From Inner Jedi to Inner Stirrings
I trust we are aware of “Using the Force (focus on outcomes, results, collection, and evaluation): Unleash Your Inner Jedi to Measure Student Success” as part of the college initiative to be customer focused. As a complement, supplement, and perhaps more fundamental to this district wide incentive, might I add – Using our Inner Stirrings: Tap into our life restoring power to enhance our personal well -being, and the fulfillment of our potential as human beings. “When the winter is severe, the pine trees in this ancient land stay green throughout the year. Is it because the earth is warm and friendly? No, it is because the pine tree has within itself a life-restoring power.” Proverb
I believe it was Aristotle who reflected on the process of becoming human with his following thought process: the way I think determines the way I speak, and the way I speak determines the way I act, and the way I act determines the way I behave, and my behavior becomes my habit, and my habit becomes my character, and my character becomes my destiny.
Who am I? Where am I going? What is life all about? These three questions are the classic philosophical questions that hopefully one asks from time to time. When is the last time I have taken an inventory and journeyed through the annals of my human nature? As we are mid-way through another semester of listening, lecturing, learning, laughing, lounging, and lunching, let us take a moment to listen to the stirrings of our human nature which are: to live, to be free, to understand, to create, to enjoy, to connect, and to transcend. If we are energized, then we can be of greater service to those whom we serve.
- To live – How often I take life for granted until somehow it is compromised. Life is a gift that is given to me freely to create, to nurture, to cherish, and to fulfill. Years ago I remember reading a book entitled, “From Death Camp to Existentialism.” The author, Vicktor Frankl survived the atrocities of the Nazi concentration camp. One evening while standing out in the compound he experienced three stirrings of his human nature: he saw a light flickering in the distance, he noticed a bird pecking in the mud, and he heard the voice of his beloved wife who was a victim of the gas chamber. Vicktor Frankl was a determinist like Sigmund Freud until his death camp experience changed and cracked open his human spirit and he connected with a life-restoring power. As he wrote: “Live as if you were living a second time, and as though you had acted wrongly the first time.” There is another similar story about Dung Anh Trouong, or Dat, as he is known, who was a South Vietnam Air Force officer who was captured by the Viet Cong. He, too, survived the atrocities of a concentration camp. All he endured would be enough to make most people give up. He said, “Life is graced – enjoy every minute of life, and enjoy being alive.”
– Describe a time you were fully alive.
- To be Free – The multiplicity of freedoms be they constitutional, legal, our free will, physical, intellectual, religious, spiritual, inner, and self-determined freedoms all create a collage of opportunities for me to become fully alive. Hugh Downs reminds us that “The price of freedom is responsibility, but it is a bargain, because freedom is priceless. The vision of a world of educated people is a powerful reality as thousands of individuals have been able to receive their diplomas as a rite of passage into the future. As NWTC celebrated its 100th birthday, it has been a beacon of hope and opportunity for thousands of individuals to express their right to pursue an education. In a sense, the technical schools have been like the Statue of Liberty which was unveiled in 1886, and inscribed on its base were words written for the occasion by Emma Lazarus: “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp! Cries she with silent lip. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”
– What does it mean to be free?
- To Understand – Stephen Covey, a highly successful consultant for thousands of industries over the years, was quoted as saying: “Seek not to be understood but to understand.” Covey encourages us to learn something new every day .
A story is told about Mary McLeod Bethume who was one of seventeen children who was born to parents who were former slaves. She often imagined herself as some day learning how to read. While playing with a doll, she was told by a white girl, “You can’t even read.” At that moment she promised herself that someday she would read. While picking cotton, she repeated over and over again, “I am going to read.” Years later she became an advisor to Franklin Roosevelt on minority affairs, founder of the National Council of Negro Women and founder and president of Bethune-Cookman College in Florida. Inscribed in stone in the archway to the school it reads: “Enter to Learn and Depart to Serve.” There are two pillars upon which we stand, they are the “Quest” and the “Question.” However, the philosopher A.N. Whitehead offers us a caution: “When you understand all about the sun and all about the atmosphere, and all about the rotation of the earth, you may still miss the radiance of the sunset.”
–What would you like to know more about?
- To Create – Albert Einstein reminds us that “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” He should know having imagined and articulated a paradigm shift in the world of physics – the theory of relativity. Bill Gates believed that his Microsoft company had only one asset – human imagination. A company’s value is not in its possessions and assets but in its thinking. In my thinking critically and creatively course, initially students do not believe they are creative and struggle to formulate and organize their creativity project. Once they begin to understand that creativity is seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary they begin to shed their fears. The following is an example of one student’s creativity project:
- Why do you think and feel that this area is creative? I believe crafting décor and scrapbooking are creative areas because you can get inspired from books and every day experiences, and then make it your own.
- How would you describe the experience of being engaged in a creative activity? I think creative activities are exhilarating. I feel most relaxed when I am striving to be creative with some new perspective or idea.
- Where do your creative ideas come from? My creative ideas come from trial and error, snippets from other people, and sources that I discover, and an internal spark that ignites inside of me – Eureka!
- How do your ideas develop? They develop rather quickly – something triggers a new image, perspective, or vision in myself; where exactly? I do not know.
- What strategies do you use to increase your creativity? My strategies for increasing my creativity are reading or looking at pictures about the subject matter that I am interested in, a curiosity about it, or brainstorming.
- What obstacles block your creative efforts? Noise and distractions block my creative efforts.
- How do you try to overcome these blocks? I seek out alone time in another place or outside the house in a natural setting.
-Reflect on a creative moment or thought you have had.
- To Enjoy: As only Mark Twain could express it: “My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it.” Do I enjoy what I am doing at work? Are there any changes I want to make in my life? Think for a moment: travel down memory lane; return to the places when you knew happiness; reread letters; view photo albums; fly kites; go ice skating; and stand on you head – I still can. Am I open to the unexpected in the present moment? Am I an intelligent optimist? Do I have a sense of humor? It was Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, who said: “If you are not allowed to laugh in heaven, then I don’t want to go there.” Am I able to laugh at myself in difficult situations. Laughter and enjoyment can activate the chemistry of the “will to live” and increase the capacity to strengthen my immunity system and fight against diseases. Laughter and enjoyment have many faces: presents are opened; “I do” at weddings; hugs at airports; good news in the hospital; and jumping, screaming, and yelling at sporting events. It is interesting that Mark Twain’s contemporary, Ralph Waldo Emerson would list laughter first on his famous essay entitled, “Success”: To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a better place than you found it.”
– In what ways to you enjoy life?
- To Connect: When I hear the word connect I think of the three Cs: cooperation, companionship, and compassion. Cooperation, working together as a team can ultimately be the epitome of synergism. That is, the collective energy of individuals working together is far greater than any efforts of individuals alone. I am reminded of the “parable of the geese” who by flying in a V-formation create an updraft for the geese flying behind, consequently they can fly farther; and every so often they have the wisdom to take turns flying at the head of the V-formation. I do not know if geese are conscious of altruistic caring, that is, giving without expecting anything in return. However, we would do well to learn from a flock of geese. Companionship is the coming together of individuals who eventually become friends. Often when a loved one dies, after the grieving process that individual may seek to find another companion on the journey of life. If I were to write a song about companionship it would the song sung by Bette Medler, “You are the wind beneath my wings” – “…did you ever know that you are my hero, you are everything I wish I could be. I could fly higher than an eagle, you are the wind beneath my wings…” Compassion is a feeling for and a feeling with. It is walking a mile in another person’s shoes. Compassion is the stirring and the urge to help strangers and friends, the homeless or helpless, those who are sick, lonely, or downtrodden. “If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain. If I can ease one life the aching, or cool one pain, or help a fainting robin unto its nest again, I shall not live in vain.” –Emily Dickinson.
– How can I make a difference?
- To Transcend: How do I rise above or pass beyond my human limitations be they physical, intellectual, emotional, or otherwise. Do I have the urge and the stirrings to transform my routine of everyday life? This can happen when I learn the habit of appreciating the good that surrounds me, whether it is listening to the murmurings of water, the rustling of the wind, the shrill cries of the seagulls, watching the patterns of the rain dance on the window, being captivated by the colors of fall, or enjoying the brief encounters I have with different people throughout the course of the day. Transcending the ordinary may also occur when I go somewhere that is peaceful and quiet. Silence can overcome the tendency to view reality as piecemeal and fragmented rather than as part of the whole. Consequently, we may feel a sudden appreciation of the oneness of everything. I remember a line from one of Francis Thompson’s poems, “When I touch a flower, I disturb a star.” When I experience transcendence, ironically, I come to the beginning and understand for the first time what it means to live, to understand, to be free, to create, to enjoy, and to connect.
-Reflect on these five dimensions of the self and recall special moments of transcendence: flowers to stars; plants and animals; creative expressions of others; interpersonal relationships; and your own inner world.
(An adaptation of Passion for Life by Murial and John James, 1991)
Roger J. Vanden Busch