Overcoming the Tyrant Within: Education and Leading Your Life.

by Rick on March 8, 2017

All happy families and good schools are alike. Each unhappy family and unhappy school is unhappy in its own way. (Thank you Leo Tolstoy.)

Bobby Richman, a close friend who used to write music for Sesame Street and now brings his music to senior centers, tells the following story:

Two elderly persons moved clumsily and with difficulty down the nursing home hallway, one with the aid of a cane, and the other with a walker. When they opened the door to my music classroom and heard African music with a brisk, snappy rhythm, they cast aside their walking aids, embraced and began to dance together with fervor and joy.

All joyful moments, successful partnerships and peace of mind require harmony in the brain. When our genius is in the game, we are playing out of our head, the scales fall away from our eyes, we can see clearly, and our actions lead us toward Beauty, Truth, Justice and Love. Music activates the soul and integrates our heart, body and mind so that we approach the world whole.

Likewise, so many of our failures and frustrations, and certainly all the evils perpetrated by us and by others, come from partial engagement of the brain—a failure to bring our whole selves to the table. We are “dark as Erebus,” when our aspirations, investigations and pursuits and are divorced from our spirit. Dissociated from our soul, our imagination is sidelined, our range of movement shrinks, and our relationships are at risk.

But music and dancing are by no means the only activators of our genius. Myths, poetry, art, theatre, fairytales, jogging, scripture, rituals, prayer, meditation and long walks are also time-tested practices. And like music and dancing, not all these practices are equal. By their fruits ye shall know them. Bad art is the result of an executive brain not consulting its muse. In fact, the quality of any art or spiritual practice is the degree to which it actually does liberate, express and speak to the soul.

Learning Leadership

It’s a critical concept when working with children, too. In school, where there is enthusiasm there is a divine spirit, also. Enthousiasmos means “imbued with the divine.” What children have going for them is that they always bring all of themselves to a situation, at least in the first six years of their lives. They have not yet separated their their heart from their feet, their hands from their natural scientific approach to problems, their mind from their soul.

The sooner we give them goals to achieve and metrics to judge themselves by, the sooner we begin the process of divorce. Maybe much (but not all) of what is called ADHD these days, is more accurately a lack of engagement. Maybe some adult-level goal is unworthy of the complex passions and potentials of the child.

For best results in school, educators create the conditions for them to choose their own goals, design the paths to these goals and decide on their own metrics. When problems are multi-faceted and meaningful and engage many senses, only then will children even bother to bring their whole selves to a challenge. The way most schools are structured, this is very hard to do.

Combine such challenges with the opportunity to work with others, and our classrooms will produce both stronger brains and stronger characters. Such challenges teach perseverance, connection, perspective, communication, critical thinking, courage and creativity. Education is not about what you know, but who you become. It is, therefore, fundamentally a spiritual practice, a game of being guided by our peculiar genius.

One of the most important fruits of a liberated spirit, is love: loving our work, loving our fellow travelers, loving ourselves. When our spirit is activated, not only are we at one with ourselves, but also other people, our work and all creation. Action which comes straight from the amygdala without being processed, sidelines the self. Unhappy families, false prophets, tyrants, bullies, and bad classes all suffer alienation of the spirit.

All the ills of mankind, all the tragic misfortunes that fill the history books, all the political blunders, all the failures of the great leaders have arisen merely from a lack of skill at dancing. – Molière



{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Virginia Yang March 10, 2017 at 11:35 am

I’m so grateful that you continually remind us that “education” is not about achieving goals but truly about nurturing the unique, individual self so that it blossoms. I look forward to your missives!

Rick March 10, 2017 at 8:40 pm

I am grateful to you for continuing to make sure it happens at least some places in the world.

Rick March 11, 2017 at 1:02 pm

Chris Duncan contributed this interview https://soundcloud.com/onbeing/bessel-van-der-kolk-how-trauma-lodges-in-the-body?in=onbeing/sets/bessel-van-der-kolk-how-trauma
which summarizes research supporting Moliere’s statement that it’s all about dancing.

Jon Madian March 11, 2017 at 2:05 pm

Wow!!! Rick, this is so beautiful thought through and told!! So thoughtful, poetic and concise!! Took my breath away :))

Thank you, p.s. it must’ve been a fun one to write :))

Sanket Jain March 12, 2017 at 9:47 pm

Great! I being a teacher never thought of adding music or dance to my study. But I am a bit confused in how to involve music in teaching science or maths AND complete the prescribed syllabus?
Moreover, will it be useful with senior classes like 9/10 grades?

Sanket Jain

Rick March 13, 2017 at 12:19 pm

Sanket, Thank you for your comment. It’s not about adding to the program, or even though music and dance should be taught in school (though they should), it’s about creating the conditions for them to bring their whole brains to the study of whatever you want them to learn. Even Einstein would approve of engaging imagination, and our relationship brain (Right hemisphere) and our emotional brain as we address science and maths and anything. A) we become better problem solvers, B) we develop our whole brain, C) we learn the content more deeply and permanently.

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