Tag Archives: learning

Questing

What boundary separates Hope from Love?

This is a transition week, a break between four May posts on Hope and four June posts on Love. So, I have been pondering this question.

But, as a teacher, I know that while my pondering is very powerful for my learning, it does little for the student. Learning is completely dependent upon what the learner does.

Are you pondering? Are you seeking?

Hope is a necessary, but insufficient, emotional attribute of healing and growth including recovery from trauma, stress, and post traumatic stress. Love is another. We will begin our discussion of four kinds of love next week with the familiar eros.

When you think of love, do you think of a noun, a verb, or maybe an adjective?

Do you think of yourself, other people, or something else?

All learning depends upon what we think we already know. Do you know enough about love to empower your learning? Do you know enough about love to impede your learning…because what we already know can do either.

If you know enough about love, you must be living it all the time. Right?

If not, why not?

Post traumatic stress challenges our ability to love and be loved. We often feel less than lovely and loveable.

Some experiences lead us to believe that some people need killing. We believe they are dangerous. That is why we killed them–or tried to.

The blood won’t come off our hands.

The hate won’t leave our hearts.

Will it?

A Quest is a form of inquiry to some power or wisdom beyond our own mind driven by an emotional need to know something.

What do you need to know about Love? Not what do you want to know. Need!

I do not have your answers. I have mine, the answers I discovered by Questing.

Since all learning depends upon what the learner does, and what the learner does depends upon the learner’s motivation, what is the role of the teacher?

I love teaching.

The root of “learn” is a Latin word that means furrow or track.

Happy Tracking!

Let It Rain

Acceptance is the key that unlocks Faith.

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. April aspires to Faith.

Recovery is a grieving process, for we have lost something of ourselves in the traumas of our experiences. We have left something of our youthful exuberance, even innocence, and joy for living. The person we were no longer exists. The world we knew before our trauma no longer exists, and that is the hard truth of it.

The wife I lost because of that truth told me she always thought I had lost my soul in Vietnam. There is an irritating grain of truth in that observation.

It was not my soul that was lost in combat. It was Faith. I no longer had the faith that the world works the way I had thought, the way I had believed it should.

The subconscious response to that faith-shattering conclusion is to fix it. Change it. Change the world.

So, we go through some stages of grief. We continue to negotiate the past in the sub consciousness of our nightmares, in our feelings, in the part of our minds (yes, brains, too) that process information irrationally.

This time it will turn out different. This time they won’t die. This time I will see it coming. This time, this time, this time….

I am a problem solver. It is what I do. Drives my wife crazy. Whenever she tells me about something she finds unacceptable, I fix it—or, I try. No, that is not a consequence of combat trauma, but it is an exaggerated development of a pre-trauma tendency. I had studied science because it is a problem solving enterprise.

I cannot fix Vietnam. I cannot save the two million Cambodians lost in the “Killing Fields.” And, I cannot regain my zeal for Cytogenetics that I had in 1968. Not ever.

But, I can accept it.

Yes, I know that feels, somehow, as abandoning those who were lost. Yes, I know that sounds like surrender. I know. I know.

When I feel myself sinking into despair deep in the chasm between the grief stages of anger and acceptance, when I forget acceptance is on the other side of that rift of depression, I find myself wandering to the arms of Nature. There I find acceptance, and Faith begins to grow, again.
During my first Vision Quest on our land in northern Wisconsin, it rained. It rained all night (8 inches), washing out roads, flooding my stream valley, sinking boats. It was wonderful.

“For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.” (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

Some of my thinking will never change. That is real as rain. My thinker is broken. Now, what?

The moment I accept the reality of my condition, it ceases to be an active addiction. I can learn ways of compensating. I can learn new ways of thinking. I can remember that Faith is free, over there on the other side of depression, holding hands with Acceptance.

From Vision Quests I have learned that I can gain acceptance in four days.

Of course, I can lose it in four seconds. My answer is to make life one Great Vision Quest.

Recovery is a quest for Vision. It is a process of seeing the tracks of our pre-trauma selves, deep down inside, in places we have thought dead.

Happy Tracking!

Peace Full

Combat is exciting. We can say a lot of other things about it, but it certainly is an adrenaline rush, and it leaves a big, empty space when it is over—a hole inside us we cannot understand.

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. February is a meditation on harmony.

Football is exciting, too. And teaching. And trading stocks. We find meaningful ways to fill our days, ways that stimulate and excite us. Then, we stop. Whether in retirement of career or for the day, stopping the activity may leave us feeling drained of thrill, empty.

We find ways to fill the void. Many of us find unhealthy ways that fail to fill the emptiness, offering only illusion.

Still, the emptiness is real and growing, for even the activities that thrill us gradually diminish efficacy. They don’t work anymore.

In some ways, this is the message of The Hurt Locker and, I suppose, American Sniper. It might be one reason Nancy’s brother went back to Vietnam for a second tour even though he was not making a career out of the U. S. Marine Corps.

There is good news to the emptiness. The void provides an opportunity to be fulfilled. The Relaxation Response offers a way to find peace of harmony through body and mind relaxation. Progressive body relaxation following mindful breathing in relative comfort has the power to open us to light.

Sweat helps. A good workout prepares our muscles for relaxation. Purposeful sweat works best for me. A bit of time gardening, clearing brush, moving trees, or throwing hay bales gets my mind and body ready for relaxation. Being physically tired helps, but it is not necessary.

The process is simple although I suggest finding a teacher or partner to talk you through it a time or two. Once you are in relative comfort and aware of your restful body position, and once you have cleansed with deep, deliberate breathing, slowly tense and release body muscles in progression. I usually start with toes and up the legs in steps, then fingers and up the arms in steps, on to the abdomen and chest, and up to neck, face, and scalp. Tensing slightly may be sufficient. Cramps are not required.

Combining deep breaths with body tension followed by sudden release of both air and tension is very effective. I usually suggest one progression from toes and fingers through the body to head followed by a second, slow progression combined with breaths also held and released.

You will know when you have achieved some significant relaxation because your desire to do another thing, even to breathe, will lose urgency. The logical mind will likely search for something to do at this point. After all, we have trained it to take charge.

To sleep, perchance to dream…

Yes, our logical minds will begin to dream, to speak to us, to ramble. We might even hear things, see things, feel things. Yes, Hamlet, there is the rub.

We will perceive tracks through our minds, but fear not. We have ways of dealing with that, also—simple ways that are rather enjoyable, even amusing.

Next week we will talk about “Hair.” In the meantime, Happy Tracking!

Delight

I sat in the woods with my aging dog,
Just watching Nature abiding,
When I came to know a little thing,
Without us even trying,
The dancing trees in graceful wind,
Light, colored, satisfying,
We sat immersed in something real,
Beyond our space and timing,
“Delight,” came the answer.
Without me even asking,
Ah, but I had held the question,
How will I ever,
Love enough?

Delight, a noun, 1: a high degree of gratification: joy.
Delight, a verb: to give joy or satisfaction to (Merriam-Webster)

I find it difficult to be happy, grateful, and delighted as I watch my friend and companion of thirteen years cripple away. Serenity is a beautiful Yellow Labrador Retriever, the smartest and kindest animal I have ever known, and that is saying quite a lot, and I suffer her pain. I grieve her dignity lost with incontinence, her independence gone with legs no longer capable of steps or ramp, and her tremors and confusion at sundown.

But I delight in our memories.

She taught me delight. She showed me joy in her leaps into the lake after a stick, her digging in the earth behind my shovel, her dragging the little trees I cleared, and the way she greeted people with the solid expectation of adoration.

Serenity shared her delight in the world. She began whining a few miles away from our Nort’ Woods home, getting frantic before our camp came into sight, so I had to let her jump out of the truck and run around. She always came back wet from her own little swimming hole at the stream. But those were younger times.

There was the time I laughed aloud hunting grouse with friends because after I shot at the bird zipping by, overhead, all I saw falling were leaves. Serenity came bounding, without training or being called, to see what I had. She came back with the grouse, delight dripping from her face.

Her hearing is gone and her eyesight dim. Even her nose is not what it was, and her old legs cannot get her over the logs. So, we don’t hunt, anymore.

And soon, way too soon, I will have to end her life. In that I cannot delight. But I can cherish her memories and her lessons.

If more combat Veterans had Labrador Retrievers, I believe there would be a lot less PTSD in this world. Maybe life is not meant to be so complicated. Maybe the whole point is delight. That’s what she taught me. Because I love her, I delight in her delight. And because she loves me, she hangs on, trying to give me another delightful memory.

And tonight, when her delight turns to fright and I cannot soothe her, I will know we are right, the time is near. But tomorrow morning, for a few more tomorrows, we will delight in one more walk in the woods. And I will be grateful.

Gratitude is a form of delight, and delight is the sincerest form of prayer.

Love Rules

YOU CAN’T SAY, “YOU CAN’T PLAY.” (Vivian Gussin Paley, 1993)

It is true that I never had an opportunity to attend kindergarten. In fact, I never attended a school stratified by age until I was a teenager.

I grew up and learned within a family structure—at home and at school.

As the youngest of a farm family of six children, and the youngest by a few years, I was always included in the family activities. My brothers and sisters just took me along. It seemed natural to me.

Only once in my early life, as I recall, was I excluded from play. I believe I was told that there was one too many people in the sand box, and that that one was me. I did not understand.

This kind of thing did not happen in my home. It also did not happen at Sanborn Hill School. Everybody played—boys, girls, first graders and eighth graders, fast and slow.

Apparently this is not true in most kindergartens. As described by the author, children frequently told other children that they could not play. Some children were excluded from a lot of games and activities. It occurred to this veteran teacher that such exclusion seemed too harsh and not acceptable.

She made a rule that you can’t say, “You can’t play.”

Before installing the rule, the teacher discussed the rule with not only her class, but several other classes up to fifth grade. The children did not think it would work.

Here is the scary part: Older elementary students thought it might work for the little kids because they were nicer, but it wouldn’t work for the older kids.

My first conclusion is that children know that it is not nice to exclude people because you don’t like them or because they are not your friends.

My second conclusion is that children believe that they, themselves, are not nice—even though they were nice when they were small. There is a kind of fatalistic attitude of moral decline that the children see as outside of their control.

Parents, teachers, grandparents, this is our job. Children need the gift of rules. People need the gift of rules at any age. The big question becomes who shall make these rules?

Not children and not old people who act like children.

Vivian Gussin Paley’s experiment with this rule in her kindergarten class went well. Children loved it. Many continued the rule into adulthood.

There was a relief from the tyranny of exclusion, not only for those excluded, but for those who felt they had an obligation to exclude non-friends from activities with their friends—a palpable feeling of relief is how I heard the author describe the classroom after the rule came to be.

We can study and postulate social theory, but I think it is quite simple: Love feels good.

We all want to be good, kind, nice people. We just don’t know how. We don’t know the rules, or we are too weak to enforce them upon ourselves. True freedom in the form of individual agency depends upon a socially responsible ethic.

So, like me or not, “Do you want to play?”

Teaching Love

My students have always been my greatest teachers. Here is how I learned something about love from a student teacher.

It was a familiar discussion among student teachers and supervisors, that of classroom discipline. When this young lady read my letter of recommendation, she said that she hoped they wouldn’t think she was too nice. It is common to see a conflict between being nice and being strict. (My former students may understand.)

That conflict is a mirage, an illusion of landscape created by the beliefs of the mind.

“For those whom the Lord loves he disciplines….” (Hebrews 12:6)

Here I learned the conflict—within our definitions of discipline. Originally it meant, “to teach.” That has been corrupted to mean to punish.

That is a naughty definition, but it does serve to help us learn about teaching and love, for too many of us see teaching as telling which is analogous to discipline as punishment. I find the resolution in leadership.

This soon-to-be teacher is clearly a nice person. That is readily apparent to those around her as she treats others with quiet respect. The concern she expressed is that being nice and discipline are somehow mutually exclusive.

She is a lovely person, caring deeply for and respecting her students. Her concern is that school administrators may see this as weakness which may lead to lack of discipline in her classroom. I see her respect as a strength, as a model of her self-discipline, as love in practice.

How do we get a marshmallow into a piggy bank? In a way, it is like asking how many counselors does it take to change a person. Only one, of course, but the person has to want to change.

A marshmallow is similar to a balloon, and I used to demonstrate how to get a small water balloon into a gallon jug. I simply encouraged the gallon jug to want the balloon inside. I did that by dropping a burning match inside, heating the air, and then placing the balloon on top. As the air cooled (I might help it with a cold water bath), the balloon would be sucked inside. For fun, you might try to figure out how I got the balloon back out.

We cannot teach by shoving facts inside. We must educate (meaning to draw out). We do this by lighting the fire inside. Not the fire of ire, but the fire of inquiry. Actually, the fire is already there, as natural as breathing for young people. We only need to fan it from time to time. We do that by showing our fire, our sense of wonder for our subject (aka, our discipline).

For a person dedicated to being nice, teaching others to be nice is a challenge. It means constantly questioning personal and professional decisions. It means holding a tongue that feels like lashing out. It means expecting respect from others by showing them respect, first.

That is discipline. That is teaching by example. It is leadership. Yes, it will mean being strict on some classroom rules. It will sometimes mean punishment. But it is not inconsistent with being nice. It is love, and it is a wonderful thing to teach our young people, our future parents, leaders, and teachers. It is what this young student teacher taught this old teacher, and she did it by living the discipline of her personal conviction.

Wouldn’t you like her teaching your children and grandchildren?

Shadow Love

“Who am I now that I have killed?”

Then, one day, I could no longer feel the innocence, optimism, idealism, and moral certitude of youth—ever, again. Something inside me had died.

Reminder: This blog series is dedicated to love, the various kinds of love beyond the romantic and erotic that support personal growth and healing, especially the healing of invisible wounds from Combat PTSD.

I did not know this, of course, at a conscious level for another forty years. But here is a hard reality. The behavior of our lives is not simply a product of our conscious thoughts. We live our feelings.

The real question is not the one above, but, “Who can love me now that I have killed?”

We are hard to love. Combat Veterans become hard for others to love and I believe that is largely a response not to who we are or have become but to who we feel we are. We believe we have become unlovable, and so we act unlovable.

Add to this the involuntary actions of our fight/flight response to vulnerability, and we can see our own unlovable behaviors. The older we get, the harder it is to deny our vulnerability. We know trouble and pain. We know war and more war—a new one every ten years or so.

War on drugs, war on terror, war on liberty, war, war, war.

Sometimes the darkness we perceive is but our own shadow. Because we have turned our faces away from the light. We create our own darkness.

We see in others the tracks of shadows and we feel…we feel almost kinship. Here is a brother or sister. Our subconscious knows. We share each other’s shadows and feel less lonely. Almost worthy of love. Almost.

The problem becomes the shadow we share. What else do we share?

Not only are we hard to love, but we are not so good at loving, anymore.

Some of us, the lucky ones, have found someone who reminds us to turn around. There are people among us who perceive our shadows but are able to face the light. They have touched the great sadness of moral doubt and retained the ability to allow the light to shine through them. We see the light in their eyes, then through their eyes.

When one of them loves us, we begin to recover. Sometimes we even turn around.