Everything we need is inside each of us

James S. Gordon, founder of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine (CMBM) in Washington D.C., and a professor at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, was a keynote speaker at the Urban Zen Well-Being Speakers Series (www.urbanzen.org) on April 14 in New York City as part of the Urban Zen Initiatives. These initiatives include well being, empowering children, and preserving cultures.

Dr. Gordon’s resume is long and filled with a multitude of achievements. He has traversed the world from one troubled spot to the other, working with victims to help heal the wounds of war, poverty and deprivation. He was one of the first to speak out and write about the benefits of an integrative approach to medicine and over the years, faced the criticism accorded many visionaries. He has never denied the benefits of Western medical advances, but rather advocates that they should be complemented with many of the practices that have been integral to Eastern medicine for centuries. Among the alternative therapies he has long postulated, acupuncture, music therapy, yoga and meditation, are now accepted as beneficial.

During his presentation, Dr. Gordon asked for questions. One person stepped forward and inquired what training was needed to become a volunteer with CMBM? “Everything we need is inside each of us ... we already own the gifts we seek.” His response resonated deeply with me and, I believe, with others in the room.

Our society puts so much emphasis on preparation and credentialing that many well-meaning people get wrapped up in the process and never move on to the actual work. Certifications, degrees and training of every conceivable kind have become big business as one certificate leads to the necessity of earning another.

Some of these certifications resemble pyramid schemes. They begin with a basic initiation followed by many more seminars, and when certification is finally reached, it has to be updated with further training and renewed often. These processes are time-consuming, often taking years and costing as much as an Ivy League education. At the beginning, many participants are not cognizant of the cost and soon are caught in the maelstrom. All one needs to do is sign up, send in the check and head toward an unachievable goal or equally unachievable perfection. Buyers beware!

The Victorian mathematician Augustus De Morgan captures the essence of such non-terminating processes:

Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ‘em,

And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so

ad infinitum.

And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on;

While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on.

Perpetual students, be it in certification programs or academics, can come to doubt themselves, which is really sad and the antithesis of what Dr. Gordon proposes in acknowledging one’s gifts. This is not to say one should not seek to advance in knowledge and be open to new challenges; however, it would do well to remember our own special gifts: not one of us comes to the table empty-handed.

Although it is absolutely true that when entering college many young people do not know what they want to study, endlessly changing majors without having actual work experience is fruitless. Yet a full 80 percent of all students make it difficult to graduate in four years by changing majors at least one time. One answer would be to incorporate internships and work experience with academics. The value of integrating theory and practice is being reinforced with the growing acknowledgement of cooperative education programs. Known as “co-ops,” they combine classroom education with practical work experience. The same precept can be applied to the aforementioned certifications, which many times do not have a serious practical component.

Dr.Gordon’s wise observation is that the repositories of experience that make up each individual’s lifetime have value and should be shared. The best programs, academic and otherwise, acknowledge the individuals in the group and take time to find out what experience, interests and skills they bring to the training or study. Through knowing the gifts of the participants, the group becomes more vibrant, generating dialogue and reciprocity by adding depth to the learning process.

As an adolescent, I became interested in learning about ancient cultures and traditions. A teacher at my high school in Englewood taught a class, Far East Survey, that further inspired this interest. I was particularly drawn to Taoism, Buddhism and Sufism, traditions birthed on the Indian subcontinent and China. In common among the three philosophies is that life itself is a process in which teacher and learner are always dynamically exchanging roles. Sufi wisdom teaches that interpreters of the tradition may be found in all walks of life. Each of us has a responsibility to help others along the way, and this can come in subtle forms. Even something as small as a passing word can bring recognition, solutions, and even enlightenment. Many well-designed and trustworthy training programs and institutions of learning have vital roles to fill. Yet it may be in seemingly mundane encounters that a deeper learning occurs.

Remember Dr.Gordon’s affirmation— we all have unique gifts within us. Sharing our insights as well as receiving the gifts of others will enhance all of our lives.