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Archive for October, 2012

All of us are teachers in some way or another.  Some of us teach as parents, some teach as grandparents, some teach the very young in Head Start and Montessori, others may teach K-12, and still others may teach in higher education arenas such as vocational/technical schools, community colleges, state colleges, and universities.  Some teachers are called coaches and they work in the community in all the sports from baseball, to football, to basketball, and soccer, and even cheer leading.  Some are teachers at the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, or with the scouting organizations, or at Sunday school, the temple, or the Mosque, but teach we do in a thousand different ways.

More importantly we all teach by our example whether we are at work, at play, on vacation, in the store, or walking the dog.  We teach good habits and bad ones.  Remember the old saying that a child learns more from what you do than what you say.  I watched my father smoke cigarettes as I grew up and so in high school I took up smoking.  Fortunately for me, I quit early on when they went to 50 cents a pack. I told my girlfriend that the price was way too high and did she know what I could do with that 50 cents!

One of my favorite books on teaching and learning is by Robert Leamnson titled Thinking about Teaching and Learning Developing Habits of Learning with First Year College and University Students. In his introduction he says that philosophy influences our pedagogy or how we teach.  So he ends the introduction chapter with his “own personal minimal list of elements that should go into a philosophy of teaching and they are as follows:

1.  Develop a clear and explicit concept of what learning is.

2.  Language is at the heart of the matter.

3.  Beware the “preposterism.”

4.  Know the clientele.

5.  Believe that what you do makes a difference.

6.  If it sounds too good to be true it probably is.

7.  Helping implies loving (pages 7-8).

To discover what some of these mean you’ll have to get the book, but for now I want to share my thoughts on three of them:  4, 5, and 7.

For me number four “Know the clientele” is imperative.  He says “Students must be known as they come to us and not as we would like them to be.  Knowing includes their culture, their level of preparedness, and their intellectual and emotional needs (page 7).”  In South Florida we have students enter our colleges from all around the world.   From every nation and culture and religion and they are all welcome.  So knowing each of their cultures, traditions, and religious beliefs is not an easy task, but it is an important one.  That is if you want to be able to help your students learn and grow and develop as thinking, caring, human beings who have mastered your subject matter, while at the same time be someone who will be able to move our country and the world to a better place in which to live.

For number 5 “Believe that what you do makes a difference.”  Leamnson writes, “What we do is different from what we know.  How we present our discipline to students is as important as what we present (page 7).” So how are we presenting the material?  Are we just boring them to death with our words, lectures, and Cliff Notes?   Or are we getting them involved in real life experiences to help them learn the subject.  Are we immersing them in the issues, rules, theories, and principles in such a way that they can see them in living breathing examples within their world?  Or are they just learning and remembering enough to pass your final exam and get on to their next class?

Lastly, number seven “Helping implies loving.”  Here Leamnson writes, “We work hard and go that extra mile for those we love.  We will go about our teaching more seriously and energetically if we love our students (page 8).”  I love my students and I am so honored to be able to stand in front of the classroom whether I am teaching developmental English at Broward College, or medical transcription at Kaplan University, or business writing, mindfulness, or ethics for a corporate client.  I know that if I can just share with them one tip, idea, theory, or principle that will help them communicate more carefully, fully, and correctly it may help them get a great job, gain that promotion, impress their boss, teacher, or family member.  And maybe—just maybe—it will help them to love and appreciate themselves more.  And when they do that it will help them get better grades, get that promotion, and move up their level of self-esteem, pride, and self-worth.

If each of us does that it will allow us to watch this world grow and become a better more compassionate and loving place to live.  Teaching is not just a philosophy—it is a way of life.  I challenge you to teach those positive attributes that you have learned throughout your life.  Teach them to everyone you meet by your example and together we can watch the planet transform.

Teach your philosophy by living  your philosophy!

 

 

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As I was listening to a Rod Stewart album (“It Had to Be You, The Great American Songbook”) this morning he mellowed into a beautiful rendition of “For All We Know.”  This verse jumped out at me like a lightning bolt, “We come and go like a ripple on a stream.”  It brought to my mind’s eye the vision of a beautiful stream in the mountains that contains all the debris of a forest from small pebbles and stones to leaves and flowers and moss each floating gracefully along with the pull of the earth drawing them to various and sundry places to lodge who knows where.  It was an analogy of my life for sure.

Sometimes I feel as though the stream is flowing faster than I can manage, and other times it is meandering along at a smooth and subtle pace where my mind may sit and rest like the family I observed one day floating down the Tellico River in TN in huge tire tubes smiling, laughing, and enjoying the lazy trip.

There is an adage that goes something like this, “You can never step into the same river twice.”  Why” Because the river is different every moment with what it catches and carries along with it.  Exactly like my mind.  Each situation brings with it different thoughts, emotions, worries, joys, and jubilations.  Depending upon how much “thought” and “time” I give each one of these things is how my day, week, month, year, and life will go.

Being mindful of the multitude of things that could be drifting along with me down this river of life makes me realize how life is such a great and hidden adventure to be enjoyed and shared and used each and every minute of the day.

As I continued to listen to Rod sing this verse appeared, “Tomorrow was made for some, Tomorrow may never come for all we know.” And what then—does  my river stop flowing?  Or does my river flow elsewhere? Will my river grow, disappear, or simply swallow me up (whoever that me is).  Or does it drop me lovingly into a new world beyond my human mind’s ability to even imagine? Remember he sings, “For all we know—this may only be a dream”

Just like in lucid dreaming we can manipulate the dream as we please.  If we find ourselves falling off of a tall building we can spread our arms and fly upward just before we hit the pavement and slowly and softly land ourselves upright on the pavement or grass.  Ah, the power of those lucid dreams!

If we have the power to master the lucid dream, why do we so often lose the power to master our lives? Or maybe we are not supposed to “master our lives.”  Maybe our lives, as the Zen Buddhists say are “Thus.”  Maybe they just “are.”  Or maybe life just “is.”  These thoughts meander through my mind as I write this blog like the leaves and stones floating down the river, never to be seen again…

And thus today, “We come and go like a ripple on a stream.”  And for others, “tomorrow may never come.”  I wonder which will be mine and what I will do with it when I get there…wherever there is.

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Life is made up of many situations appearing and reappearing in our lives, from national presidential elections to holidays, to relationships, to thoughts and to feelings.  Yesterday I was listening to NPR radio and on came one of my favorite programs Radiolab and the topic was about being able to change our behavior.  The program (“New Baboon”) started out by following around a man, John Horgan in Hoboken, NJ, with a microphone who was asking “Will humans ever stop fighting wars?” and 9 out of 10 people in his recent study said, “No we would not.”  However, thirty years ago the study found only one in three who said, “No we would not.”  It is not really about war John says, but it is about the idea that people can change, that we can create a “new normal.” That piqued his interest and so he went and interviewed a man who studied baboons and discovered quite by accident that not only can people change but “tribes” of people can change.  He calls this the “New Normal.”

How did these baboons unlearn their entire culture of aggression and now they don’t do things like that in this particular tribe anymore? Well, for the whole story you’ll have to listen to the podcast “The New Normal” Radiolab.  But what happened in a nut shell was that they just made one small change, the alpha males were taken out of the tribe by an unexpected illness, which left one male and all the females. As the new young males entered the tribe from other villages the females were able to get to them early enough and began to groom them in a loving maternal way.  In the traditional baboon society this process usually took about 3 months in the new tribe it happened in just 6 days.  They were treated better and something about the aggressiveness melted away.  So how permanent is this change anyway.  Prof. Richard Wrangham from Harvard, an evolutionary biologist, was interviewed on the program and he believes that there needs to be a genetic change to make a permanent change, but this family of baboons was able to change their culture and it has stayed changed now for 20 years.

I am sure that you are asking yourself, “What does that have to do with me, I’m not a baboon?”  Well let’s just think about it.  If primates can change, and we are a part of the primates on planet earth, that means we just might have a chance of changing as well.  But only if circumstances force us to!  I know that you have made changes in your life that at first you did not want, like, expect, and need.  But things happened!

Maybe you lost a job, or flunked out of college, or got a divorce.  Maybe you had to move out of your home, or lost a child to disease or an accident.  These life experiences changed you forever.  They may have changed you for the worse, or they may have changed you for the better.  But change you did.  I hope that they changed you for the better.  That they made you more flexible, loveable, honest, hardworking, more relaxed, or freed you from a bad habit like a drug addiction or alcoholism, or workaholism, or whatever “ism” you may have had.  Maybe you took on a good cause like the mom who started MADD (Mother’s Against Drug Drivers) or the man who started the show America’s Most Wanted after his son was kidnapped and killed. 

So it is a good thing to take some time today and ask yourself what situations have you been saying “Oh, here I go again…”  Hopefully, some of them will be good things, like playing with your children, volunteering at a soup kitchen or a food pantry, helping your elderly neighbor, mentoring a young student, or selling Girl Scout cookies.  When we take time to do these things we will have less time for the negative thinking, less time for the “pity parties” as I call them.  Less time for bemoaning, “Oh, poor me…” you can fill in the blank there yourself! 

Before I retired from being a Unity minister I spent lots of time teaching the rule of “psychological reciprocity” or “what goes around comes around” or “what you focus your thoughts, time, and energy on attracts like energy.”  So if you focus on giving of your time you’ll get more time.  If you focus on loving thoughts and loving people, you’ll get more love in your life.  If you focus on health, wealth, and happiness you’ll get more of them as well.  Where your thoughts go—your energy goes! So what do you want to manifest in your life: health, wealth, and happiness?

The Benedictine nun and best-selling author, Joan Chittister, in her book Happiness sees happiness as a personal quality to be learned, mastered, and fearlessly wielded.  So, if you want happiness and if you want to be able to joyously say at the end of the day: “Oh, here I go again! Yippee!”  And you want to be like that tribe of baboons to be able to eliminate aggression in your body, mind, and spirit for twenty years or more…it is all up to you!  Master your happiness today!

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My Zen teacher, Doshin Mitch Cantor, asked me to read an article by Tsoknyi Rinpoche that he was using in our November Zen Prison Ministry Newsletter and to write the opening comment for it.  As I read the article from “Open Heart; Open Mind” by Tsoknyi Rinpoche I read these words:“What is the mind?” he asked. “Where is it? Does it have a color? A size? A shape? A location?” And as I continued on Tsoknyi wrote,  “But I suppose, even at thirteen, some of us begin to wonder why we think the things we think, why we feel the way we feel-what, to use an American expression, makes us ‘tick.'”

What makes us “tick” as Tsoknyi  queries in the article is an age old question that humans have been asking since, well, maybe even before time began. Whenever that thought gets into my mind I think of the 1966 movie “Alfie” with Michael Caine, Shelley Winters, and Millicent Martin and the theme song by Burt Bacharach sung by Dionne Warwick “What’s it all about Alfie?”  I just wanted to share a few verses with you but as I read them through I thought no, I could not have choosen one or two or even three that left the whole feeling. So I decided to share them all with you.

What’s it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What’s it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give
or are we meant to be kind?
And if only fools are kind, Alfie,
then I guess it’s wise to be cruel.
And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie,
what will you lend on an old golden rule?
As sure as I believe there’s a heaven above, Alfie,
I know there’s something much more,
something even non-believers can believe in.
I believe in love, Alfie.
Without true love we just exist, Alfie.
Until you find the love you’ve missed you’re nothing, Alfie.
When you walk let your heart lead the way
and you’ll find love any day, Alfie, Alfie.

Tsoknyi writes “It’s not enough to be aware. We also have to be alert. We have to ask ourselves, when we experience discomfort, trouble, or pain, ‘What’s going on here?’” Lack of love is what’s going on here because love, love is what makes us tick. Find love and you’ll find out what makes you tick.  Begin your search today, everywhere, all day…and let me know what you’ve found.

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The late Rush Kidder wrote in his book How Good People Make Tough Choices, Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living (2003), “Ethics, after all, is all about the concept of “ought.”  It is not about what you have to do because regulation compels it (like paying to ride the train) or nature requires it (like eating and sleeping).  It’s about what you ought to do—have an obligation to do—because it is “right (page 153).”

Kidder tells us that there are three principles for resolving dilemmas. These principles can be used in our own lives, we can teach them to our students, children, extended family members, and maybe even our coworkers or employees.  They are as follows:

  1.  “Do what’s best for the greatest number of people (which we’ll refer to here as ends-based thinking).”
  2. “Follow your highest sense of principle” (or rule-based thinking).”
  3. “Do what you want others to do to you” (or care-based thinking) (page 152).”

The best way that I can see to do the teaching is by using these principles in our daily lives.  If we live these principles by our example we will be “teaching” others about what “ought” to be done in life.  We will be teaching without lecturing, or shouting, or having to say “I told you so.”

Our politicians are short on these principles in every corridor of government from the top down.  We find that to win an election they will say anything.  They will pander to one group and say one thing and then pander to another an hour later and say the exact opposite.  They will pit races, age groups, and the sexes against each other to garner votes.

Our police departments are going back to before the civil rights movement of the 60s and racially profiling everyone that is not white.  The Black community has something they call “driving while black” and the Hispanic community has something called “show me your papers.” And the women have something called “prove to me you’ve been raped.”  Do these policies fall into the three ways Kidder shows us to resolve dilemmas?  I don’t think so.

Would the people who are enforcing these three ideas want them done to them (#3), if they compared them to the “highest principles” they were taught in church or temple or at the mosque would they pass the smell test (#2)? Not as far as my little pug nose can tell.  And finally, if they asked them what is in the best interest of the greatest number of people would they pass the math test?  Maybe today, but in the very near future it would not (#1).

Fortunately, for us our children are growing up in integrated schools where they see people of all colors, sizes, shapes, and sexual preference.  They have the opportunity to have teachers that are young right out of college, grandmothers teaching for 20 years, gay and lesbians, Blacks, Hispanics, and republicans, democrats, and independents, and combinations of all of these put together.  Many of these people may even be living in the same households, no less be going to the same schools, or shopping in the same stores.

So when we are making decisions and solving problems for ourselves, our families, our jobs, and our communities it is imperative that we take advantage of the three decision making tools shared by Kidder.  One may be more appropriate than another depending upon the dilemma, but they are all based on one key idea “ought to do—because it is right to do.”

When the whites in South Africa stood up against apartheid they did not do it because it was easy—they did it because it was the “right” thing to do.  When the supreme Court decided to uphold the school children’s right to an equal education in Brown v Board of Education they did not do it because it was easy—but  because it was the “right” thing to do. When President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act on his first day in office to ensure equal pay for equal work for women he did it not because it was easy to do—but because it was the “right” thing to do.  It ought to have been done in the 1970s when women were fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment to the constitution because it was the “right” thing to do—but it was not.  Ponder on that thought for a moment…

What “right” thing did you do today?  What right thing “ought” you have done today?  When will the two merge?  Soon I hope because our communities, our country, and our world are in grave danger if we don’t.

 

 

 

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It does seem strange that as human beings we have great fears about death and dying and yet at the same time we spend a significant amount of time “rushing through life.”  Wow, that is an unfathomable dichotomy, isn’t it?  Does it make any sense at all to want to live forever and yet we run away from every encounter in life—even the fun and loving ones?

There is an old joke about the young married couple making love one evening and in the middle of the experience one of them looks up and says, “Don’t you think we ought to paint the ceiling pink?”  I am not sure if that is rushing through life, being mindless through life’s experiences, or simply being bored with the relationship, but it sure is a sad way to spend a few of the precious moments we have been given to spend here on Earth.

Dr. Jan Chozen Bays, in her book, How to Train a Wild Elephant Simple Daily Mindfulness Practices, once again addresses this issue as she shares an exercise she calls “One Bite at a Time (page105).”  She writes, “This is actually a task about becoming aware of impatience (page 106).”  Yes, most of us eat unconsciously and impatiently, and at the end of the meal we have no idea what we ate, what it tasted like, what it felt like in our mouths, and what flavors arose from it—sweet, sour, or salty.

I can picture myself standing at the door tapping my foot impatiently waiting for my former husband to finish getting dressed for some event that we were to be attending.  After many minutes I would yell out, “What are you doing shaving Mt. Everest?”  Or more recently I am sitting in the car waiting to drive my friend someplace and waiting once again for him to appear at the door with key and coffee in hand.  I am “waiting impatiently” when I could be sitting in quiet meditation, helping him to get ready, or finding some time to read a little in one of my favorite Zen books.  But what I am not doing is practicing anything I know about Zen, meditation, or peace.

We do not “taste” the flavors of life like the couple above who missed the sweetness of intimacy between two caring people.  Or the teacher who rushed through each lesson and class to get to the next lesson or class without seeing the students, hearing their joys, sorrows, or frustrations.   Research has shown that we need to change pace every 10 minutes when teaching or training because that is the attention span of most people today.  And even in those 10 minutes we are not actually experiencing those minutes we are either impatiently fretting about the past or worrying about the future and thus ignoring the present.

Dr. Bays’ final words in this exercise about “eating mindfully” are very poignant and fun at the same time: “There can be no party in the mouth if the mind is not invited to attend.”  When was the last time you actually experienced a party in your mouth while eating or drinking something delicious?  When was the last time you had a “party in your mind” when thinking about something?  Or are you living life like the old Calvinists used to—living a life of hell and damnation fearful of going to that fiery pit of hell no matter how good they tried to be in this life.

You may not even know about the Calvinists yet you may be living like one.  I know I am at times!  When I am impatient with myself or others I am wasting “mind time” that could better be used in a positive way.  When I am standing at the door tapping my foot I am wasting “physical energy” which could better be used in a positive way.  When I am impatient with my students because they are not paying attention in class I am wasting “mind time” that could better be used in a positive way.

Have you ever watched those time span pictures on the Discovery Channel or the internet where you can see a flower grow from a seed to a blossom in a matter of seconds?  It sure is beautiful to see the process and the progress, but that is not the way nature intended it.  There is a growth process that takes days or weeks to culminate in the flower or the fruit through its energy.  There is a time of watering and fertilizing, and pulling out the weeds from the garden to give the plant room to grow.  We aerate the soil to help it along.  We tend to the plant with love and care and eventually we have the fruit of our labors.

When was the last time you aerated your “soul.”  When was the last time you overturned the impatience and allowed yourself or others to “attend the party” of life at their speed, in their time, in their way?   When was the last time you fertilized their soul with a loving comment, a little patience, or a helping hand?  When was the last time you basked in the reality that doing something slowly could actually be FUN!

“The faster I go the slower I go” is an old Chinese proverb.  Envision the last time you hurried through a task at work, school, or home and it was poorly done, wrongly done, or not finished at all and you had to start it all over again.  Maybe, just maybe, if you had tried to deliver yourself from “impatience” and taken the task on “slowly” you would have only had to do it once.

I took the time yesterday, while cleaning up my after my class, to pop a piece of candy into my mouth.  It was hard candy from Colombia called “Fruticas Love.”  It is a delicious cherry candy with a center of chocolate cream. Yum! As I enjoyed the candy I heard myself saying to my friend Jeanette, “Oh my God, this candy is so delicious.  It is sweet and sour and now that it has broken into pieces in my mouth I can feel this luscious warm chocolate on my tongue fantastic!”  So she hollered back at me, “Well give me one to taste!”  But, unfortunately, I had only brought one piece with me. But I was truly enjoying every bite, taste, and morsel of this candy!  The experience only lasted a few minutes but it could have been a life time for all I knew!

Our challenge for this week is to see how slowly we can walk through life with patience, love, and compassion for ourselves and others. Let us take this week to experience the morsel of life we are given—and while you are at it “…invite your mind to attend.”

 

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Dr. Jan Chozen Bays in her wonderful book How to Train A Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness (2011, page 219) has an exercise entitled “Leave Things Better than You Found Them.”  I have used this exercise now for over six months and I love it!   Although she is referring to things like dirty dishes in the sink, laundry on the floor, or the garbage not emptied it came to me that we should do this everywhere we go and with everything in life. Dr. Bays’ writes, “In Zen paintings turtles symbolize this practice of leaving no traces, because they sweep the sand with their tails as they creep along, wiping out their footprints (page 22).”

I began my relationship with this mindfulness challenge by going to my clipart and getting two cute cartoon pictures of turtles and above the top picture I wrote “Leave No Trace!” and above the other picture below it I wrote “Leave it Better Then You Found it!”  I put it on my refrigerator and so that worked for a while, but after a while we don’t even notice what is on our fridge!  So, I recently moved it and tapped it to the cabinet above my kitchen sink so I can see it every time I use it.  Next, I am going to move it to the bathroom, and so on until I have created a better place in each and every room.

Can you imagine what our schools, classrooms, homes, neighborhoods, and cities would look like if everyone had this attitude? If when you saw some garbage on the sidewalk you picked it up and put it in the trash.  Or if you noticed that a neighbor’s yard needed a little pick-me-up and took a few hours on the weekend to help him or her out with your children and with some friends or neighbors at hand.  Many hands make light work my mom used to say.

Dr. Bays goes on to write, “One person extended the scope of this task from material things to people.  She did this by asking ‘How can I leave this relationship better than it has been (page 220-21)?’”  I wonder what kind of relationship the young woman was talking about.  Was it just family and friends? What if she had seen a complete stranger—would that person be included in her idea as well?

If you saw a person who looked confused or lost what would you do?  Just today a friend of mine helped out a complete stranger.  He saw this elderly gentleman who was having trouble putting self-service gas in his car and he left him better then he found him.  Once the gentlemen was helped into the store and paid for the gas my friend showed him how to pump the gas and when he was finished off the gentleman went to run his errand.  As I watched I wondered where he was off to: maybe to the grocery store to get his lovely elderly wife her favorite butter pecan ice cream.  One never knows, does one?

Could these relationships that we need to leave better than we found them be our teacher/student relationships, or our boss/employee relationships or employee/boss relationships?  How about our parent/child relationships or sibling relationships?  Maybe even your BFF, or the person you are dating, or the person you are in love with?  Could those relationships be with things other than people such as our planet, our environment, and all the animals that inhabit this planet with us?  Shouldn’t we leave everything better than when we found it?  I think so.

If you are willing to try this experiment with me please let me know.  How long will you commit to the project:  A month, six months, a year…how about a life time?  You never know how long that can be and what you can accomplish!  So let’s get going.  Let’s all take the time to “leave things better than we found them.”

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