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Category Archives: Nature in All Its Glory

Sabbath – Making One’s Self More Human

It has been a while since I wrote about the concept of Sabbath where I disconnect to reconnect. I allude to it in The Greater Scheme. It is a practice I am trying to get back into on a regular basis. Wendell Berry writes poetry on the theme and Wayne Muller wrote Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in Our Busy Lives. It is taking a pause.

Muller cuts across demoninations, traditions, faiths, and philosophies. I used it at a retreat several years ago. There were people who did not see themselves as religious or bound to a particular tradition. What we are often looking for is a spiritual space to heal, make whole. Heal and whole share an etymological root.

Too often, in a busy world, we forget to slow down. Hannah Arendt wrote the Ancient Greeks leaned towards contemplation (vita comtemplativa), while in modern society we remain forever in motion (vita activa). Neither is healthy; health shares the same etmology with whole and heal.

Parker Palmer, drawing on Thomas Merton, proposes we bring harmony between the two. It is a way of feeling at home, the core of who we each are and where we belong. The word hearth, which is the heart of our home, shares etymology with heal, whole, and health.

The poem and picture in the post The Greater Scheme was taken as part of a walking meditation activity, where the teacher asked us to look at the world as if through new eyes. It is, when I am in harmony with myself, I am most creative. At the same time, I was involved in a monthly conference call with critical friends and was interviewed about some work I did related to mindful servant-leadership as it applied to teaching. I think the peaceful feeling I felt emerged from the silence and solitude at the retreat, the critical exploring of my self, and the creative work I was engaged in at the time.

Spacious, silence, solitude…

Seeking refuge,

A peaceful room.

Lovingkindness discovers–

A heart breaks open,

The present its own reward.

Silently spirit revealing–

Speaking,

Softly, gently, tenderly,

Begging its quiet voice be heard.

Solace seeks me–

Unmarked path emerging,

A step at a time.

Sabbath–

Wisdom revealing itself,

Making more human.

I took this picture on a hike into Kootenai Lake in Glacier National Park earlier that summer. We saw a handful of people and the hike was peaceful, disconnecting us from the busyness of life for an entire day.

The Greater Scheme

I wrote this poem and took this picture while attending a mindfulness retreat several years ago. The picture was taken in the early fall on a beautiful day as the sun warmed, the breeze cooled, and colours changed. When I sit in meditation or practice yoga, mindfulness reminds me I am one part of a much larger scheme. There is a lot acting on me that goes unnoticed and taken-for-granted. It is in mindfulness I remember to be humble and grateful for the small part I do play in the world.

Sitting, walking–

Speaking, listening–

In the greater scheme,

One part amongst many,

What does it mean?

Sunlight warming faces,

Breezes cooling skin,

Morning freshness awakening;

Afternoon warming;

Evening comforting.

In Nature’s midst,

Pulling close,

Embracing all forms,

Sinking deep roots,

Colouring with vibrancy.

Beginning afresh;

Living the world anew,

New eyes seeing it;

Skin touching it for the first time,

Finding one’s seat at the table.

Turbulent Calmness

On June 29, I posted a similar poem and theme. I am not sure what led me to post two that shared the same title. It is likely, early in the school year, it feels chaotic. Early in a school year, there are moments of repreive in this feeling and, as the year gains momentum, they become more common. As one co-participant in my dissertation put it: “I learn to stand in the middle of the storm.”

The other inflluence was I took several courses in my PhD about leading in complex and chaotic times. Servant-leadership, mindful leadership, and transformational leadership are forms of leadership particularly effective in times. We focus on questions about what needs to be changed, how do we engage each person in change, and how does each person become a leader in their own right? These forms share common features: grounded in the present, ethically guided, there is foresight without being set in certainty, etc. Mixed in this was courses on the Tao of Leadership, Systems Leadership, Leadership and Justice, Dialogic Leadership, etc. When I re-entered the classroom each September, what I learned in my PhD founds its way in with me. How could I better serve each student? How could we transform and share our experiences into something nourishing each other’s lives? How could I make a difference for each student? How could they grow and become better leaders than me?

I took the pictures at Lundreck Falls as a reminder of how quickly nature can bring a sense of calm back even in the midst of what is initially chaotic. Within a short distance from the falls, the water pools and calms, at least on the surface. What goes on underneath the surface can remain chaotic and complex much like life, needing non-judgemental, humility, foresight, patience, and wisdom to navigate the unforseeable and unpredictable.

 

Needless to say, I wrote a poem about the challenges of remaining calm in the midst of the storm sometimes raging around me.

Growing awareness–

Standing still,

Humbling one’s self,

To gain foresight–

Insight;

Emerging clarity,

Wisdom.

Entering life’s stream–

Even calm waters,

Hiding shoals, rocks, currents,

In turbulence–

Dropping labels,

Ceasing unwarranted judgment,

Falling awake.

Soul’s Choice

I wrote this on a day when I had a new parent as the parent-helper in the classroom. She did a wonderful job and told me how much her child enjoyed our little corner of paradise. It was a dreary day and her comments warmed my heart.

Not every parent walked into the classroom ready to jump right in to being active and in a teaching role. I always kept an eye and ear turned towards those tables and times when I knew concepts were more challenging. Parents accepted my jumping in and, quite often, I just sat and listened. Parents brought skills and perspectives I lacked. I had a doctor down on his hands and knees teaching the Grade 8’s where the spleen was on the life-size body systems they were drawing. Or, an artist parent who taught the students how to do a particular art form. One grandmother brought her rock collection in each year for the Grade 3 Science unit. The junior high students always found a way to go and check it; some because it was new to them and others because they recalled the joy of it in Grade 3. The educational assistant led in our Food Science class, along with parents and students.

We are each called to do something in our lives. It is our vocation and provides us with a voice to share with the world.

Day breaks,

Cool and wet–

Greying one’s life.

If allowed,

Dampens one’s spirit;

Letting the dullening prevail.

Yet, glow emerge,

Warmth radiates,

Shared within community.

A communal spirit,

Exploring, discovering

Edges of others’ worlds.

I took this picture of Frank Slide in Alberta’s southwest corner. The slide that took place lasted about 100 seconds and about 110 million tonnes of Turtle Mountain covered part of the community of Frank. When I took this picture, it was a dreary day and I was not having any luck getting what I considered great shots. When I wrote the poem, I remembered the picture and it fit.

Unplanned, Orchestrated

As I approached the last year I taught, I wanted to experience the that and live it to the fullest with each students. At various times during the year, my resolve was tested. One day, due to illnesses and family situations, the number of students who attended was a handful. I set lesson plans aside, going  with the flow. It was an excellent choice. We enjoyed ourselves and it created a way to approach these situations, and teaching in general, throughout the year.

That day, students created stories as part of short animated films. At times, we were silent. Other times we shared and laughed. Throughout, we helped each other with new tools and I learned right along with them. Much like teaching art I did not come into the day with much knowledge about tools and techniques we used. Instead, it was very improvised and I told the students this right up front.

Several days later, I walked the river valley and reflected on how we experience unplanned moments and rewards that emerge. Alan Watts reminds me of the difference between faith and belief. The former allows me to go through life less anxious, with reduced expectations about the future. The latter needs us to shape a world to fit a belief system into and defend it. It is not that the future won’t arrive. It is I cannot anticipate the next moment, only living in the present moment and improvising to what emerges.

Life’s meaning–

A question teases–

To live into;

To thrive in;

What is my purpose?

Moments separating;

Connecting, dancing in paradox.

Each moment emerging;

Unplanned–

Yet, orchestrated.

Revealing meaning moment by moment.

Unmarked journeys–

Question,

Not answers–

Certain missteps–

Do I see around corners?

Over hills?

Accepting on faith,

Feeling, sensing, experiencing,

Not seeing.

A gentle hand,

Touching, guiding,

Each of life’s step,

Emerging in light,

And, shadow.

I took this picture during the walk. The path drew me to it, with its hill and curve at the top. I only saw what was immediately in front. Even then, it was limited by shadows and vegetation blocking my view.

(Extra)Ordinary

Towards the end of my teaching, I found it challenging to stay positive. Administrators, who spent little time talking and listening to what we did, often imposed their arbitrary decisions oblivious to possible consequences. Having said this, and with time to reflect, I did little to bridge differences. I went back to my classroom, shut my door, and taught. In teaching, the extraordinary emerged.

I bracket extra to draw attention to the ordinary. Thich Nhat Hanh writes about how (extra)ordinary emerges, not as a miracle, out of the overlooked and ordinary we experience. I appreciate this more today than I did those last years of teaching. Barry Lopez says the opposite of love is not hate. It is indifference, an uncaring attitude towards other humans and objects in our presence. It begs questions: “What calls me? What am I mindful of in my life that needs my fullest attention? Who and what am I a steward of?” Today, this understanding (in)forms me when I encounter challenging moments. For example, struggling to find my way into a higher ed classroom I see this as an opportunity to write and read.

Sometimes. I tend to create negative narratives rather than let each moment live itself fully and be aware of as much as I can be of it. This is hard, but grows easier as I set aside dis-ease. Parker Palmer reminds me, when I do something that is not calling me and I am not responding to the call in a full throated way, I do violence to my life and that of others. He speaks about how we conflate lonliness with solitude. The former is problematic and the latter a paradoxical need alongside a need to live in community and share with others. It is in moments of solitude the (extra)ordinary can emerge from the ordinary

Unlike loneliness,

Alone is (in)different,

Solitude appreciates,

Providing solace.

Gift of silence;

Growing whole–

Energizing spirit–

Ordinary in (extra)ordinary;

(Re)memembering one’s life.

I taught Art the last year. I am no artist. We made, designed, and painted papier mache masks. For some students and me, this signaled the end of our time together. For others, they did not want to do the project, until I said I was going to participate. On our last day, a student said “It is not what you taught we will remember. It is how you taught us we will remember and the lessons of what it means to be a person.” To (re)member is to put things back together, sometimes in partial ways. Between the mask and those words, I put meaning back together about teaching and living life to the fullest.

Calm Within Turbulence

I probably overthink some things including the concept of “thinking outside the box” and “getting outside of the comfort zone.” We need structure in our lives or it becomes chaos. We trust the familiar, sometimes too much. Moving from the equilibrium and stability of what we are each comfortable with causes us to begin to feel out of control.

I love waterfalls and fast water. They remind me, just over the horizon, things will not be easy to plan for. There will be things I cannot see around the bend, hidden in below the chaotic, turbulent waters, and it is continuously changing. We have white water rafted and going down a mountain fed stream in the morning is different than later in the day. Early in the morning, the waters tend to be lower and, as the day heats up, more water flows, covering rocks that were easily seen earlier.

Awakening each morning,

Smiling into the day,

Soaking in moment.

Pausing,

Letting calm find me,

Amidst turbulence.

I do not recall where we got this picture. I think it was in British Columbia towards the headwaters of the Fraser River. We have not rafted in this kind of river and I doubt you could. To handle the chaos, one would have to portage and detour around the rapids. Part of the skill of navigating is to have the wisdom to realize what is impassable.

For me, getting to a point where I can view certain waterfalls is impossible. I have a significant fear of heights and it limits where I can go. In Waterton Lakes National Parks, we did a lot of hiking. I was able to access most of the paths, but this was one I had to stop. I could see the top of the falls and Kathy was my eyes, taking pictures. She got to the platform overlooking the falls, which are called bridal falls as they are often veiled with mist.

Beauty revealed,

Lifting veil from other’s eyes,

Even mist is gone.

.

Safe Haven

Several years ago, Kathy took this picture at the farm. She walked in from the road and the fields between the house and the road were overgrown. Regardless of whether a place is still physically inhabited or not, it is inhabited with memories, overflowing with meaning. In this sense, visitors abound.

We sat at the kitchen table, watching as various wildlife found safe haven in the midst of human dwelling. Both the wildlife and humans, shared and belonged to the space. As Kathy walked in that day, this beautiful doe looked up and posed to have her picture taken.

Spacious serenity,

Surrounding inhabitant,

Memories swimming–

Visible, invisible

(Re) appearing.

Home–

Soaring spirit,

Belonging, being, working, praying

Pausing, posingposes

Stewards of the sacred.

 

 

Flowers

I wrote this poetry and took these pictures on a trip to British Columbia with Kathy via Jasper National Park and Mount Robson Provincial Park. It was for my mother’s 88th birthday and, at that point in her life, each birthday was an important event. She was the last of her generation in our family, on both sides.

I took pictures of two flowers common to temperate areas in North America: Fireweed and Paintbrush. Fireweed is hardy and is often found in areas which were disturbed by fire or oil spills generally spreading out in open areas left behind. It is part of the first step in ecological succession.

 

Appearing amidst destruction,

Flourishing,

Restoring,

Inviting to embrace.

Filling alpine meadows,

Colouring once damaged landscapes,

Lighting paths,

Giving hope.

The Indian Paintbrush or Prairie-Fire is widespread and was used by Indigenous peoples for food, hair conditioner, and to treat rheumatism. This is an example of the coastal variety.

Painting the world alive,

Gently,

Sensously.

Off Nature’s palette,

Dancing vibrantly,

Living colours.

During these times with the COVID-19 health crisis, which revealed the deep social, economic, and political fissures in our world and the social activism emerging after the murder of George Floyd, Canada has to take time to look at its own history and treatment of marginalized peoples. This begins, but does not end, with how we treated and continue to treat First Nations’ people. This is a song by a local singer-songwriter, Connie Kaldor, who sings poignantly about the murdered and missing indigenous women across Canada. The report, completed in June 2019, had over 90 recommendations, which have not been acted on. In Canada, protests against systemic racism highlight this lack of action.

 

Surprises

It was a perfect day. We wandered in Jasper National Park, enjoyed scenery, surprises and I was with my favourite person. We found the best at the end of the day. I posted a picture of a bull elk on Yellowstone 2005 . I took that picture from 15-20 metres. Kathy took this picture of a cow elk chewing her cud. She seemed aware of our presence. We were quiet and, as others joined us in a secluded area, she posed. The wall was about 1 metre thick wall and a similar height.

Earlier in the day, we hiked for a couple of hours in the Valley of Five Lakes, exploring some of the small lakes in the valley. We were able to get close to three of the lakes and took pictures. The other two did not have paths into them and were quite deep in the bush. Here are the three lakes we got close to. Each has its own personality, so to speak.

At one of the lakes, I forget which one we came across another visitor who posed for a picture.

And, I close the day with a poem:

In the end,

Day emerged as it began–

Arriving at trail’s head.

Rediscovering mountains,

Reflecting in clear lakes,–

Sharing personalities.

Adieu to blue skies,

Threatening clouds;

Delivering promise.

Welcoming the unexpected,

Unfolding patiently–

Like the day.

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