by Emily Chamberlain, Courage & Renewal Facilitator (June 13, 2013)
It has been over a month since I attended the White Privilege Conference for the first time, and I am still filtering the experience, trying to understand how my internalized sense of “whiteness” separates me from the full expression of my own humanity and keeps me unconsciously aligned with the very forces of injustice and oppression I say I am working against. During the three-day conference, we had one opportunity after another to unpack the “invisible knapsack” of unearned privilege Peggy McIntosh speaks of – the one we carry around with us always, as white people, even if we are unaware of it.
Much of what I found in my own “backpack” I expected to find, although the process of bringing those parts of myself to light was surprisingly unsettling.
I expected to have my blindness around issues of equity and race mirrored back to me and to be jarred into a clearer recognition of the harm I have unknowingly done to friends and colleagues of color.
As a white woman who grew up in the segregated South, I expected to feel a deep, unnamed sadness welling up within me and to fear exposure for the privileged little white girl I was – and to a great extent, still am.
But what I didn’t expect was how much of the work we did around class and the intersection of race and class was completely new to me, and how charged those conversations were, not only for me but also for many of the other, more experienced participants in the room. In a workshop entitled “How Do We Talk about Class?,” I realized that at age 59 I couldn’t recall EVER having an honest conversation about class in a group setting. The simple activity of creating a “critical events timeline” of my awakening awareness of class brought back memories I hadn’t thought of in 30 or 40 years, and to which I had attached no particular significance.
Though it seems obvious now, it had never occurred to me that I bring my entire background of class into every interaction I have, and that looking at white privilege through the lens of both race and class can help us more clearly see the intersectionality of all forms of privilege and oppression. This was perhaps the most important insight I took from the conference, along with a deepening understanding of how daunting the task of interrupting white privilege really is, and how much we depend on each other to show us the parts of ourselves that would otherwise remain unseen. I believe this process is a necessary step toward putting love in action for our fellow human beings and for ourselves.
(Note: Peggy McIntosh's essay "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" was published in the July/August 1989 edition of Peace and Freedom, pp. 10-12.)
How do class and race show up in your everyday life?
by Valerie Brown (June 11, 2013)
“…When love came to the door of India, that door was opened wide.”
The Taj towers above the treetops, glowing like an illuminated jewel. Despite having seen it many times, over many years, the first glimpse of it stops my breath. Completed in 1653, by ruler Shah Jahan for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, this Islamic-style tomb is not just a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of the World, it is a tribute to love and beauty, and yet it is a tomb. A paradox itself.
It is said that the cool whiteness of the Taj’s marble changes moment to moment, harmonizing with the light, with the heat or coolness of the day, even with women’s saris in colors of sage, burnt orange, cinnabar and crimson. Crowds come to the Taj out of devotion, curiosity, national pride. They leave differently.
We were a group of 17 women from all across the USA on an inter-faith pilgrimage to India, a journey that I co-led and organized under the auspices of Kirkridge Retreat & Study Center. On the road, through the streets, we enter the city of Agra.Slowly we make our way back downhill, past the vendors selling miniature replicas of the Taj, key chains and postcards. We are largely silent, absorbing what we have seen, what we have heard, feeling differently.
And then he approaches, a young man whose body is deformed into a knot. His lower half sits on a wooden board with coasters for wheels. His left foot is clubbed, misshapen and pencil sharp, which he drags behind him. He wants rupees, but more than rupees, I sense that he wants to be seen, to be known, not as a curiosity or eccentric, but for his humanness.
Still love drunk, from the Taj’s beauty, I look into his dark, almond-shaped eyes. I see him. He sees me. There is a moment of recognition: we are both seekers, we are here, fully present in this moment. Like the Taj, he is here before me and this is a moment of breathlessness. I stoop down into a squat to whisper to him: “Thank you, Namaste.”
Back on the bus, the women approach me. “What just happened there?”
The beggar and the beauty of the Taj stand side by side as a paradox. These seeming opposites open me to know the wholeness, of life a living example of stretching myself to understand, to respect, to connect with ‘the light and the darkness’, with the mystery of the moment.
The pilgrimage lesson that day: Can I open my heart to what is before, to be open to the wholeness of all things?
What paradox do you notice in your travels through life?
Valerie Brown is a Courage & Renewal Facilitator and the author of The Road that Teaches: Lessons in Transformation through Travel (QuakerBridge Media 2012) and Heartfulness: Renewing Heart, Mind and Spirit on Retreat and Beyond (February 2013, Pendle Hill). Valerie is leading another group pilgrimage in October 2014, the El Camino de Santiago in Spain. Contact Valerie at www.leadsmartcoaching.com
by Chip Wood (June 6, 2013)
This ten minute video clip is inspiring and heart breaking. It is a clear example of a group of educators trying to heal the heart of democracy. (The work that Parker J. Palmer calls us to in his latest book. Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create A Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit.)
Having followed the school through this video series over the year, I have gained immeasurable respect for the leadership displayed by Principal Ayla Gavins and her teachers in carrying out a robust and challenging curriculum, designed, in fact, to meet the children where they are and help them make a profound difference in their own lives. If you doubt this, listen carefully to the words of recent Mission Hill Alums at the beginning of Chapter 10.
Bravely, at the close of the school year, against unknown consequences, Ayla Gavins tells her teachers she will not give up the mission of Mission Hill to the intrusion of state requirements. With the quiet conviction of a leader who knows the time has come to take a stand, she unwaveringly makes clear: “The testing has gotten out of control. Right now what’s hanging us up is this Predictive Test. It’s an assessment that is going to be tied to teacher evaluation. Massachusetts has been awarded Race to the Top money. And so all these things are all linked to state requirements.”
“When we roll into the fall and it is time for Predictors, our school is not going to administer them. When we do not do this, I will be written up. My job is on the line and just as a school community we just have to be prepared for that. We have to have our stuff together.”
The video, “A Year At Mission Hill”, has ended, but the story is far from over. Teachers and leaders around the country are dealing with similar dilemmas. Each must decide where they stand and how their response impacts their students, schools and careers. As Principal Gavins makes clear, none of this is easy.
See more resources about this topic at the website for A Year at Mission Hill.
Guest blog by Melissa Keller (June 4, 2013)
In a classroom of fourth- through sixth-graders, I am visiting as a university supervisor observing a student teacher. The host teacher is my former student, Jill. She is direct, funny, smart, and articulate. It’s easy to see in her the passionate student I first knew.
A few minutes into a geometry lesson, an announcement comes over the intercom. It is the principal stating, “Code Yellow.” Jill moves swiftly to lock the door and turn off the lights, then closes the blinds. The children grab their jackets and move to their desks, but they don’t go outside. I watch with curiosity. School lockdowns are not new, but after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, safety protocols are more specific.
Within minutes of the first announcement comes another, the same voice stating twice, “Code Red.” This time, everyone in the room instantly falls silent, moving in seconds to the wall that isn’t visible from the doorway. Twenty-four people are crammed against that wall, knees to their chins to make space for each other. No one speaks or creates distraction. Jill squats low in front, giving a thumbs-up. Too late to move, I am stuck in my chair with children on the floor around me, one even under my chair, calmly sitting behind my legs, as if we do this every day. I sit very still, knowing that my squeaking chair’s sound would be pronounced in this silence, conjuring visions of our hiding place revealed.
A tiny noise is heard and Jill focuses sharp attention on its location. The child who has shifted her legs looks at her wide-eyed. Jill remains serious. She mouths the words, “I love you,” then gestures to zip her mouth, and follows this with a comical meditation pose. Her communication is clear: You are not in trouble. You must be silent. This is how you do it. The child nods her head and settles back into a quiet position.
Everyone exhales upon hearing the next announcement, “Code Green.” They stand and move to the door, with Jill providing assurances. “I know it feels weird,” she says to the students, “but we just have to follow instructions and trust the people who have our best interests at heart. Because we need to be ready for anything that might happen, like a fire, or a gas leak.” “Or somebody with a gun?” one child asks. “Or that,” Jill says, “but that isn’t going to happen, honey.” We walk to an adjacent field, where classes stand in line for their teacher’s headcount. Stopwatch in hand, the principal talks with nearby teachers about how to determine which side of the building is safest. In some cases, they may lead children across the road, behind a nearby building.
“Students,” he says, “this is a good effort. We were out in 3 minutes and 17 seconds. But it isn’t good enough. We must move more quickly next time.” He never says why. I hear the words, gas leak, murmured by teachers to children. In my years as a student, a teacher, and a principal, I’ve never heard so many references to gas leaks as a potential disaster, clearly a less frightening alternative to a murderous monster. The atomic bomb drills of my youth had us under our desks for dubious protection against a nuclear weapon. As a child, I never knew what a nuclear blast would look like and don’t recall being afraid of these exercises. I’m pretty sure I could have imagined a madman with a gun.
Returning to the building, I comment to the principal how quickly the children responded to the drill without incident, then ask him if he really thinks they can move any faster without running. He nods in agreement, but talks about children who were lollygagging, looking up at the clouds, nonchalant as you please. He laughs, “Just like kids do.” Lucky them, I think, lost in my thoughts about this terrible task.
Back in the classroom, the students seem unfazed, but I wonder about the expectations we are placing on them. We are testing children so often that the assessments threaten to take the place of instruction, and the stakes are high. Now they are tested on how quickly they can hide and flee from killers who could enter the school any time without warning. Everyone has to be ready. You need to know the best hiding places.
I remember when school days were not filled with such urgent affairs. At the center of the curriculum was instruction in long division, prepositions and adverbs, science experiments. Teachers focused on lessons about archipelagos and isosceles triangles. Now the center has changed – fear has stepped in and altered the priorities. Call it the opening of Pandora’s Box, or a harbinger of doom, or call it what it is, which is tragic.
Each day that Congress does not summon the courage to ban assault weapons and deter senseless deaths of children, teachers like Jill struggle with delivering paradoxical messages to their students. There is no reason to be fearful, but we will continue to hide from imaginary killers, just in case. I don’t know how long it will take to convince our legislators that a ban on assault weapons is necessary for safe schools, but until they take these steps, our children continue to huddle silently against a wall during intruder drills.
Melissa Keller is a teacher educator and clinical assistant professor at Indiana University School of Education. She lives with her family near Bloomington, IN.
by Rose Yu (May 30, 2013)
Spring is the season of commencement addresses and I was inspired by the message that Maria Shriver delivered at the Annenberg School of Communications, her alma mater.
She says, “I have one wish for you. Before you go out and press that fast forward button, I’m hoping – I’m praying – that you’ll have the courage to first press the pause button.” She goes on to explain that as graduates they have the opportunity to change the way in which we as a nation engage in civil discourse for the better.
Maria Shriver goes on to say, “PAUSE — and take the time to find out what’s important to you. Find out what you love, what’s real and true to you — so it can infuse and inform your work and make it your own.” Read more here.
Mary Edwards, a blogger, a best friend and a spirited survivor of brain tumor removal, said to me recently, “Don’t just do something, sit there” as a play on an old adage that says the opposite. I had to listen to her twice to get her meaning!
Parker Palmer is coming to Seattle for a series of talks in July to talk about developing five habits of the heart, which cultivate this capacity to pause, reflect and then engage with one’s heart before taking action. He calls this pause “getting the news from within.” I have been raised with such a strong ethos of the “can do” attitude when in fact sometimes the best thing I can do is to pause. I’m going to Parker’s talks to help me cultivate that capacity. I hope you will be able to join me.
How do you create spaciousness in your own life so that you can pause with intention?
Guest blog by Tiffany Poirier (May 23, 2013)
Imagine wearing a “Teaching Coat” that tells the story of who you are, one that challenges you to draw out the best of yourself and clarify your own vision of authentic leadership.
This is the idea behind The Teaching Coats Project, and it came to me while reading Parker Palmer’s book, The Courage to Teach.
My first three years as a new teacher were a dream—an all consuming, wonderful dream!
I loved every day using my creativity in service to others. It was so fun to work with children and help them achieve their goals. During this time I was inspired to publish my first children’s book, Q is for Question: An ABC of Philosophy, to help empower young people to ask big questions like, “What is the meaning of life?” Teaching children gave my own life more meaning, and I hoped one day to have a child of my own.
Then in July of 2009, my world fell apart. After 5.5 months of pregnancy, my baby was stillborn. The grief—an unimaginable feeling of emptiness—was like a black hole swallowing me from the inside out.
For weeks, all I could think about was how my life seemed bookended by death: I lost my father at age five in a helicopter crash, and now my first baby was gone too.
By September, I had to make a decision about my work.
Determined to move forward, I drew a boundary around my loss, and took an opportunity to teach in a specialized position at another school.
After all, how could I return to my former school—to the young students who had made me cards and long lists of baby names? How could I return with an empty belly? Even though it wasn’t rational, I couldn’t help but feel I let everyone down.
In the hope I would learn to turn things around and lead myself through this difficult time, I signed up for a masters program in educational leadership.
Soon with the new job, university, and no time to recharge, life was all go-go-go! I was running on empty.
To survive, I compartmentalized. There were recesses I ducked into the staff bathroom just to breathe or cry—but I would put on a smile in time to greet my students, determined that the show must go on.
Looking back, I realize that although I did the best I could, I wasn’t always being my most authentic teacher self. My priority was just to try to hold it all together as a professional. Yet in the effort, I was also holding back from my students the best of who I am as a person.
For example, I used to love playing guitar and leading students in making up silly songs. But in that hard year, the music just stopped.
At last, I was relieved and overjoyed to discover I was pregnant a second time. Yet with the still-fresh memory of my loss, I think my pregnancy made me even more guarded with others: I was trying to not share too much of myself with others because my obviously growing belly already made me feel so exposed and vulnerable.
When my beautiful, healthy baby boy finally arrived—I too felt reborn! Once again there was a song in my heart.
Although sleep-deprivation, various post-partum health issues, intensifying university coursework and financial challenges arose as new battles, I discovered that I could get through anything…if I took time to care for myself in small daily ways.
I learned that taking time to recharge was not only vital for me—it helped me be able to give more to others.
One afternoon as my son drifted off to sleep across my lap, I reached for an assigned reading for one of my leadership classes, a chapter in Parker Palmer’s The Courage to Teach. My heart leapt when I got to this passage:
“I once heard this Hasidic tale: ‘We need a coat with two pockets. In one pocket there is dust, and in the other pocket there is gold. We need a coat with two pockets to remind us of who we are.’ Knowing, teaching, and learning under the grace of great things will come from teachers who own such a coat and who wear it to class everyday.”
“What a powerful metaphor!” I thought. “I need that coat!” I reached for a pencil and paper and quickly sketched out the plans.
My Teaching Coat…
I found a plain white lab coat and put a pinch of dust from my garden into one pocket and tucked a teaspoon of gold sparkles into the other pocket.
Then for several hours, I wore the coat as a way to sink into the ideas: “I am dust. I am gold.” Each time I repeated that phrase I made new connections and meanings.
I recorded my thoughts on paper, but soon took to writing them on the coat itself. This felt empowering—tattooing my heart and mind across this coat I could share with others!
I also attached all kinds of other symbols: commemorative school pins to remind me of my journey as a learner; a little mirror for reflection; a magnifying glass to remind me to examine life more closely; and a beautiful crocheted lace made by my grandmother to connect me to my past.
In the weeks I spent creating what I called my Teaching Coat, I realized I was getting to know myself more deeply.
When I began to share my Teaching Coat with others, I found it sparked rich discussions, as each person seemed to offer insightful interpretations of my coat and wonderful visions for their own coats.
It has been amazing to see how The Teaching Coats Project has taken on a life of its own.
Today, take time to recharge and listen to the wisdom of your inner teacher. Imagine:
• What might your own Teaching Coat it look like?
• What words, images, symbols, inspirations and memorabilia might you add, and why?
Next, consider sketching, writing or talking about your ideas with others...or even create your own Teaching Coat to wear! Please feel free to share your thoughts below, and for ideas and support, visit teachingcoats.com.
May 14, 2013
If I was a work of art… This prompt inspired a young poet who has since inspired us and perhaps will encourage you, too!
If I was a work of art
I would be a picture of the wind
The wind, sort of light blue,
really hard and strong.
I would be blowing away
blowing toward love.
When people see the picture
they would know
I was going the right direction
instead of the wrong one.
Thorndyke Elementary After School Program
Writes of Passage Poetry Class with Vicky Edmonds
We invite you to share this poem and questions with someone:
- If you were a work of art, what would you be?
- As with all poems, the words are so wise. How does knowing the poet was in 3rd grade affect you?
- What would your inner 9-year old say to you today?
Where is this young poet now, a decade older?
In 2003 Anthony participated in an after-school poetry writing class taught by Vicky Edmonds. Vicky brought Anthony to a 2003 Gathering of Courage to Teach participants in Seattle with other young poets to share his poem and it continues to be used by teachers and Courage & Renewal facilitators who were in that room that day.
We were so curious about how this wise young soul is doing a decade later, we tracked him down. Anthony is now a freshman on an athletic scholarship to Trinity Lutheran College and studying to be an athletic trainer. Though he hasn’t written another poem, he has excelled as a track and field athlete, winning awards in long jump in particular. When he signed on to Trinity’s team, his coach Matt Koenigs told reporters “To find this combination of character, work ethic and athletic ability in someone is not common – Anthony fits so well with the vision I have for what we are building. I could not have asked for a better person in our first jumper.” And now, a year later, Koenigs tells us “He's been fantastic to have on the team--he brings a great work ethic and a wonderful attitude with him to practice every day.”
We asked Anthony where he finds his courage and strength.
“My dad’s a big motivation in my life. With everything I’m doing, he helps me and gives me the strength to do things. Without him I wouldn’t have gotten this far.”
We never know how our contact with others ripples out into the world over many years. Even for a nine year old.
Thank you, Anthony!
Today's post was a mirror of our Words of EnCOURAGEment newsletter. Subscribe here.
by David Kopacz (May 9, 2013)
I recently attended the conference/retreat “Integrity in Health Care: The Courage to Lead in a Changing Landscape.” I arrived there in the usual state for me, tired, stressed and struggling to balance all of my clinical and administrative responsibilities with the rest of my life.
I work as a psychiatrist and as Clinical Director at an inpatient/residential psychiatric rehabilitation program with a population of treatment-resistant clients and a staff group that is going through union action. I took on the job hoping that I could bring a holistic approach to foster recovery and rehabilitation for clients and well-being for the staff, but I am not sure how successful I have been with either the clients or the staff. Many days feel like a constant barrage of worries and concerns about clients, staff and a never-ending stream of emails.
What I found at the conference was not any easy answer or magic solution to my daily worries. What I did find was a chance to reflect on my own situation with a group of supportive facilitators and participants. Having this time and space allowed me to connect more deeply to myself as well as to connect with other health professionals struggling with similar demands. As a result of the conference I felt more hopeful, less alone and that I had more inner and outer resources to bring to my daily work.
I think one of the most damaging aspects of our work in health care is the despair that comes from trying to do good work in systems that, directly or indirectly, seem to inhibit good work. We thus have systems in which everyone is working hard, yet no one feels good about the work that they are doing.
The conference was structured around Parker Palmer’s “Five Habits of the Heart,” from his book Healing the Heart of Democracy. These habits are: understanding we are all in this together; an appreciation of the value of “otherness;” the ability to hold tension in life-giving ways; a sense of personal voice and agency; and the capacity to create community.
For me this boiled down to developing a sense of internal connection and cohesion while also developing connection to others and building community. This led me to reflect that if we can hold the inevitable tensions between individual and community in life-giving ways, the personal growth and well-being of the individual can contribute to the complexity and health of the community.
The idea of embracing tension rather than trying to eliminate it got me thinking of the tension in my own work and life. If I can shift my perspective toward daily stress and tension as a life-giving energy for work instead of as a drain and impediment to my work, perhaps I can more skillfully support the growth of a therapeutic community at the rehabilitation center where I work. The concept of a therapeutic community is that no one individual has responsibility for solving the problems that arise in the community, rather the work is done in open discussion between all members of the community.
Palmer’s habits of the heart serve as an excellent guide for this kind of work by valuing the individual and the community and by seeing the tension as a source of life energy. To me, this was the most useful concept from the conference, that stress and tension can be re-framed and used for positive work.
This concept of holding tension between opposites, rather than trying to have one opposite (e.g., hope) overpower the other opposite (e.g., despair) allows for a complex and systemic approach to complex and systemic problems. The idea of tension being life-giving rather than something to get rid of reminds me of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung's approach to the problem of opposites, that there is a “unifying third” that unites the opposites into a higher order of meaning.
We can look at integrity as the “unifying third” that comes from holding the reality of despair about contemporary health care and the need and fact of hope. In practice, integrity is generated from embracing the despair and the hope in contemporary health care.
Where does this hope come from? I found hope when I looked into the eyes of the facilitators and participants at the conference. I found it when I looked into myself. Hope is there, it is a living thing. It is just that there is also so much despair that it is easy to lose sight of hope. Hope is intrinsic to the very idea of health care. We all went into this field because we felt that something hopeful could be done in the world.
I'd like to return to this idea of tension being “life-giving.” The image that came to me was of the poles of a magnet. Electromagnetic lines of force emanate in complex and systemic ways around the negative and positive poles of the magnet. These electromagnetic fields create energy that can be used for work. Cancellation of either the negative or positive pole leads to a collapse of the energy and an inability to do work.
To move from the metaphor back to our discussion of hope and despair, it is quite apparent that if despair eclipses hope no work can be done. (I will leave the opposite statement of what happens when hope eclipses despair to the metaphysicians, as this does not appear to be an immediate risk in health care.) If this metaphor holds, we can shift our attitudes toward the reality of despair and let go of our desire to eliminate it. Instead, we can view it as a powerful generator of energy and work when it is in a tension-filled relationship with hope.
We do not need any help to find sources of despair to feed this life-giving tension. However, we do need to periodically renew our sources of hope. Luckily these can be found when we pause in life and look within and look to others who are doing hopeful work. One great place to pause is at an “Integrity in Health Care” retreat.
This conference was not a passive, one-way exchange of information from the facilitators to the participants. We had ample time for personal reflection and small and large group work. The facilitators were compassionate and skillful in stimulating discussion and reflection to promote individual and group work. The other participants were inspirational in their personal honesty, their humanitarian drive to alleviate suffering and the creative ways that they were doing clinical and administrative work.
I remember one small group where we discussed how we can facilitate individual and group reflection in busy health care environments. We spoke about mindfulness and poetry as ways to accomplish this. This discussion was very helpful for me and I take away a particular commitment to have more poetry in my life as I find it ignites a dimension in me that I often push on the back burner. As the poet and translator of sacred texts, Juan Mascaró, writes:
“The appreciation of a poem is an act of creation whereby we go towards the greater life that created the poem. An expansion of life.”
There is another tension in health care between the poetry of medicine and the science of medicine. We work in a time when the science (and the business) of medicine often obscure the poetic value in our work. Mascaró further writes that:
“There is inner observation and experiment and outer observation and experiment. From the first comes poetry and spiritual vision and all human values; from the second science and technology.”
What I take away from this conference is an enhanced ability to hold this tension between inner and outer observation and experiment, which allows human values and science to co-exist in the delivery of health care. Practically, this means I have a renewed sense of self-connection, a stronger sense of community and more hope from the work that others are doing in health care. With a handful of poems and a heart-full of hope, I return to my daily life and work.
David Kopacz is a psychiatrist who is currently in a place of life-giving tension between his job as Clinical Director at Buchanan Rehabilitation Centre in Auckland, New Zealand and his family's upcoming move to Seattle, Washington. His blog beingfullyhuman.com focuses on living an integrated life and his website davidkopacz.com displays his poetry, photography, painting and writing as well as information on his soon to be released book, Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transforming Your Self, Your Practice and the Culture of Medicine, due out in the second half of 2013.
by Carrie Newcomer (May 7, 2013)
Three times this winter I walked my old dog, Sophie, to the veil between this world and the next. But each time we stood at the threshold, she lifted her graying head, looked at the thing, and thought better of it. She peered into the mystery and decided to walk back to her memory foam bed and daily walks to the creek and meadow just beyond the barn.
It has been a hard winter for an old dog, the cold and ache of the season settling into her tired bones. For sixteen years, which is nearly 592 in dog years, she has placed her forehead against my chest, pressing it to the warmth and sturdiness of my sternum in quiet communion.
With each near death excursion my heart has felt the wailings of loss. Each time I said goodbye and told her it was all right to let go. Each time I have assured her that she’d done everything a good dog could possibly do in one life. But each time she has said, “Oh God of meadows and woods and good dogs, grant me one more walk in the green, one more good sniffing of the meadow, one more pressing of my forehead in wordless love.” And each time the God of meadows and woods and good dogs has heard and answered with a kindly, “Yes, this time.”
I’ve learned a lot from this old friend, who without embarrassment or shame has asked me three times to walk with her to the edge of eternity, and then walk back. She takes help and does not feel she is unworthy or ashamed of receiving what is given in love. She has no ledger sheet of give and take. How hard it is for me to ask for help, even when I sorely need it. I worry about imposing. I wonder if I’m putting too much on that side of the accounts. In my darkest days, I have even feared I did not deserve such generosities. She lets me help. She allows me to feel useful and present with her, which enlarges my life and enlarges my spirit. This is a reminder to me that giving and receiving are not two sides of a coin, but rather interlocking pieces of a complete and whole heart.
She is grateful, and when her ability to run and swim left her, she was happy to walk, and then walk slower. She does not grieve what she does not have. She loves what is directly in front of her. She does not miss the show worrying whether or not she has the best seat. How many times did I hold tight long beyond the time to let go? How many times have mistakenly equated what I have with who I am? The life of a dog is now. A dog is grateful for what is, which I am finding to be the soundest kind of wisdom and very good theology.
In the taking of these three journeys, I have observed in myself an increasing inner calm and quietness of spirit. Our first trip to the doorway was filled with the buzzing white noise of grief. The second trip was very much the same. The third trip I started to hear something beyond the buzzing, a clear space, as quiet and smooth as still water. At first I thought I might be becoming numb.
How much white noise can a person sustain until the ears must be covered? But this calm is not about me closing down, but rather, opening up to her last gift to me. I have passed through the white noise of loss and the human desire to grasp and hold on to her. I have watched her go to the river, dip in a toe and walk back – but not because she was afraid of what was to come, or a sense of feeling entitled to more. She walked back simply because it was not yet time.
In the fullness of time we will all cross the river, and life gives us no guarantees to when or how this will happen. But this old friend has shown me how to sit in the sun, how to take one more walk in the green, enjoy one more good sniffing of the meadow. She has shown me how to love the now and be grateful for what is, and catch a glimpse of the shining brightness of daily things, which can only be seen in the awareness of limited time.
And finally, as this day closes as gently as she closes her eyes, she shows me the quiet place where I can press my own weary head into the welcoming sternum of something made wholly of Light.
TELL US: What have you learned from your animal companions?
One of our longtime friends and supporters, singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer has been collaborating for several years with Parker J. Palmer to create an evening concert and day-long retreat experience. Both events are designed to encourage a new kind of political conversation—one that bridges our divides and helps restore civic community. Their next event is July 27 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa - click here for details. Download a general flyer. Learn more about Carrie's music and work: www.carrienewcomer.com.
Part Two: Guest blog by Brian Braganza (April 2013), Nova Scotia
Brian is in our 2013 Courage & Renewal Facilitator Preparation program
Students becoming certified in Sustainability Leadership connect two concepts to help them find and sustain their own passion.
I recently completed the facilitation of a three-weekend Sustainability Leadership Certificate (SLC) program with 2nd to 4th year students in Dalhousie University's College of Sustainability (by the way, they are at the other end of the young adult spectrum to the first group I described in the earlier post—the SLC students are self motivated, passionate about social/environmental change, active and very literate).
During the module I presented the Courage & Renewal concept of the Tragic Gap. Using my recent hike in the Grand Canyon as a metaphor (the Greatest of Gaps on the continent!) I shared the Tragic Gap from a sustainability perspective: (1) the Harsh Reality is the Unsustainability story of peak oil, runaway climate change, social and community disconnections, and economic decline (etc.); and (2) a Real Life Possibility as the Sustainability story of alternative energy, fossil fuel alternatives, peaceful and engaged community building, and alternative economic systems (etc.).
Within Sustainability literature there are five competencies associated this kind of leadership for change work. One of my colleagues, who I'm facilitating with (and a great systems thinker), was able to link all five competencies into my Tragic Gap/Grand Canyon story! So we used the Tragic Gap AND the competences to synthesize the three modules and the training tools we have provided. It was very awesome how it all came together.
These students suffer from a bombardment of too much “Harsh Reality” and when we met them in October a number of them were already burned out, depressed and felt hopeless. The Tragic Gap was a key moment for a number of students in letting go of the need to tackle all the problems of the Harsh Reality head on, and rather, hold the tension in between and maintain their positive vision. Through this program and its appreciative-action focused approach, they have developed a renewed sense of purpose and mission and are able to see what’s possible.
Listen to Parker Palmer on The Tragic Gap:
Also see news article done for the Dalhousie news service about the SLC program.
Part One: Guest blog by Brian Braganza (April 2013), Nova Scotia. Brian is in our 2013 Courage & Renewal Facilitator Preparation program
At this past February’s Facilitator’s preparation program I put forward the question whether the poems and more linguistic approaches used in Courage & Renewal programs would work with less literate and lower educated populations. Robert Frost helped answer the question.
I am in the midst of working with a group of six young adults on a 10-week employment readiness program. Clients with the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services, these 20-25 year olds have multiple barriers to employment and are on social assistance. Some have not completed high- school, some have social anxiety, ADHD, and other mental health and health issues. They are socially isolated, and all of the men are major online gamers. There is a single parent, a transgendered individual, and two are homeless youth living in a supported facility, not in the care of their parents.
And they're all AWESOME! I love them and they are keeping me on my toes. We are using video cameras and archiving heritage skills as a service-learning project for the museum in my town. The purpose is to engage them and provide them with a meaningful work experience and transferable skills—and it's working! Their confidence and ability to interact with others has grown tremendously.
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 marked 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.
The week after I returned from the Facilitator’s preparation, during some informal time, one young person mentioned The Road Not Taken (he was referring to an episode of a TV show called Fringe). Of course, not having a TV, I responded with "Hey! That's a poem by Robert Frost!" And another participant said, “Robert Frost is my favorite poet.” And then the first person said “Wha? I was talking about the first episode of Fringe.”
So, seizing the opportunity and ignoring the TV reference, I said, “Hey, maybe I'll bring in that poem tomorrow!” Of course the second fellow said “Great! Yeah!” and to me it sounded like more voices chiming in, but likely that was in my hopeful head.
The next morning I printed copies and found a YouTube version of Robert Frost reading The Road Not Taken, so I brought that in, too. They were somewhat stunned at first when I handed the poem around. I got some nose-wrinkles from a few (like “what's this shit”) and one said—“Oh something to kill the time”, and the one who liked Robert Frost, excited, said “Great!” I then played the YouTube clip of Robert Frost and made a joke, “He must be 100 because he sure sounds like that on the clip,” and they laughed, and I knew I had them hooked!
The day before we had four people come in who are working in fields that have some interest to these young people: A graphic designer/sign maker; a chef, a social worker and an office administrator. They shared their experiences with their fields and also some tips on career planning. Some of their key messages in their discussions with the participants were: “You will have many jobs before you land on your career and then you may change that, too”. One actually said “Find the right path, you'll be a better person and do a better service” (a true Courage message!). Also, “take calculated risks” and “do what you enjoy” has become a running gag in our group because all the guests and artisans they’ve met have shared the same notion (more Courage messages!).
Because we had debriefed the visit the previous day and I had a flip chart list of these key messages we heard, I showed them the list and asked “What key messages did you hear that are also in this poem?” And they made some marvelous connections! I then asked, “What stands out for you from the poem? Are there any lines that grab you?” And they had a couple of suggestions! The whole exchange maybe lasted five minutes (given their attention spans). And it was so awesome!
Later in the morning I had two other guests come in for a similar career-path related exchange, and after they left we debriefed again. Some of their insight was “Every job I had has prepared me for the next job" as in Frost’s “way leads on to way.” So I played the poem again! I think my group thought I was a little cracked. But I also think they like me and we've built a relationship over five weeks so I can bring in random things and they humor me. We now joke about having Robert Frost come as one of the guests who visited us!
See Brian’s video story of the young adult employment project:
Stay tuned for Part Two in our next blog post.
by Chip Wood (April 25, 2013)
One great thing about A Year at Mission Hill’s latest video, Chapter 7: Behind the Scenes, is that we actually get to see the honest struggles involved in creating a school where “everyone working together can create a strong learning environment that encourages respect and empathy.” While this is the shared goal we have continually observed at Mission Hill in both the adult and student community, this doesn’t make, as the narrator notes, “the issues children are dealing with simply disappear.”
As a student intern remarks, “There are things going on behind the scenes that I don’t see,” referring to the issues many students may be bringing to school from home or are dealing with in their social interactions in school because of learning differences or behavioral challenges.
We hear and see in this clip that adults at Mission Hill keep their doors open and minds open, knowing that they need and can draw on help and support from each other in empowering ways that cut across job descriptions. Every adult in the community is valued just as every child.
Anthony Bryk and colleagues, in their groundbreaking book, Trust in Schools, and subsequent research, identify the ingredients shared at Mission Hill as “relational trust” -- a mix of respect, competence, personal regard for others and integrity.
At Courage and Renewal we are applying these relational trust principles, along with our Circle of Trust® approach, with schools. Our Leading Together pilot program seeks to more fully address the range of needs in the adult community, knowing the positive impact this can have on student growth and academic outcomes.
Our Leading Together video below provides a glimpse into the first year of this pilot effort that is bringing principals and teacher leaders from ten schools into a shared professional development experience of reflective practice and empowered action. We welcome your comments and inquiries. Click to learn more about Leading Together: Building Adult Community in Schools program.
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