News often reports problems: floods in Houston, wildfires in northern California, an earthquake in Mexico City.
I, too, tend to chase concerns. Like a mad hatter, I deal with to critters eating my blueberries, water pooling in my yard and my gutter filling with pine needles. Once a problem’s gone, another pops up like a duck at a rifle range and I face it.
When I moved into my house in Florida, I was concerned with high energy use during sizzling summers. I decided to buy fans knowing they cool air up to 4 degrees and save fuel and money. After weeks of internet searches, scores of trips to stores and varied phone calls, I bought four tower fans then quickly checked them off my list and started looking for a high efficiency washing machine. The fans soon became part of the furniture, used but off my mind.
What’s doing well generally goes unnoticed.
Sitting at my desk one quiet evening, I relax my neck muscles and adjust my focus. I feel a soft breeze caressing my back; I admire subtle shades of rust and amber on a vase my friend made me; I appreciate that texting is helping friends and I arrange plans for a visit to the Warm Mineral Springs. I tune to the present, wondering, why is it?
Trouble typically captures our attention.
I decide to shift. Rather than primarily addressing problems, I’ll nurture dreams. Gandhi taught noncooperation: neither fighting nor fleeing wrong, but planting truth, goodness and beauty, among it.
While tending to what needs amending, we can cultivate what longs to exist.
As a kid, I loved making whirlpools with friends in my classmate Christina’s above ground swimming pool. All five of us would walk the circumference in one direction forming a great current. Soon, the water pulled us gleefully riding its circle. We couldn’t stand still if we wanted. This took swimming out of the current, holding the pool’s rim and bracing limbs with all our strength. When we chose to change course, with great effort we’d slowly turn the opposite way and take tiny, shaky steps against the pull. In time, our tread grew steady and turned the tide.
We are each born with seed dreams to uplift life. The mainstream draws us in its customary course if we’re unaware or unable to do otherwise. Cultivating new currents takes resolve and attentiveness.
The established way vociferously presses forth. New streams silently invite our creation.
As a young woman, I dove into a whirlpool unaware of muscles needed to hold my own nor change its course. Fresh out of college in my first teaching job at Susan B. Anthony Middle School, I was disturbed by the bleakness of this NYC ghetto school’s barred windows, metal detector and security guard. I aspired to bring light.
Early on the new principal, Mr. Anise, sent me and 4 other newbies to a workshop on the “Being Healthy” curriculum which taught positive communication, conflict resolution and healthy eating. Its greatest enthusiast, I was chosen to promote the program to staff. At the podium, singing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” as my opening, I spied slouched teachers dispersed in the shadowy auditorium murmuring, “Oh, brother.” From then on as we passed in the halls pairs of seasoned teachers snickered, “What does she know about teaching these kids?” After all, Ms. Bougournia from Jamaica warned students the first day of school she knew Voodoo so don’t mess with her. Mr. Jensen escaped with a class each Wednesday on a field trip. Ms. Stein did who knows what behind closed doors, kept impeccable order and taught math. The “Being Healthy” curriculum whimpered and perished, but skills I gleaned thrived. As I pulled contentious students from cafeteria to the hall directing them to make “I” statements, tensions melted and peace emerged with a hand shake.
My second year, Mr. Anise rewarded me with further training and a coveted pull out Reading Program. I led small group discussions on Great Books winning me more enemies among peers stuck managing throngs of troubled teenagers. I imbued communication skills in my class exchanges, pressing against the school’s current in small ripples, not altering its course. My light fluttered amid the teacher next door cursing under his breath, students swarming around fights in the halls and the graffiti concrete yard stripped of new basketball nets. One day, as I trudged through dank halls during planning period drowning in desolation, a voice thundered in my head, “Stop trying to change the tide alone. Join others going in your direction.”
Before being overcome, I lifted my limp spirit and applied elsewhere. New Principal, Mr. De Metri, swept me to the brighter shores of Marie Curie Middle School hiring then fighting for me as my old principal threatened I’d lose my certification should I pull out of the torrent. He felt it unfair having invested so much in me, but I couldn’t alter its course.
A year later, resuscitated, I realized my good fortune at now teaching in the best district in the city. “You died and went to district 26,” Miss Grace assured me in the teacher’s lounge. She was right. Here, I led the Peer Mediation Program, taught conflict resolution and infused art, music and drama into history and language arts lessons. I coalesced with colleagues in a gurgling flow. This showed me,
If we press in the direction of our calling, while adverse circumstances may persist, a new course will open.
Bringing to life what longs to emerge involves diverting from the mainstream. We must pull from its current to still ourselves and listen deeply. True literacy is learning to read the scripts of our lives. While teaching, I fasted and meditated weekends to calm anxieties, recognize and release misconceptions and realign myself. These personal quests benefit the world.
Contemplation is a political act.
As free individuals we can find and establish our place in the dance of creation. With like-minded souls, then join forces to redirect culture’s course.
Civilization needs our life streams to regenerate its ways.
When I think about the destruction of hurricane’s Harvey, Irma and Maria, my heart aches for lost lives, communities, wildlife and human made structures. Much needs tending.
If we continue business as usual, all our attention, resources and energy may very well be spent on cleaning up messes.
Now more than ever we need to press our dreams into life.