprised I did, called The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life (1998) by Parker Palmer. I am not sure why I didn’t just chuck it out with the rest, but now I know.  It’s crazy how specific aspects of the world come into focus exactly when you’re ready and able to see. Timing is everything.

Some grad professor probably recommended Palmer’s book to me when I was a soon-to-be teacher or newbie, circa 2003. Re-reading it, some fourteen years later, I laughed a little as I thought about how my former self must have read and understood this before actually teaching in a classroom. I probably felt like I belonged to this profession somehow, because I had been learning so much about how to teach, what to teach, and why to teach. Ironically, though, this book is not about instructional technique or any sort of “how-to” of teaching, nor does it include inspirational advice or stories from the classroom. It turns out that Palmer reflects on his spiritual journey as a teacher; it’s about the “who” of teaching; it’s a story of continual learning, of becoming, and what it means to be a teacher. It’s existential; it’s epistemological; it’s ontological. It’s about embracing and celebrating mystery, the sacred, the unknown, and it’s about living in ambiguity and uncertainty. It’s about being human in the classroom rather than maintaining the typical, dogmatic duality of subject and object which almost always results in the disconnection so sadly commonplace in all levels of academia today.

NETHERLANDS EXAMS

What a pleasant surprise to read a book about teaching that avoids the cliches of “what to do” or “how to do,” and instead promotes the humanity of teaching and learning! For once, I thought, professional development that is personal, human, and meaningful, as opposed to a litany of new strategies or reforms that only work within, and serve to reinforce, the status quo of institutionalized schooling. This book is about exploring inner landscapes– identity and integrity and the human heart. It’s real.

My recognition that the books on my bookshelf represented a piece of my identity as “educated” or “knowledgeable,” along with my subsequent desire to free myself from old habits of mind and limiting beliefs, aligns with Palmer’s criticism of the predominant Western scientific definition of knowing and truth which essentially minimizes teaching and learning to acquisition of knowledge, when the process is so much more than facts, figures, and concrete skills. Palmer reminded me of the intimacy and personal connection that is necessary for teachers and students to explore the world together, as they engage in a dynamic process, or what Palmer calls a “community of truth.” This reminded me why I love teaching so much and why I am “a good tired” after work everyday.  He writes, “Community, or connectedness, is the principle behind good teaching” (115), but what makes Palmer’s work different from (and better than) other professional development is that he doesn’t sell you a bunch of gimmicks to create that community. Instead, he encourages teachers simply to know themselves in order to create a uniquely suited environment for good teaching and learning to happen. He claims that most teachers avoid talking about who they are by talking about what they do. In my opinion, safety and conformity are the enemies of authentic teaching, and good teaching is, sadly, subversive. 

risky business

I agree with Palmer’s conclusion that the identity and the integrity of the teacher is absolutely everything. Good teaching is deeply personal. He writes in his introduction:

…good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher. The premise is simple, but its implications are not…in every class I teach, my ability to connect with my students, and to connect them with the subject, depends less on the methods I use than on the degree to which I know and trust my selfhood—and I am willing to make it available and vulnerable in the service of learning. (p.10)

Ah, yes, vulnerability! And this is where the courage to teach comes in. Courage is the mental or moral strength to withstand difficulty and danger, to persevere despite fear. Being vulnerable is the last thing most teachers want to feel or talk about. It’s threatening. After all, they are, in their own minds and in the minds of others, the perceived authority in the room— in control; carefully organized and planned; the person with the answers. A typical teacher’s worst nightmare? Not knowing. But how teachers deal with fear (their own and their students’) is rarely measured or mentored. It’s barely discussed, perhaps because sharing that type of experience and information requires additional vulnerability, something most teachers are taught to distance themselves from. We are trained to stick to the business of the mind, the standards, assessment, methodologies, technique, leaving no room (or time!) for intimate exploration of the inner landscape; that is, the heart and souls of students and teachers.

If teachers (and students) approach the classroom embodying an identity of  “objective” rationality, with the preconceived notion about teaching and learning as a business transaction, and with suppressed inner fear of being vulnerable to students, that environment will be cold, disconnected, and uninviting. Sure, grades will be earned and credits accrued, acquisition of knowledge will occur, but all devoid of humanity, risk, personality, and warmth.  

aristotle

Palmer writes, “Good teachers [have] a strong sense of personal identity [that] infuses their work,” and they are “there” when teaching; teaching and the subject is their life (p.10). Ah, to be fully present! What a gift! What bravery is required! Imagine what real presence might do toward developing authentic listening, attention, love, and connection, the many qualities and behaviors our world sorely needs.

“Good teachers possess a capacity for connectedness. They are able to weave a complex web of connections among themselves, their subjects, and their students so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves. The methods used by these weavers varies…As good teachers weave the fabric that joins them with students and subjects, their heart is the loom on which the threads are tied, the tension is held, the shuttle flies, and the fabric is stretched tight. Small wonder, then, that teaching tugs at the heart, opens the heart, even breaks the heart– and the more one loves teaching, the more heartbreaking it can be. The courage to teach is the courage to keep one’s heart open in those very moments when the heart is asked to hold more than it is able so that teacher and students and subject can be woven into the fabric of community that learning, and living, require.” (Palmer, p.11)

Indeed, as Palmer extolls: the human heart…is the source of good teaching (p.3)

An exploration of one’s inner landscape should be foundational to teaching, prior to learning methodology or technique. Palmer proposes that, “As important as methods may be, the most practical thing we can achieve in any kind of work is insight into what is happening inside us as we do it. The more familiar we are with our inner terrain, the more surefooted our teaching—and living—becomes” (p.5). And “Face to face with my students,” he says, “only one resource is at my immediate command: my identity, my selfhood, my sense of this “I” who teaches—- without which I have no sense of the “Thou” who learns” (p.10).know thyselfIf you don’t know yourself or understand your own humanity, then how can you, teachers, possibly connect with other human beings and nurture a community of learning?

Rather mysteriously, Palmer’s book showed up for me just as I am preparing to embark on a leave of absence from my position as a high school teacher.  Something urged me to clean out my bookshelves, which serendipitously led to the discovery of Palmer’s book, which added to the ongoing exploration of my identity as a teacher.  As I step away from the formal institution of school, I plan to open further to the mysteries of life outside the classroom and in uncertain territory. I hope to discover all kinds of communities of truth. I want to dig deeper into the definition of teaching and learning, going far beyond rational thinking and objective truth, as I travel across the landscapes— inside and out. 

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Post Surgical Post

Post Surgical Post:
To suffer or not to suffer; there is no question

So, here I am, your Landscapes for Learning hostess with the mostess, recovering from surgery and pondering the meaning of life, or um…rather…philosophizing about suffering…again. (That’s supposed to be a funny reference to my previous post.

As I sit here coexisting rather unpleasantly with my abdominal pain, I realize that circumstance has presented me with a wonderful opportunity to confirm that I definitely prefer physical suffering far above any other kinds of suffering, emotional or otherwise. (I also just realized that I hate when people use the word, “definitely” and so many other awful qualifiers in writing that you are about to read throughout this piece. One of my favorite Stephen King quotes is “the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” I love having my own blog where I can edit by choice and add parenthetical thoughts to entertain myself and funny pictures: see below.)

Anyway…

I was in rather acute pain the other night and completely exhausted for the entire next day from the associated writhing, but I would take that, any day, over the pain of, say, heartbreak or the loss of my dog. I would even choose physical pain over major disappointment because disappointment results in expectations not being met, which leads back to doubt about whether or not I should have held the expectations in the first place, which often leads to self-criticism and questions, and questions can lead to uncertainty, which leads to insecurity, which can lead to a sense of nihilism, which also often brings up regret, fear of the future, or lots of negative judgment about the past and previous decisions made or unmade and other stupid expectations that may have gone unmet and further disappointment and despair, and this process often lasts ad infinitum–like a record that skips (is that too old a cultural reference?) or at least as far back in time as early childhood, and everyone knows what that walk down memory lane brings you– a mess of unaddressed emotional wounds, and then you have to wrestle (or not) with bouncing back and forth between past and present problems and what seems like one gigantic tangled hell labeled, “what’s my fucking problem, anyway?”  or, if you prefer, “Why bother expecting anything from life, it’s pointless anyway,” which is way easier not to deal with, so you pick up a drink or a smoke or a pill or a person (and their problems which are far easier to solve than your own) or some other obsession, a good HBO series maybe, and then you are left where you started– completely lost (in the series, in someone else’s business posing as a do-gooder, or pleasantly buzzed) and still actually suffering except you don’t exactly “feel” it or even “know” it because it is effectively temporarily submerged (a.k.a.repressed), sort of neatly put aside like a beautiful statue on a shelf (doesn’t it look perfect in that exact spot? Hey I did something!) but you know it will be (added to the pile of unaddressed emotional shit from your past) back with new results potentially even more disastrous, had you just not turned to HBO (and turned away from your suffering) like an irresponsible, weak, scared, unknowing human that you (and all of us usually) are. 

statue on a shelf
Hey, I did something!

 

Yuck. Not a story of heroic proportion (or is it proportions? does it matter? Notice how I am staying with the theme here). 

So, my current state of physical pain is my preferred mode of suffering because it’s simple and doesn’t ask a lot from me. I am glad for this kind of suffering, where all I have to do is lie on the couch and wait for my body to heal itself. Your body is not a mystery and you really don’t get a choice in the matter of physical pain once it appears. There is no question of responsibility, of choice, to deal or not to deal, to be (with the pain) or not to be (with the pain). In other words, physical pain cannot be repressed!

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Make a choice, Dude. I don’t have much time.

And I am not exactly taking up the cross as I wait for my stitches to heal and the inflammation in my gut (or is it guts? see what I did there?) to subside. I don’t have to do any rational work. I mean, I am sitting here thinking about the nature of pain in my abdomen, and it has led me to conclude that I prefer this pain above other kinds, but there’s nothing else to figure out, no real problem to solve, and I already have the answer about why the pain exists at all —because I had an organ removed, Dummy!

So this brings me to the end of my story about preferential suffering (you know I mean only when I have to bear it; I don’t go looking for it and, of course, I avoid unnecessary pain whenever possible!), but there are so many, many more great stories you might like to read about human suffering and all its forms. Typically, they involve a hero from whom you might learn a thing or two. I would begin with either CONTEMPORARY CULTURE and work your way backwards, or start with HUMAN HISTORY and work your way back to the future. Or, even better, you could share your own story in the comments below. 

 

 

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Learning to Unlearn

It was in the hot room at a Bikram yoga studio,
standing directly under the bright lights,
in front of the mirrors,
trying to balance,
in silence,
everyday, for 90 minutes,
where I learned the art of unlearning.
I learned to let go.

A vital aspect of learning is unlearning.

Unlearning is intending to let go of what you have already learned or acquired. It’s an undoing the effect of, a discarding the habit of what you have learned. Unlearning must be intentional, deliberate, and active, otherwise it’s merely forgetting. Sounds simple, right? Not easy because the problem is that our learning leads to beliefs which lead to habits and, as you well know, habits are hard to break.

yoda

Frustration, pain, crisis, and suffering usually catalyze the process of unlearning. This is why psychotherapists sometimes encourage us to “lean into” the painful experiences of our lives. Our yoga teachers do the same. “Hold” the uncomfortable posture, they say, “using stillness and breath.” With compassionate support, yoga helps us uncover lessons we might learn from our pain, cope with suffering, and see ourselves more clearly, all to enable functionality as a healthy human being in the world. For me, yoga is not about how high I can kick my foot to the ceiling or how deep my backward bending, it’s about living an authentic life of quality and purpose.

Pain is our best teacher. She is real and unrelenting in her demand for our attention. Almost always, her lesson involves unlearning, a letting go, a clearing-out, sloughing. When we run from pain and discomfort, we miss out on growth and added strength and flexibility in both our minds and physical bodies. Maybe we push too hard in our consistent pursuit for more, recklessly moving beyond our range of motion, causing unhealthy stress rather than healing. This is a common scenario for many people who have been raised with a Western mindset, schooled in an American culture of competition and lack. 

What’s challenging for most people about “Letting Go” is that it’s about loss, not gain. Letting go is unlearning the habit of clinging, of hanging on; of wanting to have more– more time, more money, more attention; it is the relentless battle— to the very end— to avoid losing; it’s the widely admired “never give up” attitude we reward and for which we earn trophies and accolades. The problem (among others) with these attitudes and habits intrinsic to a competitive mindset is that very often it involves personal comparison, which can lead to feelings of lack, of not having enough or believing we are not enough. We lose and feel inferior. We don’t “suffer with” a competitor (even if it is ourself); we try to outsmart, outdo, beat down, or absolutely destroy them to cross the finish line first or to win the match or to best our prior “time.”

notgood-enough

The fear of poverty and competition are taught to us when we are very young, when we are most vulnerable and open, by our schools (administered and reinforced through the grading system), cultural icons who act as our models and mentors, our peers, our families, and by industry, entertainment and social media. These values are then consistently reinforced over time. But I believe we can live compassionately within a competitive landscape. We can live a soul-centered life in an ego-centered world. Compassion and competition are not mutually exclusive; we do need to function and take care of ourselves in the world we find ourselves in. We have to survive.

yin-yang

A little unlearning isn’t such a dangerous thing. By making yourself more open and a more compassionate competitor, you can bring out the best in yourself (if you really know who you are at your core) and your opponent. It’s about your intentions and aiming for balance.

Discovering yoga began some very crucial unlearning for me. While practicing, I learned how to lean into the discomfort I felt in my body and in my mind, under the duress of intense heat and within the strict discipline of the asanas, including savasana which requires lying still on your back with eyes open breathing consciously through the nose. In savasana, “less is more” which is incredibly challenging for people who are conditioned to solve problems, attain goals, want more, do more, be more, have more. In fact, it can be incredibly painful.

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Compassion literally means “suffering with.” I had to teach myself, through disciplined daily practice to stay with my suffering, to stay with myself, to not abandon myself or my pain. I had to stay loyal to that which underlies the labels and the cultural conditioning, my spirit. The yogis on their mats next to me aren’t my competition; they are my fellow sufferers, my fellow spirits. The hot room is a community of compassion. And, as I look back on the history of my most memorable life experiences, compassion was beckoning me to embrace it all along. Apparently, I wasn’t available to listen or open enough to accept its invitation. I am grateful yoga found me and that compassion continued to persistently knock at my door.

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By clearing the way, unlearning has positively affected my understanding of my own capabilities; my intrinsic value; my true strengths and weaknesses. In the past, I passively agreed to labels my environment pinned on me, and unknowingly, I internalized these labels, turned them into limiting beliefs, then turned them into “truths,” and acted accordingly. That was “me.” How could I be anything else?

And I wondered why I suffered.

Yoga taught me that the problems in my life were not the fault of others, as I had always hoped; blaming is easy, a shortcut, because it seems to relieve pain, at least temporarily. No, my suffering and frustration were the result of my own doing, my own “learned” habits, my carefully schooled perceptions. And although done to me when innocent and indefensible, I must take responsibility. I make my own choices. I agree more with my inner voice rather than with Father culture.  This is work. This is struggle. This is uncomfortable. This is freedom.  
Notes

Unlearning and unschooling are not new concepts. This post is about an example of how the notion of unlearning has affected my personal life through the yoga; but if you are also interested in the application of unlearning to business, click here and here, or if you are interested in unlearning as it applies to education, click here.

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

—–BIKRAM CHOUDHURY

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A Soul’s Calling.

What does it mean to follow your path, your soul’s calling?

I am learning that finding my purpose doesn’t have a whole lot to do with thinking, as if a problem needs solving or something  needs “figuring out.” If anything, my rational mind very often seems to get in the way. (See Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and The War of Art by Steven Pressfield)

So far, this adventure seems to be more about trusting the process, using my intuition, and listening to my inner voice. I am trying to remain true to what my heart is telling me, and to remain open to what is in store from a source that exists in the universe and deep within me. I am deliberately refraining from trying too hard to find my way, but instead trying to be led. I am afraid, uncertain, excited, and hopeful. The struggle has been anything but boring.

I believe this website is a part of my calling, part of my path. The call to share everything I learn about myself, my life, and my process with you is real, so I have created Landscapes for Learning to be my place of expression, of vulnerability, of learning, and growth. The “Meta” feature of my blog will be where I share the ins and outs of my creative journey with you. Many days I have no idea what I am doing. Other days, it seems completely clear. I presume this pattern will continue.

I always thought teaching high school English was my life’s purpose, as I know in my heart that teaching and learning is in my bones, but perhaps my career has been a training ground for what’s next. I don’t know if a creative life (writing) is my ultimate purpose, but it is a step forward on the path. I am taking a leave of absence from my job to listen to my muse and see where it takes me. I plan to take you along. Please, share your adventures with me too!

Oprah asked Caroline Myss, a guest on her show, SuperSoul Sunday, “How do you know when you’ve found your purpose in life?” I find her insight valuable. I hope you will too.

Watch more of the interview between Oprah and Caroline Myss. LOTS of great discussion about the inner voice and intuition and trusting the process!

Also, check out “The Journey,” one of my favorite poems by Mary Oliver

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Changing the Landscape from the Inside Out

Each moment of life is a new moment, and we get to choose how to experience each one. We can label some moments as less useful than others; we can label a moment as boring, good, bad, nothing special, amazing; we can judge it as entirely purposeless or extraordinarily purposeful. The point is, we get to decide.

We have been fooled by a Western culture that has inculcated us with conventional responses to each moment and we have been trained through our education to affix the same labels to our life experiences as we perceive others around us to be doing. But we don’t have to follow along blindly forever. We can choose our own labels, our own beliefs, if we are consciously aware. This is far from an easy process, as it involves substantial un-learning. As anyone knows who has been addicted to anything, it is VERY difficult to quit old habits and form new ones.

When people realize that life is about the labels and the stories we tell ourselves and the beliefs that we decide to believe and live according to, the world is literally turned upside down. This is no small awakening. It’s HUGE.

A yoga teacher once said, yoga is an inside-out process, rather than the outside-in. Yoga isn’t like a beauty cream you can slather on your body to change. The work happens on the inside.

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Discovering that we can change some of our most deeply held beliefs about ourselves and the world and live according to new ones is radically transformative.  When you alter the internal landscape of your life, when you live from the inside out, when you trade in the glasses you were given by your culture for a new pair that you choose, the external circumstances of life transform and everything looks different–those same old faces and places in  your life suddenly appear to be new places and new faces. Transforming the inner landscape radically alters the external landscape.

There’s lots of advice online about how to be happy or how to be “successful,” usually found in inspirational quotes, memes, and videos, or from motivational speakers, life coaches,  and “successful” people, but here, at this site, my goal is to find and celebrate success stories of ordinary, everyday people who are living extraordinarily well.

I invite the people who are traversing the landscapes of life from the inside out to tell their stories here to inspire others to awaken.  Because once you “wake up,” one of the first things that you might think to yourself is, “does anyone else know about what I just discovered?” Let’s connect, build a community, and genuinely subscribe to one another’s lives.