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Courage

Dominant groups control the conversation, excluding those who disagree. This is exacerbated with social media. It is difficult enough to present one’s  ideas through civil dialogue, let alone in 240 characters, in a Facebook post, and even on a blog. This raises interesting and eloquent questions about how we bring about meaningful, equitable, and sustainable change. How do we encourage others to come into the light and share their stories from the margins? How do we include the most vulnerable in our communities by making ourselves vulnerable? Each day, humans, with little, reveal courage as they engage a world that seemingly turns its back on them each day.

It is not enough to tolerate and merely see differences. We need to recognize them as we enact tranformational and sustainble change, closing the gap between those without by holding out a hand to help lift them up. This take acts of trust and courage. It would take vulnerability and courage as we each expose our self in ways that take us to the margins of our comfort zones.

In Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman encouraged the non-routine as we each sing out and question the imbalances of our world in civil conversation: “Not words of routine this song of mine, but abruptly to question, to leap beyond, yet nearer bring”

(In)just living,

Revealing courage,

Being vulnerable.

Affirming as human,

Expanding boundaries–

(En)couraging, rather than (dis)couraging.

Making visible,

Seeing humans in their fullness–

Naming each other.

Creating dialogic spaces;

Where agreement meets

Welcoming the other fully.

I leave you with this video.

Speaking One’s Truth

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.

It’s emerging,

Happening–

Letting go;

Speaking with love–

Accepting the lost.

Sitting with questions,

Accepting uncertainty, incompleteness–

Taking stock;

Gazing inwards–

Feeling humbling hope.

Accepting extended hands,

Discarding baggage–

Walking forwards;

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.

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.

Sun Set Tree

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;

Blurry silhouette.

Against leaden backdrop;

Appearing lonely.

Gently smiling sun;

Sharing tentative rays.

Receiving warming glow;

Gathering to grow.

Revealing that hidden by shadows;

Stretching boldly.

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.

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.

John Prine

This was not going to be my next post. Fate steps in and calls on me to share one of the wonderful performers we had a chance to see live. John Prine is as as close as I am to someone contracting Covid-19 and, sadly he passed away last night due to complications. He had underlying health issues as he was a cancer survivor and was 73. The beauty is he leaves a rich book of songs and videos. I share three with you.

The last time Kathy and I saw John Prine he sang this song . It is normally a duet he sang with Iris Dement. Last night, we watched Kevin Bacon and Krya Sedgwick do it on Facebook. The audience howled with laughter as Prine sang the female parts. As you listen, you will understand the humour of the moment. It is called In Spite of Ourselves and is about a couple whose love is unquestionable and they are each other’s big door prize.

These links will take you to many others John Prine did, if you are inclined. He wrote and performed for 40 years and tackled social issues and love in various forms with humour and fearlessness. He is likely entertaining someone in the great beyond.

I played Paradise for students and it has a strong environmental message that echoes mine and I think Wendell Berry about what is lost as faceless corporations tear up Earth, haul it away in big trucks, and label it the progress of man. In Alberta, regulatory processes include land reclamation leaving it as good as it originally was . It reminds me ecology and economy are from the Greek oikos, meaning household.

I leave you with the Missing Years of Jesus, which was the first song I heard of John Prine. It is a tongue-in-cheek look at what we think we know about Jesus, a person we actually know little about in a historical sense.

Set the Backpack Down

Several years ago, I was in the midst of professional struggles and wrote this poem while attending a retreat based on Parker Palmer‘s work. At the time, I was reading his book, The Heart of Democracy. In the book, I came across the following quote:

“Suffering breaks our hearts, but the heart [that is] supple … breaks open, not apart, [and] can grow into greater capacity for the many forms of love. Only the supple heart can hold suffering in a way that opens to new life.”

Joanna Macy has a similar quote: “The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.” If my memory is accurate it is this quote that informed Parker’s writing at the time. It is about hopefulness. Hopefulness is not going it alone. It is walking up the mountain together, with those who we can share the burdens of our mutual journey together. Companionship is about sharing bread along the journey, not hoarding it. This is an apt metaphor. What does bread mean in our daily lives?

Parker reminded me passion is not just about love that comes easily. Passion is love has moments of suffering, sometimes long moments. We can each grow through these moments or wallow in self-pity. The other part of suffering is I was not in it alone. Whether it was a colleague who listened, parents who came to check in with me every few days, or Kathy giving me space to make career decisions, I was not in these moments alone.

At the time, I was writing poetry for the first time in years and it was a healing space; a space where I tried to become whole. An essential part of becoming whole is speaking from the heart, which may not mean speaking out loud. In speaking to one another this way, I must listen more closely.

Weighing us down;

We set backpacks down,

Without companions,

The path terrifying,

The mountain is high,

Its peak obscured.

Sharing one’s load;

Trusting,

Settng one’s course right,

Being true to one’s heart,

Only other hearts hear,

Will others hear?

Speaking one’s truth;

Inviting,

Sharing

Lightening loads;

Strengthening our resolve,

Straighening backs,

Squaring shoulders,

Holding heads high.

Will we walk together?

Will we share our loads?

Will we lighten the journey?

I leave you with a wonderful short video from a Canadian performer, David Francey called Morning Train.

 

A Grateful Haiku

via A Grateful Haiku

What are each grateful for at this time? We live in unusual times. As I go through my daily routine, I read articles and posts about how this is a time to rethink what we value and what we are each grateful for in our lives.

Tanya wrote a haiku about the symbiotic relationship between a monarch butterfly in its larval stage and milkweed. I often overlook how nature provides a sense of harmony I have to look deeper to see. When I look past the monarch butterfly’s beauty to its larval form I understand it exists by taking bites out of the milkweed flower’s beauty.

In that vein, when I read the comments, I realized it was “dueling haiku” between Tanya and Stephen. I appreciated what lay beneath the surface of the post and was grateful for their poetry skills. After all it is National Poetry Month.

Thich Nhat Hanh reminds me to find the extraordinary, I look past and beneath the surface of the visible to uncover hidden beauty. Yesterday, it snowed and was cold, below 0 Fahrenheit (about 20 degrees Celsius), and there was beauty. I took this picture of a tree in our front yard with the clear sky in the background. If it had been January, not the end of March, it might have been easier to see beauty. I remind myself we need this snow to melt and add to a needed water table so we might grow and harvest later in the year.

Front Yard with Fresh Snow March 31, 2020

I recently wrote about challenges of being unable to teach in a university setting. At my age, the doors appear closed. As I reflected and wrote, I realized my days, as a teacher in some formal way, might be over. Quite frankly, we do not value the wisdom elders have to offer. Emerging from this sense of frustration and despair was a sense something else was calling me: to write in various ways. This is a form of teaching perhaps and a gift I had not been grateful enough to have.

Yesterday, a colleague and I were advised we were accepted to write a peer-reviewed article for a special edition of a journal. This is asecond peer-reviewed article in several months that has been accepted. For that, I am grateful. In being grateful, I need to look past how things appear superficially and re-cogize there is more I am becoming.

I leave you with this beautiful video from the late Israel Kamakawiwo`Ole or IZ as he was known.

The Gift of Presence

via The Gift of Presence

Wendell Berry is one of my favourite poets. In her post, Shobna uses part of a poem, Our Real Work, to point a need to be present. Gary Snyder wrote a book called The Real Work devoted to similar subject matter.

In the rush of “normal” life, I often overlook what that means and what calls to me to step into a healing moment; to make me whole and pause to listen to what the “impeded stream” sings to me. For Shobna, gardening is a quiet moment to listen to the “impeded stream.”

Today, as I checked Facebook, Parker Palmer posted another Berry poem: The Peace of Wild Things. Here, we are called to, in times we do not have a frame of reference for, to turn to poets to help find paths forward. In various ways, they remind us to each look for what keeps us moving , especially in times of turmoil and despair. When I hike and find my path blocked, I pause, look, and listen. In life, I find ways to move ahead, embrace uncertainty, and recognize I am walking my own path, as Antonio Machado would remind me, but I am not alone.

As Shobna points out, I only have to look and I “see that kindness is more visible these days.” Health care workers, farmers, grocery store employees, and many others, often strangers, stand in the breach to help. If these are to recall Dickens, the best and worst of times, what makes them the best is to pause, when my path is blocked, to find what calls us and ask we each ask ourselves what calls us.

One of the things I take for granted is music. It is part of my love of poetry. In particular, lyrics pull me to them. I am fortunate to listen to a small community-based and funded radio station, CKUA, and have it on non-stop. To say it is eclectic is an understatement. They do play top-40, but it is often from years and decades ago.

In keeping with my love of music, I leave you with two videos. The first by Jimmy Buffet got me through tough times years ago. It reminds me who I am and live that way. I have always been a person who walked to the beat of my own drummer and am a bit of a pirate, regardless of age.

 

The second is one I used to listen to with my mother years ago. It is a gospel song written and performed by Gene McLellan, a Canadian, called Put Your Hand in the Hand of the Man Who Stills the Water. Now, my mother and I did not always agree on music, but we had some serious overlaps such as Gene McLellan, the Beatles, Elvis (if she did not have to watch), etc.

 

 

On Langston Hughes – Black History Month Tribute to a Great Poet

via On Langston Hughes – Black History Month Tribute to a Great Poet

Melba posted a wonderful poem, Mother to Son, written by legendary African-American poet, Langston Hughes.

I used Langston Hughes’s poetry in our poetry unit each year. The metaphor of life as a staircase, sometimes smooth and other times unevern, seemed to fit junior high students. My students responded to it well.

Another aspect of including his work and Maya Angelou‘s poetry was around the issue of civil rights. In Grade 7, we read the book The Cay, by Theodore Taylor who dedicated it to Martin Luther King shortly after he was assassinated, about the relationship of a young white boy and an elderly black man to discuss what being well-educated meant. I included my mother’s line, which was “who would you rather be lost in the wilderness, someone who read about it or an indigenous person, with no schooling, who lived it?”

In Grade 8, we exoplored civil rights through the lens of heros. I let students choose, but some struggled with this choice. Knowing my students well, I introduced them to Jackie Robinson, Willie O’Ree, and Wilma Rudolph, if they were interested in sports. Others, who came from religious families, I encouraged them to consider Martin Luther King  and Mother Teresa. If they were interested in people who stood for the rights of the oppressed, but might not be considered a religious person we talked about Nelson Mandela and Mahatama Gandhi. Regardless, I found, when I tapped into who each student was, colour, ethnicity, and gender dissolved and wonderful projects emerged.

Another Hughes’s poem we read was Dream Deferred, is sprinked with questions from beginning to end:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Here, is a video of the poem read by the poet.

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