by Jennifer de la Haye, Program Coordinator
This year, IEA’s theme for both the Bradley Seminar and Yunasa Summer Camps was “Finding and Cultivating Your Voice.” In a culture that has become image-obsessed, where we often exist behind a meticulously crafted social media identity, and where many personal interactions have been replaced with digital ones (my social media mask meets yours), finding our real voices, understanding who we are and what we have to offer unto the world, is essential. Also, most of us – and many gifted kids that I know – battle a convincing inner critic who can rise up, looming like a bully whose leg is constantly outstretched for us to trip upon.
If we can develop strong and healthy inner voices, we will hopefully live authentically while standing up successfully to the debilitating critical voices in our heads. IEA strives to provide a space for children to unfold, where they are emboldened to find and cultivate their voices.
In a 2008 interview from the podcast On Being, Irish poet, author, and philosopher John O’Donohue discusses biography: “It often seems to me that if a person believes that if they tell you their story, that’s who they are. And sometimes these stories are constructed of the most banal, second-hand psychological and spiritual cliché, and you look at a beautiful, interesting face telling a story that you know doesn’t hold a candle to the life that’s secretly in there…There’s a reduction of identity to biography.” Identity is different than the sum of our experiences, and while biography often “unfolds identity and makes it visible,” we hold within us a unique person who is so much more nuanced, interesting, and capable of incredible things.
As we develop a presence on the Internet, we essentially create an ‘in-real-time’ biography that we display to the world. We often interact with others through this Internet veil, and our real identity – our true voice – is neglected. In the same interview, John O’Donohue talks about an “evacuation of interiority” in our culture. How do we find and cultivate our voices? We nurture our interior lives; we tend to our insides. How do we tend to our insides? By being attentive, surrounding ourselves with beauty, becoming a part of an accepting, healthy community, and asking lots of questions.
Attentiveness – an ideal that we emphasize at Yunasa – provides us with the opportunity to explore how our surroundings affect us. It helps us to notice the needs of others and figure out how to meet those needs. It helps us to identify our own needs and advocate for them. It helps us to remain present. Finding our voice requires us to pay attention. Psychosynthesis, a type of guided meditation that we practice at Yunasa, serves to cultivate attentiveness in campers by helping them to focus solely on beautiful imagery that unravels in their minds. As the meditation continues, participants are able to uncover bits of creativity, imagination, and real issues that require consideration, and they are provided with a safe space to discuss and analyze these things. I believe prayer, mindfulness, and journaling also cultivate attentiveness and further awaken us to the beauty that surrounds us.
We must seek beauty: always “keep something beautiful in your mind” (Blaise Pascal). Beauty – whether it takes the form of poetry, literature, music, sculpture, painting, theater, film, math, chemistry, astronomy, nature, or deep, enlivening conversation – awakens our identities; it brings us back to who we are. All of IEA’s programs provide the opportunity to nurture our need for beauty. Yunasa places gifted children in nature, in a beautiful setting where they are free to explore how their social, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and physical selves connect to make them whole. EXPLORE and Academy provide participants with a place to learn deeply about subjects that awaken their identities among other children and adult experts who find beauty in the same places. CDB allows students the freedom to pursue an education in a learning environment that matches their values, goals, hopes for community, and understanding of beauty.
Finding one’s voice is impossible without community; we are social creatures, and community provides a place for us to speak, to practice using our voice. A community of accepting individuals who hold similar values helps to draw us out of ourselves. When we feel safe, when we trust the people around us, we are able to give and receive help and love. IEA provides safe community within all of its programs – a place to land, a place to be vulnerable. We help guide each other, asking questions that help us think critically about ourselves and one another.
As I am wont to do, I shall end this blog post with a Thomas Merton quote:
“We have the choice of two identities: the external mask which seems to be real…and the hidden, inner person who seems to us to be nothing, but who can give himself eternally to the truth in whom he subsists.”
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