My Call Home

I celebrated my 19thbirthday in London. It was May 1966, the end of my freshman year at the University of Michigan. The end of the first year I had lived on my own, away from my family, friends and the lifestyle I had grown up with.

 

But I needed to go even further away. I bought a ticket on a flight chartered by the university, which left on May 15th, the day before my birthday. I didn’t have much money and had almost nothing planned, just a general idea of a route to follow, from London to Amsterdam, north to Denmark and Sweden. Then a flight south to Italy, hitchhike through southern France to Spain, and then back to France for a return flight from Paris. Almost four months of traveling with no travel partner, not even a room reserved to stay in while in London.

 

The world was different back then. Despite the assassination of President Kennedy almost three years earlier, the war in Vietnam and the burgeoning opposition to it, the civil rights and other movements, the culture and U. S. government seemed a little more stable then than it does now. The sense that something was off, or wrong, that big changes were needed both nationally and personally, was growing in so many of us, but we hadn’t yet realized what the growing pains meant.

 

All I knew was that my life felt set, predetermined by family and culture. It was a clear and linear progression from public school, to university, career and family, then old age and death. Death and vulnerability were walled away in time. Maybe today, in 2018, many students would be happy to feel their lives secure in such a progression, but all I wanted to do was break it. I wanted to feel free and to see the world outside the little space I already knew….

 

To read the whole story, please click on this link to Heart and Humanity magazine.

**The photo is of me with my brother and mother, in Ann Arbor, at the end of August, 1966, after returning from this trip. I didn’t hitch-hike with the duffel bag.

 

Relieving Student Apathy: Apathy Is A Symptom of Greater Societal Problems

Recently, I read a discussion on a FB page for educators and social action (the Bad Ass Teachers) that hit home for me. The discussion was about the omnipresence of student apathy and the expectation that teachers were responsible for entertaining and freeing students from this curse. I remembered this exact feeling from 20-30 years ago. Not only did I have to shape lessons to fit a wide variety of student ability levels and interests. I felt I had to be as clever and exciting as the tv or movies they were used to watching. (There were no or few cell phones then.)

The situation has become even worse today. One teacher-author, who had written a post about the situation, spoke about teachers being expected to “be all things to all people” and students have become “consumer learners.” She described a workshop where she was encouraged to design her teaching to be like a video game. How else could she expect to hold student attention? She questioned if a video game is the best model for how to shape a lesson. 

Teachers face a long list of problems every day the corporate and media attacks on public education, the detrimental effects of standardized testing, the tremendous inequality in school resources and funding, the poverty, homelessness and increasing anxiety and depressionexperienced both by young people and adults, etc..  And, of course, let’s add the addiction to drugs or digital devices. But should we also add apathy to this list?

Student apathy is not the main problem. It is but a symptom of all the problems listed above all of which can reach deeply into a child’s psyche. Many students can’t find the motivation to engage in their own education because they can’t find themselves. They don’t see themselves in their own lives or are afraid, or too traumatized, to do so.

They have been taught to think their emotions come from someone or somewhere else, not themselves. When they feel anger, they think the object of the anger is the cause of it. Or they experience love or jealousy and feel the object of their love is in control, not them. When they get bored, they think someone other than themselves is responsible. They do not understand how their emotions arise

Students feel apathy and boredom when a wall has been constructed between what they feel, think, or yearn to engage with and what is presented to them as the possibilities of their life and education. They have been conditioned to not let anything too real get too close¾or their lives have been too real and frightening, and they can’t or don’t know how to face it. This might help explain why one of the biggest concerns for young people in this nation today is safety….

To read the whole blog, click on this link to the Good Men Project.

Are We Undermining Our Children’s Education? A Mindful Use of Digital Media in the Home and Classroom





How difficult is it nowadays to engage the whole family in a talk? Or if you’re a teacher, how difficult is it to engage a class of students?

 

There has been much debate in the last few years about the role cell phones and other digital media has played in making face-to-face discussions at home and in school more difficult. A teacher and former colleague recently told me that students even use their phones to order food to be delivered to the classroom. When I asked why she put up with it, she said she couldn’t do anything about it. It was too engrained in the school (and national) culture.

 

I find this frightening. How can anyone learn well, or engage with others in meaningful discussions, when their attention is tuned to the expectation of a text? To say, “nothing can be done about this situation” reminds me of the discussion of bullying 20-30 years ago, when people said, “It’s just the time of life when children bully.”

 

Self-Reflective Questions for Parents and Teachers About Media Use

 

Teachers and other adults can be as addicted to their devices as children. We can all benefit by increasing our self-awareness and asking ourselves:

How much time do you spend on your phone, computer, and social media?

How do you feel when you see your children on their phones when you are trying to talk with them? How do you think they feel when you are on the phone when they are trying to talk with you? Who do you prioritize: the person standing before you, or the one on the phone?

Did you want to stop reading this post as soon as you realized what it was about? ….

 

To read the whole post, please click on this link to Spirit of Change Magazine, which just published the piece.

Understanding Love Is The Key To Making It Last: An Interview with Lesli Doares, from the radio show: Happily Ever After Is Just The Beginning.





Do you remember the first time your partner told you they loved you? How it made you feel?

Do you remember the moment you first loved them? Do you remember being anxious about saying it to them?

Love is the universal feeling we all want to have. It’s why it’s been a constant in stories and art for as long as humans have been around.

So, if it is so ubiquitous and desirable, why does it seem to be so difficult to hold onto? That is the very subject I am tackling today with my guest Ira Rabois, a long-time teacher at the Lehman Alternative School in Ithaca, NY and the author of Compassionate Critical Thinking: How Mindfulness, Creativity, Empathy and Socratic Questioning Can Transform Teaching.

Segment 1: In your article for The Good Men Project you state that to keep love alive, it’s important to know how it is born. In fact, that’s the title of the article. Why is this so important?

Thank you for inviting me to be on your show.

Knowing how love is born or knowing how any emotion is created in us is important because it is a crucial part of knowing ourselves. It is knowing how we work. Knowing ourselves better makes it possible for us to know others better, and thus to have a more fulfilling and equitable relationship. It makes it more possible, when all that passion or confusion rises in us, to know what to do with it and what it means.

When we feel this love or attraction to someone, it is so powerful it is easy to think that love arises all at once and that the other person is responsible for the excitement, attraction, feeling of completion.

But love, like any emotion, arises in stages, and includes different components like sensations, feelings, thoughts, beliefs and images. Even when we think we feel love at first sight, it is “Wow” at first sight, waking up at first sight. Our attention is focused. Then we feel good or bad, want to run away or approach. Then memories, thoughts, evaluations, choices are made, full-scale emotions are born.

And it is not the other person who fulfills us. It is our loving itself that fulfills us, our mind feeling love that fulfills us. It is the fact of opening up, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, to risk, that makes us feel important, capable of being loved.

Segment 2: You mention some of the ways love is misunderstood or gets off track. What are they?

Yes. We get off track when we lose touch with both ourselves and the other person.

We forget that love, like any emotion, gives meaning to events, to the world. We go toward what we like and run from what we fear….

 

**To hear the whole interview, go to WebTalk Radio.

It Only Takes One Good Moment





It was early summer, about 8:00 in the morning, and I was awakened by my calve muscles beginning to cramp. As quickly as possible, I got out of bed, started walking to stretch the muscles, and did my best to breathe into the pain. Once the muscles fully seize up, it can be impossibly painful. It happens to so many people. What an awful way to start the day.

 

But what a day to be awakened to! Once I walked off the pain and felt more normal, I put on some clothes and went outside. Milo, one of my cats, ran up to greet me and plopped down on the stone pathway in front of me.

 

Most of the summer, here, was wet. But on this day, it was cool, maybe 64 degrees, and the sky was clear. A catbird was squawking; a car was passing down the road. Young blue jays in their nest were screeching for food. A wood thrush was singing for love or joy or whatever a wood thrush sings for. The light on the leaves of a maple tree in the yard was so fresh, so full of life, it seemed to go on forever. I felt if only I could look deeply enough I would find places and sights never seen before, find people I would celebrate meeting.

 

Isn’t this, this sense of beauty or mystery, enough?

 

If I sat in my yard more often, with Milo, the birdcalls, the clear light and the incredible calm, would my calves stop cramping? Would my body more often feel like a gift I give myself than a source of pain?

 

Why is it so easy to forget this exists? To forget the feel of the cool breeze on our face? To forget how to be nice to ourselves and to keep easy company with the world? Even when the wasps and flies and a gray fox enter the scene, even when the phone rings and the mail is delivered and the human world cries for our attention, must we forget this also exists? Must we forget we have this ability to relax, open, and fully sink into a moment?

 

And what a price we pay for forgetting….

 

To read the rest of this piece, click on this link to The Good Men Project.

A Mindful Use of Digital Media





How difficult is it nowadays to engage students in a deep discussion? Or if you’re a parent, how difficult is it to engage the whole family in a talk?

 

There has been much debate about the role cell phones and other digital media has played in making face-to-face in-school discussions more difficult in the last few years. A teacher and former colleague recently told me that students even use their phones to order food to be delivered to the classroom. When I asked why she put up with it, she said she couldn’t do anything about it. It was too engrained in the school (and national) culture. She said parents added to the problem by wanting 24/7 access to their children.

 

I was as frightened by this situation as my former colleagues were. How can anyone learn well, and engage with others in meaningful discussions, when their attention is tuned to the expectation of a text?

 

In our world today, we are all bombarded with messages to keep up with the latest technology. The ping of the cell phone is an affirmation that we are valued and important. So, especially for young people who grow up with digital media, being disconnected means being less valuable. They fear what they might miss (FOMO), even to the extent of keeping their phones with them at night, which can interfere with sleep and contribute to anxiety, depression and possibly narcissism.This serves the interest of big corporations whose primary interest is in turning children into malleable consumers; it does not serve the interests of educators and parents interested in their children becoming clear thinking adults.

 

Self-Reflective Questions For Teachers

 

Adults can be as addicted to their devices as children. Ask yourself:

 

How much time do you spend on your phone, computer, and social media?

Who do you prioritize: the person standing before you, or the one on the phone?

 

To read the whole post, click on this link to mindful teachers.org.

To Keep Love Alive, Know How Love Is Born





We all want to be loved, so it is no surprise that so many blogs, so much art, so many movies, plays and novels have been written or created about it. And no surprise that so many of us want to understand how to have a good relationship or keep love alive. When someone says to us, “I love you” or we say it to someone else, it is a pivotal moment in our lives.

 

When we feel loved, we can feel we have “made it.” We might feel not only that “life is good” but “I am good.” What we yearned for has been found. We feel whole.

 

But to keep love alive it’s important to know how love is born. When we look within our self and study how the emotion is constructed, we see that love, like any emotion, is not just one overwhelming entity. It involves so much of who we are. It is feeling and sensation mixed with memory, thoughts and how we view the world and ourselves.

 

For example, when we fall for someone, we usually think it is the other person who fulfills us or makes us feel so alive and complete. But it is not the other person who completes us. It is our loving that completes us. It is the way we relate to another person, by caring so deeply that we feel open, vulnerable, and yet strong enough to take whatever occurs. It is our ability to recognize another person is not the same as us, yet part of us, which completes us.

 

If we think of the other person as the source of our love, all kinds of craziness can ensue. We can think our happiness lies in someone else’s hands and we are powerless—or that this other being exists entirely for us. We can feel so overwhelmed by our attraction for the other person that there is little room left for the reality of that person.

 

This is why love can turn to anger, possessiveness, even violence. We come to see the other only in terms of how he or she fulfills our image of whom they should be, and we never see who they are….

To read the whole post, go to The Good Men Project.

 

 

Mindful Teachers: Mindful Listening In A Noisy World





What happens to your thinking when you feel surrounded by noise? This is a particularly relevant question in schools today. The noise can be external—car horns, fire engines, people screaming in the halls outside your classroom. It can be your own internal voices, dictating what to do, or passing judgment on your character. It can be a combination of the two, as when you spend hours on social media or listening to news where there’s more yelling and attacking going on than listening and understanding.

 

When you hear noise, you are not just hearing a sound you find unpleasant. You are hearing a sound with baggage. You are hearing dislike, resistance, or a threat. It’s difficult to think when there’s noise because noise is a signal that your thinking is impeded or you feel under attack. And what’s attacking you is not necessarily someone external to you, but internal. Something is demanding attention, but it’s not simply the sound….

 

To read the rest of this post, go to Mindful Teachers.

 

The Aim of T and the GOP Is Not To Win An Election, But End Elections; Not To Foster Democracy, But End It.





A democracy is a government where the ultimate power belongs to the people of the nation (demos is Greek for people). It is the will of the people that should guide decisions. The views and lives of the great majority of people, their education, livelihood, health and security must be valued. Since the will of the people is paramount and must guide decision-making, relationships amongst the people must be carefully fostered. Compassion must be fostered.

 

Yet, what is the reality of T’s GOP? Kevin Baker, in a recent article in the New Republic, describes what almost everyone who pays attention has observed: our politics has become open warfare, with the aim being not to serve the people but to make sure the other party never again comes to power. It is to seize power and keep it, by any means. That includes lying and distorting the truth, attacking the institutions that keep us safe, undermining voting, civil and legal rights, enormous corruption, and even colluding with the dictator of a foreign and hostile government.

 

Our government was deliberately structured to prevent a return to power of a monarchy or one-man rule. Three branches of government were established by the constitution in order to have checks on power. Today, we have a one party government; one party controls all three branches of the government. Since the party is led and controlled by one individual, we have a government controlled largely by one individual.

 

A government of a small group is an oligarchy. A government by a class is an aristocracy. A government by one legally prescribed hereditary ruler is a monarchy. A government wherein one person takes power and/or eliminates his or her opposition is a tyranny. A kleptocracy is a government of corrupt rulers who use their power to exploit the people and the nation’s resources in order to extend and keep their own personal wealth and power. Which kind of government do we have now?

 

A democracy requires that laws rule and must protect the people as a whole, not serve the interests of any one person or small group of persons. Yet, T asks the department of justice to protect and serve him, not the law. He tries to undermine investigations by his own DOJ and attacks the FBI.

 

According to a great body of evidence, T and several people from his campaign and administration, including his own son, son-in-law, campaign manager, etc. colluded with a foreign dictator to undermine US elections. And he has largely refused to protect our own election infrastructure.

 

A democracy needs the participation of the people. Yet the GOP undermines voting rights. T encourages hate instead of compassion, calls immigrants whores, criminals, and animals. He rips children from their parents as a deterrent for immigration. He divides the nation and whips up hatred against these fellow humans, despite the fact that immigrants, even undocumented immigrants, are less likely to commit a crime than those citizens born in this country.

 

He not only whips up hatred against immigrants, but against anyone who opposes him, even from his own party. He viciously attacked, in the past and even just recently, John McCain. He insulted and/or or threatened Senator Lisa Murkowski, Jeff Flake, and others for going against his wishes. Certainly, he attacks Democrats and the press almost daily.

 

To make political decisions that actually solve problems and improve the well-being of the people, a democracy needs educated people. It needs to support and promote the dissemination of scientific discoveries and information. This administration attacks education, both in public K-12 schools and universities, and has blocked access to scientific data.

 

This administration shows a profound disregard, even contempt, for health care for a great number of citizens, and has consistently advanced policies that most Americans oppose, creating pressures that cause insurance rates to rise and undermining protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

 

It has attacked supports for the poor, like Medicaid, and programs that all Americans contribute to as insurance for when they are older or retired, like Medicare and Social Security—and they do this in order to protect tax cuts to the super rich who don’t need more wealth.

 

When a very small group of people get a large percentage of the nation’s wealth and income, a democracy of, by and for the people becomes impossible. According to the Congressional Budget Office, between 1979 and 2007, the income for the top 1% in the US has grown by 275%. Since last year’s GOP tax cut, income inequality is growing even more. Instead of one person one vote, and freedom of speech for all, we have one person’s voice drowning out millions of other voices.

 

Hate destabilizes a nation. When we hate, we feel hated in return. We then strike out. Anger boils up with the least provocation. Increasing numbers of us experience a deep sense of dread or anxiety. The number of children suffering from anxiety has been greatly increasing. Increasing numbers of people can’t tolerate hearing the news.

 

We have to be careful not to become what we oppose. One of the worst results of this administration is that too many have begun to doubt the efficacy and strength of kindness. There is so much to be angry about that we can forget the deleterious effects of anger. We mistake actually listening to others for weakness.

 

The aim of this administration might be to end democracy, but they haven’t succeeded, yet. And we can’t let them. Anyone who wants a real democracy, who has compassion for other humans and believes in the rule of laws, not rule by a few powerful individuals, must do what we can to make opposing the policies of this administration a normal part of our day. Must make activities to keep us sane and compassionate part of our day. This is our only viable option if we wish to uphold our humanity.

In Today’s World, Reading Books and Caring for Others are Acts of Defiance





One of the biggest threats of this administration is to your sense of who you are as a human being. It is difficult to believe in mutual love and caring when faced with the actions and words of Roy Moore or Steve Bannon, or compassion when faced with the actions and words of Paul Ryan, or beauty when faced with Mitch McConnell. It is difficult to believe courage is possible when many Republicans, who once criticized the president’s racism or spoke out for health care for children, now support his agenda and this tax bill. It is difficult to believe learning, clear thinking, and scientific research is possible when faced with Betsy DeVos or Mr. T. In today’s world, reading books on topics such as (but not limited to) science, philosophy, anthropology, history or poetry is an act of defiance.

 

So, as a new year draws close, dedicate yourself to rebel not only against the abuses of this administration, but for the possibilities of human nature this administration seeks to squash. Seek to understand the actions of people like Mnuchin, Pruit, Sessions, and Flynn, but also Elizabeth Warren, Doug Jones, and the courage of women who spoke out against abuse by Moore, Mr. T, and others.

 

Rebel not only out of understanding how destructive this administration is to our health care, environment, democracy, and national security—but for love, compassion, and a desire for beauty.

 

When you come home from work tired, tired of long hours of work. Or you return from a protest or from completing phone calls to congress and you feel you have lost the sense of what hope is, read Rubin Alves’ poem Tomorrow’s Child. Or if you need to quiet the noise inside and aren’t able to meditate, or walk along a seashore, read Pablo Neruda on Keeping Quiet. Or you don’t know if you should take a chance on your dreams, read about what happens to a Dream Deferred, by Langston Hughes.

 

When you feel taking action or even listening to the news is too difficult, or “When despair for the world grows in me,” read Wendell Berry’s The Peace of Wild Things. Or when you feel you are catching the illness of fear and selfishness, or that you have no power, read about the power of Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye— “…it is only kindness that makes sense anymore.”

 

When you feel alone in the struggle even though most Americans, most people in the world, agree with you, read The Low Road by Marge Piercy:

“…it starts when you care

to act, it starts when you do

it again after they said no,

it starts when you say We

and know who you mean, and each

day you mean one more.”

 

And, along with Mary Oliver and her poem What I Have Learned So Far, “Be ignited, or be gone.”

 

Do not forget that love is a possibility in every life. (I don’t know about psychopaths.) We all share more than we differ. But for some, love is a possession and a wall. They hold tightly onto the few as if to possess them, and wall away all others. And in doing so, they wall away themselves. But for many, love is a second skin. It is a boundary allowing you to feel life, to feel yourself, more intensely, and to contact, open to others, more securely.

 

Yes, do what you can to find the power in yourself not only to take action and rebel against injustice and ignorance, but to make joy, kindness, education and care for others the central point of what life and even politics is about. This is the greatest gift you can give anyone, including your self, in this or any season.