Hold ‘em? Fold ‘em? Walk away? Or Run?

Kenny Rogers was certainly on to something when he penned the lyrics to his hit song, “The Gambler”. After serving as a classroom teacher for over twelve years, I have found myself between a proverbial rock and a hard place. In the words of the late and great B.B. King, “The thrill is gone,” and it has been for some time now. In the past twelve years I have spent more time griping and complaining than praising and celebrating. And for these and other reasons, I believe that it’s time for me to walk away. Better yet, I might need to run Forrest!

 

My contemplative state is in no way new or fresh. I considered leaving the profession after my first year (as do many novice teachers), but I mustered the strength and gumption to try a second year (at anything other than a charter school—too much to add for now). In year two I transitioned into a small “suburban” school district in central Ohio, which was certainly much kinder to me than the first year, but it definitely wasn’t easy.

By my fifth year (still in central Ohio) I was again ready to walk away, but chose instead to try a different environment: Florida. In 2008 I packed up my belongings and headed to the “Sunshine State” after procuring a job in Hillsborough County (the “8th largest school district in the country”—the district’s constant claim to fame). Once here in Florida the spark was reignited for a time. By my eighth year as an “educator” (where I had once enjoyed teaching at a Performing and Visual Arts Magnet School) I had once again found myself feeling complacent and jaded. And again, my immediate response was what I have coined the “Goldie Locks Effect”—trying out a different bed, or in my case, a different school (district, state, etc.).

However, unlike years before, the spark wasn’t reignited after I reached school number four (another magnet school—this one IB: International Baccalaureate). I thought that perhaps this school and its students might more closely align with my philosophical beliefs about education: it’s the most important thing to get. I was sorely disappointed and dissatisfied. If anything, my level of discontentment and resentment for what I had chosen as a “profession” had actually intensified to the nth degree. While at this school relations with students and parents (essential stakeholders in education) were in a constant tug-of-war. It was in this environment that I started to seriously question whether I was cut out for teaching. I constantly second-guessed myself, and my efforts, nearly every day. However, I pushed through four years at this school before I had the overwhelming itch to run far-far away (despite its over-glamourized allure in Shrek 2).

This time moving to another state wasn’t going to cut it. I had made up my mind that the landscape of education had changed, and perhaps I was no longer able to adapt to the surroundings. So that’s when I got very serious about teaching abroad. So serious did I become that I managed to get a job offer at a private International IB school in Dubai, UAE. I was on cloud nine. What? How could the teacher who was constantly contemplating walking away somehow be on cloud nine? Great question.

I was determined that teaching in a different country where education wasn’t an afterthought but a highly prized attainment, and educators were esteemed and not emasculated, might somehow bring me the satisfaction that I had lost somewhere along the way. But alas, my emotions superseded my judgment when I backed out of the opportunity. Shortly after I had accepted the offer, I chased after the possibility of “love” instead of the assurance of a new start in a totally different landscape. Turning down the opportunity overseas has undoubtedly been the hardest life-lesson that I failed. And at the end of the day I blame no one but myself. At any rate, choosing not to go a month and a half after being excited about the prospect and the new journey ended up being awkward at my current school. I had to ask myself, could I be happy and/or satisfied staying at the same school? The answer was a resounding: No! So that’s when an opportunity “knocked” in the form of an email from a former principal I had worked with. She had an opening at her school, an opening that came with a leadership position: Subject Area Leader (SAL). I jumped at the chance and was subsequently offered the position. My spirits raised because again, maybe this next school would prove to be “just right” and I could be like Goldie Locks and take a well-deserved nap.

But that wasn’t what occurred. Within weeks (less than four to be exact) I was (am) ready to pack up my belongings—actually, keep them for all I care—and walk away from teaching forever, forever-ever? FOREVER-EVER! And that brings us to my current situation: Hold ‘em? Fold ‘em? Walk away? Run?

Earlier today while reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, I came across the following words that greatly impacted my level of consciousness:

Wherever you are, be there totally. If you find your here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally. If you want to take responsibility for your life, you must choose one of those three options, and you must choose now.

These words have been the best piece of advice that I could ask for. And since reading those words I have been contemplating what to do with my life. Do I remove myself form the situation (teaching)? By and large, this option seems like the most practical and viable. After finding so little satisfaction in a “profession” that drains me of my vitality and zeal, leaving public education sounds like the most logical response. Besides, I don’t see how I could change it—the student’s attitudes and postures towards learning as well as the education system. In the past five years I have watched the vast majority of the students who walk the halls of our school do so with an attitude of unconcern and reproach. It is as if they see little, if any, value in obtaining a public education. Aside from their attitudes, the system that educates them is severely flawed from the top down. Yes, the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) was a step in the right direction, but there is still much more work to be done to make the public education system in this country equitable. Lastly, when I consider the idea to accept it fully, chills run through my body. These aren’t the chills of a mind-blowing, deeply conscious awakening, but chills of horror. It would literally be the death of my soul to accept that the vast majority of public school students don’t give a crap about obtaining an education from a system that is highly dysfunctional. To accept it fully means that I have truly become nothing more than a baby-sitter for middle school students. And on that note I’m with Fred Sanford, “You hear that Elizabeth? I’m coming to join you honey!”

Here are the cold, hard facts:

  1. The 2014 graduation rate in Hillsborough County: 73.5%.
  2. The state of Florida’s graduation rate: 76.1%.
  3. The nation’s graduation rate: 80%.
  4. In 2014, only 60% of Hillsborough County’s African-American students graduated, while 68.1% of their Hispanic students graduated.
  5. Most students drop out in their 9th grade year in Hillsborough County.

With these numbers I have to ask myself: Is the deck stacked against me? Am I fighting a losing battle? Is it time to raise the white flag?

Hold ‘em? Fold ‘em? Walk away? Run?

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Le’Go My Ego!

Despite the fact that I’m just four months shy of my 39th year, I have just begun my “path to love”. At times it seems both strange and frustrating to only now be on such a journey, but I try not to allow the idea of time to box me in. Better to have begun the journey, than to live a false life without really knowing, and experiencing, love in its purest form. Now, this “path to love” that I have started isn’t so much about finding an external source of love (a partner), but about falling in love with the Self (spirit) as it is referenced by Deepak Chopra. According to Chopra, the ego is at odds with the Self (spirit):

Ego is responsible for protecting your self-image; it creates the compartments where everything undesirable about you has been hidden. What blocks love is not the presence of these shadow energies but the division of the psyche that came about when your ego started building inner walls. Love is a flow, and walls keep the flow out (24).

If Chopra’s premise is true (that the ego battles with the Self), then my inability to experience love in its truest, most pure form, has been the result of my fated attempts at preserving my “fragile” ego—which in turn is the cause of my “emotional constipation”. That being said, it’s now time to “le’go my ego”!

As a self-proclaimed bibliophile, I started reading The Path To Love: Spiritual Strategies for Healing by best-selling author Deepak Chopra when a dear friend (Sunila) suggested I look into some of his videos on meditation. While in search of Chopra’s videos, I came across the before-mentioned book title and was immediately in awe of his prolific and profound words. Recently, while reading the chapter titled “The Spirit of Romance: Tender Courtship”, the following words from Chopra leveled me.

The exhilaration of falling in love is an escape from ego, its sense of threat, and its selfishness…the ego cannot do two things: it cannot abolish fear, since ego is founded on fear; and it cannot create love, since ego by definition shuts out love. The reason the ego and love are not compatible comes down to this: you cannot take your ego into the unknown, where love wants to lead. If you follow love, your life will become uncertain, and the ego craves certainty. You will have to surrender to another person, and the ego prizes its own will above anyone else’s. Love will make your feelings ambiguous, and the ego wants to feel the certainty of right and wrong. Many other experiences that cannot be comprehended by ego apply to love—a lover is confused, spontaneous, vulnerable, exposed, detached, carefree, wondrous, and ever new. Love’s journey would be terrifying if we didn’t have passion to give us courage—the blind courage of lovers, it is often called. It would be truer to call it the blind wisdom of lovers, because the ego’s certainty is an illusion. Uncertainty is the basis of life (115-116).

The ego is at war with the Self (spirit).

Fascinated by human behavior, I took my first psychology class as a sophomore at Denison University. I continued to take psychology classes and even considered a dual major in English and Psychology, but my love of literature and writing won out. A couple years after I had graduated with my B.A. the yearning for the field of psychology haunted me and I found myself in another institution of higher learning, Marshall University, simply taking psychology classes because of my curiosity with the subject matter. But let’s get back to this business of consciousness and the battle of the Self and ego.  In an effort to fully understand Chopra’s words, we must return to our notes from “Psychology 101” where many of us learned about the three parts of the human psyche, as defined by noted psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud.

Pen and Paper, Please: Time for Notes

First and foremost, in The Ego and ID, Sigmund Freud explains the difference between consciousness and unconsciousness—which are central to understanding his assessment of human personality (id, superego, and ego):

The term ‘conscious’ is to start with, a purely descriptive one, resting on a perception of the most direct and certain character. Experience shows, next, that a mental element (for instance, an idea) is not as a rule permanently conscious. On the contrary, a state of consciousness is characteristically very transitory; an idea that is conscious now is no longer so a moment later, although is can become so again under certain conditions that are easily brought about. We can say that it was latent, and by this we mean that it was capable of becoming conscious at any time. Or, if we say that it was unconscious, we are giving an equally correct description. Thus ‘unconscious’ in this sense of the word coincides with ‘latent and capable of becoming conscious’…we have two kinds of unconsciousness—that which is latent but capable of becoming conscious, and that which is repressed and not capable of becoming conscious in the ordinary way…That which is latent, and only unconscious in the descriptive and not in the dynamic sense, we call preconscious; the term unconscious we reserve for the dynamically unconscious repressed, so that we not have three terms, conscious (Cs), preconscious (Pcs), and unconscious (Ucs)… (Freud, 1927)

Yes, that is certainly a lot to ingest, but I am certain that Freud’s insights about human behavior, coupled with Chopra’s insights about love, will lead us to a better understanding of how many of us have blocked the flow of love in our lives.

“We have formulated the idea that in every individual there is a coherent organization of mental processes, which we will call his ego.” (Sigmund Freud)

 

Yes, Your Hand May Be Cramping; Suck It Up…More Notes (from Freud’s The Ego and The ID, 1927)

The Ego:

  • Includes consciousness
  • Situated nearest to the external world
  • Controls approaches to the external world; attempts to avoid negative societal consequences
  • Regulates constituent processes (decision-making component of our personality)
  • Goes to sleep at night; censors dreams
  • Represses (attempts to cut off certain trends in the mind—trends that stand in opposition to the ego)
  • Is also unconscious
  • Represents “reason” and “sanity”
  • Carries into action the wishes of the id
  • Operates from the “reality principle”

The Super-ego or Ego-ideal:

  • Less connected with consciousness; preconscious
  • Represents the internal world (of the id)
  • Mediator between the ego (rational) and id (impulsive)
  • Weighs values and morals
  • Controls id impulses
  • Works to “persuade” the ego to operate at a “higher” level of consciousness–moralistic

The Id:

  • Works on an unconscious level
  • Contains passions
  • Primitive
  • Instinctive
  • Impulsive and irrational
  • Seeks gratification
  • Operates on the “pleasure principle” (Freud, 1920)

Okay, now that we’ve taken our notes and have a more insightful understanding of Freud’s assessment of human behavior, here is one last piece of information—an illustration of these systems.

ego

Alas, let’s start to merge Freud’s ideas with those of Deepak Chopra. Let me remind you, Deepak Chopra insists that the ego is at war with the Self (spirit). Let me clarify the Self that Chopra speaks of. According to Vedic tradition, the Self is:

…not the everyday self with its thoughts, wishes, needs, and drives but a higher Self that is silent and eternal…In truth you are the Self, created from the same spirit that in infinite form is called God (12-14)

That being the premise we are working from, we have to understand what this ego is all about. According to Chopra, falling in love is about journeying into the unknown and that is a “scary” place for our rational mind (ego) to go. The unpredictable nature of love stands in contrast to the ego’s desire to reason and rationalize. The ego seeks to avoid pain and does so by weighing the id impulses against the superego’s understanding of societal values and morals. Love desires for us to surrender, but the ego cannot conceptualize surrender because it does not come across as “rational”. However, “Surrender is the door one must pass through to find passion” (Chopra, 1997).

As I reflect over my most recent experience with “love”, I have drawn the conclusion that it was neither pure nor true because it was tainted with an intrinsic need to protect my heart from the “unknown” variables associated with love. If I am to truly love, myself, and another spiritual being, I must relinquish my ego. While it supposedly serves to assist me in rationalizing the world around me, there are just some things that need not be rationalized—love for instance. Chopra notes that, “Getting to true love is a growth process, and the first requirement is to become aware of when you are not being true”. We are not being true to the Self (spirit) when we allow our ego to dominate our actions in the face of love. In an effort to maneuver through Chopra’s four phases of romance (featured below), I have decided to Le’Go My Ego!

  1. Attraction–choosing a person “to be smitten by”
  2. Infatuation—“the beloved becomes all-desirable and all-enveloping”
  3. Courtship—we are “wooed”
  4. Intimacy—“Through intimacy the union of two people begins to be played out in the real world rather than within an isolated psyche”

The patterns in my “love life” have shown that I tend to get so far as the Courtship phase and then the relationship begins to crumble. I am going to venture to say that the crumbling is a result of not being true/honest about my feelings and perceptions. When true Intimacy began to surface, my ego pumped the brakes and I became fearful of sharing my Self.  My vice is my inability to communicate from the deep recesses of my heart, and this has led to many an unsuccessful attempt at love. Knowing and acknowledging this now is freeing me to experience the love that I have longed for. It is clear to me that, “The courtship phase succeeds to the extent that a man and woman can dismantle their defenses; it fails to the extent that they build new defenses together” and “Even the most intoxicating romance will not be able to overcome a history that places ego needs much higher than those of relationship” (Chopra, 1997).

Chopra on Courtship

  1. It brings together two people’s perceptions
  2. Is a tender stage where lovers decide to pursue a new reality or return to the old
  3. Is about speaking your heart to another; sharing your spirit (Self)
  4. Is a shared birth; an opportunity to exchange our innocence
  5. Where a new path (into the unknown) is created together; a path with no past
  6. Allows trust to grow despite old wounds

I know in my heart of hearts that I want a man in my life who will stand with me through the good and the bad. I cannot love and respect a man who flees at the slightest sight of danger and/or discomfort. By nature, I am a fighter and the next man I allow myself to fall in love with must too be a fighter. After all, “If survival is paramount in a dangerous world, two are better at it than one” (Chopra, 1997).