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Podcast: The Value of Silent Meditation with Allen Gaskell

ITunes Podcast: 006: The Value of Silent Meditation with Allen Gaskell

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone”

— Blaise Pascal

One of my goals with the Landscapes for Learning project is to draw more attention to the need for an explicitly taught wisdom curriculum for high schoolers as a counter balance to all the demands of the external landscape put upon kids today.

To become wise is to know oneself– one’s essential or fundamental self which is always in a state of becoming and might be creatively developed throughout life. This essential self is foundational to the more social self—roles we play in the practical world, the expectations of others we try to meet. If we can help kids live from the inside out early on in their young lives, they may just be able to stay true to themselves– to their authentic selves so that they always have shelter, a home, to which they can return when life on the external landscapes get challenging.

One way to travel one’s inner landscape is through meditation. Meditation and mindfulness practice has become trendy recently, and it is useful as a relaxation tool, but it’s also an avenue to something deeper– to enter into the world of the essential self.

Allen Gaskell has been practicing meditation regularly for many decades, as well as practicing yoga, forest-bathing (which he didn’t know had that name until recently!), white-water rafting, and other outdoor immersion activities. He is a former Mental Health Counselor who worked in prisons, within the court system, and created a counseling center at Salem State University. He also worked for many years with Veterans with PTSD. A Vietnam Veteran (3 Tours of duty in reconnaissance and wounded in action), Allen enthusiastically enlisted in the military after high school in N.Y. and later attended college to study comparative religion at the University of Vermont. Shortly after, he stumbled across a book about Vipassana and the rest is meditation and mindfulness history.

He recently completed a 90-day silent retreat this past fall, so I was curious about what that experience was like and thought others might be interested as well. He talks with me about the value of meditation in his life, especially today in a very noisy and busy external landscape.

We talk about the workings of our minds when we observe it through meditation or yoga practice, thoughts about why, how, and who ought to be teaching about the inner landscapes, how to “sell” suffering to others or invite them into self-reflection and self-awareness, and how to learn more about our own humanity to recover it from a life in a technological-consumerist culture.

I loved our almost entirely unedited two-hour conversation! Enjoy.

Click Here for ITunes Podcast: 006: The Value of Silent Meditation with Allen Gaskell

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Learning is Life

 

“To see young people come alive is the reward of teaching”

—Joseph Cambell

According to Joseph Cambell, famed author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), Myths to Live by (1972), and The Hero’s Journey (1990),  the goal of maturity is to know oneself —to understand the inner landscape– to be the hero of one’s own life. He says in this brief clip (below) from his famed interview with Bill Moyers:

the influence of a vital person, vitalizes. There’s no doubt about it… he says, people have the notion of saving the world by shifting it around and changing the rules…No…to bring [the world] alive is to find in your own case where your life is and be alive yourself….[and so] in saving yourself you save the world.

Teachers (this can be any of us, not just school teachers) have to focus more on helping young people find their life. We can teach them what it is to be alive and vital. It’s less about making them knowledgeable about the external world or outer landscapes, and more about making them knowledgeable about the world within each one of them.

 

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Educating Human Beings or Human Doings?

What kind of learning do you value and why?

I value the kind of learning that helps people live qualitatively well as authentic “human beings” not just as skilful and knowledgeable “human doings.”

Unfortunately, our current American public schooling system continues to dedicate most of its attention, time, choices, actions, deeply-ingrained habits, and resources to raising a.k.a inculcating kids to become “human doings”– performers, accomplishers, achievers, competitors.

It is no wonder there’s no room for wandering attention (you’ve got ADHD), day-dreaming (you’ve got ADD), imagination, entrepreneurial thinking or attitudes (you’re disrespectful because you won’t do what you’re told; you don’t get the freedom to try it your way because I am grading you and comparing you to your peers), failure (you’re a low achiever), risky behavior (you’re a discipline problem- probably your parents’ fault), uncensored speech (you can’t make mistakes when trying to learn new concepts or experiment with new vocabulary when it may possibly offend or “oppress” others who feel victimized by your trial and error process), or love and affection (you’re too human, and not business-like enough, scientific/robotic enough) in a typical high school classroom. All of these characteristics of a genuine learner are unwelcome challenges to the status quo and fear-inducing to those who tow the party line as cogs in the wheel of the established institutional tradition.

You are just waaaay too human if you are an authentic learner.  Not to mention that the whole project of schooling takes place inside, where everyone is routinely disconnected from fresh air and open spaces (hence Nature Deficit Disorder), protected within the institution, using square, little desks in rows within square, little rooms that kids get four minutes to travel between for 8 hours per day for 180 days per year with few exceptions. And we wonder why kids are literally losing their minds? Could the current mental health crisis among adolescents and teens (and everyone else) possibly be related to what we value? to what we pay attention to? to how we define learning? to the kind of learning we actually value? to how we raise and school our kids?

We do schooling really well. We just need to decide whether or not we want to balance schooling with learning. Are we willing to rethink our priorities? I don’t think these two things– schooling and learning– are mutually exclusive.  A conversation about more balance seems necessary, but such a conversation requires open minds and hearts, rationality, and humility among all of us.

Psychoanalyst, Carl Jung once said, “Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.” I ask, What are you paying attention to, superintendents? school committees? students? teachers? parents? Can each of us stop with the unconscious, habitual day-to-day to reflect for a moment or so about what we are paying attention to each moment, each class, each day, each year? Might we stop the same old same old busyness of schooling to do an honest self-evaluation of where we actually put our attention? How much attention? How much time spent? Why? Are we happy amidst the school shootings and mental health crises in our schools? Are we going to continue to hire more special education staff, more social workers, more nurses to bandaid the problems with our kids, or will we self-reflect on our values and priorities? What kind of an education do our children need today, in this new and very different world?

Part of my mission at Landscapes for Learning is to revitalize a love of authentic forms of learning among young people who may be disillusioned with, bored by, or being made sick (emotionally, psychologically, physically) by the traditional structures and forms of public high schooling in America with its inherent over-emphasis on inculcation (what to study and how to think about selected studies) achievement, testing, grading, and competition.  Simultaneously, the stories recorded in the podcast are a celebration of the quality lives of ordinary individuals who are healthy and personally fulfilled as they pursue their life-long process of self-actualization.  Many of my guests’ authentic learning and teaching experiences differ from their schooling experiences and/or place their formal educational experiences within a broader and more appropriate context of life-learning. This is a good thing to know– not just for kids so they don’t get discouraged by school but for their parents who might broaden their understanding of the purpose of education for their children, and for schools to keep their role in the learning process in perspective as well.

I’d like to ask parents of adolescents to become more conscious about about what kind of learning they value for themselves first of all and subsequently for their children. What is your definition of learning? Is it the same as schooling? Do you want your child to learn how to learn and to love learning, or do you want them to behave, do what they are told, get As or better scores than the next kid, and get into Harvard? You don’t have to go along with the traditional modes of schooling (that are too familiar to your own) because everyone else is! If you feel that your child is stuck in the system, that you are powerless, I am here to tell you that there are things you can do and choices you can make to optimize your child’s schooling experience without having to home-school or un-school them. Don’t play the grade game; don’t make your child do unnecessary homework that is a waste of time that may be better spent (perhaps outdoors or socializing with peers without adult supervision). De-emphasize “getting your schoolwork done” and emphasize learning when talking to your kids. Start journaling; teach your kids to journal about their personal learning rather than making time for only academic learning. Write your values. Answer, “why am I educating my son or daughter?” To what end is your child being educated? To be “X” or to do “Y?” What’s your “why?” You can also model self-inquiry, share your own journey to self-awareness and self-knowledge and discuss its connection to other forms of learning in your life. Make the distinction between schooling and learning clear to your children and live a life of learning while keeping schooling in its proper place.

I’d also like to prompt schools to self-reflect on the type of learning they value– this is not the same thing as having a mission statement or school mantra written in the handbook or posted in the entryway to the school, but whether they are consciously living out the kind of learning they purport to value each and every day, in each choice and decision they make, for each child for whom it affects. I hope to begin a discussion with schools and parents about the “why” of educating kids– their specific intentions for their children/students and to where they put their attention on a daily basis, class by class, moment by moment. Is learning really the focus, the value that’s being lived out day in and day out, or is more time, effort, energy, attention, and reflection focused on  schooling– that is, but not limited to– grading, coverage of curriculum, and achievement (college acceptance rates, drop-out rates)? What are the priorities? How much professional development time is dedicated to using new grading systems, new administrative technologies, new methodologies for implementing the same curriculum, assessment, analysis of data? How much time is dedicated to teachers for them to implement real change and personal growth and creativity? How much time is given to the “who” of teaching? Observe your institution for a day, a week, a month, write down what you see happening among students, teachers, support staff, and administrators. Notice (without judgment) what your organization is spending its time doing and talking about. Then sort through how much time is spent on schooling and how much on learning. Confirm what your institution actually values– that is, what it lives out, in action, on a day to day basis.

If we fail to value self-knowledge and exploration of the inner landscape and all we do is over-focus on the externals– grades, achievement, administration, controlling our environment to solve the problems that live within each of us, how will kids learn how to learn about themselves? How will they understand anyone else if they don’t know their own human nature? How will they do any of this essential interior work if they are over-scheduled with building their resume for college entrance or held after school to complete work that is entirely irrelevant to them but required curricular content aimed at the imaginary “average” student? How will they learn how to be decent, healthy human beings if they are consistently directed toward and overwhelmed by human doing?

It’s crucial for us as a society that each one us know ourselves as deeply as possible and take individual responsibility for our own lives, as a priority above and beyond any sense of belonging to a group we might also naturally feel. “Us and Theming” is one of the problematic paradigms of our time, that through which we interpret the world and that which informs our notions of tribalism, identity politics, political correctness, free-speech, mental health, addiction, education, parenting and much more. How can you know you belong to a group if you don’t know, firstly, who YOU are as an individual? How can you “know” that you “know” who you are if you don’t understand the nature of “knowing” or what forms of “knowing” exist?  How can you understand human nature if you don’t understand your own human experiences? How can you answer, What is the “right” relationship of the individual to society if you don’t understand what it means to be an “individual?” How do you figure out what “right” means? Perhaps we need to shift our focus from developing intellectuals to developing ethical and wise human beings.

Through real life stories of ordinary people, the Landscapes for Learning podcast is meant to illustrate and concretely demonstrate the value of many other forms of learning and teaching that happen outside of school environments– across the landscapes beyond formal education. The podcast also places special emphasis on discussing with guests how they explore and travel their inner landscapes, which is learning about oneself throughout life. Learning about one’s inner life, about one self, finding and living according to wisdom and one’s moral compass is also a lesson in what it means to be human and therefore how to understand and connect with other humans, other individuals who are like you, but not exactly you.

In addition to the podcast, the coaching curricula and support I am creating and plan to offer on the site soon is meant to assist parents and students in designing individual education plans to better balance the aims of schooling with the more authentic value of learning, including more curriculum focused on teaching individuals how to explore their inner landscapes through journaling, employing the principles of yoga, metacognitive reflection, and other techniques.

If you are interested in finding ways to help your student, your son or daughter, or an educator you know engage in an important and ongoing conversations about learning, the need for a shift in values, and a re-balancing of priorities between schooling and learning, or if you would like to contribute to the development of this site and its mission, please subscribe to LandscapesForLearning.com below where you will receive regular updates in your in-box (not too many!).

Sincerely Yours in Learning,

Maureen

 

 

 

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Teaching & Learning About the Places That Scare You

The following quotes are taken from The Places That Scare Us by Pema Chodron where she describes the exploration of the inner landscape that I believe is sorely needed as part of kids’ education more than ever before:

“We’re encouraged to meditate every day, even for a short time, in order to cultivate this steadfastness with ourselves… As we continue to sit we see that meditation isn’t about getting it right or attaining some ideal state. It’s about being able to stay present with ourselves. It becomes increasingly clear that we won’t be free of self-destructive patterns unless we develop a compassionate understanding of what they are.”

How can young people learn to nurture and guide their own lives, to take responsibility and learn to be honest, if they don’t spend any of their time or attention getting to know who they are—or to their interior world, which includes both their bodies and their minds and the union between the two? Are they too over-scheduled? Are they too distracted with social everything– media, their friends, socializing, bullying, copying, and comparing– to travel their inner landscape?

“One aspect of steadfastness is simply being in your body. Because meditation emphasizes working with your mind, it’s easy to forget that you even have a body. When you sit down it’s important to relax into your body and to get in touch with what is going on. Starting with the top of your head, you can spend a few minutes bringing awareness to every part of your body. When you come to places that are hurting or tense you can breathe in and out three or four times, keeping your awareness on that area. When you get to the soles of your feet you can stop, or if you feel like it, you can repeat this body sweep by going from bottom to top. Then at any time during your meditation period, you can quickly tune back in to the overall sense of being in your body. For a moment you can bring your awareness directly back to being right here. You are sitting. There are sounds, smells, sights, aches; you are breathing in and out. You can reconnect with your body like this when it occurs to you—maybe once or twice during a sitting session. Then return to the technique.”

Kids who sit in hard chairs all day get bored, restless, and fat and inflexible. Very little attention is paid to their bodies, as schooling is about the development of thinking and acquiring information; it’s a busy day of processing data and internalizing it long enough to show that you “know” it on some sort of assessment. The body merely carries you around from class to class.

“In meditation we discover our inherent restlessness. Sometimes we get up and leave. Sometimes we sit there but our bodies wiggle and squirm and our minds go far away. This can be so uncomfortable that we feel it’s impossible to stay. Yet this feeling can teach us not just about ourselves but also about what it is to be human. All of us derive security and comfort from the imaginary world of memories and fantasies and plans. We really don’t want to stay with the nakedness of our present experience. It goes against the grain to stay present. These are the times when only gentleness and a sense of humor can give us the strength to settle down.”

The mindfulness movement and meditation being incorporated into schools is great– I hope it helps; I bet it already has; however, when meditating becomes another activity in service of schooling, that is– achievement, performance, and grading then it’s inauthentic and counter-productive. I hope schools don’t co-opt a very helpful opportunity for kids to explore the inner landscape in order to get them to settle down, behave, and perform as a high achiever — to meet the expectations set for them by some well-meaning or some ignorant adults.

It’s important that adults not steal such uncomfortable experiences away from kids as they grow and mature into adulthood, but instead introduce and mentor them with this more interior form of education. We could educate teens about the important life-long processes of cultivating a steadfastness with oneself, understanding our self-destructive patterns (thought-patterns, emotional body responses and reactions to stress etc), developing compassionate understanding of oneself, learning about oneself in order to understand what it means to be human and therefore be better and more equipped and insightful about other people.

Rather than controlling the external environment to prevent trial and error learning, rather than relying on safe spaces where scared victims remain for protection and see the world through fearful eyes, students need to practice facing inward- toward themselves and all of their catastrophe– as a more authentic curriculum, as a more authentic and foundational learning experience for life not merely for succeeding at school.

 

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Who am I?

My previous “Calling a Spade a Spade” post is about telling the truth– something our world desperately needs at this exact moment in time. Each of us has to talk about the truth, within our seemingly small and insignificant spheres of life, however uncomfortable or however much it may threaten our reputations.  Our integrity and identity need to be taken seriously.  It matters. But apparently there was a bit of confusion over the topic of that post, so I would like to clarify what in the world yoga has to do with the problems I am seeing within education today.

Who Am I?

The central topic of this post, then, is about the question, Who am I? or even perhaps more specifically, Who am I trying to be in my life vs. What am I trying to do in my life? One is about values, meaning and purpose, while the other is about practical goals to achieve “success.” Figuring out the answer to this question over the past two years in my own life generated this very Landscapes for Learning project. It turns out that I discovered my goals weren’t in line with my values, so I chose authentic living over and above expedience. YOLO, and I could no longer compromise my own values about learning which conflicted too often with my employer’s. If I cannot teach with integrity then who am I?

My Bikram yoga practice has led me, and continues to lead me, to the truth of who I am through a continual rediscovery of self, a continuous reconnection with authenticity.  I am trying to express myself here, on this blog, honestly and candidly  as part of  an ongoing, life-long process of learning across the landscapes. I am not necessarily trying to make friends here (although that would be great!) nor am I trying to make enemies or alienate people! I am simply trying to voice my truth and invite people into a dialogue about the things I care about.

At home with my four grown children, in high school, and in the Bikram yoga community– these are the spaces in which I live; this is my tiny sphere of influence; this is where my reputation matters. Because these places are where I both learn and teach,  obviously they shape my perspective. I have also been influenced by a number of intellectuals, writers, poets, psychologists, yogis, and podcasters from whom I have learned a tremendous amount about the nature of what it means to be human, therefore informing what it means to be me (see list below). Writers write about what they know. I am simply sharing the overlaps and interplay between both worlds of learning, which I discovered in my observations, experiences, and personal research. I am writing about what matters to me.

Jungquote1

It turns out that the principles I learned for myself, by myself, through my Bikram yoga practice are the very same principles that I believe are needed in contemporary parenting and public schooling. If we applied such character-building principles to the education process, it might help parents to parent better and kids to learn more authentically. Schools might be able to create a more balanced curriculum based on an updated value system that focuses on exploring inner landscapes as well as the external landscapes for learning.  And perhaps, I hope, this shift and rebalancing, would help address some part of the mental health crisis among teens. Bikram yoga is, afterall, a healing process. Although a focus on self-understanding, wisdom, and self-actualization is missing in lots of other areas throughout our culture, my focus is on my own limited range of experience which is within the world of teaching high school English, parenting, and Bikram yoga. This is my unique path, my niche, my angle.

The Landscapes for Learning mission is to revive authentic forms of learning and rebalance it with the aims of schooling– “balance” being the key term. Like yoga, my writing is about integration, connection to self, wholeness, and the kind of learning that comes from traveling both inward and across the varied landscapes of life, not just limited to within school or the academic realm.

Facing Discomfort as the New Normal 

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To understand oneself, to answer “who am I?” requires a deep and consistent exploration of one’s inner landscape.  This question arises (sometimes subconsciously and later may or may not surface to consciousness) when a person steps into the Bikram yoga room and looks into their own eyes in the mirror in front of them, under very bright lights. The mirror and lights are a spotlight on the self, and the conditions for the practice are meant to challenge the practitioner with discomfort. This crucial experience is what we have stolen away from kids by overly-focusing on achievement. Individuals in the yoga room are confronted with the question, Who is that person looking back at me? It is a very difficult question for many people to grapple with; some who try Bikram yoga might not come back because the discomfort is too much– it’s simply too hard. Those who remain learn to face their own pain and suffering. Over time, with effort and grit, they become more agile and flexible in body and mind. They wrestle with their inner world- their emotional bodies and their monkey-minds. They learn through an often difficult and painful process of trial and error. They grow. Adolescents and teenagers are asking this same “who am I,” question often– whether subconsciously or intentionally. They begin to grapple with the notion of identity and experiment with their own. Their bodies are changing, hormones are raging, the limbic system is still trying to figure out how to work better with the pre-frontal cortex that continues to grow into their early twenties (Sapolsky). They likely spend lots of time either in front of mirrors or avoiding them. They need teachers and parents to guide them through this very important period of their development, but not take away their struggles— their opportunities for authentic growth however painful. We damage them through over-protection.

This deep and difficult exploration of one’s inner landscape to answer the question of who am I should be something we teach our children early on, at home and in school, so they can become more consciously aware of the existence of their inner world rather than carried away entirely or unconsciously manipulated by the outer world that will most certainly define their identity without their conscious consent. They don’t have to practice the physical asanas of yoga per se (but they could and should because the body and mind work together), but they really ought to embrace raja yoga in combination with exercise and a commitment to physical health.

Search Inside Yourself

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Unfortunately we can never be another person, no matter how close we are or how much we love them; we can empathize with them, but only to the degree that we first understand ourselves; everyone has to travel their own path and shoulder the responsibility of knowing oneself. Talking about identity as a theme in English class can help; great stories, especially archetypal or universally applicable ones can be great models; however, an academic exercise isn’t the only kind of learning kids need. They need explicit instruction, including regular practice and failure, to learn how to become the hero of their own lives which has to take place in their real, live journey to the self, not just within some artificially constructed simulation.  It’s a solo mission for each of us, but parents and teachers have to be competent examples and guides through their own deep, inner work. And they can’t help kids too much. Less is more.

Attention, Concentration, Meditation

payattention

The external world is a enormous sea of information that contains messages about who kids should be, how they should feel and act, what they should think or buy— a level of manipulation and influence like nothing we have ever seen in our world before. The world online is persistent, relentless, insidious–that is,  if we allow it to dominate our attention. Is it really no wonder the levels of depression and anxiety are out of control? Is it really so surprising that so many undergraduates get swept away with identity politics? One of the more positive attempts to address this phenomenon is the Mindfulness movement which has arrived in many schools. I am glad to see this happening, unfortunately I witnessed how such attempts at teaching kids meditation get co-opted in service to external goals rather than values rooted within the inner landscape. If a teen is using meditation to relax and escape their thoughts, clear their minds so that they can perform better on a quiz the next period, that isn’t really helpful. I know we can do better in guiding kids to be connected to themselves, to become grounded in being, not merely in service to doing. Maybe kids will learn that they are “enough” and loved just as they are, not just for what they can appear to be, complete, do, or achieve.

Schools don’t focus enough, in my estimation, on the inner world of kids; perhaps because parents don’t demand it. For whatever the reasons, it does not appear to be an important value that is lived out on a daily basis. What is the focus of attention, what is at the forefront for parents and schools are grades-–the symbol of academic achievement, mastery of content knowledge and skills which is revered over and above any notion of developing inner wisdom or nurturing the process of self-actualization. But if kids can easily acquire content knowledge and skills online, a new discussion about values and answering the “why” of mandatory public education are in order.  Should we take a closer look at exploring the inner landscapes and discovering the value of and within that landscape? Or should we continue with the status quo of schooling? Perhaps we can create a balance.

Love, not Fear

Unfortunately, it seems as though some schools and parents create their values from a place of fear rather than love– afraid their kids won’t survive in a knowledge-economy; fear they’ll suffer from a life of hard work; fear of losing to the competition. Fear their children will not recover from failure. Such motives seem to crowd out the desperate need for more love– a love of self, a love of authentic forms of learning.

If we, adults, continue our over-emphasis on conducting school as a business, encouraging kids to focus their attention primarily on the external landscapes; if we continue to over-value such focus on and attention to achieving goals that lack foundation in real values built within the inner landscapes; if we continue to neglect teaching kids that an inner world exists within them that is ripe for discovery and that is essential to attend to for their vitality, wholeness, and wellness, then we will continue to see our kids suffer with mental health problems like anxiety, depression, addiction, suicide, eating disorders, and senseless violence.

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Too Good, No Good

Kids are malleable and easily manipulated. Most kids are good kids! But what does “good” in this context of school mean? Our definition of “good” in formal schooling appears to be limited to academic achievement and performance. Nobody gets a trophy or an A for noticing that they have an inner guide or that they developed courage because they faced a fear. They don’t get a reward for taking time for themselves to just “be.” It’s all about the “doing”– the resume building; the homework completion and consistency; the degree to which they are able to find answers; how well they score on tests, rather than to muse, reflect inward or meta-cognitively; rather than to imagine, play, or focus on observing and understanding emotions and thoughts in order to know what it means to be a human being not just a human-doing. We don’t celebrate or talk about those things– they are private, unspoken victories (if one even recognizes that this is a good thing!). Inner landscapes are none of our school business; they’re too intimate–  too emotional, messy, tangled in confusion– too human. For every STEM lab there ought also be a Humanities Lab, each being valued equally! Students and teachers are in the business of school, not in the business of raising human beings. Such inner-world accomplishments and authentic growth and development aren’t tangible or measurable– so therefore within the narrow confines of school, they don’t hold real value. If they aren’t on the transcript, they just don’t count.

As well, because we adults jump in and do everything for our kids and over-protect, because we manipulate their environments and pad them for safety and sanitize them, because we insist kids remain within the safety of the indoors, because we hardly ever leave them to their own devices among their peers (because we are, again, working from fear) without constant adult supervision or cheerleading from the sidelines, we ultimately rob kids of the crucial and necessary opportunities to explore their inner landscapes in authentic ways (Haidt). We don’t afford them the opportunity to learn authentically—that is, to be uncomfortable through the process of trial and error so that they can develop self-knowledge, wisdom, deep trust and faith in themselves and their personalities and abilities, along with the coping skills to thrive— to feel physically and be psychologically alive and well. Instead, we are raising half-dead zombies addicted to their phones or whatever else they decide to pay attention to rather than themselves.

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Teenagers who are disengaged, those who are disconnected from their inner lives are weak, which makes them far more vulnerable to manipulation. They remain unaware of the existence of their Jungian shadow or what to make of it or how to respond to it when it rears its ugly head. They develop addictions to phones, to porn, and drugs and alcohol and develop co-dependencies on authority, needing protection and rescuing from the smallest of micro-aggressions that invade their safe spaces. Their narrative becomes one of victimhood and they find others who live the same story. The world within and without appear to be places to fear rather than to love and engage with. These are kids with serious problems; these are kids who are more vulnerable to manipulation by extreme ideas and violent people.

Disconnection and Reconnection 

Another problematic observation about the kids I taught in my fourteen-year tenure as a high school teacher was how many of them were passive, did as they were told, and copied the models they saw in their school culture. And many of them wound up sick. We are responsible for teaching kids where to put their attention– and it has to stop being overly-focused on external achievement. They need to value their inner lives as much as, or if not more than, they value the life of the external world. I am not arguing for no grades or no accountability or no skills and knowledge growth. I am lobbying for correcting what I see as an imbalance resulting from skewed values. Once kids are focused on everything outside of themselves, they  can very easily remain disconnected from their inner guide, their inner sense of themselves. If they aren’t taught earlier about how their bodies and minds work (how to recognize, feel, and manage emotions and thoughts), if they remain unaware that they can be an active and conscious participant in their own becoming, or that a self-actualization process exists for them, tragedy will continue in the form of addiction and illness.

Friend Yourself

Exploring the inner landscape is akin to becoming your own best friend– getting to know what makes you tick, your human nature, and discovering that you are a story-teller. These are the same things we learn as we practice Bikram yoga. You have thoughts and feelings that exist that are data to mine, not necessarily directives to live by (Davis). Kids will remain unaware of their own inner landscapes unless we reinforce their own discovery of it. Some kids are more intuitive than others– so we need to encourage these intuitive kids to honor their inner-knowing and actively, consciously, and consistently develop it.  An active transfer from receiving guidance from adults in their environment about their inner landscape to them taking full responsibility for it should happen throughout adolescence and adulthood. We all need to mentor children by exemplifying such attention to the inner landscapes of our own lives. An exploration of the inner landscape will help inform and re-contextualize kids understanding of the gazillion influences from the external world that are upon them. Just think of the simple notion of comparing oneself to another that teens have the tendency to do. Perhaps more enlightened, self-grounded, and inner-connected teens can say, “well that’s nice for that person, but that’s not what I am all about.” You cannot say that if you don’t actually know what you are all about! We must all do our own yoga practice. More conscious  judgement, discrimination, and therefore wise, informed choices can be made if a person has a better understanding of who they are at their core.

So how do you figure out who you are at your core? Well, when, in yoga, you stay with your discomfort, whether physical or mental or both, you create a space (the same one Victor Frankl is so famous for describing in his, Man’s Search for Meaning) — the space between stimulus and response, rather than automatic, unaware reactivity. You notice how you think and how you feel. You identify and name such thoughts and feelings and become familiar with them. You notice that some of the labels you apply to your thoughts and feelings may not be true! You recognize that not all the stories you tell yourself are true! You learn why you may have told those stories and that they no longer serve you,  and then you have the glorious opportunity to change them.  With repetition and regular practice, you become friends with your self and the inner world isn’t so foreign or scary as it once was. You know your own suffering and you develop responses to cope. This is not happiness, or high self-esteem, this is wholeness and wellness. This is a prescription for good health. It’s often a painful journey requiring lots of attention and honesty and grit, but one that is absolutely foundational to real happiness. This is the hero’s journey! (Campbell; Peterson)

jungdarkness

Values can be and should be rooted in such self-understanding that you have actively culled with attention, time, and great effort whether through yoga, journal writing, mindfulness practices, meditation, or other therapeutic techniques that are uniquely helpful to you. This must be an honest process, a difficult, uncomfortable process at times, and it is challenging for most. But there is so much value in doing something hard; in facing your fears — doing the exact thing you do not want to do (Jung; Peterson; Davis; Haidt). Once you begin to know yourself in a really deep, intimate, and loving way, you are better suited to realize the highest good for yourself and what promotes your best and highest self (Peterson). This will benefit the world. This is the path to social justice.

Strength, Flexibility, and Balance

My mission with Landscapes for Learning is to draw attention to and start a conversation with parents, kids, and schools about how this exploration of inner landscapes is the foundational value to better navigating the external landscapes (content knowledge, skills, practical forms of education, achievement and goal-setting that schools and parents over-value in my estimation) and seeing how the interplay and interconnectedness between the internal and external is essential for being with purpose and authenticity in the world. Rather than a teenager’s self-development focused primarily on ego-driven goals (Plotkin) he or she must achieve according to social norms, set by parents, schools, other institutions of influence and authority— external achievement and financial success, the focus should be on the intrinsic values that motivate a person to be their authentic selves.  In the process of self-actualization, the Bikram principles apply: balance between strength and flexibility,  proper alignment, and trying the right way— which is the hard way.

Setting Intentions for Your Practice

I don’t believe the problems we are seeing among kids today in schools result  from malicious intent— far from it. If anything, I think parents and schools are trying too hard and are too present and too helpful to the detriment of their kids’ independence and level of engagement with their own lives. Less might be more. I also don’t believe parents and schools are fully conscious about how their values and goals are so terribly misaligned. I think we’ve all simply lost our way in a sea of information, misinformation, and complete overwhelm and busy-ness due to economic, technological, and other forces that have happened upon us in the past few decades. Understandably, with so much rapid change, we struggle to find our balance, and this is exactly why yoga may be the antidote in shepherding us back home to ourselves.

 

Here is A Terribly Disorganized and Incomplete List of Influences, Resources, References, and inspirations cited improperly and according to no style manual. (I will professionalize it shortly…)

Tony Robbins, I am Not Your Guru netflix special

Dr. Susan Davis, her Ted Talk, appearance on Rich Roll Podcast, Emotional Agility

George Carlin (standup acts online, youtube)

The Rich Roll podcast

Rich Roll, Finding Ultra: Rejecting Middle Age, becoming one of the world’s most fittest men and discovering myself

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Lectures, Interviews, Maps of Meaning, podcasts

The Joe Rogan Experience (podcast); personal conversation with Joe Rogan

Bret Weinstein (interviews with Dave Rubin and Joe Rogan)

Eric Weinstein (interviews with Sam Harris, Joe Rogan, Dave Rubin on The Rubin Report)

Alan Watts,  lectures, The Way of Zen, The Wisdom of Insecurity, In my Own way: an autobiography

B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, inner peace and ultimate freedom

Duncan Trussell Family podcast

Sam Harris, Waking Up with Sam Harris Podcast (#121, telling the truth)

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way: 25th Anniversary Edition

Stephen Pressfield, The War of Art

Jon Kabat-Zinn: Full Catastrophe Living, Coming to Our Senses:Healing Ourselves and Our World through Mindfulness

Anne Lamott, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovery Mercy

Ken Robinson, Ph.D. The Element: How Finding your passion changes everything, videos about education system

Pema Chodron, Meditation: How to Meditate: A practical Guide, The Places that Scare you, 

Jack Kornfield, interview with Tim Ferriss; audio meditations and talks, The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings

Carl Jung: Modern Man in Search of Soul and other writings

Mary Oliver: Upstream, and other poems

Ally Hamilton,  Yoga’s Healing Power: Looking Inward for Change, Growth, and Peace

Bill Plotkin Nature and The Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World

Steven Pinker, videos and interviews with Sam Harris, Joe Rogan; A Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st century, The Blank Slate, and Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

David Hawkins, Letting Go The Path to Surrender

Tori Hicks-Glogowski (Views from the Podium blog)

Rumi: The Book of Love (Coleman Barks); the essential Rumi

Rilks’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God (Anita Barrows)

Writings in ecopsychology.

Writings of the Transcendentalists (Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance, Henry David Thoreau, Walden, other writings)

On the Ragged Edge of Silence John Francis

John Muir, writings

Daniel Goleman, A force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World

Shakti Gawain, Living in the Light

Thich Naht Hahn, Silence. The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise, list other books

Joss Sheldon, The Little Voice: A rebellious novel

John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling

Wayne Dyer, Change your thoughts, change you life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao

Zachary Slayback: The End of School: Reclaiming Education

Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

Mary Karr, The Liars’ Club:A Memoir, Lit, The Art of Memoir

Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Parker Palmer: The Courage to Teach, online videos

Kevin Griffin, Recovering Joy: A mindful life after addiction, One Breath at a time: Buddhism and the 12 steps

Tommy Rosen (online Recovery 2.0)

The Mindfulness Summit Online Conference (the mindfulnesssummit.com)

Gabor Mate (videos, and podcasts with Tim Ferriss)

Benjamin Lorr, Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for???

Chade-Meng Tan and Dan Goleman, Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to

Tim Ferriss, Tribe of Mentors, blog, The Tim Ferriss Show (podcast)

Behave, Robert Sapolsky and other online appearances and speeches; lectures on Youtube