August Angst

These are very strange days indeed, these brutal August days. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but clearly we are living in extraordinary times across the board. It is safe to say that no one alive on Earth has ever faced what we are now facing on the daily. How do we retain our sanity in the midst of such unprecedented chaos?

As I often do on this blog, I’d like to share a personal story of what’s happening in my own life at this moment. This spring, before the pandemic upended our entire society, I applied and was accepted into a Masters of Teaching graduate program at University of Colorado, Denver. I was scared, excited, and had to work through relentless mindtalk about my ability to accomplish such a massive undertaking. I’m sure that, for some, getting a master’s degree is simply the next item on their life’s to-do list. But not for me. I’ve sort of done my life in a weird reverse order in some ways, therefore working towards higher degrees wasn’t on my radar until mid-life. That’s where I am now.

The fall semester of 2020 started this week. After a very uncertain summer, the university decided that most courses would be held online, either asynchronous or remote, which means we all join a Zoom meeting once a week. I’m sure that many of you are experiencing similar ways of meeting, either as students, for your jobs, or by helping your children with their own online classes. Will this become the new normal for education? Nobody yet knows. We are going into this school year with myriad questions, but not many answers.

Four years ago, I returned to university to finish up my bachelor’s degree that I never completed back in the days of my twenties. For two and a half years, I loved going to classes, studying for exams, reading lots of books and scholarly articles, and writing many papers. I took classes I was interested in and enjoyed. School was great! I was actually sad when it was over. Then I took a year to contemplate what I should do with that degree, what path was next in my life?

https://studentlifethespot.wordpress.com/2013/04/12/10-inspirational-quotes-for-students/larson/

As I looked and reflected deeply within, the idea of becoming a licensed teacher kept coming up, and even as I shrugged it off or tried to ignore it, that invitation would not leave me. I used many arguments against the voice. What about my age? I’m not in my twenties and full of invincibility, I told it. Didn’t matter. What about all the crap that teachers have to put up with in public education? They complain all the time about the low pay, long hours, fights with administrators, and badly behaving students. Didn’t matter, the invitation remained. What about the amount of work it will be to actually do the master’s program? And the internships- I will have to borrow money in order to work for free at a school for two semesters? And the cost of grad school?? Yikes. My mind would spin out into these whining rants over and over.

And yet. Whenever I took a deep breath and remembered my students from the past year of being a literacy tutor, their faces, sweet smiles and stories would calm my mind. Every single time my mind would mess with me, then I’d think of those kids and drop down into my heart space. What I know, deep inside, is that those kids needed me last year. There will be others who will also need me to be with them, helping them to learn, to cope, to grow through their childhoods in good ways. If I give up before I start, I am letting them down. And I cannot, in good conscience, do that to them.

So, here I am, the first week of this crazy semester, trying to figure out how to get my footing as I begin this ascent. How to organize my time with four online classes? Only one has a formal meeting day and time for the 2 hours, 45 minutes of Zoom class (ouch). The others have syllabi, schedules for readings, assignments and due dates, and discussion threads. Without having to leave my apartment to go to campus and meet in person, it’s up to me to figure out how long each day should I devote to each course, to the readings (most of which are done on my laptop), and to taking notes (in a Word doc? In a notebook with a pen?).  Geez… I sort of feel like I’m back to the basics of how to do school. Then, there ‘s TECHNOLOGY.  Oh my goodness, it is more complex than ever!  The more apps and fixes and hacks the techies create (supposedly to help students) the harder and more difficult it seems to become. Oy.

As I struggle through each day of this longest, hottest, strangest summer ever, there are many moments when I either want to complain, give up or break down. At those moments, what seems to help the most is remembering that there are many millions of other people who are going through similar or way harder struggles than me. None of us are immune to the pain and hardship of these days. My heart is breaking for the folks in California, and my own Colorado, who are running from the wildfires during the extreme heat and dry winds of August. We’ve been here before, during the past decade of drought and extreme weather conditions. The global climate catastrophe hasn’t gone away just because the world is engulfed in the 2020 pandemic.

Dear Readers, are you finding good ways to cope with your own lives and challenges? This unusual summer will soon give way to perhaps a beyond unusual autumn. I wish you all strength, courage and loving guidance to be with you, as you traverse your individual paths and we collectively move into the unwritten future. Keep your chin up!

Such a long, strange, and incredible journey

Twenty seven years ago, in the early morning hours before dawn, I gave birth to my eldest daughter. From the moment I first saw and held her, I knew my life was changed forever. Suddenly, I became “Momma” instead of just a young woman living a somewhat freewheeling, spontaneous life. Motherhood stamps the concept of family upon the soul in ways that are difficult to define, yet nearly every woman who becomes one can relate. Suddenly here is this tiny, fierce being, newly sprung from your own womb, who is simultaneously part of you and also their own self, loudly demanding that you cradle, nurse, care for and love them incessantly for the foreseeable future. Oh my.

As many mothers will tell you, the work of mothering is probably the most difficult and rewarding work that a woman can do, and in society’s eyes, the most undervalued. What a shame this is, since the future of the human race depends on mothers doing the very best job of child raising possible. But that argument can wait for another day. This blog post is for musing and sharing my personal journey over the past twenty seven years, from the moment my life changed until today.

What a long, strange trip it’s been, sang the band The Grateful Dead back in the early 1970s. Surely their words have proved truer than any of us could’ve known back in the days of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. Sometimes memory is a trickster—we tend to idealize the past, bury the uglier or more painful moments, and only recall what was most joyful and beautiful. And yet, we also must admit that, ironically, the most painful moments of our lives tend to be our greatest teachers.

When I take the long view of the last almost three decades of my life, it’s hard to believe so much time has passed. Now that scientists are explaining to everyone more about quantum time, it makes more sense that something that happened decades ago still feels almost as incredible and life changing as it did then. After the first daughter arrived, two more followed over the next seven years. As difficult as they were, the years that I spent raising my three girls were also golden. Golden and magnificent rainbows, with periods of rain and sometimes howling hurricanes—even wildfires and drought.

With so many humans leaving the planet due to the pandemic this year, I wonder if many people aren’t naturally thinking more about their own death, and consequently, their life. The two are inseparable, yet many in modern society are terrified of death and seem to do almost anything to avoid the subject or really peering into their own mortality. I imagine that being born must be at least as traumatic as dying. There you are, all snug and cozy in your mother’s womb where it’s safe, warm, and encompassing you in constant, liquid love, and the next thing you know you are pushed out into a completely other world that is intensely bright, harsh, noisy and you’re suddenly on your own—no more umbilical cord connection to the source of your life and nourishment. What an adjustment period newborns must endure!

Many people see death and dying as a great tragedy, something to be avoided for as long as possible. They espouse the doctrine of staying alive at all costs, using all the tools that modern medicine and science makes possible. Yet, indigenous wisdom teaches something else. The wisdom keepers of our species understand that death isn’t the end, only the shedding of this current costume we are wearing, our personhood. Our ego wants to tenaciously hold on until the very last possible second, only letting go when it absolutely must. But wisdom teachings say that we should work while we are alive, towards a “good death.” To have a good death, one needs to have lived a good life, one filled with as much joy, love, beauty, truth, compassion, and service to others as possible. They teach that when a person has lived well, they will die well, at peace. When death arrives at their door, they won’t be so afraid and hollow inside. The person will simply let go of their physical body as their soul, the eternal part of each of us, continues its journey in the spiritual realms. From what I’ve studied and researched, the journey after physical earth life is complete is quite marvelous. Rather than something to fear and dread, it is a time of great homecoming and joyful reunion with beloveds on the other side of the veil. I can well imagine wonderful celebrations and parties, as we reunite with souls we haven’t seen for a long time and missed. Imagine that!

The Three of Cups in traditional Tarot decks exemplify the concept of homecoming for the newly arrived soul.

There is much wisdom built into our system of birth and death. It’s a blessing that none of us quite know when we will lay down our body and return to the spiritual realms. Some say that all along the trajectory of our life, there are exit doors, so to speak. I think that means that the human is given opportunities to use the escape hatch if the soul, for whatever reason, no longer wishes to complete their entire contract for that particular lifetime. This could explain why sometimes very young people check out of their lives early, or someone is suddenly taken through tragedies like car accidents and the like. We don’t all come to the earth plane with a contract to live to be very old. I believe it’s time to move past our societal fear of death and dying, and instead to celebrate all that the soul accomplished while they were here, and, as cultures worldwide have always done, to throw a party when their beloveds pass on to the next journey. The goodbyes seem to be the hardest part for us humans to say. But they are so critically important, both to the one leaving, and to the ones who stay behind. Both with being born and dying, the most important thing is to surround the incoming or outgoing soul with tender loving care My middle daughter, when a young girl, used to beg for “TLC” which she pronounced “tilk” when she was craving comfort and reassurance. Absolutely, “tilk” is what we need to give each other in the times we are living through now, and all the challenging days and decades to come. Many more souls will be leaving the earth in the near future, and many incoming souls will arrive. Earth is a busy place with souls constantly arriving and departing. I imagine it like this: when a person dies, they board an etheric version of a train or bus, which takes them to the cosmic airport. From there, they will catch a ride in some kind of transport vehicle to their next destination. Ever since I began to envision the afterlife this way, the familiar words that we all hear as our earthly airplanes are preparing to touch down took on a whole new meaning—if this is your final destination, please make sure you have all your baggage with you when departing the plane.  Final destination indeed!!
Dear Readers, if you read this whole post, I thank you for taking the journey with me. I send you love and blessings of peace and joy. No worries, and remember to enjoy every single precious day you have to be alive. What a gift life is!

The Value of Small Gestures

 

student_pajamas_virtual learning
This is how many kids are doing online learning during Covid days.

The end of this most unusual school year is finally upon us. Today was my last day of online tutoring . For the past five weeks I worked with students who bravely engaged with me through computer screens   Navigating through all this involved both huge challenges and delights. Along with hundreds of thousands of teachers and students, I learned two basic facts this spring: 1) we can teach and learn virtually–even with young children it is possible; and 2) it’s not nearly as much fun or satisfying to do school through computer screens (although it is nice to wear pajamas to school every day).

Society en masse experiencing shelter-at-home and safer-at-home orders has forced us to reconcile the lifestyle we all took for granted with a new way of living—apart physically, yet finding the most creative and innovative ways to still be together and connect human to human. We’ve had to be flexible and adaptable on the fly, and on all levels—mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional. In my case, the emotional level has felt most extreme. Days and nights have been wide emotional pendulums, from feeling steady, happy, and even joyful at moments, to later in the day dipping down into anxiety, fear, and loneliness. We’re undergoing a grand human experiment of learning resilience in the face of adversity, and of experiencing grace under unprecedented pressure.

Through online tutoring, I observed that the kids adapted to the lockdown situation with surprising agility and often much less drama than many adults in the room. The biggest hardship for children, I’d guess, is their highly restricted social time with friends and limited opportunities for physical exercise. Teaching academic subjects is challenging enough through a screen; how PE teachers manage it is nearly incomprehensible.

Saying goodbye to my students, who are all between 7 and 9 years old, was an internal process that took many days. I realized anew how hard it is to say goodbye to people I grew fond of, and all the more so because of their innocence and vulnerability. The biggest learning for me during the past six months is that a caring adult can make a huge difference in a child’s life. Small gestures matter greatly—the few minutes that you give to really listen to a child so they can express what’s in their mind and heart will give them self confidence and trust in you.

This spring has shown many of us the value of small gestures. It has shone a spotlight on people that many of us casually take for granted—now deemed essential to the running of society. I believe that teachers, tutors, paraprofessionals, and school staff members are included in the group of essential workers for society. Although some parents and family members may disagree, I would argue that a child’s school community is a critically important part of their life, and what they experience within their school will either enhance their self-worth, intellectual, emotional, and social capacities, or do the opposite. Society as a whole must continue to support their local public education system, and not let corporate money interests dictate how the system is run.

As a last gift, I shared this music video with my students today. It’s an old song, and still sounds so good. I hope it brings a smile and few dance steps to your body, mind, heart, and soul.