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The Greater Scheme

I wrote this poem and took this picture while attending a mindfulness retreat several years ago. The picture was taken in the early fall on a beautiful day as the sun warmed, the breeze cooled, and colours changed. When I sit in meditation or practice yoga, mindfulness reminds me I am one part of a much larger scheme. There is a lot acting on me that goes unnoticed and taken-for-granted. It is in mindfulness I remember to be humble and grateful for the small part I do play in the world.

Sitting, walking–

Speaking, listening–

In the greater scheme,

One part amongst many,

What does it mean?

Sunlight warming faces,

Breezes cooling skin,

Morning freshness awakening;

Afternoon warming;

Evening comforting.

In Nature’s midst,

Pulling close,

Embracing all forms,

Sinking deep roots,

Colouring with vibrancy.

Beginning afresh;

Living the world anew,

New eyes seeing it;

Skin touching it for the first time,

Finding one’s seat at the table.

Soul’s Choice

I wrote this on a day when I had a new parent as the parent-helper in the classroom. She did a wonderful job and told me how much her child enjoyed our little corner of paradise. It was a dreary day and her comments warmed my heart.

Not every parent walked into the classroom ready to jump right in to being active and in a teaching role. I always kept an eye and ear turned towards those tables and times when I knew concepts were more challenging. Parents accepted my jumping in and, quite often, I just sat and listened. Parents brought skills and perspectives I lacked. I had a doctor down on his hands and knees teaching the Grade 8’s where the spleen was on the life-size body systems they were drawing. Or, an artist parent who taught the students how to do a particular art form. One grandmother brought her rock collection in each year for the Grade 3 Science unit. The junior high students always found a way to go and check it; some because it was new to them and others because they recalled the joy of it in Grade 3. The educational assistant led in our Food Science class, along with parents and students.

We are each called to do something in our lives. It is our vocation and provides us with a voice to share with the world.

Day breaks,

Cool and wet–

Greying one’s life.

If allowed,

Dampens one’s spirit;

Letting the dullening prevail.

Yet, glow emerge,

Warmth radiates,

Shared within community.

A communal spirit,

Exploring, discovering

Edges of others’ worlds.

I took this picture of Frank Slide in Alberta’s southwest corner. The slide that took place lasted about 100 seconds and about 110 million tonnes of Turtle Mountain covered part of the community of Frank. When I took this picture, it was a dreary day and I was not having any luck getting what I considered great shots. When I wrote the poem, I remembered the picture and it fit.

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.

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.

.

Safe Haven

Several years ago, Kathy took this picture at the farm. She walked in from the road and the fields between the house and the road were overgrown. Regardless of whether a place is still physically inhabited or not, it is inhabited with memories, overflowing with meaning. In this sense, visitors abound.

We sat at the kitchen table, watching as various wildlife found safe haven in the midst of human dwelling. Both the wildlife and humans, shared and belonged to the space. As Kathy walked in that day, this beautiful doe looked up and posed to have her picture taken.

Spacious serenity,

Surrounding inhabitant,

Memories swimming–

Visible, invisible

(Re) appearing.

Home–

Soaring spirit,

Belonging, being, working, praying

Pausing, posingposes

Stewards of the sacred.

 

 

Beauty

This tree stood all by itself on the crest surrounded by the pretty ones. What attracted me was it stood out from the crowd and thrived. I alluded to this in On the Edge. They were in the same area as we drove up to the Columbia Ice Fields in Jasper National Park. These trees do not just survive. They thrive in demanding conditions, sometimes for 100’s of years. There is little soil, water, and nourishment on the embankments, so they appear stunted. It thrives on the margins of its ecosystem. Perhaps, we find beauty in places we do not anticipate. We have to be ready for this or it will slip by.

In today’s environment, with calls for greater equity and social justice, it is not enough to ask people to survive with less than living wages, inadequate housing, little or no healthcare, etc. as if that is a major accomplishment. We must allow them to thrive as humans.

I took one class in special education in my B Ed. and another in my M Ed. I learned we have more in common than makes us different. Paulo Freire wrote of unity in diversity; John Dewey about communicating what we have in common to form community, and Parker Palmer about the paradox of living in community and with solitude. If we are more alike than different, we have a lot to communicate. It takes listening deeply, reflecting critically on one’s views (biases) of the world, and ethically transforming (moving beyond) the world, particularly that which is immediate to each of us. It is not enough to reform, but it may be a start to the process. It is becoming more and better, individually and collectively, in ways we cannot anticipate and can not be fully finished. There will always be good work to do, not matter how far we come.

On the margins;

Thriving–

Separate from the crowd.

Elements taking a toll;

World weighing heavy;

Thin, mottled.

Standing proud;

Reaching high–

Believing in something better.

Valuing who you are;

Individual, non-conformist–

Separate from the crowd.

Lonely, not alone;

Spacious, gracious solitude–

Revealing your own beauty.

Today, as I cruised Facebook, I found Parker Palmer posted Mary Oliver‘s poem The Summer Day. I love the closing lines: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” It is a wild and precious life.


					

The Weighing

Jane Hirshfield wrote the following poem, speaking to hope and resilience. At the end of our rope, we find we have more to give than we realized. It is a sense “this to shall pass” and we can only live in the present moment, which is fleeting.

Hard times reveal fissures in our world and society. Look at who has been hardest hit by Covid-19: people of colour, elderly, poor, etc. We can then see the fissures and who is left out. This became clearer with George Floyd’s killing. It is not enough to question who is left out, but how these humans are left out, dehumanized in the process. Injustice calls us to take account of the life we live, the world we live in, and ask how do we make this better, for each human being we encounter. Injustice calls us to weigh how we speak and act towards one another and to transform who we are for the better.

There are no easy answers to large questions, despite what politicians, carnival barkers, and reality TV hosts would have us believe with their divisive language and actions. We can embrace that we have more in common than separates us. As Paulo Freire proposed, there is unity in difference beyond superficial multiculuralism.

The heart’s reasons
seen clearly,
even the hardest
will carry
its whip-marks and sadness
and must be forgiven.
As the drought-starved
eland forgives
the drought-starved lion
who finally takes her,
enters willingly then
the life she cannot refuse,
and is lion, is fed,
and does not remember the other.
So few grains of happiness
measured against all the dark
and still the scales balance.
The world asks of us
only the strength we have and we give it.
Then it asks more, and we give it.

When I hike in wildnerness settings, I wonder what is around the next curve, over the horizon, on the other side of the mountain, below the surface, etc. I am unaware of so much. What is essential is I lift into critical consciousness what I can to better understand how I can make the world a better place and act on that as best as I can. I will likely never get to the other side of Kootenai Lake or the mountains on the far side, so I can only imagine what is there, a utopia of sorts. The same applies for the world we live in. The difference is we can incrementally get there, together.

As I am called to be a steward of the world, I am called to be a steward and servant in leading others. Without fully understanding where I am going, I am going there.

After I posted, I was listening to the radio and they played this song. It seemed appropriate.

Angry Young Poet

In keeping with Why Do I Write Poetry, the following poem is one I wrote many at about the same time. This is the third time I visited the poem in terms of writing and editing. Several years ago and while explaining the importance of teaching poetry, a student asked if I wrote poetry in junior high school and I responded, “Yes!”. He asked me to share with them. I found them in a small lock box I keep at home and shared several with the class. We talked about the context I wrote the poem in. Even in Canada, I lived in the shadow of the Vietnam conflict and struggled with what that meant.

Sam Intrator suggested teachers expose adolescent students complex, existential questions of life as they move through those formative years. I wrote my poems in 1969. It was a time when identity was increasingly rooted in a global nature of the world, not just immediate community and family. War entered homes via television. Increasingly, I discovered my voice through poetry, expressing an abhorrence to institutional and government sanctioned killing. What set me apart from my peers, was I took no sides. Each was equally wrong in my mind, advancing their ideological stance. My teacher, Mr. McKenzie, an innovative English teacher, encouraged us to discover our voices.

I shared the following poem with my students. We talked about how metaphors of war are used commonly in various institutions and how I found this as troubling as the violence and trauma of war. That feeling re-emerged over the past months with describing dealing with Covid-19 in war-like terms and the troubling events of the past weeks where purported leaders feel it is OK to speak about human beings, not citizens, as an enemy and objects to be manipulated for financial gain based on the basest forms of self-interests. It is worse than the war as it takes on invisible and pervasive forms. It is a form of Social Darwinism where the strong survive, trampling on those further down what is understood as a food chain premised on unfettered oppression of other humans, including various forms of systemic violence. Consider billionaires, in the Covid-19 crisis, gained while those in most need lose what little support they had.

I contrast this with Jacinda Ardern‘s message as the Prime Minister of New Zealand. In The Atlantic, Uri Friedman describes her as an empathetic leader. What emerged in reading the article was we de-serve better leadership, mindful, transforming, serving, etc. focusing on people as humans, not objects.

Students asked me to share poems and I did, with the context within which I wrote them. Parents, who were in the classroom each day, asked about my candour. I responded “I am not about changing minds. I try to change how each student thinks about the world, to see under the surface, reveal a sordid underbelly, and revel in the wonderfulness of human life.” This is a hopeful message, and the leadership we need is evident e.g. Jesus, Buddha, Muhammed, Mary Wollenstonecroft, Anne Frank, Maya Angelou, Soujouner Truth, Rosa Parks, etc.

Win or Lose: What Difference Does it Make?

A game–

Darwin misunderstood,

No great thing to win.

War and it language!

Bells ringing hollow,

Men, women, children gone!

Woe! vanquished losers and winners;

Humans, vanquished in every sense–

Thriving on dividing.

Resenting conquerors,

Rebuilding ruins–

On countless graves.

Morally rudderless,

Blaming the fallen,

Beggaring humans.

Homes on streets,

Hollowing souls–

What war brings?

Innocence dying–

Prryhric victories,

What war brings?

Comrades fallen,

Enemies vanquished–

Proving nothing.

Will we learn?

I pray

For human survival.

I leave you with the following video and song. We listened to Harry Belafonte, and I still do, with his uplifting and hopeful message. We are in this together, not against one another, with each other.

Why Do I Write Poetry

During a professinal development event, a presenter spoke about teaching poetry. To my knowledge, this person spent little time teaching, yet he was a supposed expert about all things teaching. In the course of his presentation, he expressed disdain for poetry. He claimed, without evidence, we teach poetry without explaining to students why we teach it.

In my teaching, I described reasons why I taught something, opening up learning to include what students considered important. This included questions about topics and content. Often, students began with a negative view of poetry. With time, we got over hurdles together. Without a collective effort, we do not overcome issues in life and learning. We end up with haiku written through rote formula:

Here are five syllables

And here I write seven more!

Are you happy now?

The presenter indicated, despite having written poetry, he was unsure why teachers taught poems written. I think there are good reasons, but I could be wrong.

Poetry calls me to choose words, paradoxically spare and spacious. Spareness is in the number of words; the fewer the better. The space allows the reader room to interpret. What did the poet mean? What senses are invoked through the word choice?

Instead of counting something, poetry asks me to explore life and understand quality is not evenly distributed. I have privileges, maleness, whiteness, education, that others do not have the eauitable access to.

Choosing words,

Caring about each–

Describing feelings,

Experiences never identical.

Revealing thickness in meaning,

Experiencing sameness different–

Bringing us together,

Bridging worlds.

I told students, who struggled with reading and writing, poetry was an alternative to express themselves. I used ee cummings, as a model, to overcome worries about grammar, spelling, and capitalization.

i dig ee cummings

no punctuation

no capitols

won’t worry about spellin either

no sweat

aint no problem

i write poetry

I enjoy poetry. I always have. I remember a poem, The Elevator, I memorized in Grade 4. I think it Walter de la Mare wrote it. My friend memorized a poem called Douglas Fir. His name was Douglas. When I enjoy who and what I teach, I bring enthusiasm to writing poetry.

Artists, including poets, are often at the forefront, addressing social issues. In our times this includes Maya Angelou, Thomas Merton, Wendell Berry, Adrienne Rich, Parker Palmer, Thich Nhat Hanh, etc. Sometimes, I do not think of these authors as poets. Each of them wrote/writes poetry helping to raise my awareness about issues.

Below are the wonderful and poetic words of Thich Nhat Hanh.

Peace in our heart

I close with a poem I wrote many years ago as a 15 year old in high school. I have never been a fan of what we call capitalism. What we have is predatory and is at the root of current political, economic, and social issues. Only a handful are admitted to the club.

Captains of Society

Captains of Society

Shallow, superficial, arrogant

Single ambition

Greatness in the eyes of others

Only those with resources can apply

The rest

Forgotten

Pay a high price, but…

It’s their fault

They own their misery.

A cheque to charity

Assuages my conscience

What about the despair?

Don’t care

I claim I do

Donations in badfaith,

It’s a tax receipt

I really claim, but…

Done on the backs of others

Get the staff to donate time

Not mine.

Increase taxes

Not mine!

No way!

It’s wrong!

Tax others!

What is work?

I create jobs

It’s a spectator sport

This work, which

I manage from afar.

Drive luxury wheels

Shout

Curse

What’s the hold up?

Who’s blocking my way?

The ‘75 Ford station wagon

Engine shot

Dead broke!

Is it their home?

 Throw a party

Drink

Eat

Be merry

No concern for homeless

A romantic notion this ‘hobo jungle’

Not my world

What’s wrong?

It’s not my fault

I gave at the office.

After all.

Throw money at problems

It might help

Don’t

Stop, see, care

If it really helps

Denying, refusing, unfeeling

I pay for a clear conscience

After all.

 The misery

In surround sound…

Is out of sight;

Out of mind

Transforming

Several years ago, I arrived home, after spending time in Spokane. I struggled in the first few days back and reflected on what was happening. Quite often, I resist routine and find it is hard work.

Rarely, are we alone in our travails. It is universal Real change, transformation is slow, purposeful, and patient process. Upon looking at pictures we took on our travels and for all of nature’s ability to sometimes erupt and change rapidly, most change is slow and transformational. For the most part, deep change, transforming, in nature is a great model to observe.

I wrote the following poem in response to those reflections.

Waiting,

Impatient–

Desiring more

Leaning into headwinds,

Transforming–

Slow, patient, with purpose

Lacking blueprint.

Journeying,

With one’s self–

With companions,

Breaking bread,.

Trusting–

Devoting,

Changing together.

Embracing,

No explaining,

Words unnecessary–

Smiling assurances.

Looking back,

Revealing worn paths–

Sharing,

Sheltering one another

Pressing ahead–

Certain in uncertainty.

I took the picture on the way to Kootenai Lake in Glacier National Park. Even on a well worn path, there is a limited view of what is behind and ahead. As well, there are many things hidden along the path, there and invisible. There is always a trust in other people and in the path as I move ahead with purpose. Paradox exists in the feeling of certainty in an always uncertain world.

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