How to survive and flourish at school
September 20, 2016
Is it possible to spend years at school, either as a student or as a teacher, and not end up with serious physical and emotional health problems?
And even if you somehow manage to escape insomnia, stress and depression, would you be able to learn anything deeply without first looking into yourself?
Taking time to appreciate the errors in the system
Educational systems across the world vary greatly in form and structure.
However, academic institutions around the world define their purpose as such: Progress can be measured by the quantity and complexity of knowledge a student can retain and reproduce. What is more, any hiccup or slowing down in this process of retention is seen as an error or misalignment in the student-teacher relationship. Either the teachers’ methods are perceived to be ineffective, or the students’ attitude and/or behavior needs modified.
But what if these ‘errors’ were not obstacles but opportunities to explore great fountains of wisdom and creativity?
Iain Robertson Campbell is a Transcendental Meditation Teacher and an English and Religious Studies High School teacher from Glasgow.
He left school at the age of 16, having repeatedly failed exams. He felt lost, confused and disappointed. Like many of his generation, he did not associate joy with the learning process despite 11 years of education.
It was only years later – after having learned the Transcendental Meditation technique and connecting with something more fundamental, thus gaining enough confidence and natural curiosity – that he decided to go back to school.
Due to the art of transcending which supported a renewed sense of purpose, connection and enthusiasm, Iain graduated from university and became a High School Teacher (which, by his own admittance, was ‘greatly beyond his expectations’).
And while completing his graduate studies, he also discovered a major cause for his earlier learning challenges. He had dyslexia, a learning style that made approaching texts and formulating written responses to them a challenge.
Here are some of Iain’s insights to encourage and nourish those who, at some point or other, feel despondent and discouraged by education.
FINDING THE WAY WHICH WORKS FOR YOU
Whether the initial challenge comes from a learning disorder like dyslexia or simply from a testing task that lies ahead, it’s imperative that one looks into it with patience, planning and consideration.
Iain says: “Observing the direction my interest and my creative sense were naturally taking allowed me to find the ways and means in which I could organize and process information.”
“Gradually, I found a way that worked for me, and this way was not necessarily based on doing it quickly or slowly. Of course, now I know that new structures and neuro-pathways take time to develop, so transformation is not immediate but it grows in time. But the motivation to find a way, a different approach, was the key: Turning attention within and letting creative intelligence do the rest.”
If you have a sense of impatience, a desire to get things done and over with, then it’s important to get a sense of it, to understand what you’re feeling and even where you’re feeling it. Only then will you be able to let that negativity of building pressure and squirming hastiness go.
“The initial difficulty for me was handing in homework in time,” recalls Iain. “Because having to produce something meant enlivening and blocking all those feelings in the system, I was putting it off.
Somehow, as I was getting a sense that I was finding a way that worked for me, I also got a feeling that I was accessing something that was much more dynamic and intrinsic. I went from not being able to hand in work on time to being able to complete a task way before the deadline so that I could have time to review and edit it before handing in. This led to better results, increased achievement which in turn strengthened my resolve, confidence and ultimately, fulfillment.”
GETTING IN TOUCH WITH YOUR INNER CONFIDENCE
Apart from the effort of learning the specific techniques for reading and writing, Iain felt that something had clicked on a much deeper level after he had learned to meditate.
“I remember that the TM course was on Saturday, and then next morning was remarkable. I just went to my computer and finished a piece of work which had been sitting there for weeks!” he recalls with laughter.
“It was almost as if the fear and doubt of not being able to achieve certain things was suddenly gone. The barrier and the pressure was gone, there was the confidence to try out things, to succeed in them. This was spontaneous.
This voice of confidence had always been there, inside of me. It’s just that I had had no way to access it before. With the access came a general sense of well-being, I felt in tune with my needs and desires. The whole process was very quick for me.”
DISCOVERING THE JOY OF DOING THINGS
Life shouldn’t be a struggle, a constant fight and resistance and yet there should also not be lack the awareness that these things are also aspects of the creative process. Yet the world in which we live in and especially education supports that belief and encourages us to feel that we are not good enough or that we are not enough even for ourselves.
With the process of learning to meditate and feeling its immediate effects and its longer term benefits, something fundamental seems to occur: it gives you the flavor of that your inherent self is harmonious and that natural state of happiness is indivisible from thought, feeling and action.
“If you have confidence, things seem to organize themselves. You get it done, you get the satisfaction without fretting about it. The grades start to go up. Yet it’s not the most important thing,” Iain says.
“It should be something you enjoy, something you can explore. Inner exploration and outer unfoldment – that’s what learning is truly about. It was a real pleasure and relief to move from ‘here’s a bunch of books l have to read and have to write about’ to my intelligence deeply enjoying the whole process of unfolding. You don’t focus on the goals so much as the process.”
GOING BEYOND GRADES
There are targets, attainment levels, constant testing. Students and teachers are expected to move from one ‘mission completed’ toward next ‘mission completed,’ non-stop. The progress is constantly measured – even during in the span of one single lesson.
“All this is fine,” says Iain, “but it tends to cover up the more subjective levels of knowing.”
“After all, objective knowledge is rather dry and meaningless if we don’t have self-knowledge, or access to real joy. In a deeper sense, all studying should be about learning about ourselves, our movement in life. Grade systems can never account for the totality of one’s experience.”
REDUCING DAILY STRESS
With high expectations comes high pressure; with high pressure come many psychological and physiological problems. In the UK, one in twenty students suffers from some form of PTSD. And being a teacher is the second highest profession for suicides (doctors being first).
It tells a whole lot about the society we live in, and how it is reflected in our educational system.
“There’s gigantic amount of pressure on both students and teachers,” confirms Iain, who has taught adults and children at different school levels and training settings both in the UK and elsewhere in Europe.
“There are lots of emotional and psychological issues, but transformation can take place on the personal level of self-esteem and confidence simply by being seen and appreciated by another human being. I think that’s fairly similar to what we’re doing when we’re transcending in meditation – we see ourselves for real for the first time, and we get confidence from knowing intimately that which never changes. That helps to relieve pressure enormously.”
RESTORING ENERGY AND RIGHT BALANCE
We cannot learn anything – let alone enjoy it fully – if our nervous system is filled with adrenaline and cortisol. If we are in a state of flight, fight or freeze. Unfortunately, that’s what many school environments are alike. They are ripe for creating the psychical symptoms of PTSD.
“As a teacher, I get sick less than my colleagues, my attendance is excellent, my ability to adapt to change is high and I am more resilient to stress and the negative effects of stress,” Iain reveals. “I don’t have sleepless nights, because I have a tool that allows my physiology to settle again after a manic day where I have been impacted on numerous occasions.
What is really fundamental is that meditation helps build empathy and compassion towards others. Asa teacher you can be more supportive to your students and your colleagues when you are rested and less stressed. In an environment like a school that is in constant motion stability is essential. Students feel cared for, a fellow teachers feels supported when you are established in your own self. In that respect, meditation is essential.
Of course, if you work in an environment which is so intense, you will be affected. Yet you can restore the balance right away: not to have sleepless nights, not to fall ill, not to collapse in a heap when holidays come. So at least you can avoid risking your life while trying to do your best!”