My wife and I talk a lot of philosophy, which if you read my writing probably comes as no surprise… The other day she was talking about her brother, who is now a young adult with a couple of years of experience in the workplace. I will paraphrase her comments here:
I feel like he’s struggling a little bit right now with the same thing that I struggled with for a while – that ‘high-achiever syndrome’ where you grew up being the straight-A student and the star athlete and you get into the real-world and just want to be the best at everything and have all the best things in your life. But, I feel like he is just struggling with it in a completely different way than I did. I think yoga helped me a lot in that struggle, because yoga is a practice rather than a ‘sport’. This subtle difference is conveyed repeatedly when undergoing the practice of yoga, and just having the language to talk about it allows you to see a bit more clearly the reality of the situation. Had a bad day and didn’t get the results you wanted? Cool, what can you learn from that and do to get better at your next practice? That was a really big shift for me…
Yes! We think through our tools, and our biggest tool is Language. We talk about this all the time on this site, but my wife’s point is a poignant reminder for us: doing yoga sessions as part of our weekly routine for many years subtly shifts and expands our language, and therefore our ability to perceive situations in different ways. It expands our perspectives.
For her, the language of the practice, starting with calling the activity a practice, allowed her to take a step back and think about work and life in ways that may not have been available to her without the shift in language. Furthermore, the practice has other language associated with it, like actually choosing our values, or choosing our level of calm/stress, or recognizing the flow of our daily energies. All of these ideas, though not revolutionary in any way, completely change our perspectives when they are part of the language that we use on a daily basis to describe our hand in this life. For my wife, these ways of ‘languaging’ made her realize that being the best in the office was an arbitrary standard, and that she wanted to choose different values. By choosing instead to see every situation as practice, as ‘an opportunity for spiritual growth, whether you like the opportunity or not,’ she was maintaining sanity, maintaining life/work balance, and also becoming the best in the office through consistent, daily improvements. So, she obviously crushes at her job… but she’s never going to be the CEO because she takes way too many vacations and spends time with family at 5pm, and because she has the language to express why being CEO is not her top priority. She has the language to express why she already has all of the best things in her life, all while maintaining the desire to continue to improve.
So what’s the educational context?
It’s easy for us, as teachers, to feel like our consistent efforts at going ‘above and beyond’ the curriculum aren’t going anywhere. I’m talking about our preaching to color-code solution processes to math problems, or our constant re-reading of quotes from Flow or The War of Art or Roots, or my focus on the process of Mathematical Dialogue, or my constant efforts to have students understand habit formation and the value of consistency over intensity. Sometimes it feels like we aren’t changing the habits and customs these kids came to our school possessing and with which will likely leave.
But we are. We are giving them ‘the language to talk about it.’
Sure, my kids hate doing their Training Plans. But when they leave this place, they will have the language to understand more about habit formation than that which our Primary Curriculum would have provided them (yes, let’s not kid ourselves: the media/information environment of our time is the Primary Curriculum, not the school environment. And, of course, the internet/YouTube make up the media environment of our current era). And having the language to understand the situation is a tremendous start. They will not be the same people they would have been without us in their lives. Just as water flowing on rocks, the effects are difficult to notice until years down the line. So keep going beyond the curriculum my friends.