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Education: Busy-Work or Authentic Learning?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vitality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But who shall, if parents aren’t?

If religion can’t?

If schools shouldn’t?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are we searching for?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Podcast: Meet World Traveling Yoga Teacher, Changu Changezi

003: Podcast with Changu Changezi

Changu Changezi is an ordinary guy with an inspiring story about learning and landscapes. He is a traveling Bikram yoga teacher who lives his life with integrity, authenticity, and an unshakeable sense of self.

He has been traveling the world teaching Bikram yoga for the past four years, approaching learning with an open heart and an open mind all along his journey.

Whether meditating, practicing or teaching yoga, biking across Canada for charity, being bullied as a young boy in Pakistan, coming unglued from his chair in the corporate world, or dancing,  Changu sees the beauty in everything– every experience, every person he meets, good and bad. Trusting the process of life as ever-unfolding allows him to live deeply connected to himself, others, and the world around him. Ever grateful for all of his life-long learning, Changu consistently lives and speaks his truth.

Our conversation about landscapes for learning includes Changu’s immigration to Canada, transformation, compassion, integrity, Bikram Yoga Teacher Training, world travel, “trusting the process,” teaching, yoga, faith, and more.

Changu and I will chat again in the future, delving more deeply into his traveling and teaching adventures, so enjoy his first podcast and come back for another!

Please check out Changu’s Facebook pages, Tulandandasana Everywhere and Humans of Bikram Yoga for stunning photos from Changu’s yoga postures on gorgeous landscapes around the world and inspirational stories about individual transformation resulting from the practice of Bikram Yoga. 

Watch this incredibly beautiful slow-motion video of Changu below….and his balancing stick poses from around the world!

 

External Links:

https://www.facebook.com/tuladandasanaeverywhere/

https://www.facebook.com/bikramyogaeverywhere/

 

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I am here. Now what?

 

A meditation on learning and brief defense of the humanities.

Life is suffering.

Life is one big problem; it’s problem after problem after problem after problem, isn’t it? I am not trying to be Debbie Downer here, but this is the fundamental truth of human life–it involves suffering. Nobody denies that pain is true. If you haven’t figured this out for yourself based on your own experience, stories from religious tradition and classic myths from around the planet have made this clear since as far back as we can recall. So has the story of human history. And, again, if you didn’t already realize this in your own life, human beings suffer to greater and lesser degrees, depending on circumstances. If you were born Jewish at the turn of the 20th century in Germany or Russia, for instance, well then, your particular brand of suffering was likely immense– practically beyond rational comprehension. Yet, if you are as lucky as me to be a college-educated, middle-class, professionally employed, white American woman with a fairly high IQ and good physical health, then your suffering is of a different sort. Though such difference exists, pain and suffering is real for all human beings, one way or another.

 

burden sysiphus

 

So what do we do when we become consciously aware that we suffer? Well, we either learn to accept and deal with the suffering, or we don’t. And if we don’t, we either run, remain in a constant state of anxiety that compromises our health, or we settle for an identity as helpless victim at the whim of a threatening universe. We will suffer continually whether we deal with it or not; we may also cause additional suffering for ourselves and others and the planet if we remain capable victims! So who or what teaches us to accept our suffering and problem-solve?

Here are two problems most humans face: How do I live or act in the world? Is my life meaningful? Another way to put this is, “I am here. Now what?” I mean, What do we do? The survival of humanity literally depends on our capacity and willingness to face problems and learn how to solve or at least somewhat effectively address them rather than pretending they don’t exist or otherwise ignoring them out of fear or laziness or entitlement (and ignoring is so easy with all the many delicious distractions that we choose in order to stay oblivious, busy, or continually satiated; perhaps we get fat and happy, but is that meaningful?)

It’s no surprise that all sorts of addiction, anxiety, violence, and terrorism, pervade contemporary life. How well are we bearing our burden? What are we doing to cope? Are we running, hiding, numbing out, pretending? Are parents and educational institutions properly preparing young people to bear the burden of a life of suffering? Do we teach them the knowledge and arm them with the tools they’ll need to problem-solve? Do we teach them their responsibility to themselves and their community? Do we warn them that none of this will be easy? Are we honest, or do we shield and protect them from the harsh truth of reality by spoiling, coddling, or desensitizing them, effectively reducing their chances of a meaningful life and sentencing them to permanent victimhood? 

 

suffering

 

There are a lot of factors involved with how we learn or not, and cope or not, how we find the bravery and courage needed to deal with our problems or not. Human beings are very, very, very complicated, seemingly beyond measure. Because we are each unique, our learning should be primarily about self-understanding. We must ask the question and find the answer to “What makes me tick?” Each individual must know what it means to be a human being, intimately and thoroughly, so as to become aware and responsible for one’s place in the world and one’s relationship to others and the natural environment. We also must understand how other people tick. Perhaps all of this seems a terrible reality, a tremendously difficult obligation that also causes us to suffer. It doesn’t sound like fun. It sounds like work. Yes. You have a choice to pick up this burden or not. If you don’t, the burden will fall to others, in one way or another, and, even then, you will suffer along with everyone else anyway, one way or another. 

We are social animals. We live in groups. We can be vicious and cruel beyond comprehension and creative, imaginative, and loving beyond belief. We are a complicated web of synapses and chemicals; we are bodies that function optimally and minimally, sometimes abysmally. There’s a lot to learn.  And it isn’t easy, even for the most intelligent. So what shall be the purpose of education? And what about those less fortunate, those born with fewer capacities or personality disorder, chemical imbalances, low IQs? Again, the responsibility falls to the able, willing, and courageous in the group. Ugh, more work! More suffering! More meaning. More relief. More love and appreciation. More survival.

And, by the way, formal “schooling” isn’t necessarily the only route to learning. (In fact, unschooling may be equally effective as the most effective types of schooling.) One of the most accessible (and efficient) ways to understand human nature and human suffering is to immerse yourself in stories, the stories of your own life and of others’ lives. You can also explore the myths and great narratives from around the world and study history—these are the stories that embody the life experiences of humans since the beginning of their conscious awareness of their own existence and its inherent problems. These works of art are available through multiple media formats today, and many of the archetypal stories from antiquity are retold in ways accessible to millions of people all over the world. Stories bind us, always have, and always will. Check some of them out. They will speak directly to you. They are about you. They have been created for you. See what you can learn.

 

humnaities

 

I doubt very much that science can solve every single problem for every single person in this world. I doubt that any sort of government can alleviate the oppression of every single oppressed individual (and it does come down to each individual because we are each uniquely oppressed). I doubt that blaming and finger-pointing or ramming an ideological stance down someone else’s throat will be productive either. I doubt that remaining ignorant and dependent is helpful. History shows otherwise.

It might be useful to learn how best to deal with human suffering and problems in our world, in our individual lives, each one of us, through an understanding of our own humanity. We have a responsibility, a moral obligation, to continue our education throughout our lives, not just when school ends.  We can always, at any time, both turn inward to get to know ourselves better (and we change continually!) and look to our ancestors and the stories they told about what they learned, how they coped, to instruct us on how we might cope too. Find good teachers.

There’s much to learn about yourself, the world, the unknown, and the best way to start educating yourself is to become immersed in a study of the humanities and therefore your own humanity. Continuing your education — learning— should be the focus of your life. You should be striving to learn everyday, not only learning about yourself and the world, all the unknowns of your life, but also learning how learning works, learning how to learn, and learning to learn better. All of your effort will not only make the world a better place but the quality of your life will be immeasurably richer and more meaningful.

 

art humanity

 

Humans have made civilization possible and we have made life infinitely better in a number of ways because of our voracious desire to learn. And, even more importantly, we have survived because we have learned to act according to moral truths– that is, in appropriate ways that prevent us from using all our brilliance to self-destruct and destroy the planet. We haven’t allowed the evil that resides in all of us to completely destroy our race or our humanity….yet.  A lot has had to go right for us to continue to exist at all. Let’s continue to teach our kids to look to the stories from our past to guide us in constructing meaningful lives and ensure our survival. Let’s revisit those stories ourselves, again and again. Let’s support the arts and the humanities,  not as an interesting relic of a classical education, but because it is urgent for our continued survival and the exact type of education the world needs most, right now.  

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Changing the Landscape from the Inside Out

Each moment of life is a new moment, and we get to choose how to experience each one. We can label some moments as less useful than others; we can label a moment as boring, good, bad, nothing special, amazing; we can judge it as entirely purposeless or extraordinarily purposeful. The point is, we get to decide.

We have been fooled by a Western culture that has inculcated us with conventional responses to each moment and we have been trained through our education to affix the same labels to our life experiences as we perceive others around us to be doing. But we don’t have to follow along blindly forever. We can choose our own labels, our own beliefs, if we are consciously aware. This is far from an easy process, as it involves substantial un-learning. As anyone knows who has been addicted to anything, it is VERY difficult to quit old habits and form new ones.

When people realize that life is about the labels and the stories we tell ourselves and the beliefs that we decide to believe and live according to, the world is literally turned upside down. This is no small awakening. It’s HUGE.

A yoga teacher once said, yoga is an inside-out process, rather than the outside-in. Yoga isn’t like a beauty cream you can slather on your body to change. The work happens on the inside.

rosecolored-lenses

Discovering that we can change some of our most deeply held beliefs about ourselves and the world and live according to new ones is radically transformative.  When you alter the internal landscape of your life, when you live from the inside out, when you trade in the glasses you were given by your culture for a new pair that you choose, the external circumstances of life transform and everything looks different–those same old faces and places in  your life suddenly appear to be new places and new faces. Transforming the inner landscape radically alters the external landscape.

There’s lots of advice online about how to be happy or how to be “successful,” usually found in inspirational quotes, memes, and videos, or from motivational speakers, life coaches,  and “successful” people, but here, at this site, my goal is to find and celebrate success stories of ordinary, everyday people who are living extraordinarily well.

I invite the people who are traversing the landscapes of life from the inside out to tell their stories here to inspire others to awaken.  Because once you “wake up,” one of the first things that you might think to yourself is, “does anyone else know about what I just discovered?” Let’s connect, build a community, and genuinely subscribe to one another’s lives.