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Thank you teachers

teacher learnerWithout the willingness of teachers to work hard at finding ways to impart skills and knowledge, we’d all be starting at square one which is a daunting thought. So without hesitation my gratitude goes out to all teachers.

However, sometimes it’s not obvious where the line is between teachers and learners. Not all teachers stand in front of classrooms. Not all teachers even see themselves as teachers, but they are.

~~ If we pay attention, children can teach us to be authentic and to live in the now. These important lessons are quickly forgotten as we grow older.

~~ Incarcerated people have allowed me to see that we all have good and shadow sides. I’ve learned about the often invisible privilege that some have and others are denied. I know on a visceral level now that hurt people hurt people. Watching people struggle with the harm done by being institutionalized and by being subjected to extreme isolation has taught me much about abuse of power and about human vulnerability. Reliance on assumptions can be unlearned in this environment because there reality is rarely as it appears on the surface. From these teachers it’s possible to learn to remove the filters and truly see.

~~ Family has taught me about the balance between nature and nurture. Previously I wanted to believe that nurture had more of an influence than nature and now I know that’s not always the case. Acceptance of all is a powerful lesson.

~~ People with mental illness due to severe childhood abuse are the living examples of the human development theory taught by classroom teachers. Allowing one’s self to get close to the extremely intense pain they endure requires learning empathy and boundaries. That in turn provides many powerful learning moments. Not only can these teachers demonstrate that a sense of worthiness and an ability to trust others is developed in early childhood, they can also be living proof of the resiliency of the human spirit.

Who I am rests on the foundational parts of me originally gifted by all the many classroom teachers who skillfully created lesson plans and lovingly delivered all this content. I thank you for your dedication. Your contributions are invaluable.

The passion and commitment of many non-traditional teachers have supported the healing of my heart and the growth of my spirit. Whether your wisdom was delivered in a workshop, a conversation, a book, a youtube video, a blog post or any other format matters not. You have lifted me up and I am grateful.

From all the rest of my unlikely teachers I am grateful to have had real life opportunities to also practice being compassionate, humble and nonjudgmental.

All of these teacher’s contributions allowed me to learn one of the greatest lessons: that everyone is a valued teacher and everyone is a potential learner. I am grateful to be an active participant in this circle.

And where shall we go from here my beloved teacher and learner community?

Paradox happens

So much goes in and at some point it’s satisfying to see what can come out. Shared knowledge and competing theories bombard our worldly brains daily. All of it is diluted and agitated as is clothing in a washing machine. Some bleed and forever ruin others. Some become dull with each repetition of the wash cycle. Perhaps the real value goes unnoticed as the tainted water drains away from each load. The spin cycle borders on violent – all supporting the intention of keeping things clean, odor and stain free. What if we’ve been scammed into believing half truths about the meaning of beautiful or even clean? What if there is beauty along with shadow in all of us and but we have never been taught how to see it all clearly and how to appreciate it.

Drawn to the Paradox Playground, it’s appropriate to feel both excitement and dread. Will the lessons there hurt too much? What if the fear slams eyes shut and ears fold into themselves? Will it then be dark and completely silent making it impossible for anything of value to break free of the logjam? Or will stepping away from the limitations of human senses open the way towards the complete truth? Will there be relief from the relentless stream of incongruent thoughts and feelings? Will it be lonely there or the opposite?

There’s only one way to find out. We need to go and find out. We’ll be gentle.
Family can be the place of unconditional love and acceptance. The connections between family members are straightforward. This one is the parent and this one is the child. This one is the sibling and this one is the cousin. In the cleanliness of a tidy genealogy chart everyone knows the importance of their spot on their chart. Without filling their charted position , others below them wouldn’t exist. This alone gives some a sense of purpose. It can give meaning to lives.
Family can also be a place of disastrous devastation since our sense of worth is determined by the treatment we receive from adults as infants. No need to list the many ways children are harmed by family. There is only a need to note that it happens.

Paradox of family. It’s not either or. It is what it is. It is all of being. It is the Primary Paradox Playground since it is the first place where what feels good and what hurts must be held at the same time. Paradox’s Potential arrives here first. There are always a wide range of apparent choices when it comes time to react: shame, compassion, revenge, healing, kindness, rage, resentment, guilt, love, victimhood, and empowerment. These choices aren’t either or. Typically it’s a turbulent and jostling journey in and out of every choice and every role. The pile of chips in the rage pile may overtake the pile of chips in the empowerment pile. But maybe that rage can be redirected onto itself and the entire pile tossed into its own funeral pyre leaving primarily healing, kindness and compassion. We all experience all of it and then, if we are open to learning, we can end up farther down the path and into the light. No one is immune from the struggle of paradox.

Hey! Wait! Let’s not let our visit to the Paradox Playground turn into a carnival-like whack-a-mole blame game. Instead, hold out both of your hands palms up. If we can see and feel that we each hold what appear to be opposing truths within ourselves and that we juggle those constantly, maybe we can have more compassion for ourselves and others. Let’s see…

Almost all of us have a mixed up, paradoxical attitude about change. Sometimes we think that change isn’t possible. How many times have you heard, “That’s just the way I am.”? We might feel stuck doing things the way we have always done them. Then, aren’t we also often hoping for change with each sometimes insatiable desire for new things, new experiences, and new opportunities? We can find ourselves sometimes hoping for change and fearing it at the same time. We want to believe that change is possible because that means that our lives can be better. But, we can also resist change, even change for the better because of comfort with the familiar.
Are your hands still held out with palms up? Put desire for change in one hand and resistance to change in the other and then juggle! You got it!

Even our most preciously held values are toys in the Paradox Playground. I’ll use myself as an example but I’m guessing that if you look honestly and closely enough you’ll be able find plenty examples in your own life. Some years ago, I became disillusioned with a group that taught the importance of treating all people with respect and dignity. My disillusionment stemmed from observing some of the group leaders only being comfortable with people of a certain social status. It became clear to me to that many weren’t walking their talk. Filled with disappointment, I left the group for about a decade. Eventually I returned for short visits but it took several years of wrestling with my disillusionment with some of the privileged people there before I could see the paradox I had created within myself. I was judging them for judging others. I was doing to them exactly what I was upset with them for doing to others. Oh drat! Good old self-righteousness blinded me to my own paradoxical conundrum.

Hands out with palms up please… Put your values in one hand and put your self-righteousness in the other and juggle away. You don’t think you’ve ever done anything like this before? Maybe you haven’t yet found a way to remove the blinders. That’s ok. Someday, hopefully they will drop away.

Shall we poke around the Paradox Playground just a little more? Sure, why not!
How about this time we just deal with you and you? It simplifies things when fewer people are involved, right? Have you ever felt a need to stay calm and be relaxed? It seems that it shouldn’t be so hard to just relax. But, have you also noticed that the harder you try to relax, the more tense you get? Straining to find serenity doesn’t make any sense but that’s often exactly what we do.

Hands out with palms up please. You know what to do by now. Juggle away!

So how do we deal with all these internal and external paradoxes? We don’t need to whack-a-mole or juggle them. Once we see them, we can own them. What if there really is something that comes off in the wash after we have isolated our personally owned paradoxes. We have dirty clothes in one hand and clean clothes in the other. On the surface it seems that when we put the dirty, soiled clothes in the washing machine and end up with clothing that seems presentable, that’s good but the paradox remains. Without acknowledging the paradox we find that the constant need to juggle and agitate things in life is incessantly and uncomfortably nipping at our heels. What if holding the paradox in each hand without juggling and without agitating was an option? What if by doing that we found value in what normally is sloughed off and is usually ignored like the washing machine water?

The gift is the awareness of the many paradoxes that we hold. If we bring awareness and acceptance to these many paradoxes, then calm has a lot better chance of arriving naturally. Holding each truth with honesty frees us to calming experience peace without agitation

Paradox happens.

DEALING WITH DISAPPOINTMENT – Finding the Cathedral Builder Within

It’s a gift to be able to envision the “big picture.” Knowing what you are working towards is a critical part of creating a short term plan that takes you to that long term vision. But, sadly, sometimes the final destination seems so far away and hence so unattainable; people sometimes give up without really trying. It’s understandable.

I’ve witnessed this dilemma a lot in the social justice work I’ve done. Getting discouraged and disappointed by the snail’s pace of progress can be one of the biggest obstacles to maintaining the motivation needed to ultimately succeed. While we do have the power to change society, it can only happen if lots of people work together over time to build that change while dealing with the realities of one day at a time and one small step at a time. It works but not if you give up.

I found some ideas in the book FINDING THE CATHEDRAL WITHIN – Transforming Your Life by Giving Something Back by Bill Shore very helpful when encouraging words were needed. Justice Works! was the name of the social justice all volunteer non-profit that dealt with difficult issues of racial disparity in the criminal justice system. Below are some of the ideas I used to encourage my fellow organizers. This advice can also help when dealing with all difficult life challenges, not just those related to social justice.

It’s a basic human desire to want to do something that makes a difference and that could ideally have a lasting impact. That’s what Justice Works! was about. It was about working as an authentic, healthy, diverse and strong community of people that took actions based on a set of clearly stated and well understood values knowing that what we did would lead us all to a more just society over time. That’s a big vision. It’s a big, long-term vision.

The book describes the mystery and awe inspiring efforts that have gone into the construction of cathedrals. The author’s primary example is the cathedral in Milan which took five hundred years to build. People worked endlessly on it knowing that they would not live long enough to see its completion. Many different people contributed in many different ways. It wasn’t the technology that inspired its creation, it was the vision. And, the outcome of that effort and dedication wasn’t a building; it was mostly the accumulated spirit of all that went into it. Today, the cathedral inspires those who visit in ways that ways that are often beyond explanation. That inspiration is a combination of the place and all that went into creating the place.

The author suggests that there are 5 overarching principles that go into cathedral building. These principles can also apply to social justice work and life struggles in general. They can give meaning and purpose to our personal lives because they help ensure that our individual contributions endure and that our communities will be stronger even after we are gone.

Those cathedral building / social justice building principles are:

  1. “Devoting your life to a cause you will never see completed need not diminish your craftsmanship and dedication. Cathedral builders worked backward from a grand vision and a detailed blueprint that, if followed, would produce the desired outcome.
  2. Cathedral building requires the sharing of strength, the contributions of not just the artisans and experts, but of everyone in the community. Ambitious civic projects can’t be achieved by government, businesses, or religious institutions alone. They require all of civic society.
  3. The great cathedrals are built, literally, upon the foundations of earlier efforts. The effort to incorporate the work that came before is conscious and deliberate, and the cathedrals are stronger, more solid, and better built for us.
  4. Cathedrals were sustained and maintained because they actually generate their own wealth and support. The main source of funding for their building or renovation was income from accumulated land and property. In this way, cathedrals did not just rely on donations, handouts, or redistributed wealth, but instead created new community wealth.
  5. Cathedrals, through their stained-glass panels, statues, and paintings, were intentionally designed to convey stories and values to people who were otherwise illiterate. In this way, they taught important history, passed along best practices, and perpetuated a philosophy and culture that reflected their values.”

I believe in people-power. I believe in our ability to do and create great things. My hope is that we can share a vision and we can commit to caring for each other along the way. Surely, if we do that, we will create a better world together.

I’m hoping that we can find good ways to stay encouraged through excellent self-care and a commitment to the care of others. Let’s agree to build cathedrals together.

Namaste.

GIFT GIVING AND PEACE

I wrote earlier about my participation in the 29 Day Giving Challenge. Today is my 29th day. I am left pondering the concept of GIVING. Why do we give? Who should or shouldn’t we give to? How much should we give? Who benefits from our giving? Who could possibly be harmed by our giving and why? I’m not going to attempt to answer all those questions here. But, I think it’s important to pose the questions.

I am totally comfortable with making a few conclusions now. A focused giving commitment is a growth opportunity for the giver. It potentially gives people the time and focus to struggle with these questions individually. I’ve done some of this work earlier. Here is my summary of the book HOW CAN I HELP where some of these questions are addressed.  But, today I am moved by the connection between giving in our day to day lives and PEACE. If we want peace for our planet, living day to day with empathy, compassion and generosity seems like a logical and important first step. It starts in our own nation, communities and circles of family and friends.

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THE COLLAPSING WHITE PICKET FENCE

It is so easy to be lured into the belief that someone else’s experience of family is better than your own.

As we try to make sense of the messiness of our own lives, it’s not uncommon to think that someone else knows something that we don’t know. Or, maybe they have something that we don’t have.

But did you ever noticed the shadow side of the white picket fence?

Does it remind you of anything?

Behind that fence can be the allusion that family and love is simple and clean.

It isn’t.

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FUN – THE OBVIOUS ISN’T ALWAYS SO OBVIOUS

What is fun?  Let’s say fun includes these things:

+ Excites and then refreshes the mind and / or body

    ~ Engages the mind and / or body in the present moment / situation

     ~ Can provide therapeutic impact

+ Leaves all participating parties feeling good or at least better

    ~ Can be a diversion from daily stresses and / or responsibilities

    ~ Can bond participants with each other

Why is fun important?

+ Provides many, many different types of health benefits

+ Increases life satisfaction

+ Provides time to nurture self, others and relationships

Let’s have some fun poking around at the subject to find some low-no cost fun activities!  I’d love to hear your ideas too!

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DISAGREEING – THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE REALLY UGLY

It’s a given that we all disagree with people. That’s normal, healthy and perfectly ok. We disagree with people who hold different values. Differing religions, politics, lifestyles, and priorities are common fodder for disagreements. When there is a disagreement with someone outside our circles, it’s easier to speak out and present our case! But, when the disagreement is with family or friends, there are a wider range of unhealthy responses. Fortunately, there are effective ways to handle disagreements.

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WHO AM I?

I don’t know how important it is to answer this question. I do know that it can be helpful sometimes because how we spend our life’s energy is directly tied to how we have answered that question. In other words, if you consider yourself an athletic person, you’ll work out a lot. Philosophers philosophize. Thieves steal. Artists create art. Loving people put their efforts on developing compassion and loving kindness.

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GROWING UP AGAIN – RE-PARENTING YOURSELF

I learned a lot from the book GROWING UP AGAIN by Jean Illsley Clarke. She lays out, in an easily understood way, the normal stages of human childhood development. Not only is this important information for learning parenting skills, it is also a road-map for people who need to and want to re-parent themselves because they didn’t get what they needed as children. But the lessons go beyond the cut and dry. From this information, it becomes easier to forgive, to be less judgmental and to embrace an optimistic and hopeful outlook. All good stuff!

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DIGGING INTO PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE

WHY THINK ABOUT THIS TOPIC

In my lifetime I’ve suffered from being on the receiving end of passive aggressive behavior; so, I’ve thought about it as I process the details of what has happened to me. And, at this stage of my life, I’m not just concerned about my own hurts; I am concerned for those who are stuck in this mode of being. As a person interested in fitness, I know that allowing negative feelings to fester inside creates harm beyond the emotions themselves. Internalizing frustration or anger reduces quality of life for all involved. I think it’s a good thing to increase everyone’s understanding of this dynamic because maybe then we all can better understand each other.

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