Thursday, 1 October 2015

The Unobtainable Light, or Two Paths That Diverged

A person must continue to walk throughout their life or else, just like the stream that stagnates, all signs of life will slowly disappear and vanish.  Water, the giver of life, knows that it must constantly seek change if it is to remain alive, it knows that it must always flow, finding new pathways, and overcoming obstacles if it is to succeed, if it is to reach its journey's end. 
Following the path is a journey of discovery, it is a journey of growth, and a journey of evolution.  When I began in earnest, seperating myself from the known, the safe, and the secure, my life changed dramatically in ways that I could never have predicted.  Guided by my heart, it led me along a pathway that for many years, I had been too scared to tread, too afraid of the possibilities, feeling that I was not deserving of the happiness that awaited, afraid of the consequences that would come if I were to realise my innermost dreams.

There was one significant moment when I came upon two roads that diverged before me.  One was a secure looking, safe road, that was well trodden by those who had come before me, and it would make for comfortable, easy walking.  The other, now that one was dark and twisting, nothing was discernible around the first bend, it appeared uninviting, and where it led I could not tell.  Yet, as I stood before these roads, I knew already the way I would go.  Even though I stood a while and debated, argued, and reasoned with myself, the route I would take had been set long ago.  My head fought with my heart that day, and as I knew it would, my heart won.  I plunged into the darkness and lost myself in the vastness of the unknown.

The irony was of course, that becoming lost on this road was the very thing that helped me to discover myself.  Around that first corner, obscured from view, but so tantalisingly close (if you could ever know it), was the greatest, warmest, and brightest light that I have ever seen.  It was the light of love that awaits all who seek the true path for themselves.  It was the light of understanding of self, of the world, and the universe.  I tried to reach that light, I wanted to reach it and attain it, and so I walked faster and faster towards it, always seeking it. 

But I could not.  Like a dog that chases its own shadow, no matter how hard I tried, I could never reach my goal.  The light was always there, shining ever more brightly, burning with an intensity that was hard to look upon.  It took me some time to realise that there was one very good reason I could not reach that light, no matter how hard I tried or how fast I ran towards it.  The light had led me on a journey to new places, with new people and new experiences.  My life was changed, I was changed from the person who I once was.  Part of me remained, I could feel that, the old me lived within the new, one and the same, changed yet still the same.  And with me were fragments of all the people that I had encountered, all of the places where I had been, and all of the incredible wonders I had experienced, just as I was a fragment within those same people.  Everyone I encountered left a mark upon my soul, enriching me, as I too left my mark upon theirs, bonding us forever across space and time.

It was only much later that I was able to come to an understanding.  When I had stood and looked upon those two diverging roads, there was never a debate as to which one I would take.  I was always going to take the path that I took.  It wasn't just about where I was at that moment, it was also about when I was.  I was at the right place and I had arrived at the right moment, to be where and when I needed to be so that I could act and make the decision that needed to be made.  A decision that was preordained in the mists of time, in the making of the universe.  I arrived exactly when I was supposed to arrive, the result of countless trillions of possibilities and happenings.  

I was always going to become all that I have become.  It was my life purpose.  When I was born, it was written in my heart that this is who I would be, these were the things that I would do, and the thoughts that I would have.  From that moment on, everything I have ever done has steered me on my journey. Sometimes it has been done unconsciously, without my even realising it, but always I have steered myself on the journey of my own making.  I could never have changed it.  My heart is too strong, it speaks too loudly for me to ever deny its existence.

I believe that this is the same for everyone of us.  Every person has a message written inside their heart.  It is the DNA of who they truly are, the person that they are destined to be.  If you listen and take heed of that message, then you will find the path that is right for you at exactly the moment when you need it.  You too will discover the light that awaits.

And as for that light that I tried so hard to reach?  I still cannot touch it, no matter what it is that I do.  It still remains there, always out of my reach.  Why?  Because that light is me and I am the light of the universe that shines the way.  I am the light of love.  I am the light of life.  I am me, and that is all I ever needed to be.  The real me, the true me.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Reaching the End of my Second Teaching Placement - A Poem of Gratitude

This week is going to be a tough week.  It's the last week of my second placement in school and marks another major step towards the dream of becoming a school teacher.  The time has passed by so very quickly.  In fact, this whole year is flying past.  It seems only like yesterday that I was stepping off the plane in New Zealand, having flown from the UK.  Only now, has a year passed since I first submitted my application for university in Wellington, at Victoria University.  One year ago, it was nothing but an uncertain dream.  Now, it is a dream that is approaching reality.

I have enjoyed immensely my time on this second placement.  The class I've been with have been amazing.  It has been a hugely enjoyable and rewarding experience.  At the beginning of this placement, I felt daunted, overawed, and overwhelmed by what lay ahead.  I questioned whether teaching was truly for me.  It would have been so easy to walk away, to follow the urge that told me to do so.  But I did not.  I stood firm and resolute and I told myself that I had to at least see this placement through to the end, and only then would I be in a position to know truly.  It is at times like these when I remember a passage in The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho that describes how we are tested as we approach the realisation of our dreams.  The universe tests us to see whether we are worthy, whether we have learned all that we needed to learn and discover, whether we are certain that this is our dream, and whether we believe in our path.

I am not there yet.  I still have courses to complete at university but one thing is now more certain in me than ever.  I was always going to be a teacher.  I have felt it for most of my life, hearing the call from afar, waiting until the moment when I knew I could deny myself the inevitable no longer.  I do not teach because I can, I teach because it is me, it is my life, and it is my dream. 

Here then, is the poem I wrote to the class as a memento of my stay with them.  I have purposely removed a few verses to protect anonymity of the children.  

A Poem for Room 12

Room 12 has been a truly incredible place to be
It’s full of learning, friendship, and true camaraderie
I’ve had such fun with you all I never would have guessed
I hope you don’t remember me as a terrible, awful, nasty pest.

Remember at the beginning and we made a juggling ball?
I think we had a lot of fun; at least that’s what I recall
Balloons, rice and a little bag, colours and designs were made
Together we ventured out with them and in the playground we played.

We read a book by Roald Dahl called the BFG
About dreams and giants and girl whose name was Sophie
We thought about the dreams we have and whether they could come true
In our books, we wrote them down and shared our point of view.

What imaginations you really have to see such wondrous things
Fluffy unicorns, vampire bats, and a golden boot that sings?
Some were likely, some were certain and some that just could not be,
I thought all were amazing and brilliant, and explored some probability.

When you see yourself in the mirror, there’s a reflection looking back at you
And down the centre, right in between, there’s a line that divides the two
We used contrasting colours and paper folded in two or four
To show our lines of symmetry so they showed up even more.

Cut out a circle of paper and then you fold it one, two three
Take a piece of pizza pie and trace your design so you see
Rotate around, rotate around, rotate around that’s the key
If you fit in more times than one, you've got rotational symmetry.

Now, how to find your way around I wonder if you know?
East, south, west, north, please tell me it’s not so.
The compass needle always points to the north and after that it’s east
Never Eat Soggy Weetbix always remember that at least!

What shapes we found and placed them together with no gaps in between
To make some wonderful patterns, the best that I’d ever seen
Now what do we call it?  What name could it be?
Why it was tessellation of course! Oh silly, silly me.

How do you write instructions, please tell me what you need
Begin with a title that says it all and sows a little seed
Next you add a description and maybe a picture or two
Follow the steps you find below and you’ll know just what to do.  

In the mornings after a little maths we took ourselves under the sea
With a special room 12 brain break created just for you, by me
We looked around, we saw such fish, and wonders of the deep
And after we had finished, there was not a sign of sleep!

We learned about cause and effect on the oceans you recall?
How pollution, over fishing, and climate change are problems for us all
We need to act, we need to think about what it is we do
So in the future this planet of ours we still have seas of blue.

And in those seas the fish will swim and the whales will blow and dive
All of the life below the surface will multiply and thrive
We need the krill, we need the sharks, we need the tuna and wahoo
Because without those last fishy types, what’s the cookie cutter shark to do?

Now here we are, it’s come at last, the end of my short stay
Room 12 you’re the most wonderful people, and I know you’ll always be that way
And even though I’ll be gone, the memories, well they can never fade
Because you created for me, the best most brilliant dream that was ever made.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Haunted by the Past, Driven to the Future

This is a poem inspired by the ghost of the past and how it can continue to haunt us, even years later.  Some events occur in our lives that become so deeply rooted in our psyche, embedded within the fibre of our beings, that we are forever fighting against them.  It's as if they are always there, ready to taunt us at any moment with the memory of what was.  I remain haunted by my other self, the boy that I was once, even though the man is so very different. 

But what I find most remarkable about this is the thought of where my life would be without my ghost of the past?  It is partly due to my ghost that I am who I am today, I am where I am today.  My ghost may haunt my every moment, but it also drives me forward, urging me to be a better person and to always seek out my the dreams of my heart.  How I was as a boy has taught me compassion, caring, and empathy.  I see it as goodness, perhaps tinged with a small patch of dark.  The dark can never consume the light and as long as I follow and listen to my heart, the light will always shine forth.  The light of love can never be broken nor defeated.

Me In The Mirror
There I am
My reflection
But not me
The boy
I see him still
Ever present
An endless chase
I run
Yet there he is
Whenever I look
Reminding me
Of who I was
What I was
Fat, ugly
Outside no more
And inside?
I'll never be rid
Of this companion
A constant reminder
That plagues me
Alters my behaviour
He has strength
And power
We fight
A never ending
Struggle of wills
He is me
I am him
We are one
The same
Lost apart
And there I stand
Man and boy
Me in the mirror.


Sunday, 6 September 2015

The Cry of the Mountain

The Cry of the Mountain

I woke up and I was giddy with excitement and euphoria. I knew what it was I wanted to do! But then I looked at how difficult it would be to begin, I saw the mountain towering above me, and as I gazed toward its lofty summit, I knew that it would be impossible to reach it. "Madness!" I thought, "Utter madness to even think I could do it." I started to turn away and as soon as did, I began to feel a sense of relief wash over me as the mountain slowly faded from my sight, and with it, my dream, like the leaves of autumn, falling slowly around my feet to be lost, and reborn in another time and another life.

In that moment of turning, through the waves of relief that washed over me, I sensed something else. I caught the sound of faint cries carried on the wind. I paused to listen because my instinct told me that someone was in great distress, someone was out there, floundering and lost, and if I could do it, then I was going to help them. The cries were coming from behind me, from the very place on which I had just turned my back. I felt a compulsion to keep going, to ignore this cry for help, but I could not. I had to turn around and to see what I could do.

The act of turning would not come and I stood, frozen in space and time, as the last cry echoed and died away around me. I knew that if I did turn, towering high above me and bearing witness to my cowardice, would be the mountain that I knew not how to climb. I was caught in hesitation between that which scared me and the cries for help, and the compulsion to keep going, with my back at the mountain, and to ignore everything and to pretend it had never happened, that I had not heard the voice.  The cry came again only this time, although it was fainter, I could discern its urgency and dire need.  

I cannot explain why I did what I did.  I've looked back upon this moment in the times since and I am still unable to say what happened.  I recall taking a step away from the mountain only to stumble at taking a second.  It felt as though the entire universe was watching me at that very moment, I could feel the weight of its gravity pushing down with such crushing force, piercing my soul with its gaze.  For an instant I stopped.  There had been no further cry for help and perhaps it was this that gave me pause.  All I know is that pause I did and it felt like the universe held its breath in unison. I moved again, only it was not to take a step forwards as I had been expecting, it was to turn myself about, to look upon the lofty peak of that impenetrable mountain once more.  

I waited and listened for the cry, my eyes searched the trees, scanned the lower levels of the mountain, looking for anything that would give me a clue as to the location of the helpless victim. I saw no one, I heard no one.  I walked forward a few paces altering the angle at which I was looking into the trees, hoping that perhaps I would see some colour that would indicate an item of clothing.  Nothing.  I stepped forward a little more, scanning the mountain ridges, looking at the gullys, fixing my eyes on the trees. Still there was no one.  I decided that I would give it up, that I had perhaps heard the cries of an eagle or some other bird of prey on the wind, on the hunt.  I looked once more time and then I saw it.

There, in among the darkness of the trees was an opening I had not seen before.  Could it be the way through?  I tried my best to guess the direction it would take through the forest and I lifted my eyes up to scan the lower slopes of the mountain. There!  Could it be?  It was almost too good to be true.  What looked like a trail, barely visible, wound its way up the mountainside for some distance before disappearing.  I could not have seen it from where I had been standing before.  It only became clear once I had taken a few steps toward the mountain.  

I began to walk forwards.  I do not recall being aware of this until suddenly, looming up before me stood the trunks of the ancient and mighty trees in the forest.  Now I stopped once more, not in hesitation but so I could remember this moment.  I turned and looked back from whence I had come and I saw that already I had travelled some distance along the path.  Perhaps it would become harder now.  I tightened my pack, took a deep breath and plunged forwards into the forest, into the unknown, taking one step then another along the path.  

It was then I heard the laughter all around, coming from everywhere all at once and I knew that the laughter was from the same person who had cries out in distress before.  I smiled and then I too laughed and I laughed with great and profound joy.  There had never been anyone else.  The cries, just as with the laughter had come from within myself.  My heart had spoken, my heart had known the suffering that would have occurred had I walked away from the mountain, and it had known that my dream would have been lost, perhaps forever.  Now, it was full of joy because at long last we were together making the journey, our journey.  We were on the path towards our dreams.  Perhaps we would never reach the top of the mountain.  Perhaps the trail would stop part way up.  But at least now I was going to find out.  I would discover all there was and I might find out more than I could ever have realised.  This was an adventure.  Together, my heart and I, we were on the path.  We were on our true path, and now the possibilities were endless.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Aroha and the Making of All Things

At the very beginning of all things, at the making, there was a word, and that word was the making.  It has echoed through eternity, across the vast reaches of space and time, and it will echo ever more, until the end of all things and the making renewed.  It will outlast us all, for it is us, and we are it, yet it will endure and we shall not.  This is its story.

On the morning, as the sun rose for the very first, it warmed the ground and the air began to move.  The air, that had until this time been still, felt the life within and it smiled to know that it could now move.  So it did.  It travelled across the land, rushing through the tree tops, moving bough, branch, and leaf, it raced across the plains of grass and of sand, it rose up and up over the mighty peaks of mountains, and it plunged down into valleys.  Joyous was the air that was now the wind, and it exalted in its new found freedom.  As it raced across the oceans, ripples become waves that became great swells and they heard the wind cry out to them, "Aroha!"

At the edge of the shore, where land and sea meet in their eternal duel, the swell washed and became waves that plundered the beaches, and smashed themselves hard against the rocks.  Great plumes of spray flew up high, catching the rays of sun, turning into droplets of gold, only to fall like rain, and to begin the cycle over again.  The water that had been flat and calm until the wind had begun to blow now rejoiced in its new found excitement and it raged on, pounding and throwing itself against the land.  "Aroha!" it cried, "Aroha!" it roared, for aroha it was.

The mighty eagles rose up high on the currents of air that now flowed where before there had been none.  Wings spread wide, they soared and glided, they gained height so that the trees of the forests below were nothing except a small green patch and soon faded from sight, so high that the peaks of the tallest mountains, coated in the glistening white that sparkled and dazzled like millions of tiny diamonds, were far below the reach of their powerful talons.  As they soared on the air, stretching and arcing their wings, twisting, rising, and falling at will, the noise of the wind could be heard to whisper, "Ar-oh-a", and in response the eagles cried out "Aroha!  Aroha!"

In the forests down below, the wind rushed and the trees swayed.  "We are flexible", they said, "you cannot break us, you shall never break us", and they stood in defiance of the air that had become the wind.  The wind only laughed for it knew that its power was unlimited, that one day it would have to blow harder and bring change, but until then, it was content to blow as it did that first day.  The leaves of the branches rustled with the breeze as they swayed and moved, and danced this way and that.  "Aroha, aroha, aroha!" the trees too were alive.

Under the dense green canopy of the trees, in those places where light found a way to break through, the deer sprang forth, the squirrels scampered up the trunks of the trees, and the wolves ran in mighty packs, barking and yelping in the fun of the day.  In the fragile leap of the deer jumping clear across a stream, in the scurry of the squirrel along the branch of the tree, in the playful rough and tumble of the wolves, there could be heard the same words over and over and over.  "Aroha!  We are alive."

Under the surface of the ocean, giant schools of fish formed and moved in a swirling, colossal, dark mass as one.  Dolphins exploded into the air, twisting and turning, squealing and whistling with the delight and the play, and to tell each other what they must.  With power and grace came the sharks to watch the commotion, to beat their mighty fins, and slid through the water with grace and poise and all that saw them revelled in their beauty.  From the depths of the oceans, huge beasts rose and broke the surface, rising clear, to suck in new air and life, to slap a fin and splash back down.  The ocean was a heaving frenzy of life and in every slap, squeal and whistle, and movement of fin, the same word could be heard.  "Aroha."

Sitting on a rock on the beach, a pair of eyes looked upon all that was good that day.  With each beat of his heart, the boy heard the same word over and again, as he would for ever more, "Aroha", it said.  The wind too heard the beating of that heart, so strong and true, and came to see for itself the boy on the rock to whom it belonged.  The wind, that had now travelled around the world brought with it a scent from far off places, and it blew the scent over the boy.  The boy looked up and smiled, he did not need to hear the words that the wind spoke to him, because his heart had already told him the story of how it was, how it is, and how it would be.  The boy rose to his feet and took one last look out across the ocean.  "Aroha.  I am coming.  Wait for me."  He knew that she would always be waiting, like he, for the right time, the right place, and for the right moment in which they would again find the other.  And when they did, the making would start anew, for the making would always begin and end with aroha, because that is all there has ever been and all there ever will be.  It was true then, it is true now, and it will be true for ever more.  Love.

~ ~ ~
The Māori were the first people of New Zealand and aroha is their word for love.  If you sit quietly, you can hear it whispered to you on the breeze, calling to your heart, telling you of your dreams, and of the path that is your own to walk.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

The Question Remains

I'm sitting in the departure lounge of Sydney airport, waiting for a flight that will take me back to Wellington and New Zealand.  I've flown down from Brisbane this morning after taking a six day vacation staying in Byron Bay.  It was a gift to myself, a present to say thank you, you did it.  It was a chance to recharge my soul after a hard slog through the first half of my post graduate teaching diploma. On Monday, the hard work resumes, university commences after the break that marked the end of the first trimester. Four papers completed, one seven week school placement successfully negotiated, four examinations passed.  The grades are in.  On Monday it begins again. Still I wonder, is this really me?  Is this truly my life's purpose?

How is it ever possible to know the answer to the question unless you try?  I loved my first school placement.  Absolutely loved it. The kids were amazing; we shared some amazing moments; I helped them to learn; I taught lessons in mathematics, French, and social studies; I helped out in PE (physical education), took groups for reading, and assisted in all other learning areas of the classroom.  I recently returned to the school after a few weeks away and the children were very happy to see me, exclaiming that I was the best student teacher ever.  Heady praise indeed.  I try not to think about how many student teachers these eleven and twelve year old's have actually known.  It doesn't matter.  The fact that they told me such things is the most important.  It tells me that we connected, that whatever I did in the classroom and outside in the playground, down in the city at the ANZAC memorial, on the park at the girl's football tournament, at the ten pin bowling alley, and at the trip to the zoo, it must have worked.  It must have been good and it must have been right.  

Not every student told me I was the best but one of those that did was one of the students with whom I had experienced a real difficulty in making a connection.  He often seemed closed off, reluctant to work, apathetic and lethargic.  When he spoke to me and made his proclamation I was absolutely stunned and taken aback.  Perhaps his view is the one I treasure the most because it was the hardest won, even though I wasn't fighting to gain it, just trying to be the type of teacher that I would have wanted. 

It was not an easy placement and I experienced many difficulties.  For example, lessons that I had meticulously planned infrequently didn't quite work out in the way that I had envisaged. Time was a major factor in this - there was never enough of it.  I wanted to take my time, to explore where the children wanted to go, because I wanted to respect their opinions, their desire to ask questions that I had not thought would occur, and to take the lesson into areas that were of interest to them.  Now that I think about it, maybe that was as important as the lesson itself.  Learning occurred in a different way but it was still learning.  We were never off topic, more often just taking a tangent, a minor detour that changed the scenery but did not necessarily alter the overall journey.  For me, learning needs to be a two-way street.  I am a strong believer in the views of William Glasser and Carl Rogers, their views resonated with me deeply, I intrinsically understood what they meant, how they believed the classroom should be maintained.  

Other problems occurred that I would not have envisaged.  One member of the staff expressed very negative views of the teaching profession that I found shocking and which saddened me immensely.  I had not been prepared to find people teaching that did not want to be teaching. I witnessed some incredibly poor teaching methods, students relevant and well-thought questions were ignored and dismissed, and I found that for every very good teacher, there was equally a very poor one.  It was an eye opening experience to what can occur and in retrospect, I am grateful for the experience.  Initially, I wanted to give up but I decided that the children needed better and I wanted to give them that.  I wanted them to see that not every teacher was the same.  I wanted to let them know that I cared deeply about them.  I hope I achieved it.

I raised the question, is teaching my life's purpose?  I do believe that it is.  It is not the classroom nor the thought of teaching that is my concern right now.  Now I am half way through the course, I know that the end is going to fast come into sight.  It is always the way of things.  Just think back to any two week vacation you've ever taken and you'll know that there is a significant difference in the experience of time between the first week and the time of the second week.  It is as if time accelerates the closer we get to the end, like we are being inextricably pulled towards the end, sucked into the vortex of a giant black hole of time.  With the end of the course comes my next big adventure. I will need to make a commitment to one place, something I have not done for ten years.  Perhaps it does not need to be like that. Already, I considered teaching overseas, using it as a means of travel.  Africa pulls at me, South America maybe, back to Central America perhaps?  

So, there is my decision.  I am going to finish the course and I am going to become a school teacher.  Another dream accomplished.  The dream that has been in my heart for many years.  Let's get that job done, let's get through the next five months, four more papers, and one more placement.  Then we'll see how the land lies.  Nothing is forever in this life.  That is the joy of making decisions, of being able to follow the heart.  You have to do what is in the heart today. Tomorrow, well, when tomorrow comes, then maybe we will find another dream, a new dream to pursue.  Until then, I am teaching because of one thing I am sure.  I was born to teach.

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.

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

Monday, 23 March 2015

If Only Every Day Was Like This

Today marked a momentous day in my life.  It was a day that I approached with a mix of excitement and fear.  It was a day that had been a long time coming, a day that I thought would never come.  That constant nagging thought, the long held desire of my heart, the incessant calling that would never leave me, that urge to fulfill a dream... Now there could no longer be any doubt, no more debate, no where else to run.  The day of discovery had finally dawned.  Today was my first day of placement for my school teaching experience.

As the children filed into the classroom, I sat on my chair at the front of the classroom and I began to wonder whether I could do it?  My fear began to rise.  I knew that at some point, I would have to get up and go and get involved, to engage with them, and to begin to get to know these strange alien creatures who I was going to be with every day for the next seven weeks.  How were they going to react to my presence?  Were they going to ask me questions that I would not be able to answer?  Would they make comments and backtalk me?  These children were older than I had ever expected to teach.  In the English state school system, primary school finishes at year 6 (age eleven) and at this point the children move up to secondary school.  Now I was faced with a mixed class of thirty two year 7s and 8s, who made up one class of a New Zealand intermediate school, which is classified here as primary.  When I had discovered this was my allocated class for the teaching experience I had been thrown, as it was far from my expectation. At 8:50am this morning, I was well and truly out of my comfort zone.  Theory is one thing, I love learning, I lap it up.  But practice?  That's a whole new ball game, it's what truly separates the men from the boys.  As my first manager once said to me, "Cometh the hour, cometh the man!"

I did get up and I did engage with the children.  The fight was only in the initial standing up because once I had done that, I really had nowhere else I could possibly go.  That was the moment when I knew I would be alright.  I didn't stand up because I thought that I should, I stood up because I wanted to engage with the students.  I was deeply curious and I wanted to help and to begin to answer my life's call.

Walking over to the first desk, I squatted down between two students, lowering myself to their level, and asked them how they were getting on and what were they were working on?  They replied and showed me their work.  We talked about it, I asked if they needed any help.  One of the students was working on a cryptic crossword and couldn't figure out some of the words.  We looked at it together and puzzled over it.  I could quickly deduce the answer but I didn't want to tell him, I needed him to find it for himself because that was the learning experience.  I asked him to look at how he had solved some of the other clues so that he could see the pattern, then I asked him to look again at the clue he was stuck on.  The light started to come on.  It was obvious.  He verbalised his thinking process and closed in on the answer whilst I waited patiently and nudged him to keep going with those thoughts, because they would lead him to the answer.  Bingo!  There it was.  So, we tried another one, same process again.  I knew that this was it.  This was what it was all about.

I moved on, spoke with other students, engaged with them on their work.  English literacy lesson came to a close and the classes split into academic levels for maths class.  My associate teacher took the higher level maths group and the topic for today's lesson was complex fraction multiplication.  The students were set some examples to work through and I got up and went to visit the desks.  The first student I talked with was having some problems, so we worked through one together.  He got it.  I moved on and found another.  She got it too.  I was making a difference.  The teacher put up a really tough one for them all to work on.  I was with one of the students who was having some problems with it.  We worked it through together and although I was 99.9% sure of the answer we had, that 0.1% remained because it had worked differently from the others, not following the same pattern.  I sat down and crossed my fingers that when the answer came I had it right because I couldn't face knowing that I had taken a student down a wrong turn.  And when the answer came and with some relief I saw that I had been right, the student got up and walked over and high-fived me!  What a moment.

The rest of the day was similar.  I kept making tours of the class, talking to the children, helping where I could or discussing their work with them.  My high-five guy kept giving me a thumbs up during the afternoon.  It seemed that he was extremely happy with our maths problem solving and I think because we also talked about books (he's an avid reader). I used the time to make observations, to try to learn names, to figure out how each student ticked.  

At the end of the day, as they were filing out, the high-five guy came over to me.  "Thank you for the help today Mr Smith.  You're really interesting to talk with."  I was almost speechless.  I didn't expect this at all but I sure did appreciate.  "You're so welcome", I replied, "See you in class tomorrow."  What an end to my first day.  These are the kind of days that remain with you for the rest of your life.  I'll never again experience another first day of teaching experience, but I know that getting through has been truly significant and a momentous occasion.  I'm sure that not every day is going to be like this.  There are going to be some tough days ahead and some frustrating moments to come.  For now though, I can look back on my first day and smile.  Maybe not everyday will be like this but as long as I follow my heart, then I know that they are going to come pretty close.


Sunday, 22 March 2015

There Is No Plan B

I'll be honest, I am an options guy.  Whatever it is that I decide to do, I always give myself an out, an escape route, an alternative, call it what you will.  I never let myself get tied down into a situation from which I cannot extricate myself when it's necessary to move on.  I'm committed just as long as it works for me.  Commitment has never really been my forte.  At least, that is one way to look at it, but that is not the complete picture, that is only one part of a greater story.

Let's talk about commitment.  Sure, I've never been married.  My relationship track history does not make for the most pleasurable of readings.  Actually, it would be a pretty short coffee break type of read if I'm  honest.  And when I say coffee, I don't mean Sunday morning lounging around on a sofa with the papers in a cosy, stylish cafe, with notes of jazz mixing with the aroma and the ambiance.  I mean more of a quick, blink and its gone espresso.  I've lived in more places than I care to think about.  I've had plenty of jobs and I've tried quite a few careers.  I know many people in many countries around the world, in some way, I have touched the lives of thousands of people, yet my close friends number only a few.  I can pack all of my belongings into a couple of suitcases that would fit into the back of a car.  That's my flee mentality right there.   

Then there are the things that I have deeply committed to in my life, like the pursuit of my dreams.  Hang on though.  You know what?  Thinking about it right now, I see something more than the pursuit of my dreams.  Suddenly, I see with absolute clarity my entire life history and the pattern therein.  My life has been about more than my dreams, my life has always been about my heart.  It is easy to confuse the two since our true dreams live within the heart, but there is more to the heart than only dreams.  

I have always been emotionally connected.  I never really understood this until quite recently.  It doesn't just mean my emotions are on the surface (although  they generally are), it means that I live through my emotions, I experience life through my emotions.  The heart contains our emotions as well as our dreams.  Our hearts are the windows to our souls, they represent the real, authentic you.  The connection that I have to my heart is incredibly strong.  It is truly my driving force.  Everything I have ever done, every decision I have ever made, has been because of my heart.  The voice of my heart is never quiet.  Sometimes it whispers to me, other times it's like a sonic boom that explodes with such force that tears form in my eyes as a way of releasing the pressure.  Oh yes, I cry a lot, both through laughter and through sadness.  There was a time when I was ashamed of this, when I turned my face to hide my tears, but not any more.  My heart really is everything to me.  In fact, my heart is me and I am my heart.  Our link inseparable.  Even my signature, unknowingly to me for many years until someone pointed it out, contains a heart shape.  I have needed to follow its calling, I could never escape it.  It has led me on some of the most amazing adventures, to witness some of the most incredible things, to meet the most wonderful people, and it has led me to the pits of despair, to complete and utter hopelessness, where only sadness and pain were to be found.

Yet, I would never change my heart, I trust it completely.  I am here right now because of it.  Everything I have ever done has led me to this point and my heart has been leading me here in its own way, showing me all the things I needed to see, teaching me all of the lessons that I needed to learn, leading me to the people that I needed to help me along the way, always guiding me towards the inevitable.  And here I am, finally after all of these years, faced with the inevitability of my life.

My heart is changing.  I can feel it. There has been a subtle shift inside that tells me that things are different to how they used to be.  My heart continues to speak to me and I to listen to its voice, but that voice is no longer urgent and incessant.  It is no longer driving me onwards to the next place I need to be, because I am in that place.  My heart is content.  Tomorrow, I am stepping through the doors of a school classroom for the first time as a trainee school teacher.  This has been my long held dream, the dream to which my heart was always leading me, subtly steering me and guiding me through the turmoil and turbulent waters, giving wind to my sail when the currents ceased, moving me ever on, inexplicably towards my destiny.

I am ready, finally ready to stop moving.  I don't want to move again because I feel that I have come home. It's more than simply that though.  I am ready to commit.  Fully commit to my life, to the life I have always wanted, and the life that I have been denying myself for so long.  I don't mind that it has taken me this long because I know deep down that I was never ready before, even though there were times when I wanted it so bad that I would have done anything to keep it.  I couldn't have kept it before because my heart would have moved me on, just as it did, it had to move me on, I understand that now.  Not this time.  Here I am, tomorrow one of the longest held and one of my greatest dreams turns into reality.  That is not the end because I have several more dreams.  Tomorrow only marks the beginning.  Without tomorrow, I will never realise those other dreams.  To realise those, I have to stop moving, I have to let go of my options, I have to stop looking for the escape route.  And you know what?  I know that I will because my heart tells me that now is the right time.  Commitment doesn't start with a 'C', it starts with me.  And just for once, there is no plan B.


Monday, 16 March 2015

Our Sixth Sense - How We Know We Are Walking Our True Path

Our Sixth Sense

“You talk about knowing the true path as though it was visible and you can actually see it.  I can see the trees of the forest, the sun in the sky, and the waters of the lake, but how can I see my path if it does not exist in this world?” asked the boy.

The old man thought or a moment.  “Close your eyes”, he said.

The boy did as he was bid.  He sat on his rock in the clearing of the forest, with his eyes firmly shut.

“What do you see?” asked the old man.

The boy laughed.  “I can see nothing”, he replied. “My eyes are closed!”

“What can you hear?”

The boy sat quietly and let the noises of the forest come to his ears. “I hear the wind blowing through the trees and rustling the leaves, I hear the calls and songs of the birds, and I hear the chirping of the insects.”

“Keep your eyes closed and tell me what you can feel?” asked the old man.

Again the boy sat for a few moments. “I can feel the hard rock beneath me, I can feel the coolness of the breeze against my skin, I can feel the warmth of the sun’s rays on my face, and I can feel the weight of my clothes upon my back.”

“Now tell me, what can you smell?”

The boy raised his nose to the air and inhaled. “I can smell the scent of the pine trees in the forest, I can smell the freshness of the spring air, I smell the fragrance of the flowers in the clearing, and I can smell the scent of my own skin.”

“Good.  Now open your eyes."  The old man waited whilst the boy's eyes became accustomed once more to the light, before he went on.  "You use your other senses to tell you what it is that you cannot see.  So it is with the true path.  You may not be able to see the path but you will know the path by the way that you feel inside here!”  The old man banged his left breast with his clenched fist.  “It is here, in the heart that you will know the true path.”

The boy looked perplexed.  The other boys of the village laughed at his lessons with the old man who everyone said was crazy.  Perhaps they were right.  “How can I sense something with my heart?  That is not one of my five senses.”

“Your heart is a sixth sense.  Scientists will not speak of it because they cannot quantify it and so to them, it cannot exist.  But inside of your heart, that is where you find your true self.  That is the person who you were born to become.  Inside your heart is written the fundamental truth of your life.  It is within the heart that the soul of each of us can be found.  When you walk the true path, you become your true self, you live a life that is authentic and in harmony with the rhythm of your soul.”

This was hard for the boy to understand.  “How can I read what is written inside of my heart when I cannot see it?”

The old man looked up to the sky and smiled, then he looked kindly at the boy.  “What did we just learn about things that we cannot see?”

The boy was hesitant, a little unsure. “We can know them in other ways?”

“When we walk our true path we don’t see the path, hear the path, touch the path, nor can we taste the path.  But we do feel it.  We feel it inside of our heart.  When you are on the true path you will encounter moments that cannot be denied.  You will experience moments when a great up-welling of positive emotion occurs.  This emotion sweeps through your body and it fills your entire being with a feeling of great happiness.  Sometimes, the feeling is so strong that it shows itself to the physical world through the smile that erupts across your face and the tears that form in your eyes.  Not tears of sorrow, but tears of immeasurable joy.  You cannot contain these emotions and you will not wish to do so.  In these moments, your body, mind, and soul come together as one single unified entity, and through their combined power, they emit a wave of love energy out into the universe.  This is how you know you walk your true path."

They sat quietly, old man and the boy, each on a rock, each lost in their own thoughts.  The reverie was broken by the old man.  "It grows late.  We shall perhaps talk more of love and the wave another time."

The boy was still thinking on what the old man had said as they made their way back to the village.  He hoped that one day he might come to know his own true path and experience the feelings of which the old man had spoken.  For now, he was content to know that the possibility of walking his true path existed.  He understood that finding that path would take acts of courage and bravery, and he would need to face his fears.  Knowing that it could be done and that when he was walking it he would know it, this was enough for today.