Laura Paskell-Brown studies and teaches psychology in New York. She facilitates women’s circles and is active in Women of Spirit and Faith
How many times have I opened a women’s magazine and read an article about how I should love my body just the way it is, only to flick the page over to another stick thin model with big boobs? It’s such an obvious contradiction that I hardly notice anymore. It’s just another thing that we put under the title of “Crazy s**t we think is okay”.
And how many times have I sat in my graduate seminars and heard about how the testing system is destroying natural creativity, only to be asked to sit another exam – just to check that I was listening. This move represents a contradiction so deeply embedded in our culture that for years I didn’t even see it as a contradiction. It was just school. The classes I took gave me readings that dreamt of a new kind of educational system, but the classrooms themselves looked eerily familiar. School gave me a lot of things to question and not a lot of answers.
So I’m sitting in meditation the other day and I just start crying. This is not a rare event these days. Giving my consciousness permission to work through my “issues” appears to have opened some kind of holy floodgate. This time, however, it started as a physical pain in my heart. That beautiful, pulsating organ wanted to tell me something, and it went like this: I want to believe that I’m enough. I want to embrace the idea that the Universe made me perfectly. I have (briefly) experienced these things and so I deem them to be true. But everywhere I turn there’s some new reminder of where I’m lacking, where I’m not yet sufficient, where I need to prove my worth all over again. Help me.
As the feeling reverberated through my being, I knew that this was about my upcoming exam that will enable me to move onto the dissertation stage of my PhD. Why is it, my heart seemed to be asking, that after twenty five years of school, someone still wants me to prove I’m worthy of participating in the world? Am I not enough now? Do I really need more time to show that I can give? That I am capable of contributing?
Can you tell I’m angry?
So what would Jesus do? I don’t really know, but I do know what Occupy did. One thing I loved about Zuccotti Park was that nobody met you at the entrance asking for your activist resume. It didn’t occur to us that we weren’t qualified to help create a new world. After all, how much more of a mess could we make of things? It seemed perfectly natural in that situation to welcome anyone into a working group as another pair of hands. You were just happy to have the help.
Because let’s be clear about this: the world is not in good shape, and we really can’t afford to be so picky about who we accept assistance from. History will not thank us for convincing a generation of children that they aren’t smart enough to pitch in. Sure, things didn’t always go smoothly in the Occupy camp, but then neither do they in workplaces where everyone was carefully selected after the fifth round of interviews.
Which brings me to my final point. Many of us involved in the current politico-spiritual movement have placed the idea of “abundance” at the core of our belief system. We posit that conflict and competition are based on the misplaced assumption that there is not enough to go around. Here I’m just shifting my focus from abundance in the natural world, to the abundance within us. From what I can see, there is no such thing as smart and no such thing as dumb. We are all capable of extraordinary things; it’s just that some of us know it and some of us don’t. And exams – in whatever format they come – are based on scarcity mentality. Even if the topic is “Why tests should be abolished”, the message of an exam is that one person needs to prove to another that they have something inside them.
You wanna know what’s inside you? Inside me? The whole freekin’ Universe. Yes, that’s right.
Because – as physicists (and my meditation practice) have now proved – we are all connected. And the best bit is that while this awesome power is in me, it’s not of me. That means you can test it all you want, but it’s not going to help. Because if it’s in there, that’s only because I’m connected to the Universe and if it’s not there that’s because I’m not yet connected. And taking another test ain’t gonna help me get connected.
Instead, when competitive classrooms become connected communities – as the classroom that was Zuccotti Park showed – we are ALL able to draw from the creativity that flows through every living being. We step into our natural spiritual authority and throw away small ideas about ourselves and how our collective future could be shaped. We create the world as the Divine Beings we are. In love, with love and for love. Not so we can pass the test.
If we want people to shine, it’s time to stop messing around with exams. It’s time to listen to our hearts. It’s time for our educational experience to reflect Who We Really Are, not the divided, disabled beings we have become.
So do I take the exam or not? Suggestions welcome.