Lots of Soul Searching – An update

Hello everyone,

It’s been a couple of months since I’ve written for EduSpirit. Collectively and individually there have been tremendous changes.

That said, I am in the process of reconceptualizing this platform to make it more accessible and resourceful. It has been a challenge finding time to write for EduSpirit since I have many writing deadlines for my academic position as a tenure-track faculty member. Most of my writing time has been dedicated to a different sort of writing. However, writing for EduSpirit opens up a different space for me through which I can explore other ways and knowings of what it means to integrate heart-centered work into my everyday teaching and scholarship. This work is invaluable to me and I would prefer to write about this type of work through reflective narrative on a daily basis.

I appreciate your continued support as I engage in some deep soul searching about what I feel is brewing on the horizon. The Universe is sending messages that I am digesting and making sense of. I believe that this platform is moving toward a more centered focus, but one that is multi-layered.

Thank you for your support as I figure out the next steps for EduSpirit’s evolvement.

With love,

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We Control the Narrative

Flow and Creativity

 

The month of September has been one of fluctuating energies. There have been peaks, valleys, and dips. Some have been dramatic. But all seem to be culminating. In other words, the energies I am experiencing have been moving toward this point for a long time now and, finally, I am able to understand their purpose and sense their meaning.

I know I am being vague and esoteric. If you know me, you understand that I receive information through clairsentience, the knowing comes through how I feel and by the messages I interpret through my body. Not many people have understood this about me and many have simply chalked it up to me being ‘a bit strange.’ But this gift has served me well. It has alerted me to cancer that doctors did not detect. It has guided me toward certain people who have proven to be extremely important mentors in my life. It has cautioned me to leave certain places before violent events have occurred. It has helped me to communicate directly with children in comas and individuals who are considered ‘non-verbal.’ There is an intelligence in emotion that most overlook because we have been conditioned to value the mind over the heart. For me, the mind may have knowledge, but the heart possesses wisdom. Relying on this wisdom connects me to Spirit and grounds me to my humanity simultaneously. I share this because it is through feeling that I now understand a certain circumstance in my life. It is wisdom that drives this understanding: we control the narrative.

Many times, we hear the words, “we control our lives, our destiny,” but rarely do I think that we take this seriously. Oftentimes, we fall prey to a sense of powerlessness and hopelessness where we create a narrative of being victims or victimized. Here, I must say, and not discount, the horrors of being a victim or victimized, particularly young children who are vulnerable and dependent upon others for care.  The majority of us have experienced some sort of major trauma and, these traumas, are often perpetrated by the adults in our lives. When I speak of controlling the narrative, within this context, I am describing the construction of victimhood as identity. This identity is one to which many cling. For, in victimhood, life is happening to us. Others are the enemy and, therefore, if we take on the identity of victim we are never to blame for our decisions or reactions. We are simply defending ourselves against others who are out to hurt us, get us. Then, it becomes natural to push away any critical self-reflection that may lead to the epiphany that we, indeed, have co-constructed these circumstances with others. We cannot place the mantle of victimhood upon us when we realize we have taken a conscious part in the creation of the reality we are living.

Without going into detail for the purpose of being considerate and respectful of others whom I deeply care for I will say that I have been an observer and participant in a long-term tug-of-war between certain individuals. Through my own biased lens of being who I am in relation to the individuals to whom I am referring, I have watched as one person has acted from an identity of victimhood. Years ago, I was perplexed by this person’s actions (I will use “they” as a pronoun here to refer to a specific individual for anonymity purposes). They made decisions out of fear and spite that were fueled by such hatred that I felt nauseous to be in their presence. The feeling in my body after any interaction with this person was an immediate repulsion that would vibrate in my solar plexus. I knew, on many levels, that this person was not only suffering, but was living in such fear that any attempt at love would be one of distortion. In other words, this person’s love – when given – would be fractured and conditional. It would be given only to gain something in return – power, bondage, or possession.

Because of specific circumstances, this is a person that has had to be in my life continuously. This is not a person who I would ever choose to communicate or interact with on any level. However, because this person is tied to other people whom I love, I have made many efforts to coexist (though at a distance) in order to maintain specific, important relationships.

I have learned a great deal about myself through this person. Perhaps this is why they are in my life. I have witnessed this person carefully construct a narrative of victimhood that extends to and has influenced a specific person who is dear to me. This narrative involves an US versus THEM mentality where there can be only one “winner.” To win infers that another must lose. However simplistic this may sound in binary terms, the implications reach far and wide. For the person who I love it means they must choose who is the winner and who is the loser. Through a paradigm of victimhood, there is no other option. For to see the situation in gray tones, rather than in black and white, would mean to be reflective and see the ways each person has contributed to a challenging and difficult reality.

The purpose in this writing is not to call anyone out or to be reactive. Rather, I am taking a moment to reflect upon all those who are impacted by the current choices being made. I am trying to take a bird’s eye view as a mother, a wife, a friend, and a spiritual seeker. I can see how a narrative weaved for years has taken hold of a dear soul and has placed them in an un-winnable situation. This person’s current choices, undoubtedly, will have ramifications far into the future that they cannot conceive of or understand. Yet, in this situation that has brewed for so many years, it is clear to me that certain energies are no longer sustainable. The energy of victimhood and all its manifestations are not supportable for me or for my nuclear family.

I have had to learn the difficult lesson of cutting cords and letting go energetically, even though a part of me is always hopeful and wants to say, “Let’s try one more time.”

But it is time to let go and allow individuals to come to their own conclusions. For years I have invested love, energy, time, and resources into a relationship that has never been mutually beneficial or reciprocated. I have felt deep sadness, for I know that much of this person’s inability to give of themselves is because of another person’s direct influence and constructed narrative. Yet, my body, my spirit, and heart tell me that the best thing I can do is send love – unconditional love – and to set this person free. It’s probably the best gift I can give at this moment knowing full well that if this person freely comes back to me, I will love them with open arms.

Always with love,

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Setting the Tone for the New School Year

Beginning the new school year with a positive, proactive attitude and approach is key to setting the right tone for you and your family and sustaining it over the academic year.

Being a teacher educator who is married to a school teacher and has two girls in elementary school has taught me the importance of deliberate intention, visualization, meditation, organization, communication, and follow-up.

I have learned these conscious, mindful actions the hard way and over time. In fact, I have resisted many of these ‘steps’ because I have a propensity to challenge routine, particularly if it feels forced. That said, I have noticed over the years that my children respond very positively to consistent messaging, clear vision of home- and school-centered goals, an organized home, and predictable scheduling. By no means do my husband and I approach these actions without keeping in mind that play, relaxation, and fun are equally, if not more, important. My girls crave long stretches of interrupted play where they can draw, engage in imaginative role play, create projects, read for pleasure, and explore our backyard’s trees, plants, and insects.

So, being the teacher that I am, I am happy to share the ways we, as a family, attempt to structure and maintain a harmonious tone in our home at the beginning of and throughout the school year.

Intention is the conscious practice of calibrating and setting the tone we need, as a family, to sustain a relatively peaceful balance. For us, this balance requires a mindful approach to understanding each individual’s desires, hopes, and needs while considering how each individual fits together and contributes to our family’s collective realities and dreams. For example, both my daughters are involved in extracurricular activities that involve a financial and time-intensive commitment necessary for them to continue progressing. To set the intention to support these activities, my husband and I needed to have several conversations to organize practical and feasible ways to realize my daughters’ desires.

The intention we set as a family was a co-constructed endeavor that involved some challenging discussions around what we could and could not support either financially or logistically. For instance, one of my daughters wanted to play soccer on top of already participating in martial arts, attending gymnastics one night per week, and continuing with her weekend violin lessons. While financially we were able to support her in all these activities, schedule-wise it would have been a major hardship. Had she played soccer, we would have needed to hire a caregiver to transport our daughter to and from practices and games that were often scheduled last-minute by the school district. My husband’s daily teaching schedule and my evening university courses conflicted with the district’s projected practices and games. Though our daughter was disappointed that she would not be able to play for her second-grade school team, through deliberate discussions – where we explained to her all the variables involved – she began to understand some of the complexities.

The intention to set the right tone for our family meant negotiating and tweaking our schedule until all of us came to a mutual agreement. As parents, this right tone meant actively listening to our two girls, hearing them out, and considering their opinions. Because my husband and I had discussed our non-negotiables (e.g., we did not want to hire a person to transport our girls from activity to activity), we could listen to our daughters and hold our ground while being fair and compassionate. Once everyone felt that they had contributed to conversations around our home and school schedules, we were able to reach a space where our overall intention toward extracurricular activities was positive and forward moving.

Once an intention is set (and feels good), I have discovered that imagining the actions that follow the intention are critical to assisting me with planning, organizing, and working out any kinks. Since I am a very visual person, it makes sense to use visualization as a practical tool for these imaginings. For others who are auditory processors, talking through your intentions may prove very beneficial. For tactile learners, having a tangible planner in front of you as you are thinking through your intentions can help you transfer conceptualizations to concrete actions by imagining (and seeing) each day of the week in calendar form. For kinesthetic individuals, taking a nice walk and moving your body while imagining the way your intention will manifest into reality can be extremely helpful.

In my own experience, visualizing not only the action, but also the feeling behind the action is equally important. Manifesting a smooth transition into the busy school year means seeing each family member feeling joyous as they engage in home-, work- or school-related activities. If, for example, I see – in my mind’s eye – my daughters excited to go to their evening gymnastics practice and having a fantastic time while they are there adds to the energy and momentum of this reality being achieved. This practice of visualizing the event and associating it with a positive emotion is a process of our ability as human beings (with untapped spiritual potential) to co-construct realities we want to experience.

Meditation within the context of setting the tone for the new school year, for me, is a practice that underlies all the actions described in creating positive processes and outcomes. It is a state of being we can reach when we find congruence between our mind, heart, spirit, and body. This alignment within triggers a harmonious resonance through which calmness and a deep sense of well-being is experienced. Meditation does not need to come after visualization, nor, in actuality, is there any required order among any of the ‘steps’ described. For me, however, meditation is a way for me to solidify a knowingness that what I have intended, visualized, and felt is not only probable, but fully possible because I know and believe the reality I have co-constructed to be real and true.

Once this knowingness settles into my very core, then I can be very deliberate with organizing my actions without feeling anxious, frustrated, or overwhelmed. However, when I begin organizing without setting the intention and following through with visualization and meditation, I generally go into a panic. For instance, if I haven’t centered myself and I approach scheduling a monthly calendar of all our individual family member’s activities, I usually feel an anxious and uncomfortable energy arise from my navel. This shooting energy gets stuck in my throat. I then forget to breathe. I feel light-headed, and my pulse skyrockets. This is when arguments between my husband and I are inevitable. He may ask me a simple question such as, “Can you pick up the girls on Thursday afternoon?” And I, feeling completely ungrounded, unsettled, will reply with anger, short outbursts, and curt responses. I may even blame him for how I am feeling because, in these moments, when the energy is rushing so fast in my body, I may not be able to process that my state of being has been compromised by my lack of centeredness.

When I wrote earlier that I sometimes resist organization, I believe it is because I have frequently used organization as a tool to control inner or outer chaos. Instead of approaching organization as a mindful and conscious practice of sorting and prioritizing what is important to me and to my family members I have viewed it and used it as a last-ditch effort at cleaning up what I don’t want to look at. My resistance stems from a constructed belief that somehow organization is the antithesis to freedom. If I am disciplined and organized that, somehow, I will lose or stifle my inner creativity and spirit. So, instead of adopting organization as a spiritual practice of proactively attending to the important things in my life, I have done everything in my power to resist structuring my schedule and organizing my activities and those of my family members.

Though I have had moments of clarity throughout my life about organization and have attempted to have a healthy relationship with it, it wasn’t until I became a mother that I realized the importance of providing my daughters with predictability that could only come from organization. As a single person or even as a wife I could get away with a more reactive approach to organizing my life. In other words, I could wait until the last minute or until I had reached a desperate place before I would begin to deliberately put things in order. As a mother, however, I came to the difficult and honest realization that my negative reactions to setting up specific structures in my ‘world,’ many times, affected my young daughters detrimentally. I did not want them to get caught in my self-inflicted hurricanes, so I began to surrender. I surrendered to the understanding that organization – as a mindful practice – could provide important structures so that my children felt a predictability and trustworthiness that their world was safe and secure.

In practice, organization is now a deliberate process that is aligned with our individual and family goals. Setting the intention for how we want to feel as we create structures to ensure we can achieve our desires and needs has informed how we interact and communicate with one another. Communication has been a critical ‘step’ in understanding how each of us feels as we listen to and discuss with one another what each of us needs to meet our desires, hopes, and needs. Communication is essential in co-constructing a feasible structure that has been vetted by each family member (to varying degrees). For example, in our household, to be able to organize each of our varied school- and work-related activities, we have created a family calendar displayed on a white board near the refrigerator (which is color coded by person and shows each individual’s activity throughout the month) and a weekly menu (which is displayed on a small blackboard in the kitchen). We have divided up chores and household responsibilities (which are written down on lists) and organized specific home-, work-, and school-related events (via Google calendars).

Because we are attempting to make activities transparent in a variety of ways, it becomes important to check-in with one another and to see if the structures we have in place to organize these events are working.

Recently, my husband and I realized that much of our miscommunication about my work-related scheduled events on the calendar was occurring because my Outlook work schedule was not synching with my Google Calendar. A couple of times when I got home from work late because I was at a ‘scheduled’ work event, I detected a slight frustration in his voice. I would say, “It was on the calendar.” And he would retort, “No it wasn’t.” And I would respond, “Yes, it was. I scheduled it.” The tête-à-tête was ad nauseam. Finally, however, when the synching problem was resolved, we were able to get back into a groove that was aligned with our original intention. We were able to meet our needs, which included work needs, and felt good about knowing that we were following an agreed upon structure.

Finally, in this process of setting the tone for the new school year, my family and I have found that following-up with one another assists us in following through with the intentions and goals we have created. Following-up, for me, is interconnected with communication and is the action of speaking with one another to ensure the we each feel aligned with what we have agreed upon as a family. If, in a ‘follow-up,’ we discover that a family member is no longer in sync with or happy about the direction we are moving as a collective, then it is imperative to communicate honestly with one another and to listen with compassion about issues that are being revealed. Some of these issues may unearth not only the individual family member’s challenges, but signal to the rest of the family that a new conceptualization, structure, or intention is necessary. Following-up assists in following through. Following through is a related action and is characterized by what each of us does to continue sustaining a positive and proactive tone. Following through means to be continually proactive in our approach to communication and other ‘steps,’ such as meditation, that will facilitate healthy processes and outcomes related to home, work, and school.

When we are deliberate about actions (intention, visualization, meditation, organization, communication, and follow-up) that contribute to individual and family goals, we begin to sense an amazing power within that is freeing and expansive. We come to realize our co-creative abilities in setting intentions that have a high probability of being realized. As we become conscious co-creators, we can set the tone for how we want to live our lives.

We can see the seeds we have sown and teach our children the ways that they, through intention and action, can experience joy in all the activities in which they are engaged.

As we begin another school year, let’s make a conscious effort to set a positive and proactive tone for how we deliberately experience our life.

Setting the tone for joy,

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The Conflicted American

I love that I was born in the United States and that I have had the privilege of being able to choose my friends, my career, whether or not I want to practice any sort of religion, and how I want to live my life. I recognize that had I been born in Syria, in Nicaragua, in North Korea, or even Serbia, I would not have had the freedoms I have both cherished and taken for granted as an American citizen. But I have struggled with what it means to be American for a very long time. For me, the amazing part about being American has been being able to be adventurous and expansive. It has been a journey of coming into my own knowing that as a biracial female I can do anything, reach for anything, and become who I have always wanted to be. I have had the privilege to do so, just by being born into a country where the pursuit of happiness is embedded in our Declaration of Independence.

This is one side of freedom. One aspect of my experience.

I just watched Django Unchained the other night. This is the other side of freedom. It is the illusion of freedom.  It is the illusion of the American Dream. There is no dream when we wake up and realize that we are living off the backs of others. There is no dream when we recognize our complicity in a system that is predicated on a rich/poor binary. We cannot have rich, successful people if we don’t have poor people to compare our successes to. Living the American Dream, we must realize, has never been that EVERYONE gets to live the American Dream. Only certain people can live this dream and deep down in the darkest regions of our soul… WE KNOW THIS. We say that being American means freedom for all. But look around. Is this really the truth?

Or is being American and “making America great again” really this: Only certain people are true Americans. Everyone else, who fall outside this dominant norm are “infidels,” “criminals,” “lazy,” “good-for-nothing” individuals who do not appreciate American values and must be dealt with because they are DIFFERENT, non-conforming, or outside-of-the box thinkers or believers.

I am weeping inside as I write this. My heart is so heavy. I am American. But even writing, “I am American” brings such conflict to my soul. I am an American who believes in PEOPLE. I am an American who believes in every person’s freedom and liberation from oppression. I am an American who is fiercely protective of my individual rights, particularly my right to free speech. And I am an American who is deeply struggling with being American as I see my government strip Black, Brown,  and people of Difference of every right and liberty afforded to them – at least in the way “rights” and “liberty” have been conceptualized in our Constitution.

To me, being American means giving more and being generous of heart and spirit. It is not taking away and narrowing the parameters for who can receive freedom.

I was sickened when I watched Django Unchained because it reminded me of WHO WE ARE as Americans. We are both the beautiful and the underbelly of evil. We carry both in our ancestral DNA. This time of reckoning with our past and seeing how it is playing out in the HERE and NOW is important. It is more palpable and real than it has ever been, at least in my lifetime.

It is time to fully recognize that we cannot be a United States, until we accept our conflicted relationship with freedom and “American” values. We cannot love our country and hate certain countrymen and women. It is not possible. We must tell our stories, come together to listen, cry out our pain, be heard and accepted, and, finally, begin to heal. There is no other way. We cannot heal our traumatic past without acknowledging its existence.

This is what it means to be human. And, for me, this is what it could mean to be American: An American who deeply acknowledges our contradictions and who has the courage to stand up and embrace the sovereignty within EVERY human being… This is true power; the strength within to not fear; the power to LOVE every human being beyond the differences we have created that position others as wrong, less than, inferior, bad, or God-less.

On this Independence Day, I speak my truth as an American. I am American and I am so much more. But, as an American I pray my heart will be heard and that we can begin to recognize the hypocrisy:  American freedom is a constructed ideal that has only been granted to a chosen few.

Please remember this declaration below and begin to imagine that these statements include all human beings regardless of gender, nationality, race, class, ability, or religious affiliation:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. 

Always with love,

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Continuing the Conversation with Linda & José about Community Engagement

As we continue toward the horizon trying to discover our Self with every step forward, we begin to realize how interconnected we are to one another. My continuing conversations with Linda Maxwell and José Quintanar represent this path forward. We are learning from one another how to make sense of a world in which there exists much hatred, violence, chaos, and confusion.

In this discussion, Linda and José talk about community-engaged work through a humanizing lens. I am learning much from them including what it means to live a life of service and to be in the moment as we interact with other people. I am learning that each person with whom I interact is someone to learn from, even if the experience seems and feels negative. There is ALWAYS something to learn. Sometimes the knowledge that we gain is from contrast – experiencing that which we DO NOT want. We understand better who we are when we come across others who embody traits that do not resonate with who we are or want to be.

Linda and José teach us from the ground up. This means that they are interested in PEOPLE not the politics, ideals, or belief systems that may surround a person within a specific context. The ground up is actively listening to a person to understand how to reach that individual’s heart. That is where authentic communication begins. That is where love for one self and for the other reigns.

We live on the edge of spiraling into LOVE for one another or falling into our deepest darkest fears of separation. This fear is a frightening place of victimhood, oppression, and distain for our brothers and sisters. Linda and José constantly remind us to center ourselves and to seek LOVE, even if love seems the most improbable solution or outcome.

Peace, strength, and courage, everyone.

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Resonating with the Land

 

The last few days have been full of awareness for me. As I type, I am conscious of the Sangre de Cristo mountains around me, the fragrant smells of the earth after a brief southwestern rain, and the hint of buzzing in my head as my body attempts to acclimate to the Taos altitude which is almost at 7,000 feet.

I have always loved and have been drawn to the Southwest. It is a landscape that I resonate with. It is a landscape that, when I am in other parts of the country, I meditate upon. It calms me down, grounds me.

A few months ago, I returned to the Southwest for the first time in eight years. Almost immediately I felt my chakra system align, particularly my root chakra. It was easier to think clearly and to feel my mind/heart/body connection. I didn’t have to work at grounding myself, like the way I have to living in the Midwest or when I visit other parts of the country or world. It was as if there was a weight anchoring me deeply into the earth. This weight was like a mother’s warm hand on my back rather than a heavy, uncomfortable pressure pushing me down.

I feel the same soft, steady warmness inside of my body stepping off the plane into New Mexico. It is a combination of the desert mountains and dryness of air, but it’s also much more. It is the Land (capital ‘L’) who is the personification of an intense motherly energy – sharp and stern – as well as deeply nurturing. The desert Land is not comforting to everyone. She recognizes those who will always be visitors from those who carry her essence in their hearts. She can be harsh and, at first glance, desolate and uninviting. But for those who take the time to meet and get to know her, She is penetrating beauty gifting our eyes with immense heights and incredible depths. She is the profound canyon and the most treacherously magnificent peak. She is vastness and darkness. She is blinding light and heat. She gifts those who deeply appreciate Her by presenting us with glorious skies, brilliant stars, and Her body – which is the sienna, cinnamon-colored land on which we stand, build upon, and explore.

For me, the desert reflects my ideal inner landscape. In my core, when I am most at peace, there is an expansiveness that is not unlike the desert’s vastness. It goes beyond my consciousness and into the land of dreams. It is a liminal space between my perception and the unconscious. It is both uncomfortable in its limitlessness and completely freeing.

I am constantly trying to find the perfect equilibrium in this liminal space. Like a dial on an AM/FM radio, I have to carefully place all my attention on tuning it just enough to hear what is coming through. ‘Tuning in’ is another way to describe the conscious act of finding the frequency to which I want to resonate. The Southwest and the desert, in general, is a physical outward manifestation of a frequency that completely jives with my spiritual make up and composition. It is a representation of the inner spirit-scape I seek.

This awareness of the Land I am currently immersing myself in is a reminder to me that WHO I AM at the soul level needs vastness, quietness, and space to achieve inner equilibrium. This harmony is more easily accessible when an external representation of what I want to strive for and manifest within is right before my eyes. The test will be if I can achieve this grounded, peaceful feeling that I am experiencing so strongly now when I go back home. The test is knowing, in my heart, that this spirit-scape already exists within. I don’t need to travel thousands of miles to find it.

With love,

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Doing vs. Being of Service

whenwewillallseeourrole

 

What does it mean to serve, to be of service to others? What does it mean to choose the role of the servant? How does the concept of ‘service’ translate to who we are and how we decide to ‘be’ in this world?

I remember in my junior year in high school I was considering running for an Associated Student Body (ASB) position. I knew I didn’t want to be President and I wasn’t interested in Treasurer either. Vice President and Secretary appealed to me and both were positions I thought I would do well in. My high school, an all-girls Catholic school, also had another position available. This position was ASB Service. Of all the positions, I wanted this one the least, not because I thought I couldn’t handle the responsibilities and not because I wasn’t well qualified (I had consciously been involved in service in different ways throughout my high school career). It was because I didn’t want to be known and seen as “the Service person.” What made matters worse for me was that almost every teacher and dozens of my peers told me I should run for Service, that I would be “so good at it.” Deep down, I knew they were right. I knew that I could help organize and lead retreats, plan specific service-related events on campus and within the community, and, overall, provide strong leadership and mentoring for other students, particularly freshmen and sophomores.

Even though I knew I would be excellent in this position based on feedback I had received over freshmen, sophomore, and junior years from teachers and peers about my service work, I resisted submitting my name for nomination. I actually filled out the nomination sheet for Secretary and was going to announce my decision when I heard that one of my good friends had already submitted her name for Secretary. In fact, many of my friends submitted their names for all the positions except for ASB Service. I found out that they were saving the spot for me (!). Their action was both infuriating and thoughtful. Knowing that my friends and fellow peers deliberately did not submit their names for Service because they thought I was a shoe-in, made me feel a responsibility to not let them down. I submitted my name for nomination and was voted in easily.

In retrospect, at age 17, I believe I was coming to terms with the humility of service. What made me so uncomfortable choosing to run for ASB Service was a deep sense that I wasn’t doing enough. True service to me, even as an adolescent and young adult, meant that I needed to do much more. My experiences felt too easy. For example, going to a pre-school and working with young children one-on-one or in small groups as part of my service hours didn’t feel like service. Even though I enjoyed being and playing with small children, this experience was just another assignment I needed to complete. Whether I was in the classroom or not, I felt like my presence didn’t make a huge difference on the children’s overall growth and learning. I was just another high school student or volunteer dropping in, getting her ‘service’ criteria satisfied, and driving away with all the necessary signatures to demonstrate my ‘involvement.’

Service as a mindset and philosophy meant something to me. Maybe it was being exposed to catechism that included in-depth case studies of specific saints and martyrs. If I wasn’t feeling fully connected to the acts of ‘goodness’ or ‘kindness’ I was enacting or if I wasn’t feeling some degree of sacrifice, then, in my young adult mind, I wasn’t doing my part. Not doing my part was exasperated by being known as “the Service person” on campus. Though my peers and teachers valued my service-related work, especially my shared written personal narratives about spirituality I wrote as part of my service leadership during retreats, I felt like an imposter. I realized that doing service was a far cry from being of service.

Being of service, I understood to a limited degree, at age 17, was a way of life, a choice to live every moment acknowledging Self but making decisions to be of service to others. Doing service, in contrast, could be measured quantifiably through external acts that others deemed ‘good’ or ‘kind.’ Even at 17, I cringed at the notion that people held a stick up to me and measured me as the ‘good kind of service.’ They didn’t know what I was feeling inside. They didn’t have a clue if I was ‘being’ rather than just doing obligatory service. All they could see – as they checked the boxes or signed the papers – were all the external, seemingly meaningful ‘acts’ in which I was involved. The more hours the better. The more ‘impact’ – as measured by how many people I served lunch to – fantastic!

Fast-forward decades later, and I find myself thinking of ‘service’ as an Assistant Professor who is creating courses that are community-engaged. I am actually structuring one course as a critical service-learning course. Critical, in this case, means centering social justice at the core of pedagogy and its enactment or praxis (Mitchell, 2007; 2008; 2014). Service-learning refers to the structure through which a higher education course intentionally centers ‘service’ as “mutually identified and organized service activities that benefit the community and [assist students in] gain[ing] further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of personal values and civic responsibility” (Bringle & Clayton, 2012, p. 105).

What strikes me in this reflection, is how similar I feel to how I did as a 17-year-old, when I ask myself and my critically-minded colleagues if we are actually BEING OF service to the communities we collaborate and work with through our community-engaged work or if we (my colleagues, our students, and I) are only DOING service. In higher education courses, where does merely doing service end and being of service begin? And in semester-long courses that are based on extrinsic motivators (grades, recognition), is it even possible to go beyond only doing service?

For me, the answer lies in the internal shifts that occur within each individual. As a whole,  most likely, the majority of my students – when engaging with community members – may only be doing service, regardless of what they write in their journal reflections or say in their final project presentations. Doing service means getting the good grade and being able to say that they ‘know about real issues.’ Being of service, for the few who truly get it, means that their experience and interaction with community members deeply shifts their understandings of who they are in relation to others with whom they are speaking, communicating, and interacting. Being of service means that the external ‘doing’ of service has translated to a knowing. This knowing is the realization that service is not an action divorced from the heart. Service, in its purest form, is being in, coming from, and sharing the heart for the purpose of caring for, listening to, and being there for another without conditions.

Service is akin to Rachel Naomi Remen’s (2000) discussion on ‘charity’ or “ways of giving to others” (p. 86). She tells the story of an Orthodox rabbi who provided her with clarity around these ‘ways’ through different levels of understanding unconditional giving:

  • At the eighth and most basic level of giving to others, a man begrudgingly buys a coat for a shivering man who has asked him for help, gives it to him in the presence of witnesses, and waits to be thanked.
  • At the seventh level, a man does this same thing without waiting to be asked for help.
  • At the sixth level, a man does this same thing openheartedly without waiting to be asked for help.
  • At the fifth level, a man openheartedly gives a coat that he has bought to another but does so in private.
  • At the fourth level, a man openheartedly and privately gives his own coat to another, rather than a coat that he has bought.
  • At the third level, a man openheartedly gives his own coat to another who does not know who has given him this gift. But the man himself knows the person who is indebted to him.
  • At the second level, he openheartedly gives his own coat to another and has no idea who has received it. But the man who receives it knows to whom he is indebted.
  • And finally, on the first and purest level of giving to others, a man openheartedly gives his own coat away without knowing who will receive it, and he who receives it does not know who has given it to him. Then giving becomes a natural expression of the goodness in us, and we give as simply as flowers breathe out their perfume (pp. 86 – 87).

In the final iteration of ‘ways of giving to another’ we become servants of humanity. We recognize the divinity each of us carries within, in spite of outward appearance or perceived difference.

As educators, I am interested in how we can use these understandings of service to inform our being-ness as we interact with our students, community members, and other stakeholders. To what degree are we willing to be of service and in what areas do we find ourselves only doing service either ‘begrudgingly’ or for the sake of being acknowledged or recognized? Where do we begin, in our own work, to help our students shift from merely doing service to becoming servants to society, to humanity?

These are questions I hope we all ponder seriously as we (re)imagine and (re)conceptualize a world in which we are committed to serving humanity – our children, our communities, and our planet.

With much love,

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References

Bringle, R. G., & Clayton, P. H. (2012). Civic education through service-learning: What, how, and why? In L. McIlrath, A. Lyons, & R. Munck (Eds.), Higher education and civic engagement: Comparative perspectives (pp. 101 – 124). New York: Palgrave.

Mitchell, T. D. (2007). Critical Service-Learning as social justice education: A case study of the citizen scholars program. Equity & Excellence in Education, 40(2), 101 – 112.

Mitchell, T. D. (2008). Traditional vs. Critical Service-Learning: Engaging the literature to differentiate two models. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 50 – 65.

Mitchell, T. D. (2014). How service-learning enacts social justice sensemaking. Journal of Critical Thought and Praxis, 2(2), Article 6, 1 – 26.

Remen, R. N. (2000). My Grandfather’s Blessings. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.