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Historical Anxiety

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‘When the new flu strain was first reported, the world had no idea what lay ahead in the coming months.’ 1918

Ominous words that seem so relevant and pertinent in today’s climate. But back then, it was not the wet markets of Wuhan that first spread the word, but the battle trenches of World War I. The Spanish flu was upon us, the 1918 pandemic that was believed to be spread in the UK by soldiers returning from the war. It was to mark the beginning of a pandemic that would go on to kill 50 million people worldwide.

In these times of anxiety and changing classroom behaviours, it is sometimes easy to forget that people have been through this exact thing before and come out of the other side. This was done in a far less developed world than we live in today with teachers facing the same decisions that we have to make on a daily basis.

That being said, having knowledge of someone going through a similar trial, does not necessarily relieve our own anxiety as we relive similar events.

This knowledge however, that others came together to defeat such an impediment to our freedoms, must also give us hope that this current time of darkness in our history will pass, and in the words of our own national hero Sir Captain Tom Moore

“Tomorrow will be a good day. We will get through this and come out of it stronger, more united, and ready to face any challenge together.”

It is a mantra that we should hold tightly too and say to ourselves every morning to shine a light on the future in these darkened days.

For me, I am quite comfortable standing in front of my class. I would be quite happy to teach unmasked in a socially distanced classroom. It would create no anxiety in me whatsoever. However, try to video me with a camera without my knowledge, and the situation would be very different.

Apart from being a teacher, I am also a designer for a large corporate. It was only last week that I was called into a side room and told because of our return from furlough, we were required to role play our discussions with customers, and have our presentations recorded.

            “Well that’s not going to happen.” I snapped

            “It’s been ordered from head office” responded the manager

            “I don’t care who ordered it, I’m not going to do it!”

            “Well, I’ll have to discuss it with the senior manager.”

            “You can discuss it with anyone you like, and you can tell them it’s not going to happen!”

 

And with that attitude I was quite prepared to walk out of my job that day, much to the surprise of my peers who stood there in shock at this petulant display from some they know as a calm, experienced, and a mature work colleague.

The unprofessional display also shocked myself, but reminded me that I too had not totally cleaned out the cupboard of emotional debris that still impacted on my life.

The poor manager who I had ripped into in such an unacceptable way, who I later apologised to, had no idea of my own personal experience with cameras and the media. To her, it was just video fun to be shared with the group. To me however, it was the ripping off a plaster that I didn’t even realise was still attached to me until that day, one of which you will become aware of later in this journey.

You see, anxiety comes from experience, it may present itself in the present, but it is not of this time, it is merely a trigger of things we have locked away from the past. It is for this reason why it is very difficult to measure anyone’s reaction accurately in the pandemic we find ourselves in. What might be alright to some, can send others into hysteria for what would seem on the surface very little cause. The current pandemic lies beneath in our subconscious with many potential blades, isolation, covering of faces, identity, claustrophobia, nosophobia, whatever words you apply to it, the result is just the perfect storm to create an upheaval from our past and ignite anxieties that sometimes we were not even aware of ourselves.

So on the surface, it is quite easy for many to just look at Covid19 as a transmissible flu that has the potential to kill but as a measure risk we should be OK. For others though, on top of that worry, it can also trigger events that have remained dormant in their lives. It is when these two worlds come together, the rational explanation next to the underlying scar, that our reactions can erupt in a way that is very uncharacteristic of how we normally behave.

One of the reasons for this, is when we go through a traumatic event, it is believed that the trauma embeds itself within us at the age of when it was experienced. So, when the trauma is reactivated, it is not the adult that is reacting, but the younger version of yourself, a regression back to the personality that was present during the traumatic event.

For me, it was a silly camera phone that took a personality that is currently described as ‘a calming influence to those around’, back 25 years to become an instantly anxious young man in his current life.

Not every teacher is feeling the anxiety of the pandemic, and like me, some teachers are more relaxed in our current situation. Many though are walking through a minefield of potential explosions just ready to go off, and it is with this panoramic we must view our current situation so we can avoid unnecessary trauma, support and understand others who are vulnerable to this, and then pass that learning onto our learners so they too can avoid collecting a mass of emotional debris left by this pandemic, that will affect them in later life.

We receive our education in differing ways, and our backgrounds, our life experience, and our use of language will create many layers as to how we interpret that information. It is that interpretation that we must look at to begin to understand that despite our best efforts, it is education itself that can sometimes be the very trauma that ignites our anxiety.

Three Types of Education

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There are only three types of education, material, human and spiritual, and to understand the sources of anxiety in our teaching lives, it is firstly important to understand from which place our teaching evolves. Without separating these three classifications of education, it is almost impossible to find clarity in structuring our own development, let alone how we deliver it to our learners.

Material education, that which is focused on the body, ensuring that we have the right supplements to support a healthy lifestyle and maintain balance within the physical form. A healthy physical state is paramount in creating the foundation of a mental workspace that we can assess all forms of education and draw upon a balanced view of the subject in question.

Human education, the retention of knowledge that supports our societies and establishments, and our standing in the physical world which encompasses civilisations and the measurement of ourselves within our own community. This education provides identified growth in the physical world and encompasses teaching, government, the sciences and its inventions, the arts, and everything that is not possible within the animal kingdom.

Spiritual education, that of the esoteric, the secret of life, and one that can provide many challenges and much conflict within the delivery of the other two. It is the one type of education out of the three, that can provide confusion and uncertainty as its measurability is not as defined and calculated. It holds definitions which are uncomfortable within the other two types of education as it relies on things like faith, hope and a trust in something that cannot be clearly measured within a physical world.

Whilst spiritual education is seen as a necessary part of our schooling system, imagine if its terms of measurements were used in the other two forms of education? Have faith that you will pass your exams, hope that your body gets healthier, just trust in the answers revealing themselves to you.

In teaching, it is necessary to understand the parameters of these three types of education, how they can be interpreted, and how they are applied. Without understanding how each one plays a part in our teaching lives, and how the knowledge of each one is imparted, then an overall understanding of education the education system becomes more difficult to achieve. Often it is this struggle impacts on that inner voice that speaks inside all of us, that causes so much chaos and destruction in our lives.

So, in the educational environment, an ‘educated’ person becomes adorned with documentation to mark their achievements, but if they have only immersed themselves in human education, this does not mean they are healthy of body, nor does it necessarily make them a good teacher.

Now if someone only focuses on material education, yes, they may run marathons and live longer, but this type of education is restricted by the environment surrounding the learner, it is very difficult to become fit and healthy with impoverished surroundings.

But this can also be said of those with only spiritual education, for without the balance of physical experiences to share with others, their education becomes selfish and provides no resonance to others in the physical world.

In order to develop our teaching and become a vibrant part of the profession, it is necessary to recognise the three types of education so we can

 

  1. Identify our role within its structure

  2. Recognise the need for a balanced education

  3. Understand how the subjects we teach are perceived by others who may be at differing stages of their own self-development.

 

Self-developing education is very much like a balanced diet, if you lean too far towards any one element or immerse yourself without any acknowledgment of the others, the result rather than being a healthy outcome, will imbalance your whole system leaving you vulnerable to attack, and often feeling there is an emptiness inside, although you can't quite put your finger on as to why.

But, identifying where we are can often sound simpler than it is, especially when it comes to anxiety. We so often go through life believing that our emotions are at a fixed point and resonate with our surroundings, but when the relationship between emotion and physical state becomes confused, it can reflect in a misinterpretation of the truth.

For example, I once had a design job which I loved, there was an element of sales attached but the pay was very good and the people I worked with were great. If I looked at each individual element of my job, there was very little I disliked, so why was it I had a constant knot in my stomach every time I drove to work? The knot was confusing and resonated with the thought would I ever be happy, as if I was in a job I liked and not happy, then the future looked bleak.

I pondered on this one day as I drove to work and suddenly identified that it wasn’t the job that caused anxiety, but the sales target. But that was bizarre too, as I always hit my target. Suddenly the source of my anxiety became clear to me. When I was at school, I wasn’t a particularly bright pupil, and this was reflected in my reports ‘Andrew could do better if he tried’, with the attached anxiety that came with parents evening as the teachers would once again tell my parents I hadn’t quite hit the mark, and it was this that I realised was the source of my anxiety.

In my adult life I had somehow attached the same anxiety to my expectation of failing a sales target as I had to my childhood school results, and it was this that was creating the anxiety within my work life, not the job. Without identifying that this was a childhood anxiety I had to deal with, I would have focused on the incorrect symptom that I didn’t like my current job

So with anxiety we must really dig down to find its root, rather than try and just treat its symptom.

Anxieties

There are many strains that are placed on teachers that cause anxiety in an environment where sometimes everyday can feel like an exam, a measurement of some kind, or a therapy session. Whilst these anxieties are not unique to teaching and stretch far beyond our profession, it is the very nature of our roles that can make us more vulnerable to them. Within this anxiety we are constantly measuring ourselves with others, asking

  • Do others know more than me?

  • Will others find out about me?

  • Do they trust what I say?

  • Am I worthy of this position?

  • Am I good enough?

 

Whilst this is not an exhaustive list of common anxieties, it is certainly a list of some of the common forms of internal questioning that underlie our insecurity. It can be a mixture of all or only one of the above or our own unique negative questioning, but whichever question plays a part in our lives, they can all be routed back to where we have placed ourselves within the three education types, and our understanding of our responsibilities there.

Knowledge is often described as something we possess, and since all possessions can be lost, then subconsciously we are constantly feeding the notion that our knowledge can be lost, therefore rendering us inadequate in our field of study.

 

The self-doubt that arises from this potential loss is quite often described as the voice inside, that niggling thought process that seems to rebound with something negative every time we dare to think of something good about ourselves.

In the book ‘The Source of Your Anxiety’ I describe how it manifested within me as a voice that became my ‘unwelcome companion’ some call it an 'unwanted guest'. Whatever your term is for this, there is no doubt that it can have a huge impact on how we perform our everyday lives, influence our decision-making, and ultimately degrade our happiness.

When writing the book, I was more than aware of the potential criticism it would attract from those fixated-on book titles rather than their interpretation. But the most destructive force behind the inner voice is that everyone thinks they are the only ones experiencing it, and it is that belief that leaves us feeling so isolated and vulnerable to the words that it speaks to us.

My inner voice had created so much confusion throughout the whole of my life that I knew to fully confront and challenge it, I would need to do an autopsy of my own life experience and face up to my own inner demons before I had any right to discuss and impart my learning with others.

Whilst it may be uncomfortable to hear, this inner voice is sourced from our own ego, that part of us that is vulnerable and open to scrutiny.

In its simplest terms, the ego stops us from acting on our basic urges and is a sort of negotiator between those basic primal instincts, the morality that we developed during childhood that has been moulded by our surroundings, and the reality of what is really going on in our lives.

Our primal instincts are driven by the need to have instant satisfaction, whereas through this negotiation with the other two driving forces, we try to achieve that reward through means that are socially acceptable.  When any of these forces are out of kilter either due to our upbringing or current existing pressures, then our ability to react rationally is impaired.

The ego is created to protect what we have, a survival mechanism, It is easily damaged, and inflated, but ego only exists within the material and human education type. Whilst there is no doubt that the ego can act as a generator of forward movement in the material world, it can also give us a deluded version of our own safety.

To have any chance of defeating or reducing anxiety caused by this, we must first gain an understanding of how it was informed through our life experience, and how education itself underpins our own insecurity causing the very anxiety we wish to free ourselves from.

The Voice Inside

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Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome is that feeling of being fraudulent and is a very common thought process. It is the feeling that we have not earned our accomplishments and are not worthy of others attention, or we do not deserve to be in the position we are in. It can manifest as the belief that an accolade we have received was given in error, and we are now just waiting for everyone to realise this mistake.

It can even appear in social gatherings and is not restricted to work. For me, when I was invited to Australia by some old friends I had worked with in the past, on arrival at the party they had held for me in Brisbane, I started to think that they had organised a party for a different Andrew they had remembered, and only realised their mistake on my arrival.

There is no achievement or accolade you can achieve that will stop you being vulnerable to this phenomenon, so do not look at achievement as a solution.  It is very difficult to dismiss the feelings that we have a lesser ability than others when trapped in this state. The reason for this is we have no way of measuring the effort that others put into their work, how difficult they find the same task, or how much this doubting voice plays out in their heads.

Imposter Syndrome is percolated at childhood as we look at adults around us having the ability to perform tasks that we are unable to do. As we grow older some of us can discard this sense of inadequacy, whereas others have it trapped in the recesses of their minds believing it still applies to their current position.

The entrapment of imposter syndrome is created by our inability to talk about it, for if we did talk to others about it, our anxiety is that our greatest fears may actually be confirmed by them.

Much of this is anxiety is down to knowledge itself, as knowledge is not a thing that we create from nothing or something we have ownership of, but it is something that we learned from others and translated to our intended audience for easier consumption. So no matter how much we expand on our knowledge to achieve higher status, it is never true ownership, so again, like a rented property, it offers little secure footing.

In the same way that the knowledge contained within this book is not mine, the knowledge that you impart to others in your field of study is not yours, it is merely a regurgitation of information that already exists to a new listener. But that does not make it any less valuable.

Experience however is very different. Experience is truly ours and we all have unique ownership of the event and the impact it has had on us.  However, experience cannot be measured in the same way, as the same experience can be uniquely translated by each individual.

In the teaching environment I have often seen this happen in the relationship between teachers and practitioners. Teachers have often dedicated themselves to their profession and accrued certificates of proof that are a measurement of their success. Whilst practitioners have dedicated themselves to experiencing their craft or profession, and often do not have the certificated proof that the teachers hold.

This creates an air of insecurity that can blow between the two, with the teacher fearing that the practitioner may realise they have little merit in their subject matter other than qualification, and the practitioner fearing that the teacher may discover that they don’t hold the qualification they perceive necessary to be worthy of teaching the subject.

Whilst doing an interview last year, I discovered a new word which describes this, ‘meritocracy’ the definition being those who hold position based on merit.

In other parts of life however, the solution to this conundrum is quite clear, for example, if you needed open heart surgery, would you want someone to perform it who has great knowledge of the operation, or by someone who has great experience of the operation? The irony being of course, that neither could exist without the other.

Imposter Syndrome is debilitating and causes so much anxiety in people’s lives. I know of people who have been ruled all their lives by this, without knowing of its existence. Sometimes just the knowledge of this syndrome is enough to free us from it, but if knowledge of its existence is not enough, then it is important you talk to others about it to share the experience. By talking to others, you will be amazed at how many feel the same way.

What you must understand about imposter syndrome, is that if you have it, you cannot possibly be an imposter, because a true imposter knows that they are in imposter and has had a strategy to infiltrate a situation.

Therefore, if you are having these feelings you can’t possibly be an imposter, and truly deserve your position or acclaim.

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Lost Words

One of the answers to unlocking anxiety is understanding its root, and recognising that it grows from one of the three types of education

  • Material

  • Human

  • Spiritual

 

Otherwise shortened to Mind, Body and Spirit. To truly understand the source of anxiety, we must look at the third type of education, Spiritual, the education of Divinity, and place this in context with the other two.

 

Many people challenge the need for spiritual education, seeing it as the education of some mystical force that has no foundation or place within the schooling system. To support this, they present some compelling arguments, one being that of the Pink Poodle.

A student goes up to his mentor and asks him about the mysteries of the world, the mentor says I hold that knowledge. The student asks as to where that knowledge was gained, the mentor replies

            “I have a pink poodle that guides me through all my troubles and answers any of my questions.”

The student looks at his mentor quizzically, wondering if this was some sort of test?

            “Can I meet this pink poodle?” the student asks cautiously

            “Of course you can” says the mentor “He’s with me now.”

 The student looks at the empty space surrounding his mentor and looks confused.

            “But there is nothing here except you and me”

            “Just because you cannot see it does not deny its existence, because my pink poodle is invisible, but ask him any question, respect his name and authority, and he will answer your request.”

The student thinks hard, and then awkwardly speaks

            “Pink Poodle, what is the Secret of Life?”

There is quietness in the air as the student waits for the answer that so many seek. The mentor looks inro the eyes of the longing student and replies

            “There, you have your answer”

            “But I didn’t hear anything” says the student

            “The answer will be heard when you are ready to hear it.”

 

Now of course, the mere notion of having a mentor who gains such knowledge from a pink poodle would create serious concerns for the mentor’s mental health. But if we read the story again and replace the words ‘pink poodle’ with the word ‘God’, then suddenly this becomes a totally acceptable scenario, and the men with the white coats are called off and the student would leave feeling satisfied and patiently awaits the answer to the secret of life to arrive.

 

Can the secret of life be found in spiritual education?  I understand the doubt in many people’s minds that it even exists and have been an advocate of that doubt for many years. But in an education environment we are required to offer balance content, so that the learner can receive information and form their own decisions that are not influenced by a personal agenda. It is because of this balanced approach that we must further investigate the three types of education to gain an understanding of how they have an impact on our anxiety and begin to extract the lost words that have been lost over many years within their translation.

When Words are the Enemy

So, since there are three types of education, there are also three states of acceptance that we must attune to in order to accept what each one has to offer. It is here where the waves of consideration often part the learners from the information so close at hand. Information that is clearly in sight, and yet concealed at the same time. To avoid this, we must look at the wording and understand the differing interpretations.

 

You will have heard the words many times said so casually... Mind Body and Spirit. It's as if by merely saying the words and gliding your finger across the spines of the many books of this genre, your pain will miraculously disappear. But what happens if it's these very words that cause the problem in the first place and throw us into a world of confusion and mixed emotions? Spirituality can indeed offer solutions.

 

But what about the Science you may ask? Maybe you look at all the spiritual and meditational works with suspicion and doubt? This is fine too. You have every right to challenge such fluffy notions that quite often appear to have no foundation in reality at all.

 

Without realising it, the theories of science have a fundamental role, although often an invisible one, in creating doubts within the very foundation of our lives. In its infancy, science was scorned as it was in complete opposition to the teachings of the church. You only have to go back a few hundred years to find evidence of how the church dealt with such challenges to its theology.

On February 16th 1600, the Roman Catholic church executed Giordano Bruno for such a crime. Bruno was an Italian philosopher and scientist who championed the work of the astronomer Copernicus who said that it was the sun that was the centre of the solar system which all other planets traversed as opposed to the earth which was the church’s standpoint. It wasn’t until 1992 that the church after 12 years of deliberation begrudgingly acknowledged that Galileo was right in supporting the theories of Copernicus although he had recanted them for fear of his own death.

 

So why is this titbit of information important?  Firstly, because all of our education and underlying belief systems are formed through religion and a belief that there is a higher force governing us. A force that will reward us if we do right but punish us if we do wrong. Whatever your current conclusion to these opposing viewpoints now, this education has been fundamental to our development and will ultimately have a part to play in our anxieties.

 

Did you hear it? The second reason for introducing this is that there is no doubt that by even creating a paragraph of such opposing positions, will have undoubtedly provoked the inner voice rumblings of most readers. It will already be trying to influence you by second guessing the direction of this book preparing to negate any belief system opposed to that already entrenched in your life.

 

So to satisfy its murmurings we must balance the argument, let us look at some Science first.

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