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

 27 Take-Aways


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

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

Here goes…

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


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

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Podcast: The Call of the Wild with exotic animal handler, Niki Cesar Tracchia

“All good things are wild & free”
-Henry David Thoreau

Niki tells her story about traveling across the landscapes of nature– as avid hiker/outdoor enthusiast, wolf-advocate (yes, they need our help!), Bikram yogi, and exotic animal handler. After a not-so-great, though sadly typical, experience with public high “schooling,” Niki blossomed into an avid learner and teacher after she answered what she terms her “Call of the Wild.”

Niki is a wonderful and interesting example of the various forms of learning and teaching that happen outside the narrow academic realm of school.

Click here to listen…

A few quotes from our conversation:

“When life is trying to tell you something, when the some ‘thing’ keeps calling you back, you should probably listen.”

“I learned not to have expectations… or believe in limits about what I could do or couldn’t do.”

“I just knew I was in the right place. I just knew– this is it. This is my life. This is me.”

“So many doors opened for me.”

“I am so grateful….I love my life. I wouldn’t change anything.”

I really hope you enjoy listening to Niki about her sense of self-awareness; interconnectedness; the wild; listening; and openness to what life brings. Her  enthusiasm for authentic forms of learning and teaching are contagious!



For more information:

Curious Creatures @ 
​The New England original
Interactive LIVE ANIMAL Programs & Parties
Established by Dean Kosch in 1987

Wolf Hollow @
114 Essex Road
Ipswich, MA 01938
Tel: (978) 356-0216

Bikram Yoga 
Find a studio location anywhere in the world.


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

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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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Dear Mr. & Mrs. Know-it-all

Dear Mr. & Mrs. Know-it-all,

In The American Scholar, his speech to Harvard graduates, Ralph Waldo Emerson proclaimed, “Life is a dictionary!” encouraging Americans, especially the young scholars in front of him, to trust their own experiences: direct, sensory experience in nature, if they truly wanted to live a life of learning. You can read all you want and spend all your time in the library, blindly accepting the dogma that’s been handed down to you by rationalists who supposedly know better than you, he said (in so many words), but that will never substitute for discovering the world, nature, and your own inner nature, through personal experience. It was unconventional back then and sadly still is today.

In our Information Age, we can know just about everything, everyone, and everywhere. That’s how you became the Know-it-alls! We spend far more time in front of screens, typing and clicking, safely in our minds (often completely unaware of our own bodies), safe from nature. It’s “out there” and we are “in here,” separate, unequal.


The library of Emerson’s time is the Internet of our time. Young “scholars” today look at almost every aspect of their lives: the world, nature, and themselves (selfies) through the lenses of their iPhones.


According to Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder (2008), our disconnection from nature causes a shrunken sensory world, impoverished experiences, and a sort of “cultural autism” which include  “feelings of isolation and containment” (p.64). We are literally trapped indoors, inside our own minds, as we surf the Web, thinking we are “everywhere” yet sadly, not anywhere at all, not even in our bodies. Knowledgeable, but not. Connected, yet disconnected.  

girlat-computer-silhouette-2Louv quotes Daniel Yankelovich, a public opinion analyst, who says, “What I see in America today is an almost religious zeal for the technological approach to every facet of life…It’s a value system, a way of thinking, and it can become delusional” (p.65).

Ah, Ya think?

Louv goes on to write in his chapter subsection entitled “Losing our Senses,”

“Today, the life of the senses is literally, electrified. One obvious contributor is electronics: television and computers. But simpler, early technologies played important roles. Air-conditioning, for example…Few of us are about to trade our air-conditioners for fans. But one price of progress is seldom mentioned: a diminished life of the senses…as human beings, we need direct, natural experiences; we require fully-activated senses in order to feel fully alive (my italics).

Twenty-first-century Western culture accepts the view that because of omnipresent technology we are awash in data. But in this information age vital information is missing. Nature is about smelling, hearing, tasting, seeing below the ‘transparent mucous-paper in which the world like a bon-bon is wrapped so carefully that we can never get at it,’ as D.H. Lawrence put it, in a relatively obscure but extraordinary description of his own awakening to nature’s sensory gift. Lawrence described his awakening in Taos, New Mexico, as an antidote to the ‘know-it-all state of mind,’ that poor substitute for wisdom and wonder:

        ‘Superficially, the world has become small and known. Poor little globe of earth, the tourists trot round you as easily as they trot round the Bois or round Central Park. There is no mystery left, we’ve been there, we’ve seen it, we know all about it. We’ve done the globe and the globe is done.

        This quote is true, superficially. On the superficies, horizontally, we’ve been everywhere and done everything, we know all about it. Yet the more we know, superficially, the less we penetrate, vertically. It’s all very well skimming across the surface of the ocean and saying you know all about the sea…

        As a matter of fact, our great grandfathers, who never went anywhere, in actuality had more experience of the world than we have, who have seen everything. When they listened to a lecture with lantern-slides, they really held their breath before the unknown, as they sat in the village school-room. We, bowling along in a rickshaw in Ceylon, say to ourselves: ‘It’s very much what you’d expect.” We really know it all.

        We are mistaken. The know-it-all state of mind is just the result of being outside the mucous-paper wrapping of civilization. Underneath is everything we don’t know and are afraid of knowing.’” (p.57-59)


And, so here you sit Mr. & Mrs. Know-it-all: efficient, progressive, high achieving, American travelers and patriots, with the world (of information) at your fingertips sitting on chairs in your air-conditioned schools and cubicles Googling away for answers. 


A Little Birdy
p.s. Here’s some food for thought:

  • Might an antidote to the “know-it-all” state of mind be Shunryu Suzuki’s Beginner’s Mind?
  • Where does “schooling” fit into such delusional thinking amongst our young people?
  • Why are kids locked up in the institution of public school all day completely disconnected from more direct, sensory experiences?
  • Has the institute of American public education actively supported a disconnection from nature and instead promoted the values of technology and utility to ensure a dumbed down work force so numbed out and disassociated from their true nature that they won’t ever revolt?
  • Do you think about nature as something “out there,” separate from you?

For Further Reading:

Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, (2008) Workman Publishing, N.Y..

Shunryu Suzuki’s, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

Leo Babauta’s Zenhabits post for further reading on the concept of Beginner’s Mind.

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s The American Scholar

John Taylor Gatto’s Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Complusory Schooling

Zachary Slayback’s The End of School

Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest