Things aren’t all so tangible and sayable as people would usually have us believe; most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more unsayable than all other things are… those mysterious existences, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life. – Rainer Maria Rilke
In a confluence of forces too precise to be known, I found myself in the midst of an experience so unsayable no words now seem capable of carrying its magnitude. The Semester Intensive was one “mysterious existence” as Rilke describes above—hardly tangible in essence and nearly impossible to explain. This acute inability to describe my experience is certainly a self-imposed limitation, an excuse to avoid undertaking the risk of trying to describe a transformative and ultimately sacred time in my life. Those four months changed my life forever—how could I possibly do it justice?
The driver behind this thinking is that by not trying, I can’t fail – the logical fallacy being that not trying is its own kind of failure. To be able to see behind my own façade and to bravely reveal one of my innermost critics, is jut one result of the four months spent at the Semester Intensive, an experiential learning laboratory based out of the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. In the fall of 2008, I joined a community of 31 like-minded young adults following an impulse to leave behind the linear- thinking of most college classrooms and enter instead into a holistic, community based approach to learning.
My mother told me she thought I took the semester off as an escape from my reality – Why wasn’t I forging ahead in college as I had in the past and making my name known?
Growing up, I was a productive, healthy, lively child. I was curious about the world and wanted to know it intimately, so I didn’t think twice about dabbling in swimming lessons, soccer teams, gymnastics, horseback riding, baseball, basketball, tap and ballet, swing dancing, piano, violin, and guitar lessons, student council, and youth group leadership. I was voted homecoming queen, MVP, rookie of the year, and best eyes. I was an A student, accomplished, healthy, popular and well traveled. On the outside all was well, but when the noise around me subsided and I was still, the harsh inner dialogue plagued me. I didn’t know enough, I didn’t write well enough, I wasn’t pretty enough, I wasn’t cool enough, I wasn’t fast enough, I wasn’t strong enough. Always, I wasn’t enough.
Trying to fit in was making me breathless – so much of my energy was spent trying to be well liked by everyone. I just wouldn’t accept that I couldn’t be perfect. Perceiving that I might fail at a task, I wouldn’t even try. Fear determined my life and it was draining me dry. What had happened to the little girl, who drew rainbows, danced and sang her own songs under the limbs of her favorite trees, wrote stories then published them herself? I was determined to finally break free from my addiction to basing self-worth on the judgments of others and find freedom from fear.
With humble gratitude, I can declare that I tasted that freedom last fall. I cannot boast that I am free from those inner voices that tell me I’m not enough. I doubt they shall ever completely recede. However, daily yoga, meditation, community support, and engaged learning at SI brought me home to myself.
Listening models that taught me to validate and empathize with my peers created intimacy between strangers I have never before felt even with my closest friends. In a class on Healthy Living I began appreciating the small miracles of my body and its functions—today I bow to the inner urges that know how to achieve inner harmony and balance with my environment allowing me to thrive. Through music and nature and storytelling, our community of students and staff bonded like an intricate spider’s web. Each of us a node connected by the invisible silver thread of our experience.
Four months have passed since the end of the semester and I find myself still unpacking the lessons learned last fall. What makes my experience so sacred is the same reason this kind of education is so vital. Above all, I walked away reassured that I am my best teacher, counselor and sage. When I quiet my mind chatter, ignoring the voices of ego, and allow the still small voice to be heard, I witness my inner compass. With a sense of humor, I realize, the compass always points home—back to me.
In the years ahead, just like at every other pivotal point in history, innovators, connectors, dreamers, and great thinkers will be needed to help us find the path towards a brighter and more sustainable future. When children are pressed and stamped and funneled into a schooling system that leaves them little choice and no reflection on the direction of their life, it will be long before we see the kind of innovation that can lead to profound paradigm shifts in science, technology, and the arts.
Students who are instead offered a chance to integrate the whole of their life experience and encouraged to be independent in their thinking become imaginative and collaborative leaders. The kind of leaders who will graciously challenge the outdated, who will appreciate the work of their peers, and above all who will honor the divine spark within themselves and therefore within each living thing. These passionate and compassionate individuals will be the Galileos, Gandhis and Gates’ of the future. And they will be more than enough.
To find more information about the Semester Intensive and/or to donate to this worthy cause follow this link: www.kripalu.org/semesterintensive