We live in a world that is so full of noise and information that finding silence is an arduous task. In fact, it has taken me over a decade to cultivate a consistent meditation practice. I meditate for two reasons: to hear God and to listen to my authentic being. Stopping the incessant chatter of my ego is easier some days, while others it is a hornet’s nest wanting to control the false narrative. My ego is critical, full of doubt, judgmental and insufferable. It is the voice that tells me I am not good enough, I will never be good enough and it will often wonder When will everyone find out that I am one big hoax?! Thus, meditation is my tool for finding my balance, my joy, my essence, and my confidence. It is in the silence that I can find my center and see the gifts God instilled in me and the gifts I can offer to others.
Whether you believe (or not) in a higher power is not of my concern; what is of my concern when working with students is the narrative their ego is playing on constant repeat. Sit with any student and sooner or later the creature will breathe so loudly that the room vibrates. Its voice is so loud that it echoes in the silence. It can be stunning how quickly the ego turns on itself. This week I was working with a student and with one question the air was so sucked out that I was left breathless. One simple academic question shook the child of all her confidence and left her on the verge of tears. Before the beast of inadequacy could push us off the cliff, I told her that she needed to breathe. Breathing is a tourniquet to our inner critic. After a few moments, she was able to silence the beast and hear me. She had been studying fiercely for a high school placement test and was worried that it wasn’t enough. We talked about how her inner critic expects her to be perfect and work harder. Yet, it is okay to answer a question wrong or make a mistake; that is why we practice and study. We are not expected to be perfect. Life is messy and imperfect and to expect to do everything perfectly or get every question right is such a heart wrenching way to live. I told her that when her inner critic starts to criticize her, it is time to breathe (and deeply). I then told her that it wasn’t her perfectionism that will take her far, but rather her resolute work ethic. Her ability to digest large amounts of information is stunning and her work ethic is an inspiration. She needed to know that she is enough (imperfections and all). She needed to give herself the same grace she would give to others, while at the same time be able to recognize her talents.
I used to have another student named Keller who struggled with remembering math concepts long term. One week he would know his doubles or plus nine facts and the next week it was as if he had never been taught. He worked hard each week but his beast was always near him, whispering words of inadequacy and doubt. There were times when Keller believed that he would never grasp addition facts, let alone his multiplication. Yet, I can tell you that his effort to understand patterns in mathematics gave him a foundation that blew me away. Towards the end of our tutoring relationship, he was solving multi-digit and multi-step problems with incredible speed. He was able to store the strategies in his long term memory because he had created multiple pathways to access the information through his initial struggle. However, my heavy lifting during our sessions was not when I was teaching him about a math concept, but rather when his ego would roar about his inadequacies. This is where I become not just a tutor but a mentor to the child in front of me. This is where I teach the student in front of me to be a lion tamer. It is a time where I find not just the right words, but words that the student can believe are true to their authentic nature. It is finding the words to let them know that yes, school IS hard, but you are enough and you have the ability to attain knowledge with hard work.
In 1997, I was elected Student Government Assembly President at Metropolitan State College of Denver (now known as Metropolitan State University of Denver). A year or two prior to running for President, I met Zav Dadabhoy. He hired me to be the accountant for clubs at MSCD. Zav ran Student Activities and was the advisor to MSCD Student Government Assembly (SGA). He quickly became a mentor to me and I am forever grateful for our conversations in the Tivoli. He was quick to encourage me to run for Student Government and with nothing short of a miracle, I won. Since Zav was also the advisor to SGA, he designed professional development and team building for the incoming assembly. It was an opportunity for us to put forth a strong agenda for students. It was during one of these sessions that we had to come up with one adjective to describe how we saw each person. It was remarkable and nerve-wracking to partake in this conversation where I was one of the ones being described. How others see us is usually so different than how we see ourselves. I cannot remember the adjectives my fellow SGA members used to describe me, but Zav’s adjective is forever burned on my third eye: untapped. Considering I had just won SGA President, being untapped was an interesting word to pick. He went on to say that he saw the potential in me and that potential was so great that this was just the beginning. That kind of description did something to my soul: it is a word that watered my soul with love and light. It is a word that creates sparks, an eternal fire, and hope. He saw in me what I hoped and thought was in me, but fretted I was wrong. Inadequacy is a beast that haunts us all. Yet, we have the power to see in others what we don’t see in ourselves. Being untapped has taken me far in life. It has given me courage to jump into the unknown more times than I can count. It has pushed me to try new things, and to spread my wings and fly.
I am forever grateful to Zav for so many reasons, but one is for giving me an internal spring of hope and potential. I strive to be Zav Dadabhoy to my students. I strive to find the essence of each child and then tell the child about his essence over and over so that he too has a word that waters his soul. I want every child to have a word that is innate and true to each person’s authenticity so that every child can go forward in the world without hesitation and doubt. Everyone should have a word that comes to them in the silence and that lets us know that we too are enough and more.