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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How to Unlearn

I write this morning to tell you that love is here now.

Love is here now. Peace is here now.

Or, if they aren’t, they never will be.

There is always going to be a problem, an issue, a challenge, an excuse.

There is nothing to attain.
We are life living.

The birds singing their songs in the trees, the black cat bathing in the sunlight, the distant sounds of voices and the lapping of water in the lake—all these are life, just as we are life.

Only none of them are striving for self-improvement, as we humans often tend to do. We tell ourselves that we could and should grow, transform, heal and become whole (not to mention have flat abs, amazing orgasms, a perfect family and powerful career).

Religion tells us we need to seek and find god and repent our sins.

Media tells us we need to look made-up, skinny, and fashionable, because these things equal beauty.

There is much unlearning to be done.

Primarily, we need to unlearn the learned notion that we are somehow incomplete, lacking or separate from nature and the rest of the beings in the universe.

We need to unlearn disconnection and relearn community.

Unlearn repression of our emotions; relearn their acceptance and healthy expression.

Unlearn isolation and relearn interdependence.

Secondarily, each and every one of us seriously needs to unlearn our conditioned, limiting beliefs and belief systems and explore the myriad ways in which we have been conditioned by our circumstances, genes and culture.

But, how to unlearn? Read Michelle’s recent article on elephant journal to (un)learn more!

Why We Don’t Believe in School Anymore

Although we are grateful for our educations and experiences as students and teachers in traditional schools, here’s why we don’t want to work within schools anymore, ever again, nor want our children or grandchildren to be subjected to the tyranny of the classroom.

Michelle’s Story

School worked for me. I was always on the honor roll, a teacher’s pet, a nerd, an academic achiever, a lover of reading, writing and math (until trigonometry). I liked school and made many wonderful friends there. I graduated near the top of my gigantic class in 1998 in a suburb of Austin and immediately matriculated at the University of Texas, all of 20 miles from my childhood doorstep.

Going back into the classroom in 2004 as a substitute teacher and then in 2006 as a certified, full-time, bilingual elementary school teacher for me, at first, 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?

Well, even though the 1980s weren’t that long ago, our world has changed drastically. The internet mushroomed. The planet is facing dire environmental crises and by that I mean the System and the ecosystem are on the verge of destruction. We cannot, should not and will not stand back and watch helplessly.

But what can we do? We can and we must… connect with our local communities and increase the sustainability of our lifestyles through becoming way more mindful about the foods we are eating, the liquids we are drinking, the clothes we are wearing, the products we are purchasing, the mode of transportation we are using… and the education (formal and informal) that we are giving our children.

As a teacher, I gradually became more disillusioned each year of my career. After just three years in a low-income, public elementary school in south Austin, I fled the district, state and even country. Working at an elite, private K-12 school in Guatemala City for the next three years, I had access to incredible resources and made some amazing friends, yet I felt more and more clear on the fact that the traditional, “American-school” style of classroom education was not for me. My last stop on the education career merry-go-round was at a small, private school in rural Guatemala, near the shores of gorgeous Lake Atitlan. My first two years there, in retrospect, felt like utopia to me, thanks to small class sizes and a caring, close-knit community of fabulous folks. In contrast, my third year was a nightmare. Leadership and almost the entire staff changed, as did much of the student body, and we were left without the core of compassionate community that had sustained us.

I realized that even a very small, progressive school that teaches “global citizenship” and promotes peacemaking (in theory, at least), is still a school, and still just simply does not work for the vast majority of learners.

I am still a teacher and a mentor. I am also a mother, which clearly did help shift my perspective on education as I contemplated what I want for my girl. I am excited to never again have to coerce kids to sit still, nor make them line up like little soldiers, 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 try and encourage others to unite in a new learning experiment here in our neighborhood. I’ll let you know how it goes…

Kat’s Story 

School also worked for me. Because I was a hard worker. Apparently, I was even well-rounded. I was the top academic athlete in my school year after year. I even got a full ride scholarship to play soccer in the U.S. After the degree came the career, the house, the car, the husband… then the depression, illness, divorce and desperation to figure out who the hell I really was and what this “real” world was really about.

My teachers and coaches were right. Hard work did bring me success, but I wasn’t satisfied with society’s superficial version of happiness. By this point, I had read, travelled and seen too much injustice and exploitation to accept the textbooks’ versions of truth. Everything I had ever learned and worked for was a lie, an illusion, complete bullshit. I was angry, fragmented, full of contradictions. That didn’t feel like me either, so through trial and error (and reading, writing, hiking, relaxing and meditating – and yes, counselling), I learned to love.

Once upon a time, school worked for me, so much so, that I had decided to work for it. Initially, I wanted to help students gain opportunities to further their education, like I had. It was my way of giving back. But at the end of the day, between mandatory tests, curriculum, and policies and procedures, I felt I had little left to give, regardless of how creatively I approached the content. Some teachers do somehow manage to create more than consumers from within the educational system. Maybe, for some time, I was even one of them.

But when it came time to relocating, again, and submitting my collection of certificates (this time to teach in B.C., Canada, not the U.S. or Guatemala or Costa Rica), I noticed that my heart wasn’t in it (maybe it never had been and I had previously let my mind boss me around). When my teaching certificate became due for some upgrades, I got trained in NLP instead; courses in unlearning seemed more intriguing than learning about lesson plans and assessments. There weren’t even teaching job openings here anyway, so this time, everything – but school – worked out.

I fell in love – not only with myself or with life this time. I started writing more. I moved, again, this time to a small town in the mountains. I spent more time at home, learning how to garden and preserve food. I began to dream of having a child, an integrated child who will be free to become who he or she is. I’m not claiming a happy-ever-after, but this could be the beginning of a new way…

Where did you go to school? What are your feelings on your school experiences? What would your ideal learning environment look like?

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. 

On the Subject of Subjects

Do school subjects, in addition to grade levels, contribute to the illusion of separateness?

Though we may have our preferences, one subject is not more valuable or more useful than the others. Subjects were never supposed to be treated separately or function independently. Subjects (or disciplines) were not designed to compete for the truth.

Each subject is a part of the whole; each contains a piece of the truth and each can be a medium to truths that transcend any defined area of study. Universal truths can be discovered through any subject area.

Picture different coloured slides leading into a pool. Each slide is a subject and the water below contains a deep and vast truth – it doesn’t matter which slide you take; you will arrive. We will all arrive in the same place. All we really have to do is let go and enjoy the ride.

And, while subjects provide content and processes, the learner is not separate from the learning process. The learner is the subject.

When subjects unite, such as in cross-curricular community projects, it becomes apparent that each subject offers a unique perspective and set of skills, which when combined are more indicative of and beneficial to the real world — or to what can become real as we unlearn our tendency to divide and learn to work together.

What would cooperative learning groups and project-based learning look like without the confines of grade levels and subject-specific course schedules? What issues would you illuminate? Or, what successes have you already had implementing cross-curricular community projects and how did you create the space within the structure of the school system?

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Photo taken by Elke Whittle

 

 

 

 

 

Learn to Fail

I know we previously said there is no such thing as failure, but for some of us, that may feel like a bit of a stretch. Sure, we can call it feedback instead, but it still feels the same. And many of us, on some level, feel like failures or at least believe we failed at something at some time in our lives.

Those red-etched F’s can be less-than-easy to erase from one’s mind and have the power to stain many memories or colour the entire schooling experience. Sometimes red ink leaks and bleeds into other areas of our lives.

Some teachers think they are pretty clever by changing to blue, purple or green pens without questioning the grading system but it is only a matter of time before students make the association; children are quick (and intuitive) learners.

Even if failing or threatening to fail students (which, yes I have done both plenty of times) motivates some to “try harder,” it is motivating them to work away from what they don’t want rather than working toward what they do want, which makes all the difference in the course of life.

Anyway, I don’t have a solution for those teachers who feel conflicted about failing students and I know that giving everyone purple A’s or happy-faced stickers isn’t how self-esteem develops… (Besides, a record of straight A’s can lead to an even greater sense of failure down the road.) Disassembling the success-failure duality and redefining what it means “to fail” or “to succeed” may take some time.

In the meantime, learning from failure (not learning that we are failures) could be worthwhile practice to adopt and share with other learners. Better yet, Adam Kreek doesn’t only embrace failure – he seeks it. Learn how to fail (and be happy doing it):

There Is No Such Thing As Failure

“The most important teaching of all is that we are each where we need to be when we need to be there, learning the lessons that we need to learn.” – Michelle Margaret Fajkus

You cannot fail or be a failure in the course of life. You can never even be failing at something, other than if you are failing to realize that everything that is occurring is merely feedback.

I am not just referring to the “Try again,” “Nice work,” “Lacks effort” comments; feedback is occurring all around us all of the time. Sensations, emotions, thoughts, actions, reactions, responses, and intuitions are telling us something about ourselves, those around us, and the environment we are in.

The words and actions of others are also forms of feedback, though relying on other people (parents, teachers, friends) for feedback is no substitute for your tuning in to your own feedback mechanisms.

When you put your hand on something hot when you were a child, did you need someone else to tell you not to touch it? When you were learning to walk, did you need someone to say “Good Job” in order to have the motivation to move? It did not matter how many times you fell over in the process; you did not wait until someone else told you to stand up and try again. If you feared falling (or “failing”), it was because someone else was standing there telling you not to fall or to be careful. While you were learning to walk naturally, perhaps you were also learning the fear of failing from someone else, even if he or she was trying to help.

Ok, realistically, if you learned the fear of failing when you were learning to walk, you might still be trying to learn to walk today. It is more likely you learned the fear of failing in the context of whatever it is you are currently struggling with today.  

What are you struggling with or struggling to learn today? Is there something you are holding yourSelf back from doing?

What is it that you fear? What is the outcome that you fear?

Better yet, what is it that you want?
For example, why fear falling when, instead, you can look forward to walking, balancing or even leaping?

While you may think your fear is protecting you, it is causing you conflict because it is working in opposition to what you really want.

So, what is it that you really want?

This post is from Lesson 7 of I am Intelligence: 45 Lessons in Unlearning.

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You Are Your Own Teacher

As a newborn, no one taught you how to breathe, cry or sleep. As a child, you started crawling, walking, talking, and even reading when you were ready. Even before all that, you came from cells, cells that knew when and how to become you. You were guided by an inner-intelligence and an inherent desire to interact with the world around you.

Who taught you how to take your first breath? Where and how do you believe you got that intelligence? What are other actions you have learned without being told what or how? What did you learn about yourself in the process of learning to _______________?

Learning benefited you directly because you were directing your learning. You learned what you wanted to learn when you wanted to learn it because you understood why you were learning it.

When people (teachers, parents, siblings, peers or others) interfere with this simple process to try to teach you something, they are actually indirectly teaching you that you are separate from the learning process, separating you from who you are and who you are designed to become.

What is something you want to learn and why?

This is an excerpt from Lesson 1 of I am Intelligence

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Photo take by Jeremy Fernsler