Doing it out of hate, or doing it for love

Like writing, health and fitness was something on my list of things to do that kind of fell off the list for a while. I was finishing up the school year — just trying to get through it — and in the flurry of deadlines and things to pack I just wasn’t able to be very physically active. As a result, I’ve gained a few pounds, and I haven’t been feeling my best. In fact, I started to really dislike myself and to feel frustrated and angry about where I was health-wise. That’s not a good thing, to be walking around in a body that makes me feel uncomfortable and even downright mad.

So a couple of weeks ago I had a little talk with myself. I could either continue as I was, mad and frustrated at myself — at my body, really — or I could decide to make a change. I decided to try change (yay for positive decisions!) and then I sat down to spend some time looking at my weekly schedule and overall summer calendar. For me I can’t make a decision and let it wither and fade, sidelined by inaction. It has to be made real for me with things that are visual and tangible like schedules and lists. So I made a weekly exercise schedule and I’ve been sticking to it — with some missed sessions here and there — but I’m working on staying positive, valuing the process and growth, rather than trying to be perfect.

That said, when I was back at the gym for the first time in months I realized in the middle of my workout why I was there — why I was really there. Originally the schedule and list and all that were a reaction to something negative — my frustration and anger at myself — but once I was there, looking in the mirror doing squats or whatever it was I realized I was actually there because I love myself, not because I hate myself. I was there to take care of myself, to spend time with myself, and to invest in myself — in my physical health, of course, but also in my mental and spiritual well being. Because it turns out that I like to move my body and feel strong and see myself grow. I like feeling my heartbeat and having my face turn pink and my muscles get that jiggly-weak feeling after doing something hard and catching my breath before trying it again. I like that timeless feeling of being in the moment, focused on what I’m doing exactly here and exactly now. All of that is a great gift to myself, and a way for me to really experience the fact that I’m here on earth, alive, in a body that supports me, in a body that is my greatest gift and tool.

And I think we all need outlets to get our bodies moving, to reaffirm our connections to our bodies, and to spend some time having those timeless moments where clocks and schedules and even the ideas of goals and perfection fade and become distant so that all we can hear is our heartbeats in our chests, our breath move through our bodies, and that beautiful moment of body and being coming together. There’s nothing better than that — that’s what I’ve been missing, and those parts coming together feel like home.

So I don’t do work outs or yoga classes or bike or swim or run because my body frustrates and angers me and I hate it. No, I do it because my body is my home and I love living in it. I’m doing it for love, love, love.

the seed, renewed

I’ve been on a long, unplanned hiatus. I stopped due to a family emergency, and then once my writing momentum was broken, it was easy to just continue not writing. However, I never stopped thinking about writing and how I should be writing, and often it gave me twinges of anxiety, to think of my poor little blog all alone, untended.

I was on the phone with a good friend the other day, one who moved across country and I haven’t talked to in over a year, and in about an hour and a half we covered pretty much everything under the sun — as we tend to do. Anyway, we started to talk about this blog and why I named it The Seed. Just those comments were a wonderful reminder of why I write — and I’d like to share them with you, as much as I can remember them.

Sometimes people, especially women, tend to over-mother their projects. We check in on them too much, too invested. This can be true regarding any creative endeavor from raising children to planting gardens to realizing our dreams of opening up a small business, to losing weight, even making a new friend or trying out a new recipe. That energy of over-mothering, of overly caring, can strangle our deepest desire before it has even taken its first breath.

Which brings me to the symbol of a seed. A tree saves up all its energy from the previous summer, all winter long, and spends that energy making seeds. And these seeds are created, encased, and let go in the wind, eaten by small animals, washed away by rains, and eventually land wherever they land. The mother trees can’t do anything about the fate of her seeds, her most precious creations. She just has to wait. So the seeds flutter away and land somewhere. And they, too, wait. And the miracle is that inside of them they are complete. They have all the information they need to push into the soil, grow roots, reach a stem and leaves towards the sun, and grow grow grow. If they are lucky, they will sprout close to their mother, protected by her shade and nourished by her root system, and eventually grow as tall as their mother — maybe taller — and house animals, create shade, someday drop their own seeds to the earth, as well. But if that doesn’t happen right away, it’s okay. The seed waits, dormant. Sleeping. Complete.

And that’s how I feel about my creativity — and really about everyone’s creativity. We have it, and it’s ready to be released. We just have to walk that fine line of giving it our all — every ounce of our energy — and also being okay with letting it go. We have to be confident that our seeds are complete and we have to have faith that they will eventually land on fertile soil. It’s the beauty and the mystery and the agony and the pleasure of creating and letting go.

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Many, many seedlings from our backyard tree, sprouting wildly in a gutter!

Choosing Like You’re Already There

A few things have been coming together in the last week or so, and it’s hard to put into words what those things are, but I’m going to try.

I think it’s easiest to see in fiction, or in the lives of others, and especially in the lives of those who are already gone:  there are usually big, sweeping themes and events that have changed the trajectory of a person’s life, and people in a person’s life who have defined one another’s lives or have at least defined parts of one another’s life.

I just finished watching the Masterpiece mini-series Little Women, a story I read as a girl and I likely didn’t completely understand, but I understood enough to know that I loved it. Little Women was the first book that made me cry — really cry sobbing tears, I was so distraught when Beth died — so it has its own place in my heart as a book that added a richness and a depth to my reading life. But as an adult looking back on the story overall and especially on the girls’ storylines I can see that for each girl they had their life trajectories, their destinies even, that were partially set by their place in history, by their circumstances, but also by their personalities, their talents, and their decisions. Each girl came to a crossroads, and they chose, and in choosing they defined themselves in one way or another.

I’m also in the midst of watching a multi-part documentary on Netflix called Wild Wild Country about the Rajneeshee spiritual group. Similarly, these real people — most of whom are still living — came to important crossroads in their lives and they chose, and in choosing they defined themselves and changed their lives. Some of the choices made people criminals, attempted murderers even. Other choices made people faithful guardians of justice. Still other choices made people bystanders, simply people in the background living lives that were tangential to all the chaos and drama.

I’ve also seen some old photos of family members, retold myself some family histories, and sifted through my own old memories. I’ve reflected on the themes of family members’ lives, where they seemed to have flourished, where they seemed to have deflated, the legacies and memories they left behind with me, the marks they made on their families, the personal lives’ works they created. It’s all very beautiful and mysterious.

So what does this have to do with me — with anything? I know I’ve said it before in some previous entry, but there is such power in deciding. And sometimes life does us a favor and forces us to choose, be it because of a life-threatening illness, a lost job, a relationship breakup or a marriage proposal, sometimes even the death of a loved one. Because these big events cannot easily be avoided and we must deal with them. We must choose. Other times, our lives go along quietly, slowly drifting with the current and little change from one day to the next. Slowly, imperceptibly days turn into weeks turn into months and even years with little discernible change. To me, this is the hard part, because as someone living a life, this is when I must make change, when I must be my own force — face things that must be faced in order to change and grow, let go of things that must be put down so that new things can be chosen and picked up.

And that’s where I see that I am now. I went through a big period of growth and change when I met my wife. We got married and lived through our first couple of years of marriage. Those experiences were transformative and have left an indelible — and I’d venture to say positive — mark on me. But I’ve been dormant lately, and honestly a little lazy. So it’s time to force some change. A woman whose videos I often watch online mentioned once that in order to make change you have to treat yourself like you’re already the person you wish to be, make choices like the person you want to be, live your life like you already are that person. And that message is so simple — cliche even — but it’s so true.

So that’s the plan — to treat myself as if I’m already arrived where I want to be, and make choices like I’m already there. Which for me means choices that promote physical health, spiritual growth, creative expression, healthy relationships, and all kinds of experiences. Because when I look back on my life as an old woman, as a middle aged woman, even a year from now, I want my big sweeping themes to be just that — health, spirituality, creativity, community, and even a little magic.

30-day Yoga Challenge: Four Challenges in One

Since I’m nearly done with it, I feel safe to share the fact that I’m participating in a 30-day yoga challenge:  30 consecutive days of yoga classes, come hell or high water, from April 2 to May 1. And in some ways this challenge isn’t challenging at all — in other ways it lives up to its name entirely.

Challenge #1:  Deciding — And Sticking With It

For most things in life, the deciding part is hardest. Well, not the deciding part so much as everything else that follows once the deciding has been done. After I decided to do this challenge, a lot of things had to shift in my life to make space for it, the biggest being how I spent my time. My alarm clock has been going off faithfully every morning, no sleeping in on the weekends. Most days I’ve had to either stay late at work or leave most of my work to do list undone so I could fit in a yoga class. I’ve had to rearrange social engagements on the weekends so that I can get to yoga, and sometimes skip or reschedule appointments during the week. This may seem extreme, but it’s what commitment looks like when any one of us makes a decision and then sticks with it. Those things we’ve decided are the big deal things in our lives take precedent — or they should — so they’re setting the tone for the day, the week, the month. Everything else should be secondary.

And I have to say that the “sticking with it” part has been tough when I’ve been faced with a tempting alternative to my decision — most often sleeping in on the weekends or skipping an evening class to go home and laze on the couch. But it’s been a good test of my will, to see that I can be determined and strong enough to push myself out of my habits to I achieve something new.

Challenge #2:  Pacing Myself

Unfortunately — or maybe fortunately? — I tend to be a competitive person, even in a noncompetitive setting like a yoga class. Most days I have some form of Rubber Neck Syndrome, where I’m checking out what everyone else is doing, looking at their form, their flexibility, their strength, and then of course comparing it to mine. Maybe it’s from my many years of dance training or my perfectionist tendencies that I naturally start to compare myself to others, but in this challenge I had to really let go of that. In some ways it was good to know that I wasn’t in the same place as most of the other people in the room — there were only about 12 of us doing the challenge overall and maybe one or two in the room with me most days, so that meant that the pressure was off — or maybe not off — but my mindset definitely adjusted when I went into a class. Like I mentioned in last week’s entry, I was really running my own race — or yoga-ing my own yoga. Because of course I couldn’t force myself into the splits and then flip myself upside down into several reps of a forearm stand and then push through a dozen jump-backs from crow pose to chaturanga (first and foremost, because I can’t do crow pose jump-backs to chaturanga) but also because I had to come back to class tomorrow and the next day and the next.

I had to pace myself for the long haul, take it slower than I usually would, and really focus on my own process, listen to my body and my body alone to make sure that we’d get through the month in one healthy piece. Because if I “won class” for the day but felt miserable and sore — or even injured myself — then I’d be defeating the whole purpose of the challenge, and of yoga itself.

Challenge #3:  Imbalance Exposing Imbalance

I mentioned earlier that once I’d made the decision to participate in the challenge I had to reprioritize the way I spent my time, and now that I’m almost through I can look back and see how much this yoga challenge — in some ways its own imbalance on my time — exposed other imbalances in how I spend my time, particularly at work. Without the yoga challenge to pull me away from work and to put some pressure on how I spend my time in the evening, it was easy for me to excuse long hours at work, sometimes up to 12 hours a day. But this challenge has made me notice that work really demands a lot of me, and a lot of my free time. I’m not complaining that I have a job that requires after-hours time, but I’m concerned by the amount of after-hours time I was spending — and am still spending — usually up to 20 unpaid hours a week. This challenge has made me feel some stress, and even anxiety, around time but mostly because there never seems to be enough time for work and also for myself. It’s something that I’m going to be further exploring even after this challenge ends; balance is such a key value that I hold and I want to embody that more.

Challenge #4:  What Happens Next?

This leads to the final challenge within this challenge. I’m almost done with it, but I’m already thinking about what’s next. Do I want to continue daily yoga classes? Do I want to take a break from yoga? Do I want to continue daily exercise and meditation, but expand into to different forms, like gym workouts and more traditional cardio or pick up my meditation practice from months ago? I’m not quite sure yet, and I have a couple of days to decide, but I do know that this challenge has pushed me to make a decision and to make shifts in my life that push me to be more balanced. I’ve also seen that competition is not as important as compassion — especially self-compassion — and that even when I don’t think I’m making any gains I am. I’ve surprised myself this month by becoming physically stronger even when I didn’t think I was, by becoming more patient with myself, and more able to let go, even if momentarily, of the demands of the outside world on my inner life.

After this challenge ends on Tuesday, I look forward to Wednesday and the days that follow and the decisions I’ll get to make that will quiet the outside world and amplify my inner voice, one that is still keenly competitive, but also more compassionate and striving for balance.

as strong as the weakest link, or run your own race?

lately, some of the adages I’ve heard since I was very young are really starting to resonate with me — I’m really starting to get them, and it’s most frequently been in the context of the classroom.

You’re Only as Strong as Your Weakest Link

this one used to annoy me a lot as a kid, in pretty much any group situation. in the settings where I was a stronger link, most often at school, I was easily impatient with and frustrated by “weaker links,” kids who didn’t get things as quickly as I did or who didn’t do their homework or try as hard, or whatever it was that in my child brain didn’t measure up.

as an adult, and especially as a teacher, I see now how each kid coming to school may be pushing as hard as they can, but the homes they’re coming from may either create obstacles or lay fertile ground for their school success. and that home life variable can be anything from poverty, not speaking English at home, having only one parent, having parents who are splitting up or who argue and fight often, to parents who are college graduates and earn high incomes and take their children on enriching vacations and hire tutors and nannies and send them to club sports and private lessons. it’s easy to grow when you’re a kid from an optimal home — or on the optimal side — versus kids who live in obstacle-filled homes.

I can see that now, and I can see it better, and I understand why I was impatient as a kid. and I know that I was guilty of thinking that I was smarter than other kids in my room. however, no adult — no teacher or parent or family member — ever broke it down for me, explaining that not every kid has the same home life. not every kid gets their own, quiet room to sleep in at night. not every kid gets a home-cooked meal and a place and time to do their homework. not every kid gets vacations to destinations around the country and around the world. and not every kid has parents who are genuinely interested in their success. so what can I do, now that I’m in a position to be that adult who can break it down for different groups of kids? — but not do it in a way that says, “Hey, you’ve got nothing, you’re our weakest link,” or “Hey, you’re so lucky, congratulations, you’re our strongest link?”

my best attempts have been trying to show it through biography and stories — to discuss how real kids from history, like Louis Braille and Helen Keller, had different childhoods, but through their circumstances were able to achieve a lot. I felt a little weird explaining it to my students at the time, but it was true and I think I had to say it. I said, “you know, if Helen Keller’s family wasn’t a wealthy, landowning family, we would probably have never known who she was. her family wouldn’t have been able to pay for a teacher to come and live with her, to give up her entire life to teacher Helen, and only Helen, for her entire life. it makes a big difference if you’re rich, and Helen was lucky.” I paused and thought, then went on. “and Louis Braille didn’t come from a wealthy family at all, so they had to be strict with him and give him chores and not help him too much even when he made mistakes. they had to see him fall, and then tell him not give up, or let him become spoiled or hopeless. they had to push him hard and he had to push himself hard, too. thankfully he never gave up, and we have braille today, and we have him to thank — and Helen Keller has him to thank, too. so we have to remember that our families help to push us hard and even our teachers are here to push us hard, too.”

So my role as teacher, and as adult in the world I guess, is to notice those people around me who are dealing with obstacles and setbacks, to acknowledge that and not to see them through a lens of strength or weakness, but through the lens of needing my understanding, encouragement, and support.

Run Your Own Race

my internal struggle then comes from the balance I try to find between caring for my students who need the understanding, encouragement, and support and also caring for my students who are already fortunate enough to come to school with a lot of the “optimal home life” boxes checked. between these two groups, what’s fair?

honestly, I don’t know. this is a struggle I’ve had for years. I have only so much time, so many resources, and so much energy, and I have to work with what I’ve got, sometimes moment to moment, and with a lot of variables at play each day. and for me it goes down all the way to the question of what a free and appropriate education is — what that truly means. does that mean that each child is challenged and engaged at their individual level for as much of the day as possible? does that mean that children are asked to learn the content of their grade level (first grade, second grade, third grade, etc.) and anything beyond that is extra? does it mean that kids need to be divided or tracked, so kids with more similar needs can be together? does it mean that kids cycle through different teachers throughout the day, so they can see specialists for each content area?

I know what’s plausible for me as a teacher, and I’ve heard what’s fashionable and preferred by parents, which — spoiler alert — are incompatible. so what do we do? most importantly, I think parents need to adjust their expectations, and think back to when they were kids. think back to what their teachers did for them, what their parents did for them, and then what they were expected to do for themselves. because in the end, we are running our own race, each one of us — and we have been all along — and kids’ teachers and parents and supportive adults are there to coach, model, and cheer them on, but ultimately our kids have to learn responsibility and they have to be driven by their own desire to self-actualize and get to their own finish lines.

freedom, responsibility, possibility

so to continue what I was thinking about last week — although it feels like such a long time ago to me — I’ve been searching about for people whose lifestyles and philosophies may serve as an inspiration. unfortunately, for all the hours I’ve spend casting about, I’ve not come up with much.

like everyone who’s got internet access, I get lost down the rabbit hole sometimes. and sometimes it’s for the better and sometimes it’s for the worse. I’ve been casually following a couple of female vegan vloggers — YouTubers? — and it’s interesting to notice what I think about and how I feel after watching their videos. I feel the worst after watching Freelee, who has good intentions I think, and means the best, but whose approach is too rigid — it makes me uncomfortable. also, I think there’s a good amount of unconscious privilege in her outlook and actions. sure, you can give up make-up and wearing bras (and clothes!) — you’re a light-skinned white woman. you can move to the Honduran jungle to live off-grid with your boyfriend on a plot of land that has freshwater streams on the property and buy solar panels for your house and encourage others to quit their jobs and do the same as you have — you have no kids as far as I know and no family members that you’re responsible for.

but how possible is that for most people? and from what little I know of current events, Honduras is a failing democracy and one of the most dangerous countries in the Americas. there’s got to be some white privilege in renting or buying up some land there and living with no effects of the Honduran dictatorship in your life. sure, she’s living a life with lots of personal freedom — and lots of personal responsibility — but how possible, and how plausible is it for the rest of us?

I’ve also been watching Sweet Potato Soul and Cheap Lazy Vegan. these women are more my speed, living with a lot of personal freedom and responsibility and their choices are a bit more possible — and plausible. that said, sure, veganism is a lifestyle that can be a bit rigid and difficult, and if anything the self-imposed limitations may make a person feel less free rather than more free, but it’s nice to see variants of the vegan lifestyle — women who eat more or less processed foods (I’m talking peanut butter and soy sauce, tahini and cocoa powder) and who can spend money and time differently to make plant-based foods. they also incorporate different levels of the vegan / eco-friendly lifestyle into their own lives, like purchasing second hand clothing, not using a car, finding and using cruelty-free and food-grade beauty products. but again, depending on your background, time and money situation, as well as ability to change your lifestyle drastically, this may or may not be possible.

so what am I saying? well, first of all — and I feel weird writing this since I’m online doing it — it’s best for me to stay away from YouTube and other social media (I’d venture to say the internet in general!) unless I have a clear and constructive purpose for using it. essentially the internet is like a portable library, and why did I go to the library when I was a kid? I didn’t go most times to randomly browse, or to learn from strangers who were lingering about the building, spewing their ideas backed by varying levels of education and expertise. I went with a purpose — with my own questions in mind, searching for my own answers, and with the goal of hopefully finding literature and essays to read by educated, experienced, thoughtful people who could share their ideas with me so that I could grow in my own education and expertise.

and for me that’s another step towards being free — freeing myself of the distractions and empty attractions of the internet so that I can focus more on my actual life, the one I’m living in my heart and head, the one that I will look back on and hopefully remember fondly, with cherished moments of living. because what purpose is there in sitting in front of a screen, endlessly accessing content? use it as a tool — a tool to create more knowledge and self-empowerment — not a tool of distraction and unconsciousness.

time to get free

spring break was two weeks ago, and during a quiet moment of my week off I reflected on the Friday before break and the hours leading up to dismissal. everyone, the kids and I both, were really watching the clock — sometimes figuratively and sometimes literally. to lighten the mood and ease some of the excitement and pressure around the upcoming break I joked with the kids. “Don’t worry,” I said, “I’m keeping track of the time, too, and we won’t forget to leave — trust me. We have 2 hours and 26 minutes to go, and in all my years of teaching I haven’t forgotten to leave school on time. Plus,” I paused, “we always have the dismissal bells to remind us.”

a few of them who were repeatedly looking at the clock or asking their watch-wearing friends about the time seemed a little sheepish that they’d been caught, but I understood. sometimes, even as a teacher, I just don’t want to be in school. and why not?

sometimes school seems like prison, a place we file away all kids for the day with a few adults to regulate their time and activities, and then when the working adults finish work, we pick them up and shuttle them home. back and forth, back and forth, sometimes with a bit of variation in the routine for outside play or lessons, but overall that’s it for nine, 10 months of the year.

but you’re the one in charge, you say, why would you feel like you’re in prison? well, if the kids are the prisoners, that makes me the jailor. and I can’t tell you how much I hate that role, how often I start every day with bright hopes, imagining all the interesting discussions we’ll have, the engaging hands-on activities, and the moments to read and reflect, and to just talk, get to know one another, and spend time together. but that’s just not how it goes. there is so much pushed into the classroom from the outside by people  who work at varying distances from me and my students and who I’ll assume are well-meaning. but whatever their intentions, they’re micromanagers to be sure. they create hard deadlines to meet, a quota of scores to record, grades to file, paperwork to submit, referrals for behavioral and academic issues, standards to meet, and on and on and on and on. my days are scheduled to the minute, which means the kids’ days are scheduled to the minute with an underlying pressure to keep up and for all of us to do what we’re told. and this is not the way education should be — paperwork and rule-following was not the reason I became a teacher.

so, if school is like prison, then it’s time to get free. because as a teacher I’ve wanted to create freedom through education, through giving kids the tools to question, to think deeply, to reflect and take action, to self-discover and self-determine, to be so knowledgeable of self and the world and so free-thinking that their very existence was a radical act of freedom, and that their radical freedom would inspire others to get free — and that eventually we would all be moving towards that freedom.

and freedom from what? freedom to do what? well, freedom has been written about and thought about for centuries and I cannot address all that I think and feel fully in a few paragraphs, but in short:  freedom to choose and to be. freedom to live a life with purpose and meaning, to live a life of self-understanding and a with a broad perspective on humanity and an understanding of the interconnectedness of life on the planet. freedom to know that there is a balance we must respect and maintain as a member of the living planet and to know when the demands of personal freedom must be mitigated for the good of the group — and to be secure enough in our personal freedom to know that it constantly flexes and bends within different contexts. there are no absolutes — movement and change are constant — just as the need for honest reflection and continuous education is constant.

so as I move forward, looking for moments of beauty in my daily life, I also search for moments of freedom, moments I can amplify and then stretch into minutes, and then hours and then maybe full days. let’s get free.

experiences that inspired this post:

The Hoodoisie — a Chicago-based, live news show podcast.

Educated, by Tara Westover

Chicago Teachers Union Foundation — professional development for Chicago Public Schools teachers

Beauty, A Guiding Principle

On the way home the other night I was thinking about a book I’d read a while ago called The Four Desires. In it the author talks about uncovering and expressing your dharma, which essentially means your personal mission / vision statement. I was thinking about this because I was finishing up another long and busy week of work and coming home to a week of vacation. Somehow just the promise of open time creates that immediate pull back into big picture questions for me.

I was thinking about what motivates me, my driving principles, the ideas and ideals that attract me. Based on the things I’ve always liked to do and be around, I think it’s come down to a single word:  beauty. I like to be around beauty, to create beauty. I like to see beauty in others, and when it’s not there, I try to encourage beauty and I hope for the beauty that will come. In many cases beauty does mean the physical kind — comfortable and supportive home, lush gardens, comfortable clothing, inspiring artwork — but it also means the beauty in moments, in people, in relationships.

The hard part for me, though, is that it’s much easier to see and create outward beauty rather than inward beauty. I can see when something has become beautiful or is approaching beautiful, and others can see it, too. That seeing validates the time and effort given over to a beautification project. But inward beauty, that’s tough. Can we see how a child has become more a more patient sibling, a better independent problem-solver, a more resilient student? Can we see how a co-worker has pushed herself to be more positive and complain less about work? Can we see when a neighbor has committed himself to a more forgiving approach to his wife and kids?

So for me I’ve been thinking of making that challenge a focus this week — looking to see the internal beauty in others. How can I find those beautiful moments and see them and know them while they’re happening — and not so much that it ruins the moment, but just enough to be awake to them? How can I notice positive change in others? How can I raise my awareness to kindness, generosity, patience, enthusiasm, gentleness, courage?

In some ways this week’s challenge will be easier than any other week because I’ll have the time and space to relax and slow down and really look — I’m off work. But it will be a good place to start this habit of mind. And this isn’t to say that I will ignore things that must be discerned or defended against, rather that I will put my energy and attention on things that merit being centerstage and let the things that don’t wither and fade a little more. Care to join me?

living, (in)action

the coming of spring has got me a little distracted, but i still wanted to attempt a post — so here’s what i’ve got for now.

some thoughts from the week(s):

  1. positive envy — creates a spark in ourselves to emulate those we admire:  getting fit, eating healthy, getting a degree, being kind, being courageous. esteem and admiration are positive forms of envy, ones that we hope to inspire in others so that they push themselves to greater heights.
  2. negative envy — creates a spark to be aggressive, to take people down a peg and keep them “in their place,” to keep them from being too powerful, too rich, too famous. when taken to the extreme we can attribute certain types of violence to negative envy. (from Hidden Brain podcast, Counting Other People’s Blessings)
  3. walk up vs. walk out campaign — yes, we should avoid excluding people and shun bullies, but sometimes the people being excluded or bullied deserve that behavior. i’ve seen unpopular kids become unpopular because they’re unkind, immature, rude, do gross things. there’s also the bystander issue:  if a kid is being unkind, immature, rude, gross and you’re observing this happen, as their peer say something firmly but kindly; explain that that their behavior is unacceptable and help bridge the misunderstanding. but then there’s the question — do we let kids “be themselves” no matter how much that may push them out of the social group, essentially becoming isolated and an outsider, or do we teach kids that in order to be accepted into a social group they can’t always be themselves, do whatever they want? sometimes concessions have to be made to be in a group — and if we’re not willing to make certain concessions about who we are and the ways we want to act and be, then we have to accept that it’s not a good fit, and leave that group to search for another one, no?
  4. walk up vs. walk out — one day of nice notes isn’t going to make an outsider feel like they’re “in.” and if the outsider is truly already pushed outside the social group, they will know that. moreover, redirecting kids to “be nice” instead of taking time to be socially disobedient — in a safe way, i might add — to make a point about their rights to a safe childhood and safe environments is a distraction from the actual issue of violence and access to guns. it’s also talking down to kids:  you want to protest the problem of gun violence in your society? how about you write 17 sticky notes and pass them out to your friends and teachers instead? why don’t you tell a “sad kid” a joke? a lot more work that that has to be done to create environments of care, concern, and tolerance.
  5. progressives and conservatives and neo-cons — it’s all a shit show, isn’t it? we’re all raging against a machine, one that our predecessors created and one that we’re living in, following the rules of the game, willingly or perhaps unwillingly. and groups of people when they come together create a mess. it’s hard to unify because there are so many exceptions to the rule, especially as humans. essentially we are built to be diverse in body and mind. that diversity is both our greatest strength and our greatest obstacle. hopefully we will develop the imagination and compassion to see one another in closer kinship.
  6. Hoodoisie (say:  hood-WAH-zee, from the French bourgeoisie) — a show in Pilsen (Chicago! south side!) my wife and i went to on Saturday night. lots of progressive politics discussed. lots of people present from non-mainstream identities including race, gender, sexual orientation. and as a teacher who went into teaching to invest in our collective human capital, to plant the seeds of self-empowerment, self-revelation, and internal revolution — drops of water that would hopefully one day become a wave of change on a planet that is thirsty for change — i feel uplifted and encouraged that good things are happening and will continue to happening. growth and change is on the way.
  7. children — spent time with some of my favorite four kids this weekend. checkers and rolling dice and dinner and hair cuts and car rides and talking and laughing and chocolate chip cookies. children can be terrible tyrants sometimes, but they are also beautiful healings. what love.
  8. balance — a teacher this weekend said to me, “if we all had perfect balance we wouldn’t be here.” and i take that “here” to mean the room we were in, but also the lives we’re living. balancing peace and struggle, effort and rest, compassion and justice, oneness and individuality, patience and action, control and letting go — that’s what it’s all about. there is mystery and depth and unknowableness in life, and that unites us.

are you living your best life? man, i’m tryin’!

what kind of person do i want to be? when i am on my death bed, or laying on the ground in pieces after being hit by a bus, and my life flashes before my eyes — what kind of person, and what kind of life, do i want to look back on?

i’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, because i’ve been housing a lot of regrets. and why? my life is out of balance — too much time at work, too much time worrying about getting things done, too much space given up to to lists of chores and tasks. and it’s taking a toll on me, self-esteem-wise and my happiness overall — even my ability to see good things, to register pleasure and joy. the stuff that makes up my heart and soul has been hard-packed by the trivial things in life and it needs some loosening up.

so — the things that matter to me most, that bring me the most joy, should be the things that should float to the top and be my priorities.

i think about this in relationship to teaching, which is a big part of my identity. i love learning and ideas. ideas — and just plain thinking — excite me, and i want to share that excitement with kids.

teaching, like life itself, should be part-structured and part rollicking and free. (we need to know where our next meals are coming from, but we can also have an adventure before dinnertime, you know?) as a teacher, as the teacher i strive to be, i am present to the kids, ever observant and open to them, their personalities, their problems and concerns, their foibles and idiosyncrasies. i am compassionate, but i push. i let them fail in a safe space, i ask questions, i sit back and think along with them. i wonder and i let the possibilities unfold. and even if it doesn’t happen this way most of the time, i want it to — i want to bring more of myself, the life enthusiast, into my classroom.

i think about teaching in relationship to living — the way they interact together, almost like the inhale and exhale of breathing — and i think forward to the inevitable moment on my death bed. so with the end in mind, i remind myself that i can be a good teacher — and a good life-liver — if i remember who i am, do the things that make my heart sing, and stay open to the fascination and terror and puzzlement and thrill that is living this messy life.