Now I become myself. It’s taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
“Hurry, you will be dead before–“
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!
The black shadow on the paper
Is my hand; the shadow of a word
As thought shapes the shaper
Falls heavy on the page, is heard.
All fuses now, falls into place
From wish to action, word to silence,
My work, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
Gesture of growing like a plant.
As slowly as the ripening fruit
Fertile, detached, and always spent,
Falls but does not exhaust the root,
So all the poem is, can give,
Grows in me to become the song,
Made so and rooted by love.
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!
Grappling is a fitting term to describe a process so necessary to the kind of learning that I’m interested in not only for myself but for others. When I think of my own grappling process I am also acutely aware of how painful this can be at times. With that awareness comes a growing ability to live in a space of inquiry and contemplation. This is helping me to not only tolerate but breath life into the ambiguity experienced during my grappling process. I don’t believe we invite or allow enough time for this process to unfold in children and adults alike in order for learning to be truly meaningful. Our need for immediate competence often cuts off what potentially could be transformational. Ultimately, creativity is compromised. From what I understand about neuroscience the validity of the grappling process is underpinned by data that demonstrates the development of the brain as a result of walking the maze, so to speak, in our learning. Accepting that what we thought to be true perhaps no longer holds water and then enduring the following uncertainty of not knowing is a powerful learning space. This is the grappling space. This is when new neural pathways are formed. The old matter is sheared away and our brain becomes more efficient. It’s an amazing process. So, why as educators would we ever want to rob anyone of this process by giving black and white information and answers or proposing one way of doing things. I think this is what I learned in class over the weekend. That a great curriculum evokes more questions than it gives answers. It gets leaners into a space of inquiry where we begin asking intelligent question about complex problems. This idea of grappling is so relevant for children as well. Take my son for instance, who is struggling with reading and writing. He needs lots of time to grapple and it’s emotional for everyone involved. His grappling process may take much longer than others but it, by no means, indicates that he won’t eventually get there. What I notice is that he is embarrassed by his grappling and his perception of himself as being less than and different causes him to cut off his own learning process and move into a place of defence and desensitization. He needs to feel safe in this journey and the resulting emotions that are evoked need to be invited and supported. It’s all part of the process.
I guess this leads me to some important questions. How as educators can we create environments for children and adults in which grappling is invited and supported….mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually? How can we make it truly safe to grapple and to allow the learner to be vulnerable, as it most certainly renders us. I reflect on the gifts grappling has offered me and how I too shrink from the vulnerability of this process as an educator and learner. Perhaps it is I who must be more open with my grappling in order to model this for others. Is there room in our educational system to normalize and celebrate grappling as opposed to pushing for performance and competence at the expense of the learner. Can we as educators be fully with our own grappling and the grappling of our students.
According to Nel Noddings, care must be reciprocal. The cared for must be able to receive our care in order for the circle to be complete. The intention to care for another is not enough. The care provided must be received by the other. As I read the article by Cassidy and Beck on Whytecliff school entitled “Drop Outs and Push Outs” I was deeply moved. The ethic of care is relational and renders typical one size fits all approaches to care, that we see in our institutions, ineffective. Our children are unique beings with needs that are varied and different depending on their life circumstances. As care givers it only makes sense that we would want to develop our capacity to accurately read and respond to anothers needs, especially where children are concerned. We need to ask ourselves whether or not the child feels cared for, understood, loved and accepted? Better yet, ask the child! If not it would be wise to revisit our approach. It is through the ethic of care that we can make a difference for each other, especially children in the context of education. Care is at that root of development. Much like a plant, we thrive when the environment is nurturing. Our educational system is busy pushing for improved test scores while many of our children are slipping through the cracks. Children from historically marginalized groups such as those who are impoverished or indigenous peoples are often the ones who receive the least amount of care and understanding upon entering our institutions. They end up dropping out or getting pushed out. As long as institutions remain as hostile environments this cycle will continue. I guess my biggest questions is how do we begin to place care at the centre of our institutions? Developing relationships takes time and often at the expense of more measurable results. It’s a tough sell yet I believe it is central to the healing experience that society needs in order to grow and adapt. To care is to be human and to be human is to care. Teachers especially can have a profound impact through a caring relationship with their students in which the student feels invited, accepted, loved, significant and understood. Take Helen Keller for instance. Anne Sullivan was, in my opinion, a master teacher. It was through her deep love for her student, Helen, that led to her ultimate transformation. For those of you who know the story Helen went on to thrive in her life time as a result. So let’s turn our attention to care. Let us yearn for a caring society in which children thrive and let us be agents of caring for one another.
The pursuit of knowledge in and of itself has, in traditional contexts, been considered a contemplative practice aimed at becoming fully human. One my professors, Charles Scott, said something to this effect the other day and it synthesized a entire conversation for me that we had been having earlier that day in class. It really does not matter the form of contemplative practice. Stillness, movement, reflection, song, nature, writing or otherwise. It is the emergence that we experience as a result of the practice that counts. For me true knowledge emerges from within. It may be prompted from the outside but when I am stirred up and moved full of curiosity, leaning into the great mystery I am discovering and learning. This is a kind of knowledge or perhaps wisdom that can’t be acquired any other way. This acquisition of knowledge has to do with our becoming fully human. What is the purpose of acquiring knowledge if not to reach our human potential..to make the world a better place, to become more of what we are meant to become for ourselves and each other. Jean Vanier would agree. It is this place of mystery that contemplation offers in which we make discoveries about existence. It is never complete, it is always emerging.As we become more educated we often develop language with which to make sense of our world. However, language has it’s limitations and great conflict and confusion comes from the divisive use of words. When we stop talking momentarily or speak mindfully and slowly we dive deeply into the mystery and begin to access what is not yet known. The unknown is full of immense possibility. I believe it is where great wisdom is accessed. Call it the collective consciousness, god, the creator, spirit or the ancestors. Regardless of it’s name it is there for all of us and we are all part of it. It is when the unknown becomes known through the use of language that things become more clear, which we need, however something is also lost at the same time.We somehow have to find a way back into the mystery over and over again in order to transcend our currently reality. The emergence of something new comes from a place with no words, that can’t quite be understood and in which we find stillness, even momentarily. Those murky places are ripe with possibility. If we can tolerate the discomfort of this and if we can create environments where people are safe enough to venture away from what they know to be true then I believe there is much hope for our future.
Belonging, an essential part of our existence, can become a double edged sword. Allow me to explain. It seems that our need to belong can stifle our drive to reach our full potential. To become fully who are are meant to be. I know this to be true in my life. The subject of belonging has been a painful one. Never really having experienced a secure sense of belonging while growing up left me yearning for and pre-occupied with finding a place where I felt welcome, could find sameness with others and a sense of being part of something. I must admit that this is a tireless and, at times, painful journey that resulted in many revelations as well as disappointments. For many years I was adrift floating, seeking and suffering. As a young woman I did not have the eyes to see how this might be a gift in my life and the impetus for growth and reaching my potential. Which, by the way, is always unfolding. These experiences of not belonging most definitely pushed me beyond my comfort zone. As such I continue to find myself and strengthen my resolve to stand on my own two feet. A process that happens over and over again as I emerge and change. I must admit, at times it’s lonely. Sacrificing belonging to be true to myself, my values and what I believe in is not always easy. One must believe that there are greater forces at work in the universe in order to do such inner work. The pain of not belonging cuts deep but not nearly as deep as feeling I have sacrificed my integrity to fit in. The older I get, and hopefully wiser, the more I come to know myself. A process that is constantly emerging and sometimes messy. The more I find a sense of belonging within myself and in the larger context of the world and universe the more I am able to connect with the essence of human nature we all share. The delightful discovery I’ve made is that my need for belonging is met in a much different way than I could have ever imagined. It’s unconditional. Now the questions that beg to me are… can we make room for each other to emerge fully as individuals while still extending an unconditional invitation to belong? Can belonging offer us a place of security from which to become fully who we are meant to be? As a parent I strive every day to invite all aspects of my children to exist. I extend an unconditional invitation for them to be exactly who they are and I convey that they belong no matter what. Not based on performance nor behaviour. I believe without a doubt that this will give them a strong platform from which to grow. This sense of belonging offers such security and from here we can find our wings. When belonging is unconditional we have the freedom to become who we are, the courage to find our way and the strength to stand on on our own two feet. This poem by Robert Frost speaks to what I’m trying to say here…
THE ROAD NOT TAKEN
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth; Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim Because it was grassy and wanted wear, Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same, And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way I doubted if I should ever come back. I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. Robert Frost
Every year I am greeted by one red breasted robin appearing in my back yard. Usually as the seasons begin to change from winter to spring. A powerful time of transformation according to my teachings. Each time I am stilled by the robin’s presence. This morning while sipping my coffee and humming away busily in my kitchen preparing a ritualistic Saturday morning breakfast consisting of pancakes and fruit I spotted the robin. I stopped in my tracks. An unusual occurrence for me being the mother of two energetic little boys. I became fully present and was in awe as I watched the Robin forage around in our backyard. At times the little bird seemed to move toward me, tilting it’s head in recognition of my presence. For me this visitor symbolizes many things. The arrival of spring, the presence of great spirit and a restoration of faith in the mystery of the universe. I aimagesm brought back over and over again to this state of stillness, without fail, thanks to this little visitor. I can count on the robin bringing it’s message to me each year and each year I am a little older, a bit wiser and more sentimental than before. It is also at this time that I am reminded of my maternal grandmother who raised me and who passed away in 1990. In the wee hours of the morning after her death a Robin was trapped in our house, flapping around and trying to escape. We were all awoken from our sleep and, momentarily, our state of grief by the noise. After scrambling to open a window in order to release the bird to freedom we realized that there was no logical way that the bird could have gotten in the house. It was early March, temperatures where still low and all the windows and doors had been shut all day and night. To this day we believe that this was my grandmother’s spirit leaving. Her way of saying good bye and letting us know that she was safe. What an incredible gift. So when I see that little robin each spring I am reminded that all is well and the world is unfolding exactly as it should. With this awareness comes a sort of gentle acceptance, integration and letting go of the past year’s lessons. As I allow myself to be transformed, yet again, by the change of seasons I thank the robin for reminding me of lessons forgotten and for reunifying me with the great spirit.
More than a few aha moments were had, at least by me, while attending the annual Neufeld Conference Facilitator Training this past weekend. Presentations by Dr. Neufeld and Dr. Deborah McNamara provided a feast for both heart and mind. As I listened to Deborah introduce the ancient concept of the shape shifter I could not help but drift into reflection about my own experiences where resisting the temptation to alter myself has been challenging. These subtle alterations can easily slip under the radar of my awareness resulting in a feeling of inauthenticity that niggles away at me. In my experience the spirit is constantly seeking a state of integrity in which our insides and outsides achieve a vibrational match. A balance requiring a constant state of recalibration. For me, anything less feels like cheating. To alter myself feels like I’m taking a short cut and in the process short-changing myself and others. This is a virtue I strive to model for my children and yearn to preserve and nurture in them. So, do I have the courage to be true to myself, to not alter to please or control and do I believe that I will survive the consequences of living this truth? As a parent it is in the unconditional love for my children, where their joy is as welcome as their eruptions of foul frustration…where neither their successes nor failures can sway my love for them, that I can preserve their spirit.
Recently I was provided an opportunity to facilitate a practicum via the Neufeld Campus Adobe platform. Initially, I was excited by the prospect of being able to lead a group of folks from throughout the province through the material in addition to providing them access to the plethora of rich campus resources I enjoy so much. However, as the start date for the course drew near I was much more aware of the dragon than of the treasure my eyes had previously been fixed on. “What was I thinking?” Although I am a seasoned in-person facilitator this was an entirely different ball game. I realized that I would not be able to read and respond to the reliable cues that are available in a physical format…. the eyes, smiles and nods would be hidden from me. “What would I have to guide me through this technological maze of sorts?”. So the alterations began as I twisted myself inside out trying to take a form I thought would bring approval.
Retrospectively, at least in my opinion, the first session was a disaster. Although I don’t think the participants noticed much. I felt my expression was incoherent and that I presented as being uncertain, lacking confidence and unable to find my center. The articulate and reflective self I normally am had left the building. I felt as if adrift at sea treading water, desperately trying to grasp something familiar and solid. Relief escaped me for that entire two hours. I prepared for the following week with a looming sense of dread and found myself scouring over resources, making notes ferociously, and trying to remember key phrases that I heard Dr. Neufeld say during the recorded sessions. Then it dawned on me. I was trying frantically to change my form. I wanted to be good, I wanted the participants to like me, and I wanted to present as competent and intelligent. This was a performance I had to get right! A part of me believed that there was a form I needed to take in order to succeed, to be accepted and to avoid the heartbreak of a possible failure. Alteration was a necessity! It was in this moment that another awareness bubbled up inside me and along with it the words of my beloved Uncle Mike rang in my head…”just be yourself, you are the best person at it”. Truer words were never spoken; I had to find my own way. I had been trying on different ways of being, attempting to take on a form that did not match my spirit. There was no vibrational alignment here. It felt fake. It was when I finally allowed myself to experience the futility of trying to be something I am not, of avoiding the disappointment of a potential failure and then resting from the pursuit driving me to shift my shape to win favor that my spirit was able to emerge. Just be myself and it will be unfold as meant to. When one’s spirit temporarily aligns with a form that is a vibrational match we experience resonance and it is from this place that we are able to fulfill our passion and purpose. For me it is a state in which I experience a flow, ease and creativity not otherwise available. It is from this place that I find fulfillment, not perfection in my parenting, life and work.
The opportunity to step into the virtual world as a facilitator provided an important journey for me in terms of my own growth. A rite of passage so to speak. Now, I have yet another touchstone of experience to draw on as I move forward. It was in my accepting the futility of the situation that I was freed from the temptation to take a form that was not a match for me and it was from this place that I found the courage to just be myself. Isn’t this what we all long for and deserve? The freedom to be ourselves. So, in the wise words of my Uncle Mike I say to myself, my children and to others….just be yourself, you are the best person at it!
Becoming a parent melted my heart. I never could have imagined the myriad of ways in which I would be touched, moved and changed prior to the birth of my two sons. The journey of becoming the parent my children need is an incredible one of growth and transformation. I have come to know joy on an entirely new level. Unbounded, enormous, glowing, from the bottom of my heart joy. Words do not do justice to the essence of my experience. Paradoxically, I have also experienced immense frustration, sadness and moments of despair as a parent. As William Blake writes, “joy and woe are woven fine, a clothing for the soul divine”. How true it is! At times, as a parent, it feels as if the worry and fear will overcome my spirit. Today, however, was a joyous one for me. As I sat and watched my eldest son part take in a talent show at his school I witnessed the miracle of growth. My heart swelled and my spirit sang. I’m not sure I have ever felt as much joy and pride as I did today. A feeling of utter reverence enveloped me as I watched my boy’s spirit spring forth in a way I did not know possible until now. Nature had been quietly doing its work. The tears streamed down my cheeks and I was transported into a state of elation. Jake attends Kenneth Gordon. A very special school with very special educators for sensitive and gifted children. He’s thriving there. A major contrast from the public system that was slowly breaking his spirit and ours. With tears in my eyes I watched as my son performed a solo dance in front of the entire school. He exuded confidence, was having fun and his spirit shined. I knew without a doubt that today was the result of our staying the course as parents in regards to what we know he needs most…relationship, rest and room! This in addition to the teachers at Kenneth Gordon being very intuitive, caring and focussed on the relationships their students have with them. They truly believe in the children they teach. They have an ever-present invitation for each of them to exist exactly as they are. They are masterful at fostering emergence…individuality, growth, courage and a curiosity about the world. Jake has been attending this school now since February and what a difference it has made. His face is soft, he’s talking and interacting, he’s smiling and affectionate. In retrospect, I can see the wounding that he was enduring in the public system. He could not afford to take his defenses down and evenings and weekends did not provide enough time for us to collect him back and bring him to the rest he was literally starving for. The other night while I was putting the boys to bed Jake said this to me. “Mommy, when I went to the other school the kids used to run away from me, push me down and take my things ”. I softly asked him, “Jake, why didn’t you tell me?”.
Normally around this time of year I’d be inclined to write about the anticipation and busy-ness that fall brings. Back to school and back to work, new beginnings…the end of summer.