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Archive for July, 2018

WILD FIRE & RAGE. . .

My friend, George, sent me a photo in 2013. I have titled this photo: Wild Fire & Rage.  As I sat with this image that captures mystery, power, and transcendence I thought of all of the wild fires that have raged within me.  As I held this photo yesterday, I recalled a poem that emerged into my consciousness in 2010: I Carry Anger. This morning, Gentle Reader, I offer my poem and George’s photo and dedicate both to all of us who know inner wild fires and consuming rage.

I CARRY ANGER. . .

I carry anger and rage within me
As someone carries concealed weapons.
I am not always aware they are there

Yet when called upon they are within easy reach.
Simple things can summon them from their resting place;
An interruption when I am concentrating,
A question that challenges me in some way;
I sense no pattern although I believe one exists.

Sometimes I wonder where all of this anger and rage comes from;
Sometimes I simply accept the reality of their existence.
At times I am puzzled, if not perplexed, by their presence;
At times I surrender to the reality of their residence.

Although I have experienced their spontaneous awakening
for many years I am almost always taken aback by their
intensity.

The spark that ignites the flash in the pan is the result
of a remark, observation or question.  The flash of fire
touches the black powder that explodes and sends my
anger and rage ripping through the once calm air.

This is an anger and rage that tears into someone like
a mini-ball does when it spreads soft skin and shatters
bone and organ leaving deep wounds and permanent scars.
–©Richard W Smith, 4 April, 2010

by George-I Carry Anger-Poem-30April2013

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Too much noise.  I am whelmed over by noise.  I seek relief…  Do I, really?

Too Much Noise.  It is easy for me to blame my culture or to blame them or to blame ‘out there.’  Too much noise.

Yet, when I am alone, in my own living space I invite noise from ‘out there’ into my life.  I turn on the radio or the television or the computer.  Too much noise.  When I decide to not invite the ‘out there’ into my space I soon discover that the more powerful noisy noise is emanating from within me, from in here.

This is when I ask myself: Richard, do you really want relief from the noise?  

 This leads to other questions: What will emerge if you soften your internal noise; if you turn the volume down?  What purpose does maintaining the volume of noise that resides within your heart and soul serve?  What needs are met?  What needs are avoided?  What keeps you from choosing to silence your noisy heart and soul?  

 I know it is not a matter of knowing how?  I know that it is not a matter of not having the knowledge.  I know that knowledge itself does not change provide [sounds like Yoda is talking now].

Seeking Silence requires knowledge, yes, and motivation, and commitment, and intentionality and action.  It also requires, for me anyway, an acceptance of what lies behind, or is it within, the noise.

Acceptance.  Acceptance = approving reception.  Am I willing to receive with approval all that emerges when I quiet the noise?  Is what emerges simply more noise?  Perhaps it is not noise.  Noise = a din of voices.

Perhaps what emerges is a whisper.  Whisper = to make soft, rustling sounds.  Noise whelms me over and distracts me and adds to my disconnection [from myself and from others].  Perhaps a whisper invites me to pay attention, to focus, to be response-able; to listen attentively and deeply with a searcher-seeker ‘ear.’

Perhaps, this whisper that can only be discerned amidst silence is the whisper of the wisdom that resides within or is the whisper of the divine or the whisper of the guiding spirit or perhaps the sustaining spirit.  Perhaps it is the whisper of the transcendent calling me to be, to become, and to use my self to meet the needs that exist in my world.

I am not sure.  What seems to be clear, however, is that as long as I invite and celebrate noise in my heart and soul I will not be open to, much less be able to hear, the whisper; the whisper that is for me alone to hear.

This photo from my friend, George, invites me into the wonder and awe of silence.  This is silence captured in an image.  I can hear the soft whisper as it moves the through the valley and hides within the mist.

by George-12Oct2017

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GOD, THE ULTIMATE MYSTERY. . .

Gentle reader, if you have been following my postings for these many years you might remember that as a follower of Jesus-The-Christ I believe that there is truth, beauty and good in all faith, philosophic and humanistic traditions.  You might also remember that when I was 18 I spent a year in a monastery.  My spiritual director, Brother Gerontius, introduced me to a number of faith traditions; this was one of the great gifts of my life.

For the past 56 years I have, periodically, immersed myself in one or more faith, philosophic and/or humanistic traditions.  I continue to search and seek for the truth, beauty and good in each.  These past two years I have, once again, been searching and seeking in the Sufi tradition.

For the Sufi, God is the Ultimate Mystery.  God is often referred to as The Light of Heaven and Earth.  In spite of the appellation of ‘light’ God is formless, genderless, eternally enveloping and permeating ALL.  Hence, the Ultimate Mystery.

With our limited human faculties, it is futile to attempt to quantify God; but, alas, this does not hinder us from trying to do so.  The Sufi’s capture this when they tell us: And even if all the trees on Earth were pens, and the oceans ink, backed by seven more oceans, the Words of God would not be exhausted.’

But this does not stop us.  We humans continue to insist on defining the undefinable and dividing the indivisible, often fighting and even guilt-free killing each other over our dogmatic definitions and simple understandings of God-The-Mystery.

As the Light that permeates all, the Sufis remind us that ‘Everywhere you turn is the Face of God.  The mystic Mulla Nasruddin provides us with many teaching stories; here is one that fits our topic today.

The Mulla journeyed to the sacred Kabah in Mecca and after hours of prayer and meditation, he fell asleep in the grand mosque.  As he tossed and turned his feet ended up pointing toward the direction of the sacred Kabah.  This was offensive to some.  He was rudely awakened and told of his offense: it was disrespectful to point his feet in the direction of the House of God.  Apologies for my ignorance, said the Mulla.  Please take my feet and place them in the direction where God is not.’

If we truly believe that God is everywhere AND that God is Love then each of us who believe will intentionally and purpose-fully seek to see God in the face of every human being, whether friend, stranger or foe.  If we choose to ‘see’ God in each person we will not be able to choose to hate the person.  Because we choose to be rooted in God’s Love, Compassion and Care we will be able to ‘see’ the difference between the other’s behavior and the other’s being.

The other’s behavior may be unacceptable; we might even have to protect ourselves from the person’s behavior.  The Sufis counsel us (as do all of the great faith, philosophic and humanistic traditions) that we must also choose to respect the person’s ‘God-Essence’ (We are made in God’s image).  We must choose to seek the ‘God-Essence’ that lies hidden beneath layers of personality and life-formation.  The Sufis believe – and I agree – that developing the heart’s ability to discern between behavior and being has the power to shift the very Earth itself.

The Sufis remind us that God is closer to us than our jugular vein.  We have to simply open our hearts to the astonishing truth that God is present within each of us at every moment.  If I truly believe that God is present in each of us, at all times, then this challenges me to think and behave as if this is true.

I leave us today with words from the mystic, Kabir: ‘If I say HE is within me, the entire Universe hangs its head in shame; yet if I say HE is outside of me, I know I am a liar. 

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Nosce te Ipsum: Know Thyself. –The Oracle

The great mystics, whether spiritual, philosophic or humanistic, agree: Each of us is gifted with an inner spirit(ual) Guide-Teacher-Mentor.  The charge of our inner G-T-M is to help me connect with an indescribable inner knowing.  In the metaphorical language of the great Sufi Mystic, Rumi, this knowledge is written on an inner tablet that is already completed and preserved.

Our inner G-T-M helps us access this inner knowledge.  This inner knowledge is a divine knowledge (as humans we have been made in God’s Image); a knowledge that moves from the inside out.

The Universe has provided each of us a number of external Guides, Teachers and Mentors (sometimes these three exist in one person; it is our charge to be open to receiving them, to then identify them when they appear and then to invite them to walk with you).  The role of our external G-T-M is to help us connect with this indescribable inner knowing.  The Sufi Mystics tells us that: ‘The teacher kindles the light; the oil is already in the lamp.’

Just as there are many different types of G-T-Ms there are also many different styles of guiding, teaching and mentoring.  The student’s charge is to know which style best fits who the student is at a given time in the student’s life; hence, ‘Know Thyself’ is more than a neat phrase.

All spiritual, philosophical, and humanistic traditions are filled with advice when it comes to choosing a G-T-M.  For the Sufis, one crucial piece of advice is to avoid G-T-Ms who are overly stern, aggressive and fiery – Rumi describes them as ‘All fire and no light; all husk and no kernel.’

The true teacher knocks down the idol that the student makes of him. –Rumi

The Sufis also counsel the student to keep away from teachers who make wild promises about quick enlightenment without hard work.  These G-T-Ms prey on the lazy, baser aspects of the student’s ego.  I love the following story that helps me understand these cautions.

The Sufi G-T-M led a group of students through a series of advanced spiritual exercises in which they copied his every move.  First they stomped on the ground with vigorous shouts of “Hu! Hu!;” then they became very still; finally they made exotic bird calls.

‘What are you doing?’ a friend asked the G-T-M.  The G-T-M replied that he had become an advanced G-T-M and was helping his students reach enlightenment.  ‘How will you know when they reach enlightenment?’ asked his friend.

‘That’s the easy part,’ replied the G-T-M.  ‘Every morning we have a check-in.    The ones who have left have seen through my antics and realized the foolishness of relying on me.  They have become enlightened.’

Once one begins to work with an external G-T-M as a guide, it is crucial to be mindful not to become overly dependent on that G-T-M’s guidance.  A true G-T-M will want you to evolve into the fullness of your own self and to learn to access and trust your inner G-T-M.

For me, the picture of the ideal Sufi G-T-M is the image of the Mulla Nasruddin.  He is sitting backwards on his donkey and is followed by his students.  For the Sufis the symbolic meanings are many.

The donkey symbolizes the ego.  A true G-T-M has tamed his/her ego and the donkey knows which way to go.  Out of deep love and respect for the students, the G-T-M turns his/her face toward them.  The G-T-M believes in collaborative learning.  The G-T-M guides, teaches and mentors AND listens attentively.  The G-T-M strives to guide, teach and mentor in unconventional ways – being creative and inviting the students to be creative is a high priority for the G-T-M.

Whoever travels without a guide needs two hundred years for a two-day journey. –Rumi

 

 

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A ‘SECOND BITE’. . .

In our country, ‘Father’s Day’ was celebrated this year on 17 June.  My son-in-law, Gregg, had traveled from Indianapolis, to North Carolina to be with his parents.  On Monday, the 18th, Gregg had a heart attack; the examination also showed that Gregg had had a previous heart attack in early April.

Gregg is still in North Carolina; he is now recovering at his parents’ home.  If all continues to go well he will be able to return to Indianapolis this weekend.  Two weeks ago Gregg and I had a conversation on the phone.

During our conversation I shared with Gregg my experience in March, 2009.  I ended up in the ER and then in the hospital for I had a ‘significant number’ of blood clots in my lungs.  I asked the specialist what ‘significant number’ meant and he replied, Significant means, I am not sure why you are alive!’  He paused and added: ‘You have been granted a second bite of the apple.  My question to you is: What are you going to do with this second bite?’ 

I reflected to Gregg that he, too, has been given a ‘second bite’ and I said that given what he was sharing with me it appeared to me that he was already thinking about this question (without framing it as I did).  My March, 2009 ‘second bite’ was not my first ‘second bite’ it was actually my fourth ‘second bite.’

My third ‘second bite’ occurred when I was 21 (Gentle Reader, you might remember my postings where I shared my story about this ‘second bite’ with you).

Gentle Reader, you might remember that I had a number of sessions with a Priest-Therapist at Notre Dame (it was February, 1965 and I was a sophomore).  Among other things, this P-T provided me with a number of what I came to call ‘Essential Life Questions.’  These are questions that I continue to ‘hold’ today.  There are some questions that are ‘essential’ and ‘life-long’ and as the great German poet Rilke noted, we ‘live these questions’ we don’t simply attempt to respond to them.  By the by, all the great spiritual, philosophic and humanistic traditions hold ‘essential life questions.’

After Gregg and I spoke, I, once again, spent more time reflecting upon them (not in order to obtain ‘definitive or even specific’ responses).  Here are my ‘Essential Life Questions’ (again, my hunch was that Gregg was already thinking about one or more of them):

  • Who are you?
  • Who are you choosing to become?
  • Why are you choosing this becoming?
  • Why are you here?
  • Where are you going?
  • Why are you choosing to go there?
  • Prior to your ‘life event’ (blood clots and heart attack) what life-path were you on? Is this the path you want to stay on?  If you choose to alter your path – or survey a new path – what will you have to let go of (give up), what will you have to retain and what will you have to ‘take on’?

 There are other questions that are crucial, if not essential.  In 1989 I was working with the owner of a company.  He was ‘evaluating’ his leadership style.  I formulated two questions for him.  Since then I have offered these questions to every leader (role-defined and situational) that I have had the privilege of helping.

I also invite other folks to substitute a word for ‘lead’ and then reflect upon the two questions.  Here are the two questions I ask leaders:

  • Does the way you lead get you what you want?
  • What do you want?

 I encourage them to respond to the second question first and then, given that response, reflect upon and respond to the first.  Here is one example.  A Senior Executive more than 30years ago responded this way: ‘I want people to be so afraid of me that either they do what I tell them to do or they leave my division.’  He then noted that: ‘The way I lead gets me what I want.’

When a one knows clearly what one wants and when one says: ‘I know what I want and the way I lead (or teach or parent or…) gets me what I want’ then the likelihood the person will change is nil.  One is open (even if the window is only slightly opened) to change IF…the one does not know what the one wants or if the one says, ‘The way I ______ does not get me what I want.’

I mentioned to Gregg that while I was in the hospital for ten days in March, 2009 I also revisited these two questions.  I framed them this way:

  • Richard, does the way you live your life get you what you want?
  • What do you want?

There are times in our lives, if we are lucky, that we experience – and survive – a ‘life-event’ (blood clots and heart attacks) and are open to engaging these essential life questions.  There are, of course, other significant ‘life events’ that will allow these and other questions to emerge into our consciousness; questions that provide us with an opportunity to take a ‘second bite.’

As I conclude this morning two quotations have emerged into my consciousness; I will end with these.

Become the change you want to see in the world. –Gandhi

 I will act as if what I do will make a difference. –William James

 

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Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and the world better than you found it. –Marian Wright Edelman

When I think about excellence in education I am not thinking about ‘standards’ or ‘tests’ or even ‘value added.’  I am not thinking about how much is learned or even how well a subject is understood.  I am thinking about how learning changes the learner [think: Learner is ‘teacher’ and ‘student’].

I am less interested about knowledge ‘out there’ to be learned than in the impact of knowledge once it gets under the soil of the skin of the learner.  I am also interested in helping the learner emerge into consciousness the potential that exists under the soil of the skin.

I continue to believe that the quality of learning is high when the learner demonstrates intellectual, emotional, ethical/moral and spirit(ual) growth [NOTE: For some, ‘spirit’ resonates and for others ‘spiritual’ resonates].   I continue to believe that teaching is excellent when it fosters such growth, when we have individuals who are willing to care – both about the ‘subjects/disciplines’ and for the learners [Again, think of ‘Learner’ as ‘teacher’ and ‘student’].

It is, of course, one thing ‘to say’ these things and another to engage them.  I continue to hold some crucial questions: What do those abstract (some would say ‘fuzzy’) words growth and care mean?  How do we know them when we see them? What principles underlie excellence?   How do we incorporate the elements of care into the design of our curricula, into our practice and into what we choose to do each day – as learners? 

As I noted earlier, when I began teaching in 1967 I quickly came to see that teaching involved a great deal more than simply asking my students questions, providing them input and asking more questions based upon the input.  Now it is true that it is necessary to acquire certain content; for me this is a given.  What I learned is that if education were to make a ‘real difference’ in their lives, students had to learn to think critically for themselves.  This ability and capacity did not necessarily come with the standard curriculum.

Once I became familiar with and embraced the idea of ‘whole person’ development I began to understand a deeper meaning of the words education, learning, growth, care and excellence.

I committed myself to looking more closely at what good teachers (educators, mentors, etc.) actually do as they guide their charges along their transformational journeys.  I was entrusted with the development of others (students).  I discerned that in order to do this I must be nurtured and sustained by a major tap root: Care.

Perhaps, Gentle Reader, I will pick up with our theme of ‘Education-The Garden’ at a later date.  But, these seven postings will have to suffice for now.  I hope that there was something that helped stimulate your own thinking and that one or more crucial questions emerged for you – questions that you will ‘hold’ and/or ‘explore.’

Education must provide the opportunities for self-fulfillment; it can, at best, provide a rich and challenging environment for the individual to explore, in his own way. –Noam Chomsky

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The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.  Intelligence plus Character – that is the goal of true education. –Martin Luther King, Jr.

This morning, gentle reader, I have decided to provide you with an example of what we offered our students – and parents (you might remember that each student in our ‘school’ had to have the approval of parents or guardians; without their support, commitment and involvement we would never have been as successful as we were).

We (our team of gardeners) wanted to provide our students the opportunity to hear from parents and to have parents hear from students.  We decided that all might be more open to hearing if the parents they heard from where not their own.  This proved to be a correct assumption.  We gathered ten parents from another school system; we provided each parent with list of names of our students and we indicated that if they ‘knew’ any of them that they not participate (a precaution for the chance that a parent from 30 miles away would know one of our students was slim indeed).  We found the ten parents.  We invited them to join us for a ‘conversation.’  The parents sat with two of us on the stage and our students and the remainder of our team sat in the first rows of the auditorium.

The parents were parents of high school juniors (you might remember that our students were high school juniors).  Each had agreed to speak for 3-5 minutes about the challenges and joys of being the parents of high school juniors.  Then the two ‘moderators’ posed a few questions and some of the parents then responded.

Now, we get to the plant food.  Our students were invited to come to a microphone and ask a question.  A question that for them was a ‘burning question’.  After a question the parents were given one minute to reflect and then they were invited to respond.

From the beginning the questions were stimulating and challenging.  Some were stimulating and quite humorous and provoked a great deal of laughter from all of us.  I remember that ‘Big Bill’ asked: How would you discipline your son who is 6’3’’ and who weighs 230 pounds and is an All-State Football Tackle [which, Big Bill was]?  I recalled this because of a father’s response: ‘With great care!’  The laughter that ensued was infectious.

As we concluded, another gift came to us.  The parents asked us to come to their school.  What they envisioned was 10 students on a stage with parents in the audience.  We explored the idea.  We followed through.  The students talked about the challenges they faced, as juniors in high school, and as developing human beings.  The parents asked questions.  Again, the experience was powerful and challenging.  A gift to all.  Years later, I repeated this experience in another city with different students and parents (I was consulting with the leadership team of a high school and suggested that we offer this experience).  I would do it again if the way opened.

As I re-read and edited this post I closed my eyes and once again relived and savored the two experiences.  Perhaps other students and parents have had or will have this opportunity.  I hope so.

The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change. –Carl Rogers

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