One of my most vivid childhood dreams began with me wandering down the hallway at home, going toward the living room. Suddenly I realized that just next to the living room was another room I had never noticed before. I peeked in and there was, with that air of magical obviousness that dreams provide, a fully functioning McDonald's. Yes, inside my own house there was a McDonald's complete with the beeping fryers and the clerk waiting behind the register. I remember the response of pure joy mixed with astonishment - how could I have missed this!?
While McDonald's is no longer my fantasy of a restaurant, this dream has stuck with me, bringing with it the theme of doors we don't notice. What inspires me most, and sends a little shiver of fear down my spine as well, is this question: Is it possible there are rooms in my own house that I've never been to? And why is it so much easier to set my heart on a bold quest, going far and fighting demons, than it is to examine my own hallway a little more closely?
This dream came to mind as I thought about what it means to guide young people. As educators and as parents, I believe we want to guide young people toward freedom. Freedom to discover who they are and freedom to act on that insight and wisdom in the real world. We guide them toward this by helping them open inner and outer doors, and by giving them tools to handle what emerges from these doors. Inner doors toward their own awareness, outer doors to the "real world", whether that means being savvy in a forest, or being savvy finding an internship to explore careers as a teen or young adult.
It's easy to fall toward extremes here, believing that if we focus on the inside alone everything else will follow, or that if we throw our kids into the real world and trust them, they'll naturally find their way (a variant of this is if we stress them with high-stakes academics, they'll figure out the "how to be a thoughtful human" part on their own).
I think both of these extremes are unwise.
So how do you begin down this road? On the side of inner doors, I believe this starts with our own awareness- and aliveness-building work as parents and educators. Would you be willing to find a room in your own house that has been dusty and un-explored all these years? In other words, can you explore your own inner world, particularly with help from others, to discover more of your habits and your authenticity, to build awareness, and to see which tools for inner navigation you can recommend from personal experience? Imagine if the kids around you, whether your students or your children, saw you journaling, meditating, or coming back from a group process experience with new insights. Imagine if they saw you showing interest and wonderment around how the psyche works.
On the real-world side, would you be willing, when your child or student is the right age, to connect them with a real-world experience, an apprenticeship, a mentorship, an adventure in the wilderness? Can you find ways to grant them more autonomy as they show readiness, whether that looks like playing in the park without you quite as close, or going to an overnight camp when older?
These are just a few beginning points, a few ways to open the inner and outer doors in our lives. As our kids get older, they need less help opening these doors, but they need more modeling. They need to see a thoughtful adult go through these doors, whether learning a new skill in the real world, or investigating their inner world more deeply. The best part is, these are not only the ways to be a better parent or teacher, but to be a more alive adult.