Last year in my December blog post ‘Tis the Season to be…Anxious? I wrote: “I have learned to…submit myself to the comfort and joy of the traditions and make a firm budget to govern all forms of giving.” As the holiday season approaches I can honestly say that I am looking forward to it because I know what is coming. From decorating to baking, family gatherings to which Christmas movies we’ll watch, there is a certain order to it all that is familiar yet flexible. Keeping it all within a reasonable budget (time and money) alleviates the stress which allows me to be reflective about what the season means to me as well as consider what is coming in the year ahead.
And there are so many things to consider. The new challenges that adolescent children bring and face. A community that is feeling the pressures of an economic downturn. The political, environmental, and economic state of the world. And in just a few short sentences I can feel some of the anxiety slip back. But I know what to do because I believe that on some level all the music, food, fellowship and Christmas “messages” are part of the preparation we will need to face whatever is coming. And with that I would like to share an original Christmas song that has been playing in my heart for many years. It’s for my children, your children and the child within us all.
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I feel overwhelmed. Often. As a person who loves new information and learning, there has never been a time where information and opportunities to learn have been more accessible. This morning alone, searching through my twitter feed, I saw at least 10 Ted Talks that look amazing! That’s not counting any of the other posts I see that look intriguing to explore. Add to that the SENG Webinars, the short courses at Schumacher College and the new offerings from Coursera…Wow! Time to set some goals, make a plan, resolve to…
Did I mention that I get overwhelmed? Often? So I put away the iPad and snuck down into my basement studio where I am working on a song. It’s about forgiveness and entitled “Still Somewhere To Go”. Songwriting is ESSENTIAL practice for me. It’s not about writing a hit song or even whether people like them or not. (Though there is some joy in finding resonance with others!) It’s about tapping into and creating songlines to navigate my way through the familiar, yet “cluttered” places I find myself in. (I have borrowed the word/idea of “songlines” from an indigenous Australian tradition. Please read about how indigenous Australians use music to mark geography…it’s quite fascinating.) Songwriting guides me and I feel as exhilarated as I imagine all cartographers must as I map out where all the thoughts and ideas in my head are taking me.
So why a song about forgiveness as 2015 looms? Many students and friends have told me that of all the virtues, this is the one that is the most difficult. My own experiences are mixed…sometimes it comes easy, sometimes it takes time but to date, for the most part, I have been able to get there and I say that with gratitude; I have been fortunate in the degree of the grievances I have experienced.
But in the past few months I have realized that as an idealist, there are many things that I have not been able to forgive that can make things difficult. Rene Descartes for the fragmentarity of scientific method and its impact in application. Sacred texts for their endless interpretability. Systems and their impossible task of defining themselves in a changing world. Entrepreneurial evangelical-like changemakers who believe they have found the key to… The inability of words to adequately express complexity. In essence, all the things that take me away from seeing the beauty in all the things as they are. We are all in the process of becoming. Being angry or discouraged by the things (or people) that are not as we believe they should be isn’t really helpful. Seeing them as part of or in the middle of an astonishing journey…can be incredibly agonizing and breathtaking at the same time. Forgiving the “world” for not living up to my expectations- a pretty humbling experience. Yet now I feel less overwhelmed than when I feel it is up to me to constantly “make things happen”. Things are happening. Maybe not always the way I think they should…and that’s why the next song will need to be about humility.
And that is why for me songwriting is essential. It’s not easy to get to the final chorus without finding a bridge to get you there and that can take a lot of contemplation. But once you’ve written the song, you have something to sing when you are back stumbling through a place that you thought you’d already explored.
If I ever finish my song “Still Somewhere To Go” I will try to find a songline for humility. There are many virtues to explore in the journey of becoming. It’s one of the reasons why The Virtues Project has become such an important part of my practice. Another map of sorts, it is connected to many cultural and sacred traditions from around the world and ergo rife with songlines that have been guiding us through many terrains for many years. All the best to you as you journey through 2015!
In her book, Giftedness 101, Linda Silverman shares these words with gifted advocates: “Be forewarned that if you ally with this unpopular cause, you, too, will feel the sting of anti-intellectualism aimed at you. You will soon learn firsthand about the prejudice that exists toward the gifted and their advocates. Expect to be derided at cocktail parties when you tell people what you do. An impressive number of people think they know more about the gifted than you do and they are delighted to share their opinions. Should you become a guardian of the gifted, know that there is no glory in it. This is not the route to eminence. When the scythe appears, you will have thrown in your lot with the tall poppies.” p.230
If I am to be honest, the years I have spent working with and coordinating programs for gifted students has been full of ups and downs. I have had the opportunity to collaborate and share ideas with many amazing educators as well as encountered doors that refused to open. Been dismissed as erudite/out of touch and welcomed as wise. Been thanked for my understanding and compassion as well as instructed to wear Kevlar. And there have been tears. A lot.
Is this any different than any educator/advocate who walks alongside children as they navigate the halls of learning? I don’t know but I suspect not as during this time I have witnessed the tears and fears of others on their own journeys down the “hallowed halls”. Some have been advocates who work with others also skirting around the edges of the normal curve and their journey (albeit somewhat better funded as we endeavour to leave no child behind) is laden with many of the same frustrations. But even those entrenched firmly “in the middle of it all” can feel overwhelmed in the broad expanse of the curve that encompasses the “average” and the above and below “average”. As we all scramble to somehow find the “best” way to “advocate” our way through the system, get the supports that we need, things can feel territorial and those who are on a different path may appear antagonistic. As many forces grapple to find a foothold in our schools, knowing the potential and future that rests with children, we can get caught up in the fractious “dream of a single logic” which is beautifully described by David Jardine in the foreward of David Smith’s book entitled Trying To Teach In A Season of Great Untruth.
How do we care for ourselves as we work to discover our own “truth” which can often come in conflict with other “truths”? I hesitate in recommending a “12 step program” as your body and mind likely have different requirements than mine and you may choose to focus more on alleviating the symptoms as opposed to my ongoing quest to find the source of my dis-ease. But I will tell you that when I am able to push to the periphery all the political, economic, pedagogic, social “agendas” that insist on a having a presence in my classroom and attend to the “radiance” of students as they uncover and discover the threads that connect them to a much larger world of language, ideas and inheritances, I go back to my own family with a smile on my face, a skip in my step and a song in my heart.
A week ago I would not have been able to articulate this as I have today and for this gift I must direct you to a paper by a former professor Dr. David Jardine, whose writing has always enthralled me. In reading his paper, “In Praise of Radiant Beings” I was reminded of the place we occupy in the nexus of truths, worlds, hopes and inheritances.
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