In the poem, The Uses of Not, Lao Tzu reminds me there is often an empty space that completes something and, for that matter, someone. A wheel needs spokes, a clay pot the hole in the clay to hold things, and rooms need doors and windows.
In life, I find myself trying to fill gaps and holes. When I am mindful, I recall to make something (w)hole it has gaps and holes embedded in it. The gaps and holes serve as spaces for energy to enter and exit. Without energy exchanges, I can grow stagnant and stale.
This poem was about the busyness of life. At times it seemed to overwhelm me when I taught. I tried to do more, rather than stepping back and finding space that served to heal and make me whole again.
Digging holes in water–
Seeking to be whole;
In the end, futile.
Complementing one another–
Completing one another–
Beauty reflecting one another;
Emerging in paradox.
Opening life’s arms–
In its embrace–
Discovering loving space;
Living in life’s healing rhythms.
I opted for this video, as, despite the fact they are struggling, Tommy and Gina have each other. It is what makes them whole; that and living on a prayer.
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.
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.
“Where was I on September 11, 2001 as the planes hit the towers?” This is a question many of us of a certain age revisit each year to mark this date.
I was in my car driving to school when the news broke. It seemed surreal like H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds must have. When I got to school, I found a TV, and we watched it in the classroom. I asked the students, the parent of the day, and educational assistant if they had friends or relatives in the US. About 3/4 of the group raised their hands. Our family has roots in the US with relatives and friends living there. Both my post-graduate degrees are from American schools and we spend a considerable amount of time in the US.
The play Come From Away is about people in Newfoundland opening homes and lives to over 7000 people who were on diverted flights.
On September 10, 2001, who would have thought it would happen the following day? Who could predict the consequences of the act of a handful of men that day and the lasting impact on lives? But, it did impact us in a 6 degrees of separation way. I did not know anyone in the planes or towers, but I know at least two others who knew someone on the flights. In today’s world, interconnectedness is real and vivid.
Emblazoned in infamy,
Seared into minds–
Surreal and nightmarish.
Senseless and tragic,
Never fully healing–
Loved ones gone,
In recent days, we have a Blues channel on to listen to music. Today, I heard this song by Bonnie Raitt and it touched me on this day. We missed seeing her several years ago as the tickets sold out before I got there.
The song raises a question for me: “How can learn we are more alike as humans than different?”
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.
Speaking with love–
Accepting the lost.
Sitting with questions,
Accepting uncertainty, incompleteness–
Feeling humbling hope.
Accepting extended hands,
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.
I realize this welcoming of September is a couple of days late.
When I walk in the river valley at this time of the year, the changes in nature become noticeable. Before I notice the colours changing, I smell the decay as leaves fall. This is noticeable if it rains, which it has been for the last week or so. It cools the evenings and nights, accelerating the pace of change.
The decay is a necessary part of nature. It is part of the cycle of birth, life, harvest, and rest essential to health. Parker Palmer writes beautifully about this in several places. Nature reminds us we need to prepare for rest in a meaningful way, gathering our whole self in the process. It is about eloquent questions. What have I birthed and nurtured during the spring and summer months that I harvest to help sustain me in the winter months? How am I letting my Spring and Summer ready me for Autumn and Winter?
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.
Not presupposing answers;
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,
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.
I wrote this poem in SeaTac airport in Seattle waiting for my flight I had about 6 hours so there was considerable time to reflect. I make a point of scheduling reflection time into my routine and, when blocks of time emerge reflect, I take advantage of them. Reflecting on what happened and what we aspire to are essential to a well-lived life.
This poem emerged from a conversation about leadership allowing the uncomfortable to reveal itself in conversations. Jacques Derrida may have concluded being uncomfortable is admitting the strange into one’s life and the moment. There is a risk of danger and rejection, steeped in possible hospitality towards of one another and acceptance.
With patience and humility, I can welcome and listen in what Martin Buber referred to as an I-Thou encounter, not an I-it encounter where I diminish and objectify the Other a a thing. As noted in Gentle Rain, when we encounter someone, even briefly, we grow and add a little of each other to our selves. As humans, we are more alike than different. This is lost in the highly politicized rhetoric where purported leaders pit us against one another, dividing and highlighting differences for the sake of conquering.
Making the world anew,
Healing through listening–
Supplanting heart’s courage;
Sensing the common–
Awakening, pausing, observing–
Emerging from hibernating;
Welcoming that which is different,
Completing unfinished circles.
Piecing together peace–
Voicing the silenced,
Each voice rejoicing.
Making ones’ self whole–
Accompanied by others;
Joining hands and hearts,
Belonging to each other–
I took this picture as we travelled through Glacier National Park. At the time, I just took it. Later, as I read about deep ecology, I learned geologists look at the strata in a mountain as chapters in the mountain’s story. For me, this is much like how we each have our unique stories brought together both in what makes us unique and what we hold in common.
Sometimes as I write one poem, another emerges in the tangle of thoughts and words. This happened with the post Transforming. One poem gave way to another. Both poems remind me of the unnecessary chase in life. Life is not a race or hunting trip in which I seek the biggest prize. What I need is patience with life arriving fully in each moment, revealing itself in extraordinary ways.
There are quotes that are on the tip of tongue at all times. Alfred North Whitehead wrote the present moment is holy ground. The past and future meet in each present moment, making it whole. Some humans tend to see life as a competition and end up running in one spot. This contradicts being present and patient, echoing Matthew 6:28: consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. To flourish and experience good health, one has to reduce the stress of spinning in one spot.
Life revealing itself,
In its good time,
Right on time.
I know these are not lillies. Kathy took this picture hanging out the window of her car while driving on the Highway to the Sun in Glacier National Park. Elements of nature complement one another, forming the whole.
Although it has changed somewhat, the weekend is less hectic than weekdays. At my age and, to a lesser extent the current healh crisis, days blend together a bit more and abitrary barriers dissolve between the weekend and the work week. That is what the weekend constituted for me in the past. Now, I plan out days to fit reading, writing, taking care of social media and email, etc. Part of my routine is to walk each day and it is always interesting to observe and appreciate the unexpected.
For several years I observed Sabbath differently. I took time each Sunday to shut off computers, TV, and be less busy. Now, I make sure I have quiet time to withdraw and rest each day. It is essential for one’s overall well-being to take time and just be. In a way, it is like gardening. We take time to plant seeds and nourish them into life so they can flourish. Too often, I found, in the rush of getting things done for the sake of getting them done, I lost some of that in my younger years.
One at a time.
Nourishing with rest,
Tiling with care,
I took this picture several years ago in Spokane as I walked back towards campus along the river. As you can see, the sun was setting beautifully and was just above the horizon. In the midst of light, shadows emerge and their presence signals light is there.
The same day Kathy took the picture for my post Time to Rest she took this picture of a single tree standing against the horizon as the sun set. She called it the sun set tree.
This spring and summer has been cool and dreary with many days below average for temperature and with. Yesterday, we began to turn the corner with some heat that is supposed to continue for at least a week. If we wait, the sun comes out and warms things up. For growth to occur, we need rain. As the heat takes hold and the sun does it job, a little rain must fall.
The same applies to our lives. We conflate passion and love. Passion contains love. It also holds moments of sorrow and pain. Compassion is sharing the good, the not-so-good, and refraining from doing harm to other sentient and non-sentient beings. We cannot go it alone. Nature teaches us about the essential idea of inter-being, a concept Thich Nhat Hanh writes about. Being mindful of Nature’s teaching gives insight into how we might inter-be with and in the world. It is not always clear. Into our lives a little rain will fall and there will cloudy days to help produce the sun and growth.
Sentinel stands guard;
Against leaden backdrop;
Gently smiling sun;
Sharing tentative rays.
Receiving warming glow;
Gathering to grow.
Revealing that hidden by shadows;
Smiling with Brother Sun;
Sharing sacred moments.
In a time where social inequity has been laid bare in incredibly visible ways, brought out of the shadows, we need to think, not about what privilege we might lose, but about how we can help each other be lifted up, particularly the most oppressed amongst us. I listened to Simon and Garfunkel growing up and enjoyed The Sound of Silence. This cover is my favourite version and reminds us we need prophets to write words on the subway walls.