Thursday, December 5, 2013
The Gift Of Being Read To
I have always contended that reading a book is to the mind what being on vacation is to the soul; a brief, delightful, adventurous respite from the status quo and daily routine. It allows, no invites, us to disengage from the rat race pace which seems to swallow up our joy and drive up our blood pressure. It is a place where the lockstep of life is temporarily replaced with wandering wonder of imagination and relaxation. Reading fully engages the imagination. As one journeys through the pages of a book, the encountered printed words paint vivid pictures seen clearly in the imagination and catch one completely in the creative swirl of plot, scenes, settings, and characters. Engaged. Captured. Enthralled. Have you ever been read to? Do you remember the magical feeling of being lost in a story, happily tangled in its moods and actions and relational webs? Do you remember not wanting the story to end? When did you last read to someone, whereby offering them a self-less, generous gift of a vacation to imagination? If we desire to foster imaginative development and creativity in children we must read to them. We must let them play, to be sure, but we must also read more than regularly to them. Their minds must practice the art of imagining, seeing the pictures made by words, and resting in the stillness of attentive listening. To build creativity, to stretch attention spans, to revel in the happiness of sitting side by side on the couch and sharing the adventure of a story, this is a deep and lasting treasure that costs nothing more than time. When there is not enough money for a family vacation, travel together to the library and check out a large stack of books to read together. When the busy-ness of the day has exhausted all reserve energy, sleep has been a bit sporadic, and tomorrow and the next day are looking to be more of the same, sit together on the couch and read, read, read together. When it rains the entire month of June and three little boys are longing to get outside to play, pitch a tent on the porch, bring snacks, a flashlight, a few toys, and a large stack of books, and travel imaginatively together to exotic, exciting places far and near. Between the infusion of excessive screens and the cultivated impatience of continual demands for extreme immediate gratification, the quiet creativity of listening to a story has become desperately endangered. The gift of being read to is indeed priceless and needs to be high on everyone’s list this Christmas.
Saturday, November 23, 2013
The Gift Of A Bridge
Bridges connect east to west, uptown to downtown, north to south, city to city, and because of these bridges, we can easily cross one side to the other. This is significant. Our cities today are under siege from a desperation, a loneliness, a despair that originates in hopelessness and chronic dysfunction and culminates in a fear-wrapped paralysis that can no longer see possibility. Our families today are under siege from a materialistic world that paints a spectacular mirage of how successful life ought to look, despite the fact that the closer one steps toward that lie, the more one horrifically realizes that it is not there. So the pace is quickened, the dial on the treadmill is turned exponentially up, blinders are donned in hopes that faster and more focused can conjure OZ. It cannot. We wallow in the frustration of our delusion and live angrily because what the world tells us we want, we cannot have. Our schools today are under siege from a bureaucratic system so heavily laden with infinite, infernal paperwork, that the attempted fulfillment of our metrics obsession which is theoretically designed to enhance individualized instruction, does in fact consume an inordinate amount of prime, meaningful, relational, teachable time, leaving our students more stressed with little to no academic gain. Our lives are under siege so we build walls and live alone. We give up. We strike out at those around us and weep quietly in the darkness. This is all wrong. Our lives are designed to be lived relationally, in community, sharing hearts and gifts and hope one life to another. Our hands are designed for reaching and helping not hoarding and hiding. We need each other. We need more bridges. Bridges to connect east to west, uptown to downtown, north to south, heart to heart in our cities, our families, our schools, and every aspect of our lives. Within our mirrored walls we see only ourselves and, truth be told, we do not like what we see. It’s selfish. We need us. We need bridges. We need to look out, reach out, for then we will find out that in serving and caring and connecting, we ourselves are blessed. We all fully know that a far deeper satisfaction is felt in giving a gift than in receiving a gift. The thing is, each life is packed with gifts, heart gifts that cost nothing to give yet mean everything to receive. The gifts of time, of compassion, of gentleness, of listening, of smiling, of helping, of patience, of generosity, of forgiveness, of willingness, of mercy; these gifts and so many like them cost little to nothing but have the strength and power to change a life, to balm a wound, to heal a pain, to offer hope. These gifts are bridges, the bridges needed by our cities, our families, our schools, and by all of us. This precious holiday, perhaps we need to consider the gift of a bridge.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Do You Bind or Liberate the Creative Spirit?
Time. Patience. Non-judgment. Safety. These things all are mandatory for a creative spirit to feel free to create. A creative spirit comfortably and frequently dwells in a place of great vulnerability. This place is one where wide open emotions, wild imaginings, and novel, exciting connections intersect. It is an exhausting and exhilarating place all at once. The birth of an idea occurs in a place where a brave creative spirit is willing to take a great risk and expose his or her heart. For example, a composing artist might be inspired by a landscape, an event, a relationship, a life story, or any other of an infinite number of inspirational sources, and then the seed of that inspiration takes root in imagination’s fertile soil. While germinating, the inspiration, for a composing artist, develops an identifying sound and a musical color which will ultimately be creatively translated into a melody. Sometimes this creative process takes a great deal of time, sometimes it unexpectedly bursts forth from seemingly nowhere, but in any case, it cannot be timed, measured, demanded of, or really even controlled. It just is as it is. Which comes first, the lyrics or the melody? There is no standard recipe. There is no prescribed order or flow chart design. It just is. And when pen finally puts creativity to paper, we see the fruit emerge. The fruit of this particular creativity is a song. A unique melody. A unique combination of words. A unique color of emotion extracted from the original inspiration. This unique musical composition depicts the artist’s very own musical connection to the object of inspiration, and to be invited to hear this melody by the artist’s hand is to indeed be considered a trusted confidant. Words need to be few in this moment of hearing a new song. One who snaps to reckless judgment, one who values to the highest priority the narrow parameters of extreme efficiency, one who typically favors status quo in general, one who is easily distracted and unable to simply breathe in the awesomeness of newness, one to whom nothing is ever quite good enough, these would rarely be the ones invited into this moment of creativity unveiled. These are actually the ones who bind the creative spirit within boxes of ordinary, predictable, beigeness. Within these boxes creativity suffers and dies, for creativity must be free if it is to exist at all. Be gentle with the creative spirits in life, in your home, in your classroom, in your workplace. They see the world a bit differently. They see possibilities unnoticed by others, and possibilities stir hope. The gifts they bring to the issues of life we all grapple with individually and corporately may just hold the promise of a solution.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
Sometimes Creativity Requires Great Patience
A conversation with a class of young students began with this question: What do you call the room where you sit with others before you are called into the doctor’s office? The waiting room. And if you are waiting in the waiting room to see the doctor, what are you? Probably sick. Well, that’s absolutely correct! The collection of everyone not feeling well in the waiting room would be known as the doctor’s what? We would be patients. That is also absolutely correct. Patients wait in the waiting room. The word patients is not the same as the word patience, but both are inextricably bound to the word waiting. The attribute of patience is learned through the discipline of waiting, yet, in our culture of immediate, we are not well accustomed to nor very amenable to waiting. A delay of game, a traffic jam, a black Friday checkout line, a power outage, these types of waiting circumstances frequently are accompanied by rising blood pressure and angry outbursts, which do decidedly nothing to eliminate the required wait. We hate to wait. Now. We want what we want and we want it now. Waiting is for everyone else in line, but not for me. I am too busy to wait. Too important. We rant and whine and complain and pound our fists on the steering wheel resembling our toddlers who throw similar tantrums when they have to wait. We are in such a hurry to not have to wait that we barely remember to breathe. Why? Why do we do this? If we never have to wait, we will forever suffer from impatience. Children are not yet burdened with the consuming nature of over self-importance, because the wonder of play still fills their hearts and waiting for a turn on the swing or the slide is really very okay. Unfortunately, they do observe impatience in us and occasionally try it on for size, which is desperately sad to see. Waiting is not a bad thing. Waiting can be a time of great creativity; a contemplative time when ideas can swirl and connect in new ways. Our frenetic, impatient pace squeezes out creativity. We race to the finish line of whatever task is before us, driven madly by a competitive compulsion to be first. Relax. Wait. Smell the flowers. Hear the music. See for the very first time since childhood the wonder and beauty all around. Savor with patience the great gift that is life, which passes all too quickly. And in the patient savoring, who knows, one might just find a unique idea or even an original song.
Monday, November 4, 2013
Angry Words Suffocate Gentle Curiosity, Wonder, and Imaginative Thought
“When angry count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred.” Thomas Jefferson
These days, it so often seems, there exists in our personalities a smoldering rage that bubbles just below the surface of our socially acceptable facades. This is a rage that is fed by our frustrations, inadequacies, insecurities, failures and all such negative attributes which derive their energy from all of the “I can’ts” and “You can’ts” being shouted into our self-esteems by the world. Not good enough. Not strong enough. Not fast enough. Not smart enough. Not rich enough. Not attractive enough. Not funny enough. Not serious enough. Never ever ever enough. In the shadow of that glaring though unachievable truth we pout and stew and lament that there looms an elusive something that we, who have prided ourselves on having it all, cannot have. Unacceptable. Anger is stirred. We run faster, jump higher, work longer, laugh louder, and even so, it is never ever enough. Rather than jumping off this ludicrous merry-go-round, we hang on more tightly, as the world whirls by, never advancing, only in place. If we could just jump off and steady our feet in the stillness, we might begin to know the feel of being content. The peace of looking inside one’s own heart and realizing that enough means simply having what one needs. But we cannot jump off. We are compelled to stay on because everyone else is staying on being angry alone together about all that we do not have that we really believe we should have, we deserve. We silently seethe. Because the bubbling rage we feel dare not be seen at work where its appearance could cost position or among those whose power or prestige might be beneficial in the climb toward more, we save our rage release for home, where temporarily we can slow the merry-go-round at least long enough to allow our emotions to catch up with our pace. With no one to impress for gain, we become ourselves and the anger shows. Impatience, inattentiveness, annoyance are all manifestations of our anger, and these become the norm for our children. Our collective fuse is short, our tempers flare, and we raise our voices with angry eyes flashing for incidents and behavior undeserving of such wrath. This persists as the expected culture around home and our children who long for our hearts receive this toxic and sad culture instead day after day after day after day. They learn from us. They learn this from us. They then bring this to school, to their friendships and all interpersonal interactions, because this is what they know. As a teacher, this is very challenging to undo. This is very challenging to penetrate and to heal. Children live what they learn is a very old adage and very true. Where there is anger, there is also fear, and where there is fear, optimal learning can never occur. Where there is anger, there is a clamoring for protection which is driven by the insecurity that a culture of anger creates. Where there is anger, curiosity, wonder, and imaginative thought will suffocate because gentle musings will always retreat when met toe to toe with the fierceness and fear of anger. Who pays the price for our inability or unwillingness to understand beauty of contentedness? Who bears the brunt of our endless, exhausting merry-go-round ride? Who just wants us and our time undivided, while we race about chasing one more material item to make our children happy? We have this all wrong. Our children long for our love, our smiles, our hugs, story time, joyous laughter together, silly fun projects worked on together; our children long for us. We give them our anger because we cannot give them the things that the neighbors have. Things. We pay far too high a price for things. We need to jump off the merry-go-round and play with our children. And if we feel angry, we need to count to ten. Thomas Jefferson surely had that right.
Thursday, October 31, 2013
Rampant. Pervasive. Epidemic. A malignancy. Disrespect, it surely seems, is the MO of today, and its insidious presence in classrooms, in locker rooms, in homes, and in most every interpersonal interaction among all ages, is tragic, immature, and growing. Its obnoxious presence dominates every setting in which it is allowed. Disrespect is the new neighborhood bully whose unrelenting selfishness very meanly distracts and destroys the direction of a gentle soul. Just today, I read of another broken-hearted teacher throwing in the towel on education because of the uncontrollable rudeness of students. Students are not the sole possessors of a disrespectful demeanor, however, for disappointingly, we adults all around them are flagrantly modeling this distasteful and atrocious behavior as well. Shouting at refs, demanding rule changes to suit personal circumstances, brazenly and constantly talking back, rolling the eyes, sarcastic remarks, an above the law attitude, an excuse for every act of non-compliance, a sneer to meet genuineness and humility, a spirit of laughing at, an unasked for opinion to make all decisions the matter of a personal committee, a loud dogmatic voice that hears only itself; all of these and countless more are mere symptoms of a deeper malady; an inner discontentedness, a distrust, an over-inflated ego due to a desperately diminished self-esteem, a cry to be noticed or heard. Disrespect will not go away if it is ignored, because somewhere deeply imbedded in disrespect’s DNA it’s itching to fight and will not stand down until it is challenged and put in its place. It resembles an alpha dog syndrome, where the leader is unmistakably identified and leads, despite efforts of wannabes to assume the lead. Disrespect simply cannot be allowed, for everything about it smacks of a breakdown of order and fully impedes accomplishment. When we speak of being committed to student learning, we would be remiss to avoid addressing and nipping the culture of disrespect which will most assuredly undermine even the best of best practices. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Gentleness. Self-control. A display of manners. Selflessness. Generosity. Graciousness. Humility. Can these be taught? Our students truly need to learn them. Demonstrating these attributes will boost students’ self-esteem and success and radically enhance accomplishment in the classroom, on the field, and in life. Don’t we desire this for them? Respect must be expected and demanded. Trust must be earned.
Monday, October 28, 2013
Looking At The Creative Spirit
A creative spirit frequently lives in a lonely place. Not bad lonely, just slightly misunderstood lonely. To create, one needs to be comfortable with vulnerability, and if not completely comfortable with vulnerability, then at least aware of the weight of this demand. To create, one needs to imagine possibility and unexpected connection and to do this one needs to drop the wall of fear that neatly and typically holds us captive and safe within our prescribed conventions and protocols. Dropping the wall of fear to see beyond it, is terrifyingly and exhilaratingly vulnerable. A willingness to live there is risky, but it is the only place for a creative spirit to feel the freedom necessary to dream and imagine. Creativity flows like a faucet through the imagination of the one who seeks to see a new connection or hear a new combination of sounds, but living in this refreshing flow is inefficient and immeasurable, whereby rendering it inconsistent with the standard rhythm of life which is much more lock-step and non-threateningly predictable. So in choosing to be a creative spirit, one is choosing to be different, and different is vulnerable and can be lonely. The process of creating is extremely intense and focused, yet at the same time wildly invigorating. In the process of creating, one hears and sees through the heart of imagination in response to an idea or thought and then captures that idea in a new way through any of an infinite variety of creative vehicles. My choice is music, and it has been since I was a child. Unexplainable as it is, other than to say it is a gift, creating music fills my soul and gives voice to the emotion wrapped around an idea, a thought, a situation, or a chapter in a life story. Inspiration for the creative process can occur at most any time and it compels the creative spirit to engage; convenient timing or not is rather inconsequential. From the moment of engagement, out pours the creativity unrestrained. When at last the creative piece is complete, there is a frozen moment of awe, when for the very first time the one who has dreamed and created views in actuality what previously had existed only in the heart of imagination. Breathtaking. Perfect. Thoroughly and absolutely unique. This precious moment of awe is a very vulnerable place where no judgment or critique is ever welcome and only the gentlest of viewers are allowed. The creative spirit is strong of heart and faith and optimism, but in this moment of awe, the creative spirit is indeed fragile. If you are ever invited into this moment with a creative spirit, accept it as the true gift it is, offer nothing but your stillness, and allow the awe to bless your heart.