“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.