On Turning 37

I was born roughly 1,924 weeks ago. That number is only slightly more arbitrary than the corresponding number of years: thirty seven.

Age is strange. On the inside, I feel about twenty one. From the outside, it might seem like I am eightysomething, based on my much-cherished, early-to-bed, early-to-rise lifestyle. Nonetheless, I am barreling towards forty. How can this be possible? Am I middle aged?

I clearly remember my dad’s 39th birthday, September 30, 1991. Our family gathered in the kitchen to sing to him and eat the German chocolate cake my mom had made. I was eleven years old and suddenly overcome with nostalgia and concern for my dad’s advancing age. I was jolted by the revelation that my dad would one day die, and so would I, and so would we all. According to my childish logic, age 39 sounded alarmingly close to “old.”

On Tuesday, I turn 37. My parents are 64. Dude, it’s 2017. In the future, it will be the year 2049. What do any of these digits mean? What’s in a year? Isn’t time ultimately this moment, whatever is happening in the stream of consciousness of the present moment? Time marches on, yet life feels timeless, at times.

My husband teases that I’m a child of the eighties, while he belongs to the far-superior decade of the seventies. (Mind you, he was born in the summer of ’79.) I appreciate that the eighties were low-tech. I am grateful that social media did not exist until I was in college. I reminisce about the time before selfie sticks, smartphones and multitasking reigned all over the land. I am appalled to think about how much TV I watched as a kid and teen. I haven’t had a television since circa 2006.

I’ve done a lot of thinking over the past few years about learning and unlearning. The lesson I am currently unlearning, which I thought I had already but am realizing through my own experience as a mother to my daughter, is that “You have to be nice.” Be a good girl, try a little harder, and all that. Study hard. Work hard. Play hard.
Nowadays, I am more into softness.

I catch myself telling my girl, “Be nice.” Or urging her to hug someone or give a high-five or say something for goodness sakes’. She is currently speaking nonstop, all day every day at home, and when we go out of the house, she’s virtually silent around anyone she doesn’t know well. And that’s okay. I am practicing letting her be. Letting her do as she will, as she wishes, as long as it’s with kindness, respect and lovingness. Being softer and gentler with her, reasoning with her in a calm way, when she is not being so kind, loving or respectful.

So I’m unlearning “be nice” as a social construct, while ever reminding myself: be nice, as in: practice kindness, to all beings without exception.

Another day older, another day of precious life, another day closer to cheerful death.

I am thirtysomething. I’ve learned a lot since I was twentysomething. Have I grown, evolved, matured, become more grounded and well balanced, in general, a little bit? Have I gained wisdom? Maybe. Experience? Definitely. Most of all: self-knowledge. Understanding of my own mind, body and heart—as well as recalling, always, the essence of being and intending to flow with the energy of life.

Viva la vida!

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Integrating Learning, Living & Loving

Home is Where the School is: The Logic of Homeschooling and the Emotional Labor of Mothering got me thinking about how I might integrate learning, living and loving within my own home as a mother and educator.

Jennifer Lois, Associate Professor of Sociology, interviewed a group of homeschooling mothers from conservative Christians to new age liberals, tracking the highlights and lowlights of their experiences over a span of 10 years. As I was reading, I made note of the parents’ growth, the author’s realizations, as well as my own learnings, which are applicable to anyone who has his or her hand and heart in the education of a child:

  1. “You can have it all, but not all at once.” Your life isn’t on hold because you are a parent or have chosen – or have no other choice but – to homeschool. Develop a broader perspective; there is time for all of it to happen: the career, travel, housework, etc. but don’t miss out on what is happening. Childhood is a time sensitive matter.
  2. Be available for the “teachable moments.” The more engaged you are, the more engaged your child will be (which will save you time and energy in the long run). Besides, desirable emotions are enhanced in the present moment, so be in the here and now to increase your own level of satisfaction.
  3. The more you base your sense of self on your child’s achievements, the more likely it is you will burnout. Relax. Highly structured activities will not decrease your anxiety… but they will decrease your child’s motivation, and, therefore, performance. Your child is a unique individual. So are you.
  4. Homeschooling – or even parenting – maybe not have been a choice, yet you can make the choice at any moment. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you are making a sacrifice for a child or you will overlook the amazing position you are in.
  5. Learning is a part of life, not separate from it. Make the curriculum or even extra-curricular activities work for you and your family, so learning doesn’t become a burden. Follow your instincts. Learn through play whenever possible. Even incorporate household chores and healthy habits. And unstructured family time – without stress – is essential.
  6. Your partner is not another person to meet your standards. Looking for a particular type of involvment may cause you to overlook the ways in which he is. Try to notice and be grateful for the ways he is already influencing your child’s development and invite him to come up with his own ideas for meaningful interactions.
  7. See what happens without the “teacher” and “parent” labels. You are a learner, learning alongside another learner. Explore your personal passions along the way; you may even discover overlap with your child’s interests.
  8. Give yourself a break. Just because you aren’t instructing all the time, doesn’t mean your child isn’t learning. Learning is like breathing and space is essential for growth.
  9. Socialization is more than identifying with a group of children who are the same age and like the same things. Look for opportunities for you and your child to engage with several, multi-aged networks. And you don’t have to do it all alone: find online resources, take part in community projects, hire a mentor or tutor for particular subjects.
  10. Know your child’s biorhythms and work with them, rather than forcing him or her into a desk or schedule. Your child will be the first to let you know what works and doesn’t work. Observe. Listen. Forcing your child to conform will only cause him or her to fight back, or worse, you will succeed in crushing your child’s curious and creative spirit.

Essentially, integrating learning, living and loving can be efficient, effective and enjoyable for all those involved. Challenging, yes, I’m sure, but it is a challenge I welcome.

Bowing Out of the Learning Circle.

The individual is of first importance, not the system. ~J. Krishnamurti

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My experiences in my first six years as a school teacher showed me unequivocally that the system is of first importance in a traditional school setting—not the individual.

Testing took precedence over learning. Administrators admonished teachers with frequent reminders of the rules and references to the employee handbook. Students’ needs—even basic, primary needs like hunger—were ignored until they could no longer be ignored.

To students of political science: forget completely about any textbooks ever written, any systems ever devised, any ideologies ever constructed, for none of their authors knew the entirely new, planetary, global and scientific conditions of today. You will have to write the new textbooks, devise the new systems and construct the new ideology needed for our time. Old ideas will only confuse and blind you. ~ Robert Muller

My final school as a teacher has former UN undersecretary Robert Muller as its namesake. He developed the “World Core Curriculum,” which is used by a handful of schools across the globe.

Midway through my third year at this school, the veil was lifted. I saw, painfully clearly, just how hypocritical this wannabe peacemaking school actually is.

Moreover, my paradigm had shifted. What has been seen cannot be unseen, and all that jazz. I had realized several truths:

  • School is oppressive.
  • School is not the answer.
  • School is a bully.
  • School is not the way to a good quality education.

So I got out. But in a messy, dramatic way that made me the talk of the town for a while. I literally heard strangers gossiping about me as I strolled down the street.

I missed my bright, innocent, bubbly students but felt free from an unhealthy, borderline unsafe work environment.

My liberation from the school was a catalyst in our search for and purchase of a tiny cabin across the lake. I was approached by a small group of mothers in my new neighborhood to “homeschool” their three fifth graders… two of whom had been in my class at the school the year prior. I gladly agreed, and we embarked on the new project in September.

For the first month, it was like a honeymoon. The site of the new “school” was my neighbor’s lakefront house, a mere 10-minute walk from my front door. The kids would jump into the lake at recess for a quick swim. I took the plunge along with them a couple times, too. We did a lot of bonding, team building, mindfulness, free writing, and poetry. I read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to them.

But by late October, it was becoming clear that the project and I were moving in opposite directions. I was wanting to get more into project-based, student-led learning while the parents were wanting more structure, formal assessment and disciplined studies of spelling, grammar and reading for their kids.

We mutually decided it would be best for another English teacher to take over. Since no one was readily available, so I agreed to continue until we found a replacement. Last week, circumstances arose which propelled me to say, finally, “No more.” I collected my belongings and hugged the children goodbye. They understand. For now, the other teacher, Ed, has taken over my classes.

I am no longer a school teacher.

I am and always will be a teacher and a learner.

Here’s to the journey.

May you live with light, love, goodness and beauty every hour, every day, every week, every month, every year of your life.

I wish happiness to all those I love
I wish happiness to all humans
I wish happiness to this divine planet
I wish happiness to God and to the universe

What an extraordinary universe we live in!

~Robert Muller

Just Say No to School

{Read the original on elephant journal}

“To understand life is to understand ourselves, and that is both the beginning and the end of education.” ~ J. Krishnamurti

Although I am grateful for my conventional education and experiences in traditional schools, here’s why I don’t want my child to ever be subjected to the tyranny of the classroom.

In 2006, I earned my alternative teaching certificate and brushed up on my Spanish. School worked for me, so much so, that I decided to work for it. I was overjoyed. Going back into the classroom was like a sweet homecoming, bringing back cheerful memories of my early school days.

So why wouldn’t I want that same experience for my daughter?

As a teacher, I gradually became more disillusioned with each passing year. At the end of the day, between mandatory tests, curriculum, and policies and procedures, I had little left to give, regardless of how creatively I approached the content.

I am still a teacher and a mentor. I am also now a mother, which has clearly shifted my perspective on education as my partner and I continue to contemplate what we want for our girl. (She’s currently two.)

I am thrilled to never again have to coerce kids to sit still, nor make them line up, nor force them ask my permission to use the bathroom or get a drink of water. I am blessed to have this opportunity, yet I have also made it happen through my choices which have led me to drop out of the system and to embark upon a new learning experiment here in our neighborhood.

Follow the project, The Pasajcap Learning Circle, via EnlightenEd. I’ll be blogging there at least twice a month about this new way of learning we are putting into practice.

J. Krishnamurti quotes on education from his brilliant essay, Education and the Significance of Life:

Conventional education makes independent thinking extremely difficult.

Reaction only breeds opposition, and reform needs further reform.

It is only when we face experience as it comes and do not avoid disturbance that we keep intelligence highly awakened; and intelligence highly awakened is intuition, which is the only true guide in life.

As long as education does not cultivate an integrated outlook on life, it has very little significance.

Our Human Right to Education

Imagine a world in which all humans had the right to free, quality, lifelong education that develops our personalities to their fullest potential and promotes human rights and freedom.

Education is the foundation of us as individuals and society. What we learn, do and practice colors our experiences, relationships, communities and cultures.

I am a teacher and a mother. My daughter is just 2 and a half now, but soon enough she will be “school-aged.” I want her to make decisions about her own learning, so I will most likely wait until she’s six or seven before sending her to school, and then only if she wants to go.

I myself went through the Texas public school system and came out alright, but as an alumni and a former teacher in that system, I would not consider putting my daughter in public school in the US. (And here in Guatemala, the public school system is way worse.)

Even most private schools seem unappealing to me as a parent. I don’t want my kid confined to a classroom all day and conditioned to be a sheep. Although we live in rural Guatemala, there happens to be a Waldorf school in the nearby village. I could send her there to start. I might.

And yet there are other options…

I am excited about a new initiative I’m undertaking beginning in September. I’ll be teaching English/Language arts to a small group of four 5th graders here in my neighborhood. Two hours a day, four days a week. Mindfulness, reading, writing, literature. It should be fabulous.

My hope is that with time, we can expand this project and create a little home-school of sorts for children of various ages who live in this area and whose families are seeking a different form and paradigm of learning. We shall see…

I’ll leave you with some inspiring excerpts on education from The Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

 Article 26

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

(4) No one may be compelled to belong to an association

(a) Primary education shall be compulsory and available free to all;

(b) Secondary education in its different forms, including technical and vocational secondary education, shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education;

(c) Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education;

(d) Fundamental education shall be encouraged or intensified as far as possible for those persons who have not received or completed the whole period of their primary education;

(e) The development of a system of schools at all levels shall be actively pursued, an adequate fellowship system shall be established, and the material conditions of teaching staff shall be continuously improved.

(5) The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to choose for their children schools, other than those established by the public authorities, which conform to such minimum educational standards as may be laid down or approved by the State and to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.

(6) No part of this article shall be construed so as to interfere with the liberty of individuals and bodies to establish and direct educational institutions, subject always to the observance of the principles set forth in paragraph I of this article and to the requirement that the education given in such institutions shall conform to such minimum standards as may be laid down by the State.

Article 29

1. Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:

(a) The development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential;

(b) The development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations;

(c) The development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own;

(d) The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin;

(e) The development of respect for the natural environment.

2. No part of the present article or article 28 shall be construed so as to interfere with the liberty of individuals and bodies to establish and direct educational institutions, subject always to the observance of the principle set forth in paragraph 1 of the present article and to the requirements that the education given in such institutions shall conform to such minimum standards as may be laid down by the State.

Daily Life Practice

May you be wiseDaily life is a practice.

Moment to moment, day by day, we get to choose our own adventures. We get to choose our actions and reactions. We get to choose how we spend our time, money and energy.

We do not get to choose what happens to us though. We do not get to choose which thoughts and feelings will arise in our minds today. We can’t always get what we want.

Life is both completely out of our control and completely affected by the contents of our minds and bodies, which are not separate.

These are the practices I aim to incorporate into each of my days:

  • Good posture & mindful breathing (yoga)
  • Being grateful to everyone & all experiences (openness)
  • Sending love and kindness to all beings without exception (metta)
  • Honoring my body & emotions (flexibility)
  • Serving others (being of benefit)
  • Physical movement (walking, swimming)
  • Reading & writing (learning)
  • Mindful communication (cultivating conscious, compassionate relationships)

Do I do all these things every day? No. But the more I do them, the better I feel.

What are your daily life practices?

Learning in Movement

“Before we were ignorant, but now we have learned about the reality of the world. About what mining means for our community — sickness, destruction of the environment, etc. We are learning in movement.”

~Guatemalan activist Felisa Muralles

I knew almost nothing about Guatemala, its culture or history before moving here in 2009. I didn’t even know that it shared a border with Mexico.

I quickly learned about the 36-year internal conflict, the State-sponsored genocide of untold thousands of indigenous Maya that had “officially” ended in 1996 with the signing of a Peace Accord. I read books, met people, absorbed a bit of culture.

I joined the service learning committee at the school where I taught and helped organize community service projects in and around the city, mostly house construction, painting or gardening work.

I ventured into the “ghetto” when I volunteered at Camino Seguro/Safe Passage, a NGO with a learning and nutritional center for the community surrounding the city dump. There, I spent several Saturday mornings teaching yoga to teenage boy breakdancers. In 2012, I taught yoga at a safe house for female survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence. They ranged in age fro 8 to 18 and were generally delightful. They loved doing yoga.

Recently, I’ve made friends with a 64-year-old gringa activist who has lived here for 20 years. She is involved in the campesino movement and believes in empowering sustainable family farmers. The rise of GMOs and monocropping over the past decade or so has resulted in disaster for farmers and consumers alike. Foreign mining (approved by the Guatemalan government, a government that denies the fact that there was a genocide in this country) is another major problem that the people are protesting (and sometimes getting killed for protesting, still).

The foundation of health and happiness is nutrition, after all. Guatemala has the highest rate of malnutrition in the Western hemisphere, yet the soil is fertile.

We the people need to learn how to grow our own food and provide it for ourselves, our families and our communities. We need to bridge the divide between “locals” and “foreigners.” We are all in this together.

There is definitely a “permaculture” movement happening but it needs to be spread more widely–to everywhere and everyone, including you and me.

I’m learning in movement—learning about seeds, biodiversity, ecological lifestyles. Learning about corruption, truth, justice, and what really matters: collaborative communities, connection with nature, changing directions, cultivating compassion, and supporting grassroots, local organizations and businesses.

Are you an activist, a pacifist, or neither or both? What are you learning in movement?

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A Teacher and Student in Transition

Transitions typically occur when or shortly after we experience a moment of truth. I think this is why we so often avoid the truth because it requires that we change an aspect of ourselves and our lifestyles even if we don’t feel ready or know what is next. The way I see it, change is always occurring anyway, so why not acknowledge the truth so we can be in a position to choose our next move rather than having our past, our fears or someone else dictate it for us?

We are taught learning is about building, progressing and acquiring: knowledge, transcripts, experience, credentials, certificates, careers, material wealth…

But what if learning is actually a process in letting go? What if it is through letting go that we are able to be fuller expressions of ourselves, know who we are and why we are here, do the things that make us feel alive and have the things that really matter to us or at least have the choice of how to spend our time?

This isn’t a journey about becoming something. This is about unbecoming who we are not, about undeceiving ourselves. In the end, it’s ironic. We don’t end up anywhere other than where we have always been, except that we perceive where we have always been completely differently. We realize that the heaven everyone is seeking is where we have always been…. Everything is already inherently complete, already fully Spirit. We are already as much as we will ever be. But the question is – do we know it? Have we realized it? If we have not, what is it that’s causing us to perceive otherwise? And if we have realized it, are we living it? Is it becoming actualized? Is it functioning in our lives? And so one of the most important steps is to come into agreement with your life so that you’re not turning away from yourself in any way. And the amazing thing is that when we are no longer turning away from ourselves, we find a greater amount of energy, a great capacity for clarity and wisdom, and we start to see everything we need to see. – Adyashanti

Whether we are having “success” by a linear and accumulative approach to “learning” and “living” or not, there is no denying that society is structured this way. Just because many adults and even teenagers are caught up in the business of being busy, does this mean economic success should be our only concern for the next generation? Is that what we really want for them? Is this what we really want for us now? Did we ever really want the kind of lifestyle that is required to sustain this unsustainable way of life or did we simply never see it as a choice, a series of choices?

Some of us are now realizing, no amount of education will pay off; it might take years to pay off the student loans, and what about all that time and energy invested in our training to not think for ourselves. Was all that just so we could work a job that makes us feel powerless, except as consumers? Degrees are only equivalent to a diplomas now anyway, so are educational standards actually rising as new tests and technologies promise? And what about the freedom we were all promised, the freedom we traded in for responsibility and hard work; when can we cash in on that, once we are sick and dead? Are we really evolving through endless education and certification programs or are we grasping to find our place and stay relevant in this fast-paced world? At what point do we stop buying in to this business of higher and higher education?

I don’t have the answers to these questions on a societal level, but I have been asking myself when will I be, know, do and have enough? Really, the question is when will I learn to just let go of all that I am not?

The answer to that is that I have been letting go and I will continue to do so by not buying into businesses that promise me anything and by continuing to allow opportunities that support who I already am or what I am already doing.

And every time I let go of something (anything — an activity, an idea, a belief, an old emotion) I let in something else: freedom, creativity, curiosity, love.

What is something that you have let go? As a result, what did you let in or simply let be? Is there anything else that you are willing to let go?

I’ve been a student and avid reader for three decades. I have been a certified teacher since 2004. I’ve been a participant in workshops, training programs, webinars, open learning courses related to learning (and unlearning) regularly for the last three years.

Institutions and the internet make the acquisition of knowledge easy, but I have finally accepted that no one can offer what it is that I really want. By acknowledging that I already am who I want to be and that I am already where I need to be and doing exactly what I need to be doing, I can start choosing how I want to spend my time, money, and energy.

My teaching certification is due for two semesters worth of upgrading (which is nothing compared to the work I have already done), but after much contemplation, I have finally decided that I love learning too much to be a student or a teacher again.

Ok, really this decision isn’t about the education system or whether I stay certified as a teacher or not, it is about identifying patterns, our personal patterns and the systems we reinforce, the systems that we carry within us in the form of an inner-critic and/or limiting beliefs. By identifying a pattern, we are in a position to let it go in order to be more of ourselves and to do more of the work we believe we are here to do.

My unconscious pattern was seeking confidence in the form of certificates. Along the way, intelligence became a defense mechanism for me, a way of avoiding healing my heart and expressing my emotions. School reinforces this pattern for me, so I am choosing not to go.

Education has no business being a business anyway.