I walk whenever I can. My daily goal is ten thousand steps. That usually amounts to close to five miles. Yesterday I decided to take a slightly different route that led me across Gates Creek and up an abandoned roadway leading to what used to be called Hogue’s Hill. I remember riding up this hill with my father in an automobile in the 1950’s. Mr. Hogue had a tree farm up on this hill and we purchased blue spruce trees from him to plant around the perimeter of our yard.
The road reminds me of Robert Frost’s poem about “The Road Not Taken.”
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
For months and even years I’ve been praying for direction. Today as I meditated and now as I mindfully walk along the Allegany river near St. Bonaventure University the answers seem to flow. All of my life I have wanted to teach, to help and heal people. I recall making tests up for my brother Mark using my Dad’s typewriter. Mark was my first student. At 19 and in US Navy recruit training I was chosen education petty officer for our company. I’ve often wondered why I was chosen. Many of my shipmates were college graduates and I had only completed my freshman year of college at that point. Later I attended US Navy Corps School and served as a corpsman in labor and delivery, newborn nursery and later a surgical assistant and ambulance driver. After active duty I briefly pursued nursing education then leaving academic pursuits and eventually finding employment in education first as a school bus driver and custodian then returning to the classroom to finish the bachelors degree. For the past almost twenty-six years I’ve taught and worked as a technology director. But what am I really? Am I a geek, a technology purveyor, an entrepreneur who helps others solve technology problems? Is there more?
This morning an insight came and it crowded out everything else. At my core I love to help people. I love God and all that might be defined mystic and spiritual. I was the altar boy who fell asleep in front of the church door waiting for Fr. Pollard to open for 7 o’clock mass. I was the boy who wanted to go to the minor seminary at twelve years of age. I am the teacher who loves opening up opportunities for challenging students too.
Four years ago I returned to graduate school at St. Bonaventure University and graduated at the top of my class in Educational Leadership. For awhile I actively sought administrative positions at other school districts. I got some interviews but all proved to be dead ends or so I thought. Frustration set in and I began to question what I had accomplished. Eventually at the direction of a total stranger I began to meditate. Five minutes twice a day led to ten and eventually fifteen and twenty minutes. Changes in my outlook and healing invited me to consider the power of this ancient practice. An invitation from my daughter to take up yoga caused additional changes and now almost eighteen months later I sense a new direction for my life.
Not in the last thirty years have I seen so much stress and tension in education. Everywhere teachers, principals, students and parents too are stressed and frustrated with a system gone awry from high stakes testing. Then too a society in flux adapting to the second decade of the twenty-first century. Global markets, climate change, redefined roles have created chaos that is not easily solved. Old answers don’t work and so we look for new answers to the questions caused by this frenzy.
My practice of meditation and yoga have brought me peace. My prayer life has deepened and invited me to reach out. I’m pursuing my calling as a Secular Franciscan and a teacher and today I see that this earlier call could’ve been the direction I have been looking for. Francis responded to a call to rebuild the church of his day which had fallen in to ruin. The church or better yet the community of today has fallen into ruin. The call I’m discerning today is how and by what means can we rebuild the community or communities in which we find ourselves. I think the answer lies in stillness and contemplation. The world needs mystics and contemplatives from all cultures and faith communities. I hope you will join me in silence, stillness and prayer for our earth and its people.
It’s been eighteen months now since I began to follow my breath and it has lead me to peace and stillness. I first took a meditation class in 1976. It was Transcendental Meditation. There was a mantra and formal training. There was a cost too. I don’t remember what it was. I didn’t stay with it. Over the years that followed I read and practiced at various times but always I was filled with conflict. Was I doing it right? Is this it? Do I need a mantra? What about Om? What about Jesus or Abba? So what’s different now? I have up the debate and just accepted following my breath. I do it morning and night a d sometimes in the car. Sometimes I follow my breath before teaching a room full of anxious middle schoolers. One of my students asked me if I was a monk. A common thread amongst them all and with me too is that I’m relaxed and at peace and they sense that. I’m filled with energy too. One young man said each day as I shook his hand before class that my hand was warm and it was after a few minutes of forward bends and sun salutations. Even I am impressed with the relaxation and fitness. Yoga class begins in a few minutes and I’m glad to be here. It’s a weekly event that has come to be a good habit in my life. Namaste!
I was looking at LearnHub.com and I came upon this wonderful presentation by John Kabat-Zinn. I hope you’ll take the time to view it and to wonder why we are aren’t teaching mindfulness in our classrooms. I have a link to Mindfulness in Education in my blogroll, but this is an invitation to mindfulness and meditation by one of the masters.
I remember when I used to look for all I could read about meditation. Imagine writing a book about Zen. Zen seems to be the antithesis of definition. When this quote came in today’s mail, it struck a chord with me.
Contemplation cannot be taught. It cannot even be clearly explained. It can only be hinted at, suggested, pointed to, symbolized. The more objectively and scientifically one tries to analyze it, the more he empties it of its real content, for this experience is beyond the reach of verbalization and of rationalization. Nothing is more repellent that a pseudo-scientific definition of the contemplative experience. One reason for this is that he who attempts such a definition is tempted to proceed psychologically, and there is really no adequate psychology of contemplation. To describe “reactions” and “feelings” is to situate contemplation where it is not to be found, in the superficial consciousness where it can be observed by reflection. But this reflection and this consciousness are precisely part of that external self which “dies” and is cast aside like a soiled garment in the genuine awakening of contemplation.
Thomas Merton. New Seeds of Contemplation. New York: New Directions Press, 1962: 6-7.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, pondering and meditating lately. I live a life of active contemplation. Despite this or because of it I am blessed. My recent decision to apply to an MBA program has been born of this contemplation. At the same time I am given to pondering the imponderables and wondering if I’m doing the right thing. Everyone including one of my spiritual advisors have suggested that I should pursue this thought with more action. Continue reading “His agent”