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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We should teach them more yoga.

References

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

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

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

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

Definitions

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTRODUCTION 

Download Episode HERE

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

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

 

 

 

 

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Becoming a Teacher

On Becoming a Teacher

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

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

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

You will be a teacher.

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No Mud, No Lotus: A True Story about Limits

I was nine years old the first time I ran away from school.

The nuns at St.Mary of the Annunciation had a strict rule: “the boys play with the boys and the girls play with the girls.” I ignored that rule, mostly because I thought of myself as more of a boy than a girl, thusly assuming that that particular rule surely did not apply to me, and partly because I liked the rush of risk-taking. So I broke this maxim daily by engaging in physically demanding games with the boys like Chase, 4-square, and Rumble which was my absolute favorite, its simplicity found in the one directive: tackle the person with the ball. The group of the aggressive hungry lived to destroy the one brave and masochistic individual holding onto the ball, the player willing to get ripped to shreds before ever giving it up. A trip to the nurse’s office for bandaids and ice packs was routine. Ah, the glory days of a rough and tumble, bruised, and banged up childhood! Revelling in the sweat and physical exhaustion of the outdoors at recess every day, we were then lined up at the door (by sex, of course) to re-enter the classrooms lined with desks and chairs in rows to receive our academic instruction, which I enjoyed immensely. My body got what it needed, so my mind was ready to re-engage with intellectual pursuit. 

Apparently, a mass of sweaty boys jumping on top of a nine-year old blonde with spindly legs, wearing a skirt no less (I wore gym shorts underneath), didn’t quite sit well with the nuns who were understandably horrified by my unusual proclivity for expressing full-fledged aggression and hard core competition. “Mrs. Bakis, the boys are jumping all over Maureen in the schoolyard” poor St. Helen Julia pleaded with my mother, in order to make it stop. I was causing mayhem. I represented disorder, crossing boundaries, breaking the school’s limits. This would not stand, so one fine day in the spring circa 1978, the recess monitor shooed me away from playing with the boys and insisted I go play with the girls. Devastated to be separated from my best friends and also furious, I was the captain of our team after all, I dutifully walked away from the boys toward the furthest boundary of the playground, the edge, nearer to where the girls were drawing with chalk, and kept on walking– past the girls, up the steep hilled driveway of the school, and around the corner toward freedom– or so I thought. My heart was pounding with fear and excitement, my “I’ll show them” mindset gaining momentum as I walked down the sidewalk homeward. “Keep me from doing what I love? I don’t think so.” I was in a fight against “the man,” even though I had no vocabulary or clue about what that meant. If you are thinking, “You go, girl in your fight against unjust rules based on gender norms” you’re about to be very disappointed.

When the school discovered I did not return from recess, the secretary in the main office, Mrs. Ann Cyr, drove Sr. Helen Julia to my house. They didn’t even knock! When they came into my house, I fled upstairs to my brother’s bedroom– the only room in a house full of females that had a lock on the door, barricaded myself inside the eves and refused to open it.  I don’t remember what happened after that, only that I didn’t get into trouble with my parents because if I had, I would have recalled the punishment. My father was not one to spare the rod to spoil the child.

To credit my mother, a devout Catholic yet living in the exciting reality of the women’s liberation movement, her response to the nun’s fury with my rebellion and inability to follow the rules to play with the girls, and indeed, act like a girl, was not to demand equality on my behalf or to change the rules of recess for me so I could play Rumble with the boys. She and I did not raise awareness or command social justice. We didn’t rally or protest. Nope, my mother apologized to the school, told them what they wanted to hear, and promptly disciplined me– that is, she told me to follow the rules whether I (or she) liked them or not. This was called tough-love, something in short supply these days not only among parents but in many other milieus. People don’t want to do what is difficult. It’s hard to do the right thing. But without mud, there can be no lotus, an adage recently made popular by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist spiritual leader. 

I didn’t like being disciplined one bit– does anyone enjoy doing what’s difficult but that is good for them? Our default wiring is fight, flight, or freeze, after all.

My mother’s insistence that I play with the girls at recess was not intended to change me intrinsically, to deny my personal identity; it was not an attempt to alter my essential nature or to make me act like a lady or behave like a typical girl; it was to teach me that life has limits, that I was limited, and I had to follow rules. I could play with boys after school and whenever else I wanted, and so I did. I climbed trees, built forts and bikes, played whiffle ball for hours on end, spit like a cowboy, got into shouting matches and fist fights with other boys (and naturally made up quickly after) and played Little League baseball, one of the first to do so in my small town. I learned to live with the compromise, not at first, but well enough soon after. Yes, I had to repress a small part of myself, and yes I was angry at the school and deeply disappointed to be forced to play with the girls, but I made more friends and learned an important lesson: how to make lemonade out of lemons, make the best of a bad situation, to pivot. All of this as the result of one “problem” and a swift and deliberate parenting decision for which I am eternally grateful.

Despite my mother’s understanding that gender norms were changing, I had to respect limits set by the institution where she chose to send me for an education, a necessary trade-off to receive the plethora of other benefits the school provided for me. I was not a boy despite thinking I was in my own mind, and my mother was not about to go along with a fantasy a nine-year old held about her identity.  I was exceptional in terms of being outside the “typical” or the “normal,” but that did not mean I would be excepted from rules.  I was not special in that respect. I did not deserve accommodation.

My seemingly huge “conflict” was really no big deal for my mother, as I was the youngest of five and she was experienced with raising children. She had been seeing the positive results of enforcing the values she implemented in our family for years, duly reinforced by my father. Her disciplining me did not mean I was wrong, my feelings were wrong, or that there was something wrong with me intrinsically, but only that I was to learn about compromising a piece of myself for the sake of the group— for the sake of order– same as I was expected to do at home in a family of seven. I had to learn that I did not always get what I wanted and that I could not always express my authentic nature when, where, and how I wanted at any and all times of my choosing. And most certainly not at the age of nine. She wasn’t going to a raise the type of child people wouldn’t like or want to be around and therefore treat poorly; to say she did me a favor is an understatement.

My mother did not try to change my environment to better suit my authenticity; she did not make demands of the school on my behalf—rather, she taught me to cope with the environment within which I found myself, my external circumstances, and that it was my individual responsibility and only mine, within my inner landscape, to figure out how to both be true to myself, retain my integrity as me and respect limits, even if I was uncomfortable with that, even if it caused me pain. She did not teach me how to be a victim of an outdated and patriarchal institution, nor did she criticize the institution itself and call for its destruction. She recognized the school’s and society’s norms had to be updated, to grow, but she also knew that, in the meantime, empowering me, the individual, to take responsibility to live authentically, to compromise when necessary, and to deal with blows whether to my ego or my feelings that really hurt was the proper way to raise a child and create change, over time. Indeed, both the institution and and I have transformed rather steadily over the past forty years, not to say that either process has been easy. But, an easy life is a virtual life, so not really life at all. 

Often, the change we want in our social world is slow and requires great patience and ongoing persistence, something most people living in our current world of instant gratification and speed cannot compute. I mean, it just seems so inefficient to have to wait! As well, a severe lack of appreciation for everything that is good about the more traditional institutions we’ve built is pervasive among those who choose to focus solely on its inequities. What person or institution doesn’t have its corruptions? 

My mother, in concert with the school, taught me the nature and value of external limits imposed on people by others: by parents, peer groups, small social groups like in a classroom or on a sports team, and by larger institutions, but more important, she gave me opportunities to create internal limits I would be required to set for myself and be accountable to myself for, forever, which would inevitably include when she wasn’t around anymore. It appears that, in life, someone else or something else has to keep you honest as you learn the process of doing it for yourself. And when you learn to effectively answer to yourself–to your truth, that’s called personal integrity– total accountability to an honest self which enables you to respect yourself and, in turn, respect others.  

Instead of keeping me locked up in a safe space away from pain, away from the uncomfortable consequences of discipline, my mother used my absconding from school as an opportunity, a “teachable moment,” for me to authentically learn– to practice coping with my own discomfort and take responsibility for my own pain, my own suffering, that resulted from not only not getting what I wanted, which was to play with the boys at recess, but also the struggle of not being able to express myself, as me, completely. And this is the way of one’s identity– a continual balancing act between the individual and the group, a give and take, a yin and yang.  

Parents and schools must allow children to suffer limits, for “without grit, there is no pearl” says Thich Naht Hahn and that “when we know how to suffer, we suffer less.” This is what I compare to yoga which is practicing doing something hard, something I don’t want to do because it’s uncomfortable, something my ego rebels against but that simultaneously creates amazing growth.  In the process of yoga, or self-actualization, limits are indispensable; they are the crucial component, the double-edged sword that at once helps to carve and carefully design you into the truest you you can possibly be while also inviting you to work hard, with patience and persistence, to transcend them. 

 

 

 

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

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

Dear High School Students,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Namaste,

Your Yoga Teacher

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Teaching and Truth

As I write my memoir-in-progress, working title, “Like a Flower Petal Blooming,” I am going to post excerpts from time to time to keep myself fighting Resistance with the capital “R.” Who knew writing a book is like wrestling with satan? LOL This one is a brief excerpt on the theme of honesty and truth.

“Someone asked me today, “How do you like teaching yoga?” I answered as if she asked, “why do you teach yoga,” because the answer is the same. I teach yoga because I love yoga and I love teaching. Both are ME. I love being part of people’s efforts to be better– to be alive, to learn, to be on their journey of self-discovery– to share a small part of that journey.  I respect the effort of the people who show up in the hot room (or torture chamber, as Bikram refers to it) and do the very best they can. They show up in that room and are forced to get honest– I respect honesty. I respect hard work. (I hate lazy people, as Bikram would say.) I love to see people rise to the occasion to do what sometimes seems impossible, for each individual in their own individual ways. I love seeing them grapple with the worst parts of themselves and the best and accept both with equanimity. I love to see people grapple with their suffering. If they can’t get radically honest in a Bikram yoga class, under the bright lights, in front of those mirrors, then they don’t come back. This yoga is hard. Making excuses is easy, justifiable even. You have to be tough to stick with it. Yes. True, physically, but even truer for trying to get honest with yourself and stay honest, like, forever.  Bikram yoga reminds me that every time I step on the podium to teach or in front of the mirror to face myself and practice, and I give the honest effort it requires to be alive and well, I am living my truth.