but I will take the risk they might speak to someone other than me.
I offer them as I sit in my local Starbucks, where I probably spend too much time. As a shy extravert, I like to be among people even when I am not directly interacting with them. It keeps me connected with the world outside my own mind.
And yet, it is through my mind - and my senses, and my heart - that I connect with the rest of the world.
The focus of this reflection is the attempt at wholeness, at integration of mind and body and heart and soul, and where, after more than 67 years on this planet, I now find myself on that journey towards wholeness.
Come along for the read if you think it might be of value. I will be honored if you do.
I was recently asked to do a piece on reflection as a teacher for the website of a professional educational association. I noted in my draft (on which I still labor) that I have spent much of my life being reflective, in part because of my shyness and trying to figure out how things work. But it is also a part of trying to make meaning, not merely to exist, but to live with some sense of a purpose. It is something that infuses my teaching practice, as those who used to experience my weekend reflections on teaching have known about me. It has also led me to understand that my teaching is not separate from the rest of my life.
I am not only a shy extravert, but I am also insecure in many things of importance to me. As a result I often "try to hard" or desperately seek affirmation. At least, that was my pattern for much of my life.
This had an unfortunate concomitant effect, that when I focused on an area of how I spoke, thought or behaved it was in isolation from other parts of my life - it was in a separate silo, and even if by force of will I could make "improvements" they were not real, because they were not integrated.
I also can lash out. From my mother I unfortunately learned how to lash out verbally, with a sometimes destructive impact upon the person at whom I directed it - that is, if they heard it. Recognizing the devastating impact that can have upon my relationship with all my students, I have been able to learn not to do that in the classroom. I still unfortunately have not overcome the tendency, as Leaves on the Current can attest. Oh, I have over our almost four decades together begun to learn not to lash out at her, although I am still to prone to the biting remark, a way an insecure person can "demonstrate" his "wit." Perhaps the safety valve has been my ability to quickly produce a pun - demonstrating the "wit" in a somewhat less destructive manner.
But merely suppressing it does not heal it. I have recently accepted that if under my breath I call the person who cuts me off "asshole" I am still giving in to my insecurity, my need to assert myself as a means of countering it.
Hey, I'm human. I will fail and fall. But because I am reflective I cannot pretend that I have not done so. And if I am to apply my reflection not merely to things already done or said, I can catch myself before I say or do something that is destructive.
That does not mean criticism may not be warranted at the person(s) targeted by my anger or who may be the occasion of my insecurity.
At the same time, I am passionate, not merely thinking. I feel deeply, I care immensely, and the same way that can be destructive, when directed appropriately it is what can enable me to write or speak or act with power not for my own sake but for countering injustices and inequities and cruelties performed by others. I do not wish to lose that.
The same depth of feeling that leads to that is what enables me to totally immerse myself in a piece of music, listening or even on occasion performing. It is what can connect me with a powerful and moving text, poetic, dramatic, or other.
This is intimately connected with my involvement in politics and policy. It is not the only factor - as an insecure person it provides an opportunity for me to demonstrate "competence" and occasionally "expertise" and "insight." As an extravert it provides an opportunity for interaction with others in a way that my shyness does not prevent.
The house in which I grew up is on the market. We sold it in 1964. It is now worth more than ten times what we received for it then, almost half a century ago. Growing up I half expected I would inherit that house from my parents. It bespoke a lifestyle that for whatever reason is not how I live, at least, not completely. It was a house full of books, although with twice the space of our current home perhaps less than 1/3 the number of volumes we have crammed into our domicile of the past now almost 3 decades. The piano that occupied a small part of the large living room dominates our much smaller public space. The same piano, which I obtained when my father moved into custodial care some two decades ago. It was a house that very much influenced my life - the love of books and music, to be sure, a private space where I could withdraw and hide from my pain, a place on occasion where I experienced real happiness. I was smaller and it was much larger.
The smaller home Leaves and I share might therefore seem to represent a constriction of the possibilities of life. Perhaps because I have spent time in monasteries in both the US and Greece I do not see it that way. It does represent choices, that is, establishing a hierarchy of what matters. The books matter, so do the records and cds and dvds. For us we accept some inconvenience for ourselves to provide comfort for our felines.
The choice eventually made to be a classroom teacher can similarly be seen - incorrectly - as a constriction of the possibilities of life. I make far less than I could in other endeavors, and I have far less time for other activities. Yet as our current small but adequate home provides a base for much of our other activities, my teaching infuses all else I do. Similarly, we bring into that small home things that matter to us in the form of artifacts, pictures, books, records, etc. My teaching is similarly enriched by the other parts of my life, both before I began to teach and even as I have grown older over the past almost two decades.
If I know better than to lash out at a student directly, I also know that if in private I say or give in to thoughts that would occasion such verbal abuse, I am not addressing what I should - understanding my frustration and converting it to something more positive, even if challenging to the student. I will not be able to that consistently if in other areas of my life I act in a contrary matter, and yes, that means calling out under my breath an obnoxious or unthinking fellow driver.
If I view others only or primarily insofar as how they either restrict or impinge upon me, or how they can be of benefit to me, then I will continue to find myself isolated from what really matters, the soul, the heart of that person. If I truly believe the words that my wife says have been my mantra for as long as she has known me, through four different religions (Episcopal, Orthodox Christian, Jewish, and now like the words themselves Quaker), that I am to Walk gladly across the earth answering that of God in each person you meet - then to see another person other than as a container of "that of God" - or in Christian terms as a living Icon of the divine that became incarnate as a human being - is for me not to be whole, not to be integrated.
And if I do not seek that wholeness, that integration, then from a selfish point of view I am robbing myself of the opportunity to learn from that person in a truly deep way. I forego the opportunity to participate in something that adds value beyond myself, beyond even the two of us.
I may, in all honesty, see the other person as largely destructive. But if that is all I see I have no chance of providing that person with an opportunity to transform the energy and power that is being used destructively into something not destructive, but rather affirming, uplifting.
Contrary to how some might interpret those words, that actually requires me to speak out when I see or hear something wrong, something hurtful.
Yet my quick "wit" and my sharp tongue often instead function not as a means of moral witness but rather as a means of trying to assert myself in some fashion to overcome my own insecurity and self-doubt at the expense of the other.
To insist upon an eye for an eye literally is to be willing to accept total blindness for all humanity.
Each day we are presented with many opportunities. We make hundreds, even thousands of a decisions. Many of our little import, by themselves. And yet.... during my days in the Episcopal Church I became very fond of the writings of Charles Williams, himself a member of the Inklings, a group at Oxford which included among others Owen Barfield, C. S. Lewis and his brother Warren, and J. R. R. Tolkien. I remember a passage from one of his books, Descent Into Hell. The moment when the key character begins his own descent comes about when he is serving as a technical advisor to a local theatrical production. I may not recall this precisely, but he is asked if the buttons on certain military uniforms are correct. He could see they were not, that his "man" could quickly fix them, but he wanted to get on to something else so he lied, he said they were fine. From that little thing began his descent.
Or perhaps, as I reflected during the middle of the night when I woke briefly to take my sinus medication, we might remember a point often missed in the Parable of the Talents in the Gospel of Matthew. The "good and faithful" servants had been given responsibility for money on behalf of their master. They had done well, increasing its value. Depending upon the translation one uses, the servant is complimented either for being faithful over a few things or small things, or a small amount. In a sense it does not matter. That is, it is faithfulness about something of lesser importance, like buttons on a uniform. The master will now empower him to take charge of more things or a larger amount or of something more important. He is welcomed to the joy of his master.
As I pondered these words last night, I realized they could be interpreted that the joy of the the master for me is the wholeness that comes from connecting all the parts of myself positively, that as I learn to act with integrity that stands upon reflection in smaller encounters of daily life my life will become more complete, I will find my life more infused with that integrity. I will become more "whole" and therein lies the real joy.
Others may see what I am about to offer as a weakness. I acknowledge that my insecurity and need for affirmation from others probably colors this, but I think my instincts are correct, at least for me. For me what matters is that I make a POSITIVE difference. How has my life made the world in some way(s) better for others, perhaps even those I have never encountered? It clearly informs why and how I teach, as I think my writing about my teaching and my thoughts on it have made clear.
The distortion comes from needing affirmation from others. That is not the same as accepting feedback, whether given directly or indirectly, and pondering its meaning, using it as a means of honing what I do.
Quaker are fond of an expression that we should speak truth to power. This is a prophetic role in the sense of the role of Old Testament prophets, those who presented a moral challenge to those in power, as Nathan did to King David with respect to Bathsheba - "You are that man." Sometimes it would be done by symbolic action, in a pattern of behavior that in Russia was recognized and honored in the tradition of the "holy fool."
To do this with integrity can lead to isolation, which for an extravert is a bit frightening. To do otherwise can lead to self-destruction - if one sees a wrong and does not in some way address it, does not one acquiesce in the continuation of that wrong?
How one speaks out, how one acts, will vary. It depends not only upon the self as I may know it, but also the person or community one seeks to address. What good is the message if it is not directed in a fashion that the one to whom we offer it can receive it? Or to put it another way, how is it answering "that of God" in that person, even if s/he does not acknowledge 'that of God?"
For me life is a journey, or if you will, a pilgrimage. I have at best an imcomplete sense of my final destination. I do not have control over that. What I do have is the ability to make decisions on how I travel. In pilgrimage the journey is at least as important as the destination. Consider this my anti-Machiavellian assertion, at least on the level of my responsibility for my own words, actions, and thoughts. The small thing may be the normal visceral reaction, the thing that gives impulse to wanting to call that other driver "asshole."
Someplace in the sayings of the Desert Fathers, a novice asks a master how to stop bad thoughts from entering in. He is challenged to try to take all the air into his lungs and hold it. He responds that he cannot. He is then told neither can he prevent such thoughts from arising, but what he can control is how he then reacts.
We probably cannot reflect on most of the actions we do. We might become paralyzed from important action were we to be reflecting on everything.
That is why we havev to reflect on small things, learn how to do and say them with integrity, so that becomes our pattern. As we become master over these small things, we set the foundation for the greater mastery of living a full, integrated, constructive life.
Buttons on a uniform . . .
managing talents, be they measures of silver or the things we are able to do with skill . . .
the driver whose impatience and rudeness realistically evokes our own. . . .
Today I had some thoughts upon which I needed to reflect
I have shared them in case they may speak to anyone else