As I leave the U.S. again for Kabul, I wonder if the reason I go is honestly and solely to be part of progress in education and other social systems.
That's the official line. But the unofficial line, just as true, is I go to be stimulated. I am enthralled by the lifestyles of locals and expats both in this intense and dynamic environment: the motivations of war profiteers, the visions and vibrations of entrepreneurs and artists, the energy of young and old Afghans changing their government and economy, the gall and cynicism of journalists, the misery and might of many military men, the mystery and power of Afghan women, the passion and pain of those in the development industry. Street food, people without food, and restaurants made just for expats and the rich. Zen homes, mud huts, and barren military compounds. Blue Afghan eyes.
Stimulation is everywhere.
Traveling or living abroad, especially in a developing country, is a quick fix way to make our soul strings vibrate.
But vibrate they must, wherever you are, whatever you do.
I remember a post written by one of my favorite bloggers, Jeffrey Bochsler of DailyIntent.com, discussing his experience at a Kings of Leon concert. How a seemingly-exterior beat resonated with his cells -- how moved, how connected, how literally in tune his body became with what we call "music."
I appreciated Bochsler's piece because at home, in Seattle, music is one of the staple stimulants of my senses. I go to concerts of artists I've never heard before, but the rhythm, the passion, and the beauty in the music captures me. The guitar in Pink Floyd's "Learning to Fly" -- no words say more than those four notes.
I never leave a concert excited it is over. Do you? I always leave wishing it would never end.
I want to feel that high -- that sensually-stimulating rush of the perfect song -- every day. My solution was to move to Afghanistan. But I believe there are other ways, small and large, to stroke our senses and heighten our life vibrations.
Less separation of work and play
In what I've seen of modern American society, learning, business, education, and even most social experiences do not necessarily honor the senses.
But where I'm from, in Iran (and many of these examples bear true for Afghanistan as well) we speak in metaphor, hyperbole. We are more likely to say "may I die for you" than "I love you" -- poetry infused in daily chatter. We quote our great poets, Rumi, Hafiz, Sa'adi, in business meetings and pleasure meetings alike. In America, I find the words of great entrepreneurs and coaches are more often recalled for inspiration -- though the lessons offered may be the same. Iranian social gatherings -- and sometimes school recess -- are dominated by music and dance. The main Iranian social genre of music has a name: "deemba-la-deembo," which is a simple attempt to describe the beat. This beat hijacks your blood; it is impossible to hear it without your hips starting to move. The clothes many Iranians wear -- daily and in the evenings, and despite women having to cover their heads -- show very serious attempts to be beautiful. In fact, Google "nose job capital of the world" -- Tehran, Iran.
Iranian culture is obsessed with stimulating the senses, all day, every day (perhaps a small overstatement... perhaps). This is one reason, amongst many others, I believe Iran will never be a superpower; frankly, we'd rather drink tea, dance, and recite poetry.
We'd rather get high.
America is certainly a more productive, economically-appealing country, and many, many Iranians would trade their dance and their poetry for the opportunities offered here.
But I think it's okay to get high at work. The enraptured feeling we get from music, beats, the rhythm of poetry... maybe it can fuel us in our work. Maybe it can fuel us in our play as well, so as a nation we turn less to alcohol and drugs, alternative Bearers of the High. As Bochsler stated, our cells have deep memory, deep yearnings. They'd like to read many languages, they get stimulated through many avenues, and we get inspired. Happy bordering on euphoric. High. Our job is to choose and provide the stimulant.
If you have 11 minutes and are interested in changing education paradigms, please watch the clip below. Otherwise, check out a minute or so starting at 5:40.
Ken Robinson, a leading thinker in education, says the U.S. education system, modeled after our factory system, is in sore need of a sensory overhaul -- as are many education systems around the world. According to Robinson, the ADHD epidemic, and the pouring of drugs on our youth (as a high school teacher, 20 percent of my students were on ADHD meds, and I've been prescribed them myself) are a tragic attempt to squelch squirming cells, when a good, supported teacher, a strong education system, would fan that squirm into a dance. I'm Iranian, we speak in metaphors, remember?
Shout out to scientists...
... and engineers, and architects. I recently read that a scientific model is a good model if it is "elegant." (Stephen Hawking, The Grand Design) Elegance? In science? Engineering? What does that mean? It means beauty. A bridge -- or a car, etc. -- isn't simply functional. It is streamlined, precise, resonates with our senses. It is aesthetically pleasing. What would "elegance" mean in your field of work?
In our daily lives
Some thoughts on how to stimulate our senses, beautifully and routinely:
1. Code-shift your inspiration: Do you read development books, i.e., Drive, Mindset, 7 Habits, Outliers? Perhaps, sometimes, we can find similar inspiration in a prettier way. For example, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a metaphorical story by Richard Bach, has offered me incredible lessons in leadership, as Khalil Gibran's The Prophet has in personal growth. What stories have most motivated you? Are they worth rereading and sharing?
2. Background music: What tasks can you set to music? Cooking? Organizing? Laundry? Your morning routine? On talk radio not long ago, I heard that most teenagers would rather give up food for a day than music. True or not, that inspired me turn off talk radio and sing on the way to work.
3. Latin dance: This one goes out to people like me, who tend to congregate socially in bars and clubs, where "drinking" is the evening's slated "activity." But a couple years ago, I discovered Seattle's Latin scene, where almost every night of the week, there's a place to dance and get high on musical beats. It's sexy, it's sober, it's stimulating. In Seattle, I recommend the sultry, holistic Salsa Con Todo, led by enigmatic Vassili with his talented partner Christine, and the user-friendly, step-by-step, large-and-gracefully-in-charge Seattle original Century Ballroom as (very different) places to take a class or two (there are many others but I only know these two personally). And of course, get your groove on every night of the week in organized socials hosted at different locations (beginners, start with Century Ballroom on Saturday nights). I'm sorry I can't help with other cities, but I've found dance classes and socials in Kabul, Afghanistan, so if you're reading this, I know you can find them in your city or create them (YouTube party -- led by those in your social group who just GET it, kinesthetically).
4. Dress better. Even if you already rival a Parisian fantasy, add some swagg. What do you usually sleep in? Try lingerie. Men (and women, for that matter), what shoes do you wear to work, and do you use an ordinary pen or an elegant one? Does your tie, the color you're wearing, bring out your eyes, or your skin? Is your car washed and shiny? If you're so swagged out you couldn't possibly add more, well, what can you take away to increase the elegance factor? (Einstein's definition of elegance: "As simple as possible, but not simpler.") Along the same vein: Whose beauty can you compliment? Keep an eye out for it, and never be ashamed of noticing. And maybe, if your cells feel particularly inspired, make your compliment poetic to add more stimulation.
5. What are your ideas?
For more by Payvand Seyedali, click here.
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