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Tag Archives: eloquent questions

Chuang Tzu And The Butterfly

Li Po wrote poems that asked questions. A common theme was drinking alcohol, but, when I read his poetry, I wonder if it was alcohol or his intoxication with the world he lived in? What is real and not real sometimes blurs boundaries and we ask questions about what is real and not real. Who is the leader and who is not appears in Li Po’s poetry.

Herman Hesse blurred the lines between Leo as a leader and Leo as a servant in Journey to the East. Who serves who? What does it mean to lead and serve? There is a Taoist quality in those questions.

Chuang Tzu in dream became a butterfly,
And the butterfly became Chuang Tzu at waking.
Which was the real—the butterfly or the man ?
Who can tell the end of the endless changes of things?
The water that flows into the depth of the distant sea
Returns anon to the shallows of a transparent stream.
The man, raising melons outside the green gate of the city,
Was once the Prince of the East Hill.
So must rank and riches vanish.
You know it, still you toil and toil,—what for?

The Opening of Eyes

I spent a great two weeks at home. I concluded my time away with a wonderful weekend in Seattle where I attended a poetry weekend, along with about 150 others, facilitated by David Whyte. A major theme was asking beautiful questions: questions we need to ask that show stories in our lives that are possibly outdated. We open our eyes for what appears to be the first time and there is a renewal.

An important part of beautiful questions is they guide us towards new horizons. We feel grounded by home’s foundations and  drawn forward from that stable place in imaginative ways. There is something spiritual and biblical about this feeling as we find the courage in our hearts to let go in ways we had never imagined possible.

That day I saw beneath dark clouds

the passing light over the water

and I heard the voice of the world speak out,

I knew then, as I had before,

life is no passing memory of what has been

nor the remaining pages of a great book

waiting to be read.

It is the opening of eyes long closed.

It is the vision of far off things

seen for the silence they hold.

It is the heart after years

of secret conversing

speaking out loud in the clear air.

It is Moses in the desert

fallen to his knees before the lit bush.

It is the man throwing away his shoes

as if to enter heaven

and finding himself astonished,

opened at last,

fallen in love with solid ground.

Making Peace

Denise Levertov wrote this wonderful and I think it is a good way to bring my week to an end as I head to Sabbath. Stephen at Grow Mercy posted this earlier and I did try to share it with those who follow my blog. It did not make it over and this was the next best thing I could do to get it to you folks. Take a moment and visit Stephen’s blog.

I used a lesson plan with my students where we talked about a culture of war and a culture of peace. They had to describe each one and we did them separately. We have many more words that come to mind when we talk about peace. I filled whiteboard, they would share for an hour, be disappointed when it was over, and the quiet ones were always present. There is a presence in peace. The students ran out of ways to describe a culture of war very quickly.

A voice from the dark called out,

“The poets must give us

imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar

imagination of disaster. Peace, not only

the absence of war.”

But peace, like a poem,

is not there ahead of itself,

can’t be imagined before it is made,

in the words of its making,

grammar of justice

syntax of mutual aid.

A feeling towards it,

dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have

until we begin to utter its metaphors,

learning them as we speak.

A line of peace might appear

if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,

revoked its affirmation of profit and power,

questioned our needs, allowed

long pauses. …

A cadence of peace might balance its weight

on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,

an energy field more intense than war,

might pulse then,

stanza by stanza entering the world,

each act living

one of its words, each word

a vibration of light–facets

of the forming crystal.

Being a Bee

I commented on How to Land about Eco Ethics. The underlying principle is deep ecology which shifts us from an environmental anthropocentric and views all living beings as having inherent worth and not merely instrumental value. Deep ecology understand a complex interdependence between all living beings and allows that to guide decision-making. We are part of the Earth and not holding dominion over it in this sense. We can make similar decisions about harvesting, mining, and building as we do but use numerous perspectives in doing so.

James Hatley wrote, The Uncanny Goodness of Being Edible to Bears. He referred to hunters, outdoors people, and survivors of bear attacks. People, who are deep ecologists, revere Nature and understand the risks of entering wilderness. Their view is Nature and what it holds makes us more human and complete, as we are one with Nature and not separate.

I wrote this poem as one way to better understand the concept myself.

Am I more than the sum of parts?

More than just a body, a mind, a spirit?

If so, what role might the bee play?

The one who manufactured honey?

The one I so enjoyed with bread today.

Is he or she part of me?

Or, is there even more to it than that?

What about the clover?

The water and other things used in delectable manufacture?

Can I now take that Bee’s perspective?

Ever so fleetingly,

Does it make a difference?

Might it be a lesson in being more human?

Letting the Bee be part of me?

Life’s Mystery

I registered for a class which doubles as a retreat. The underlying theme is the Sabbath. I began a journal and will write for the next 6 weeks based on weekly Sabbath practices. For the first week, I chose one which Thich Nhat Hanh speaks about. I chose a common activity, one I do mindlessly. Each time I do it, I breathe three times and complete the task.

I feel rushed this summer as I move from one life phase to another. I felt calmer the last couple of days. I began Sunday, my usual sabbath. When I settle like this, I discover paths to questions, thoughts, and wisdom that are not forthcoming when I am busy. The quiet place is like a deep pool which opens up only when I rests quietly.

A gentle breeze

My breath

Crosses a silent pool.

A sacred space

A simple way

Leads me forth.

Wisdom revealed

Questions emerge

Life’s paths opened.

Be present

Listen mindfully

Embrace life’s mystery fully.

What Have I Learned

I engaged in several virtual and face-to-face conversations over the past week about what learning and education should look like today. Gary Snyder summarized some of this in this thoughtful poem. I believe we need to focus more on the tools children need than the content. That is not to say content is not important.  It must stretch, challenge, and allow growth.

Curriculum has narrowed, become content, and the use of tools. It does not always focus on the proper use of tools and development of habits, skills, attitudes, practices, dispositions, etc. What role does discernment play in today’s schools? What eloquent questions, with no presumption of answers, are teachers and students alike asked? Content, in the form of knowledge and information, becomes the currency of the realm and wise application is often pushed aside. 21st Century education requires a mindful approach. An approach that recognizes the changing of the flowers in each moment.

What have I learned but

the proper use for several tools?

The moments

between hard pleasant tasks

To sit silent, drink wine,

and think my own kind

of crusty dry thoughts.

–the first Calochortus flowers

and in all the land,

it’s spring.

I point them out:

the yellow petals, the golden hairs,

to Gen.

Seeing in silence:

never the same twice,

but when you get it right,

you pass it on.

Sometimes

I registered to attend David Whyte’s retreat called Poetry in the Woods in November. His poetry speaks to my heart and the retreat is about being in touch with the heart.

I spent considerable time today talking about what I love: teaching and learning. I know I will miss each of them and want them in my life in some form. What I do not want is to be involved in teaching and learning focused on rules and not children. It is important for me as I enter this phase not to assume answers, but to be open to questions, particularly prickly ones. They are the ones I sometimes turn away from. I need to turn to them, receive them, and hold them gently.

I need to let questions find a space to emerge. which suggests less trampling through the forest and more quiet approaches. It is where the wisdom appears from, those questions which need my silence to be heard.

Sometimes

if you move carefully

through the forest,

breathing

like the ones

in the old stories,

who could cross

a shimmering bed of leaves

without a sound,

you come

to a place

whose only task

is to trouble you

with tiny

but frightening requests,

conceived out of nowhere

but in this place

beginning to lead everywhere.

Requests to stop what

you are doing right now.

and

to stop what you

are becoming

while you do it,

questions

that can make

or unmake

a life,

questions

that have patiently

waited for you,

questions

that have no right

to go away.

The Seven of Pentacles

Marge Piercy wrote of the time it takes to create what is good in life. In a fast-paced, hectic world, it is nice to view life as an ecosystem. Good things in life, those things I cherish, were nurtured and took time to appear. They depend upon many things to grow.

In the rich ecosystem, there is mystery and wonder. I ask, “What happened” and expect no definitive answers. I grow to accept it is good and healthy there are no answers and questions lead me forward, slowly and gently into the newness of each moment.

I took the picture at the farm earlier this spring. The tree in the centre is a woodpecker’s roost and, when I look, I see holes in the tree. A trail wanders through the underbrush. I ask who or what else uses the path? Who or what else lives close by? What are the connections? The lifeless tree sustains the ecosystem. Everything is important. I only have to let it be so. When I slow down, questions emerge and sometimes answers, but only occasionally.

Under a sky the color of pea soup

she is looking at her work growing away there

actively, thickly like grapevines or pole beans

as things grow in the real world, slowly enough.

If you tend to them properly, if you mulch, if you water,

if you provide birds that eat the insects a home and winter food,

if the sun shines and you pick off caterpillars,

if the praying mantis comes and the ladybugs and bees,

then the plants flourish, but at their own internal clock.

Connections are made slowly. sometimes they grow underground.

You cannot tell always by looking what is happening.

More than a half a tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.

Penetrate quietly as the earthworms that blows no trumpet.

Fight persistently as the creeper that brings down the tree.

Spread like squash plant that overruns the garden.

Gnaw in the dark and use the sun to make sugar.

Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses.

Live a life you can endure: make love that is loving.

Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in,

a thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside but to us

interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs.

Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen:

reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in.

This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always,

for every gardener knows that after the digging, after

the planting,

after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.

Summer 2013

Harrowing

Parker Palmer wrote this poem with double-meaning in the title. I can live life as a process which ravages, furrows, and scars m face. Living in the past does this. Life is harrowing that way. Or, I leave the travails of yesterday as humis or humility as a foundation for a new crop. I can turn soil, make it richer, and create a greener world.

The poem reminded me of Gadamer‘s concept of fused horizons which is emerging as a central concept in my journey. We can build on the past by using it, good and bad, as a way of making the future a better place. Today’s view; this moment is the place we find our way from.

The plow has savaged this sweet field

Misshapen clods of earth kicked up

Rocks and twisted roots exposed to view

Last year’s growth demolished by the blade.

I have plowed my life this way

Turned over a whole history

Looking for the roots of what went wrong

Until my face is ravaged, furrowed, scarred.

Enough. This job is done.

Whatever’s been uprooted, let it be.

Seedbed for the growing that’s to come.

I plowed to unearth last year’s reasons—

The farmer plows to plant a greening season.

Mindful

I struggled for a few days with the overwhelming job, or so it seemed, of beginning to craft a purpose statement for the dissertation topic. Thankfully, my advisor told me to read and read and read the classics in education and the not so classic. I immersed myself in John Dewey, who I have read before, Alfred North Whitehead, who I had not read, and Ivan Illich, who worked with Paulo Freire. I am going to re-read Freire.

Last night, I fell asleep thinking about these people and woke up still thinking about them. As I got mobile, it dawned on me what happened and I recalled Mary Oliver’s beautiful poem. I don’t hold answers. I hold questions. Their eloquence lead me into life daily and the answers are often in the things I take for granted. I posted a re-worked purpose statement, based on just letting things percolate and doing some free writing, and one of my colleagues commented back that it was making more sense. Be mindful scholar.

Every day

I see or I hear

something

that more or less

kills me

with delight

that leaves me

like a needle

in the haystack

of light.

It is what I was born for–

to look, to listen,

to lose myself

inside this soft world–

to instruct myself

over and over

in joy,

and acclamation.

Nor am I talking

about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful–

but of the ordinary,

the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.

Oh, good scholar,

I say to myself,

how can you help

but grow wise

with such teachings

as these–

the untrimmable light

of the world,

the ocean’s shine,

the prayers that are made

out of grass?

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