As Fall 2013 semester approaches, I begin to ponder which path my learning needs to take next – continue auditing classes, commit to another degree or maybe even indulge in other educational or experiential options. Just as I prepare to walk out the door to indulge in lunch by the creek, a few quotes mentally surface. Each in their own way seems as if they might offer useful guidance in my travels down the path (and into future journeys).
“Happiness and satisfaction is more about effort and character than about pedigree or book smarts” From: To Build the Life You Want by Marsha Sinetar
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but for the expert there are few.” From: The Places That Scare Me Prologue by Pema Chodron (Suzuki Roshi)
“The best leaders and managers know, as Leonardo did, that experience is the heart of wisdom.” From: Leaning to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael J. Gelb
“There are no paradigms except experience, intuition, and creativity.” From: The Soul of a Business by Tom Chappell
Throughout my life, discipline – pushing, striving and achieving – has consistently served me well. At times, it seems my nature knows no other way. In academic settings, I consistently end up with grades of A and beyond. Generally, this style has netted rewards and great dividends. That being said, though, does not necessarily guarantee that I have always known or selected what’s in my best interest. Slowing down or stopping to methodically process what might be best for ME does not often come naturally. So, my ability to achieve often results from extreme hard work, a tremendous amount of effort and huge sacrificial commitments. So, time in a tranquil setting – lunch by the creek – to ponder and reflect on all of this “stuff” might be a good elixir.
It looks like I’m off to a great start!! My favorite spot – under the tree along the creek – is unoccupied. I toss my blanket into the air and it’s ultimate resting spot marks my space and safeguards my possessions as I embark on two hours of mental meandering. As my white, frigid toes tickle the water, the words “happiness and satisfaction” bounce back at me along the water’s surface. My body, accompanied by my tingling toes, drift in unison with my thoughts. Tranquility seems to be settling in – successfully distancing me from my surroundings.
In this peace-filled moment, I muster up the strength and feel brave enough to confront my feelings head-on…”am I happy and satisfied”?
With these words deeply entrenched, I allow my spirit to mentally slip away from my earthly environment. Ouch…what is that piercing needle-like sensation in my left big toe? I’m abruptly jolted by reality. Yikes – I catch sight of a crab nibbling at my toe. As my body lunges forward, my thoughts become rattled. Once my icy feet are out of the water and safely wrapped in a towel, I stop to readjust my focus. Maybe that little nibbler was trying to tell me something? Maybe it wants to let me know I’m being watched; I can’t hide; I must be honest with this process and myself. Selecting a peace-filled spot with few distractions is only part of the process. Truly quieting oneself and gaining unobstructed space within one’s thoughts is critical to identifying next steps in one’s life process. This endeavor abhors tricks, fibs, games or lies – especially when in the privacy of oneself.
Once I am again able to quiet myself, I re-position, reaffirm, and reassert my toes into the sand. My thoughts begin to drift on the words “pedigree” and “book smarts.” Neither of those words would ever appear in my personal dictionary…nor would they offer me any type of solace…so, better to ignore them…and move on. The chilled water envelopes my feet as I plunge deeper into a cozy, contemplative mental state. After a few seconds, I am able to acknowledge that ultimately my entire life has been more about “effort and character.”
“Beginner’s mind” vs. “expert mind”…now those are a couple of concepts one could write or rant on about for hours. For me, beginner’s mind (curiosity) is one of the most idyllic and refreshing states of “being” – truly a sense of existence that allows for fresh, new perspectives – even on old topics. Aaaaah, to again be a child …or to simply allow oneself to approach life and life’s events from a child’s perspective – a beginner’s mind!
Upon arriving back at my home office, my mind continues to hold me captive in this wandering, contemplative state – tossing issues around – my happiness, my satisfaction, my relationship with education. I wonder why I (and so many others) struggle with these issues – issues that seem so inter-connected and inter-related?
Throughout much of my education years, I recall feeling disengaged or disinterested – often struggling to appreciate, enjoy or even take notice of any real tangible benefit. I did carry on, though, and consistently completed the processes – and am glad I did – despite the unspoken “obligation” that overshadowed the process of undertaking and completing this culturally structured education experience. As I reflect back, I recall that most of my time was spent:
- Feeling bored;
- Continually drifting/wandering in search of something unique and special to grab onto;
- Incessantly questioning and challenging the relevance of what I was being spoon fed;
- Attempting to create or design my own “unstructured” world within which to function/operate (and succeed);
- Feeling anxious about – and doing awful on – tests and test taking; and so much more.
My sense of “individuality” was continually measured and evaluated using inflexible (or wrong) criteria and tools. When I finally began auditing classes (few constrictors – no grades, no credit, etc.) my spirit took flight. This method of attending and participating was incredibly freeing and allowed me and my creative spirit to function and operate within the existing culturally structured environment/system. I joyfully LEARNED (and that learning stuck)… yet I wasn’t forced to undergo the constraints of structured, non-flexible testing or other inhibitors.
Continuing to stabilize this umbrella of thoughts, I ventured online in search of an explanation for what I’d unearthed… and to determine if others might be undergoing (or had undergone) a similar experience. With amazing fortune, I found “How to escape education’s death valley” with Ken Robinson.
In this video, Ken shares the following three principles which are believed to help human lives flourish and thrive:
- Individuality – an acknowledgement and acceptance that human beings are naturally different and diverse;
- Curiosity – the light that sparks the individual and is the engine for achievement; and
- Creativity – considered “the common currency of being human beings” which is innate and inherent.
According to Ken, the dominant U.S. educational culture contradicts these principles by emphasizing:
- “standardization” (through testing)
Ken explains that U.S. education policies are based on “mechanistic conceptions” which is an industrial process (command and control) – one that retrieves data to guide, direct, and implement improvements. This process is in direct contrast with a more human system whereby people either do or don’t want to learn (choice and reason-based). A culture (climate) defines, determines and consciously chooses which process survives and thrives. I particularly appreciated the quote he attributes to Benjamin Franklin: “All mankind is divided into three classes: those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move.”
Personally, I would much prefer to “move” into a climate/culture where “kids prosper best”…because in that type of climate adult learners and folks transitioning from one career or life style/purpose to another can equally thrive and flourish.
PS: And don’t forget – If you’d like to explore your story ideas or need some help selecting the right words to write that story…consider my Merchant Circle coupon offer.
© 2013 EMCarlock
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Credits: wasserman (c) ’00 Boston Globe dist-by-L.A. Times Synd.