After those three journeys abroad, I felt an itching to get back to my home country and stay for a while. I felt strengthened by my experiences and had a vision of my real work needing to be done in a culture most familiar.
I applied and was accepted to a prestigious progressive school of education on the upper west side in New York City. The first semester was in the spring of 2010 and I dove into my studies heavily committed unlike ever been before. I was organized, eager to not hold back my opinions, and as a result received close to perfect grades. I was getting a dual master’s degree in general and special education.
After the first two semesters, I led a Jewish teen tour to Europe and Israel over the summer. In Europe we visited concentration camps made for the elimination of far too many innocent people. Again, this was a lesson for me in the failings of logic, and the pervasion of mental disease. To hear about it was one thing, to see it quite another.
In a moment standing in a grass field with the foundations of gas chambers beside me, I had a flash of insight that the institution of school itself in its’ present form was not for me. I saw that my decision to go back to school wasn’t a result of an overwhelming desire to be a teacher in the current system, but rather a forced decision in order for me to be included with general society – to meet expectations that I had constructed in my own mind supported by adult instruction. A neurosis really for an image of the way I was supposed to try and make my life to be. I thought time was running out and that I had to make a choice in order for me to appropriately field questions from others concerning my career. I had yet to get rid of that simple minded, yet ancient story, that convinces you that if you don’t flounder to keep up…opportunity will be lost. It’s just not true. All paths are different, and no one is a better expert for your life than you. Regardless, I clearly saw the trap I laid for myself and fallen into. I saw how deeply in it I had gone. I felt a connection between it, and the travesty that had been allowed to happen in the field I was standing in. It seemed to be one in the same. That’s a bit of a leap in connection, so let me try and explain a little bit more.
I saw them both as a part of this thing, this pressure…to keep up or get trampled on. The race itself had everything to do with how often we obsess over our own circumstances. It’s almost as if without constant worry, we’d fall back to the end of the line. But worrying itself is the problem, not the solution. We think that it’s necessary and serves us, when it does neither of those things. When everyone is worried about their own tiny circumstances, there isn’t much room left to objectively consider larger issues of morality, or deeper feelings of gratitude. What the general population fails to see, is that obsessing over our own personal circumstances is not a path leading anywhere beneficial. Sure, give the planning of your life some time, but obsession over it blinds us to its’ significant beauty. Anyway, obsessing is senseless. Why? For a very simple truth really. Because nature can, and will rise up to wipe out all your intricate planning any time it feels like it. I don’t leave the definition of nature at the trees, mountains, wind, rain and all that. I include the actions of mankind as being a part of nature as well. The unpredictability of nature laughs at our plans. There is a lesson here that nature is trying to teach us. It is not to get too wrapped up in our planning because life is so obviously unpredictable. It’s a slight shift, but an essential one. You can plan certain things and be ambitious, but it doesn’t have to come with a lack of awe and respect to the larger forces which far exceed the prowess of our egos. We are not working against nature, we must learn to feed our lives into the truth it has presented us with. In fact, if you can look deeper, you will see that our planning is just simply another aspect of nature as well.
I like to look at layers, and I saw that the travesty of the holocaust – among many other things – was a result of life plans taken too seriously. I saw that fear combined with a lack of humbleness can be a lethal combination. But I also saw that the same battle is going on within all of us. All the time really. Truly it comes down to whether or not our goal is to present our genuine self or instead try to display something which has been anxiously doctored and bent, which comes as a result of an unloving relationship with the self. Are we thankful for what we’ve been given, or are we clawing for more? I felt that I owed it to those who had less than me, that I owed it to nature itself…to let go to a more appropriate amount of control in my life. That meant not feeling forced into a decision I really didn’t want to be making.
So, I didn’t know what I wanted, but I knew some more about what I did not. I did not want to force myself awake each morning to spend my days teaching children subject matter that was not truly vital in becoming a successfully mature adult.
Planning isn’t the be and end all, but that doesn’t stop decisions from where to place my body needing to be made. So, I decided to continue on with half of my plan. As part of my masters program, I needed a certain number of hours of field work. Before I left for the summer, I was all set to work at a private special education school as an assistant teacher. I decided to still take the job at the school, but to let go of the masters program. After the school year, I would have no strings attached to me. It would give me some time to think, feel and grow. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I wasn’t so far in financially that I couldn’t afford the blow of backing out of the program now. I have always known a difficult decision to be the right one when a feeling of a huge weight being lifted off your shoulders finally occurs when you make the right one. That was what I felt, and it made me happy.
It was an interesting year teaching nonetheless – one in which I was introduced to a new area of education (the kind for the very wealthy). Everyone almost always gives me sympathetic reactions when I tell them I taught special ed, but it wasn’t really like that at all. Perhaps there were true learning disabilities, but nothing so severe as couldn’t be found in the public schools as well. A more common scenario was a wealthy parent wanting extra attention for their child. Nothing you can blame them for (class size does make a huge difference), but it doesn’t make a false system any good.
Although I had been through it myself, I was still amazed that the system functioned how it did. I was given more proof than I needed that year that I had made the right decision in stepping away education. During that year, I helped teach whenever I could, but most of the time I sat underutilized in the back of varying classrooms. I watched teacher after teacher far more concerned with their self image, than the circumstances of their students, or the material they were actually teaching. They fumbled through lessons – without passion or very much real confidence. I saw students dragged along and infused again and again with speeches as to the importance of doing well in school without being given real reasons as to why. Most of the preaching didn’t get any further than “a need to go to college,” as a reason to study, but some went as far as to say “to get a good job.” I considered to myself what that meant. I knew plenty of people with jobs who were still utterly confused and unhappy. Is that all there is to strive for…’a good job?’ Regardless, never once during the year did I hear someone say “to learn and grow so that you can help others and make the world a better place.” Perhaps it was because memorizing facts, writing book reports, and having freedom taken away doesn’t help to do that very well. Yes, I am very against our current system of education. It’s not so much that I’m against it, but more that I think it could be so much better.
For me, it was a year to discover another piece of the puzzle. So many people want to be where something is going on. Being in New York, it’s easy to feel that way. But the truth I found was that there’s nothing really going on anywhere. Just the same sorts of things. All of that stuff about having things to do, is distraction from using our own minds to appreciate whatever situation we find ourselves in – fear of what might happen if we take the time to get to know ourselves.
What I loved most about New York was all the walking I did. Every day to and from school about fifteen blocks. The act of walking itself is pretty liberating. The experience is only to be detracted from when rushed. Otherwise, it’s a great pace of movement to observe the mind as well as your surroundings.
While walking one day, I had a moment that changed my life. Like a bolt of lightening, I was struck with the realization that most all of us have already won the lottery. That is, if we compare what we have, what we’ve been able to experience, to the realities of generations past – to all those with less. I didn’t experience this as an abstract concept…I felt it. With a sharpness, I saw the game. I saw that it wasn’t about how much each of us had, but rather how much we had compared to everyone else. I became certain that material luxuries themselves would never have the ability to sustain happiness. Only perspective can do that. I saw that contrary to popular belief, the work toward happiness had everything to do with the mind and not very much to do with external circumstances. The perspective I had, was that I had already won the lottery of existence and it didn’t matter how many others had won it along beside me. Even having the ability to consider these things is enough cause to feel grateful. To be human itself is a reason to celebrate. When you truly see obstacles as an opportunity to learn and grow…all fear really does fall away. How common it was to ignore these realities only mattered in that it made me quite sad. Still does. I couldn’t ignore the fact that training the mind to appreciate and therefore to be steady was where my work and attention had to be. I had a lot of work to do, and I knew it to be endless. If I see the course to happiness…I must follow. A big part of that path (I became aware), was helping others to see it too.