Young at heart

I learned to remain active despite the great age when we are engaged in teaching students.  You are my mother’s age!

This was the response of one teacher participating in the workshop that I did today to the question “what did you learn today”.    Of course, he himself really isn’t that old, given that he could be my son.

I always like to ask what people learn at the end of my workshops because I like to know whether they are learning what I hope they will learn AND to understand what else  they are learning because, invariably, there are surprises .   I also try to model the attitudes and behaviors that I believe will encourage my students to take the risks that they need to take in order to fully engage in learning and so I like to ask them what they learned specifically from working with me.  Never has my teaching been considered remarkable because of my age.

Obviously what I consider to be behaviors that will engage and encourage students to participate actively in learning are perhaps not usually associated with, or even considered appropriate for, elderhood in Nepal.    I am reminded of the time when my neighbor, who is no spring chicken herself,  informed me that her daughter told her that she doesn’t dress in an age-appropriate manner.   Neither of us knew what she meant, of course.   After all, at our age, we are, according to Jenny Josept allowed to wear purple and a red hat that doesn’t match and doesn’t suit us if we want.

I am always amazed when people choose to close their eyes to that which is different, to push it away rather than to consider how they might use it to expand their current view of the world.   More often than not, I fear, it is the status quo that prevails.  Certainly it is considered the easier path by many, but at what cost?   What do we miss in life each time we reject something that we have never seen before?   Certainly as children, we did not do this. Every new thing provoked curiosity.   Somewhere along the line, we learned to fear the unfamiliar.

One of the topics today was neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to create new neural connections, make new meaning out of experiences, and the role that repetition plays in the process of making the new connections that form the basis for learning .   But before repetition can be used to build new connections in order to learn  something new, that which is to be repeated has first to be noticed and remarked upon.   Whether it is a new word, such as the word bespoke  which I read last year and with which I became so enchanted that I am now designing bespoke teacher training workshops, or a behavior, such as an old woman acting like a youngster which has inspired my colleague to consider unleashing his inner child more in his own classroom, it must first be noticed before it can be learned.

We are only challenged to see beyond our limited perceptions when we are confronted with something that is, in our world, remarkable.   The status quo remains so until we find ourselves face-to-face with what we consider to be unusual.  It is then that we come to a critical juncture in what is considered by Yogis (and Yoginis) to be our most important quest  in life — to become more conscious human beings.   What we do in that moment is what determines whether we move closer to our highest potential, or back away from it.

How do we respond when we meet something unusual?   Do we expand our understanding of the world and of ourselves to include that which has stopped us dead in our tracks, as the man who realized today that he can be active despite great age, or do we reject it as unacceptable, as my neighbor’s daughter did when she didn’t like the way her mother was dressed?

I don’t know why some people embrace the new with curiosity and a willingness to engage with life in novel ways, while others retreat to the safety of that which is familiar.   But today, I too was startled into discovering something new.  Today I realized  that I bring something else to the table in teacher education that I could not offer before — the possibility of recognizing that being young at heart is a matter of choice.