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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.

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.

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.

September

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?

Leaves tumbling,

Time for slumbering.

New colour vivifies,

Nature electrifies.

Summer falls,

Equinox calls.

Season to rest,

Reflect on harvest.

Companions

I wrote this poem as I prepared to go to Bainbridge Island, WA. While there, I attended a leadership retreat offered by the Centre for Courage and Renewal based on the writing of Parker Palmer. As it was the second part of the process, I had a sense of how rewarding the process and journey were.

Like my time at Gonzaga, I found companions who I remain in touch with via social media and as I travel to various parts of Canada and the US. These companions complement the ones I have at home.

Companion and company come from an old French word (compagnie) meaning to break bread with others, usually on a journey. We accompany one another and share what we have, including conversation and care for one another.

Beloved community,

Inviting, one another,

Sharing more than a moment.

For alone,

Troubles weighing heavy us down

Each step, we struggle.

Gathering together,

Enlightening–

Feeding each other’s souls.

Backs straightening–

Shoulders squaring–

Holding heads higher.

Journeying, sharing, entrusting–

Becoming together,

Breaking bread.

I took this picture several years ago of Kathy just above and around the corner from some serious waterfalls on the Fraser River.

Soul Dancing

Several years ago, Kathy and I went to the farm to visit. Late in the afternoon, we went for a walk and saw the doe in the picture below. You have to look carefully to find her. She moved away from us, but still seemed to want to stay close to where we first saw her. As we walked, the deer reappeared several times and, despite attempts at being quiet and still, the deer kept her distance. My best guess was she had a spring fawn in the bush and was trying to distract us, moving us away from being a threat to the young vulnerable offspring.

In The Hiddent Wholeness, Parker Palmer compares the soul to a shy and vulnerable animal. Each humans’s spiritual nature is personal and private. I think we begin by tentatively exploring its meaning with our self first and, as we become comfortable, with those we are closest to, testing and adjusting what it means to us. In a secular world, we often conflate religion with spiritual. As Parker points out, we have many words for soul e.g. spirit, essence, inner self, etc. and those words can carry non-religious connotations for each of us. To engage the soul and animate our being, it is essential to spend time in contemplative and meditative ways.

I sit quietly, with occasional great stillness, and my spirit, like the deer, emerges from cover and protection. In the midst of strangers, intruders, and busyness, we need those moments to let the soul speak to each of us and be protected, understanding its vulnerability.

Look closely. The poplar and the spruce in the foreground frame her in the background.

Quietly,

In stillness–

Vigilant,

Keeping her distance–

Camouflaging,

Protecting the vulnerable–

Distracting intruders,

Returning to its child.

Sitting,

Patiently waiting–

Soul peeking out,

Tentatively emerging–

Awaiting safety,

Revealing in perfect stillness–

Infinitely,

Repeating the dance.

Life’s Calling

Originally, I called this life’s mission, but that seemed to neo-liberal and neo-conservative for my liking. I subscribe to life as a calling and vocation based on the writings of Thomas Merton and Parker Palmer. Vocation comes from the Latin meaning voice, so a calling and vocation gives each of us voice in living and has an essential spiritual aspect to it. What calls each of us animates and we respond in ethical and moral ways. I think we have lost much of this in our current world. Although John Dewey did not write from a spiritual context per se, he wrote about self-interest as words meaning the same thing. What interests me? Interest comes from the Latin esse, which also is the root of essence, which is related to spirit. What inspirits me?

I wrote the following poem after a professional development day. I found inconsistencies revealed in those days fascinating. They were uninspiring, exhausting, and counterproductive. They lack personal, responsible choice. Too often, adults are dependent on others to make their decisions, hence the concept of accountability overriding responsibility. It is hard to believe we think these adults can engage in educating children, youth, and adults in any meaninful ways. Our voices are repressed, suppressed, and oppressed.

At the end of that day, I wondered and reflected on the following questions: “Am I seeing this in a proper light? What can I do to further the process of learning as a role model for students and other adults?” Learning and teachng are relational processes between people and subject. Parker Palmer argues we put the subject of our learning in the middle of pedagogic conversations. In this way, we acknowledge each human present has a different perspective of the same subject.

For me, going to an event based on Parker Palmer’s work, a poetry workshop with David Whyte, an assessment workship, etc. were and are exciting. It animates. When I obtained my Master’s of Education and PhD, it was not to earn more money or move up some fictional career ladder. Education was and is essential. In the midst of a pandemic. I am exploring how we can return to the roots of educating for life, as opposed to schooling to produce a compliant and conforming workforce. I think the latter emerges from the former, rather than the other way around

Living fully,

Sharing fully,

(Ex)pressing one’s voice–

Singing one’s song.

Whetting wonder,

Planting seeds of awe,

Lighting fires–

(In)spiring to dance one’s dance.

Watering, feeding, nourishing,

Enriching, emboldening, becoming–

Embracing what brings life and joy–

(In)spiriting.

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.

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.

(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.

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