Monday, April 14, 2014

The Encounter

Beneath the surface lies a past I recognize. It is a pulsating beat, the rhythm of a force field, the web of a thousand spiders glimmering under moonlight. It is more familiar than my husband. Where did it begin and how will it end? Stemming from the cavity I call subconscious wisdom, I am fully aware that I am in The Struggle.
The presence haunts me because it is a call to action. One moment I think its humility and the next I think humiliation. Is it the same thing?
I’m riding a roller coaster. Below my feet, the rumble is the steady. I belong to one destiny. It’s as if hands have already molded me and I’ve awakened to discover I am a sculpture being chiseled out from the mountain that is my surrender. Surrender to who or to what exactly?
I confuse God with the Devil these days. I thought they were two separate entities but now I know that each is the side of the other, both intertwined and engaged in the primordial struggle that is both inside and outside me. Either way, I am thirsty for it now that I know I don’t have to push passion aside to be good.
I recall the moment I realized I was no longer in possession of my soul. I could see the shadow behind him in my dream. He had many arms writhing this way and that, like the Indian Goddess Kali. They say Kali is the Goddess of Destruction, but the Destruction of the Ego is what she means. His legs were crossed at the ankles, which made him innocent and vulnerable but not in a child-like way, but rather the kind of softness a man develops after being devoured by demons but lives to survive.  Like Kali, he is soft, but in an instant can be taut like a black whip.
There was nothing transparent about that first moment, and yet—I was being exposed to more truth than I had in a decade.
Shortly after that moment, my life became more fiction than fact. I know now this is a stage of the soul.



Sunday, February 09, 2014

Still Thinking About Running Away

There’s a plant in my upstairs hallway dying. The plant’s been with my family for almost fourteen years. Almost as old as my eldest child. Older than some marriages. My plant’s dying and I wonder if I’ve done everything in my power to save it. Save her. My husband says there’s a life span for everything. I bought her a bigger pot and watered her a little less, then a little more.  I whispered to her as I passed, caressed her long green fan-like leaves— I did all I could do and she’s dying anyway because there’s a life span for everything.

Some things are beyond me. There is, after all, some great decision maker. Don’t mock this talk of fate, just accept it as part of life. I mourn her and watch her wither away, curious how she's reduced me to a child again. My tears well up and my lip curls into that tiny pout of a mouth that should only be seen on little girls of two and three-- not forty something, not me.  I don’t want to let her go because now she’s part of my home.

Funny, I think my sadness must come from the world. This monster like grip, scrape in my throat.  We are not under a spell, oh no, we see it and wave it away with disregard, smug-like and disrespectful like, yes. Or we sit in it and wallow with shame.

Me? I’m learning to flow with this melancholy. I blow like a reed or fall into the rhythm of dance. It's a ballet. On and off the stage, I float, from tragedy to joy. I am alone in effortless beauty gliding, then struggling to break free, a villain's grasp. This dance keeps me in. It allows me to weep, off stage. It reveals beauty in life and a sardonic justice because at least it’s not static. It’s like watching the air ruffle under fabric— gentle and subtle but captures your attention.This air is the only thing that matters. It's change.

I’m getting old, perhaps, when I see things this way.

What do I have to hope for? My children? Who will they become in this world so slight, too slight for their beauty? Will they get swallowed up or will they dance?

Yes, it is true. I’m getting old when I see my plant dying and I compare her death to my life and a ballet and in the end I fear for my children and simultaneously glow in the thought of their beauty ever on my mind.

Then, I wonder when I walk down the halls of my school— do the people there see the energy of my soul leap outside me? Do they feel my electricity? Or do they see a woman, emptied and cold like the numbers on the computer, data lines? 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Fly On the Wall

If I were a fly on the wall, I’d see you sitting there straining to see why his neck tie is tightened too tight or why his knuckles are fist white wrapped like five bullies around a sharp number two pencil.

If I were a fly on the wall, I’d see rows of books lined up in a dark wood book case; books that tell the story of how we do teaching and leadership and all those things that schools say they do but sometimes, you know, those things just remain bound up between a hard cover and a bibliography.

If I were a fly on the wall, I’d see five side glances that speak one unspoken truth. It is the riddle of one relationship multiplied by every school identified and categorized for transformation.

Who can blame you?

If I were a fly on the wall, I’d see the empty box of tissues propped up against a brand new binder that’s half full and half empty with promises and hope and distrust and simply, a binder is just that. Black and white words and numbers on a page that tell half lies and some truth too.

If I were a fly on the wall, I’d see compassion waft over us like the sweet aroma of roast pork on a Sunday and then in a quick second a foreboding sense of despair.

If I were a fly on the wall, I’d see you and me and him and them and all of us, caught up in one critical moment of suggestion. The art of deep listening and trying to make sense out of  non-sense and the perennial battle of freedom vs control.

Things stay the same when they should fall apart.

The endless shuffling of roles.

But I’m not a fly on the wall. Not this time. This time I’ve been chosen to sit beside you; to hold your hand and bear witness to your suffering. Perhaps it was my higher-self that chose for me but all the same it’s me. I’m close enough to breath in the same air you breathe, to share your human-ness-- as if-- in fact, I am just a reflection of you in the mirror…or so it seems.

Have I gained perspective or is it loss?

Friday, December 06, 2013

Madiba & the Bonus from God

Listening to BBC this morning, a gentlemen from Soweto was asked why the African people weren’t crying. He replied that they understood Mandela’s death as being a celebration or a “bonus” from God for a life well spent. Those words had a profound impact on me. I remembered the conversation I had with my husband earlier. We spoke about Nelson Mandela’s 27 year life imprisonment and the suffering that goes with such a brutal sentence. We discussed whether such suffering is needed in order to change the world and we explored the significance of sacrifice.  At the end, I told him that Mandela had little choice in the matter, that his life evolved that way—it was his destiny, I said. I reiterated that regardless of his imprisonment, in the end he freed a country. My husband nodded but then added a harsh reality. Close to 50% of black African youth are unemployed and hungry in South Africa. Are his people really free?

Mandela will be remembered for many things but mostly for emerging from a life of struggle and suffering with no bitterness or hatred. This transcendence of his own experience, people think, was critical in the healing of his country, both black and white. Starting out as a “militant” freedom fighter and caged for a great portion of his adult life, Nelson Mandela died a beloved leader who is credited for leading South Africa out of apartheid into democracy.

There is much to think about here, on the first day of our mourning. What does his life teach us about the nature of freedom and the fight for justice?

I’ve been grappling with this question for years and very recently with great intensity. It goes hand in hand with my ever evolving interpretation of my role as an educator and a change agent. In response to an enticing job offer, I’ve been asking myself what I’m willing to do (or not do), what I’m willing to give up to be an educator, and not only that— to be an educator with a seat at the decision making table. It has become clear to me throughout this process that there are always two conflicting forces at work—one living in accordance with one’s principals and modeling freedom tirelessly and the other agreeing to sacrifice freedoms in the short term in order to gain access & advantage in the long run. The latter, it seems to me, is what happened to Mandela and I want to know if he would have had it any other way.

Following the gentleman from Soweto, another man spoke about Mandela’s infinite emotional intelligence and strategic thinking in the years following his imprisonment. I can’t imagine what 27 years behind bars might do to a person’s mind, body and spirit and even the site of President Obama visiting his cell and looking out through the small window onto a dry landscape is as powerful & deafening as a holocaust survivor standing in the center of a concentration camp three decades later.  How can we integrate the feeling of overwhelming shame and suffering that human beings inflict on one another? It’s like trying to explain how we allow a child to die of hunger in one country while in another, we throw half eaten steaks out after a dinner meeting.  How can we make sense of a human spirit that survives torture? I think what I’m curious about is do we really believe Mandela gained the gift of emotional intelligence from the suffering his oppressors imposed upon him or do we tell ourselves this to appease our conscience?  Do we say Mandela is like Jesus Christ who suffered and died to free us all from our sins? 

Perhaps I’m in denial about the purpose of life or the road to freedom, but I’m beginning to question how we understand freedom.  Must we sacrifice ourselves, someone else or a group of people in order to heal, experience justice or have goodness in our lives?  Is this notion of sacrifice just as archaic as slaughtering a lamb or throwing a child into a volcano, an offering to the Gods?

If each of us stopped for a moment in full and complete presence and said, it is not required that we sacrifice anything or anybody in exchange for love & belonging, safety & shelter, health & well-being, fulfillment & self-realization—then what would change about our behavior and the choices we’d make?

I’m in mourning today for the life of Nelson Mandela, our Madiba. But I agree that his death is a celebration and a liberation from a life of profound suffering, sadness and sacrifice.  I want each of you who are talking about Nelson Mandela in schools to discuss what his life means and what we can  learn from it as we grapple with freedom, justice and our fight for an egalitarian society.  Furthermore, I want you to think about what you think you have to sacrifice in order to gain what you have told yourself is for some “greater good.”  Ask yourself who and what you are sacrificing and what damage that might do at the present moment. Imagine that it might not be necessary that you suffer, that you can live freely and offer freedom to others at this very moment. How would that belief change your life? How would that change how you teach?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

For Gandhi, Anais Nin and Maria Montessori

Key Terms: Catharsis & Shamanism

You know you are at a special place when life feels like a precipice and you cry at the drop of a dime. Everything is real and sensitive to the touch, memories of those who have crossed my path are inside my skin as if they live there, both in good and bad, but mostly goodness in their spirits, each one is filling me, hugging me, holding me and rocking me a lullaby to safety.

I am not alone and I know who I am! 

In celebration, I offer my readers a public prayer.

 “I am a Shaman and I am not.
Just human.
I need you to stand with me as I face the decisions that will no doubt impact my life
I call to you, my Spirit Guides to console me while I let go of pain and disappointment
My house, that is no longer, I’ve wept you too long.
I’m letting go of loss and the fight.
I stand before you, but my knees are still healing—
I’ve recognized and accept my shadow side and have interrogated my refusal to believe
My imperfection is perfect.
Thank you for giving me the greatest gift of my children.
Thank you for forgiveness and compassion.
Thank you for protecting me.
My prayer to you this morning is filled with gratitude and dare I say hope?
I am filling with the nectar of resilience!

I know now that I am Shaman.
So guide me and trust me, for it is time.

Teach me but let me lead.”

Monday, November 04, 2013

The Spirit of Agency Part 2

At the molecular level...

Unpacking a lot of negative energy, opening doors and discovering the power of channeling energy in and out of my life. I watch to see if my moves impact others and I’m amazed that it is truth. The more we liberate energy within ourselves, people around respond to this energy. It’s like making holes in the wall of your being. Imagine taking a hole puncher and poking holes all around your energy field so that light goes in and out like tiny sun rays.  Yes, it’s a bit sci-fi but do it with me in your mind and see what happens. You will want more of it, watch. I want more of it so I’m poking away and on the outside, I get rid of all the clutter around me, purging, boxing, letting go. I think if I keep poking holes in me, I will eventually have nothing separating me from the air and the light and everything else around me. I would just disappear wouldn’t I?

I have a confession to make. My whole life I’ve said, I love school. I love the smell of pencils and books and learning something new makes me very happy, excited even. I made my life school. After I graduated, I became a teacher and went back to school and kept going back and ever since in one form or another, my entire life has been about this thing, this framework we call school. I go to it, I work in it, I talk about it, I want to change it, mold it, I read about it, I dream about it.  School is has always been an essential part of my identity. That makes me a lifer, like being a teacher and school are the archetypes for my life. 

That said, I have a confession to make.

I’m so tired of the oldness of it.

I want us to fly away and out and over --instead.

I want to act up and be silly, and so…

I want to throw text books in the garbage.

I want to talk to my partner and talk back at you for telling me the ‘rules.’

I want to roam the halls--instead 
     eavesdrop on conversations that seem more real to me than anything.  

I want to peer in between the cracks.

I want to be F  R  E  E  E EEEEEEEEE!

Do you want to be free with me?

Is it possible for me to be FREE and be a teacher at the same time?  I mean, can I really do it?

Here’s a story.

Me and a collegue gather information about a teacher, huddled together in the back of a room, him in a suit and me, well likewise but for a woman. (you know what I mean). His papers are so neat and tidy and there are check marks going up and down the column as he reviews the protocol and the rubric and all I want to do is giggle and laugh and grab his lapel and ask him where he lives and if he’s making enough money and if he has kids and how did he get into the business of schools? Instead I compliment his professionalism and admire how well he keeps every conversation perfectly in order and he smiles at me and says, if I don’t structure myself, I become way too weird…no one would understand me.  I throw my head back and laugh because I know exactly what he means. Me too, I tell him and all I could think about was--who is this man really and why is there no place for his 'real' self in schools?

Does freedom imply that you don’t do rules, don’t believe in structure, don’t care about consequence?  

Does freedom mean you don’t want to keep your bottom stuck to a seat? Does freedom mean movement, creativity, out of the box thinking?

Is it possible for teachers to teach freedom in school or is school by nature the very opposite of everything it means to be free?

Can we expect, demand our students to stay, to sit, to listen, to do this or that-- when deep down inside we’re suffering, hating every minute of it, or hating them, ‘those’ kids who make our life difficult, make our jobs feel more like a prison rather than a school?

Then, I think this. Shhhh. Don’t tell anybody. 

What would that classroom of recalcitrant boys and girls look like without order, control, rules?  My rules.  Why, they’d probably

Kill themselves to death (those savages)
Or break something
Talk shit
They might hurt somebody
Or plan to hurt somebody after school
Join a gang or start a new one
Sell drugs or take some

What else?

They definitely would not CHOOSE to learn something.

Wait, maybe if one or two or a handful of them did, what would they choose to learn? Not the curriculum of course, that would be boring

And if they did, choose that, then, wait—

What would that mean?

Most, might vegetate on the computers in the back of the room.

Others on cell phones, iPads and the like, if they have it.

Headphones would be on, you think?  They’d choose to listen to music.

Some might put their head down.

Do you think they’d get tired of sleeping?  I’m asking you, really.  Do you think the kids in your class would choose to sleep all day?

Here’s a quote:

"Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of genius of each." Plato

Who does this quote refer to?  All kids, or just some kids?  Your kids? Poor kids? Smart kids, stupid kids?

The Spirit of Agency is believing at the molecular, spiritual level that you can make a difference in the world not by changing others, people and things—but by opening your spirit enough so that the light of others can shine through you.

It is not about them.

It is about you.

If you are not free to be you, to live in your truth—then you cannot teach someone else to be free.

I cannot teach anybody to be free because I’m scared of what absolute freedom means. That is why I’m engaged in the process of poking holes.  My goal is to engage in the process of freedom, one step at a time, one hole at a time, one day at a time.

I'm asking you to consider the same.   What are you an agent of in your classroom and is your spirit aligned with this mission at the molecular level or do you need to poke a few holes in your armor?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Spirit of Agency: Part I

Maslow, Partido X and Us

I’ve been thinking a lot about Maslow’s needs pyramid. I want to know if we’re missing something, like maybe our common beliefs around human needs & development and the path to self-actualization are limiting us. With all the advancements in technology and the wealth of knowledge and intellectual material at our disposal, I wonder how we keep repeating the same dynamic in education? There must be a ‘disconnect’ between how we teach, how we design schools with what children & society actually need to evolve. Otherwise, we have to consider the alternative—that we do the opposite on purpose and mainly for some.

Let us say there is a direct correlation between belief and reality, like the great books say. Then it’s important to take the time now to re-examine some of our fundamental beliefs.  Think about human development, specifically, since this is the critical component of agency which I argue is regulated by our perceptions of access. 

Presume we are missing a vital truth about the nature of human experience and the road to transcendence (self-actualization). Consider, also, that we might be suppressing the teachings of truth in public schools. I would like to suggest here that human beings have evolved at the energetic spiritual level. Self-actualization and/or transcendence can no longer be perceived to be at the top of a hierarchical pyramid but rather at the base, from which all other needs are met and flow. 

It is this very error in positionality that we as a global society experience widespread crisis and conflict.

I’d like us to consider the possibility that the masses (yes, that’s the majority) aided in great part by the influx of energy coming from Generation X—are already residing within the field of self-actualization & transcendence, that this is the natural beginning of all things following.   

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs teaches the perception of two things. One: human beings can’t access self-actualization without having the preceding needs met, those being physical needs (food, water, shelter, etc.), safety (freedom from fear), social needs (love & belonging) and self-esteem (achievement & respect). The second is that the higher you go on the pyramid, the smaller the space is— that is fewer people attain it. Whether or not the use of a pyramid to explain Maslow’s theory was intended, it cannot be argued that it certainly teaches the illusion of hierarchy and quantity. The bottom of a pyramid indicates low level needs and a large number of people and the top of the pyramid indicates high level of needs and a small number of people.

Yet, with this perception, several questions come to mind:

·         Can poor people struggling for their basic needs achieve transcendence?
·         Can those individuals who are being bombed or live in perpetual states of war experience love & belonging?
·         Can a person who is struggling to pay rent be respected & recognized by society?
·         Is it possible for a person to be playful & experience joy if they have never experienced achievement in society?
·         Do we adjust our understanding of morality for those individuals who have never experienced security?
·         Can a person who is unemployed be self-sufficient?

In Spain, there is a great development being born out of the Indignados. Greater than Occupy Wall Street because it’s evolving into something we can hold on to, something we can develop. The principles of OWS were seeds but we realize that we must find a way to come out of the margins and merge with strategic elements of the system in order to produce voice, galvanize action and materialize the vision. In Spain, we can watch this happening. It is called Partido X. I am grateful for Richard Wolff, this weekend on WBAI for bringing my attention to it. He is, by the way, a straightforward, clear and precise speaker, slow and patient with his words and audience. I like him.  He points out that this new political party (Partido X) does not have a leader, even though many of the periodicals cite a spokesperson by the name of… well, let me stop here. I will support the idea that the name of one leader is unnecessary. Ahem, difficult to do-- which is the point. We must break out of the box. Alejandro Navas from the University of Navarra who has studied the Indignados says, "change will only come from the ground up, from small parties and organizations." I suppose he's referring to the wide base of Spanish population, the majority, many of whom are unemployed, fighting poverty or struggling for their basic needs to survive.  Can this group be self-sufficient? Can we do something like this here? My guess is that our climate is very different...

While I hammer nails into a hypothetical wooden frame I call my new practice for wellness, healing and authentic learning for educators in NYC, my mind is racing and searching for the elements that make sense of my life and save me from overall apathy and resignation. I am, for one, very interested in this notion of the spirit of agency. It has been my call for forty years and something tells me it's so I can use my own experience to bring light and respite to others. We are warriors and we deserve a rest.

More on the Spirit of Agency next week.