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Being Alive

I originally wrote this on Bowen Island, attending an Art of Hosting retreat. It reminded me of the counter cultural nature of Parker Palmer’s writing and events focused on his work. It is about communicating and seeing others as fully human.

In today’s divided world, this seems countercultural. An essential element to hosting and dialogue is listening to others in respectful ways. It does not mean we agree with them. What it means is we are open and listen to hear how they experience living their life, guided by one’s conscience and sense of values that ground us. Values give each of us strength, anchoring us and letting us understand what is proper and improper.

When we invite people into conversation, listen deeply, and ask questions which shake our certainty about the world we turn inward and focus on what grounds us to respond to them and help heal a hurting world.

Perching pensively–

Holding pen tentatively;

Senses coming,

In the midst of nature’s beauty.

Awakening–

Becoming aware;

Listening deeply;

In the midst of sounds flowing.

Breeze caressing gently–

Sunlight bathing softly;

Basking in these moments,

Resting in peace.

A colleague took this picture of me on top of Cates Hill on Bowen Island as I wrote and they were gracious enough to share it with me. It is spectacular with water and land in the panoramic view.

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.

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.

Ongoing Quest

I wrote this during my last year teaching. It had been a particularly challenging day in the classroom and beyond. The students were full of energy and it was not always healthy. I grew frustrated and visibly annoyed part way through the afternoon. Part of it was a lack of a healthy relationship with the administration, which seeped into my teaching at times. It was challenging to set those frustrations aside, particularly with little support and how it impacted my teaching.

Having said thi, I chose to teach anothere year and wanted to teach those particular students. On myway home, I realized I need to establish a different, encouraging tone. In a sense, my ability to influence is my ability to recognize my reality and walk into the fire, the crucible, so to speak.In his teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh reminds me even weeds of a tough day serve a purpose. They fertilize and increase the yield of a crop: children’s learning and this could be lost on on me. For the remainder of the school year, some 7-8 months, I used this as my touchstone.

Sometimes, I allow myself to assume what is out there makes me who I am. If I let it, I succumb to those forces. On the other hand and stepping back from the brink, I reclaim my view and my callings in life. I do not let others and circumstances dictate who I am. I can choose how to respond. This is no mean feat as, in the heat of  the battle, it is hard to not be reactionary. The best I can do is be the best I can be in a moment, reflect later, and grow anew with fertilizer provided by tough moments.

transforming–

ongoing quest,

seeking vision,

unearthing a better, truer self–

digging deep,

resting in my heart.

transforming–

polishing the gems of self,

righting speech! righting action!

influencing others properly–

reclaiming my voice,

bringing forth my best.

Much to my mother’s chagrin, I got The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan when I was in high school. I still have it and still spin the vinyl after all these years. Although it is now almost 60 years old, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall still rings true for me today. Dylan wrote this in the midst of the Cold War with nuclear threats all around. Today, we are in the midst of multiple crises: health, wealth distribution, inequities, etc. The question I should ask in difficult times, small and large, is how can I be the difference I want to see in the world to paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi? Even if it is difficult, it is noble, virtuous, and hopeful, in the face of great obstacles, to speak truth to power, (re)calling I can only make the difference I can make.

Medicine Wheel

I am unsure the title fits the poem , but I left it as is. This was a hard poem to write as I delved into something I am not 100% confident with and that is quantum spirituality. As a quantum physicist writing from a feminist perspective, Karen Barad writes about entanglement. In short, we are entangled with one another, with non-sentient beings, and the inanimate of the Universe. This involves moral responsiblities in relating to those other beings and things, without even knowing what it is and how we are related to each of them.

Medicine wheels are part of many First Nations’ cultures. They connect people to Nature and reflect our interdependence with Nature and each other. They signal the need for harmony in lives and ground us with and in our world. In my understanding, they have quantum aspects to them as we are entangled in ways that suggest we are always seeking harmony in hopeful ways. What a medicine wheel asks us is to acknowledge interdependence, something those who wield levers are woefully reluctant to do. Instead, humans become resources and chattel in making profits in a zero sum game.

After my post In Seeming Chaos, Hope, I wondered about the current state of world affairs e.g. political crises, health crisis, economic crisis, etc. They are entangled with each other. I cannot simply wish one away and the others remain. Moreover, they existed before COVID-19. We did not see them easily. A lack of access to health care was in place for many people before the pandemic. We warehoused elderly people (the not-so nice term is aging people) as has become our custom in the advanced world e.g. schools.

I began to look for a spiritual connection with quantum physics and entanglement and found it. What was interesting was I have been reading about the connections for years in the writings of The Dalai Lama and Fritoj Capra. (The link is to an article where both are referenced.) What Karen Barad does is presents a detailed case for it from a scientific and feminist perspective. I think the feminine perspective is essential, as I consider bell hooks, Mary Belenky, Riane Eisler, etc. to understand how we move away from what Eisler termed a dominator, patriarchal world based on binaries and assigning a number to one that incorporates a participatory, matriarchal world. In this world, Belenky refers to intuitive, feminine, and I would argue, indigenous ways of knowing and wisdom based on the quality of living we each experience. These are impossible to quantify. However, we can describe them in poetic language. What if we had leaders like Jacinda Ardern and Angela Merkel instead of people who pass themselves off as leaders and fall far short of leading?

Basking in Brother Sun’s warmth–

Healing (in)spiriting waters–

(In)haling sweet air–

Replenishing.

Here,

Feeling welcomed–

Homing in on what’s proper,

Resting in one’s responsibilities.

In relating to the Universe–

While standing in Nature–

When Supporting other beings–

Discovering hope(ful) ways.

Intuiting as quantum beings–

Accepting unfelt entanglement–

Hearing unheard voices–

“Crossing love’s hearth.”

Enriching alchemy–

Inspiring magic.

Seeking peace,

Speaking truth to power.

I took the picture on Bowen Island and began to write the poem.

In Seeming Chaos, Hope

I gave a lot of thought today about hope and its lack of it. I do not confuse hope with positivity and positive mindset. Instead, I understand hope as grounded in reality. Emily Dickinson described it as “the thing with feathers,” suggesting we cannot fully describe it. Its ineffeable nature creates a metaphoric meaning for each of us. Without dreams and hope, Langston Hughes cautions “life is a broken-winged bird/that cannot fly.” With hope and dreams of previous enslaved generations, Maya Angelou repeats the title of her poem “I Rise” as a prayer and refrain against hopelessness.

Too often, people want to pigeon-hole others in binary and dichotomous ways e.g. conservative or progressive. It appears easier and less ambiguous if we can label someone, somehow providing a sense of stability about who this or that person is. What we mis-understand is “and” means something. It acknowledges how complex each human is. We are not usually one thing or the other. Instead, we are mingling of things, experiences informing how we live, and the context within which we live. I want to conserve things e.g. Nature and, at the same time, progress e.g. equity regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. Neither is premised on political or, in our case, reality TV, sloganeering.

Paulo Freire and bell hooks write about hope, unconditional love, and dialogue in educating children, youth, and adults. I think the critical theory is incorrect. What they propose is critical pedagogy/andragogy where I ground dialogue in listening with lovingkindness to those with different lived-experiences. In mindful, non-judgemental listening, I seek to open up space where the Other shares their reality and wisdom. In acknowledgeing the humanity of the Other and greeting them in dignified silence, I might offer the fragile hope so needed in today’s world. Imagine a world where we greeted one another with dignity, rather than making up slick political mottos and creating disparaging nicknames that assault others?

I wrote this poem after a long, hard day. I thumbed through some right-brain scribbles and this was the result.

Even in chaos, hope–

Faith springing forth,

Beloved Other sharing wisdom:

What do we hold in common.

Communal rhythm,

Symphonic voices arising–

Loving harmonies;

Binding and healing.

Listening,

Giving dignity–

Acknowledging shared ground.

Holding each Other gently,

Unsure together–

Breaking bread

Being safe in this space.

This was the first secular song I heard in church. It was the late 1960’s. Today, I think we do need mountains we have bulldozed, meadows we have paved over, and water we have contaminated. Having said this, we need love and hope equal measure to make those things happen.

Courage

Dominant groups control the conversation, excluding those who disagree. This is exacerbated with social media. It is difficult enough to present one’s  ideas through civil dialogue, let alone in 240 characters, in a Facebook post, and even on a blog. This raises interesting and eloquent questions about how we bring about meaningful, equitable, and sustainable change. How do we encourage others to come into the light and share their stories from the margins? How do we include the most vulnerable in our communities by making ourselves vulnerable? Each day, humans, with little, reveal courage as they engage a world that seemingly turns its back on them each day.

It is not enough to tolerate and merely see differences. We need to recognize them as we enact tranformational and sustainble change, closing the gap between those without by holding out a hand to help lift them up. This take acts of trust and courage. It would take vulnerability and courage as we each expose our self in ways that take us to the margins of our comfort zones.

In Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman encouraged the non-routine as we each sing out and question the imbalances of our world in civil conversation: “Not words of routine this song of mine, but abruptly to question, to leap beyond, yet nearer bring”

(In)just living,

Revealing courage,

Being vulnerable.

Affirming as human,

Expanding boundaries–

(En)couraging, rather than (dis)couraging.

Making visible,

Seeing humans in their fullness–

Naming each other.

Creating dialogic spaces;

Where agreement meets

Welcoming the other fully.

I leave you with this video.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Sunday night, I stayed up late. I stayed up until 10:00, which is late for me. As a result, I listened to a radio show I don’t normally get a chance to, The Road Home, on CKUA. I like the show, because the host, Bob Chelmick, plays eclectic music, reads poetry, and uses readings of poetry.

It appears we share a love of Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry‘s poetry with him, as he often highlights their poetry. On Sunday, the host had a reading by Wendell Berry of Manifesto: The Mad Liberation Front. There is too much in this poem for me to do justice to unpacking it. It speaks to the moment we are experiencing. How we got here is by taking shortcuts and ignoring the inequities in those shortcuts. We sacrifice community, certainty, and care for one another for quick profit, the ready made, and a lack of mystery in our lives.

I remember reading this poem for the first time and realizing how much we sacrifice for the “good life,” instead of appreciating what we have in our daily lives.

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

The health crisis reveals gaps in ,many forms of equity: gender, race, ethnicity, class, etc. The environmental crisis is doing the same thing as fires rage out of control. I love the last line: practice resurrenction. Rise up and live life in meaningful and ethical ways.

Although it is often referred to as the African-American National Anthem, I think Lift Every Voice and Sing speaks to what we need in today’s world. We need to join voices and hands to enact our words in concrete ways and make the world a better place.

 

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