Taking a Beginner’s Class in Life

monk paradeCall it synchronicity or coincidence, but when some image, item or theme repeats itself, I pay attention to it.

It’s 5 am and the day is breaking on my first day in Laos. I hear dogs barking outside my hotel’s bedroom window and as I look outside, to my amazement, I see a parade of Buddhist’s monks doing their daily ritual of alms giving. To see their bright orange robes in the pale morning sunlight sparked joy and excitement in me. Then fast forward later to an introductory ice breaker at my new school when I am asked to select one picture that I resonate with and explain why. I saw an image very much like the one here in this blog post of the monks.  Obviously, the morning experience had left an impression on me, which is why I believed I was immediately drawn to it, but then as I started to explore it more deeply,  I thought it is what the monks represent to me: contemplation and discipline. But to what?–that is what has plagued me and woke me up this morning at 4:14 am.

If I believe that every detail in my life has a message of the divine in it, then what would this repeating image of parading monks mean to me? This urge to understand is what got me leaping out of bed this morning. As soon as my feet hit the ground, it occurred to me that it is the ideal that monks strive towards, a  Beginner’s Mind:  having an open mind and heart, allowing for the mundane in life to become a fresh experience and to invite the magic of living back into awareness.

Moving into a new country, it is easy in many ways to have a Beginners’ Mind because there are all these new “adventures” that you get to explore like food, culture, and scenery. thich-nhat-hanh-quote-beginners-mind.jpgBut what about other elements that are not as novel, like our attitudes towards things, in particular, relationships. These relationships could be anything like how we feel towards our loved ones or how we feel towards mosquitos. It’s hard to enliven these stagnant attitudes with a new point of view. But for me, I think seeing these monks reminded me of the importance of the commitment to keeping open to the possibility that maybe something that I believe to be true may have another version worth exploring. Ideas that popped immediately to my mind were my personal relationships, how I feel about aging and my ideas about living with nature. Can I examine these ideas with a fresh perspective, remaining deeply curious and in awe of its presence in my life?  Although I am not sure what benefit this approach may yield, I am setting an intention to examine the dogma in my beliefs and observe how it impacts my decisions and feelings. I am going to liken this introspection as a taking a  beginner’s course in life. And today my course starts.

 

 

The Dogma of Your Sport

As an educator, I’m always looking out to the future, thinking about what will be the world for my students as they emerge into adulthood. With that in mind, I am always foraging for ideas, not just in my field, but outside the domain of education. I feel strongly that if you want to have an insight in your field, it helps to look outside your field to gain important perspectives and concepts.

I heard a Jiu Jitsu World Champion, Josh Waitzkin, talk about how important it was for him to train with dirty players–competitors who intentionally and shamelessly break the rules of the sport in an effort to win, in order to mentally get over the expectations of how the game is supposed to be played–that perfect world in which everyone follows the rules and the game is clear cut and obvious.He stopped being offended by these dangerous and dishonorable moves and instead embraced it with curiosity and intrigue. It was because of this openness that he was able to rise to being the champion that he is because there was nothing that another player could do to him to throw him off. When he referred to these belief systems about playing the game as “the dogma” of his sport, it really resonated with me.  Truth is, we all have some dogma in our careers and relationships because we’ve calcified ideas about how things ought to be in an unrealistic neat and perfect world.

To be aware of a voice inside your head that says : “It doesn’t make any sense.”,  it’s always a sign of something really powerful…in saying that “it doesn’t make sense” this means that there are logical reasons why things ought to be a certain way. But the world always makes sense, but what doesn’t make sense is your model of your world...You have to revise your hypothesis. ….What would you need to see to change your view? This is the best question ever.

Adam Robinson, founder of the Princeton Review

I love this idea that was shared on the Tim Ferriss Show by Adam Robinson, which challenges us to look at our belief systems and question it at a deeper level–what opinions or perceptions do we hold that may need to be confronted and analyzed? We keep looking at external factors to change but the truth is that it is us who must change to fit the new circumstances. If we can endeavor to be malleable and plnobility.jpgiable, then we will have the resilience and endurance to go through life with more grace and avail ourselves to higher levels of success.

As I am always longing to be the best version of myself, I recently enrolled in an MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) called the Innovator’s Mindset (#IMMOOC), based on the book of the same title by George Couros.  This course and book are geared toward educators, but I think it could be applied to a variety of skill sets, as he challenges his readers to “innovate inside the box”. So true–and it totally connects, at least in my mind, to this whole idea of shifting our definitions and developing new strategies to move us forward as educators- Challenge the Dogma of our Sport! We have to let go of our expectations and embrace the constraints in our schools so we can be pioneers and creators to produce our next generation of innovators and leaders.

So I keep wondering what “dogma” do I adhere to? What “doesn’t make sense” to me? Those questions linger in my mind and I will continue to contemplate and reflect upon for probably my whole life. When I reframe these beliefs into questions, it makes it easier for me to grapple with them. For example:

Professional

  • Does there need to be a power struggle between students and teachers, as we give students more agency in their learning?
  • How can we give students more autonomy and still maintain “control” in the classroom and cover the content?

What would I need to see/experience to change my view about control of the learning environment?

Personal

  • How can I love those people that justify their hatred and bigotry with their religion?
  • In what ways am I just like the people that I consider antagonists to my personal values?

What would I need to see/experience to change my view about our human potential to develop a more peaceful and accepting world?

Perhaps this post has also given you some pause and you also turn inward to think about what personal or professional beliefs you persist in that aren’t serving your higher purpose. Please comment below or connect with me @judyimamudeen to share how you might answer Adam’s question: What would you need to see to change your view?