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Simple (not easy) Practice: Rewriting Challenge

Simple (not easy) Practice: Rewriting Challenge

Today’s Simple (not easy) Practice is taken from the “Challenge Audit” in Part III: Challenge of the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self-Study Guide for Wellness. Challenge is at the heart of knowing who you are which is one reason why it is smack dab in the middle of the book. Challenge is at the heart, the crux, of self-study for self-realization!

In the “Challenge Audit,” I encourage you to slow down, to stop and reflect in writing about your challenges.  (Writing is a powerful therapeutic tool!) Most people are too busy or too afraid to stop and take stock. But, if people are in enough pain or their lives are unsatisfactory enough or completely falling apart in various ways, they may finally be more willing to slow down enough or stop long enough to take stock of the landscape (i.e. look at what the hell is going on) of their life and the things that are causing such pain and dissatisfaction. Those things may be external, internal, or both, and it takes honesty and study to discern the truth.

Of course, you don’t have to wait until you hit rock bottom to start paying attention to your challenges–– you can practice surveying the landscape of your life regularly, as a habit built into your moments of your days, through practices like this one, journaling, meditation , yoga or however else you can be quiet, introspective, and breathe easy. Introspection and reflection are always available as tools for wellness, but for many they, too, are challenges. Sometimes when we are searching frantically for answers or to calm down, we miss the solution, literally, right under our nose.

There are several writing prompts listed in the “Challenge Audit,” but here’s a few for today’s Simple (not easy) Practice:

“Specify and categorize your challenges using the List of Common Human Challenges categories. Merely listing or writing about them (however poorly) may be a step forward in facing them, understanding them more clearly by using specific language to define them, and creating a plan to cope with them.”

“Can you define your challenges as problems to suffer with or as opportunities to define yourself and grow–– to become more alive? In other words, what’s your mindset when it comes to your challenges?”

“Can you rewrite one or some of your challenges as opportunities for learning?”

(This is playing with the very notion of challenge, how you perceive and define it, how you relate to it, feel about it, and behave toward it.)

Try writing about how a/some/all of your challenges contribute to your personal wholeness (i.e. the ‘whole of you’ as a human person).

Notice the way you look at things….

Notice the language you use when writing about challenge…

There’s no wrong way to answer these prompts or to write about them or to think about them. They are meant to get you to pay attention to yourself, reflect on the notion of challenge and your personal challenges, and to notice and learn, a little bit at a time. The more you learn about your challenges and the role they play in how you construct your world (inner– how you see and relate to yourself, and outer–they way you see and relate to “what happens” out there), the more wisdom you’ll acquire for your wellness.

Rather than relating to this as a task to accomplish or as finding the answer to your challenges or to making pain disappear, try to relate to it as a process. Focus less on outcomes and more on experiencing the process of learning.

PODCAST #18 ON CHALLENGE

PODCAST #17 ON OPPORTUNITY MINDSET

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Know Thyself: Simple, Not Easy

“There are three things extremely hard, Steel, a Diamond, and to know one’s self.”

— Benjamin Franklin

The Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self-Study Guide itself is simple, but knowing who you are is not easy. The five parts of the Self Study Guide contain simple directions to send you on your way, but you must navigate the unique and complex map of you on your own. What you discover will be unique, and how you process the information and what you decide to do with the truth that you learn will be 100% up to you. You will get out of it what you put into it.

The activities contained within the Self Study Guide are meant to get you started on your journey to know yourself better. Once you become adept with using these tools and thereby form habits that will come to seem like second nature to you, the fruits of your own labor will further inspire and motivate you to continue growing in wisdom and wellness. The Self Study Guide is the starting point for designing your life of personal independence and wellness.

Subscribe to be first to receive the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide and receive discounts on products and services at LandscapesforLearning.com!

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Education: Busy-Work or Authentic Learning?

“Authentic learning, inner wisdom, ought to be developed as soon as possible and it ought to be part of education for young people. Currently, it is missing from the public school curricula, or if it does exist, it’s drowned out by the noise of achievement and grades, or buried under the heavy list of more important priorities like the status quo of competition, socialization, and indoctrination.” 

 

When I got quiet in yoga, silently, consciously breathing and moving for 90 minutes in the heat, when I repeatedly faced myself in the mirror and was directed to look into my own eyes and to concentrate and meditate, to attend to myself, I couldn’t help but become more consciously aware of and curious about the person staring back at me.

I never made the time, or had the time and attention, to do this with myself. Life was busy, and I didn’t have the luxury of focusing attention on me in any consistent way. And, it simply never occurred to me that such a process existed or that studying myself in this way was an important activity to do to be more me, to be more alive and well (not just to feel better and be happier). It wasn’t something I learned about in school. 

Like so many other middle-class Americans, I was busy: surviving– working a job, raising children, navigating relationships, earning my way in a world that was expensive and costly.

I thought yoga was exercise –stretching for old ladies. I knew nothing of ancient yogis or Eastern philosophy. Why would anyone spend time “being” for the sake of being when all of our time is spent on doing— producing, creating, striving, competing? I did not know what I did not know! I was not unique in my ignorance.

I was conditioned, in my education (formal and informal) and by society and culture, like so many of us Westerners are, to think of knowledge as something to amass about the world– science and math and language and health and law and so forth– useful, concrete, practical forms of knowledge and skills to help me survive and properly function in the economic world so that I might feed and clothe and house myself.

I loved knowing more and more, and education was something I valued. A big part of that education was about being trained to compete– survival of the fittest and all that jazz.

Contemplation, intuition, compassionate listening –how could such things be of any economic value? Useless privileges for the wealthy. Unless you were raised with formal religious education (or raised with religion that was prescriptive and heavily dogmatic or otherwise perverted) such “spiritual” things were simply never part of any curriculum, at least not for me.

Since religion seems to be culturally passe in the West (whether it has self-destructed or is misinterpreted or misapplied is irrelevant), what fills the void for learning about what it means to be human or how to be human?

At first, when this path laid itself out for me, by sheer accident, (there are no mistakes), I was overwhelmed by the process of getting to know myself through practicing Bikram yoga. The process was challenging and disturbing and rewarding and freeing and joyful and scary all at once. I am not referring only to the physical asanas, or the hatha yoga. I am talking about the entire process of self-realization, which necessarily includes the body and mind.

It took persistence and courage to be honest– to see myself honestly, and to do this alone. (It still does.) It was/is hard.

The reward? The payoff? The practical and concrete outcomes?

Vitality.

I am simply more alive, authentic, and well. I don’t need anything to fill me up fuller than I already am simply being me. I don’t need to consume more because I am enough. I have enough, and I have my integrity and my truth. I trust my intuition, my heart, to guide me to not only live in the real world and survive, but to thrive.

Most people, I think, if they even know such wisdom exists within them waiting to be discovered, are still too afraid to trust and leap without the usual nets they’ve been conditioned to rely on. Perhaps they need more mentors and models (more stories!), guides to show them the journey exists and they ought not neglect a trip through their inner landscape. I am lucky I had good mentors and models who understood the experiences I was realizing on my journey inward.

The result of the process of self-realization is that that stranger in the mirror I saw more than six years ago is now my best friend– the being I trust and love and rely on more than anyone or anything. I regret that I didn’t know her sooner. I understand her capabilities, her limits, and that endless possibilities and unlimited potential exist beyond those very limits and capabilities.

She is always changing and growing, often in a one-step-back and two-step-forward way. I have learned to be compassionate with myself during this type of learning. There’s still so much more that I don’t know (certainly more compared to what I do know), but I know her better than I know anyone or anything else. I know this intuitively, not only psychologically or emotionally or rationally.

On a deep level, I am connected to myself more than ever. I am rarely lonely. Many people have asked me how ever did I travel for nine months alone, by myself; “weren’t you scared?” they’d ask, which was a question  more about the danger of my own company rather than the potential danger of the external world.

Because of Bikram yoga, a way of being through which I was able to travel extensively within my inner landscape (and there are certainly lots of other ways inward), I have the intimate relationship with myself that is foundational and absolutely necessary and required to connect with others. I can be me AND function in the world.

Yoga is about balance, after all. Connecting and being intimate with any other beings, maintaining any other bond, friendship, or interaction with other beings in the world requires self-knowledge, self-understanding, and self-realization.

Blaise Pascal famously said that “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Man is, indeed, a social animal, but we are born alone and die alone and must learn to be who we are first before we can be with another or others.

Sure, you can be afraid of your own company, but you can also be courageous and make friends with yourself. The first step is to simply show up. 

To live well, to live with integrity, all I had to do was show up– do my yoga; be there, alone, on my solo mission with myself, for myself.

Now, in my current work as a writer, podcaster, and coach, I’d like to share my experience with people so that they know a thing called self-realization and self-actualization exists. I was half way through my life before I stumbled down this path that, as a teacher, I believe can be made explicit for people sooner in life so they can live healthier and wiser, rather than missing out on their own authenticity. 

Authentic learning, inner wisdom, ought to be developed as soon as possible and it ought to be part of education for young people. Currently, it is missing from the public school curricula, or if it does exist, it’s drowned out by the noise of achievement and grades, or buried under the heavy list of more important priorities like the status quo of competition, socialization, and indoctrination.

Parents don’t demand human literacies or they innocently don’t know what they don’t know.

Teachers are over-burdened with the requirements of the schooling process and administrators are accountable to, well, the accountability movement and its institutional demands. All they’ve got is their own humanity which is why the moral quality of each individual educator is absolutely paramount to the development of the students they can influence, even if no explicit “inner landscapes” curriculum exists. 

My discovery and road home to myself, my yoga story, has transformed my perceptions of myself and the world. I am changed, but the world has not. The nature of formal education has become ever more clearer to me since I stepped outside of it, since I understand the meaning and value of my own life, and life in general.

I see much more clearly the distinction that exists between authentic learning and the process of schooling.

I understand my previous frustrations I experienced as a high school teacher where I was focused on learning rather than the process of schooling, and that was an uphill battle; one of conflict and difficulty.

I see now that an obvious dearth of authentic forms of learning, including any explicit instruction or curriculum about the process of self-realization is missing in the education of young people.

Our schooling process  simply reflects the imbalances of our society, culture, our world. I am not interested in improving the current system schooling, for perhaps it isn’t even the business of schools to implement a curriculum of connection to the self.

But who shall, if parents aren’t?

If religion can’t?

If schools shouldn’t?

If there aren’t enough therapists to go around or can be afforded?

The rising lack of wellness, the increase in illness and addiction of all kinds among all kinds of kids (and adults) can be addressed by at least starting a conversation about ways to alert people to and promote more authentic learning.  A conversation to shift our values in education (and cultural values), re-balance our priorities, and redefine and refine the definition of a complete education and its ultimate purpose for human beings, not merely for human doings.

I believe that right now, the best I can do, as one individual person, is share my stories, my experiences and my beliefs.

I believe it is important for kids (and adults) to start spending time on their inner landscapes at least as much as they spend time on social media. And I am trying to figure out ways to help them find the path to self-realize and self-actualize: to deal with their fears, isolation, disconnection, inability to pay attention, and their varied illnesses which are symptoms of the current cultural health crisis. My first step is the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide.

In Walden, Henry David Thoreau observed that Most men lead lives of quiet desperation” and I believe this is still true today. Radical in their day, he and the other transcendentalists believed humans ought to be spending more time focused on learning from personal, direct experience rather than blind acceptance of dogma. They understood the value of exploring one’s interior world as well as its interconnection to the natural world.

Yet, still, our attention these days is focused externally far more than internally; we are more interested in and attuned to outer landscapes than inner ones.

He also predicted that man enjoyed riding upon his railroad but that one day the railroad would ride upon him; also true. Just substitute information technologies or the internet for railroad, and I would question whether or not we have made any “progress” being humans at all. 

What do we want the future to have that we cannot already find and be with in the present moment?

What are we searching for?

What needs met, outside our ourselves that cannot be found and met within?

Can we teach our kids to make time for themselves to get to know themselves rather than focusing on external tasks and social connectivity? To not allow the railroad to ride upon them?

Can we teach them not to miss out on what’s happening within, rather than consoling them or attempting to control the external environment for them?

Stories are powerful agents of change. If we want to make the world better, if we want to make the people we love better and strangers and friends better, then we all ought to share stories and tell our stories.

My individual journey home to myself through yoga is one small, simple individual story among many that may encourage others about the value of focusing inward. I am sharing mine through my writing here, and in my books, and inviting others who have traveled the path of self-realization, self-awareness, self-love, and self-actualization to tell their stories on my Landscapes for Learning podcast.

The hero’s journey, the archetypal story of mankind, is the story each of us can take and it is the way home for each human being to fulfillment and joy, a life worth living, a life worth enduring pain and suffering that is the inevitable reality for each and all of us. 

Sharing stories is one way we can think critically about and discuss the way we educate our kids, because the way we spend our time and attention in the educational process will determine the future of what it means to be a human being and how we determine what is the meaning and value of life, our lives– each and every one. 

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Meta: Why Learning? Why Landscapes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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