Violins are spiraling darkly from a corner of the room. It is late July and the smell of summertime is so thick in our senses that the cold seems a forgotten relative, or maybe the “sponsored child” in some third-world country; one whose face you’ve seen and whose letters you’ve received but whose life recedes to the edge of your awareness until it’s time to send a new check. Months go by, more checks are sent, and the winter crawls past on shaggy bear-limbs until we decide we can’t keep ignoring it.
Here, though, heat settles like a sponge on my neck: I am in a sidewalk cafe in the East Village or maybe Prague, reminded of place by scent of cedar coffee, the sharp bite of orange peels. A notebook is suddenly no home for this feeling boiling inside of me, this unending need to bring some creation, some newness, to the world. All of us are living the embodiment of our thoughts, piled up like a dusty catalogue of desires and hope; even as you read this, we are going through the motions of an existence, sometimes oblivious to the reality we’re creating.
The great and terrible secret of our culture–indeed, of the world–is that our financial and social rewards are directly proportional to the percentage of our lives that we “hand over”. Long before we are able to conceive of the future, we are asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. Long before we are able to understand why or how we’ll get there, we are asked, “where do you want to go to college?”. And at some seemingly-random point, we are asked “what are you going to do?”
What am I going to do? I’m going to be alive; to dream and explore and experience as much as possible. Is that not good enough? Is that not a life lived richly?
Today, notice what goes unnoticed.
Notice the reflections in your spoon. Notice the exact sound your feet make on your bedroom floor. Try to hear every nuance of a dripping faucet. Find a color that exactly represents the word “movement”. Unfocus your eyes and feel just how much air there is between you and the objects around you; all moving, pulsating, yet totally invisible to our eyes.
Or think of larger ideas, even if the answers are impossible. How many children are speaking their first word right now? How many paintings were created today? Why are we speaking English? How many electromagnetic signals are crisscrossing your body right now?
Our world has been accelerated to such an incomprehensible blur that these gestures may seem meaningless or even boring. But I’m convinced that attention is everything. By really paying attention to those aspects of your daily life that were once ignored, you’re training your brain to create finer distinctions, sharpening your senses and invigorating what is otherwise a monotonous series of events (otherwise, you would have remembered them vividly… right?).
This is the first in a series of thoughts on education reform and the future of learning. Consider this an “overview” post.
Part One: Education Is Fatal
I have long felt that one’s childhood and their education play off of each other--they are never felt or experienced in equal amounts. Our notions of what constitutes “childhood” vary tremendously due to this exact problem. Some might say that childhood constitues being “seen and not heard”, absorbing lessons, biding time until one has developed fully; others insist that childhood is the most free we’ll ever be and our one moment of true innocence. Still others argue that children are merely young adults, capable of almost all (or at least most) of the same thought processes, rationalizations, and ideas.
We can’t settle this by trying to find the “most correct” perspective. Nor can we limit our options and say that it simply doesn’t matter. Not to be dramatic, but understanding how we develop is critical to changing our world. We have managed to create truly staggering societies based on our systems of education, but in a great many ways we have completely missed the point. And these omissions are coming back to haunt us.
One of the most common barriers to really “waking up” seems to be the propensity to avoid, isolate, and hold back when confronted with things that upset us. We seem pretty capable of holding onto cherished memories, but when it comes to something really ugly, we can’t run away fast enough. Why is that?
As I write this, I am (quite surprisingly) upset. I am stressed and confused in a way I don’t often feel anymore, having spent a lot of time learning ways of transmuting and altering emotional charges. As a result, I’m known for my emotional “even keel” and readiness to accept most anything that happens. But the fact remains: right now, I am upset. And it isn’t going away as easily as it should. This makes it a perfect time to taste my own medicine and try and impart some knowledge to others who might be reading this while angry, despairing, depressed or just plain scared.
The most satiating advice I can offer you, in this moment, and the advice I’m taking right now as well, is best expressed in two words.