When I was still in the classroom I would often offer my Saturday morning reflections, in part fueled by stepping back from another week with adolescents and how that shaped my view on things in the world, political and personal.
Tomorrow my former co-workers report back to school, something last done in that school without me a decade past. My reflections tend to be shaped by other things nowadays.
They are also far more frequent, and perhaps in greater depth - in part because I have more time to reflect, but also because I find it of value to look at things in far greater depth than I have for years.
Over a period of just less than a month I have found myself greatly changed. It started as the result of a chance encounter where I now sit, in my local Starbucks. The implications of that encounter are not yet played out, so I will not now - and may never - share all of it, or of what has flowed. Let it suffice to say that it has led to a serious reflection on how I relate to the world and to people. My spouse and I have talked more openly than we have in a number of years. When I consider possible job opportunities I do so with a different mindset.
I have not been here as much, either in posting diaries or in commenting on those I do post or those of others to which I consider offering my thoughts or observations.
I can share this much. In part because of my advancing age - I am now 66 - I have watched the world flying by me ever more quickly, and my not being as connected as I feel I should be. I want to slow things down, or at least slow myself down.
I also realize that the only way I can honestly related to the world is to be totally open in my heart. That is not as easy as it may sound, for I have been a very wounded person. Many of my wounds have been self-inflicted, and those that were not were things on which I too often obsessed, which paralyzed or distorted my interactions with other people.
I am going to continue this below the squiggle.
For too long I have sought the approbation of others, to be accepted, by attempting to prove "brilliance" or competence. I have used words but not merely as a means of communication: too often they served to isolate me from others, my apparent openness being a mask, or a barrier to real human connection.
I have in the past remarked that I am basically shy, even as I am an extravert, that I lack appropriate social graces. That has been and remains true.
I have come to realize that while I am often "in" communities, sometimes in positions of either respect or authority, I am really not "of" communities, not even this one, which has been my intellectual and political home for more than 8 years.
What I now confront is my need to be totally open and totally surrendered. That means far less cogitation and far more contemplation. It requires that I say or write much less for public consumption and listen far more, giving time for what others say - and don't say - to sink in before I respond.
When I was at my best as a teacher, my teaching was actually informed and shaped by a process not dissimilar from this. Part of the reason for my frustration and dissatisfaction with my teaching the past two years was that somehow I had gotten away from that. I did not fully understand that at first, and then as I began to grasp it I did not understand why that had happened.
In the past month I have had occasion to reflect on many things of my 66 years. I have remembered things long repressed, I have seen how I hurt other people, often coming from my own woundedness. Then I remembered a line from Rumi: “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
There is no miraculous transformation, but I am changing, very much so. I am more patient. I multi-task far less. I let go of defenses, of anger and irritation, and attempt to accept other persons, to see them neither as instruments I can use for my own benefit or as irritants or barriers to what I think I might want.
I cannot fully explain this.
I still write, but now for the first time in almost two decades I carry around small notebooks and write in them, for myself, to get the words out of myself so I can sit without words.
I find myself watching interactions of others, especially between parents and children. Simultaneously I now find children looking at me, often smiling.
Our cats notice a difference in me. Our most shy lady, Felicity, will now on occasion even come over to me without the security of LionEl, our biggest cat, to have between her and me as she seeks my touch.
I do not yet know what this all means, only that this is a process that I must allow to play out. It is not something I can accomplish by force of will, even with my almost legendary stubbornness. It requires me to be willing to let go and trust. It may begin in small things, as a means of acclimating myself to a new way of relating to the world and the others in it.
This in no way lessens my concern for things and for person, which have fueled some of my passionate writing and many of my actions. The concern is there, but how I act upon it may be different.
I have a lifetime of operating from fear and hurt and arrogance and insecurity and self-doubt. All of these are but partial understandings, and they have had both positive and negative impacts. The negative is the harm I have done myself and others. The positive is that if I accept them but surrender them, I am more sensitive to the needs and wants and fears of others, not so that I can then use such understanding to control or manipulate, but rather to be com-passionate.
I reflect upon spiritual wisdom that I have read over the years, but grasped only partially, and then with my mind.
I do not deny my mind, my intellect, my ability to sometimes put things into words in a way that makes a difference for others.
But I am more a creature of heart, in a deep sense of that word. I am intuitive, not a thinker. In terms of Gardner's multiple intelligences I am more musical rhythmic by far than I am verbal-linguistic. In music, it is not just the notes that are sounded, but the silences in between, the rests, against the background of which the notes have greater impact and meaning.
I want that music in my life. I want to hear it in context, including the rests.
When I used to visit the monastic republic of Mount Athos in Northern Greece several decades back, I chose to walk the old footpaths between the monasteries rather than hitch a ride on the logging trucks. From that I began to learn something I have long understood with my mind, but am now beginning to understand with my heart. On a pilgrimage the journey we travel is at least as important as the destination.
The pilgrimage of my life may end when I die, or it may continue in some way that I do not yet grasp with mind or heart. The destination of that pilgrimage is some kind of wholeness of self, of achieving of a kind of truth I cannot explain but which I clearly intuit.
How I travel is all that is within my control. I do not know what I may encounter as I walk through this life, but I have within my power to take the time to reflect, to consider what it is I do or say, or perhyaps do not either do or say, but simply ponder and hold in my heart.
I am in this community. I have not been fully of this community. I may never be. Because this community has offered me support and even at times love, because it has included those willing to challenge me in ways that have provoked me into growth I might otherwise have resisted, I have decided to share this reflection, which is not fully developed, nor completely understood.
I am no less passionate about justice, about civil liberties, about preserving the environment. How I actualize that passion will change, perhaps in subtle ways, perhaps in significant ways. I cannot predict that.
All I can offer is that I now continue along my pilgrimage of life with greater attention, what Buddhists might call mindfulness.
I do not know how this plays out. Part of learning to surrender is not to worry about that.
When I was young I used to worry that I was so poor at maintaining friendships that I would die alone in a room by myself and no one at first would notice I was missing, that my passing would be noticed only when my body might begin to stink.
I accept that as part of my journey it is yet possible that I might die in a room alone by myself. That no longer scares me.
Part of surrendering is to let go of fear.
Another is to learn this of love - when I give love it is a gift freely given for which the person to whom it is given incurs no responsibility whatsoever. It is to wish the best for the beloved, and to hold them in my heart regardless of the choice s/he may make.
To accept love - that has always been harder for me. It requires a different kind of surrender, one that has always been hard for me.
It is these kinds of surrender with which I now engage.
If I open myself up, I may finally realize how much love and support has always been there for me, but which I could not understand because I used my woundedness as a barrier.
If I open myself up, I discover - as I already have - that my ability to love others increases beyond limit - to include those I might never have considered, to love more completely those I already love.
I do not feel the words I have offered here are adequate to what I have begun to grasp in part. But I trust they may serve as pointers, that some will be able to go beyond my limited verbal expression and understand.
I know not of what value they may be to others.
I do know that because of what I have received from this community, I felt I had to open my heart and attempt to explain.