Explorations and Reflections

on awakening the true self  in education

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  • Mick Scott

I woke up, anxious, in the top bunk of a shared hostel room in Florence, Italy. My roommates had already gotten up and left the room, and I lay there alone. I felt strongly pulled to get out of bed and distract myself in one of the most beautiful cities I’d ever experienced, to see more art and history that I’d only ever heard about.


But I knew that it wouldn’t really help. I’d still find myself half-distracted by my own thoughts, insecurities, fears, and anxieties. I’d still lay down at night isolated, alone, and at the effect of whatever demons flared up that day. I’d still wake up in a near-panic, my mind in the throes of a mental typhoon.


Screw it. On that sunny morning in Florence, with the tall, wide window looking out onto an Italian neighborhood, I decided not to get out of bed until I felt the peace that I’d read was there. I’d been “studying” Buddhism and trying to meditate, and if perfect nature and well being was just beneath the storm of my conditioned thinking, well I was going to feel it.


I lay there unmoving with my eyes closed, feeling the feels from every part of my body - hands, arms, legs, feet, torso, neck, head. Staying present to those feelings, I brought focus onto my breath: in, out. In. Out. I then imagined a soft sweeping through the top of my head, the bristles of the imagined straw broom slowly sifting through my mind, side to side, side to side. Sweep…sweep…sweep.


I gently swept thoughts from my mind while breathing into my feeling body. Sweep. Sweep. Sweep. Thoughts either fell away, or I breathed them out.


And, no joke, in less than 10 minutes I was free. I was awake, present to my body and my surroundings, and the thought storm had subsided. In its wake: joy and relief and a bit of excitement.


After a couple more minutes of feeling that calm, I got up and joined my Canadian and Australian friends for a visit to the Uffizi Gallery.


I graduated from college not long before this experience. I was in the top 5% of students in high school and college, and I had a supportive, healthy, and loving childhood. I grew up going to church each Sunday and had believed in it deeply.


Yet this fundamental insight into my own nature, this simple skill of grounding myself in my innate well being and wisdom, I totally missed somehow.


The trap that I found myself in then, and still find myself in from time to time, is that I tried, by thinking, to claw my way out of uncomfortable feelings. But my thinking is what lit and then stoked the flame of those feelings, and those feelings led me to try harder to think my way out of it.


I was trapped in an inaccurate model of experience, one that says my feelings are a response to the world I sense.


These days, when I wake up into a feeling of anxiety, I play a brief game with myself: "thought, thought, thought, thought, thought" I point out each thought that I "see" in my mind. In less than a minute, the anxious feeling subsides and I am free.


I don’t want our students to grow up and miss these most important lessons: we never need be a victim to our own emotions and feelings, and ease, clarity, peace of mind, and mental well being are always right there, usually just a couple thoughts away.


Blaise Pascal:

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s [unwillingness] to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Thanks for reading ❤️.

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  • Mick Scott

Our feelings seem to point to what’s happening out there in the world. Something happens in our lives, and then we feel something. It’s a pretty clear stimulus-response experience.

In fact, many of us wake up in the morning and look around at the world to find out how we should feel today. Or maybe we wake up and look back into the past to remember how we’re supposed to feel today.


We check the news to know whether we should remain stressed out, angry, or perhaps relieved. It’s the weather, our spouse, or a work relationship that makes us grumpy or optimistic. It’s our social media feed that gives us joy or sadness.


Some of us are continuously stressed out by the news. We check TV and Web media daily, which show a version of the world that feeds our fears and stokes our anger, and we check the same sources often multiple times each day. Our worry, anger, and frustration never get a chance to dissipate.


Some of us are addicted to our social media feeds, searching for a reason to feel good or bad, or anxiously refreshing our notifications like a gambler hoping for the jackpot triple cherries.


But it's not the news or our social media accounts that catalyze these emotions within me, my colleagues, my students, and you. Our emotions are induced by our own thinking (interpretations, opinions, judgments, and beliefs) about what we're observing.


Though our feelings really seem to point to what’s happening out there in reality, our feelings actually point to our thinking about what’s happening out there in reality:

  1. I become aware of something out there with the help of my senses

  2. I have a thought (interpretation, opinion, judgment, or belief) about what I've seen, heard, or otherwise sensed

  3. I feel an emotion pop up seemingly simultaneously, catalyzed by that thought

  4. This emotion reinforces thinking that interprets out there as the source of the emotion

  5. The cycle continues

Here's a pretty simple example to highlight the point. Someone with a different political bent might find today's news encouraging while someone else finds todays news to be discouraging: same news, different interpretation, different emotional reaction. It's the interpretation (thought) that leads to the emotion (feeling).


And we still think it's the world out there that leaves us feeling the way we do in here.


Pixels of light, in the form of images or words on a computer screen or phone, don't induce anger or worry. Our interpretation of those pixels is what induces worry.


It's not a relationship, job, stray comment, the weather, or a thing that happened in the past that invites an emotion to grip us. It's our thinking about those things that induces the emotions that grip us.


Without an understanding of our fundamental nature, we live at the effect of the world around us. When we're coming from this understanding, however, living the full potential of being an adult, we are empowered to be freely, profoundly, and completely responsible for it all: to creatively respond without internal constraint.


And here's the exciting part: if it's my thinking that gives me my emotions, then I'm only ever one thought away from a whole new experience of life. (Thanks to Sydney Banks and Mara Gleeson for that insight.)


Thanks for reading ❤️.

Thanks for joining me on this exploration/reflection! If you'd like to receive blog updates via email twice weekly, be sure to subscribe here.

  • Mick Scott

I was recently talking with a student about growing up. She reflected that her experience of growing up has been a widening of her awareness, her eyes opening and seeing more. I like that perspective a lot.


As we learn and develop understanding, our perspective widens and we see more than we saw before; our awareness and understanding of the universe grows. A part of growing up is understanding ourselves more, seeing more of who we really are beneath the layers of interpretations, judgements, stories, and facades that we allow ourselves to become conditioned to.


I think that the being of an adult has one of its starts there, with a broadening awareness of who we really are. But this awareness alone is not the sole prerequisite for growing up. Embodying the full potential of adulthood includes this understanding of our true nature as well as developing the integrity to act in ways that align with our true selves.


This pair, awareness of our true nature and the integrity to act consistent with that nature, constitutes to me a solid foundation for being an adult. You can certainly be an adult without self-awareness and integrity, but I think they help.


I promise you that most teens expect this of adulthood; they expect that, as adults, they’ll know themselves and have the integrity to act consistently with that self-knowledge.


I’d like for schools to meet this critical need of our development, to widen our awareness not just of subjects in school, but of ourselves and our fundamental nature as human beings.


Thanks for reading ❤️.

Thanks for joining me on this exploration/reflection! If you'd like to receive blog updates via email twice weekly, be sure to subscribe here.

Photo credit to the photographers at www.unsplash.com and Wix.

Music credit to the musicians at freemusicarchive.org.

©2021 by Mick Scott