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Author Archives: ivonprefontaine

A Child Sits

Several years ago, during a family discussion about war, my mother asked me where I stood on war. I am opposed to war on the grounds: “Thou shall not kill!” This edict underpins Abrahamic traditions guiding Judeo-Christian and Islamic faiths. It is a central premise is central to the universal Golden Rule.  Who suffers? Inevitably, it is the weakest, the most vulnerable.

I used an activity with students to demonstrate the difference between cultures of war and peace. I asked for words to describe a culture of war. Usually, the list was short; maybe 10-12 words and phrases. When I asked for words to describe a culture of peace, the list was long and students did not struggle to find new words. The conversation often went for an hour or so.

Despite this, we struggle to find peace. In today’s high tech world, we no longer need to be physically present to attack. It can be done via computer commands ordering pilotless aircraft and rockets launched from distance.

 

Child sitting–

Unable to shed tears;

Shivering–

Cold, wet,

Fragile, weak;

Hungering for reprieve.

Despairing amidst carnage–

Seeking refuge;

Finding only chaos–

From distant places,

Raining down hell;

From heavens that should protect.

School yard bullies–

Feigning courage;

Kicking those already down–

Seeing no human face,

No suffering,

Lacking care, compassion.

Humans seeking true courage–

Begging, imploring;

Returning to good senses–

Leaving behind,

Wanton, senseless,

Violence, death!

I chose this video, because it shows the outcomes of zero-sum situations and how we fool ourselves there has to be winners and losers.

A Place; A Space

Over the last few years, I have increasingly exlored how we use language. For example, we use the word organization as a noun for places where we work, learn, and play. It grows static and lifeless Yet, its root, organ, suggests life and interacting with one another. John Dewey and Ivan Illich referred to interacting and communicating as intercourse. This suggests we engage in intimacy and love as we communicate with one another.

As well, an organ, as a musical instrument, needs a human touch. At our best, we organize, work, and learn, through a common purpose, like in a jazz ensemble, and what calls each of us in some meanfinful way. In a neo-liberal and neo-conservative world, organizing, working, and learning fall short of the common good (common weal) and what calls each of us to feel fufilled, perhaps self-actualized.

Out of this reflecting emerged the following poem.

This place–

This space–

Welcoming–

Beckoning.

When cold, aloof–

As a frigid lover–

Pushing us away;

Denying intimacy.

As an anxious lover–

Frantically clinging;

Giving no room to breath.

As a capricious lover–

Now here;

Now gone.

At its best–

Fully alive;

Not on life support!

Exuding hearty warmth–

Healthy, vibrant;

Touching in human ways.

Gentle lover embracing–

Inviting and holding close;

Letting us breath.

A place–

A space–

Wanting to be.

A place–

A space–

Calling, giving voice.

Sharing–

Drawing us each closer;

To our common humanity.

Yesterday, I heard the following song by Mavis Staples. It reminded me, regardless of how things are going, there are always high notes in life.

How Do I Listen?

Several year ago, I watched a PBS show about a branch of neuroscience called Contemplative Mindfulness. Rudolph Tanzi is central in this work which grew out of research by Richard Davidson, Ellen Langer, and Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Mindful practices have been with us for centuries and informed Jesus’, the Buddha’s and Mohammed’s teachings. Mindful listening begins with me listening to the other, moves outward, and is eloquently described by Hafiz, a Sufi poet. Mindful listening requires humility those teachers emulated in lived practice as the servant as leader.

In a world that seems filled with ego and narcissim, listening to the other is essential to healing the world and each human. I am re-reading Ivan Illich and authors who use his work. His best known book is Deschooling Society, which was originally titled The Dawn of Epimethean Man and Other Essays. The title was changed by the publisher, something Illich regretted later.

Illich was a priest and his writing, including about education, was informed by The Parable of the Good Samaritan. His understanding was we do not get to choose who are neighbours are. Instead, others we encounter depend on us to listen and demonstrate compassion, dropping our ego in the process. It also fits with Epimetheus who was more comfortable with uncertainty than his more famous sibling, Prometheus.

Encountering the stranger as neighbour comes both with reward and risk. The words hospitality and hostile are linked etymologically.

How

Do I

Listen to others?

As if everyone were my Master

Speaking to me

His

Cherished

Last

Words.

Here is a Mary Oliver reading I Happened To Be Standing and an inteview with her. You have to wait until the end to get to the listening aspect. Being mindful weaves its way through the poem.

Gettin’ My Mojo Back

I looked at this poem a month ago and decided not to post it. As I listened to music today, a song came on called Getting My Mojo Back and felt it was time to post it.

I wrote this during a retreat on Bainsbridge Island based on the work of Parker Palmer. It was at a time I was wrestling with staying in teaching due to the politics. I felt I was not giving it my all and lacked confidence in my teaching.

During the retreat, I reflected and had candid conversations with others and concluded it was time to control what I could control. Interestingly, it was in the conversations with others that I had to choose to be all in really came to the forefront. I went back to my classroom, spent another 5 years teaching, and giving it my all.

I think, when we lose confidence, we do not realize it. It sneaks up on us, rather than being a cataclysmic shift. Recovering confidence is similar. It is done in small steps and realizing we are not alone in the moment.

I had to realize anger was born out of fear and loss. Once I acknowledged this, I was at ease with letting go and moving forward.

It just happens–

Letting go;

Speaking without anger–

Embracing one’s sadness;

For what is lost.

Staring into an abyss–

Sitting with unformed questions;

Terrifying darkness–

Sensing incompleteness,

Feeling uncertainty.

Taking stock–

Looking inwards;

Accepting extended hands–

Discarding baggage

Moving towards a place of light.

Mojo gaining momentum–

Emerging at its pace;

Creating healing space–

Living one’s own truth;

Living in each moment’s question.

I attended a John Lee Hooker concert in 1972 or 1973. I grew up listening to jazz, gospel, folk, and blues with traditional country, early rock and roll. I took it for granted that I attended a John Lee concert until an American, who shared a love for the blues, told me he never did. African-American performers toured in Canada on a regular basis at a time they did not have that same ease of movement in their own country.

When I used Langston Hughes’ poetry in my teaching, I remembered he wrote from a different understanding of what America was. This was an outgrowth of an awareness of my privilege as a white Canadian male.

Canadian Thanksgiving

It is Canadian Thanksgiving today. Instead of Thanksgiving being a once a year day with underlying commercial interests, it raised questions about being full of thanks for each ensuing moment. What if I were grateful and thankful each day-each moment? This is impossible. What I need to do is hold the thought at the forefront and perhaps it elevates the thankfulness I experience.

We began with a dinner last night with our oldest son and his partner. He headed out to an out-of-town job today. Tonight, we celebrate with our youngest. He worked last night, so was unavailable.

Gratitude and thankfulness–

Turning to beloved;

Embracing one another;

Celebrating what held sacred.

In each moment–

Experiencing the extraordinary;

Revealing itself in the ordinary;

Sensing it is there.

Harvesting bounties–

Sharing common weal;

Valuing de-monetized wealth;

Feeling blessed.

I took this of Kathy standing on a rock above Rearguard Falls on the Fraser River in Mount Robson Provincial Park. I am thankful for the time we spend together and Nature.

Spacious Sanctuary

Wendell Berry wrote a series of poems about Sabbath and taking time to let the spirit mend and heal. Wayne Muller wrote a book called Sabbath and provided a number of Sabbath practices from various traditions. After we read the book, we used practices and wrote reflections about how we each responded to them at a hospitality retreat.

How each find moments of peace and solace in a busy world is personal and reflects who we are as humans. For me, it is time spent walking, reading poetry, and writing. It is challenging as I need to adhere to a routine without being to rigid. What I observe, feel, hear, etc. needs to able to reach me in meaningful ways.

I wrote this poems as I entered a lengthy Sabbath period, taking time away from screens of various types.

Stepping aside–

Easing into spacious spaces;

Sensing stillness–

Unsquaring eyes,

Fidgeting less,

Being.

Resting–

Embracing wakefulness;

Emerging from frenetic hibernation–

Moving yet remaining still–

Enriching spirit,

Rediscovering lightness of being.

I took this picture on a hike in Glacier National Park. Nature just is. It exists for the sole purpose of existing. Humans need to do this more; just be in a given moment or time.

Sensory Explosion

This is a new poem. I started working with another, which I will post later and this emerged.

What happens is contemplative exercises allow me to become mindful as I move back into my daily life. These activities can be meditation/prayer, time to walk, reading poetry, etc. What I experience moments remains with me.

I embed activities into my daily routine. For example, I try to get out and walk each day. I note what and who I see, hear, smell, and feel. The other day, I observed autumn’s musty smell had arrived, as trees shed their leaves. We have had little rain the last few weeks, but some drizzles may have hastened the smell of decomposing materials.

When we travel, we spend time walking and hiking in and out. I love waterfalls and mountains, so they speak to me and linger with me, forever changing me.

Walking away,

Richness lingering–

Thunder booming,

Spray hovering,

Power reverberating,

Water smelling–

Life-giving.

Hearing, feeling, seeing, sensing–

Walking away,

Lingering,

In my ears,

On my skin,

In spirit,

Re-entering quieter world–

Life-giving.

From the Margins

When I traveled to attend events based on the writings of Parker Palmer, two gifts emerged. First, the settings chosen were beautiful and peaceful, with considerable access to being able to walk. Second, along with the time outside, there was considerable time to reflect in solitude and with those gathered. Part of the reflection, was to listen as one spoke and hear, as if for the first time, what one was/is saying.

I wrote the following poem after time reflecting on my pedagogic practices. I taught in a setting that required me to be present and I was falling short and, as a result, letting students, families, and myself down.

Over time and without realizing it, I had fallen into habits of just doing things the way I had before. I experienced a false sense of security in my teaching. This was something I promised I would not do when I entered teaching.

To teach, I felt I had be on the margins and be awake to each student and their particular needs, listening to what they and their families told me about them. The margins are what surround us. Too often, I wanted to be in the centre of things, where I was comfortable and the centre of things. I don’t learn much there.

sensing false security,

being the centre,

yet, margins surrounding–

paradox of one’s being.

standing out,

revealing blemishes,

making them obvious–

reveling in them.

finding comfort on the margins,

not hiding in the crowd,

reflecting one’s character–

stepping out and away with pride.

composing one’s humanness;

in deep concert with others,

sharing perfect imperfections–

enriching human moments.

This took some doing to edit the final poem, but here it is. I chose the picture, as it is a reminder that nature does not provide perfection. It provides perfection in imperfect patterns that emerge.

In nature, trees like the ones in the picture find a way to survive. Despite their lack of size, these trees are at least 100 years old and have survived, one might say thrived, living on the margins. They have a wonderful view from a precarious vantage point.

October’s Song

I originally wrote this on a rainy, warm day several years ago. It was a hard rain, but still 18 Cin Edmonton. Despite the warmth, we had a forecast of wet snow and coolling temperatures for that evening. In Alberta at this time of year, things can change weather-wise quite suddenly.

The forecast is for above-average temperatures for another week. Even then, it is not cooling appreciably. Instead, we will have rain as a possibility.  Most trees still have an abundance of leaves, although they are turning colours.

In Canada, we celebrate Thanksgiving as crops are harvested and stored by mid-October. It is not a sure thing, but that is the premise. The agrarian roots of Canada are deep, so the tradition of an October Thanksgiving remains.

Nature singing,

Whispering–

Painting the world anew.

Harvest gathering.,

Storing bounty–

Hearth calling.

Gathering,

Joining hands;

Bowing heads.

October arriving,

Thanking, sharing, celebrating–

Readying for winter’s respite.

 

 

I took this picture in Fairmount Hot Springs a couple of years ago. It was Thanksgiving weekend and it snowed on our way back. You can see the colours have changed in the distance and the mist over Columbia Lake.

Listening

I began to write this poem after a long and tiring week. Sometimes, when I step back from the visceral nature of my emotions, postive and negative, I find a kernel to prompt writing, thinking, and acting.

Too often, I find myself talking when I should be listening. This includes listening to me, and, more importantly, listening to those whose stories are silenced in unjust ways. I think those two forms of listening go hand-in-hand. Not listening to others is often a product of being so busy with the noise of my own life. When I listen from the heart, I hear words anew.

Rich stories silenced–

Seeking just spaces,

Sharing and healing;

To speak freely.

Listening deeply–

Sadly, stories unheard,

Of being oppressed;

Shunted to the margins.

Listening with heart–

Leaning into stories,

With grace and humility,

Hearing for the first time.

Am I ready to act?

Listening, hearing–

But, without doing;

(In)justice remains.

I listen to the blues, gospel, and jazz most of my life. When it comes to the blues, gospel, and jazz music I am aware of the privilege I experience and do not take it for granted.  As a Canadian, I attended concerts, because African-American performers came to Canada. They had access to venues I could attend here that they did not have in their own country.

Today, I heard Mavis Staples (on her latest album) singing and it resonated. For real and just change to emerge, I must be willing to listen and change the things I can.  When I listen to the blues and gospel music, particularlyperformed by African-American women, there is an undercurrent for meaningful and just change in the world.

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