A meditation on interaction that needs to be watched over and over again to capture its rich, resonant beauty.
Produced by Aj Jackson & Narrated by Molly Beauregard
A meditation on interaction that needs to be watched over and over again to capture its rich, resonant beauty.
Produced by Aj Jackson & Narrated by Molly Beauregard
I am a sociologist by training. I love to think about culture, people, interactions, identity issues and patterns. Emile Durkheim, the famous French father of all things sociological, argued that one must treat ‘social facts as things’. These “facts” become the subject of study for sociologists. Further, Durkheim believed that collective phenomenon is not merely reducible to the individual actor. Society, he believed, is more than the sum of its many parts. It is a system formed by the association of individuals that come together to constitute a reality with its own distinctive characteristics. Let me think of an example: how about language? Language pre-exists our birth and it continues after our death. Perhaps some of us will have the honor of inventing some new recognizable slang (LOL, duh), however, most of us will go to our grave influencing language to a very limiting degree.
One of the many things I love about yoga and meditation is the feeling of community shared by the many practitioners of both. I love knowing that yoga long preceded my birth and will continue long after I am gone. I love knowing that practicing meditation will go on and on far into the future for my children and my children’s children. I love being a part of a community with shared values.
Like most sociologists, I believe that individual happiness depends on people finding a sense of meaning outside of themselves and connected to the larger society. Social integration is necessary for the maintenance of the social order. There is something so special about walking into a yoga studio and knowing that for one hour you will share a space with like minded people. There is something so profound about meditating with a friend and feeling the bliss of the shared experience. As any sociologist will confirm, we know ourselves through the mutually shared values, habits, routines and patterns of our culture. Building community at the yoga studio or meditation center sends a great message to the culture at large. It confirms the value of taking care of yourself and reminds you of the many people who hope to build a more peaceful, loving, health conscious society.
“The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is the power of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead.”
Several years ago while on vacation in Amsterdam, my husband bought me a ring. It was a thin ring encrusted with seed diamonds to be worn stacked with my engagement ring and wedding band. One day shortly after he gave it to me, it accidentally slipped off my finger. After spending several days retracing my steps, cleaning out my car and calling all the spots I had visited, I accepted the fact that it was probably gone for good.
About a week later, I had the oddest dream. In fact, it was so strange it woke me out of a deep deep sleep and left me buzzing with curiosity. In the dream a man was painting the interior walls of my house. He was a colorful character, essentially dancing through my home swinging his arms in an elegant fashion. The images he produced were totally entrancing. The most amazing aspect, however, was that he did not have a paint brush. Everywhere he went beautiful imagery just flowed out of his being. It was as if he had entered my dreamscape to remind me of the magic in the world.
The next morning was one of those crisp, cold, Michigan blue sky days. My husband and son were out in the yard raking leaves. I was at the kitchen washing the breakfast dishes. Suddenly, I heard Mike yell, “Molly, come quick!” When I walked outside, he pointed to my ring sitting innocently on the post rail of our side porch. It looked as if it had been gently placed there by invisible hands. It was missing one diamond.
Ever since that morning I have worn that ring snuggly between my wedding band and my engagement ring. I have never replaced the missing diamond. I wear it as a constant reminder of my belief that to all things visible there is also the invisible.
For most people “real” is what they interact with everyday. It is what they think about, what they “know” and what they can trust. And yet there have always been people in every culture who possess the ability to cross invisible thresholds into the unseen. In fact, I think most of us operate with this gnawing sense at the edge of our awareness that what we “see” is only part of the story.
This morning while driving to the bagel shop, I drove through a beautiful storm of swirling dogwood petals. It was, of course, the grace of the wind that gave rise to the spring show. Every day and in so many ways we are offered evidence of the underpinnings of the invisible — the wind, our intuition, every abstract idea we have ever pondered. And, yet, so often we deny the magic.
Too often, we seek to understand the world only through science, through evidence, through what we believe to be immutable facts. In my mind an adherence to accepting only the concrete vision of what one can see, hear, touch, feel or understand limits one’s ability to grow in wisdom. A “figure it out”, evaluative mentality limits our imagination. It is impossible for the finite mind to begin to understand the complexities of the universe.
I like to imagine that my missing diamond is in the pocket of my dreamscape painter. Perhaps, he took it in exchange for the “magic” return of my ring. As Carl Jung wrote, “Nights through dreams tell the myths forgotten by the day.” It is my strong belief that mystery is what compels us forward. My ring is all the evidence I need. I wear it with gratitude.
“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.”
― Rumi, The Essential Rumi
If there is one thing that I am a stickler on, it is class attendance. A few years ago, a former student, signed up to take a second class with me. When she missed the first two weeks, I was surprised. A good student, Veronika, knew about my “skipping class” pet peeve. Toward the end of the second week of the semester, I received a rather breathless apology email from a very obviously busy young woman. Veronika, it seems, had been otherwise occupied. She had been invited to speak at the UN regarding her burgeoning non-profit “The Empowerment Plan”.
The Empowerment Plan is a Detroit based organization dedicated to serving the homeless community. They hire homeless women from local shelters to become full time seamstresses making coats that transform into sleeping bags. Veronika designed the sleeping bag coat while a student at College for Creative Studies. Her coats are distributed free of cost to homeless individuals.
Prior to founding the Empowerment Plan, Veronika was enrolled in a freshman seminar I taught. In her final paper, she wrote about her own metamorphosis and her awakening to the many realities of life. I remember the assignment specifically because she bound her paper between two pieces of wood. There was a hand drawn vine running between the front and back cover of the “book”. On it were a series of illustrated butterflies. It was beautiful.
I have occasionally thought about that paper while watching Veronika’s meteoritic success from the sidelines. I believe that for every situation in our lives, there is a thought pattern that fuels our actions and maintains our focus. It’s as if that final paper served as a blueprint for her future success. As a young woman just breaking free from a challenging childhood, she had a strong desire to be seen as “worthy”. By giving worth to others, she ultimately imposed worth back upon herself.
In 2011, Veronika won an IDEA Gold Award from the Industrial Design Society of America. She is also the youngest recipient to be awarded the prestigious JFK New Frontier Award from the John F. Kennedy Foundation. In addition, she has spoken at various conferences and colleges, has a Ted talk circulating and has been featured in numerous magazines, new shows and newspapers around the world.
While it may seem like individuals have very little ability to shift cultural patterns, Veronika’s success proves that individuals are the only ones who can do the work. It is through transforming our own lives that we create and construct new realities for both ourselves and others whose lives we touch. “We” are creativity in action and where our personal action meets social issues we are able to produce new ways of seeing the world.
It has been a joy to watch Veronika’s journey unfold. Having recently enjoyed a coffee date with Veronika, I can attest to the fact that she remains grounded, sincere and committed to meaningful social change. She is a powerful game changer.
Please visit: www.empowermentplan.org
It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.”
Each semester in my “Consciousness, Creativity and Identity” class, we spend one week exploring “labeling theory”. Labeling theory is a sociological method for understanding deviant and criminal behavior. The idea essentially is that to understand the nature of deviance itself, we must first understand why some people are labeled deviant and others are not. Theorists working in this field are interested in how labels affect long term behavior. One consequence of labeling is that labels often stick, marking an individual as inadequate for life.
One of the frustrations of giving the “label” lecture and the discussion that typically follows is that it leaves all of us feeling pretty low. The associated literature paints a picture of a chaotic criminal justice system plagued by almost insurmountable problems and populated by overworked individuals doing their best in an environment of increasing crime and violence. Thinking outside this box may require an act of bravery – especially for people in power who are dependent on election cycles.
Enter: Judge Frank Syzmanski. Judge Frank is a member of the Wayne County Probate Court and a personal friend of mine. I invited him to come to class last week to talk about working with kids in the juvenile court system here in Detroit. For once, the labeling lecture ended on a high note rather than a sigh of resignation.
Judge Frank is aware of the power of labels. His goal is to undermine the forces that help them to stick. His in-class presentation focused almost exclusively on ways to encourage healthy identity development. “When I think of all limiting, divisive, small world attitudes that so many people live with, it makes me want to shout out ‘Enough, There’s a Better Way’! Seeing the changes kids make in my court in spite of their challenges is a regular source of inspiration for me.”
True change always starts with individuals caring about the well-being of others. According to Judge Frank, compassionate attention is the key to shifting the behavior of the young people he sees in his court every day. In addition to building a program that brings yoga and meditation to young offenders, Judge Frank is the founder of the Youth Deterrent Program. His enlightened approach to sentencing offers young people an opportunity for transformational change.
Thanks for the inspiration, Judge Frank! It was a pleasure to have you visit our class.
Video produced and directed by TTSM friend, Alan Sedghi. You can see more of his work at www.aardmultimedia.com
“Approved attributes and their relation to face make every man his own jailer;
this is a fundamental social constraint even though each man may like his cell.”
Chelsea promises there will be a blooper section at the end of the Tuning the Student Mind movie dedicated to my constant whine regarding “my notes”. Listen, I come by my hatred of notes quite honestly.
My first teaching assignment at College for Creative Studies was a required Humanities course. I was issued a mandated text book that outlined in some detail every important cultural/historical event of the 20th century. Oh, the responsibility! Each week I would set myself up at my kitchen table surrounded by books, notes, pens and paper. Scribbling furiously, committed to covering everything, I was intent on insuring that I transmitted all the important facts to my young charges.
Armed with papers, stockpiled notes and slides, I would arrive in class each week ready to lecture. Typically, I would start class with a line like this: “Karl Marx’s eight hundred pages of Das Kapital are, in a sense, quite Hegelian.” Honestly, I am blushing with embarrassment as I recount this unfortunate story.
One day, well into the semester, I looked up and noticed that many of my students had fallen asleep. Not the head bobbing trying to stay awake dozing but the head back drooling kind of sincere sleep. Rather than feel the shame of the situation, I laughed and said, “I’m not very good, am I.” They smiled and together we laughed at the ridiculousness of the situation.
In his book, “Presentation of Self in Everyday Life”, Erving Goffman writes about the impact of face to face interaction on identity development. Goffmans work was the first to establish the validity of researching human behavior in social situations. It was Goffman who originally wrote about the “belief” in the part that one is playing as the strongest aspect of identity development. In other words, our own commitment to our “perceived” character is the result of our own total immersion in the part that we are playing at any given moment. Goffman writes, “And to the degree that the individual maintains a show before others that he himself does not believe, he can come to experience a special kind of alienation from self and a special kind of wariness of others.” Oh, Erving, the shame of it all!
And what, you may be asking yourself, does this “Goffman” interlude have to do with “getting off my notes”? Truth is my failure that first semester came as a result of my dedication to playing out the role of teacher. As Goffman suggests, I was guilty of putting on a show!! The implications of this reality are profound. You see, I was so taken by the responsibility of being a good teacher that I had forgotten to bring my WHOLE self to the act of teaching. My concentration on “performing” led to a narrowness of interaction, an inability to connect with my students and a deep seeded insecurity. As Goffman suggests, I became a prisoner of a cage of my own making. So taken with my own performance, my “notes” became a necessary prop to insure my professionalism, identity and confidence.
Getting off my notes has been a scary process. While my attachment to them hindered my development as a teacher, releasing them required that I learn to teach in the moment, learn how to connect with my students and count on my ability to share what I know in an organic way. While I am still a work in progress (thus, the blooper section of the movie), I have made progress. Less motivated by professional desires, I act as a more natural force in the classroom.
Most importantly, getting off my notes released me from my commitment to role playing. It expanded my perception of myself and reminded me that the very nature of “notes” is to bind the teaching experience. The freedom that comes with acting as myself rather than my role is like no other freedom I have ever known.
When I first read the following quote, it really stuck with me. Mahatma Gandhi said, “A man is the sum of his actions, of what he has done, of what he can do, nothing else.” I think why this impacted me is because of how relatable it is to the way people’s lives are looked at sometimes: a series of actions or experiences and expectations. Interestingly, through Molly Beauregards Consciousness, Creativity and Identity class and making sense of my own feelings about it, I feel Gandhi might have been wrong.
I have been told for a long time that people are who they are because of the situations they have gone through in their lives. I heard over and over variations of Gandhi’s words. And I believed this too. It made enough sense. I could rationalize certain situations and boil them down to find the answers I was looking for, whether I was analyzing someone else’s actions or my own. I didn’t really look too closely until after I had graduated high school and began to see those experiences from a different vantage point. I had a typical Catholic, stable, loving, and carefree upbringing. If I really was a product of everything I had done up to that point, then why was I still feeling like I didn’t have a strong footing or really know who I was?
I thought in order to figure it out I would be doing the same thing I had always been doing. But looking back on my life didn’t really do anything for me—and still really hasn’t. It turns out, taking all the pieces and trying to put them back together doesn’t really form a whole me. Thinking about the idea of being the “sum of experiences” now, I get a feeling of being a stranger at a funeral. My life would be equivalent to hundreds of photographs pasted to boards, stored in scrapbooks and looped on a powerpoint projected on a wall. This is supposed to provide a summary of life? Yet, a glimpse is all the photos can be. Just as analyzing the snapshots of experiences someone has had in their lives is only a glimpse into what it means to know that person’s true self. Humans are not simply equations: bad experience plus good experience plus confusing experience equals a whole person.
According to C. Mills, many people become falsely conscious of their social positions. They don’t know they are greater than their experiences, and they live their lives thinking that the things they’ve done and seen make up their whole person—even when they might have not had much control over what was going on. People aren’t just reflections of the things they’ve gone through, and shouldn’t be reduced to that. What is bigger than what happens to us in our lifetimes is the connections between those experiences, and the connections we make with people along the way. No matter what you do to figure anyone else out, you can really never know how they’ve made their connections.
This is why I feel that humans have failed to come up with a solid definition of what it means to be conscious, or to have a soul, or to love someone so deeply that you would sacrifice your well being for theirs, even though it isn’t rational. No matter how hard we try, the human experience cannot be boiled down to an equation able to be repeated. I know humans will continue to try to “figure it out”. There is something about cracking a code that is satisfying. But if in the process of solving this equation, you are reducing people to narrow parts, then you are only getting a glimpse into what makes up a whole person. There will ultimately always be something missing from the equation.
Colleen Arce | Interior Design student at the College for Creative Studies
How do we escape it? Bad things keep happening to us. An automatic payment went through and our checking account was overdrawn, allowing the bank to dole out any number of fees. Someone cut us off in traffic, so we slammed on the brakes and spilled our coffee. The babysitter cancelled, so we’re stuck at home with the kids. We took on a huge project and it blew up in our face. We were bullied when we were little. We didn’t get enough attention growing up. Men are only interested in having sex with us. Women are only interested in controlling us. Our boss is only interested in paying us the least, while demanding the most. And so on, and so on. There are so many situations in which we are the victim. And no matter how trivial or immense these situations are, we beat ourselves up just the same. We relive them over and over again, as we tell every person we see that day about how unfair our lives are. Most times forgetting that everyone experiences unfairness.
It’s okay to talk about the things that happen to us. It’s a way of dealing with them; a way of working through them. Sometimes we can’t understand why these things happen, and talking about them with someone else can help us make sense of them—even if it’s only to come to the conclusion that bad things just happen. But good things happen too. Have you ever parked and gone to pay the meter, only to realize there’s still time left on it? Have you ever won a contest or scholarship of some sort?
Despite many of the unpleasant experiences we’ve had and will continue to have, don’t you think we’d be happier if we focused on the good things that happened to us, rather than the bad? Think about it. Your friend, the one who always complains… you can only listen to them so much before you stop asking them to go out to lunch. Now ask yourself, “Am I that friend?” Granted, the braggers have something to learn too. But there’s a balance — a happy medium, if you will. If you’re interested in progressing beyond self-victimization, treasuring the good times and accepting the bad times is all you can really do. If we focus on the bad, we continue the vicious cycle of negative feelings. If we accept it and only remember it to inform future decisions, we’ll start to free ourselves from the shackles of negativity and the perpetuation of self-victimization. If we focus on the good, we open ourselves up to positivity. This is something we have to accept and move beyond as well, because living with our head in the clouds helps no one.
Life keeps moving forward, and sometimes moving forward with it is one of the most difficult things to do. Sometimes victimization is comforting, because of the attention we get. Whether we share our story with someone and receive sympathy, a hug, attention, a gift, whatever… we get something out of it. Even if it’s someone’s lack of sympathy, it’s something to us, because we use it to fuel our victimization. We also get attention from ourselves. We think, “Man, it’s been a really rough day, I deserve this drink/manicure/new hand bag.” We use our self-victimization almost as a way to reward ourselves, but we don’t think of it like that. We think that the world is unfair and we’re the only ones left that will do something for ourselves, like we’re the only ones we can count on. Rather than just taking life as it comes and indulging when the moment is most opportune, we remain victims of these situations and moreover allow ourselves to become victims of the society that claims to have the fill for our void — a tangible, over-priced, service or item that has nothing to do with the experience.
So, how do we escape it? Something we’ve never really lived without? I’m not sure we can. I haven’t talked to anyone that hasn’t let bad things get to them. The only solution I can come up with, isn’t really a solution at all. It’s more of a way of thinking; a way of interpreting it all in such a way that we slightly remove ourselves from it. If you’ve spilled your coffee on yourself after being cut off in traffic, think about how comical the situation might be if it were in a sitcom. All of a sudden, it doesn’t feel so daunting. It becomes something that happens to everyone, and when you show up to work with coffee all over the front of you, you might get a few chuckles, along with a couple of, “Oh! I hate it when that happens!” If your experience is incredibly more complex and intense, it can be much harder to move past. If you were abused as a child, that is something that never leaves you. It’s something that is ingrained in your being. But it’s over now. It hasn’t happened for a very long time. If you think about it as a movie you saw when you were younger, and remove yourself from it, you’re given a sense of displacement. It’s easier to understand in the context of a movie. It becomes something that happened to someone else. You still understand that it’s your burden, but now you see that you share that burden with many others. You can embrace it, and move past it.
Don’t let the abusers, the traffic cutters, the banks, or the babysitters affect your happiness. They exist with their own problems and focusing on the experiences that they took part in will never fix the way you feel. You were a victim once, but every time after the initial experience that you allow it to hurt you, you’re a volunteer. I say volunteer for happiness and change, because that is what matters. Turn the ill-fate into a powerhouse of positivity, and see how much happier you become. I promise.
Natasha Guimond | College for Creative Studies | www.natashaguimond.com
photo credits: Natasha Guimond
My “ceremony for self” is a daily practice that evolves and changes over time but, at its core, is exactly what I need in the morning to get grounded in my day.
I find that if I have a consistent ceremony for self, I have more capacity to give myself fully to what is “outside”, to other people, to the environment. My days are full and productive.
I’ll be sharing my morning ritual here but invite your own practice to present itself to you. You may want to spin around in your desk chair 3 times before you open your computer. Your morning ritual could be staring into your dogs eyes for 10 minutes. Whatever works for you! But whatever it may be, invite change.
I like to meditate for 20-30 minutes right when I wake up. This is the single most important aspect of my morning ritual. Inviting thought, mantra, breath and my physical body to just be without reacting. This feeling spills into my day ahead and fills more of me up the more consistently I am with it.
Next, I oil pull with sesame oil. I really love oil pulling for a few practical reasons like clearer skin and fresh breath but I also just love being soaked in sesame oil first thing in the morning. Which is why I rub it all over my body while I oil pull. Really, try it.
Also during oil pulling, I boil water for coffee and a cup of warm lemon water. Warm lemon water is nice to get your system going in the morning. Coffee is an addiction that I’m owning.
Now I rinse my mouth and brush my teeth. Mindfully finish my warm lemon water… coffee.
*Note: When it comes to adventure I can be totally spontaneous but when it comes to daily routine, I am a planner. I have reminders set in gmail for everything from conference calls to meditating to yoga classes and dinner parties that are sometimes months ahead of time. Being organized feeds my meditation practice just as much as my meditation practice feeds my being organized.
I spend about an hour total on my morning ritual. But sometimes I only do half of it and sometimes I don’t do it all. Sometimes I do it at the same time every morning for weeks (never fails, I love those weeks). Sometimes when I am out and about, I say a mantra twice in my head and feel a little more settled in my space. Sometimes I feel nothing for months. And all of this is fine. What is close to me in this practice is noticing what is happening, knowing it will change and seeing myself in everyone.
p.s. If you ever feel compelled to share an aspect of your ceremony with the world use #ceremonyforself @tuningthestudentmind
As an avid yogi and meditator, I am endlessly reminded- by my practice, my mantra, and my soul- to favor mindfulness. As someone with an unmistakable “A-type” personality, I am persistently intense. And as most of us know, intensity doesn’t always yield good balance.
I have known the power of appropriately balancing “personal” versus “public” energy for quite some time now. Public energy, I am told, is for my day-to-day life: my job, my social calendar, and my relationships. Personal energy is for me.
The difference between personal and public energy was first described to me as a lake. On the surface, the lake looks still. It feels as if it does not move. Yet, at one end, there is a waterfall. The movement of the waterfall requires the stillness of the lake. Without one, you cannot have the other.
What I have recently come to know is the power of “the middle gear.” The middle gear represents an energy level at which one operates at equilibrium. With a middle gear, personal and public energy complement each other rather than compensate for each other. Sounds easy enough, right? Don’t push yourself too hard, but remember to stay away from laziness. Well, to someone like me, explaining the middle gear is one thing; living it is another.
I don’t always realize I’m pushing myself too hard until after I crash. And it isn’t always enough to think about the middle gear because for me, just thinking about balance quickly escalates into strictly mandating, regulating, and even, forcing balance. Sternly and unforgivingly practicing “effort and ease” is not only exhausting but also contradictory. A relaxing yoga class doesn’t really serve an appropriate purpose if all it does is satisfy a self-imposed need to adhere to a strict yoga schedule.
Adding a “middle-gear” to one’s life creates the option to move at 50mph, not just zero or 100. It makes living with effort and ease easier.
Maddy Beauregard | Boston, MA