Everybody is already born a special, unique and vital piece to the whole. Very few of us, however, can really appreciate this or can accept it without question. As a result, we live a collective life, missing out on the potential richness of the bigger picture that together is there for us to claim.
How is it that we have failed to see the vastness and amazingness of the end result of what we could all bring together if we were to individually express ourselves fully within the whole, without self-judgment or in comparison or competition with each other?
I feel one of the biggest players in all of this is the education system, which is set up so that we are in fact subliminally encouraged to think and feel very negatively about ourselves. In a very diminished way, we perceive ourselves as either right or wrong, good enough or not good enough. We learn this from very young, as soon as we enter formal education in fact, and then spend the rest of our lives in either reaction to or in protection of that hurt.
But what if the themes of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, ‘success’ and ‘failure’ that run through our education system are completely false? What if it turns out that we are all just simply evolving in our own time and learning as we go?
I have been working with a colleague recently in schools, supporting children to become aware of what happens in their bodies and what choices they make at the critical point of not understanding something. For me this is uncovering a huge can of worms, highlighting the insidiousness of how the system affects our self-perception and how we relate and interact with each other.
As a teacher, and having been a student myself, I am very aware of the constrictions of the curriculum and how the education system tries to make one size fit all. If you don’t fit into this mold, or do not get top marks, you can believe you are inadequate. As a result of feeling this inadequacy we can go into a whole range of reactions and behaviours to try and compensate. (Honestly, I felt I was stupid for years!).
I have observed also, however, that those who do feel adequate feel a pressure to keep proving that they are and have equally unhealthy reactions to not understanding something, as they too do not want to perceive themselves as failures!
It has been a really interesting experience to observe the children I teach as they come to realisations about their own choices, and to the understanding that it is normal to not ‘get’ something straight away (and that this absolutely is ok); that there is no pride lost in asking for help and that indeed it is important to do so.
Admitting vulnerability can be difficult because it is often viewed as a weakness and hardly ever modelled for them by adults.
Is it possible that in the hurt of our own journey through our schooling – that we buried by becoming achievers – teachers present a very ‘sorted’ persona and it is very rare that we admit to feeling fragile or in need of support in front of the children we teach?
How many of us as teachers transparently admit that we simply don’t know or have all the answers, or need the time to work it out? In this way we model that getting things ‘right’ all the time is the only way. Whilst we may say it’s ok to make mistakes, we do not confirm this through our own behaviour, body language and choices. No one is playfully given physical permission to muck up or get things wrong because we do not model this ourselves!
In a very revelatory way I have observed children become aware of what is physically happening in their bodies at that critical moment when they don’t understand something. They share there is an anxiety – their breathing changes and becomes shallower, and a feeling of discomfort and inadequacy arises because of the belief that they are ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ for not having understood.
Many have come to the understanding that, to avoid these feelings, they go into a whole range of behaviours – from switching off and daydreaming, to wanting the loo, chatting with friends, or reacting by saying, “This is boring,” and so on. In the tension of this anxiety, children often simply don’t have access to the tools needed to work through the block. Many haven’t learned either that this reaction is a choice – most slip into the “I am a bad learner” mode of thought and beat themselves up.
The students I teach have also been learning, through having shared their feelings, that everyone feels the same way and that not knowing is part of the normal process of learning. They also learn how to ask for the help and support – without shame – and how to work together better as a group, rather than as separate individuals.
However, what is also pertinent about what they are learning, is that when this “I am a bad learner” choice is entered into, they are giving their bodies permission to go into a whole host of physiological changes. For example, they learn that in the tension, they have gone into ‘flight or fight’ mode, a shutting down of the frontal cortex part of the brain where access to thoughts that can sort out a problem can be made. In this shutting down, the reptilian brain takes over, which makes them want to run away etc. Within this process a real connection to the body is lost because this lack of connection to the body contributes to the anxiety and lack of presence they are feeling, and hence the inability to access clear mental processes.
With this body related awareness, the children I teach learn the Gentle Breath Meditation™ and other techniques to re-connect in full with their bodies. When the whole class does this, the difference is palpable. Where the room had before may have felt jagged and unsettled, it becomes incredibly still and lovely (more unified), and the children are much calmer and more steady within themselves – each contributing to the greater whole.
When a child is given permission to be who they are in this way and to appreciate what it is they bring, they tend to be more relaxed, open to learning, self-accepting and at ease with the notion that there are just some things they need support with.
Knowing that others are best placed to bring their expression to music, or to science, while mine is best placed to bring something else, doesn’t diminish my responsibility to learn about those other things I need support with, but simply allows me to do it in the acceptance and appreciation of where I am with my own talents, whilst also appreciating those amazing things that others can bring that I can’t.
When a child is in a situation where they feel inadequate and tense (and as a consequence in a physiologically altered state), then this is a sure sign that we are not delivering the education curriculum in a way that supports body friendly learning or an appreciative self-acceptance.
As an experienced teacher and as someone who has gone through the system myself, I know that this element of support with self-acceptance is very much lacking in many schools. Yet this simple programme of self-awareness and connection to one’s body can potentially produce lifelong results in allowing a child to develop an intimacy and trust with self.
By contrast, when we deliver the education curriculum in a way that makes children doubt themselves to the point where they think they are stupid, or feel pressure to keep proving that they are not, then it is clear that we have lost sight of a child centred approach and have aligned with the mindset of solely achieving results. Does this not reflect more about what we think we should be seeing, based on the education we had ourselves, rather than connecting with what truly supports our children?
The true purpose of education is to support a child to know and deeply appreciate the innate qualities they bring so that they are empowered to bring that essence to everything that they do, even when at first they don’t understand it.
From this perspective it is easy to tackle something challenging, rather than get caught up in the overwhelm of not understanding or being good enough. The not understanding isn’t then an impediment to self-worth, but an offered point of evolution, in the acceptance that we are already amazing and whole, but that we are forever being offered opportunities to deepen that whole through our awareness, knowledge, wisdom, understanding and love.
It is with deep appreciation of Serge Benhayon and Universal Medicine that I have managed to unpick my own feelings of inadequacy and to begin to appreciate those qualities I have been innately given, understanding how much they contribute to the bigger picture and to the whole. Being more loving, sure and steady within myself, I am able to express in genuinity and awe the amazingness that others bring that simply are not in my physical makeup to do so.
By Michelle McWaters, Bath, UK
My Teaching Philosophy – The Real Responsibility of a Teacher
Competition or connection: What are students really learning?
Students, teachers and the pressure to achieve: Have we got it back-to-front?