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A Self Study Guide for Wellness

The unexamined life is not worth living.”— Socrates

The Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self Study Guide for Wellness is designed to inspire and motivate you to live an “examined” life and give you simple, pragmatic tools for everyday use. It’s about the why and how to “know thyself,” so you can express your uniqueness for a lifetime of wellness and wellbeing. This five part process of self study will enable you to specifically articulate yourself to yourself and empower you to more deliberately author your own life story.

The purpose of the Self Study Guide is to encourage you to look inward at least as often as you look outward which is why it begins with attention. Look up from your screens, away from teachers, friends, experts, and yes, even your parents, to look inward at your own human nature because that’s where your integrity and passion reside as well as all the answers about who you are and how to live well.

The Self Study Guide is a five part program will teach you why and how to:

(1) manage your attention and understand its relationship to your values, 

(2) increase your self-awareness

(3) realize the value of embracing challenge to build character, discipline, and resilience, 

(4) make more intentional choices to respond to life experiences rather than reacting to them mindlessly or unconsciously, and

(5) approach life with the attitude of a lifelong learner to cultivate growth mindset and an openness to experience.

Self study is about reflection, introspection, and radical honesty to improve your human experience. We aren’t here for very long, so get started living your best life today!

Get your copy of the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self-Study Guide for Wellness Available for only $9.99 at Amazon.com.

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Yoga is Union

“You don’t know who you are!”

When Bikram Choudhury, the author of the specific type of yoga I practice, said, “You don’t know who you are” to me and my fellow prospective Bikram Yoga Teachers on our first day of Teacher Training, I immediately got defensive. I balked, “What does he mean that I don’t know who I am? Of course I do! I know exactly who I am!” And then I silently recited to myself  a reassuring list of labels and titles: mother, divorcée, girlfriend, college graduate, professional educator, published author, in addition to an endless list of personal preferences, skills, physical descriptors, and other mental images I lived according to and that I believed defined “me.” Soon, I would add Bikram Yoga Teacher to this list which would make me… who exactly? 

Self Image or Truth?

I had heard the many criticisms about this controversial guru and his antics, so I chalked up his statement to his notorious reputation. I focused on psyching myself up for “getting through” the physical challenge his rigorous nine-week training would bring, yet my own resistance to long held notions about who I thought I was would become the real challenge. Studying my long held conception of my “self” would be the impetus for major transformation of my perspective of reality and about the meaning of my very own life. Bikram was 100% right, of course: I had no clue about who I really was. But I was about to learn, continuously, without interruption and without intermission, that this yoga I was practicing and hoping to teach wasn’t only about physical fitness and wellness. For me, Bikram Yoga is about the wisdom that comes from self study for self realization. The toughest part of it, for me, is that it requires radical honesty. It is about facing and accepting reality as it is, not abandoning suffering or pain, learning, and change. Funny to look back now at my fairly random choice to just try a little yoga for a good workout. 

Values & Wellness

Understandably, it seems a bit crazy for anyone to suggest that you don’t know who you are. But the truth is, most people really don’t know who they are, likely because they have been raised in a fast and furious Western culture with values and priorities that not only fail to include introspection and self understanding but that in many ways condition us for un-wellness.  Yes, our values are directly related to our health and wellbeing. 

Time on Learning

In addition to my own lifelong, personal educational experiences, I saw while working as public school teacher how American students are taught to focus primarily on and value what is external—by that, I mean, we value “time on learning” practical skills and content knowledge in order to compete in an economic landscape, one filled with comparison and a race to some “top” or “end” where we are told we will find our happiness and fulfillment— the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We are schooled to achieve— to find happiness and satisfaction once the prize, award, grade, salary, acceptance, or fame is gotten…and then the next and the next and the next, and if we die too soon, the tragedy is that we did not achieve our full potential. Although hard skills and economic survival are critically important, of course, it isn’t the entire preparation required for being a good, healthy, whole human being and living a fulfilling and meaningful life— no matter how short or long we are fated to be here.

Wholeness

Our education system pays lip service to the development of the “whole child,” while in reality, the  institutionalized approach to teaching and learning neglects character development, creative expression, and soft skills. The imbalance in where we pay our attention—outward more often than inward is clear when we look at the results: increasing mental illness, anxiety, obesity, addiction, and other forms of unnecessary suffering that permeate our society. We really don’t know who we are. 

We teach kids about what to do with their “outer lives” and how to shape their “self” image rather than showing them how to cultivate who they are as human beings by exploring their “inner lives.” 

It’s Not About the Grades

I saw firsthand as a teacher and parent of four how school administrators, guidance counselors, and parents were more interested in the achievement of grades and prestigious college admission than time spent learning what it means to become oneself as a human being– it’s simply not our priority. We don’t value integration and wholeness perhaps because pain, problems, suffering, and sacrifice are involved with the process of becoming a true person— a person of integrity, authenticity and uniqueness. And we wonder why even the most successful and highest achievers in our society are unfulfilled or ill. We’ve simply not dedicated enough attention and energy to wholeness, being rather than doing, truth, and love. Instead, we have conditioned our children to live by primarily relying on their thinking minds and the frantic acquisition of knowledge for material gain rather than remaining open to listening to and following their heart and soul for wisdom and wellness. 

Yoga is Union: Antidote to Disconnection

We are, indeed, products of our environment, our modern lives defined by information overwhelm, artificial intelligence, excess, avoiding discomfort and pain at all costs, loneliness and disconnection, and illness rooted in chronic stress. It’s more challenging than ever to find balance, connection, peace, and wellbeing in a place where we are continually bombarded to consume empty values, treated for symptoms rather than causes, and continually manipulated to look outside of ourselves (to diets, fitness regimens, the Self Help industry, and other perceived authorities) for answers rather than within—one’s own body, mind, and spirit— for loving acceptance and connection.   

We’ve been conditioned to not know ourselves by being taught to play roles, wear masks, and pretend rather than to be who we truly are (Singh, 2019). Thus, we become alien to ourselves because we are so distracted and manipulated to focus our attention on everything and everyone else but our true inner being. As a result, many of us fail to observe and understand our own feelings, behaviors, and thoughts, (there’s simply no time in the day to meditate!) never mind learn how to accept, cope with, and leverage them for wellness and a good life. Because we are so busy competing on the external landscapes of life, we simply aren’t taught how to travel our inner landscapes to learn about who we really are and express our true nature and uniqueness.

Classic Wisdom for Modern Humans: “Know Thyself”

I, too, am a product of such cultural conditioning, living most of my life according to and amidst comparison and competition to achieve goals I was encouraged to pursue by others. Because I was “a good kid” for the most part doing as I was expected, avoiding mistakes, and was successful in “my” endeavors, such outward focus and attention to external pursuits kept me disconnected from following my heart, loving myself, and living according to my true nature. Thankfully, two forms of introspection, or self study, guided me inward towards a reconnection and reunion: Bikram Yoga and daily journal writing. I’ve decided to share my personal tools for “knowing thyself” in the form of a Self Study Guide. 

           When I discovered Bikram Yoga, or should I say, when Bikram’s yoga found me, by accident, I found a prescription for personal transformation and wellness that I think all modern people could use, and, as it turns out, it’s the same wisdom the great sages have recommended since ancient times: “know thyself.” 

If you could use a little help answering the question, who am I, to become the person you really are and thus become more wise and well, this Self Study Guidefor Wellness can show you how to engage with reflective practices and healing modalities including Bikram Yoga, meditation, journal writing, and more. You can teach yourself: 

  1. about your own attention and how to turn it inward 
  2. to become more introspective to increase your self awareness; 
  3. about the purpose and value of facing challenges and fear (a little bit at a time!);
  4. about how making more informed and mindful choices from a central locus of control are keys to wellness; and 
  5. about how adopting a landscapes for learning mindset will help you become far more open to experience, curious, humble, and flexible.

Be Your Own Guru

No guru or guide can provide answers, cure you, give you self realization, awaken you, define your identity, or give you a secret for lasting contentment– not me, not Bikram Choudhury, nobody. A teacher can certainly open a door for learning for you, but only you, the student, can learn through your own conscious and deliberate application of the knowledge gained through learning and through your own direct experience of yourself and your life. You have to be your own guru. Only you can answer who you are and become the person you are meant to be.

“Look in the Mirror, Concentrate, Meditate and Begin…”

My most important teacher in my Bikram Yoga class is not the individual on the podium supplying me with the words to move and pose for ninety minutes. My teacher is in the mirror looking back at me— applying the prescription for wisdom and wellness, struggling to be honest, as she continually changes and reveals that she is always more than who she may think she is. 

 It’s not selfishness to study yourself to know who you are. It’s a process of self acceptance and self love so you can love others. People often talk about radical empathy as the impetus for creativity and healing (Heller, 2019), but our empathy and compassion for others must begin with showing ourselves empathy and compassion first. To truly serve others and share one’s gifts with the world is to be whole as oneself— to discover and live one’s truth. The entire process is a tremendous challenge which is exactly why you should do it. 

So, if you are curious about what it means to become the real you; if you are open and willing to learn about living in this time of rapid change as the true being that you are; and if you are interested in expressing your unique nature to live with more love, integrity, and vitality, then the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A (Bikram Yoga Teacher’s) Self Study Guide for Wellness provides five directions and tools you might find useful to access your own wisdom as you travel your own unique path of self discovery for self realization.

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Return to Uniqueness

Why can’t we inform people that they can be their truest selves sooner, encourage them to slow down to  practice stillness, to listen to their inner guide, and give them the loving support and tools to do so? That’s a question I ask in my book and am answering with the creation of my coaching workshops, curriculum, and journal program.

Return to Uniqueness

In “The Key to Transforming Yourself” Ted Talk below, Robert Greene articulates better and more concisely what I attempted rather poorly to convey in my first book draft of, It’s Not About the Grades: Landscapes for Learning Beyond Schooling. I won’t bore you with the details about the failures of the draft, except to say that I am back to the proverbial drawing board. (Revision is writing, after all according to Stephen King)

Greene talks about a “return to uniqueness.” He talks about how each of us are exactly who we are, different from everyone and everything else in the universe, but how we lose our sense of this uniqueness when we are socialized. He says when we listen to other people tell us what is good or bad about ourselves (and believe it) we often become strangers to ourselves. It is a crisis of identity when we know ourselves to be who others say we are or when we define ourselves according to what’s conventional or “normal” rather than according to our own inner wisdom. 

He also talks about “primal inclinations,” our desires and interests, which he says are beyond rational. These are the activities and subjects we are simply drawn to as children. He claims that it is our path in life to return to our uniqueness and those primal inclinations that define the true self in order to be the person we were actually born to be, a one-of-a-kind individual. 

In my book draft, I tried to convey how I came to understand this disconnection and reconnection that Greene describes. I explain how my identity as a child had been co-opted when I went to school and was shaped by its norms and the inherent cultural values of competition and comparison transmitted by parents, teachers, and friends. The inculcation from my environment thoroughly influenced how I understood myself. My interpretation of who I was lacked depth and authenticity because I had become too distant from my inner world, not entirely but enough to do some damage. Though compared to everyone else, I was “normal.” Because my typical, American, middle-class, suburban life was so busy, fast, and competitive in the drive for wealth and achievement, (you are productive and successful if that calendar is jam-packed, yes?) I had very little time to find stillness, meditation, or introspection, even if I had known those would be helpful habits to cultivate for my health and wellbeing. Nobody filled me in.

I established a relationship with myself based on who the world told me I should be, which was inauthentic, but who is conscious that this process is happening to them when they are young? I recognized the same development pattern and process of co-opting identity while teaching high school students. I saw teenagers suffer with a lack of self-understanding, integrity, and self-compassion. They consistently defined themselves according to the values of competition and comparison, never felt good enough, were forced to “find their passion” on the external landscape which really should come from the primal inclinations that school or parents likely squashed out of them long before. I saw them frantically completing their to-do lists and packing their resumes with activities and awards to gain college admission. I saw them hustle through the hoops of schooling rather than authentically enjoy learning. I saw their mental and physical health decline. I saw them suffer–and in my opinion, unnecessarily.

Greene seems to believe this phenomenon of disconnection from our unique selves happens to a lot of people. It’s something I’ve also heard podcasters, Joe Rogan, Cathy Heller, and Rich Roll talk about often. Roll wrote a book about his “midlife crisis” of sorts when he realized he only went to law school because it was expected of him and he didn’t know who he was enough to decide for himself. His awakening came initially when he found sobriety and later, more earnestly after a health scare in his late forties shocked him into reconnecting with his truth. I hope these stories of recovery are more common than not. I feel lucky to have found yoga and journal writing as my tools for my eventual “return to uniqueness.”

So I say, why can’t we inform people that they can be their truest selves sooner, encourage them to slow down to  practice stillness, to listen to their inner guide, and give them the loving support and tools to do so? That’s a question I ask in my book and am answering with the creation of my coaching program, curriculum, and journal program.

Stay tuned…

*Check out Rich Roll’s conversations with Noah Harari about meditation, AI, and education, and John Joseph on Bhakti yoga and PMA, transcending labels and transforming lives.

Also Joe Rogan’s conversation with Henry Rollins

And Cathy Heller’s conversation with Martha Beck

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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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Turn the Teacher Off!

“I used to confuse and misuse the two kinds of listening, and I bet many other teachers can relate. As a consequence, the people I cared about, who only needed me to be there and not do anything for them, told me to ‘turn the teacher off!'”

Almost every school day for the past thirteen years, I have been successfully and unsuccessfully teaching students how to express themselves through the use of the English language. Among other responsibilities, I am employed to inform teenagers about the concepts and conventions of language use, provide them with strategies to improve their skills, and encourage them to practice. It’s no surprise, after thirteen years of repeatedly listening to people ask for help with their problems, that offering help, solutions, and strategies has become my modus operandi. I love working with people; I am invested in each student; I take my job seriously. And at this point in my career my habits are deeply ingrained. The problem is, I can’t always “turn the teacher off,” outside of the classroom which is something I have been accused of several times by the people I love most. My teacher mode of listening, which is useful in diagnosing and prescribing solutions in order to achieve specific results doesn’t always smoothly transfer to my personal relationships.

In the context of life beyond the classroom (and within the classroom, too!) people often need a different form of listening– a more compassionate form. Most times, people who appear to be asking for solutions to their problems just want to be heard, and perhaps they don’t even realize that is what they are asking for– to be heard.  As the listener and friend, I certainly don’t need to treat them like a student who is struggling with a challenging concept.

teacher help

Conferring with a student about writing, in other words, isn’t the same thing as sitting with someone who’s grieving. The struggle to write (and to learn anything in general) is a painful process, but it isn’t the same kind of suffering as, say, the loss of a loved one or a break-up, or dealing with the pain of infidelity or the discovery of a serious illness. It’s certainly not the same kind of suffering as being wronged or a victim of abuse of injustice. All of this might seem rather obvious if you are reading this and you aren’t a teacher, but I used to confuse and misuse the two kinds of listening, and I bet many other teachers can relate. As a consequence, the people I cared about, who only needed me to be there and not do anything for them, told me to “turn the teacher off!”  I didn’t need to be responsible for diagnosing and prescribing a recipe to address my son’s fight with his best friend. I didn’t need to offer a to do list to help a friend deal with her poor eating habits. I only needed to be present to listen, compassionately, to these most personal struggles and complaints without offering any sort of solution at all. Many times, less is more, which has always been a challenge for me, as I bet it is for others.

After all, teachers don’t act as teachers, we are teachers through in through; it’s the predominant part of our identity. So it becomes very difficult to shut that part of ourselves off, but we can certainly become far more conscious of our tendencies toward constantly feeling responsible for people and their problems, offering practical solutions, or taking charge. We can learn to bite our tongue, “hold our seat,” and offer compassion with merely our presence and attention. We can surely do this with our students as well, when appropriate. The knack is knowing when which sort of listening is called for (or both) and moderating our sometimes knee-jerk reaction of controlling a conversation and actively offering solutions. Just because we exercise our authority and expertise repeatedly with our students day after day doesn’t mean we ought to be the authority in our personal relationships. The modus operandi of teaching in school doesn’t always work “in the real world.”

listen when teacher speaks

More often than not, many people just need to sort through their own problems out loud with someone present, whether it be how to deal with putting their dog down or how to write a conclusion to their essay. Again, less is usually more. When we teachers jump in too soon to “help” the people we care about most, whether it be our students or our spouses, this active form of assistance can take away that person’s independence, self-confidence, and the golden opportunity for them to learn and appreciate the value of compassionate listening. And, really, the best way to learn how to listen at all is simply to be heard. To be on the receiving end of true listening is a gift you can then bestow on others, and as all effective teachers know, modeling is one of the most effective tools in the teacher’s toolbox.

I thought I was a fairly capable listener when I first began teaching, but I have improved the quality of this skill after lots of trial and error with both students and my loved ones who taught me what it means to turn the teacher off; through my own frustration of not feeling heard; through quiet reflection and writing; and through my yoga practice, which is essentially showing up and being present for yourself as well as compassionately listening to what is happening in your body and mind while suffering through postures in an overwhelmingly hot and challenging conditions. In yoga, I learn to get quiet, simply stay with the difficult sensations and thoughts as they happen within, and hold the postures using stillness and conscious breathing. This discipline trains me to better “hold my seat” (and my tongue) with people when they need it most. 

youcandoit

I also learned how to get better at compassionate listening from the example of one very close friend. At first, I judged him as slightly disinterested and incapable of finding good answers and solutions to my problems when he failed to say much. I only realized later that he was not unsure of what to do at all, but was being mindful, empathetic, nonjudgmental, and was providing space for me which allowed me to sort through my own dilemmas safely within the security his presence provided.  That’s love. He knew that’s what I needed, despite my pleading with him for answers— for him to do something! He was there for me.  His conscious and intentional decision not to act, to do less rather than more, was the exact brand of helping I needed in order to feel capable, independent, and strong. Count yourself lucky if you have this sort of teacher in your life!thanks teacher

I think that in this age of accountability in education, a lot of times, we teachers believe that we must always be taking action with our students, that we always must be doing something concrete and practical, for we are observed and evaluated on our performance, as are our students. Many of the yogis I teach also believe the same– that a more visible demonstration of posing is what shows the most progress in their practice, but the art of self-control and presence for oneself is invisible yet far more valuable than any external show of mastery in the asanas. Why do we feel that we are supposed to consistently demonstrate our skills and strategies and that they must all be outwardly visible? Is it because otherwise it appears as if we are doing nothing or we are unproductive which runs counter to our deeply ingrained values?  As many teachers already know, some of the best teaching and learning, like compassionate listening, is entirely invisible; it’s relatively unquantifiable; and it’s found in a consciously chosen “not-doing.” I wish more people knew this.

By failing to turn the teacher off, I have learned that, at times, my mere presence is all that is required, and to show up for people I care about and do less rather than more is sometimes the best kind of teaching.