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Be the Peace in Your World — Life as a Garden

With so much aggression and turmoil in this world, try and practice peace everyday in your world.  If you can’t smooth that frown away and replace it with a smile, at least try and keep your anger down the best you can. Hard to do when you are not having a good day and feeling […]

Be the Peace in Your World — Life as a Garden

I came across this post about a week ago, accidnently closed it, and could not remember where it was located. Michelle shares a post that points to what we need most in this world: love and peace. The third paragraph resonates with me. Nature depends on diversity and cooperation to succeed. Without those, it falls into disarray.

Thich Nhat Hanh writes beautifully about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. We cannot have the extraordinary without the ordinary. We have to look deeper and understand there will always be mystery in what we are exploring.

I used phenomenology, specifically hermeneneutic phenomenology, in writing my disseration and it premised on mystery, making meaning, and a sense of wonder and awe as we explore particular phenomena. In many ways, each person is a phenomenologist as humans, by their nature, are meaning-making beings.

As a teacher, I used an activity called A Culture of Peace. In keeping with the Pema Chodron quote Michelle shared, I asked students for words and phrases to describe a culture of war and recorded answers on the board. It did not take long to exhaust the descriptions, usually no more than 10 minutes. I then asked them to desribe a culture of peace. The first time I used the activity, and it became a staple, I was left withy a sense of wonder how these junior high school students kept me moving for almost an hour filling up all the whiteboards. Even students who rarely shared, were excited. As we were borrowing someone’s classroom, we had to arbitrarily end the conversation and, as we walked back to our space, two young men commented they could have done that all day. The sense of wonder, joy, and fulfilment was palbable and extraordinary.

Several years ago, I used the same activity with an undergrad class of future teachers. It was surprised how unengaged and disinterested they were as a group. Perhaps, we become jaded in ways that are difficult to overcome, focused on end results and schedules rather than the joy of learning and sharing.

Below, is a picture of Mount Robson. We stop there on our trips to British Columbia and walk a bit. I am always left with a sense of wonder and, as we walk alongside the Robson River, I feel a sense of peace and gratitude for just being there.

I leave you with a quote from Gustavo Gutiérrez, a liberation theologist I am currently reading: “A gratuitous encounter is mysterious and draws us into itself.” Father Gutiérrez uses the word gratuitous to describe something we encounter, which is free and exists for it own sake for us to enjoy e.g., lilies of the field, a mountain, a loved one, etc. When I encounter the person, phenomena, event, etc. I am grateful for its existence.

Speak Your Truth — LIVING IN THIS MOMENT

“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”― Franz Kafka How often have we told people what they want to hear, rather than speak our truth? During the process of writing my second book, there […]

Speak Your Truth — LIVING IN THIS MOMENT

Karen writes about how challenging it is to speak one’s truth. We often conflate truth with opinion. Truth is about how we each experience a particular phenomenon. It always stands in relationship to others and how they experience that phenomenon. Truth comes from the Germanic word tröth, which is taking a solemn pledge or undertaking. We enter into a relationship with someone and/or something e.g., marriage vows. Each peson comes to understand the meaning of the relationship and the pledge slightly differently.

We live in a world which is sometimes referred to as post-truth.. In my view, this just moral relativism dressed up differently and allows people to ignore the humanity of others who may disagree with them or are different than them. It becomes easy to say whatever we want to and claim we are being cancelled when someone disagrees. When used in this manner, truth becomes irrelevant and a buzz word.

Truth has taken on greater importance with the recent findings of unmarked graves at or close to residential schools for Indigenous children who were taken from their families and communities. Canada has a Truth and Reconciliation report related to the way Indienous peoples and communities were mistreated and that is a gentle word to describe the process. This includes the residential schools set up by the government and run by several christian demoninations. It is important to note truth comes before reconciliation. It is acknowledging the wrongs of the past, which is essential to reconciling, making whole and healing.

The reports logo is based on the 7 sacred teachings found in some form in North American Indigenous cultures: Truth, Humility, Honesty, Wisdom, Respect, Courage and Love. Although these teachings form the basis for North American Indigenous traditions and dialogue, one can find them, in some form, in other spiritiual teachings. They should form the ground on which we enter into relationships with others, the world, and what we hold sacred.

What draws me to Mary Oliver‘s poetry is the humility she invokes in questions she asks in certain poems. My favourite is The Summer Day where she concludes her questions with “what is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Truth is preceded by humility and accepting their will always be questions we cannot answer. Truth needs the other sacred teachings as life opens up with questions we cannot answer and full grasp.

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down —
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

An Expression of Gratitude —

“Keeping your body healthy is an expression of gratitude to the whole cosmos- the trees, the clouds, everything.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

An Expression of Gratitude —

Espirational provides short posts that are often accompanied by lovely images. This quote from Thich Nhat Hanh relates to my post, Deep, the other day. It was Bela‘s post I shared and expanded on a bit.

If we think of Earth and Nature as living bodies, we can expand this quote about health as an expression of gratitude to encompass more than just each of us individuals and human bodies. In moments of gratitude, we should ask who benefits from pillaging the Earth and Nature? We can also ask who is most harmed?

Currently, I am reading a book by Gustavo Gutiérrez and Paul Farmer. Father Gutiérrez is a pioneers of Liberation Theology and Paul Farmer is a medical doctor and medical anthropologist who helped found Partners in Health. Part of the reading is to write about leadership, education, and how hope can inform each of us as we emerge from COVID-19, if we actually do.

I hoped a crisis of this magnitude, plus the social and racial justice reckonings, might be a time to (re)imagine and (trans)form leadership and education. I am unsure this is what will happen, as the agenda of the very wealthy does not seek a “preferential option for the poor” and those most in need, inlcuding Gaia and Mother Nature. Yes, there is talk, but most of that is empty words and political theatre, posturing and peformativity for one’s constituents. It takes peope filled with courage and hope to stand up and say we need something different.

My hope rests in the next generation, the young people who are already making a mark. I hope they do not become disenchanged and discouraged. In this vein, I leave you with the following quote, attributed to Tasunke Witko (Crazy Horse) days before he was killed.

Upon suffering beyond suffering:

The Red Nation shall rise again and it shall be a blessing for a sick world; a world filled with broken promises, selfishness and separations; a world longing for light again.

I see a time of Seven Generations when all the colors of mankind will gather under the Sacred Tree of Life and the whole Earth will become one circle again.

In that day, there will be those among the Lakota who will carry knowledge and understanding of unity among all living things and the young white ones will come to those of my people and ask for this wisdom.

I salute the light within your eyes where the whole Universe dwells. For when you are at that center within you and I am that place within me, we shall be one.

The Panther

I learned new words today. I read an article by Judith Butler who used the word carceral, meaning “relating to prison.” It fits with systemic prejudices e.g., racism, where particular groups of people are imprisoned at a greater rate than their percentage of a society or country.

But, it includes how people are limited to a geographic space, so they do not come in contact with the elites. It extends injustice and oppression those groups and individuals experience. Paulo Freire argued this cuts across racial, gender, and linguistic lines and includes class distinction. People are trapped and imprisoned within a life that offers little hope for them and their children.

I am unsure Rainer Maria Rilke intended to make a political statement in The Panther, but it serves as an analogy to understand how another might experiences life in the midst of oppression. In not witness ing another’s disenfranchisement e.g., economic, political, educational, etc., I grow to think their plight is not real. But, bars, literal and figurative, become reality. As Rilke states “a great will stands stunned and numbed.”

The opposite of my indifference is love and serving, reaching out to give a hand to those who need help to cut the bars away that oppression has built around them. It is less about doing for them and more about valuing their lived-experiences in meaningful ways. Freire said to read the word, humans first read their world, bringing their understanding of living to formal education.

From seeing the bars, his seeing is so exhausted

that it no longer holds anything anymore.

To him the world is bars, a hundred thousand

bars, and behind the bars, nothing.

The lithe swinging of that rhythmical easy stride

which circles down to the tiniest hub

is like a dance of energy around a point

in which a great will stands stunned and numb.

Only at times the curtains of the pupil rise

without a second … then a shape enters,

slips through the tightened silence of the shoulders,

reaches the heart, and dies.

I love the blues. A sad thing about the genre is many women who were pioneers were not recorded as often as men. It is a treat to hear someone like Sister Rosetta Tharpe sing.

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.

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.

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.

Speaking One’s Truth

I wrote this as I was making decisions about continuing to teach. There had been considerable upheaval as new administrators arrived and left, families left, and a friend and colleague retired. I found myself constantly in the midst of a storm with little or no control in how things might move forward. At a retreat in Oakland, I spent considerable time reflecting and journaling about the issue at hand, so this was not intended to be a poem and it took a year to write itself.

What I wrote was a summary of the past year and the struggle to ways to create in my teaching and be more present to my students. What I lacked was confidence in who I was and what I was enacting as a teacher, the performativity and improvisation essential to my teaching. I planned a lot in my teaching, but the depth of planning allowed me to improvise in ways that a lack of planning could not.

In The Book of Joy, The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu discuss how loss and fear lead to anger. What is important is during challenging times to try to be aware of what gives us meaning and hope in life. Although I would love to teach and be part of educating the next generation of teachers, I find it easier to accept that is not happening, focusing energies on writing and teaching in a new way. If the situation arose to teach and educate the next generation of teachers, I would consider it. What it is not doing is defining who I am and my life.

It’s emerging,

Happening–

Letting go;

Speaking with love–

Accepting the lost.

Sitting with questions,

Accepting uncertainty, incompleteness–

Taking stock;

Gazing inwards–

Feeling humbling hope.

Accepting extended hands,

Discarding baggage–

Walking forwards;

Living my truth;

Questing in each moment.

I took this picture in Arizona in March. It was the last of five I took. Each day, as I walked back, the cactus had bloomed one or two more flowers. The cactus and its flowers exist just to be a cactus and its flowers, beautifying the world. They remind me, even in harsh conditions, plants and animals flourish in their time.

As I was writing, Curtis Mayfield’s Move On Up played. It is appropriate. As we face challenges, we move on up and achieve, albeit an unpredictable, something.

Do Pigs Have Udders?

Part of educating for hope is “reading the world” in hopeful while living “in dynamic interrelationships” with others (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, p. 102). This means opening the world to eloquent questions without presupposed answers and without the threat of violence of any form. I used the quote in a recent book chapter I co-authored with a colleague from North Carolina. The book is to be published in late 2020 or early 2021. What does it mean to live in a world full of hope; a hope(ful) world.

My first day back from the retreat I posted about in Welcoming Differences and Gentle Rain I noticed the students were subdued. In the afternoon, I was alone, which was unusual. Without an adult and teaching three grades, it could be demanding. Other times, it provided interesting moments, and this turned into one of those moments.

I had contacted a substitute teacher I had used several years before and who was available again after completing a long term assignment for an ill teacher. As we talked about what was bothering me, the students told me they had not enjoyed the teacher. I was surprised, as he had seemed a good fit before. I asked for an example and they told me he had told them their conversation was inappropriate. This was unusual, as the students in this group were well-behaved and respectful. I asked them what the conversation was about and they told me, while completing some Science, one student asked “Do pigs have udders?” Apparently, this became a hotly debated topic and it was brought up again today.

I laughed. For me, it was funny and pointed to an irrevocable human truth: curiosity about the world we live in and eloquent questions leading to exploring the world and learning about it. We had serious fun as we talked about what udders were and their role in feeding offspring. I even phone Kathy, who was raised on a farm, and asked he. She was not sure, but thought it was a structural thing and pigs probably did not have it. We left it as an open question.

Simple question,

Emerging eloquently,

Not presupposing answers;

Fueling curiousity–

Energizing learning.

What does this mean?

Is it true?

Querying and questing;

Seeking to fill gaps;

Not with certitude;

New questions emerging.

With passing years,

Recalling that moment,

Smiling, chuckling;

Appreciating simple, provocative question–

Do pigs have udders?

As best as we can learn, they do and it was fun trying to figure it out. Adolescent children ask the darnedest things. Laughter is an antidote for difficult moments. Something I learned as a student teacher was a safe classroom allows children, youth, and probably adults to ask provocative questions with no preconceived answers. In the polarized world we live in, we have lost that assurance of safety and are reluctant to ask questions needing answers.

I will save you looking up the answer on the Internet. Pigs do not have udders. Udders are a reference to mammary glands on certain mammals and it has to do with their structure. I read a version of this poem for a group at a retreat in Wisconsin. As I finished, adults wanted to know the answer. I said I didn’t know and someone looked it up on the spot.

I don’t have a picture of a pig. Here is one of a bear I took in Waterton Lakes National Park. Bear and pigs are related, so it was as close as I could get.

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