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Archive for September, 2009

Ghosts

I’ll admit it: I’m a little afraid of ghosts. It doesn’t matter how illogical the whole issue is, the left-overs from my childhood would still have me believe in them. Ghost movies where some whispy spectre flashes onto and off of the movie or TV screen still give me goose bumps. There are now TV shows about ghost hunting complete with night vision cameras and EM meters and such. And have you ever noticed how ghosts are usually angry or conflicted about something?

In the past few years a few movies have tried to put a new spin on the ghost thing. Some ghosts are portrayed as helpful, some just misunderstood. By the end of the movie you’re on the ghost’s side and ready to be the ghost’s friend!

Moving on from ghosts–have you noticed how many people are coming around to the idea that there may really be spiritual side to all of us? Not just religious folks who have always purported some after-life idea (heaven or sweet-by-and-by type idea) but those who have always felt that there was something more to their lives, albeit hard to put a finger on. I don’t think this is coincidence or accident. I believe people are accepting the notion that spiritual curiosity and introspection are a good thing. Asking, seeking, and knocking are indeed good things!  We are just babes in this land. I sometimes wonder to this day if my departed relatives have any cognisance of this world and their former life or those they left behind. If they do, I also wonder if they are astounded at how ignorant we are of the spiritual realm. I imagine them smiling at us, the same way a new parent smiles as their child takes its first steps. This is all imaginary, but it sometimes gives me a little comfort.

I am one of those people who in spite of my spiritual curiosity still believes in a source of all that is, a creator with some type of intelligent design in mind for the unfolding of our evolution. I am coming to realize that in the past I have treated that source or creator with the same superstitious fear that I have a cheap movie ghost. Even though I don’t know if my departed relatives are watching, I do know that the providence of the creator is taking care of me.

And I take extreme comfort in that.

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Elbow room

An ancient prophet thanked his creator with the words “You have taken my feet out of the straits and placed me in a wide place.” In my mind I imagine being lifted out of the narrow streets of some ancient town, full of poverty, disease, and want, to be placed in a vast, wide, green field on a high plateau with broad, blue skies. That image brings so much peace to me when I find myself in that hurry mode. And after just a few moments in that place, I can return to the physical world and function a little more clearly.

But there is another, more valuable, result to my short escapes in meditation. I have found another kind of elbow room.

Many times I get so frantic and aggravated over the paperwork of teaching. Not the planning for and evaluation of learning, but the placating of all the legal, federal, county, team, committee, training, renewal credit, continuing ed., demands made on us under the guise of “non-instructional” requirements. It creates an enormous intellectual and emotional drain on us. So much so that some days I think if I get asked one more question about something I’ve already taught I’ll just sit in the floor and give up.

Taking the time to have some quiet reflection, going to that peaceful place in your mind, meditating, whatever you call it, frees a twisted, pressured and chaotic head full of entanglements and allows you the freedom to actually use that well-trained mind of yours to solve some problems, or plan a few steps, or think clearly. It creates elbow room. You’re no longer bumping into things on your journey through the day. The frustration level goes down. The heart gets lighter.

What do I do with that extra room? Encourage a student. Give a complete, rather than convenient, answer. Enjoy teaching. Smile. Whistle. Relax. Be real. Lots of things.

What will you do with your elbow room?

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Before I’d ever flown before, I was just sure it would frighten me to death. Turbulence, lightening, on-board-fires, and now snakes, could all be part of some ill-fated plane ride. When storms crop up, however, it’s not unusual for the pilot to take the plane higher, above the tempest. Above the clouds the sun is always out. The sky is always blue. The winds are calm.

How often classroom teachers would like to find that place–above the storm and stress. A place of quiet and calm. Those who seek this place through meditation and self exploration often find it an emotional oasis in a desert of statistics, paperwork, hoops-to-jump-thru, and such. Students come in stressed out over their last class, or the ride to school, or friend problems, or home problems, etc. Those things can add to our stress level as well. We have to get around those emotional obstacles before any real teaching can take place and that will never happen if we’re strung out as well.

I have a sign up in my office which says “There’s no game if you don’t pick up the cards.” Don’t allow yourself to be drawn into the drama. This is especially difficult for new teachers who are so close in age to their students that empathy clouds their otherwise sound judgement. Don’t let the inmates take over the asylum. Stay above the fray. Practice getting to your calm place through visualization, centered breathing, or any other technique you like. You, as the leader, must be the paradigm of peace and reason for those in your charge.

Let’s go higher–and take them along.

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After Edwards Deming introduced TQM to American business, it wasn’t long before schools, colleges, churches, and anyone else who liked jumping on the latest trend train, was touting the notion of teamwork. Working together was going to be the salvation of us all. This was curious to me because I had always had a job in which I had to interact and co-operate with others anyway. My permanent record should have read “plays well with others.” So what was this? Was this real help, or just “The Emperor’s New Paradigm?”

Time after time I have sat through some seminar on how to build a team, to work as a team, to be a part of a team, to be a team player, ad nauseum. Those who had never been exposed to this before relished this new found wisdom and could not wait to go back to their business and tell all the eager employees “We are gonna be a TEAM! Why? Because I SAY SO! So shut up and do what I tell ya!” Any seminar leader worth their salt is going to warn you it takes months to build a good team.

But seminar attendees all share an illusion. It’s the illusion that everyone else in the world (even those who did not attend and were never exposed) is going to buy in to the new methodology. Misunderstanding usually follows. Chaos ensues. Resistence abounds. Why? Because we all are in truth independent spirits seeking our own fulfillment. That doesn’t mean we can’t co-operate, it just means that we are wired toward a natural, knee-jerk reaction when anyone attempts to frustrate our true desires.

Our students are that way as well. Don’t share the illusion that the latest book study or seminar will fix education in your school. Each young person in your classroom has an inner need to explore and find out where they fit in. It will take time–lots of time. They are independent spirits. Make no mistake, finals are coming and everyone needs to be up to speed on the topic at hand, but it all goes much smoother when the student knows that you know, appreciate, and respect their spiritual individuality.

As you continue the search through the tangle of  your own quest for self-knowledge, imagine how your students feel in their search at this time in their young lives. Both of you, teen and adult, are spiritual seekers, learners, and explorers. You can help or hinder each other. Examine your own true desires.

Then decide to help.

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We’ve all heard it: “What you don’t know can’t hurt you.” That’s not always true, of course. Many ship captains, seeing the visible iceberg above the water, are more concerned about the invisible portion, the much larger portion, of the iceberg below the water. Travlers need to know about dangers ahead on an unknown road and such.

But there are other things you don’t know that you need to. For instance, if there is something in your past that has shaped the way you think, but is so far back it is not a ready memory, you need to know about it. If something in your yesterday is affecting today the way you act, interact, or worse fail to act and interact,  you need to know it and deal with it. And as you seek out these things in your past, you will probably find out that, like the iceberg, there is a much larger invisible part of you as well.

We are designed to be thinking creatures. How we think affects the way we feel. In fact, our emotions serve us best when they surface as an indicator of how we’ve been thinking. If we find ourselves with negative feelings, it’s because of the negative thoughts filling our heads. It follows, then, that if we want to feel better, we need to change the way we think. What we tell ourselves, that internal dialogue, can either make us or break us. If we are constantly believing in ourselves, encouraging ourselves, “talking up” ourselves, thinking good about ourselves and feeling good about ourselves, we have a much different life than those people who are always worrying and tumbling doubts over and over in their minds.

Now stay with me here: If an old negative memory is affecting the way you think in the present, it will corrupt an otherwise positive feeling in the present. Reaching for those positive feelings is the key to your future happiness. You must come to the place where you can discover the old thoughts that hinder you and convince yourself that they are no more than that–a memory. They do not exist now. They do not exist tomorrow.  And neither do you. You only have right now to live in, to teach in, to encourage in, to give in.

It might be time to reprogram yourself, reteach yourself, rewire yourself. It won’t always be easy. Negative programming that has taken root over the years won’t disappear without kicking and screaming on the way out the door. Be patient. Get help. Talk to friends. Read. Think. Get in touch with your true thoughts and feelings.

Eventually, what you don’t know–will disappear.

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It’s o.k. to think of yourself as a spiritual being, a spiritual person, or just…spiritual. Both scientist and philosopher will tell you that if we could shrink down small enough to observe reality at its smallest level, we would see that what we think of as solid and static is in reality quite transient and dynamic. We are mostly empty space bound by invisible electrical charges. This body, and the world which it inhabits, is just a huge web of particles. Many of the particles in our body form cells that can sense and distinguish colors, tastes, scents, and textures and then send that information to another collection of vibrations called our brain where “we” interpret it as “experience” and label it as “reality.”

But who are the “we” that has the experiences? When I say “I see that,” who is doing the seeing? When I feel something, who is doing the feeling? This network of mostly empty space can’t be all there is of me, can it? No. There is much more to you than meets the eye, so to speak. Think of yourself as an outcropping on a rock face. Behind you, but hidden from view, is an enormous entity which continues deep into the earth. The exposed part of you is just a small indication of what you really are.

If you have not already realized who you really are, however, your outcropping is fraught with indecision and doubt. You vacillate. You jump from one thing to the next, never focusing your true strengths on any one thing. If you are going to begin teaching from the platform of your true self, you must get in touch with that true self. Read, relax, feel, meditate, think about what you really want.

As you journey into this transition toward self-realization, use everything you learn as a foundation for further growth. One day, you will approach that point where you begin to understand who you are and subsequently who your students can become. That will be the greatest lesson you ever learn yourself, or teach to them.

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My religious background did not include meditation. It took a lot of exposure to a variety of religious experiences to get me to even consider it. When I began to try it for myself, a most curious transformation began. I began to see myself less and less as religious, and more and more as spiritual. As I once heard a spiritual teacher say “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey; we are spiritual beings on a human journey.”

With that in mind, I began the regular practice of meditation. When I first began, I was much too western minded to do it well. My mind wandered and gravitated toward the many concerns of my world. Then a very fortunate thing happened. I stumbled across a short article somewhere about cognitive behavioral therapy. It gave me an idea. My idea was to keep a log of where my mind wandered to during my attempts at meditation and see if there was a hidden pattern–a method to my madness, as it were.

My visions, I soon discovered, all contained a common scenario:  an “I’ll show them” attitude. Somewhere I was harboring a need to “show them” what I could do: do it best, do it first, do it in the most clever way, whatever. My inner dialogue was replete with an underlying feeling of vengeance. With this secret world view I was hiding I was doomed to fail and any attempt to get in touch with my true inner self. And there was no way I could begin to show my students any benefit to this in my present state of mind.

So I stayed at it. I catalogued every negative feeling, tracked down it’s root and dealt with it. In just a short time I actually feltbetter. I became calmer. I was more patient with my students. One student even remarked “What has happened to you–you’re really chill this semester.” So I showed them. Now we begin every class with some centered breathing, some positive visualization (think your happy thought!), and a time of filtering out the drama that so poisons our kids during the day. One student told me she was getting all nervous over a math test, but then remembered her centered breathing exercise. In moments the fear was gone, calm set in, and she made a great score on the test. Will it work every time? I don’t know yet! But I recognise that in our hectic educational lives, there is much to be learned from simply coming back to center.

Do it every day.

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