Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Looking For Stillness
I stand against the wall, eyes half closed, looking for the still point of destruction.
A stone tossed into a quiet pond radiates in concentric circles outward in tiny waves; so too does stillness begin at the center and ripple out. So I am trying to be still, to quiet the world from within. Most days, the world will not cooperate.
I was told by someone last week that I am “too emotional.”
My response, sitting here in my study on an unseasonably cold night? Do not mistake my intensity for hyperbolic emotion.
There is poetry in a grizzly bear, grace in the lumbering gait of an elephant. Somewhere, deep in the heart of the earth, magma shifts and the mountains grow a few inches. Air travel and capitalism are disrupted around the world by a cloud of ash.
Passion and intensity are good things, but through the cacophony of daily life, we also look for a small place of stillness.
Meditation: concentrate on the breathing, awareness, in, and out. My mind wanders. Stop. Refocus. Concentrate on the breathing, awareness, in, and out.
I go back to the orgiastic drone of maniacal life.
I know with the certainty of blood that I need to listen to the silences. Teaching is a way of life: literature, writing, words—all life.
Sometimes I fail to live the life the way I should. I must regroup, refocus, concentrate on the breathing, bring myself back to myself. This is who I am. This is what I do.
Simply knowing a subject, or the various theories and methodologies to teach it, does not make one a teacher. Some of the worst, most inept, recalcitrant failures are people who have all the degrees, credentials, and paperwork. They went to the finest schools of education. They are on the fast track. But they do not live the life, and therefore, they impede the forward motion. They clog the system.
Some days, I think they are the only ones working in education. The true believers, the ones who live the life and know the stillness that radiates outward, they have left the building. They have been run out by the know-nothings, the theorists who remain in the institution because as the cliché runs, “those who can’t, teach.” That is why education is a mess in this country. That is why the system fails—because most of the people in it, leading it, legislating it, are failures at understanding people. They love charts and graphs and computer data, but they do not understand the human soul or the power of learning. They do not find solace or comfort in the heat of a mind on fire.
In a few short days, my students will be sitting for the annual Advanced Placement exams. They are studying their literary terms, their test questions, the structure of essays, poems and stories. They practice writing. They take sample examinations.
I have been asked why I do not give more practice tests to prepare them. I have given my students three complete AP sample tests, but what is it with these small-minded people who think learning is all about drilling a test? Being an educated person, someone who loves to learn and absorb his world, is not simply about practicing or taking a single test.
To learn, we must question and think critically.
Be open to all things.
Listen and analyze.
Understand people and cultures, and believe in the power of their stories.
To teach, we must work from a still point inside so we can absorb the tumult of the world.
So I am looking for stillness. Some moments, I lose it; I despair; I am filled with anxiety. Then I go to my books, my philosophies, my poetry. I return to who I am, to what I feel called to do. If one is not passionate and emotional about learning, if the human mind is not sacred, she should quit the classroom and go home. This is not a job for robots or bureaucrats, or for those who hide behind mind-numbing paperwork and titles. Teaching demands passion, intensity, love of humanity, and wisdom.
The real test never ends. There is always more to learn and understand. It is a big town with a lot of streets and possibilities, hopes and dreams, journeys of a thousand miles and more.
“Come, my friends, ‘tis not too late to seek a newer world,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote. From a still place at the center of our souls, we must radiate peace out into the world. We must listen. We must be intensely passionate and filled with conviction that our work will lead to truth, that we will make this “newer world” a reality.