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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.

 

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.

Bridge

The Canadian educator Ted Aoki wrote about a “bridge that is not a bridge.” We use bridge as a verb, moving us ahead to make the world a better, more just and democratic place. In this sense, bridge becomes a metaphor. There is no actual structure and experience to guide us through challenges we face.

John Lewis wrote a book called Across that Bridge: A Vision of Change and the Future of America. Again, I propose his bridge is not a physical structure either. But, physical bridge provides insight into myriad emotions at play as transformational change happens. In these moments, we put faith and trust in others and things we cannot see, only hope for. We reach out to hold each others hands, understanding the shared meaning of (com)passion. In these moments we share (com-) the joy and suffering (passion) of one another.

Today, as I prepared to post, I came across this poem and accompanying picture. For many, this bridge is not daunting. For me, fear is front and centre as I cross. When we crossed this bridge, I reminded myself to take it one step at a time. Transformational change counts on us taking it one step at a time, as we share journeys with one another. We will each experience loss and gain in different ways. At the end of it, what we share is being human and becoming more human with each ensuing step.

Standing on the edge,

Abyss yawning,

Taking a first step.

Forming compassion,

Crafting wisdom,

Forgiving one another.

Transforming world,

Each carrying one’s weight.

Reaching out to others.

Taking the next first step,

Trusting one’s self,

And, others in the human journey.

A Half a Dragonfly Is Fine

I took this picture while at the retreat I posted about the other day. It picture out better than others. I had trouble with the sun over my shoulder; pretty good excuse. Initially, I was disappointed because the dragonfly posed and cooperated. In retrospect, the title says it all and the moment was a lesson in living.

As I mentioned, the retreat was a great experience. I reminded my self it is OK to be imperfect. I am human with that. The dragonfly showed up and shared a quiet moment with me; for that I am grateful.

Lighting down,

Oh, so gently.

Posing,

Oh, so perfectly.

He spoke;

He really did!

“Take my picture please

My time almost done

My memorial moment.”

Posing ever so gracefully,

As if expressing gratitude,

Sharing a momentous moment,

Done, we each took leave–

Jobs nearly complete.

We each are learning about who we are in life. Living is a gerund and, as result, is an unfolding and becoming we are always experiencing. I think this is best said in the poem of Derek Walcott, Love After Love. It is in accepting our imperfections we come to love the self who continuously emerges.

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.

Turbulent Calmness

On June 29, I posted a similar poem and theme. I am not sure what led me to post two that shared the same title. It is likely, early in the school year, it feels chaotic. Early in a school year, there are moments of repreive in this feeling and, as the year gains momentum, they become more common. As one co-participant in my dissertation put it: “I learn to stand in the middle of the storm.”

The other inflluence was I took several courses in my PhD about leading in complex and chaotic times. Servant-leadership, mindful leadership, and transformational leadership are forms of leadership particularly effective in times. We focus on questions about what needs to be changed, how do we engage each person in change, and how does each person become a leader in their own right? These forms share common features: grounded in the present, ethically guided, there is foresight without being set in certainty, etc. Mixed in this was courses on the Tao of Leadership, Systems Leadership, Leadership and Justice, Dialogic Leadership, etc. When I re-entered the classroom each September, what I learned in my PhD founds its way in with me. How could I better serve each student? How could we transform and share our experiences into something nourishing each other’s lives? How could I make a difference for each student? How could they grow and become better leaders than me?

I took the pictures at Lundreck Falls as a reminder of how quickly nature can bring a sense of calm back even in the midst of what is initially chaotic. Within a short distance from the falls, the water pools and calms, at least on the surface. What goes on underneath the surface can remain chaotic and complex much like life, needing non-judgemental, humility, foresight, patience, and wisdom to navigate the unforseeable and unpredictable.

 

Needless to say, I wrote a poem about the challenges of remaining calm in the midst of the storm sometimes raging around me.

Growing awareness–

Standing still,

Humbling one’s self,

To gain foresight–

Insight;

Emerging clarity,

Wisdom.

Entering life’s stream–

Even calm waters,

Hiding shoals, rocks, currents,

In turbulence–

Dropping labels,

Ceasing unwarranted judgment,

Falling awake.

Unplanned, Orchestrated

As I approached the last year I taught, I wanted to experience the that and live it to the fullest with each students. At various times during the year, my resolve was tested. One day, due to illnesses and family situations, the number of students who attended was a handful. I set lesson plans aside, going  with the flow. It was an excellent choice. We enjoyed ourselves and it created a way to approach these situations, and teaching in general, throughout the year.

That day, students created stories as part of short animated films. At times, we were silent. Other times we shared and laughed. Throughout, we helped each other with new tools and I learned right along with them. Much like teaching art I did not come into the day with much knowledge about tools and techniques we used. Instead, it was very improvised and I told the students this right up front.

Several days later, I walked the river valley and reflected on how we experience unplanned moments and rewards that emerge. Alan Watts reminds me of the difference between faith and belief. The former allows me to go through life less anxious, with reduced expectations about the future. The latter needs us to shape a world to fit a belief system into and defend it. It is not that the future won’t arrive. It is I cannot anticipate the next moment, only living in the present moment and improvising to what emerges.

Life’s meaning–

A question teases–

To live into;

To thrive in;

What is my purpose?

Moments separating;

Connecting, dancing in paradox.

Each moment emerging;

Unplanned–

Yet, orchestrated.

Revealing meaning moment by moment.

Unmarked journeys–

Question,

Not answers–

Certain missteps–

Do I see around corners?

Over hills?

Accepting on faith,

Feeling, sensing, experiencing,

Not seeing.

A gentle hand,

Touching, guiding,

Each of life’s step,

Emerging in light,

And, shadow.

I took this picture during the walk. The path drew me to it, with its hill and curve at the top. I only saw what was immediately in front. Even then, it was limited by shadows and vegetation blocking my view.

(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.

Calm Within Turbulence

I probably overthink some things including the concept of “thinking outside the box” and “getting outside of the comfort zone.” We need structure in our lives or it becomes chaos. We trust the familiar, sometimes too much. Moving from the equilibrium and stability of what we are each comfortable with causes us to begin to feel out of control.

I love waterfalls and fast water. They remind me, just over the horizon, things will not be easy to plan for. There will be things I cannot see around the bend, hidden in below the chaotic, turbulent waters, and it is continuously changing. We have white water rafted and going down a mountain fed stream in the morning is different than later in the day. Early in the morning, the waters tend to be lower and, as the day heats up, more water flows, covering rocks that were easily seen earlier.

Awakening each morning,

Smiling into the day,

Soaking in moment.

Pausing,

Letting calm find me,

Amidst turbulence.

I do not recall where we got this picture. I think it was in British Columbia towards the headwaters of the Fraser River. We have not rafted in this kind of river and I doubt you could. To handle the chaos, one would have to portage and detour around the rapids. Part of the skill of navigating is to have the wisdom to realize what is impassable.

For me, getting to a point where I can view certain waterfalls is impossible. I have a significant fear of heights and it limits where I can go. In Waterton Lakes National Parks, we did a lot of hiking. I was able to access most of the paths, but this was one I had to stop. I could see the top of the falls and Kathy was my eyes, taking pictures. She got to the platform overlooking the falls, which are called bridal falls as they are often veiled with mist.

Beauty revealed,

Lifting veil from other’s eyes,

Even mist is gone.

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