This simple thing occurred to me the other day: It really doesn’t matter what is happening. It only matters how we hold and use our thoughts about it.
For more than 30 years, I have understood that we can find peace of mind “regardless of circumstances,” and I thought I understood fully what that meant. But suddenly, the other day, it meant much more. I realized, all circumstances exist only within our own minds. All “circumstances” are our thoughts.
Everything comes down to a core simplicity: Circumstances — in my life, in my community, in my workplace, in my state, in my country, on my planet, in my galaxy, in my universe — can only be what I bring to mind and how I think about it . The only power any perceived circumstance can have over me is the power I give it through what and how I am thinking about it — or even IF I think about it at all.
Oddly enough, this came to me when I was reflecting about education, and the common understanding that the “system” somehow isn’t working, or is “wrong” for our current needs. Everyone in education talks about that as though it explains “problems”. I know that any “system” is just an accumulation of thought and it only explains how people see a “problem”, but I suddenly recognized that even talking about the “system” is a total waste of time, as though it was an actual thing that had some force to hold us back.
What passed through my memory was a photograph a colleague at the University of South Florida showed to a meeting after returning from volunteer work in a school in a refugee camp in Africa. A group of children were gathered on rickety chairs in front of splintery tables, focused on a teacher putting math problems up on a small, worn blackboard with a tiny piece of chalk. Their faces glowed with enthusiasm for what they were seeing — the fascination of math. They were smiling and fully engaged, intent on the teacher. There was no “system”. The classroom was a hut. They had no texts, no resources, barely any paper and pencils. They appeared to be different ages. School was uncertain, but whenever there was a teacher, there was a class. They had love of learning and a teacher who really wanted to share something wonderful with them. The learning had nothing to do with a “system”; it all emerged from a feeling in the moment, a connection between teacher and students.
With that thought, I realized, once more and with greater clarity, the power of the illusion that something that appears to be “outside” holds over us. We try to fix that “problem”, as though it matters, and thus we are stymied and endlessly frustrated. We tinker with the educational “system” at the same level of thinking and feeling as that with which we create and sustain it. It’s an endless, pointless, circular effort. We forget that learning only happens from insight in the moment.
The “cure” for any system is not thinking about it, but thinking beyond it. I recognized this in a comment from my colleague Anni Poole when I was working with her in England in November. She said, “We already have everything we need in education; we have schools, we have materials, we have children in classes, we have teachers.” That’s true. She was pointing to the one thing we don’t always have: understanding of the magic, the deep, powerful magic, of the profound connection that occurs when teachers and students are in a quiet, open, state of mind as wisdom bubbles to the surface in the form of shared learning. Seeing things fresh. Having new ideas.
I remembered when my daughter was in high school. The science lab was in an older temporary building that was scheduled to be removed as soon as a new wing of the school, under construction, was complete. She was in the last group of students ever to use the old building. When I saw it, I was appalled. Peeling paint, wet spots on the ceiling where rain penetrated, mold, horrible old chairs and tables, ancient equipment, heating and cooling system working marginally. She hadn’t noticed. She loved that class, and the teacher, and everything she was learning. When I asked her about the classroom, the question didn’t even register with her.
When we’re not thinking about what is wrong, nothing is wrong.
The true educational resource, the true capacity we have to be at peace and happy regardless of circumstances, the one solution that will transcend all the things we call “problems” now is understanding and owning our own gifts to think, to let thinking pass when it draws us away from the present moment, and to experience the power of insight flowing through a free and clear mind.
In that state of mind, there is nothing but the the joyful moments of teaching and learning.