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The Other Kingdoms

In my recent reading, I came across this poem by Mary Oliver. I had not read it before, but found it spoke to me in deep ways.

The other day, on Facebook, I came across a Welsh saying: “Dwi wedi dod yn ôl at fy nghoed.” It means returning to my senses/regaining mental equilibrium or more literally I returnto my trees. I understand this as coming back to my roots and being mindful and present for each sentient and non-sentient being I encounter. The word Druid means oak-knower and the Druids lived in harmony and oneness in nature.

Where do I feel most comfortable? The word comfort comes from com meaning surround and fort meaning strength. In other words, living mindfully in the world has ethical implications. In Greek, ethos means character and also how music influences morals, emotions, and behavior.

As I listen to each of the other kingdoms, what music do I hear? How does the music influence and inform who I am, what I say, and what I do? How am I aware of the music and sounds I hear in these kingdoms?

Consider the other kingdoms.  The
trees, for example, with their mellow-sounding
titles: oak, aspen, willow.
Or the snow, for which the peoples of the north
have dozens of words to describe its
different arrivals.  Or the creatures, with their
thick fur, their shy and wordless gaze.  Their
infallible sense of what their lives
are meant to be.  Thus the world
grows rich, grows wild, and you too,
grow rich, grow sweetly wild, as you too
were born to be.

I took this picture several years in Jasper National Park. Kathy and I had gone for an early drive and hike. We parked and took pictures. As I turned, I thought I saw something move and walked towards the movement. The cow elk sat and chewed her cud. She was aware of us and, as I approached, I heard the soft sounds she made in completing the digestive process.

We pointed her out to others and cautioned them to be careful and quiet as they approached her.  After all, we are strangers in those other kingdoms.

 

Sunday Morning

via Sunday Morning

There has been a theme of Nature and trees in my recent presses. When David shared a portion of I Go Among Trees and Sit Still by Wendell Berry, it was an opportunity to continue the theme.

Wherever we find them, Nature and trees offer shelter. Nature is not merely out there. It is close at hand and surrounds us. Sitting in an urban park, feeding squirrels and pigeons we are in Nature as much as as walking on a secluded path in the back and beyond.

When I walk, I hear more than I see, sometimes it is the silence that is most noticeable. What hides from sight can easily be heard and not found. The same is true of life. We each experience much more than we can process, absorb, and recall, yet there are moments, when I am still, I recall a moment that had slipped away. I recall it imperfectly, but it is there.

Yellowstone Elk

I took this picture several years ago in Yellowstone. I got to within 20 or so feet of this elk. He knew I was there and looked at me. Trees sheltered him and me from each other, reducing the threat. As well, I moved quietly to get into position to take the picture, making little noise and posing minimal threat (I hoped).

Just after this picture, I took a one of a bison about ten feet away. I positioned myself between the van and animal, who was less happy with me than the elk and kept the side door open.

A key for me is to remember where I am and that those animals are wild. Even in an urban setting, a wild animal would be unpredictable. Stillness is important in their presence,

IM001130

 

Welcoming Arms

via Welcoming Arms

Eddie provides a quote from Khalil Gibran reminding me how Nature welcomes me with beauty and silence, adding to a post from the other day. Where do we each find peace?

There is an echo from Thomas Merton who warned us about the busyness of the modern world, writing in the middle of the 20th Century. With a little effort, we find nature and silence in urban settings, renewing the spirit and the body.

In nature, we have opportunities to hold the wolf of busyness at bay as we experience solitude and peace, which provide moments for deep reflection and introspection.

Path 1

I took this picture of a path that climbs out of the river valley and back into the edge of downtown Edmonton. For me, it is easy to walk these paths and find moments of peace and solitude in the shadow of a large urban setting

Look, the trees…..

via Look, the trees…..

I have been offline for the past week, as we moved into our new house, which is located on the same lot we lived on before. We still do not have Internet, so I go to a local coffee shop once a day and sometimes every other day to catch up. Purple Rays provided a wonderful post to get back in the groove.

When we bought our house 40 years ago, it came with two relatively large spruce trees in the front. Those remain in place as proud sentinels and, as Mary Oliver describes trees in to the new houses we build on the same lot, one for Kathy and I and the other our youngest son built.

We chose to stay and build for several reasons. First and foremost, it gave our son a chance to have his own house. Second, we enjoy the community we live in and have been part of the fabric of it for 40 plus years. It is an area of Edmonton that has tremendous stablity despite the rapid growth of the metro area. We have neighbours who have lived in this community longer than we have.

The house on the left is our house and the one on the right is our son’s house as the trees stand guard.

 

Gift

I began reading a book called Thomas Merton—Evil and Why We Suffer: From Purified Soul Theodicy to Zen. The author, David Oberson, explores the evolution of Merton’s view of good and evil throughout his adult life, framed, first, through a mystical and monastic Christian view and, then, a growing interest in Zen Buddhism towards the end of his life.

I have always been fascinated with Merton’s wide ranging relationships, nurtured through letter writing. Some I knew about from previous readings e.g., Thich Nhat Hanh, Dororthy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., etc. Today, I found another one of his relationships; this one with the poet Czeslaw Milosz who lived under Nazi and  Soviet oppressors in Poland before moving to the US. Merton and Milosz shared concerns about totaliarianism, scientism, racism, etc., which I can only imagine would be intensified in today’s global climate.

Milosz wrote a beautiful poem called Gift to remind me suffering that emerges from life is impermanent. In this poem, he reminds me their is always something beautiful and good, as he alludes to nature and creation that emerges to replace the suffering.

A day so happy.
Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.

I took this picture in BC about two years ago. As I walked on this morning, I reached a higher spot on the path and saw the lake in the distance fog covered. Like the fog, the suffering lifts with time and a warming sun. I let go of the envy, anger, grasping to be present when I work in the garden that is nature.

Fresh Quotes: Mary Oliver

via Fresh Quotes: Mary Oliver

Nancy posted this over two years ago and reblogged it on her site Strawberry Indigo after Mary Oliver passed away.

I noted the other day what draws me to Mary Oliver’s poetry are the questions, direct and indirect she poses. Several years ago, I concluded a presentation on Mindful Servant-Leadership with the following question from her poem Summer Day with this quote: “Tell me what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?”

Another quote Nancy shared which fits is “Instructions for a living a life/Pay attention/Be astonished/Tell about it.” This raises questions about how I pay attention, how we reveal being astonished, and how I give an account of myself and respond through stories. Rather than answers, as Rilke says, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms.” Without preconceived answers, there is eloquence and beauty in one’s questions, living themselves out in ever broadening circles.

Mary Oliver reminds me to “some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” At my age, I understand myself as a river meandering through the landscape rather than cutting through rocks. Perhaps, this appears predictable, but I ask “what is invisible and moves with currents below the surface? What has life taught me? How do I share with others, who often are disinclined to slow down, stop, and listen?”

What I recall is I did the same, filled with busyness and urgency of life, not in the moment, but in some future I chased. Instead of meandering, I was a rushing river carving out a path without concern for what might appear. The second river flows through a narrow channel, with high banks I cannot see over. The first river flows in ways I can look back and ahead, understanding there is mystery flowing below the surface. What is obvious is often superficial, rather than mystical.

Above Numa Falls

 

Wisdom From Wooden

via Wisdom From Wooden

When I first read John Wooden‘s book They Call Me Coach, I had coached hockey for several years. I was not a teacher yet. I liken his work to Robert Greenleaf‘s servant-leadership. It is about the quality of relationships, leadership, and how people (in)form their character, which are ineffable and indefinable.

Wooden wrote about character, leadership, and what success is and is not, and this influenced how I coached and taught. I shifted from a sage on the stage to a guide on the side more often, focusing on what it meant to be on a team and in a school setting as a teacher and student. I focused on a question: “What do we want to be remembered for as a group?”At the heart of teaching are the quality of relationships we have with our students and players.

Pedagogy and educate come from Greek and Latin words meaning to lead children and youth into adulthood. It is not about winning, losing, or win-win formulae that delude us into missing the qualities of various pedagogic roles.

Wooden’s former basketball players at UCLA, including Kareem Abdul Jabbar (Wooden called him Lew Alcindor even after his name change), and Gail Goodrich speak about how he coached around character and how one played, rather than winning and losing.

In the capitalist and materialistic society we live in, including schools where we compete for marks, not focusing on a win-lose mentality is challenging. Despite challenges, I felt a deep sense of accomplishment when I succeeded and told players and students how they improved as a person. When I meet former players and students, we often talk about the quality of relationships that emerged from those settings.

Tina provides three of Wooden’s quotes related to character and leadership. Regardless of the quote, I find there is what I like to call “uncommon common sense” embedded in the axioms. Wooden also provided what he called The Pyramid of Success, which is below copied from his official site.

Wooden-Pyramid-of-Success

Greenleaf’s best test for servant-leadership is equally as daunting to define and focuses about questions related to the quality of relationships and character formation.

“Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”

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