Following our recent article, Raising Awake Children in a Broken School System, which discussed the school system from a parent’s perspective, we invited contributing writer Andreas Toupadakis Ph.D, a lecturer at University of California, to offer his thoughts on tertiary education today…
The Science of Living
Chemistry was the only subject I was teaching for several years prior to 2005. However, along with chemistry, I have since had the opportunity to also teach at the University of California at Davis a freshman seminar titled, “From Self-Awareness to Personal Growth for True Success in and after College.” Teaching not only chemistry but also the seminar brought me awareness of several very important issues related to student life.
I soon realized that the students’ performance was directly related not just to how hard they were studying, but also so much more to the measure of their enthusiasm. During discussions on their performance, when the topic would shift to why they were taking classes they were not finding interesting and meaningful, they would invariably burst into tears.
I realized that most students are in great psychological pain and under pressure mainly because of parental influence. Parents and students are afraid of the future, especially because of today’s economy. In addition, some parents desire to live their own unfulfilled dreams through the lives of their children. Students invariably state that they are afraid to tell their parents that they do not like studying what they are studying because they are afraid they will lose their moral or financial support. Many of them do not even dare to tell their parents about their school performance because, as they say, they do not want to make them unhappy.
In the meantime, my teacher, Mata Amritanandamayi, informally called Ammachi, found me. It was my beloved teacher who inspired me to write these words, by listening to and reading her words, which are full of compassion, wisdom and humility. My goal is to see my students’ pain be reduced if not totally eliminated and for them to eventually find what they love to do in their lives.
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” ~ Albert Einstein
My heart goes out to all the young people who are filled with beautiful dreams and who need encouragement to fulfill them, and to all those people who already have a career but who would also like to make a transition to fulfill their dreams. I wrote these words for you.
Who Am I?
When school starts many students are arriving tearful, fearful, and confused about career goals and much more. A healthy mind is also an inquiring mind, and it will ponder not only on the subject of the classes taught but also, most importantly, on profound life themes. It is discovered quickly that there is a plethora of contradictory opinions on just about everything.
Are we to live on those opinions that appeal to us? Or do we search until we find a source of knowledge that’s trustworthy? How meaningful and happy our journey is depends on how thoughtful and intense our search is for realizing our true inner infinite potential. If we start comparing ourselves with our classmates, soon a feeling of inferiority or superiority will make its home in our minds.
And then what happens? Automatically, we forget the profound reality that we are all interconnected. As a result, we start building our self-esteem on the opinion of others. As the opinions of others change or we make new friends, so we change our journey according to their opinions.
We end up being like a bird in a cage, which is forced to go wherever the cage goes. In this case the cage is the opinions of others and the bird is our mind. Our mind becomes a hostage to the opinions of others. However, our self-esteem should be based strictly on true knowledge obtained by looking deeply within us and realizing our true infinite potential.
“Happiness is your nature. It is not wrong to desire it. What is wrong is seeking it outside when it is inside.” ~ Ramana Maharshi
The world measures us continuously in many different ways, one of which is the grades in school, and will continue doing so forever. We spontaneously react to what the world thinks about us. Most often, our reactions are destructive towards ourselves and also towards the world around us. This happens when we have not become aware of the fact that no one or nothing can measure us, and that we are without beginning and without end, and that no one or nothing can touch the priceless pearl in us.
So, who decides for your life? How much are you influenced by your environment? Do you feel that you are free? How do you postpone your freedom? Who is taking your freedom away?
Let us keep asking ourselves, “Who am I?” until the answer comes to us from our very center, not from a book or a teacher, but from our Self. Then, as Gandhi reminds us, it is up to us to “be the change we want to see in the world.”
Non-Attachment to Grades
College students face two major problems. One of them arises when they do not get the grade they desire, and the other problem arises when they do get the grade they desire. This illustrates the point that the problem is not the type of grade we receive but our attachment to the grade. This attachment is very serious.
It sounds like a paradox. How can a problem be created when we achieve the grade we desire? But the truth is that when our desire for such things is fulfilled, not just one problem but a series of problems are created, because of our attachment to the grading we have obtained. After we have attained it, our next step is how to protect it, to maintain it, so feelings of pressure, fear and possessiveness around the status of grades will continue to increase. When grades are our focus, our minds can become very turbulent, whether we get the grade we want or not. If we are too attached, eventually we even go mad.
Have you thought that many of those things you had considered terrible or wonderful are just creations of your mind, and that your mind had given them too much importance?
In our struggle to safeguard whatever we have gained, we lose our peace of mind. We start to dislike or even hate people involved in the process of our education. We lose clarity of mind, creativity, and ability to remember, and eventually we even become physically sick. A lot of students become sick near their exam times. As a result, our grades go down and our feelings become even more turbulent. It is like we have boarded a train, which has no brakes. At the first slight turn, we find ourselves in a ditch.
Amma: “Where there is love there is no effort.” ~ Amma
Non-attachment to grades results in better health and success. We cannot be attached to anything during our education and at the same time be at peace; the ideal condition for learning. Excessive attachment to anything – grades, friends, parents – can build up expectations and tension in the mind, and this is bound to create anxiety, leading to chaos in the thought process. We may lose all sense of discernment, as we become identified with the mind and all its negative emotions. But, when we are attached neither to the situation nor to the results of the situation, we can choose our perspective and turn any activity into a blissful experience. When we work and live without attachment, we cannot be defeated, as we have no desires to gain anything or any wishes to win.
Unfortunately, a number of students believe that without attachments to their grades, fear of failure, and homework pressure, they will not have motivation and therefore, they will not succeed. That is one of the biggest lies that the mind can create. Motivation for success should be fueled by love of what we are studying and not by external pressures and fears. Let us remember, wherever there is love, there is little effort. The more love we have for what we are studying and doing, the less effort is required in order to succeed. If we understand that, we will bloom like a flower and all of those around us will feel its fragrance.
“Love and beauty are within you. Try to express them through your actions and you will definitely touch the very source of bliss.” ~ Mata Amritanandamayi
Do you feel the need to change and become more positive, more fueled by love? What is the main barrier you think for your change to take place? What techniques will you contemplate to use in order to be able to achieve greater control of your mind, and your situation?
The Past as a Storage House
When we learn the art of withdrawing our attachment and becoming observers to our learning (and assessment) process, then we see everything in a different way. We experience the present moment and see that what is past, no longer exists. We realize that the past is not the cause of our suffering, our present attachments to the past and the future are the real reason for our suffering.
So, we should think of our past as a storage house and not as the place where we live. Let us use our past as our storage place and take anything useful from it, but we should not stay there. We should leave immediately because that is not our true home. We have already experienced the past. We need to come out of the cave, and experience the now. Outside, we will find the warm light of the sun, love, and freedom, all by living in the present moment.
We can always be happy and calm when we learn not to identify with the imaginary world created by our mind. When we stop identifying with the ever-changing world created by our mind, a new world will appear before us. We may still have a bad grade, but we are not the grade. By not allowing transitory ideas and objects to affect our life, they will no longer be our masters; we will be their masters.
There is no sense in worrying about it if our grade isn’t what we expected. Therefore, the true medicine after our exams is our understanding, and therefore our non-attachment to, the belief that our grades reflect who we are as a person. As a student, you are not your grades. You are the embodiment of love, and life. Our purpose is to find the path we would like to be on, and cultivate self-awareness and personal growth on our path. Until we come to clearly see that, we can start by contemplating on the fact that we are not our grades.
“Find the One everywhere and in everything and there will be an end to pain and suffering.” ~ Anandamayi Ma
It is characteristic of our industrialized societies that it makes us lose our individuality, and so we become only a tiny part in the social machine. It is therefore of great importance that we keep in mind that such a way of living is foreign to human dignity and to our own happiness. By working just for grades, or just to pay our bills, we are missing the meaning of life. Sooner or later, we will have to lose ourselves in order to find ourselves, not for the sake of the machine but for our own sake, and therefore, for the sake of the whole world.
Our motto should be, “We work for ourselves in order to serve others” instead of “We work for others in order to serve ourselves.”
Finding the right vocation for healthy living in the future has now become even more crucial than in the past. There is an apparent trend in many work places for longer work hours, yet more people feel less secure now because many are losing their jobs overnight. But people who have realized their inner strength and unique talents can create or see opportunities for work any time, and use them to stay above the water.
With every passing day, it is becoming more obvious that those who will have job security and peace in the future will not be those who are working for large, volatile corporations; it will be those who have realized their inborn abilities and not just the skills acquired through education. As computers continue to replace more workers every day and as unemployment rises, people will be forced by the need for survival to do work much different than they were educated and trained to do. Thus it is crucial for people to become more active in seeking personally satisfying career opportunities, and less reliant on the system to provide those opportunities.
Years ago, I myself had felt the urgency and heard the clear inner voice telling me to change the type of work I was doing, to go from research to teaching. I waited for many years before taking that little step onward. I went through a great struggle within my soul until I broke loose from my mental prison. Eventually, I had to speak my mind in order to keep my mind.
Although we may learn to suppress it, our soul is eager to find full expression and to devote itself to serving others by using the gifts and talents that have been bestowed on us. Suppressing that force can lead us not only to inner turmoil and unhappiness, but even to the loss of our health. By trying to avoid the calling of our hearts, we live in spiritual poverty – and create spiritual poverty for those around us.
As Gandhi said:
“Replace greed by love and everything will come right.” ~ Gandhi
Creating Your Future
So, in creating our unique future, there are several questions which need to be answered, because the answers will encourage and direct us towards the path we would like to be on.
By examining critically the different causes which on a daily basis keep our bodies weak and tired, our minds confused and restless, and our hearts sad and fearful, we will learn how to avoid such a way of living and see the alternative, the green pastures on the opposite shore.
Next, we should examine how and with what materials we will construct our own boat to be able to cross the river. We can gain wisdom by meditating on the words of the wise people of the past. We can see how they also crossed the river, and we can be inspired by their examples.
What are the reasons why some people are so content in life while others are not? Why do some people seem happy when they are very absorbed in their work but lonely and miserable when they are away from their workplace? As for the people who are radiating timeless joy, not just at the work place but also everywhere else, were they born that way or did they become that way? How? What is the way of thinking that causes people to do work which doesn’t use their talents and which does not express their individuality, or their values and ethics? Where does this way of thinking – which enslaves people – come from? Is it possible to adopt a new way of thinking which will enable us to break loose from our enslavement?
Coming to know ourselves in order to create an enjoyable future is not a process that takes days, weeks, months, or a few years. It can take our whole life, but we should always remember that being on the right path and aiming for our distinct identity and distinct role in life is what makes us happy. Enduring and timeless joy is not found only upon reaching selfhood, it is planted and harvested in the process of trying to achieve it. You will have to act in order to place yourself on the right path towards self-realization.
The more love we have for what we are studying, the less effort is required in order to succeed. If we truly wish for our education experience to support our inner growth, to answer the question “Who am I?”, the question we first need to ask is, are we willing to change?
How much are you influenced by your environment? Do you feel that you are free? How do you postpone your freedom?
Do we want our education to become more positive, more fueled by what we love? What would help us to do that without fear?
Who is taking your freedom away? What dissipates our positive energy the most? What makes us hesitate to help ourselves in those situations? What can we do differently in those moments, to stop ourselves feeling and reacting in negative ways?
If we are willing to change, the helping hand will come. The teacher will appear.
We should have no doubts. We should be courageous because our nature is to be loving and happy, and to enjoy the path of our own growth and learning. That is our right. For the first time in the academic history of the human species, we have the opportunity to consciously establish programs in our schools to promote self-discovery, diversity and free-thinking. Our governments will not do this for us. But, if we take the first step, and embrace self-awareness and inner growth as the foundations of our education, the right teacher will take a million steps towards us.
Let us rise and walk forward. Help will come. If we truly want to, we can change.
Socrates: “Know your Self.”
Now, as you finish reading these lines, what will you do about the calling of your heart? Will you postpone the day of your freedom?
Written by Andreas Toupadakis, Ph.D