The Practice of Peace

“Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons,
It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.”
–Walt Whitman
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“To live a life of peace, we must practice peace with all we meet, indeed, with the whole world. To practice this publicly, we consciously reject the chaos around us and steadfastly choose peace. Once we make that choice, a whole new journey begins.” –John Dear
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“Be the reason someone believes in the goodness of people.” –many author attributions
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“Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?” –Walt Whitman
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“The universe may be a mystery, but it’s not a secret.” –Michael Schneider
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“Human rights are not things that are put on the table for people to enjoy. These are things that you fight for and then you protect.” –Wangari Maathai
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“I like stories where women save themselves.” — Neil Gaiman
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“Why are there men and women that while they are nigh me the sunlight expands my blood?
Why when they leave me do my pennants of joy sink flat and lank?
Why are there trees I never walk under but large and melodious thoughts descend upon me?
(I think they hang there winter and summer on those trees and always drop fruit as I pass;)”
–Walt Whitman


Gratitude List:
1. Last night’s indigo clouds on a twilight background: A dragon flying to meet a witch, who held the crescent moon glowing in the palm of her hand.
2. Step by step the longest march can be won.
3. Red–an enlivening, heart-opening color
4. Knitting. I like to knit during conversations and public events, and I feel as though I am knitting the stories of the moments into the thing I am making. This winter, I will wear a warm hat that will contain yesterday’s stories from wise and resilient women, and the blessing of the babies, and the hard work of this season of my life, and an orange tree, and Dorothy Day, and two students who I am praying for in particular in these days. That’s going to be one heavy hat.
5. Laughter

May we walk in Beauty!

Opportunities for Practice

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Sometimes it seems as though the Wildest One (you might call her God, or the Universe, or Love) is actively meddling in the affairs of mortals, like I am given a thing to learn, and then immediately after am handed the situations necessary for practice and integration.

Last weekend, I took part in a training with the Center for Community Peacemaking on Restorative Circles with Kay Pranis, a thoughtful wise woman who gave us many tools for using the idea of a circle to bring restoration to broken relationships when harm has been done in a community.

In the two days since I have been back to school, I have encountered several situations in using a circle tool in the classroom helps to facilitate the discussion or to ensure that a student expressing a feeling or opinion feels safe. Yesterday at the beginning of class, one student began sharing her concerns about the political process. Other students began to jump in and talk over her, encouraging her and debating her points. She is very soft-spoken, and I was afraid that her moment of vulnerability would disappear into the fray, so I took a stone to her desk, said that while she had the stone, the rest of us were empowered to listen, and she continued. When she was finished, she just naturally handed the stone off to the next person, and a relatively respectful circle ensued.

In another class, the sharing of papers can get tedious, and some of the students tend to be anxious about sharing their writing. I handed a talking piece to one of the boys who seems to take a quiet leadership role in the class, and said that we’d send the talking piece around the circle a couple times. People could share parts of their papers or pass. In the first round, the girls (it’s a very small class) both passed, and I thought that maybe it was a bad choice to do it this way, but in the second round they both shared, and a boy who strongly dislikes English class also shared, making up an answer to one of the writing prompts on the spot–it allowed him to use his verbal strengths in community, so his sense of inadequacy about the writing was suddenly moot. Again, the students seemed to have a natural understanding of the process of the talking piece and turn-taking.

Along with those delightful examples is situation of harm that needs to be addressed. I need to work through with the student in my class who was at the receiving end of a very harmful comment whether a circle might be the place to address the harm that occurred.

So. Along with the learning comes the opportunity to practice. May I be open and ready to use the tools I have been offered.

Gratitude List:
1. The way the mists and fogs hang about the fields in the mornings
2. Practice. Opportunity to practice
3. The shining eyes of my students
4. Poetry. Yes, again. Yesterday after I had read the Dawna Markova poem I had chosen for my opening poem, a boy asked if I had ever heard of Langston Hughes. I told him that yes, I had even posted a Langston Hughes poem to my Facebook page the day before. I will have to bring a Hughes poem to class this week.
5. The hope of restoration

May we walk in Beauty!

Nurse-Boy

phoenix
“If you will, you can become all flame,” said Abba Joseph to Abba Lot.

Gratitude List:
1. A small nurse-boy.  When they got home from their grandparents’ house yesterday, and I was waking up groggily and painfully from a nap, a small boy sprang into action.  He started rubbing my feet.  Then he called out to his dad, “Dad!  Bring her some food!”  Then he called out to his brother, “Hey!  Come rub her feet while I go get my violin and play her some music!”  No matter that he was doing his Worst-Whiner Schtick within minutes.  I felt greatly cared-for.
2. Feeling better.  I knew it would happen.  I still sound like a granddaddy bullfrog, and I look pretty pale and ashen, but I feel so much better.
3. This Advent course that a friend gave me.  It’s from Cynthia Bourgeault’s Spirituality and Practice group.  It is on the spirituality of the desert abbas and ammas.  I am learning lots.  Today’s lesson is hard.  It’s good for me.
4. Shifting practices.  I will continue to write regular poems, but I am glad for a break from the prompts for a while.  Imposed discipline from the outside is important, but then it needs to settle into the corners a bit.
5. Brownies

May we walk in Beauty!

Practice and Discipline

I am coming to realize that there is a difference for me between a spiritual practice and a spiritual discipline.  I have tended to use those words interchangeably, particularly when I talk about my gratitude lists.  In the past month, my gratitude lists have been sporadic as I try to settle myself into the rhythm of school.   As I take a moment now to breathe, and wonder whether it has made a difference, it hits me that the lists are my discipline, the form that anchors the spiritual practices of gratitude and attentiveness.

I have been asking my self whether I have been living in shallower layers because I have not been careful to write my lists.  I think, however, that it is the commitment to being attentive which really keeps me working in the deeper layers.  And while it is possible to do so without a particular discipline, having a regular discipline that anchors me into that work of attentiveness does keep me grounded in the deep layers.

A spiritual discipline can become an empty shell of a form it if is not practiced with intention and care.  A spiritual practice can float away and dissipate if it is not anchored by deliberate spiritual practices.

Gratitude List:
1. The recent sunrises from the crest of Mt. Pisgah: magenta, tangerine, aquamarine, violet.  Mist caught in the folds of the foothills.  Wraiths of fog skuthering over golden fields.
2. Safe places.  Creating places of safety, in the outer world, in the inner world.  We make plans to build houses and shelters for people.  I think about what sort of blueprint there might be for us to intentionally build our inner selves into safe and sheltering spaces for those who are frightened or injured or outcast.
3.  The whimsical childish conjecture from my scientist has begun to feel distinctly like real-life physics lessons, and I realize that the wild speculations have been preparation for continued curious pondering about the nature of the world.  Yesterday, it was that the undertow of a previous wave helps the next one to break.  He is figuring out these things on his own through observation even before he learns them in the classroom.  I can only sit back and marvel.  This is a reminder to me as a teacher to always build on my students’ natural awareness as much as possible, and to keep sparking their curiosity.  Even grammar has logical and reasonable patterns.
4. The chuckles and humming of contented children.
5. Flocks of a thousand swallows racing back and forth along the island, filling up on insects before they hop out over ocean for their journey south.  We did not see monarchs or dragonflies this year, but the winds were really strong, and I think they may have been waiting in thickets and woods until the coast is clear (so to speak).

May we walk in Beauty!