Sunday, 5 April 2015

The Wind, The Ocean, Love and Kata

Kata sat on a rock at the water's edge, looked out across the flat expanse of the sea, and listened to the gentle lapping of the waves as they broke idly onto the shore.  It was hard to imagine that two days ago, the ocean had been stirred up into a wild frenzy by a wind that had rushed across the water to meet the land, where it threatened to tear out all of the trees by their roots and hurl them into the air.  The sea was certainly a capricious beast that could never be tamed, she thought.  

A few years before, Kata had lost her father to one such storm that rolled in during the spring.  A fisherman, her father had been out in his boat casting his nets when out of nowhere came the fury of a mighty wind.  The skies that had been one moment clear and blue suddenly became dark grey and threatening, obliterating the sun and casting a darkness across the day.  Even though her father worked furiously to haul his nets back in, little did he know that it was already too late for him. Death had marked him as His already. There would be no escape.

Perched on her rock, Kata gave silent thanks for the life of her father and recalled how he would return from a day at sea, scoop her up in his huge arms and throw her into the air.  "Here's my most precious fish!" he would shout as he caught her safely again and they would both laugh together.  A lone tear escaped from the corner of her eye and trickled down her cheek.  Kata quickly wiped it away with the back of her hand and was annoyed with herself.  "Stupid Kata!" she chided herself,  "The women do not cry for their lost men, they rejoice and laugh in the meaning of their lives, they give thanks for the sacrifice, and for the return to the beginning, so that they can live again a different life", she repeated the words of the elder women.  She knew that all life must end and that eventually, everything must return to the beginning, just as it always had, just as it always would.  This was the eternal cycle.

These thoughts of her father stayed with her.  As she looked out over the ocean, she pictured his face, a face that was lined and weather beaten by the years of sun, wind, and salt spray, and a face that expressed deep love and joy for life and for her.  Whether it was the gentle lapping of the waves against the shore that had lulled her into the trance, Kata could not say, but she felt herself lifting away from her consciousness, her soul rising up, as if it were a separate entity from her body.  This did not frighten her, it had happened before and now she let the process continue, as she drifted within the embrace of love, light, and well-being that surrounded her.  Without knowing how, she knew and felt that the love emanated from her heart, that her heart was the source of an infinite amount of love, and that this love needed to be released back into the universe.  There was no question for Kata on this, for her, it was the absolute truth without question.  She had felt this sensation before and each time it occurred, and it did ever more frequently, she arrived at the same truth and understanding. There could be no doubt about it.  

Perhaps it had been the thoughts of her father that caused the next words to run through the conscious part of her mind, that part which retained the connection to the Earth, to the plane of the living.  As soon as the thought came to her, she understood and saw it plainly.  'The love of the dead can never be lost, that love which we held in our heart when they were living, lives on eternal within us.  The love that we found and expressed through them, joins our own and becomes a greater love, enriched and nourished by them, preserving their soul within ours.  It is true for the living and it is true for the dead.  This is why we can feel those whom we have loved alive within our hearts.  Everything in nature, whether it be tree, plant, rock, bird, butterfly, fish, or barking dog, gives to us love if we are willing to see it and to accept it.  In this way, the more we love and connect with the natural world, the more love we will receive, and the greater the love will we have to give, and thus, will our heart grow ever more.'

Kata was back on the rock, looking out to sea.  She remained there for a few moments longer, letting herself become accustomed once more to her surroundings, feeling the peace and calmness that ran through her veins.  A breeze blew across the water causing ripples to form on its surface, ripples that one day would become mighty waves.  She recalled some words once said to her, 'Nothing living can ever remain still, stillness is the province of death.'  With this thought she stood and knew where she would go.  She looked one last time across the ocean and smiled, then she turned away, and walked towards the village, where she would buy some bread and some mint to make tea, and pay a visit to the Teacher and share these new thoughts.
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Thursday, 26 March 2015

Authenticity In Life Means The Classroom Too

Today, a group of students in my trainee teacher placement class told me that I was their favourite student teacher, and that they had informed their parents that I was very nice.  This was only my fourth day of placement with the class and at the time, I could not help but feel an immense sense of personal achievement.  One of my goals had been to create connections between myself and the students, as I see that as a way of facilitating the classroom.  When I mentioned this to my associate teacher, she warned me not to be too friendly with the students.  This raises an interesting question: in terms of relationships in the classroom, what is the acceptable distance between a teacher and their students?

I have to be me.  I cannot be any other person.  That was one of the hardest lessons of my life (along with understanding the need for self love) and my inability to be my authentic and true self, caused me to pursue a path and life goals that were not of my own making, but rather the path on which I thought I should walk.  When I am not true self, I can feel that life does not resonate with my heart, we are out of sync, and although the person I see reflected back at me in the mirror looks like me, inside I know that we are different.  Being true to yourself and true to everything in which you believe is not always easy.  We are all under extreme and intense pressures to conform, to meet the wants and needs of our parents, siblings, friends, peers, colleagues, and society in general.  We are bombarded every waking moment with imagery and ideas about what is the right way to look and the lifestyle to which we should aspire.  It's hard not to be persuaded when everything around you tells you the same thing.  These clothes, this hairstyle, these shoes, this career, this house, this mortgage, this car, this phone, these appliances, this scent, this watch, and on and on and on...  

In England last year, after some unfortunate circumstances, I dusted off the old life and I tried it on again for size, the one from which I had turned away from almost nine years previously.  I could still do it, I could go through the motions, I could see how I would be able to make it all work again, just as I had once before.  The job was not difficult, my colleagues were an amazing bunch, the business objectives were aligned with my own thinking, the commute (although a pain) was manageable, the pay was sufficient, and the perks adequate.  I rented a small but comfortable apartment within five minutes walk of the beach, close to shops and other amenities.  I bought a car so that I could make the commute to work.  Suddenly, after years of pursuing my own personal life goals and dreams, I was caught up in a different life, the one I had left behind.  As I sat, hour after hour in front of a computer screen in the office, I knew that this was not my purpose in life.  As good at the work as I might be, it does nothing for my pulse and for my passion.  I cannot find life by looking at a screen because for me, life is in the living, breathing, miracle of nature and in people.  That was the truth from which I had hidden from for so long before and I vowed I would not make the same mistake twice.  At least not unless I had no other option.

Here I am then, ten weeks on from leaving that job, that apartment, and that life.   I've just completed my fourth day of my first trainee teacher placement and I am dealing with life again.  These are lives that I can see, hear, and smell.  These are lives that are beautifully unique, each and every one of them, whether they know it or not, a living, breathing, miracle.  And I want them to know that.  That is why I came to teaching.  These are not just part of a job, something that I have to deal with on a daily basis.  These kids represent a fantastic opportunity, a chance to engage in their lives, and to hopefully make a positive difference.  Through our interactions with each other we will learn together, we will grow together, we will evolve together.  They will enrich my life, as I hope that I will be able to enrich theirs.  How can I disengage myself from that opportunity?  How can I partially close the door on that chance?  Why should I?

Of course, there is a need to maintain a distance.  The line of teacher and student must not become blurred.  I am certainly not looking to be a mate or a buddy.  Does that prevent me from making honest connections and sharing with them?  I do not think it does.  In all of my life, I have connected with people from all walks of life, the rich, the poor, the office cleaners, factory workers, secretaries, scuba instructors, executives, and all of those somewhere in between.  No one person is defined by what they do and it is an error in judgement to believe that someone is the job that they do, rather than the person who they are.  How do you know what is in their heart and their head?  What we do today is only the briefest glimpse into the story of our life, a snapshot of time that does not define who we are.  What defines us is how we act and whether we are brave enough to act in harmony with our true self, when everything around us tells us otherwise.  I cannot be my true and authentic self if I create artificial lines and barriers in the classroom.  I have to be me.  I know no other way.

Carl Rogers and William Glasser, two American psychologists, both adhered strongly to the view that authenticity in the classroom was a key factor in generating an environment conducive to learning.  They saw the role of the teacher as a facilitator and leader, rather than the boss type who simply laid down the rules and instructed.  I see that to get the most out of someone, you need to understand them, to know what makes them tick, what they like to do, what hobbies and passions they have.  This information is crucial in making connections with the students.  Not superficial connections for the sake of it, but deep and meaningful connections that show that you care about them - because you do.  If this is what I am doing, then I am happy with the situation.  As long as we can maintain a teaching and learning environment that observes the jointly agreed classroom rules, and is respectful, then I see no problem whatsoever.  If the students view me as a friend, then so be it.  I will be their friend for the time that they are in my class.  I will support them when they need it, I will help them when they need it, and I will tell them when they are wrong or out of line.  That's what you want from a friend isn't it?  That's what we all need.  These kids don't want or need someone busting their butts all day, they need a place where they can come and feel welcome, respected, and supported.

If I find that this does not work then I'll re-evaluate and I'll learn from it.  That's what life is all about.  We learn, we grow, we evolve.  It is the never ending process of what it means to be alive and to be human.  I am learning all the time, about these amazing, talented, and special kids that I have the honour and privilege of working with, and from everything that occurs around me.  I'll never stop learning and I'll never stop being the true and authentic me. If that means that teaching is not the job for me after all, then so be it, because I am never going to stop caring about people and wanting the best for them.

~ ~ ~
Love is not something that I do
Love is not something that I give
Love is not something that I have 
Love is simply all that I am
And I return love to the universe
Through the openness of my heart
And the authenticity of my words, actions, and deeds
So that it may cause a ripple, that creates a wave
That changes every thing, in every place, for all time.

Andy Smith, 26 March 2015
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