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Category Archives: Synchronicity

Civil Conversation Circles

In a world with a shortage of civil discourse, we have reduced talking to talking at people. There is a binary process where we say yes or no, turn on or off, incude or exclude people. This leads to thinking in limited ways about choices we face. In fact, I think we end up dependent on those we perceive to be in charge to make decisions on our behalf. This is happening in education as we try to figure out how to get students back in class. As I listen to politicians, educationalists, teachers, parents, etc., what impresses me is we have limited our choices to re-opening schools completly, often without adequate resources and human capacity. or some form of remote learning, as if these are the only two choices. Other choices e.g. home school seem to be excluded, understood as marginal.

Quite a few years, I introduced daily conversation circles. We used them to clarify from my perspective, Also, students shared what they wanted. At the beginning of the school year, each student introduced themselves. It seems small, but this often goes unattended in groups, regardless of where they exist. In my experience, each student, humans in general, want a voice in their learning and work; a voice often cancelled.

In our conversation circles, we used a ‘talking stick.’ The person with the ‘talking stick’ is the speaker and others listen. The ‘talking stick’ was a gift from a parent who was a member of a First Nation. It had some traditional meaning attached to its design. In an era of digital technologies, the talking stick reinforces a civilty of face-to-face conversation which we increasingly need in our world.

In our small school, parents played an integral role, including and not limited to meaningful teaching in the classroom, teaching complementary courses, teaching at home, etc. I shared about our small school in a post called Soul’s Choice, so won’t add more here. My experience and research suggests, after Kindergarten, parents and teachers are somehow on a different team. But, as one teacher proposed, “We share something; the love of a child.” In bringing children back together, we need to hear from two essential voices, often excluded from the conversation about teaching, parents and teachers.

The following is a poem that rattled around for a few days. It might be a bit rought around the edges, but I thought it needed to see the light of day.

Reducing to binary,

Simplifying choice–

0 or 1,

Silencing others.

Inserting ‘and’ in conversations,

Accepting ambiguity–

Listening with one’s heart,

(In)forming community.

Embracing each child,

Loving without conditions–

Parent and teacher raison d’être,

Centring our calling.

Educating,

Sharing purpose–

Making whole,

Caring and healing together.

The picture is the talking stick, which I still have. The following is a short description of the symbolism of the talking stick. The wood is driftwood which came from a local lake and reflects nature’s contributions to conversation circles. Someone carved a bear head into the top of the stick. In some traditions, the bear symbolizes courage, freedom, and power. The feather is from a hawk. Hawks are visionary and guide the person. The coloured ribbons represent the four directions in the circle. The parent attached a medicine bag. The medicine bag heals, guides and protects, and has materials or objects of value to its carrier.

Time to Rest

Kathy took this picture on a trip out to the farm several years ago. Her and others spent the day cleaning up the farmhouse and, as they finished, the sun made an appearance. It had been a gloomy day.

Sometimes, we feel this way in whatever we do as much as we might love it and feel called to it. I remember days in the classroom when I felt I inhabited a gloomy world. I love teaching and learning. They are parts of what make me whole and I think, to paraphrase Parker Palmer, make us each larger than life. When we love doing something or being in a particular relationships, we find voice and those things are inseparable from who we each are. On those gloomy days, it is essential to remind myself to be mindful and give thanks for the sunlight that shines into my life.

Fleetingly framed,

Golden skyline on horizon,

Invisble hand painting.

Thankful moment,

Golden light awash,

Bringing end to day.

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.

 

 

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.

Listening and Learning

I was going to press a wonderful post from Cheryl’s blog called Living in the Gap. Unfortunately, she does not have a press facility, so I did the next thing. I copied a paragraph from her post that I relate to:

“Am I ready to look at the part I play in the current reality, come out from the safety of the suburbs, and confront my own racism? To take a sober look at my own bias, privilege, and exclusionary practices. This is when I want to curl up like a pill bug and roll away, but this movement is not about me, it’s about listening, learning, and leaning into the race issues currently afflicting our country.”

We are in an unusual moment with the protests. They call us to stop and listen to one another in ways we may not be used to. They also call us to ask questions we have not asked in deep ways, such as “how do I confront my own prejudices? Am I even willing to confront them?” I use the word prejudice to open the space a bit more. It is not only about race. It is about gender, sexual orientation, class, etc.

Currently, I am co-writing an article for publication using Paulo Freire. Freire used critical theory and I paraphrase him here. He said prejudices are interwoven, arising from individual lived histories passed from one generation to another in unquestioned ways. It is listening to others without taking on a saviour role, without drowning their voices, and hearing them speak about their reality. They await opportunities to be raised into consciousness and critically questioned. How I understand this is through a Socratic lens where skepticism begins at home. How do I make the world better, more just, more democratic. Freire suggests it is a slow process. In his book, Pedagogy of Hope, he acknowledged using gender exclusive language in his seminal book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, published 30 years earlier. He learned to use more inclusive language as he became critically aware of the harm done without it. It was a small and necessary step.

Freire argues we need to listen to one another, not denying difference. Instead, he calls on us to accept “unity in difference.” At our core, (in French coeur is heart and core) we are each human. Too often, we talk over each other and listen to defend entrenched positions. A key theme in Freire’s writing is human “unfinishedness,” always becoming. I reflect when I took-for-granted privilege and wonder how I might overcome this. It is not easy. It will not be finished. I understand my role, as an elder, as one of serving and listening. Leadership is serving, transforming, and mindful, rather than transactional and hierarchical.

Robert Greenleaf stated “the best test [of servant-leadership], and difficult to administer, is: do those being served grow as persons; do they become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous while being served: Since so many people seem afraid to grow, the true servantleader who brings it about is an extraordinary person.” If I look at the next generation and they offer me hope that there is better to come, perhaps I can take some solace in that. Without hope, we wither and flee from the scene, abdicating our responsiblity to one another.

I leave you with a video of Langston Hughes’ poem Mother to Son. If I expand the defintion of pedagogue to its broadest etymology, it is how elders interact with youth, allowing them to dream. Hope is not about a lack of obstacles. After all, no life is a crystal staircase and that is most evident for those on the margins of our societies, including in Canada with its history of residential schools and mistreatment of people of colour. It is, as Freire suggests, being willing to struggle and fight to overcome overt and covert injustices and inequities we encounter and witness. It is listening and testifying in those moments to offer a hand to those in need, regardless of race, gender, orientation, creed, and class without being dogmatic. How do we testify in each of those moments? It is not succumbing to historical amnesia and existential weariness.

 

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Transforming

Several years ago, I arrived home, after spending time in Spokane. I struggled in the first few days back and reflected on what was happening. Quite often, I resist routine and find it is hard work.

Rarely, are we alone in our travails. It is universal Real change, transformation is slow, purposeful, and patient process. Upon looking at pictures we took on our travels and for all of nature’s ability to sometimes erupt and change rapidly, most change is slow and transformational. For the most part, deep change, transforming, in nature is a great model to observe.

I wrote the following poem in response to those reflections.

Waiting,

Impatient–

Desiring more

Leaning into headwinds,

Transforming–

Slow, patient, with purpose

Lacking blueprint.

Journeying,

With one’s self–

With companions,

Breaking bread,.

Trusting–

Devoting,

Changing together.

Embracing,

No explaining,

Words unnecessary–

Smiling assurances.

Looking back,

Revealing worn paths–

Sharing,

Sheltering one another

Pressing ahead–

Certain in uncertainty.

I took the picture on the way to Kootenai Lake in Glacier National Park. Even on a well worn path, there is a limited view of what is behind and ahead. As well, there are many things hidden along the path, there and invisible. There is always a trust in other people and in the path as I move ahead with purpose. Paradox exists in the feeling of certainty in an always uncertain world.

Prayer of St. Francis

I did post this March 19, 2020 at One Step, Then Another, but it is special. Kathy and I celebrate our anniversary today and this was a reading at our wedding. Initially, the priest was reluctant. I think he saw the disappointment and let us use it.

When I heard the organ, I stood, literally shaking I was so nervous. I turned, looked at Kathy and her Dad, and stopped shaking. What was meant to be was meant to be.

Regardless of one’s relationship with others, intimate or distant, these are words to guide how we accept the Other, as Emmanuel Levinas said. This way lifts the Other to a human subject in an I-Thou relationship, rather than as an object and it.

Lord make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
And where there is sadness, joy.
O divine master grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive-
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned.
And it’s in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.
We took this at the Grand Canyon several years ago.

Pensive Pirate

For me, creativity and energy emerge in quiet moments. Kathy took this picture in Glacier National Park. I paused to scribble. We only saw a handful of people on the walk in and out.  For me, Nature gives me room breath and refresh.

Pausing, reflecting

Fortifying one’s spirit

Soaking in Nature.

Even though I enjoy quiet and solitude in Nature, I am drawn to its loudness. I love waterfalls, their power and what is not readily visible remind how much of life is a mystery. Whenever we travel, we stop and hike into various waterfalls. What is ironic is I have a fear of heights, which limits my ability to get close. On the other hand, Kathy is part mountain goat, so we get wonderful pictures.

Now and then, I get a chance to get closer and, on this trip, Cameron Falls offered me an opportunity to do just that.

In Waterton Lakes National Parks, I had to keep my distance as the drop off on the overview was too much for me. The result is an overload that drains me of energy. This is a view of Blakiston Falls, which are bridal falls. In case there is any doubt, Kathy took the picture. Below, I express gratitude to see through another’s eyes.

Revealing beauty

Viewing through another’s eyes

Nature’s abundance.

Happy Haiku

As part of my PhD, the university required I take two ethics courses. In 2012, I took an ethics class. A central theme in the course was the role eudaimonia plays in one’s life. We often translate eudaimonia as being happiness. It is more than being happy in the moment, as that is fleeting. Instead, Aristotle expanded on it to mean human flourishing and even blessedness, which occurs even in moments of distress.

When we think of eudaimonia in that way, it opens up opportunites to reflect on how we experience flourishing. In my case, it is the human relationships, a love of sports, hockey specifically, and writing, particularly poetry. I began to write poetry again, not because I felt at ease with the world, rather because I was unhappy at the time. It was opening up my heart in ways to allow this unhappiness to be dealt with one in ways to help me flourish.

Writing haiku is one poetic form I enjoy. Part of writing them is fun I had teaching how to write them. Students challenged me to write a haiku on the spot. I always began with an idea usually, but not allows, about nature. I got three lines down and then went back to select better words and focus on the syllables.

Students seemed to engage differently as they saw me enjoying writing haiku. Adults sometimes complained. For example parents and administrators questioned teaching poetry. I responded with it is good to write poetry as we learn how to select and use language in precise ways, plus it is fun. They did not always get it. Students did.

Here are a couple of examples that come to mind. It is not that we write as much as it is a process of writing and being written.

coursing cool current

tearing over life’s rocks

crossing to healing

Language and words bridge one’s private struggles and and make it visible and public. I strugled with these haiku. I think I need more practice. I hope they make sense.

Wearing down rough edges

Bridging life’s busyness

Pausing to flourish.

.

Butterfly

Several years ago, a student took these pictures. It is a beautiful example of how we are part of Nature and have to learn our role within as we unify with it. In becoming one with Nature, we experience Nature as a vital piece belonging to a larger fabric of community. We move into a role of stewards, rather than a user and discarder.

In these unifying moments, we experience Nature’s richness and transform. With increasing awarenss and mindfulness, we can experience belonging to, in, and with Nature, rather than outsiders who exploit, use, and discard. The butterfly and each of us become intimate partners in Nature’s dance.

A result of these pictures is the accompanying haiku.

Resting on journeys

Alighting in this moment

Sharing time and space as one.

The student took a second picture from a different angle and in black and white. This led me to a second haiku.

kissing tenderly

stopping to rest on your way

A sensuous miracle.

Have a wonderful Earth Day 2020.

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