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The Gift of Presence

via The Gift of Presence

Wendell Berry is one of my favourite poets. In her post, Shobna uses part of a poem, Our Real Work, to point a need to be present. Gary Snyder wrote a book called The Real Work devoted to similar subject matter.

In the rush of “normal” life, I often overlook what that means and what calls to me to step into a healing moment; to make me whole and pause to listen to what the “impeded stream” sings to me. For Shobna, gardening is a quiet moment to listen to the “impeded stream.”

Today, as I checked Facebook, Parker Palmer posted another Berry poem: The Peace of Wild Things. Here, we are called to, in times we do not have a frame of reference for, to turn to poets to help find paths forward. In various ways, they remind us to each look for what keeps us moving , especially in times of turmoil and despair. When I hike and find my path blocked, I pause, look, and listen. In life, I find ways to move ahead, embrace uncertainty, and recognize I am walking my own path, as Antonio Machado would remind me, but I am not alone.

As Shobna points out, I only have to look and I “see that kindness is more visible these days.” Health care workers, farmers, grocery store employees, and many others, often strangers, stand in the breach to help. If these are to recall Dickens, the best and worst of times, what makes them the best is to pause, when my path is blocked, to find what calls us and ask we each ask ourselves what calls us.

One of the things I take for granted is music. It is part of my love of poetry. In particular, lyrics pull me to them. I am fortunate to listen to a small community-based and funded radio station, CKUA, and have it on non-stop. To say it is eclectic is an understatement. They do play top-40, but it is often from years and decades ago.

In keeping with my love of music, I leave you with two videos. The first by Jimmy Buffet got me through tough times years ago. It reminds me who I am and live that way. I have always been a person who walked to the beat of my own drummer and am a bit of a pirate, regardless of age.

 

The second is one I used to listen to with my mother years ago. It is a gospel song written and performed by Gene McLellan, a Canadian, called Put Your Hand in the Hand of the Man Who Stills the Water. Now, my mother and I did not always agree on music, but we had some serious overlaps such as Gene McLellan, the Beatles, Elvis (if she did not have to watch), etc.

 

 

Let Go

via Let Go

Eddie posts short quotes and images about living mindfully and being aware of how we each live. Let go is a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh who provides wonderful insights into how to let go and be in the present. For me, They’s most profound quote is about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Make no mistake, this challenges me. It is not only difficult to live fully in the moment, it is impossible. Being aware of this paradox of letting go and being in the present moment is part of mindfulness.

I tell hockey players, students, and anyone who will listen for that matter to figure out what we each control and don’t in our lives. This is important in daily life and essential in times like this when we are faced with even more uncertainty.

I try to stick to a routine, getting up at the same time, making breakfast (now for Kathy who is working at home), going for a walk, checking email, writing, reading, etc. I spend a little time watching local news to make sure I have a sense of what is going on close to me.

For the most part, social distancing has not been difficult. I am a profound introvert who loves the ritual of routine. I still wave to people, smile at them on my walks, and pause to chat. On the other hand, this has been difficult for those who thrive on engaging socially. Maybe, as it is for me, this is a time to reflect on what has happened in my life and let go of things to live more fully in the present.

What am I grateful for? It may sound odd, but making breakfast and lunch for Kathy is something to be grateful for. What are you grateful for that might have emerged in these difficult times with rapid change? What have you let go of?

I leave you with a prayer by Thomas Merton called A Prayer of Unknowing. It has echoes of the 23rd Psalm. I have not researched it, but I suspect all cultures and religions have a similar prayer to help guide each of us through uncertain, sometimes dark moments.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen

Here is a video from Michael Franti called Good to Be Alive Today. How do we put our spin on feeling good about being alive today? How do we each reach out to others?

 

Keep Evil at Bay

via Keep Evil at Bay

Let me begin by saying, we do keep evil at bay by not acknowledging it and turning away if we do. Hannah Arendt referred to this as the “banality of evil” in  her book Eichmann in Jerseleum. Now, I have not read anywhere where Arendt deals with her relationship with Martin Heidegger, an anti-semite and member of the National Socialist Party during World War II.

As well, when we use the word mindfulness do we mean just being aware or do we bring with it the ethical water to purify our world, words, and acts. This is enriching in this wonderful post by Michele. She provides quotes to point us towards the ethics of a mindful life and and thoughts about how to keep evil at bay.

Ultimately, how do I choose to live and who I am? Is this the person I want to be? It does not mean perfection; far from it. It means I take time to ask who I am becoming and who I want to become.

As I read Michele’s post, it reminded me of the Cherokee story about two wolves that live in each of us and which one we choose to feed:

Two Wolves

I tell students we mistake values for beliefs. Values are what strengthen us. They emerge from each of our hearts and offer courage to do what is proper, not right as a binary choice. On the other hand, beliefs force me to create a world to fit those beliefs and defend it.

If I feed myself with Good, with qualities of joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, truth, compassion, and faith, I have strength and courage to stand up for what might make the world a better place in an indefinable way and, at the same time, not become attached to that thought so I cannot let go.

On Langston Hughes – Black History Month Tribute to a Great Poet

via On Langston Hughes – Black History Month Tribute to a Great Poet

Melba posted a wonderful poem, Mother to Son, written by legendary African-American poet, Langston Hughes.

I used Langston Hughes’s poetry in our poetry unit each year. The metaphor of life as a staircase, sometimes smooth and other times unevern, seemed to fit junior high students. My students responded to it well.

Another aspect of including his work and Maya Angelou‘s poetry was around the issue of civil rights. In Grade 7, we read the book The Cay, by Theodore Taylor who dedicated it to Martin Luther King shortly after he was assassinated, about the relationship of a young white boy and an elderly black man to discuss what being well-educated meant. I included my mother’s line, which was “who would you rather be lost in the wilderness, someone who read about it or an indigenous person, with no schooling, who lived it?”

In Grade 8, we exoplored civil rights through the lens of heros. I let students choose, but some struggled with this choice. Knowing my students well, I introduced them to Jackie Robinson, Willie O’Ree, and Wilma Rudolph, if they were interested in sports. Others, who came from religious families, I encouraged them to consider Martin Luther King  and Mother Teresa. If they were interested in people who stood for the rights of the oppressed, but might not be considered a religious person we talked about Nelson Mandela and Mahatama Gandhi. Regardless, I found, when I tapped into who each student was, colour, ethnicity, and gender dissolved and wonderful projects emerged.

Another Hughes’s poem we read was Dream Deferred, is sprinked with questions from beginning to end:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Here, is a video of the poem read by the poet.

Albert Einstein

via Albert Einstein

Mrs. Vee offers a quote from Einstein and a headshot. The quote suggests imagination, which is unbounded, is more important than knowledge, which is limited in scope.

Those who educate provide “images for [the] imagination and for forming…memory….to grasp the ‘circumstances’ [we live in] in their infinite variety.” I use the word educate purposely, as each of us learns in settings other than schools. Schools are formal places where a particular agenda is followed.

Over the last few months, I struggled as I transitioned from having taught and wanting to teach. I define myself as a teacher. I taught one term at a small, private, Christian-based university. I applied twice for a tenure track position and have been ignored both times. I think there are multiple things at play and will deal with three. First, others my age are ready to retire. They say things like “I worked to get to this stage.” I understand teaching as a calling, so never worked to get to this stage. Second, it turns out, in the eyes of some, I am the wrong kind of Christian. I am Catholic, yet I am probably, in the eyes of many Catholics, the wrong kind of Catholic. Third, I limited my imagination. I think this is natural. I have not been here before and have few images for imagination. I only knew myself as a teacher, limiting the possibilities of what I could do and who I was still becoming.

The last point is essential. I mentioned this in the last two posts. I have been writing and am invited by others in to collaborate. I can imagine myself as a writer. I don’t know what kind of writer and what other doors it will open up. But, I have been here before.

Kathy reminds me frequently that “when one door closes, another opens.” What I have to recall is I do not know what will happen as I walk through the new door. I can imagine it and, with imagining, new worlds open up and hope exists.

Mount Robson 1 August 2019

This is the front side of Mt. Robson. I have never seen the backside. I can imagine what it might look like based on what I see and what I have read about it. There is a glacier and lake on the mountain. Based on past experience (history), I can imagine sitting on the edge of the lake, like I can imagine sitting and writing the next poem, article, book chapter, a book about teaching in the best little school in the world, etc. I get to imagine my life, so I don’t have to be the right kind of anything for administrators who can only operate in binary terms.

Imperfection

In my last post, I wrote using a line from Mary Oliver: “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Today, I turn to a wonderful poem by Elizabeth Carlson, Imperfection. What does it mean to be imperfect as I explore what I will do with my one wild and precious life?

In pursusing what it means to live this one and wild precious life, one needs to fall “in love with [their] imperfections.” One of my imperfections might be I continuously and restlessly explore where my life is taking me. In a way, I find an echo of Thomas Merton in this, and I paraphrase, some pursue what calls us without finding it and that is our calling.

I am unsure it is that straightforward and I sense what I have done is ignored where I am at in life, ignoring what makes me who I am with each imperfection. One such imperfection might be I lock in on a particular quality and allow it to define me more broadly.

Instead of discerning what is in front of me, I focus on things I do not control. Henri Nouwen wrote a beautiful book, Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life. In it, he suggests people, events, and signs are put in front of each of us to guide us in life. I defined myself as a teacher for most of my adult life and it was hard to set this aside.

I realize the likeliehood of returning to the classroom is remote. There are prevailing biases in play e.g. age . It appears few, if any, post-secondardy institutions want an aging male who does not fit their paradigm of a professor. Yet, the signs were there, despite my imperfections, something was calling. Over the past year, I co-authored a published paper and was invited to join in several other writing projects, joined a peer review journal board, and, most recently, was invited to submit proposals emerging from my dissertation.

The challenge is to get past an imperfection such as a single way of defining one’s self. Maybe someone will overlook age, gender, race, etc. and invite me to teach in their institution. I have to be awake to who appears and, at this time, it is people asking me to write and be part of those projects.

I am falling in love
with my imperfections
The way I never get the sink really clean,
forget to check my oil,
lose my car in parking lots,
miss appointments I have written down,
am just a little late.

I am learning to love
the small bumps on my face
the big bump of my nose,
my hairless scalp,
chipped nail polish,
toes that overlap.
Learning to love
the open-ended mystery
of not knowing why

I am learning to fail
to make lists,
use my time wisely,
read the books I should.

Instead I practice inconsistency,
irrationality, forgetfulness.

Probably I should
hang my clothes neatly in the closet
all the shirts together, then the pants,
send Christmas cards, or better yet
a letter telling of
my perfect family.

But I’d rather waste time
listening to the rain,
or lying underneath my cat
learning to purr.

I used to fill every moment
with something I could
cross off later.

Perfect was
the laundry done and folded
all my papers graded
the whole truth and nothing but

Now the empty mind is what I seek
the formless shape
the strange off center
sometimes fictional
me.

I leave you with a quote from Henri Nouwen and a picture.

“Where does my complete flowering as a human being connect with the needs of the world?”

While I stand by the turbulent river, I take time to listen and observe carefully what moves me in this moment to make the world a better place.

Quote: I looked in temples, churches and mosques…-Rumi

via Quote: I looked in temples, churches and mosques…-Rumi

George is a prodigous blogger, sharing poetry, quotes like this one, and video clips of many of my favourite performers e.g. Leonard Cohen, Nina Simone, Neil Young, etc.

As Rumi suggests, we should look inwards to find the divine as we enter the New Year. Here are words from Mary Oliver to bid farewell to 2019 and usher in 2020:

This is, I think, what holiness is:

The natural world, where every moment is full of
the passion to keep moving

Inside every mind there’s a hermit’s cave full of light,
full of snow, full of concentration

I’ve knelt there, and so have you,
hanging on to what you love, to what is lovely.

Inside each of us there is “a hermit’s cave full of light” where we can be thankful for whato is in our lives and what they each bring into our lives. Take care, enjoy, and be safe as we continue the journey.

Fraser River Near Headwaters

I know I shared this picture previously, but it serves to remind me the most important person in my life and memories we share with each other.

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