transitions. becoming.

There are balances and harmonies always shifting, always necessary to maintain…It is a matter of transitions, you see; the changing, the becoming must be cared for closely (Leslie Silko, Ceremony).

Several people important in my life are approaching a pending change of some sort in their lives. From graduation to relocation to job searches to new relationships, they all are experiencing what some might call growing pains–even if they don’t know it.

But their bodies know it, their souls know it, their cycles and rhythms know it. Because deep in their beings, in our beings, is the innate sensitivity to transition–the incessant perception of the fragile movement from here to there, now to then, this to that. 

This is not easy to notice, much less articulate, in our modern world. In fact, in many ways, our modern conveniences are designed to remove and/or shorten transitions.

Cars and flights shorten the transition of transportation, robbing us of the time to process the journey.

The butcher counter at the chain superstores removes the manual transition of farm to plate, blurring for the consumer the lines between cost and value.

Cell phones, texting, Twitter, Facebook, and even this blog compress the proximity of relationships, reducing the thoughtfulness and intention so necessary in live, human connection.

When I think back to my ancestors, or yours, or theirs, who sometimes survived and sometimes didn’t in a world without modern convenience, I am drawn to the honor they paid to transitions. Perhaps not necessarily because it was quaint and beautiful, but more so because 1) it was necessary and 2) they did not know another way.

Coming of age rites marking the change from youth to maturity.

Long, arduous nomadic journeys which had been prepared for months by an entire community, from elder to baby.

Story-telling around the fire as a way to re-live the transitions of the past.

Entire villages stopping to gather around for the birth of a child, the welcoming from there to here.

These people recognized the futility of rushing to the “next thing” and never even conceived the idea of multi-tasking or express orders. These people were there before they were here, and in the movement from those two binaries, they embraced the in-between, the change, the transition.

They processed.

And so must we. Even though we live in a world that wishes to erase the line that connects the dots, our bodies, our minds, our cycles and rhythms know this is a silly practice at best, a destructive one at worst.

Is there something in your life changing? About to change? Are you in a transition?

Perhaps you don’t even know it–yet. So let’s approach it from a different way. Are you restless? Inexplicably grumpy or short-tempered? Is the energy you’re vibing unsettling? Can you not sit still? Or perhaps you’re lethargic?

Any of these might be signs that you are not tending to, or are rushing, the sacred transition–whatever that may be in your life.

Today, I thought about this and talked about this with my seniors, who are one of the people I mentioned earlier approaching a transition. One particular class has been antsy, dramatic, off, and distracted lately. And of course they are. Deep within them, yet unknown to them, they are processing an enormous transition. Some of them will be the first to graduate high school in their family, the first to go to college. Some of them will leave the families they have loved, and some of them will stay with the families who have driven them crazy. Some of them will separate from the truest friends of their lives, or the most dependable adults they know, or the safest environment in which they can be themselves. And so, in a society where transitions are not addressed and honored, they act out, without even realizing it.

Their bodies see it. Their minds acknowledge it. Their cycles and rhythms feel it.

There are balances and harmonies always shifting, always necessary to maintain…It is a matter of transitions, you see; the changing, the becoming must be cared for closely (Leslie Silko, Ceremony).

Let us become a people who see transitions, who honor them in each other–but also in ourselves. Let us give ourselves grace as we move from the here to there, the now to then, the this to that.

Let us care closely for our becomings.

Mantras for toddlers (and adults)

a toddler’s wise advice…

Practicing Presence

“If something gets in your way, move around it.”

“No matter how much you look at it, there is so much to discover.”

“Set aside some quiet time to relax and reflect. Every day.”

–Written by Linda Kranz

I first met Linda Kranz in the children’s section of Tattered Cover in June of last year. L.E. came with me to stock up on some good reads for the hot months ahead. Being only one and a half at the time, she seemed pleased with any of the bright-colored board books I placed before her. “Only One You”, by the aforementioned author, was one of them.

The sweet book seemed to celebrate diversity and encourage self-reflection to establish the theme of making “the world a better place”. Because of these positive messages, I read this to my daughter often and even used it a back-to-school lesson with my Senior English students.

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the art of the question

As a classroom teacher who believes in rigorous, critical thinking in a student-centered classroom, questions are my lifeline. They birth life in my relationships with students, classroom management, learning, and teacher reflection; they birth growth.

Questions are warm invitations, written with elegant calligraphy, welcoming students into a relationship built on mutual trust, respect, and care rather than an externally-mandated, punishment-based power hierarchy.

Are you ok today? That behavior came out of nowhere? What’s going on?

Questions are the echoing slam of a door in a innocent but misguided face, closing off the entrance to poor choices and hurtful voices.

Is that a good decision? How did that hurt your colleague? How is this damaging to yourself?

Questions are an X-ray, illuminating toxic habits and malignant patterns.

What results are you getting? Are you happy with those results? What if we approach this in a different way?

Questions are a surgeon’s scalpel, precisely cutting away at bull shit that so often topples from the mouths of students caught red-handed being lazy.

Is this your best work? Are you proud of this?

Questions are bombs, erupting a mental war zone.

What if that character isn’t real? Isn’t this true in our own lives, and not just in literature?

Questions are a well-trained bomb squad, coming into a tense and hostile environment, carrying the burden of peace on the path to an apology.

Was I not clear? Those were poor directions, weren’t they? Did I make a false assumption?

Questions are rainshowers, a gentle mist lightly refreshing an ensemble of parched and stilted minds.

How can I make this more engaging? What interests you?

Questions are thunderstorms, wind shaking the roofs of preconceived notions, floods clearing the foundation of settled rocks, and lightning revealing glimpses of the truth in the tortured darkness.

How does this text reveal the cycle of oppression? Are you a victim in that cycle? Are you a perpetrator? How can you create change and empower yourself? Your community?

What would I do without the question?

But I didn’t take the test.

“Ultimately, my point is this: as a teacher, I know the real purpose of education: to produce critical thinkers who have the capacity to not only question the status quo, but to change it. At least, that’s the purpose of education in my mind.”

Wandering Bark Books

Another day, another NPR story, another reason for me to write.

I missed this story about the SAT and ACT college entrance tests the morning it aired, but I caught a link via Twitter and then thought about the subject for quite a while after reading it. Mainly, my thoughts centered about the thought that, “I didn’t take either the ACT or SAT, yet I made it through college, and now I’m a teacher. I think I ended up just fine.”

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the silent heartbeat

When I was young, innocent, and embarrassingly naive, I would sit in disgust and judgment at the older couples who would slide into a booth nearby, look over the menus briefly, interact politely with the waitstaff, and then promptly fall into a silence so loud I’m afraid the bus boys couldn’t gossip over it. And I thought, with my chin high and my experience low, I’ll never be like that. I’ll always have interesting and profound conversation to carry with my future-husband-to-be, precisely punctuated with flirty giggles. I’ll always look at him with my chin tipped ever so gently downward and to the right, light radiating and reflecting from his incredibly engaging self (and naturally, vice versa).

Oh what I fool I was. Better yet, how unversed in the language of love. As that unversed fool, I falsely thought the duration, depth, and dynamics of a dialogue were what measured true intimacy.

Now, after nearly 12 years of marriage, I have come to realize that yes, dialogue is an integral part of love, but as equally important are the moments of silence we share together.

In these moments, true comfort is revealed.

In these moments, peace to think and reflect is welcomed.

In these moments, two people can rest in what they have already built.

In these moments, all pretenses have been dropped and authenticity is vivid and tangible.

In these moments, a secure couple can live and honor two separate but shared lives, side by side.

On a first date, or a tenth date, that silence might be the foreboding evidence of a Cupid mismatch, the fumbling and mumbling through awkward pauses, like the couple learning where to put their feet in the pattern of a dance. But after a decade of marriage, after years of both dramatic dates and uneventful glances, that silence is the sweet collective breath of two people in harmony, who know how the other dances, and move together in graceful time.

And of course, herein lies the true beauty: they dance in silence to the observer, only hearing the subtle symphony of their heartbeats.

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Check this out for similar musings.

go ahead, ask.

We cover our deep ignorance with words, but we are ashamed to wonder, we are afraid to whisper “mystery” (Tozer).

Faith has been reduced to a comfortable system of beliefs about God instead of an uncomfortable encounter with God (Yaconelli).

As a classroom teacher, I know the power of questions.

As a Christian, I have been subtly programmed to question the consequences of questions.

I recognize as a teacher questioning shifts the power paradigm in my classroom…and I welcome that. I worry that in other arenas, such as faith, this shift in the power paradigm is not so accepted.

But this morning while reading Exodus 3, I could not help but notice how God honors questions. In fact, it was Moses’ willingness to stop and question which prompted his interaction with God:

He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.”

Moses saved the Israelites from back-breaking and spirit-crushing slavery…because he paused, noticed, and asked why. But even greater, his questioning conversation with this bush revealed the most authentic Truth about God to date (in my opinion):

If I come to the people of Israel…and they ask me “What is his name?” what shall I say to them? God said to Moses [in response to his profound question], “I AM who I AM.”

I recognize the historical elements at play here, that God’s name could not be stated, and thus the symbolic “I AM.” But what a powerful symbol I AM is.

I am now. I am then.

I am everything. I am nothing.

When we are scared–I am courage.

When we are mourning–I am comfort.

When we are confused–I am guidance.

There is nothing in our lives we need that God is not, because God. Is. I. Am. The perpetual present-tense of presence.

But this weighty and wonderful insight would not have come had Moses not questioned.

We question God without apology, we march into the presence of God bringing our armfuls of questions–without fear–because God is not afraid of them. People are afraid. Institutions are afraid. But God is not (Yaconelli).

Just as we see with Moses, in the question is the connection. In the wonder is the bond. In the mystery is the meeting. In the inquiry is the intimacy. In the risk is the relationship.

Risk, as we have seen, is indispensable to any significant life, nowhere more clearly than in the life of the spirit. The goal of faith is not to create a set of immutable, rationalized, precisely defined and defendable beliefs to preserve forever. It is to recover a relationship with God (Taylor).

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“Intimate” by Meister Eckhart

when saying no is saying yes

After 75 minutes of delicious, sweaty hot yoga, our instructor cued us to bring our hands to third-eye center and bow forward. This is the way class is usually closed. However today, this instructor took it to another level:

This is the greatest act of submission–the head bowing to the heart, saying you are greater than me.

Well that’ll get ya thinking. And it did. And those thoughts came full circle to a blog a childhood friend’s husband posted this last week on prioritizing student needs.

I fully support the conviction and paradigm of student-centered teaching. My relationships with my students give me both the perspective and the motivation to be their advocates, to stand up for them, to put them first. Putting them first gives me a much-needed compass in a whirlwind of destructive politics and overwhelming educalculation. I have lived by this motto since I began teaching.

But I will not die by this motto. I guess there is a limit to what I’ll sacrifice to do what’s best for kids. The world of education, unfortunately, is littered with the broken pieces and fragments of marriages, parenting relationships, friendships, health, and hearts of men and women who have laid themselves on the line to do what’s best for the students. Yes-men. Yes-women. Adults who do not establish boundaries, but rather live in martyrdom to the fulfillment of the job. Sadly, so many of them do it because “it’s best for the kids.”

photo (1)But the problem with being a yes-man or yes-woman, is that there is a boomerang lashing to those yeses. Saying yes to school, to students, to grading, to planning, to driving students here and there and everywhere, to attending more games of other people’s children than one’s own, to running this meeting or attending that meeting, to taking on more roles and responsibilities–these are all yeses to the students who need us so desperately, but they are crushing nos to other areas of our lives. No to a peaceful dinner with the family. No to some time to center oneself. No to a connection with someone special to us. No to a quiet walk with the dog. No to the matters of the heart. No to caring for the body as a temple.

Before you misunderstand me and think of me as the heartless teacher (I would hope most of my students would also balk at this), I’d like to emphasize the sacred irony at play here: saying yes to ourselves propels us to be better teachers. The fuller I am, the more I can give. The boundaries I intentionally set and honor allow me to foster a learning-yard of compassionate and giving energy in which students can flourish. Sometimes saying no IS what’s best for students.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it (Proverbs 4).

From the heart, we teach. And so often our classrooms feel like a battlefield, with attacks both internal and external. Our hearts are wounded. Our hearts need tending. Yes, in the end, that will make us better teachers. But more importantly, it will make us better husbands or wives, moms or dads, friends. It will make us better guardians of our hearts.

This is the greatest act of submission–the head bowing to the heart, saying you are greater than me.

my valentine

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Irregardless of Hallmark’s imposition and/or your take on a commercial holiday, today is a day to celebrate love. Isn’t every day? So today, I celebrate my valentine, Dave.

His day consisted of what his life does: selflessly and generously taking care of other people.

He is surprising his mom for her birthday (also today) by showing up at her door in Illinois tomorrow morning for a quick weekend visit.

Before he left our home, he picked up. He also spent the day working on my computer, trying to fix the turtle-speed Internet which has been driving me up the wall (and let’s face it, thereby him).

photoHe made sure to SPOIL me with these earrings. And those earrings. And also that other pair of earrings. Yep, three pairs from Holly Yashi–a company I am. obsessed. with.

And he came down to my school today to mock interview a student who is a finalist for the Daniel’s Fund. This student holds a very special place in my heart, and because Dave is who he is, also in his heart. In loving me, he loves my life, my job, my students. So he spent part of his Valentine’s day on a cold, hard chair talking with a senior in high school about how he wants to rise out of poverty to change his community.

And for all my teacher friends, you just know there is nothing sexier and more endearing than a man who loves up on your students.

How blessed am I. Thank you Cupid. Thank you God.

Thank you Dave.

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forgive. rewrite.

Forgiveness (noun):

The act of rewriting a story

My mother-in-law is more than a mother-in-law to me…she is just Mom. And my day began today in deep and inspiring conversation with her, conversation which fed my soul.

She related to me how my relationship with my Mom inspired her in her relationship with her Mom. All the stories I share and memories I treasure prompted her to look for those memories and moments with her mother.

Which is no small feat. My mother-in-law grew up in a traumatic childhood, which though not directly created by her mother was definitely deepened by her mother’s inaction and poor protection of her vulnerable heart. And as John Eldridge points out and we all know too vividly, the sorrows caused by those closest to us, with whom we were supposed to feel safe, are the deepest wounds of all:

What we learned from our parents and siblings about our heart defines us the rest of our days; it becomes the script we live out, for good or for ill.

So for my mother-in-law to “look for” those memories and moments with her mother does not mean a looking to the past…rather it means a recreation of her future, their future. To me, this motion in her life is a true murmuring of the movement of the Spirit:

As we learn to walk with God and hear his voice, he is able to bring up issues in our hearts that need speaking to (Waking the Dead).

And this movement, this Voice, is the most beautiful and glorious of all, because it is the essence of forgiveness. Forgiveness… to give completely. To grant forward. To offer renewal. To award tomorrow’s hope. In other words, to rewrite a story.

In my classroom hangs a painting which expresses one of the deepest and truest sentiments of my pedagogy…and heart:

Live your story; write your life.

Each word we speak, action we choose, relationship we build, mistake we commit, and bitterness we harbor becomes our story. And unfortunately we are not the only authors of those stories. Our family, our friends, our context also write their way into our stories–our lives–for the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And sometimes it’s just much harder to turn the page, so to speak. How much easier to stay in this chapter, which though painful is comfortable, though toxic is known. In some warped sense of control and self-preservation, we believe reliving the same story over and over hurts less. Some even relish in memorizing and reciting passages from that devastating chapter, playing the martyr card so manipulatively.

But how much more daring, more freeing, more God-like, to turn the page and begin a new chapter. Write a new story. Forgive.

Mom, thank you for inspiring me to use the most glorious and bold and beautiful pen of all…grace. May your new story be one of love and light.

May all of ours.

 

ego. me go.

Recently in yoga class, the instructor mentioned the ego, and how often it misguides us. (She also said something about it being deep in the belly, and well, that’s just gonna take some more research to comprehend.) That sparked quite a few moments of thought and reflection for me. For most of my life, I’ve called this “pride:” the stubborn driver in me that presses forward in faulty directions.

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a small smile after the struggle

Unfortunately in 2011, when we ran our half-marathon in San Diego, I experienced the consequences of the disastrous  intersection of ego and fear. Near the end of my training, I freaked out, thinking I had not done enough. So through the beautiful but hilly Bear Creek State Park, we ran an extra hard, long run too close to the race, which ended for me in severe pain in my right knee. Bummer. My fear and my ego drove me to do something risky…a risk that ended in a race of turmoil. I had trained so beautifully and faithfully only to suffer through 13.1 bloody (and I mean that in the London sense) miles of tears, sweat, and anger–the ugliest kind of anger, anger at myself for being so stupid. And worst, and here comes the ego, I was embarrassed. I was ashamed that I had to walk. I had just achieved an epic goal, and I was embarrassed! Hellllllllllllllo ego.

Since that dreaded day of overtraining, I have been plagued on and off with knee pain. I have managed a couple 0f 10milers, but the lingering knee pain has made for an illusive attempt at another half-marathon. But, it’s finally time…I hope. On March 15th, in Moab, UT, I hope to have a better 13.1 miles under my belt.

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today’s snowy but warm 8 miles

Which brings me back to my ego…what does “better” mean? Faster? Stronger? No walking? No pain?  No freak-out-and-overtrain-moment? My ego wants to answer that with “no walking.” But the temperance in me says that might not be wisest. So for this round of training, I’ve been walking consistently. Not when I’m in pain or fatigue, but to prevent those very reactions. I’ve felt better than I have for a long time on long runs. And here’s the irony…I’m faster! Even with scheduled, intentional walk breaks, I’m still completing the miles in less time than my typical long run pace. Yes please!

But as I’ve written about balance before, there is something valuable about ego: the relentless drive. Last weekend we were buried beneath freezing temperatures and mounds of snow. I really, really wanted to just skip the long run…especially since it would have meant the blasted treadmill. But, my pride stirred, my ego called, and so to the gym we went. And on that very boring treadmill, I got my 7 miles in.

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running but going nowhere
(I fully recognize the irony that I ran while watching TVFoodNetwork)

I have no idea how the half-marathon will turn out. But I guess that’s not the point. The finish line is the penultimate moment of the journey, but in the journey lies the meaning. And I have already learned so much about when to honor my ego and when to dismiss it.

And so onward I run.

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