Seeing our purpose in life

Bird Droppings October 12, 2011
Seeing our purpose in life

It has been over ten years since I started writing this piece. I went out this morning with many questions on my mind. I Have a significant paper to write, my son’s wedding anniversary coming up, a grandbaby that just started saying pop pop, new and old students and how to deal with them when I get to school and pondering with each breath if I have chosen wisely. It was cool as I walked out and rearranged a few stones in the back yard. I walked to the corner where I could see a glimpse of the sunrise perhaps it was the moon as it is too early maybe I could think about a sunrise was more like it. I was reading earlier a college student’s frustration in life and love on her xanga account (talk about old social networking) and glanced over birthdays and postings on my facebook page.
As I am listening to teenagers at school so often we limit ourselves to what we know now. Obviously it is hard to assume we will know more lately, but children at some point lose that aspect. It may be at puberty where imagination and thinking of what could be and how dissipate. Maybe that is why middle school kids are so hard to deal with they are locked in the now more so than any other age losing the ability to see ahead and not knowing enough to ponder anything else. However often I wonder about my own purpose in life, why am I here?

“Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: If you’re alive, it isn’t.” Richard Bach

Every once in a while I find a quote from Richard Bach that strikes me. I remember reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull in the early seventies and it made sense. I would wager today most high school students and even college students would have a difficult time or find it too childish. A good friend offered up a book by James Kavanaugh, known for his controversial 1967 bestseller, A Modern Priest Looks at His Outdated Church, calling for reform in the Catholic church, Celebrate the Sun, a sort of whimsical story about Harry Lagendorf , who happens to be a pelican. Each author took a whimsical look at the human condition and solutions in differing directions. Kavanaugh’s book is on my list for Christmas again.
When I was very young I felt I had a mission in life some great event perhaps I was to accomplish. As I got older and perhaps wiser that event became my life’s puzzle slowly falling in place each aspect piece by piece.

“The need for self-actualization is the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming. People who have everything can maximize their potential. They can seek knowledge, peace, esthetic experiences, self-fulfillment, and oneness with God, etc. It is usually middle-class to upper-class students who take up environmental causes, join the Peace Corps, go off to a monastery, etc.” © 1997, Robert Gwynne, based on Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of needs”

“Everything on the earth has a purpose, every disease an herb to cure it, and every person a mission.” Mourning Dove, Salish

I have seen her name spelled several different ways Morning Dove and Mourning Dove; she was from the Salish tribe and a healer or a medicine woman. Her tribe is the same as the great Chief Dan George actor and philosopher.
Maslow in his development of a hierarchy of needs has self actualization as the top of his needs pyramid. Such terms as self fulfillment, a self purpose and finding yourself have been tossed around as well. Native American thought has each aspect of our existence with purpose each as sacred and all are intertwined. I found myself explaining that to my son many days ago as we drove towards town. He had asked me, “What did you think of the pope”? An interesting question out of the blue, I used and borrowed from Mourning Dove all has purpose and all is sacred each unto their own. Is he a great man? Is he sacred? Is he to be revered? These are questions to answer from your heart and not for me to answer.

“Each of our acts makes a statement as to our purpose.” Leo Buscaglia

“The presence of a long-term, conscious goal has helped me maintain stability through the ubiquitous changes of over half a century.” Mary Craig

“Everything in the universe has a purpose. Indeed, the invisible intelligence that flows through everything in a purposeful fashion is also flowing through you.” Wayne Dyer

Perhaps we lose purpose in this disposable society. Many years back when I was privileged to participate in a session of training in Foxfire technique we toured the Foxfire museum a step back in Mountain life to an earlier day when each plant tree and leave had significance. The late Robert Murray was our tour guide and curator of the property and he would stop at a patch of weeds and pull a leave.

“plantago major – common plantain – white man’s foot print – Medicinally, plantain is astringent, demulcent, emollient, cooling, vulnerary, expectorant, antimicrobial, antiviral, antitoxin, and diuretic. It affects blood sugar, usually lowering it. It has been used to treat lung disorders and stomach problems. For these purposes, a tea is made from either the leaves or the whole plant and taken internally. This same tea may be used as a mouthwash to treat sores in the mouth and toothaches. It may also be used externally to treat sores, blisters, insect bites and stings, hemorrhoids, burns, rashes, and other skin irritations. Alternatively, a poultice of the leaves may be applied to the afflicted area. This is probably plantain’s most common use. For relief from a bee sting or insect bite, simply shred (or chew) a plantain leaf and hold it on the bite for a few minutes.” The late Robert Murray at Foxfire and that was in about ten seconds

We would get a complete summary of what was once a weed, just a plant and now was a pharmacy. I remember using the seed heads to shoot at each other as kids. As we walked each tree or plant including Sweet Birch which can be used as a tooth brush, and plants such as mint and so forth all had significance. Many days ago I took a leave of white sage to school and let students smell and explained for Native Americans this was a scared plant used as incense and in teas to calm. You can use several leaves in boiling water and make a very relaxing tea. We have lost that closeness to nature that dependence on what is around us in our plastic world.

“What makes life dreary is the want of a motive.” George Eliot

“Men achieve certain greatness unawares, when working to another aim.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Needs are proponent”. A proponent need is one that has the greatest influence over our actions. Everyone has a proponent need, but that need will vary among individuals. A teenager may have a need to feel that he/she is accepted by a group. A heroin addict will need to satisfy his/her cravings for heroin to function normally in society, and will not worry about acceptance by other people.

“When the deficiency needs are met: At once other (and higher) needs emerge, and these, rather than physiological hungers, dominate the organism. And when these in turn are satisfied, again new (and still higher) needs emerge, and so on. As one desire is satisfied, another pops up to take its place.” Abraham Maslow

As our needs change in effect does our purpose. Emerson addresses we end up unaware as we journey often becoming greatly unaware of that as we gain it. Eliot speaks of motive a knowing of where we go or a direction. Dr. Maslow uses the concept of needs in a hierarchy of as we fulfill or satisfy one we reach a higher need. Looking back I find primitives seem to have a more complex view than we moderns and a more appreciative view of all around us.

“Be above it! Make the world serve your purpose, but do not serve it.” Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

I think many take Goethe’s view and seek to make the world serve your purpose.

“Multitudes of people, drifting aimlessly to and fro without a set purpose, deny themselves such fulfillment of their capacities, and the satisfying happiness which attends it. They are not wicked, they are only shallow. They are not mean or vicious; they simply are empty — shake them and they would rattle like gourds. They lack range, depth, and conviction. Without purpose their lives ultimately wander into the morass of dissatisfaction. As we harness our abilities to a steady purpose and undertake the long pull toward its accomplishment, rich compensations reward us. A sense of purpose simplifies life and therefore concentrates our abilities; and concentration adds power.” Kenneth Hildebrand

Daily I see students like this floundering wandering aimlessly like empty hollow gourds to shake and rattle.

“The meaning of life is to give life meaning.” Ken Hudgins

We have lost appreciation for life in our disposable world we seem to forget that all about us was once alive. As we timber old growth forest and try and pretend we can grow it back in 500 years. As we strip the world of rain forest that has taken tens of thousands of years to develop. According to some it all is alive each rock, each plant, each aspect of our existence and we ourselves find no significance in it far too often.

“Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: If you’re alive, it isn’t.” Richard Bach

“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” Crowfoot, Blackfoot warrior and orator

A dear friend once posted about a sunset in New York City as she came home from work and how that had become a significantly good part of her day seeing the sunrise and set. My days of wandering the pastures late at night walking up on our buffalo as they slept are gone. I am now content to sit by the fire in our home and walk out into the back yard of our country home and listen to the morning. I still find purpose in each breath and in seeing each leave and twig as I walk about. I still look to see the red tailed hawk cross my path and wonder as my own puzzle pieces fall into place. Richard Bach has given us an ultimatum we can choose to use that and seek further or simply be as many do see this world as disposable and for them we are too. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart.

Having a heart

Bird Droppings March 6, 2011
Having a heart

“There are four bases of sympathy: charity, kind speech, doing a good turn, and treating all alike.” Buddha, Sayings of the Buddha

Yesterday I worked with students expressing a news article in visual form. Over the past few years as I interact with people observing the various learning styles and how we learn has been an issue I have looked at very seriously. Humans tend to learn basically in one of three ways, visual, auditorially, and or kinesthetically. Simply put we see, hear or touch to learn. Yesterday I through in the idea of perception and how we hear see and touch then is a factor as well.
The assignment entailed using one PowerPoint slide to explain one of the main news articles out of a current newspaper or internet story. The sample I used was based on The Red Lake Shootings from a few years ago. In a few moments about 45 seconds images and a few words flashed over the screen and my interpretation of the news flashed before us. Students then chose stories and interpreted visually what they saw and felt. Ideas varied and stories varied. One went in a direction of an issue close to home teen suicide. Several students went the route of middles eastern turmoil and one develops their idea based on a local story. One how ever focused only on himself. His visual experience while interesting was a whirl of his own image. For several months going on two years I have known this student and his focus so often is self motivated as so many of us tend to be. But he derives his day from seeking attention to and through himself doing things like passing gas and letting everyone in the class room know it was him. Very often it is speaking out loud to draw attention from a teacher to say disrespect is an understatement, in the end it all is self focused an attempt at saying here I am.

“A relationship or an affinity between people or things in which whatever affects one correspondingly affects the other.”

How the internet dictionary defines sympathy which is an interaction between two people or things that is affecting both. As I thought back to my self centered fellow I wondered as he focused all day on him self does he have that capability for sympathy. In the defining quote from Buddha sympathy is established as four aspects; charity, kind speech, doing a good turn and treating all alike.

“The force of truth that a statement imparts, then, its prominence among the hordes of recorded observations that I may optionally apply to my own life, depends, in addition to the sense that it is argumentatively defensible, on the sense that someone like me, and someone I like, whose voice is audible and who is at least notionally in the same room with me, does or can possibly hold it to be compellingly true.” Nicholson Baker

There are many issues at hand that warrant attention and sympathy today locally and world wide.

“All sympathy not consistent with acknowledged virtue is but disguised selfishness.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“Sympathetic people often don’t communicate well; they back reflected images which hide their own depths.” George Eliot

As I searched this day deeper I found often we tend to view sympathy with caution and perhaps this person is being sympathetic for a reason or for some personal gain. Is it human nature to be so wary or so distrustful of others?

“Is there anything more dangerous than sympathetic understanding?” Pablo Picasso

“The capacity to give one’s attention to a sufferer is a very rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle. Nearly all those who think they have this capacity do not possess it. Warmth of heart, impulsiveness, and pity are not enough.” Simone Weil

A day or two ago I sent off a paper dealing with kissing frogs it was a reflection on teaching in a way. But really it was a reflection on life we should be all be frog kissers. Teachers and so often parents are to be the Frog Kissers: Many times I have used the inference to the fairy tales of child hood of kissing a frog. We are always trying to find that enchanted princess or prince hidden beneath the guise of a frog; one kiss and the prince or princess will appear. Being an avid herpetologist along with my son, kissing frogs can be a risky business. Many species secret toxins some so lethal they can kill a man with barely a touch let alone a passionate kiss. There are some that can induce psychosis and hallucinations when ingested.
All these efforts by the amphibians are purely defense mechanisms evolved over millions of years. But the symbolism of the fairy tale and teachers/parents is what struck me. Teaching is about kissing frogs. We as teachers need to be taking those risks trying to find the hidden princes and princesses among our students. In reality we are not kissing these kids but we are going beyond simply taking roll and letting that child slip through the cracks. We need to be risk takers we need to set the example for the students that we will make an effort to be there and give each child ample time and place to be who they are.
For many years I have wondered where teachers quit. I see Dewey and Foxfire and all this great idealistic thoughts and then they disappear into education lala land. What were to be great teachers are now animation’s doing as all those others have done before. Turn to page 138 children and read, now answer the questions at the back of the chapter. Raise your hand when you wish to speak and do not get out of line. I recall a Harry Chapin song about a little boy who comes in his first day and colors flowers in a rainbow of hues, until his teacher corrects him and flowers are red green leaves are green, soon the creative spark is gone and another student became a frog. Fortunately in the song a risk taking teacher saves the day and kisses the frog and the rainbow is back. We need to work towards being that which we should be teachers, not simply information stuffers. As a parent and teacher this is a hard row to follow.

“There are four bases of sympathy: charity, kind speech, doing a good turn, and treating all alike.” Buddha

I keep thinking back to this idea of sympathy it is an active process not simply a feeling. I used loosely the illustration of kissing frogs but each aspect described by Buddha is an action. Charity is an activity although borrowing from a 1600 translation the Greek word agape is translated as charity. In the Greek there are three words for love eros, philos and agape. With agape being a supreme unlimited love, some will say God’s love. In the Biblical translations of 1600 the Greek agape would translate to charity an active love an ongoing love. Kind speech is an action that requires a physical response. Doing a good turn not just charity but physically doing something again requiring action. Perhaps the most difficult treating all alike again is definitely actively involved.
When I started this morning sympathy was more an emotion. As I think about my title for today, having a heart, as I thought was just a sentence structure used to elicit sympathy and or other emotions. But sympathy is an active word it is beyond and there for having a heart perhaps too is activity engaging. For nearly twelve years now I have ended each Bird Dropping with keep all in harms way in your heart and on your mind. Perhaps it started originally with September 11th and then war in Afghanistan and Iraq. But it has grown in form keeping in your heart which for me is an action. It involves doing not simply mouthing words. I recall a few years back the state of Vermont which operates on a town meeting form of government had several towns that were voting to not send anymore national guards units from Vermont over seas. Vermont has lost more soldiers per capita than any other state. Action is the key and still others are sending to our soldier’s small reminders of home. For some it may be just a thank you as our GI’s return this is an active involvement. It is kissing frogs having a heart it is voting. So sympathy is action not just thinking about it. Today is a fellow from my home town in Pennsylvania’s birthday. It would not be significant to mention but this man stands on a street corner when time allows from work and family holding signs and proclaiming for peace in the world, a active effort to try and end war one person at a time. So today please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.