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The Call to Insecurity

“It turns out that when you stop clinging to the safety and security that you think you have found in a particular lifestyle, other people, your carefully constructed identities, or material things, you find your way home to your truth.”

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The original title for this piece was “Meta: Choosing or Clinging.” I wrote it more than a year ago, but only now finding the courage to share it. This content includes a central theme of the book I am currently writing about life and learning called, Like a Flower Petal Blooming.

I was too afraid to post this reflection last year, probably because the content was far too personal, I doubted myself, and I was uncertain about my writing abilities. I am certain I shamed myself for being an idealist rather than practical (I have always been accused of being too idealistic!). I was at the very beginning of what would be a major change, so naturally, I felt insecure, vulnerable, uncomfortable. But, now, one year later, because I trusted my inner voice rather than trying to control my own destiny through pure logic, the world looks like an entirely new and amazing place.

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…….About a year and a half ago, in June, 2015, I returned home from a yoga training in Thailand where I studied Bikram yoga for nine weeks and made more than 175 friends from around the world. Life was never the same after training. Before I attended, I was told the experience would “rock my world,” but I wasn’t sure what that really meant. I suppose I thought that just being there and training for many hours per day and suffering through the intensity would make me stronger physically, emotionally, and psychologically. I knew it would be hard. I also assumed that being immersed in the yoga system I love with its original creator would be a wonderful affair, full immersion. It would be about living out my passion for this yoga and sharing it with so many other enthusiastic people who all had their own stories and reasons for landing at training. And, certainly, it did rock my world in all of these ways while I was there, but the real changes, the real “world-rocking” happened after training.

After the months away in a tropical paradise, returning to previous routines and relationships was a difficult transition, and I slowly realized that I was different–very different from the person who had left months ago. This took more and more time to fully realize. More evident things, like my diet, had changed as well as my tolerance for certain behaviors. My priorities shifted a bit too. But this was only the beginning of a longer, more gradual transformation that is still in progress.

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Do you know that inner voice? Call it your intuition or your authentic, most honest and pure Self? God? Consciousness? Life Force? Well, after training, that voice wouldn’t be ignored like it had been previously. That voice, so faint throughout my life, always there but barely recognizable, had become more prominent when I began practicing yoga, and more recently it has become much louder and clearer.

After I returned from training, it felt like a tidal wave of intuition was rolling through my heart, my soul, and definitely through my body, pushing me in very specific directions that I had no choice but to follow.

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My inner voice was prodding me, quite loudly, to change—- first, my career, which had been perfectly gratifying and financially secure, and also some of my important relationships; basically, I was being told to make one important choice: to focus on a deeper part of myself– a place where I hadn’t had the courage to go to yet.  I had to rescue myself– a deeper part of me that was struggling to be born, and I think that because I had learned self-compassion at training, I was ready to care for myself in a way I had been providing for others for so many years throughout my life. Training prepared me to embrace change, stay with the discomfort and instability that would naturally ensue from change, and trust the unknown and my inner compass.

The inner guide was insisting that I “let go” within the important areas of my life– my job and my relationships– the places where I was putting much of my energy and my heart on a consistent basis– to stop clinging to these identities. (And, by the way, clinging is MUCH different than choosing to be in a job or in a relationship.) I mean, I wasn’t hearing actual voices or anything, but it was just like, I had to do these things, even when my logical mind was screaming, “No!”

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How can you just simply “go with” a feeling or intuition when it doesn’t seem to make any sense?

As it turns out, the big decisions I was being pushed to make weren’t so much about the relationships themselves or the job of teaching per se; they were about the practice of letting go; it was about ME no longer clinging to those pieces of my identity and all the beliefs I had about myself in these roles. It wasn’t about love. It wasn’t about living with dysfunction. It was about how I needed to take time and space to attend to myself. I had to suspend each of them temporarily, to stand outside my conventional life, to take a much deeper look inside. I had to choose that voice, that core— me, and do its bidding.

Maybe THIS was the “rocking my world” part that people talked about who had been to this yoga training before me?

The suffering involved with these changes was real. It scared me. It was destabilizing. To think of myself as anything other than a teacher? Impossible! To not parent? To focus solely on myself and be autonomous and not be in a romantic relationship? I believed for many years that I was born to teach; how could something be telling me that I need to leave teaching behind? What about job security? My income? The students? My colleagues? Who would I be, if not a mom? And, such a directive without any guidance about where I was to go next! It’s not like I had all this passion for a new project or career just waiting to be followed. Why would I quit? I was not heading toward anything, only away from, well… “security.”

It is interesting to look back now, in hindsight, at how I reeled against this flood of intuition, pushed back against that tidal wave that was absolutely relentless. Once the idea of these changes entered into my body, my psyche, my heart, I couldn’t ignore them. They were there to stay, at least until I followed through with making decisions and taking action toward their fulfillment. I literally knew I had no choice, though that did not stop me from whining, complaining, doubting, struggling, and resisting. Did I mention I was scared? How the ego wrestles with itself! How the logic mind battles against the creative heart!  Courage, not confidence, was necessary.

Once I changed my relationships with others by choosing to listen to myself, I knew this voice, this intuition, this tidal wave of change (and what felt a little like tough love), was worth trusting, despite the fact that I was really sad and still a little confused about the decisions I was making.

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Nothing is ever cut and dry, especially when it comes to difficult decisions– that’s why they are so difficult! I also worked on allowing my title of teacher to change. I dipped my toe into the water of radical career change by applying for a leave of absence which I thought was doable and would buy me some time to  explore new possibilities….but which ones?

I was headed toward nothing in particular! I was merely trusting what that little voice inside was telling me. For all the times I hadn’t listened and been miserable, I figured I ought to really go for it and make the leap this time. I mean, life isn’t really an adventure if there’s no real risk at stake.

As I began to review my finances, my future, retirement, etc…this assessment turned out to be a review of my values and the way I was spending my time. We only have a limited amount of time and I want to be sure I am using it intentionally. All of this ruminating and planning felt a little like making a decision to have a baby…is there really ever a “right time” to begin a whole new life, a new career, new relationships?

So, I decided to see what others did when facing such change and risk. I read all sorts of encouraging articles about quitting and true stories about people leaving their uber-rich lifestyles built on corporate financial success to go live in Fiji or to surf all day in some tropical paradise. Or, humorously and ironically, successful entrepreneurs leaving their millions to go teach– to give back; Where would I, public school teacher, go?  Who would this one-time teacher become instead? I certainly don’t have any ambition to pursue a life of wealth and leisure. I am pretty happy with what I have already earned. So, why couldn’t I just be content with security like everyone else, I asked my inner voice. But, the voice didn’t drop an answer or a new passion to pursue into my lap. That’s the thing with passion and inspiration– you can’t call it; it calls you. You just have to be listening and ready.

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So, months later I found the courage to allow myself to let go of being codependent in all of my relationships (with money, with jobs, with people, with places) and I am learning to let go of defining myself in such limited and limiting ways.

To me, too much security means stagnation.

I had been shutting off all of my potential to be different and to continue to change and grow, and my body and heart could sense this which is why that Voice began to object! As I listen to it and trust it, it is allowing me to redefine myself and to see myself and the world in new ways. To let go of clinging to the particular identities that grew stale and had become prohibitive to growth, I had to embrace change for the sake of change, even if my mind told me it was unreasonable. Sometimes unreasonable is the most reasonable thing to be.

So, since I made this decision, this leap, I have been spending time living as anything but a high-school-teacher-suburban-mom-responsible-for-everyone-else girl. I don’t know yet who I am becoming, but maybe that’s just the point— to “become,” without any expectations, without any specific goals in mind for myself, and without a to-do list for my life. Maybe the “accomplishing” will be not accomplishing anything at all but to follow my inner compass, be true to myself, and take care of me.

END NOTE: It’s humorous to me that some friends and family thought I just needed a vacation  from work and parenting; that I wanted to travel and relax. I know that some people thought I was miserable and merely running away from the burden of my responsibilities. That isn’t the case and never was.  This sabbatical has been an exploration of my inner landscape just as much as I have explored the external and natural landscapes of the world.  I haven’t been taking a break from “real life,” I have been living it more than ever. And for that, I am grateful.

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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.