Repost of My “School”-Free Year

Burning observation notebooks

I came across this post, written in 2012 to mark my first year of freedom. It still holds true today, 2.5 years later. I’ve included a link to the original comments, an accompanying discussion which concludes that life is much sweeter when cult free:

My “School”-Free Year

One year ago this week I made my first independent decision in five  years and left “school”. I would like to mark that anniversary in this post and check in with one my intentions in writing this blog: to sort through and make meaning out of this experience and understand why I chose it and stayed in it for five years. Here are my conclusions:

Why I chose “school”:
As a woman who had been feeling lost since adolescence, I bumbled into adulthood, clinging to artistic dreams, but without the tools or confidence to realize them.  I ached for guidance and sought direction and purpose at every turn, but a longing for something unexplainable (and seemingly unattainable) clamored relentlessly. Ah, but along came “school” – with “aim”, ideas and teachings that touched on everything from the universal, to the personal, to the cosmological, to the historical, to the spiritual and to the psychological. And it came with “help”. “Thank God,” I remember thinking after attending my first classes at the Belmont Lion’s Club. “I have finally found ‘help’.”

“School” may preach that confidence is a fallacy; that it doesn’t exist. I would argue that confidence, or lack thereof, determined my vulnerability to cult marketing; had I the confidence to trust my inner counsel, I may have tried the “five-week experiment”, but I would not have been sucked in for five years.

Why I stayed in “school”:

Observation Notebook Burning

Given that I lacked confidence and sought guidance, I was “school’s” almost perfect target demographic (if I had money, I would have been perfect). Hope fused me to my newly discovered adventure; I longed to believe it was something real. My new “education” addressed body, mind, heart and spirit comprehensively as nothing else had. Over the first two years, I matured in many ways and my life began to reflect that – I went from temp-worker to decently paid copywriter, single to engaged and from seeing myself as intellectually limited to realizing a passion for history, literature and even the previously dreaded sciences. The teaching was helping; the help was working — until it didn’t.

By that time — had I some level of confidence — I would have thought, it is time to move on. Instead, I fell into a common syndrome – the “I’m not trying hard enough” stage show. Many ‘students’ entertain this stage show and the longer one attends “school”, the more “school” exploits the insecurities that orchestrate, cast and choreograph it. “Teachers” reminded us consistently “If you weren’t in school, you wouldn’t have [FILL IN THE BLANK — the marriage, the new job, the lovely home, etc.]”

Fear replaced hope; not trusting my perceptions, I turned to their tutelage, even as my life was deteriorating into the life I never wanted. The more my life deteriorated, the more I questioned my ability to make choices, instead of their guidance – I turned to “teachers” more and more, in fact. I didn’t ask the obvious question: Why am I afraid to say no to instructions given by “teachers” when they feel wrong to me? When I was laid off in 2010, and in a financial quandary, my prevailing thought was,“ Thank God, I have ‘help’!” instead of the more sensible “I can no longer afford to pay the $350 a month ‘tuition’.”

“How did my life get so off track?” I bemoaned myself, “Is my internal compass so out of whack that I can never trust it? Will I have to ask for ‘help’ forever?”

This type of skewed and fearful thinking makes possible the paralyzing dependence fostered by “school”. The leadership reminded us consistently, “Everyone needs help. The student who asks for the most ‘help’ is the student who evolves the fastest.” Thus each day of my tenure, I abdicated more responsibility and inevitably a constant uncertainty replaced my initial optimism. There is no graduation date. Once you’ve entered the den, you begin the march into an unspoken life-long commitment, and “school’s students” “evolve” into indebted bundles of dependent insecurity.

Deriving Meaning – If You Meet The Buddha on the Road, Kill Him:
With one year of “school”-free perspective, I can see that “school” became a mirror reflecting my internal beliefs: I had believed myself incapable, the joy I sought beyond me, my natural strengths and aptitudes for the arts, compassion and empathy unimportant and/or unattainable. “School” was happy to reflect this back adding the unspoken message of you can become a real woman, but only with ‘school’s help’. Otherwise you are doomed to circle the same track of unfulfilled potential until you die.

Thus I turned to false prophets and let them yank me around. The real woman woke up the moment she recognized “school’s help” as a prison with bars constructed from fear and dependence. I became that real woman the moment I said “no” to “school’s” instruction of “Tell your husband to mind his own business.” I finally recognized the blatant disregard for my life, husband and family communicated through this instruction.  The real woman had to embrace the responsibilities and consequences that came along with saying no – this is real freedom, with all of its challenges and rewards.

I have come to believe that every person has an internal compass and it cannot be dictated externally. Once upon a time, mine led me into a false “school” and then – with real help from my husband – it led me out of this “school”.  It may have been a mistake, but do we not learn the most from our mistakes? The moment I said, “No” changed and defined me anew. Today, when I fall into old habits of doubting myself, I can look back at life while in “school” and see the fearful woman who dreaded the sunrise and compare it with life now that every cell in me welcomes each new day. Through my “school” experience, I released myself from the lifelong and constant search for mentoring and meaning; the very mechanisms that led me into “school” fell away the moment I said “no” to it.

Now each new day presents a chance to practice honoring and following my internal compass, for better or for worse. And as I bumble along, sometimes flying, sometimes crashing, I accept my “school” days as the necessary foray that pushed me into a corner that offered two choices – to follow the route whose road signs are constructed and orchestrated by “school”, or to follow this internal compass.   As I choose the latter, I see that life is a perfectly imperfect and lovely journey and its meaning comes from within.

Link to original comments:

4 thoughts on “Repost of My “School”-Free Year

  1. Cara says:

    For those of us who have survived Sharon Gans and Robert Klein, it is important for us to remember that one of the greatest things we can do is to bear witness to the truth. This cannot be overemphasized.

    “For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”
    ― Elie Wiesel

    “As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our life will be filled with anguish and shame. What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.”
    ‎” We know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour an offering; not to share them would mean to betray them. Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately.”
    ― Elie Wiesel, Night

  2. Hear, hear, Cara! Let’s not stay silent about what we’ve seen, heard and experienced. It only proliferates the grand lie — when you speak out, you free yourself and others.

  3. Cara says:

    You use the word “VULNERABILITY.”

    I have to share with you the work of Dr. Brene Brown who is a researcher on vulnerability and shame. Her work has affected me very profoundly:

    We think of vulnerability as the “weakness” that made us susceptible to school. I think that what made us susceptible to school was shame.
    Dr. Brown speaks about an epidemic of shame.

    Guilt and shame are often confused. Guilt is defined as embarrassment, disgrace, condemnation, feeling that one has done something dishonorable, disappointing, unworthy. Shame is the feeling of being unlovable, where the self is perceived as defective, unacceptable, or fundamentally damaged. Guilt is when a specific behavior is viewed as unacceptable or wrong, shame is when the entire self is viewed as unacceptable or wrong.

    I believe that I was in “school” because of shame. And then “school” in it’s own twisted way, just served to increase that shame which made me stay on (and on and on…)

    • I have heard of Dr. Brown and used one of her quotes in a recent post … this one: “The Rules” and “School” Paranoia

      I remember on occasion that Robert would throw in the phrase “essence shame”. Did you ever hear this phrase in your tenure? Was it ever discussed in “class”? I remember it was one of those alarms for me — wondering what he meant by it. In my world shame has never been something to aspire to and it struck me as odd. Of course, I was too cowed to ask what he meant by it … We were discussing Martin Luther King and how he had accomplished so much in his short life and Robert suddenly boomed out “Aren’t you ashamed?” — as though we were supposed to match the accomplishments of MLK. And he followed up his shaming with some comment on “real essence shame” … something like that.

      Anyway, I will definitely check out her Ted Talks! Thanks for the links and I like the idea of redefining vulnerability. Or at least distinguishing it from shame. I also like the idea of seeing vulnerability as something to protect and cherish and shame as something to discard. And I agree that when one carries a lot of shame, feelings of being unlovable and/or not worth much, s/he can be easily manipulated.

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