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Don’t Think Too Much

If you are human and drive yourself crazy with thinking, maybe Alan Watts can assist you in accepting yourself as the “quaking mess” that you are with all your crazy human beingness, letting go of resisting, and letting go of resisting resistance.  

Is it possible to try hard to live a good life AND let go of feeling guilty that you aren’t the spiritual, intellectual, or physical saint, genius, and specimen you expect yourself to be?

Watts encourages us to trust the process, and like water, we’ll find the way without tension and without illusion.

He says that meditation is observation without judgement. It is acceptance of what is without trying to change what is. No “shoulds” or “oughts,” only observation for the sake of noticing.

According to Watts, you are an “aperture”—the universe watching itself, rather than a distinct self watching the world.

Check out this excerpt from Watt’s  lecture on Buddhism.

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Listen to Your Nudges

Listen to your nudges, bitches. They’re never wrong. When you ignore them or you are too afraid to do what they ask, they usually show up as aches and pains in your body, or in your mind, or both. Denial, distraction, and ignorance will make you sick and suffer-– maybe not in the short term but definitely in the long term. 

HOW TO LISTEN TO YOUR NUDGES

Practicing Bikram Yoga gives you the opportunity to listen to your nudges and to face them to find the truth. This is hard. Lots of people would rather live in denial, distracted, and avoid the challenge of the hot room which serves as a crucible of honesty.

If you practice Bikram Yoga consistently and study yourself, by turning your attention inward instead of focusing on the distractions around you, you will start to notice patterns: you’ll notice, with curiosity rather than judgment, those subtle aches and pains in your body and in your mind. Noticing and learning about your mind-body connection will enable you to take a step toward putting the pieces of the puzzle of your true self together. 

The underlying truth of your life is the source of those nudges. The truth will surface with time and consistent practice as you courageously face the nudges and deal with them– explore them. If you ignore them, as Jo Simpson says in her TedTalk, (or you expect someone else to “fix” them for you and act as a victim) they’ll slap you across the face or steam roll you later in the form of greater suffering or poor health or tragedy. Best to listen now rather than later.

PRACTICE PAYING ATTENTION

Bikram Yoga is an incredibly helpful tool for strengthening your attention, practicing listening, and gaining the strength of character and grit to take responsibility for the hard truths of your life when they come. You will be prepared to face whatever life throws at you because you will have learned how to manage your suffering. You’ll have prepared through disciplined PRACTICE. (And here you are thinking yoga is about posing in spandex and posting self-indulgent photos on Instagram!)

If you build your strength and flexibility by doing what’s difficult in your practice, of staying in the room and trying, you’ll be right there, open enough, paying attention enough to receive your TRUTH!

STAY OPEN & VULNERABLE

That’s why I always include the line in the dialogue, “Mama, give me money!” when I am teaching. That’s why I reinforce keeping your eyes OPEN and your palms open in savasana– just in case that truth arrives, you’ll be ready to receive it. Show up, focus inward, and listen– to the nudges that will guide you to truth.

You may not like the nudges or understand them because usually they aren’t rational, and vulnerability is uncomfortable and scary, but you’ll be building the courage to accept the nudges as important signs to do as you should to be healthy. 

And those pains in your mind and body will magically dissolve, not really by magic at all, but rather through your attention and hard work, that is– discipline. This is why it’s YOUR practice and we ask you to look at yourself in the mirror, not at your teacher. There’s nothing special about us on the podium. We give you the conditions of the room and the words; you do the rest. It’s not about the teacher and how much “energy” or “entertainment” they bring to the class– if the teacher and their antics are your focus, then you won’t hear what your inner world needs to tell you. You might not notice the nudges. Your yoga isn’t about anybody else but YOU. 

BE YOUR OWN BEST WINGMAN

Knowing yourself by listening, paying yourself some loving, compassionate, and honest attention for 90 minutes– as if you came to spend some time with someone you really want to be with, someone you really care about— is your homemade, unique prescription for wellness.

As Navy SEAL, Jocko Willink always says, freedom comes from DISCIPLINE. Bikram yoga is a form of very effective discipline– of showing up on your mat and PAYING ATTENTION— of heading inward bound to know the real you, to your truth and its source. 

You want more answers about what the hell is happening for you in your life? Want more wisdom? More wellness? Listen to the nudges, bitches.

SEE YOU IN THE HOT ROOM!❤️🔥

STAY TUNED FOR SELF STUDY for WISDOM AND WELLNESSWORKSHOPS COMING SOON TO A BIKRAM YOGA STUDIO
NEAR YOU!

 

 

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Human Resources for Teachers?

“What do you think about adding more

personal wellness for professional development

specifically designed for teachers

by teachers at your school?”

 

School has begun and I am no longer a part of it, although I feel like I am still involved to a large degree because I spend almost all my time thinking and writing about education. (It’s nice to do it outdoors in the sunshine or riding my bike and according to my own schedule) Other teachers can relate. It’s like reading a book or seeing some great content online or even personal conversations and constantly wondering how you can use this with your students. Not being in school has freed me up to think more deeply about school using a wider lense, so here’s something I’ve been thinking about today.

Who provides wellness and wellbeing support for teachers? Where can teachers truly find individual, specific support for their unique needs (as a person and a teacher) in a confidential, unbiased form and location? Who can teachers “go to” that they can TRULY trust if they need to vent, cry, celebrate, experiment, or play with new ideas that may be contrary to the school’s culture or values? They need someone who “understands” what it’s like to be a teacher (today, not 10 or 20 years ago and also to chat about what it may be like soon). What if they want to talk about quitting and changing careers? What if they are new and think they may have made a grave mistake and chose the wrong career path? What if they are uncomfortable talking to colleagues who may provide only confirmation bias? Teachers have VERY little time to bond with colleagues because of the school day schedule. Close trusting friendships are rare. And maybe friends don’t have the abilities or resources to help? Obviously, you cannot share everything with a supervisor or an administrator. Do teachers trust their union reps? Who can they talk with and find appropriate and informed support for their personal struggles as these affect and influence their mental and physical wellbeing and (secondarily) their professional roles?

 

Teaching is a human endeavor. It requires a ton of relationship management, understanding individual personalities- your own and hundreds more including your co-workers and parents, and all sorts of knowledge about schooling processes, learning, and teaching which is super complicated (teaching the people, Dummy, not the content knowledge– that’s the easy part). All of this is taxing mentally, physically, and emotionally. I used to take a nap everyday after school; and I posted pro-nap articles in my shared House Office above the couch we smuggled in (it was removed by the administration as a fire hazard….seriously). No joke, teachers often hide to rest or attend to personal issues. There’s very little time to process something that may have occurred during class or to reflect on it or celebrate with other adults. I recall being told in the lunch room that one of my students had died by another department chairperson besides my own. What the hell? I had about 4 minutes to process that before I had to return to my classroom for my next class.

As an ex-teacher and now full-time yoga teacher, I wonder how do individual teachers manage such stress? I mean, I am sure many do just fine using their own powers and personal resources available to them outside of school. That’s what I did, but shouldn’t there be someone, at school, to whom we can trust and rely on for support and resources as teachers?  There are specific issues unique to the teaching life, the “who” of teaching for which generic help might not apply. How can we better help teachers not just manage or survive, but thrive? Where are the testimonials from teachers about their wellness and wellbeing?

Who is looking out for teachers? Who is loving them and supporting them not just for their ability to do their jobs, but for struggling and succeeding in being present for people? Do you know how difficult it is to show up and be truly present, open, vulnerable to all of the stress and energy that students carry with them into the shared space of the classroom each day for 180 days? I never recall my union “caring” for me on an interpersonal, periodic, individual basis or even being educated about “self-care” for teachers. I would not have trusted talking to a rep if that was my option. Was I supposed to talk to the nurse? Call my own therapist and pay my co-pays for that? Would a therapist understand the unique complexity and human dynamics and intimacy of teaching young people?

And now schools are floundering about with all sorts of technological and cultural change, and about to radically change their structures even more rapidly– who will teachers rely on for support for any and all of this transformation? How will they manage their ever-changing roles? Who can they talk with, personally, face to face about how they are feeling about all of this and how well they are managing or not?

We have all sorts of resources for students; what about the teachers? Why is there no Human Resources Department for teachers where objectivity and confidentiality can be accessed and trusted?

Perhaps our attrition rates wouldn’t be so high if we provided some trustworthy, quality wellness support for our educators– not just more professional development; not just an appreciation basket or holiday lunch. Not just a free massage booth on the first day of school or a motivational speaker who isn’t a teacher and doesn’t really know what it’s like to be me or you? Most of the dialogue about supporting teachers is about increased pay and benefits and I am not dismissing that. Unions surely have their place in terms of that sort of financial wellness, but it’s not the only resource teachers need.

What do you think about adding more “personal wellness for professional development specifically designed for teachers” by teachers at your school?

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Tough-Love Lessons of Bikram Yoga

“We students (and future teachers) needed to learn how to be “unknowing,” to embrace beginner’s mind, become skilled followers; we were being asked to suspend our authoritarian ways of thinking to become humble, open, and flexible enough to learn about yoga postures and anatomy and mostly ourselves. How can you understand others or help them (as a teacher) if you don’t understand or help yourself?”

disciplinefreedom

I love the idea of less.  Less isn’t so much about ridding oneself of problematic hoarding of cars, jewelry, furniture, houses, companies.  To me, it’s more about how I use my energy and channel the good and evil within. It’s about temperance: self-restraint and discipline, with a generous dose of compassion. You might also think about it as moderation or balance. Sometimes gaining more balance in life requires less– less resistance, less control, fewer expectations and lies, and less rigidity.

The idea of less occurred to me, as ideas so often do, when I was teaching yoga. In this particular class, three people practiced: One giant man who I hadn’t seen in class in a long while, one “regular” practitioner, and one other slightly crazy woman who always practices with sunglasses on in the back corner of the room and does everything but the postures I am teaching. As usual, an interesting combination of fellow humans from whom I learned four lessons.

Lesson 1: About Assumptions and Expectations…  

Expectations suck more than usual when they are based on unwarranted assumptions. It appeared to me that the students seem to believe that I expected them to go above and beyond in their practice because I had them in clear view. I believe they felt like they were “center stage” or “on the spot” because it was just the three of them and me. This was a not a class where they could feel comfortable “hiding” in the back, out of their teacher’s view. When people think they are being watched, judged, or held accountable for their actions, they seem to step up their “honest” effort.  (Yes, I made this assumption based on experience and instinct.)

However, I did not place any expectations on these people whatsoever. I assumed they would come into the room, set up their mats, and do their yoga. I assumed they would not try to kill me or charge the podium or tackle me or anything else irrational or uncharacteristic within that particular environment. (Again, assumptions based on a pattern of typical experience.)

Whatever perceived expectations they thought I had of them are the ones they came up with on their own. They likely made assumptions based on the conditions that evening, in that location, and made their own decisions to act according to the expectations they then set for themselves. (Does anyone else think about these things, or is it just me?) But, if I was a betting girl, I would put my money on the fact that none of these people even thought consciously about the expectations they put on themselves. I bet it happened out of habit.  And, let it be noted that I have absolutely no proof whatsoever that any of them had the expectations of themselves that I am ASSUMING they created and tried to meet. (Are you sufficiently confused?) But this, I think, is usual human interaction, eh? Each of us continually making assumptions, some warranted and some perhaps not, and setting expectations, usually unrealistic or unnecessary ones. (See The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz) When I observe, I learn.

plato

Lesson 2: About the Ego…

Excessive demands of the ego cause unnecessary suffering.  This is home grown suffering. It differs from suffering caused by unexpected, external events. We create our own suffering—unnecessarily, ALL. THE. TIME. I cannot speak beyond my own limited realm of experience and observation, but the problems we cause usually seem to be “first-world problems” that are completely irrelevant and unimportant in the global scheme of life.

Self-talk that literally causes unnecessary stress in your body (not the “good stress” of moving muscles and exertion) goes something like this:

I am so disappointed in myself/angry with myself/hate myself because I couldn’t kick my leg forward in Standing Head to Knee pose. When will my fat fucking ass ever be able to do this? My mother always told me I’d never amount to anything. And while I am on the subject, I hate my mother for never encouraging me or loving me unconditionally. I should just leave/quit/give up, because nobody will love me since I am so negative and I have abandonment issues. Nice attitude! God, I am so selfish! There are people with real problems in the world and here I am complaining in a yoga room. But the world sucks too and I didn’t cause poverty or violence or anything else, so why should I even care? I have my own problems, and everyone will die anyway, so what is the point?

Seem exaggerated? It’s not. It’s irrational, sure, but this is an example of real, internal dialogue for MANY PEOPLE. Negative. Judgmental. Critical. Cynical. Tyrannical!

Because we have been conditioned to shoot for MORE than perhaps we are capable of, and because we run up against limits and our ego doesn’t like that, we suffer. We, or the ego, always want more and more and more rather than valuing, loving, appreciating, and being grateful for what it already has or is. Chill the fuck out; you’re doing fine with all your limitations and you are loved whether you kick your leg our or not. If you didn’t have limits, you’d be God. You’re human, stop whining, and deal with it.

masterymindandbody

Lesson 3: About Being a Follower…

Is it such a bad thing to be a follower? And why don’t people just do what they are told? When I went to yoga training, Bikram told us to shut off our minds and just do what we were told. Some people reacted with fright to the thought of not being in control. Not being in charge. Not being the authority. Not trying to figure everything out. Not questioning nor analyzing.  Not drawing conclusions and/or critically judging or evaluating. Can you imagine? Aren’t these the things we naturally do by default? Or are they so conditioned within us that they seem natural? The people who could not do what they were told, who couldn’t be a good follower to learn, struggled through the entire 9 week training because they couldn’t turn themselves over or “trust the process.” Some people left training. Some railed and wailed and blamed Bikram for being an asshole. They struggled with letting go of control. The “shutting off the mind” was meant to be a reprieve (and relief) from always having to be in charge; it was time off from thinking, and planning, and plotting, and reminiscing, and worrying. 

We students (and future teachers) needed to learn how to be “unknowing” students, embrace beginner’s mind, become skilled followers; we were being asked to suspend our authoritarian ways of thinking to become humble, open, and flexible enough to learn some things about yoga postures and anatomy and mostly learn about ourselves. How can you understand others or help them (as a teacher) if you don’t understand or help yourself? Try the right way, the hard way, and get 100% benefit. 

The dialogue we learn to deliver in class commands students to, very precisely, do what they are told, yet they often refuse. Sometimes it may be the result of confusion, poor listening skills, or lack of concentration, but often times it’s about flat-out unwillingness and resistance; not letting go of control out of fear. The woman wearing sunglasses in the back of the room in my class wants to do what she wants to do– not the postures. They make her feel uncomfortable; she doesn’t like being uncomfortable (or for whatever other reasons) and she refuses to compromise. It feels better to her to leave her foot on the inside of her thigh rather than up on her hip. She bends her upper body in a circular motion rather than up to the ceiling and side to side as she is told. Perhaps she is closed, inflexible, ideological, and arrogant. She is rigid and clings to her own safety. She refuses to let go or to trust. She is afraid to lose control. She won’t bloom like a flower petal, and she is missing out on finding her truth. This is where tough love comes in (and what many critics of the Bikram method reject).

discipline-is-doing-what-you-know-needs-to-be-done-even-if-you-dont-want-to-do-it-quote-1

Perhaps the yoga teachers who refuse to say the dialogue as Bikram intended it do the same thing as that woman in the back of the room. They don’t like being told what to do or how to do. They think they know better. It’s more comfortable doing it their way rather than doing as they are told. Why is it so difficult for people to be honest and to trust? 

I know all of this seems slightly ironic: we inculcate students in school when they are children to do as they are told. Then we unschool them by teaching them to question authority and think for themselves. Don’t follow blindly, but blindly is the distinction. People should not follow without some understanding of what they are following or whom and why. I intended to learn how to teach yoga with the authority of that particular yoga system, Bikram Choudhury. I made a conscious, well-considered decision and choice to turn myself over to his direction. When you sign up for a Bikram yoga class as a student, you make the decision to do BIKRAM yoga- not some other form! You come into the room with a yoga mat and towel and you do as you are told. You follow the very precise commands given. You trust the process. If you don’t, you aren’t doing the yoga. Then, when you insist on doing things your way, maybe you hurt yourself and blame Bikram yoga and call it bullshit yoga.

As one of my favorite, seasoned teachers likes to say, “Bikram yoga is like a robbery. Do what I say and nobody gets hurt!”

AND THAT IS THE YOGA: doing what you are told. Sorry, but that’s tough love. Your teachers are here to make you better, not make you worse– to make you stronger and more flexible, not just in the body, but also in the mind.

Your ego wants you to be comfortable. You want the fans on. You want to avoid suffering. Welcome to the club. But you don’t always get what you want, and as a continually maturing human being—- you need to accept that truth and learn more effectively how to deal with it. (The Rolling Stones really did have it right, after all.) 

stones

If you are brave enough to struggle with all of this, one day you will discover that your ego went from being invisible to you, to visible. You see its existence and the power it holds; then you learn how to manage it– find out how, and when, and why it is useful and positive, and in alignment with your spirit and when it is not; when it is counterproductive, causes suffering, pain, and when it is the culprit of your misery and  discontent. You don’t ignore your ego– you identify it’s desires and you manage it in ways that don’t add additional suffering to your life or the life of others. That’s another reason we tell you to look at yourself in the mirror. Don’t move. Don’t even blink your eyes.

Lesson 4: About Flexibility….

Flexibility is a valuable commodity and something our world desperately needs right now.  A flexible rather than fixed mindset is helpful in preventing you from becoming so entrenched in your own perspective that you risk becoming a dangerous ideologue who is willing to destroy others to defend your views. A flexible mindset helps you listen with genuine attention and interest in learning more than what you think you already know. (There’s always more to learn). Oh, and here you were thinking this was about your body. Well, yes –when you regain full range of motion in your joints, or maintain the full range you already have, your body is more flexible too. People are not separately minds or bodies; these aspects of ourselves are intricately fused; they are inseparable. Yoga is becoming more flexible, in body and in mind. So stop fighting and start stretching.

now or later discipline

Yoga is an interesting state of being because the objective of the practice really isn’t about the posture– the object is you, and you are also the subject. Think about how simple this is: you move your body into a pose to the degree that you are honestly able (and only to that degree) and you hold still and breathe. That’s all. You come face to face with your limitations and you breathe. Simple, yet people love to make it (yoga and life) complicated. Why?  Because everything I have written here about the ego and the unwillingness to do as one is directed, flexible mindset, and assumptions and expectations are inherent in the human condition. Clearly, we wrestle with these things because the three people I taught in class the other night exhibited some sort of conflict with every single one of them.

Yoga is hard. Being a human being is a challenge, but what’s the alternative? Run away? Lay on the couch and cry, or blame life itself, the universe, for being unfair? Drown your sorrows and suffering in fleeting, unhealthy pleasures? Eat candy and play video games? Watch porn, hang out with others who do the same to justify your own degenerate and weak behavior? Or show up with an open mind and heart (and ears to listen), do exactly what your told, the best you are able– to your limits whatever they may be, and breathe within a loving environment among others who are trying to be the best they can be too.  Have faith that you will be better, stronger, more flexible, and good by honest effort, trying the right way, and not giving up– that’s the ultimate destination. 

aristotle

Observing those three students was my yoga, my opportunity to learn some great lessons that evening, and these students were excellent teachers. That’s why we, in Bikram yoga, refer to our instructions as a “dialogue.” It’s not just about the asanas, after all.

Namaste.

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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.

vista luxembourg

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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The Landscape of Serendipity

We humans have a tendency to be control freaks. We think we know so much about ourselves (and the world) and I would argue we don’t know the half of it. We also think we are more in control of our lives and our futures than we actually are. So I want to share a little story about this.

My son texted me the other day regretting how he had fucked up in college and failed to pick a major that would have led him to a practical, lucrative job. He didn’t fuck up (well, maybe a little) so much as he didn’t mature enough back then to plan a bit more specifically for his future. So, I told him that, yes, many a white, middle-class, underachieving young adult have reached the same conclusion as you have, just as I did when I graduated with a philosophy degree from a Catholic college in 1991 with no job prospects whatsoever and no “passion” for doing anything that could contribute to my economic survival. (First-world problems, sigh.)

I also told him that lacking enthusiasm and drive toward one love doesn’t mean you are lazy or unintelligent. It just means you don’t really feel pulled in any specific direction.  And because you are lucky enough to not live in the middle of a war zone nor have to labor frantically to feed and clothe yourself (a.k.a. you can live with your parents until you get going),  you have a small bit of time (and fortune) to try to figure out what to do next. It’s daunting to figure out where to direct yourself when you aren’t necessarily being pulled somewhere specific, but is it impossible to create a life for yourself? Absolutely not! When you feel like you don’t know where to begin, you start at your first job, no matter how uninspiring or boring and beneath your capabilities it is—you start there. You have no other choice because you have bills to pay and your mom wants to collect a little rent in return for all this great advice and housing. 

I also told him that life has a funny way of happening to you as you are faced with simple, seemingly unimportant choices each day– like where to eat lunch or buy coffee (should I get a coffee today, or make my own? Brown bag it, or go out?) or whether or not to work out or try a new gym; or even something like your mom or roommate asks you, as a favor, to take their dog to the dog park.  Should you help or not? Now, as a result of all those choices, you end up in various places: the restaurant, the coffee-shop, the new gym, the dog park—which all seem so completely stupid and unimportant— but, then, into the coffee shop comes the love of your life who inspires you in ways you never knew existed and who lends purpose and structure to your life and leads you to new places– maybe to her family’s home where you meet her brother who knows a guy who knows a guy who is looking for a guy like you to fill a position in Company X. Or, in comes your next new best friend at the gym, or your new business partner appears at the dog park and you chat with him while your mom’s Golden Retriever plays with his German Shepherd; this young entrepreneur who struggled through stupid jobs just like you suddenly, on his cross country trip, decided to hop off the highway to walk his dog at this dog park, and there you are with that friendly fucking dog you begrudgingly agreed to take care of —-And, boom, your next (best) thing just happened. See, a “passion” might come and find you, almost by accident. Maybe.

So, knowing all of this— that “Life Happens” (not just “Shit Happens”) you only need to be open and ready to recognize your newest opportunities; you need to be ready and willing to connect with people or events and places while you continue to plan and execute your plans and travel your chosen path. (Ever seen Forrest Gump?) So here is the thing– it is as the saying goes, “Life happens when you’re busy making plans.” This is definitely true in my experience, but not all people realize this or actively embrace this knowledge and do something with it. The path isn’t always straight or exactly how we imagine it to be! The intentionally directed and pre-planned choices aren’t the whole story of our lives! We aren’t in as much control of what happens to us than we think, however much we like to think that we work hard and earn our way and make all our great shit happen. Frankly, I think the universe, happenstance, serendipity and synchronicity deserve a hell of a lot more credit.

I mean, really, the guy pulled off at the right exit? And you were kind enough to do your mom or your roommate a favor? You decided you wanted coffee that day, at that coffee shop where your new girlfriend walked in? You thought it a good idea to try a new gym, and voila, your new best friend was there?

So fine, go ahead, make plans. Of course, make plans! The sun will rise and you will get up and go to work at your first shitty job doing whatever it is you do there that doesn’t really suit you, and on this particular path you have chosen, you will continue to look for better and/or different, and you will follow your internal drives and desires and listen to that tiny little voice in your head or in your heart that seems to know a lot of stuff you don’t,  and you’ll make decisions about how to spend your time and where and with whom (hopefully surrounding yourself with positive people in a healthy environment), and you’ll stay open to anyone or anything that comes your way —-all of which is the part of your life that is in your control. Just remember that this is only part of what will determine your life— the other part happens to you and for you, and it isn’t in your control at all.

And because I really believe all of what I have been saying  here is 100% true (and trying to follow my own truth) I am hopping onto a different path myself to see what happens to me. I am investing in the trivial and unimportant and hoping for the universe to bring me something good. Will it lead me into new places with new people doing things that I cannot even imagine exist right now? Will that unknown landscape be scary? Of course! Even though letting go of routine and security and the familiar is daunting, unsettling, and turbulent, it’s also full of “good” stress and hope, as long as I stay open.

Even though both my son and I are having trouble envisioning our futures (I literally cannot picture myself anywhere in the world doing anything else besides the job I have always done)– maybe rather than getting upset, disappointed, or frightened by this, we can interpret it as a sign that we are about to go into places we have never been before, place we cannot picture, not even in our imaginations. It’s great to have dreams and to aim at goals, but it’s even cooler to experience the unknown that is beyond those wildest dreams or even better—the undreamed of.

And, just so you know, I am fairly certain that another “leap into the unknown” or more “out-of-my-control-experiences” will be added to the list of the best things that have happened to me in my life because so much has happened to me through serendipity already.  One example is that I did not know that Bikram yoga existed five years ago, nor did I even see myself teaching yoga, never-mind even practicing yoga. Yoga was never my dream or plan. Yoga happened to me because I made one seemingly unimportant decision to chat with a girl at my gym who then invited me to try a class with her. Merely because I was curious about her workouts and because I was friendly and engaged her in conversation, an entirely new life was born.  Yoga turned my life upside down with a new daily schedule; a new workout and spiritual practice; it led me to new love and a new community of friends; it led me to Thailand and back and into a second career, all of which has led to a life of travel and connection to people and places around the globe. If people reflect on how they got to where they are now in their lives, they’d have to give credit to forces beyond their control.

So who knows what will happen to us while we are busy making plans, finding our “passion,” and dreaming our dreams of our future? Hopefully, we can remember that our seemingly unimportant choices just may turn out to be more important than we ever conceived (if we think about them at all!)  and to remain open and ready to receive what the universe-beyond-our-control might deliver us. 

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A Meditation on Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Just a thought…How Higher Ed. Can Help the Natural Landscape

After reading “Ending Extracurricular Privilege” by Olga Kahzan in December 21st issue of The Atlantic Monthly, I realize just how much influence higher education has on the values, beliefs, behaviors, habits, and choices of their incoming students as well as their parents and their high schools. (I mean, I know the competition among students over grades has completely destroyed the joy and authenticity of learning and creativity, but…)

I’ve seen the administration and school committee where I work (and my children’s high school) consistently respond with, “How high?” when colleges and university admissions request that they “jump.” You want global studies? Done! You want cross-curricular courses? You got it! Study abroad programs? Yes! Right away! Community service? Of course! And a substantial portion of the job of an entire department (Guidance) is to help students create these required stellar resumes starting in 9th grade. By grade 11, it’s too late! That’s a lot of resources geared toward shaping kids to meet college admissions expectations.

volunteers

The personal qualities and characteristics colleges seek in candidates almost always become the secondary school community’s goals which are aimed at raising and shaping teens’ behavior and time, at least from what I have witnessed. And it’s not an entirely bad thing! Achievement and service are valuable. It gets out of control when it’s forced or completely ingenuine. I believe intention does matter, especially when it’s a gauge of character. When kids are competing against each other over who can gain more community service hours to best the other’s resume? Umm… no. That doesn’t seem very “communal.”

The extracurricular resume of students is a map of how they spend their “free” time beyond the strictly academic realm. Many times, I might argue most times, students complete obligatory community service hours for the sole purpose of their resume and its desired effect on college acceptance. How can admissions officers know which student has genuinely community-oriented values?

christian-community-service

It also appears that schools require community service because that will help their students gain favor with college admissions; they build it into the curriculum, if you will. Kids have no choice in the matter or they don’t graduate. I have heard the following, and other versions of the same from students: “I have to get my community service done or my parents will kill me.” Is that service or forced labor? This is only one of the issues Richard Weissbourd raises in the article; he raises several others worth considering.

recycle-green

It’s rather impressive that higher ed has such power to motivate kids to complete service, and work, and play sports, and join clubs, and do well in school (c’mon, you know that kid, those parents), so what about requiring applicants to go green– to serve our earth, to be 100% focused on full immersion in the wild, or to nurture the natural landscape and all it’s living creatures, or to provide evidence that they recycle and show that they moderate or eliminate their carbon footprint, and somehow show that they don’t support (via consumerism) unhealthy and corrupt business practices that harm the environment, including all its life forms?

It’s just a thought.