I began thinking about slavery in meditation yesterday. Have I always been free? This question is the wrong way round:-
Have I ever been free?
Have I always been a slave?
Discounting my childhood as I was definitely not free to make decisions then as I was not developed enough, life decisions came when I was 21. At that stage I had some debts, I was qualified, and was considering where to enter the world of work.
But even these assumptions need examining in terms of freedom. Look at the assumptions, “I was considering where to enter the world of work.” I assumed I had to enter the world of work. Now this assumption can be considered in different ways:-
I needed money to live.
Now these assumptions socially became mixed up with
In my own case I never consciously considered any of these assumptions, I went to school, went to university, took the course of least resistance – maths, became qualified, and looked for a job. I was lucky, I got a good job in a computer consulatncy, was not suited to it, got a worse programming job that I screwed up so much that I rightly got sacked. Mixed in with this mess up was a lot of booze, I took time out, decided I needed to get back into the world of work, my compassion started to kick in eventually leading me to be a teacher. Not a pleasant decision process but eventually I made the decision to be a teacher.
This decision solved some of the assumptions, I earned money, had a decent standard of living, and I was contributing to the community. I even had a career path although at the time it didn’t matter to me. Sounds sorted, doesn’t it? Growing pains, and then freedom of choice?
But to consider this properly it then becomes necessary to examine my choices when I was a teacher. In my year of studying education I became aware of alternative education. I studied some but got a good education about education, and as a result of the year was equipped to make a good decision, and here it is:-
I decided to work in Inner City schools because that is where most education was needed. I was never going to be able to educate properly – self realisation, but to use an appalling US phrase “I could make a difference”. Theoretically I understood all the limitations of education, and I thought I could do something.
Once involved in teaching I got sucked into internal battles. I accepted that I was a teacher, began fighting for education, eventually rationalising being the deliverer of exam results. At one stage I had a crisis of conscience. In the Brixton school I remember “my cute little black girls” who worked with me after school. They worked hard but it wasn’t enough to counter all the disruption that was the classroom discipline throughout the school. They weren’t stunningly intelligent but far more intelligent than some of the oiks that got exam results from nose-in-the-air private school; their results were poor. They blamed themselves because I had worked so much with them. It was a kick in the teeth. I resigned to work on a youth centre magazine part-time. That magazine was worth doing, I chose that. But then I fell in love, moved and needed to find work to keep the woman and her family. After that disaster was over I never questioned teaching again until I retired early.
Why didn’t I question the meaning of teaching again? When my relationship broke up, I had debts and I was drinking so I needed the money. Even though I stopped drinking 2 years after the relationship, I was spending what I was earning – first the rent then buying the flat; I had been sucked in. Then financially I was forced to teach overseas, and from then on it was never a choice as to what I did it was just where I did it, even though once overseas I realised how much freer I was than living in the UK.
Was there freedom in my retiring? How did the decision come about? I left state education in Botswana ostensibly because I needed money for retirement. It is worth considering my final speech to the kids. I didn’t plan it but I found myself saying I had found meaning in education again, and there is still the haunting “we’ll miss you” from Kereng. But overall in Botswana I felt I was getting brain-dead. Botswana’s lifestyle was fun. The women were mostly fun even though they ended in disasters, and the game parks were a wonderful memory. But after working on the M Ed and a mid-life re-evaluation I realised I was brain-dead and needed money for retirement. There is no doubt that in Botswana I experienced a good deal of freedom, it was the time I was most free when I was working because it was the time when education had the least impact on my life. But was it also the time in which I was least on my Path?
The international schools were not easy places to work in, and they were places where the job took over. They were places where the teachers worked for the money, and there was limited concerns for education. They were exam factories in which the school owners were unashamedly profiting from education. The teachers worked for money to travel, and one teacher laughed at me for “principles”. I accepted that package as a lifestyle, took on HOD, and became two people – the teacher and second the person experiencing freedom on holidays because I had the money to travel. And that travel was usually to Thailand.
But over that time it became harder and harder to return to teaching as who I was as a teacher and who I was on holiday became so different. Once I got over the death of my parents I realised that I had the financial wherewithal to retire to Thailand. As is evidenced by the fact that I do volunteer teaching, I still got some enjoyment from teaching but that holiday distance was too great.
It is worth considering that current teaching enjoyment as it is a good indicator of freedom. I enjoy working with the kids, and teach them English. What I do just fits in with the prevailing system, but I intentionally have limited contact with that system. There is no change caused by my teaching, there is no self-realisation for the kids – I basically give them some skills that the system accepts. Because I volunteer I am free to accept that compromise or not, and as I have no other choice as to what I could teach where I live I am happy to do it.
But it is not genuine education, the kids will become Thailand’s wage-slaves and I will have done nothing to help them understand the Path and nothing to enable them to understand the corporate paradigm. And this brings me to the real point about freedom. I was never free to choose what to educate. In ILEA I was able to work in my spare time on “anti-racist maths” but that never had significant impact. So throughout my time in education I am comfortable in saying I never worked on anything I chose to educate about. So even though I chose education, in my teaching I never actually chose what I did. The subject content was chosen by the exam boards, the curriculum was chosen by the government’s education department. There is no choice in what you teach – what I taught, a teacher is a worker who delivers what someone else has decided what to deliver. In reflection this is so clear even though when I was involved in teaching I deluded myself into thinking I had more choice. To be fair to myself I was quite uncompromising – to my career detriment, and with that lack of compromise I have absolutely no doubts that I did act as a partial buffer to the corporate paradigm (see Matriellez). But the reality is that I was a slave. Overall I taught what they wanted me to teach – maths, I did not teach self-realisation in any form. However when I was younger I knew what I didn’t want, now with the Matriellez book I have given more of an idea. But even then it is so far from actually defining a curriculum, maybe the Zandtao book is more about that. In practice for a school that genuinely educates, there would need to be a coming together of parents and educators in a particular community in order to determine the model of the school; both books could form a basis for discussion that could lead to a free education.
The more I examine my working life the more I see slavery, and what is so crazy is that the more I examine my life in comparison with others the greater the level of freedom there has existed in my life. What an anomaly, and such a sadness to see that the human spirit is so enslaved. To see what few options we have that relates to genuine freedom. Yes we can find a compromise to fight for, but a life that is genuinely free is not possible. That is so saddening.
But in the Path there is hope, because the Path gives happiness in a society where there is no freedom. That is what is so wonderful about the Path. The Path allows us to weave our way through all the prisons that life throws us into, and find freedom in what we do. Despite my overall reflections there was freedom in what I did. I strayed from the Path often but overall I have been lucky in that I followed the Path mostly. Whilst I was never genuinely free, I did create freedoms that allowed expression of the Path – no compromise. Who is to say whether that gave genuine education?
Am I free in retirement? Now that I have money to live I am free to do what I want, and I have made good decisions about that. But there is something very significant to understand about retirement, you have limited social impact. There is community impact, the community you are a part of that becomes your life. But work is where our lives are fashioned. Work is where government makes decisions, where our food is produced, where people are healed and cared for, and where education occurs; work is where the corporate paradigm operates. Retired people have no impact on this corporatocratic world of work – life. Basically in my current freedom I choose to be free but in that choice I choose not to be working in an arena that has impact on people generally. And if I did choose to work in that arena I could have no impact. So again we can see there is no freedom, yet there is always the Path.
I am reminded of Anjali. Her youth gave her the strength to say “Get it done”, but if she lives her life waiting to see if it is done she will not be happy. For it never will be done. Throughout education I could say “Get it done”, but there is no chance. For freedom in the world of work there is a tightrope that is walked, a tightrope of freedom that is the Path, but a tightrope that retrospectively will seem that nothing was done.
Will it ever be different? That is for karma to say. The Buddha said the world is dukkha, and the Buddha is timeless – there will always be dukkha. But we have no choice we have to fight,that is the anomaly of the Path. We have to fight, we will never be free, and in that the Path gives freedom.
What a laugh.