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Dancing With Your Skeletons

Dancing With Your Skeletons.

Yesterday, I made a short presentation about mindfulness in daily life at a small church 2 hours west of Edmonton. The pastor spoke about lightening our burden and not carrying the weight of the world in our backpacks. It is important to lighten the load.

Dyan makes  a similar point using the metaphors of dancing with skeletons. The Marianne Williamson provided a more Jungian approach in the quote about shadows.

There are reasons we are called and given voice in our lives. Sometimes, we do not see the reasons easily and we need to examine the weight in our backpack, dance with our skeletons, and know our shadow side. Being mindful is about knowing what to discard, what to retain, and making sense of it as we take the next step. I spent 20 years teaching and it was challenging at times, but I know those challenges were worthwhile and meant something. I was not always sure of the meaning, but I danced with the tunes being played in the shadows and my skeletons learned to dance as they came out of the closet.

O Captain! My Captain!

The character John Keating, played by Robin Williams, used this Walt Whitman poem to set the stage for much of the movie, Dead Poet’s Society.

I do not dispute the original writing of the poem might literally be about the captain’s death and today it pays homage to Robin Williams. The movie did deal with the difficult issue of suicide. Having said this, I think it is important to consider a figurative meaning about teaching which was Keating’s profession in the movie so ably brought to life by Robin Williams.

I critiqued the movie from a teacher’s perspective while completing my Master’s degree. I spoke about the passion teaching brought into my life. I extend this to anything we choose to do. When we lose the spirit and voice that a vocation offers each of us, it is figuratively and literally a death, as well.

I recall using Parker Palmer’s quote about vocation and voice coming from the Latin vocere. Voice gives us life. Robin William’s portrayal of John Keating spoke deeply to me about holding true to the purposes we are called to in life.

                         But O heart! heart! heart!
                            O the bleeding drops of red,
                               Where on the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
                         Here Captain! dear father!
                            This arm beneath your head!
                               It is some dream that on the deck,
                                 You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
                         Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
                            But I with mournful tread,
                               Walk the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.

Daily Reflection and Peace

Daily Reflection and Peace.

We face an important challenge with mindful practice. The article linked above addresses this challenge with questions. Questions are fundamental to being challenged. When I am challenged, I ask questions. I question what is happening and what is making me feel a particular way.

When I read many articles about mindfulness, I find the articles miss the key underlying aspect of mindfulness, being present in the world in ways that improve one’s life and in that improvement the world is continuously becoming a better place. It is not about a corporate bottom line in the way we understand a corporate bottom line. I guess the bottom line is harder to measure. I cann0t apply a number to it, report it to shareholders, and make a banker satisfied. What I can do is ask, “Did I make the world a better place in some way by becoming a better person?”

Can you imagine if 7 billion plus people worked on making the world a better place through their living? That might be a number that is unmeasurable, but that is OK. It would be so big it would not need to be reported. Its quality would speak for itself.

Axe Handles

I mentioned in The Wild Rose I am reading Gary Snyder and Wendell Berry. I read this poem several times over the last few months trying to make sense of it. At first, I thought it was a personal and it begins that way. Gary Snyder describes his work teaching his son to throw an axe and shaping the axe handle to fit the work.

As I reflected on the poem, I realized it is about important traditions passed from parents to children. We hone and polish what we wish to retain forming the axe handle. It is a handle for us and our children which provides security as we polish and remove the unwanted.

Most of the time, we are unaware of the work we do without taking time and reflecting. In those moments, we realize what changes, what remains, and what is added knowing each generation makes its own adjustments.

To do it well, we mindfully and attentively approach the work remaining fully present.

One afternoon the last week in April
Showing Kai how to throw a hatchet
One-half turn and it sticks in a stump.
He recalls the hatchet-head
Without a handle, in the shop
And go gets it, and wants it for his own.
A broken-off axe handle behind the door
Is long enough for a hatchet,
We cut it to length and take it
With the hatchet head
And working hatchet, to the wood block.
There I begin to shape the old handle
With the hatchet, and the phrase
First learned from Ezra Pound
Rings in my ears!
“When making an axe handle
the pattern is not far off.”
And I say this to Kai
“Look: We’ll shape the handle
By checking the handle
Of the axe we cut with-“
And he sees. And I hear it again:
It’s in Lu Ji’s Wen Fu, fourth century
A.D. “Essay on Literature”-in the
Preface: “In making the handle Of an axe
By cutting wood with an axe
The model is indeed near at hand.-
My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen
Translated that and taught it years ago
And I see: Pound was an axe,
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on.

Make the Earth Your Companion

Nature teaches and is always present for us to learn. When we pause and are present with the universe, we can learn. J. Patrick Lewis wrote this poem as a reminder of lessons available when we take time and make the Earth our companion.

We do not live separate from the Earth and its inhabitants, sentient and non-sentient. We live in relationship with the Earth. This suggests the companionship is direct and active, dynamic and energetic. Companionship is about breaking bread with another. When we journey as companions, we are in communion calls on us to be stewards and serving the Earth and the relationships we live in. Communion is  fellowship and mutual participation, an exchange of energy which is life-giving and affirming.

Make the Earth your companion.

Walk lightly on it, as other creatures do.

Let the Sky paint her beauty- she is always

           watching over you.

Learn from the Sea how to face harsh forces.

Let the River remind you that everything will pass.

Let the Lake instruct you in stillness.

Let the Mountain teach you grandeur.

Make the Woodland your house of peace.

Make the Rainforest your house of hope.

Meet the Wetland on twilight ground.

Save some small piece of Grassland for a red kite

on a windy day.

Watch the Icecaps glisten with crystal majesty.

Hear the Desert whisper hush to eternity.

Let the Town weave a small basket of togetherness,.

Make the Earth your companion.

Walk lightly on it, as other creatures do.

Expect Nothing

Alice Walker is well-known for her novel The Color Purple. I don’t read a lot of fiction, but I her writing is an exception. I did not realize she wrote poetry and found this wonderful poem.

Living frugally on surprise is a wonderful suggestion. The universe is a place of wonder and awe which invites us to look again at its beauty, depth, and wisdom. We often look past the ordinary where the wonder and awe are hidden in plain sight. Being attentive allows us to encounter the universe and all its phenomena, sentient and non-sentient, fully.

By taking available compassion sparingly, is itself an act of compassion. We care for our self and leave for others who will be in need. In taking it, we stop short of feeling sorry for ourselves and understand disappointment is fleeting as are other emotions.

 

Expect nothing. Live frugally
On surprise.
become a stranger
To need of pity
Or, if compassion be freely
Given out
Take only enough
Stop short of urge to plead
Then purge away the need.

Wish for nothing larger
Than your own small heart
Or greater than a star;
Tame wild disappointment
With caress unmoved and cold
Make of it a parka
For your soul.

Discover the reason why
So tiny human midget
Exists at all
So scared unwise
But expect nothing. Live frugally
On surprise.

why I feed the birds

Richard Vargas’ poem reminded me of one I posted sometime ago called Birdfoot’s Grandpa. We each have those idiosyncratic things that make us who we are. We might save frogs, feed birds, serve meals in a shelter, etc. It is in those moments which are largely unexplainable, but clearly visible that we become who we are.

Something that stood out for me in both poems was the role elders played in the lives of others. Our grandparents and parents do things that we do not understand in the given moment. It is only years later as we experience our roles as parents, grandparents, and pedagogues that we come to understand what it might have meant.

When we take time and make the world a better place, we add something no one else can. In that addition, the world does become better. It is rarely in the large and overtly obvious things, but in the small, less obvious contributions that the world shifts from ordinary to extraordinary. It is giving without any certainty and hope of a return. We do it because it is who we are in our particular humanness which is always being and becoming in relationship with the universe.

And, it make a difference to birds, to frogs, and people in need when we add to the world without expecting return. In those moments, they are small gods in our lives. Those offerings make a difference in our lives without awareness of their importance. They add to our lives enriching them and making them fuller.

i saw my grandmother hold out
her hand cupping a small offering
of seed to one of the wild sparrows
that frequented the bird bath she
filled with fresh water every day

she stood still
maybe stopped breathing
while the sparrow looked
at her, then the seed
then back as if he was
judging her character

he jumped into her hand
began to eat
she smiled

a woman holding
a small god

An Observation

We live in paradox in the world. Parker Palmer uses May Sarton‘s poetry in his writing to bring this point to life. It is hard to be sensitive and being gentle requires a certain toughness.

Since I arrived home, I have read more than I have written. In part, I am exploring the aesthetic qualities that life shares with us. There are qualities that allow us to live in the world in ways that we do not bruise or wound the hidden fruit. Yet, we are left with scars in that work  forever making us stronger when we are not wearing gloves. The paradox of life is gives us strength and sureness and, at the same, we are tender and vulnerable.

Teaching, and for that matter any pedagogic work, requires that sensitivity. It is always rough as there is no how-to-manual. We learn this work through the tact and sensitivity of the work itself, reflecting more on what goes well as opposed to what goes well in pedagogic forming. We come to be observant, patient, and see the particular of each situation revealed in the universal.

True gardeners cannot bear a glove
Between the sure touch and the tender root,
Must let their hands grow knotted as they move
With a rough sensitivity about
Under the earth, between the rock and shoot,
Never to bruise or wound the hidden fruit.
And so I watched my mother’s hands grow scarred,
She who could heal the wounded plant or friend
With the same vulnerable yet rigorous love;
I minded once to see her beauty gnarled,
But now her truth is given me to live,
As I learn for myself we must be hard
To move among the tender with an open hand,
And to stay sensitive up to the end
Pay with some toughness for a gentle world.

Initiation Song from the Finders Lodge

I did not realize Ursula LeGuin wrote poetry I knew she wrote prose and the poetry was a pleasant surprise.

Besides the last line about always coming home, two other lines stood out. The first was letting my fingertips be my maps. This suggested being in touch with the world I live in; feeling it in a visceral way. When I close my eyes, the world reaches into me through my body. In there, the world lives in my soul which is house which is not a house. That feels Zen-like.

Ted Aoki wrote about bridges which were not bridges. Teachers invite students into learning. In those spaces, anything happens and teachers intuit their way around.

Please bring strange things.
Please come bringing new things.
Let very old things come into your hands.
Let what you do not know come into your eyes.
Let desert sand harden your feet.
Let the arch of your feet be the mountains.
Let the paths of your fingertips be your maps
and the ways you go be the lines on your palms.
Let there be deep snow in your inbreathing
and your outbreath be the shining of ice.
May your mouth contain the shapes of strange words.
May you smell food cooking you have not eaten.
May the spring of a foreign river be your navel.
May your soul be at home where there are no houses.
Walk carefully, well-loved one,
walk mindfully, well-loved one,
walk fearlessly, well-loved one.
Return with us, return to us,
be always coming home.

Lie Down

Nancy Paddock wrote this wonderful poem about letting go and just being in the world and not separate from it. I loved her imagery created in getting me down to ground level where we can live differently.

When I am at ground level, I am in the world and not outside and over it. I spend time in sabbatical wandering uncharted territory. This theme is emerging in my dissertation where I compare teaching to a hermeneutic exploration of the classroom, it participants, and living topics like a rich, textured landscape we navigate relationally. At ground level, teachers encounter, interpret, and understand a particular world that is their teaching and no one else’s teaching.

Parker Palmer has a quote about teachers using technique until the real teacher shows up. It takes time and patience; togetherness and solitude to bring this about. As I write and read, I think about what that meant and means to me as a particular teacher who is still coming to be in new ways particular to me.

Lie down with your belly to the ground,
like an old dog in the sun. Smell
the greenness of the cloverleaf, feel the damp
earth through your clothes, let an ant
wander the uncharted territory
of your skin. Lie down
with your belly to the ground. Melt into
the earth’s contours like a harmless snake.
All else is mere bravado.
Let your mind resolve itself
in a tangle of grass.
Lie down with your belly
to the ground, flat out, on ground level.
Prostrate yourself before the soil
you will someday enter.
Stop doing.
Stop judging, fearing, trying.
This is not dying, but the way to live
in a world of change and gravity.
Let go. Let your burdens drop.
Let your grief-charge bleed off
into the ground.
Lie down with your belly to the ground
and then rise up
with the earth still in you.

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