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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.

Mindfulness

Yesterday was an interesting day for me. I am a diehard sports fan in general and hockey specifically. Even with Covid19, I find time to follow hockey on TV without disrupting my writing. What made it interesting was the “work stoppage” by many professional athletes in North America. More than a love for hockey and sports, I feel there is a need for more compassion and equity in this world.

As the National Hockey League was announcing the “work stoppage,” one of the Canadian sports networks interviewed Brian Burke who is a former hockey executive and current hockey commentator. He lives in Canada while holding dual Canadian-American citizenship. He talked about a need to understand this is an important moment in social justice in the US, and I submit Canada. I was excited hockey players and other professional athletes, regardless of colour, gender, ethnicity, religion, etc., took part in the “work stoppages.” (The video is at Burke Supports Players Regarding Boycott).

Burke spoke about how great change is not kicking the door down. It is more like a mud wall being eroded. I think it is watching a mountain change. You have to leave and come back to see if any real change; transformation happened. He mentioned the work of Martin Luther King Jr. and how little of substance has changed since 1968. There are still major impediments and barriers to equity for those who are treated as less than human, denied of rights those who are privileged take-for-granted.

What does mindfulness have to do with all this? We often use the word to simply talk about being aware of something. In a broad sense, it has moral and ethical implications we can overlook. We just say, “I was mindful of such and such.” To mind something or someone is to demonstrate care, tend for it or them and cultivate it or them in a loving way. This crosses boundaries and is steeped in mystical traditions of all stripes e.g. Buddhism, Sufism, Judeo-Christian, etc. It involves lovingkindness, compassion, flourishing, and stewardship. It is about becoming better in indefinable ways.

Several years ago, I wrote this poem after reading a meditation from Father Richard Rohr. Often, he writes about a radical unity that brings us together with our self, creation, neighbours, enemies, and something that is transcendent and beyond each of us.

Mindfulness,

Seeking to choose better–

Blending one’s passion;

Joining with lovingkindness,

Binding together.

Nurturing better angels,

Ripening, maturing–

Bearing healing fruit;

Joining a universal banquet;

Responding to life’s bounty.

Assuming responsibility,

Passion for one’s self–

(Com)passion For one another;

Minding the world;

Becoming one;

Becoming whole.

I began talking about hockey, so I will close with a video by David Francey who we have seen numerous times. You will note he has an English accent, but lives in Canada and grew to love hockey while in Quebec. The scene is how many youngsters were introduced to hockey in my generation. I began as a pre-schooler on an outdoor pond. As well, I listened to Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights and La Soiree Du Hockey on Radio Canada Sunday nights. The latter was in French, but, as a person whose first language is French, I was blessed to listen to both. I sat on a kitchen stool in the corner just under the window. When I am on the road, I listen to hockey games on my laptop, never streaming them. I close my eyes and imagine the game as it unfolds.

Just Being

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.

Seeking,

Chasing,

Competing–

Failing.

Patience calling,

Just sitting,

Cooperating–

Life discovering.

Life revealing itself,

In its good time,

Arriviving–

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.

Weekending

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.

Turning soil,

Planting seeds,

One at a time.

Nourishing with rest,

Flourishing wholeness,

 Becoming whole.

Just being–

Breathing,

Light giving.

Weekending,

Waiting quietly,

No rushing.

Tiling with care,

Enlightening,

Even weeds.

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.

 

Insight

I took this picture on a Thursday when it is snowed 10-15 cm (3-5 inches) in parts of Alberta and it was cool. We jokingly say “if you want the weather to change, wait five minutes.” It takes longer than that. As it turned out, the weather warmed up to 15 degrees Celsius (about 60 Fahrenheit) by the weekend.

Nature teaches so much. Like all things in life, each moment is transient. We have to be patient and wait, something we often not good at. Insight does not come because I force it. Rather, it emerges in its own good time. I have to be ready for it.  Behind each cloud lays blue sky.

William Blake begins his poem Auguries of Innocence with the lines that remind me how eternity and the universe are contained in the one moment or, in his case, a grain of sand:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour.

Hiding,

Emerging in its precious time;

From confined spaciousness

Effortless when it does.

Awaiting,

Impatience’s fire burns

Simply being present;

No mean feat.

Hearing silence,

Seeking refuge,

Resting heart and mind,

Drifting on the current.

Behind clouds;

Always a blue sky

Saying simply–

Be patient.

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.

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.

Focusing on the Essential

I took this picture in the summer of 2012. I sometimes keep blurry phots to remind me to try bring and keep things in focus. They remind me life is not always in sharp focus and there are times to step back, pause, and reflect. I think this is essential amidst multiple crises we are experiening: health, economic, and social justice. The health crisis accentuated and made more visible the social and economic fault lines in the world, including in so-called advanced countries. These inequities include the wars, hunger, Amazonian deforestation, accelerating climate change, etc.

It is essential to keep our eye not on the outcome to correct the injustices, inequities, and lack of democracy in the world, but on the processes that will overcome those phenomena. John Lewis in Across that Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America stated

“You are a light. You are the light. Never let anyone—any person or any force—dampen, dim or diminish your light. Study the path of others to make your way easier and more abundant. Lean toward the whispers of your own heart, discover the universal truth, and follow its dictates. […] Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won. Choose confrontation wisely, but when it is your time don’t be afraid to stand up, speak up, and speak out against injustice. And if you follow your truth down the road to peace and the affirmation of love, if you shine like a beacon for all to see, then the poetry of all the great dreamers and philosophers is yours to manifest in a nation, a world community, and a Beloved Community that is finally at peace with itself.”

The title could read any country in the world and the world itself. In focusing each of our light, we can gradually transform the world, making it better, more just, more equitable, and more democratic; a beloved community.

One’s spirit wearies;

One’s travails weighing heavy–

From within,

A voice calling.

Seeking peace;

Turning inward–

Posing prayerfully,

Listening for wisdom.

Paying homage;

Celebrating–

Carving paths through wilderness,

Cherishing one another.

Appreciating difference in unity;

Opening hearts to one another–

Reaching outstretched hands,

Grateful for common humanity.

I leave you with the video of the reading of the poem Invictus by Tybre Faw. What gives me hope is there are young people like this who are the light.

 

The Establishment

I wrote this poem when I was in high school, so some 50 years ago about the time I wrote Angry Young Poet. I updated both poems several years ago, but the underlying theme was evident in the orginals and I tried to keep that in mind in editing.

I found both poems as part of handwritten notes I dug through one weeked while Kathy was away. What struck me was how little things change. In fact, I might argue things are more entrenched than ever; the rich got richer and the poor poorer. One only has to consider the enormous wealth being accumlated by billionaires during the multiple crises we are experiencing.

Multiple crises, health, economic, and social justice, might give us room to re-imagine the world we want for our children and grandchildren. Instead, I am afraid we are more entrenched in our binary positions. Despite this, I hold out hope, not optimism and positivity, that we can begin the process of transforming the world to make it more democratic, socially just, and equitable. Part of my writing is revisiting an article I published in 2012 called Rocky River: Building a Learning Organization to re-imagine how we might educate children, youth, and adults. I begin re-imagining with a simple shift in language and call those engaged in teaching and learning educands a word Paulo Freire used in Pedagogy of Hope: Revisiting Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

More broadly, we can apply the learning organization’s principles to other institutions. Peter Senge cautioned it is hard work and takes time. Unlike other revolutionaries, Freire stated incremental change, based on dialogue between humans, was essential to transforming the world. Although Senge does not draw on Freire’s dialogic model, he suggests dialogue, with deep and caring listening, is at the heart of transforming institutions.

They know best for the rest–

Indoctrinating,

Not transforming,

Recalling non-existent good old days.

In disagreeing–

Simply wrong-headedness,

Daring to rebel:

Who are we to question?

Having it made–

Hunting and gathering,

Material wealth signaling success,

Repress, suppress, oppress.

Depending them to know best.

Maintaining existing order,

Demanding blind loyalty,

Failing to practice what preach.

I re-worded the poem again. I see how little changed in 50 years. Without a picture, I thought of which blues musician might best convey my message. I immediately thought of Nina Simone, who sings with edge. When I play her songs for undergrads, those with backgrounds of privilege demonstrate a visible level of discomfort.

 

Open Heart; Open Mind

Even in a metropolitan region of over a million people, Nature is visible. Nature immerses humans in ways that we can take-for-granted. Several years ago, I stepped out of the house and was greeted by the Moon in an early morning sky and the morning star was just above it. It is not a great picture, but reminded me of the rewards when I open my eyes, heart, and mind. Miracles exist; I only have to be open to them.

Nature awaiting

Quietly revealing self

Opening whole self.

As well, we are fortunate to have a large river, the North Saskatchewan, running through the heart of Edmonton. Its Cree name is kisiskâciwanisîpiy meaning swift current and its Blackfoot name is omaka-ty meaning big river. I took this picture during one of many walks in the valley, looking into the centre of the city. I presents a contrast between what we think of as progress and how Nature still exists within our understanding of this progress.

Seeing what one wants,

Hearing what one chooses,

Opening one’s whole self.

Beholding Nature’s gifts,

Holding close,

Hiding, only if one chooses.

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