Madiba & the Bonus from God

Listening to BBC this morning, a gentlemen from Soweto was asked why the African people weren’t crying. He replied that they understood Mandela’s death as being a celebration or a “bonus” from God for a life well spent. Those words had a profound impact on me. I remembered the conversation I had with my husband earlier. We spoke about Nelson Mandela’s 27 year life imprisonment and the suffering that goes with such a brutal sentence. We discussed whether such suffering is needed in order to change the world and we explored the significance of sacrifice.  At the end, I told him that Mandela had little choice in the matter, that his life evolved that way—it was his destiny, I said. I reiterated that regardless of his imprisonment, in the end he freed a country. My husband nodded but then added a harsh reality. Close to 50% of black African youth are unemployed and hungry in South Africa. Are his people really free?

Mandela will be remembered for many things but mostly for emerging from a life of struggle and suffering with no bitterness or hatred. This transcendence of his own experience, people think, was critical in the healing of his country, both black and white. Starting out as a “militant” freedom fighter and caged for a great portion of his adult life, Nelson Mandela died a beloved leader who is credited for leading South Africa out of apartheid into democracy.
There is much to think about here, on the first day of our mourning. What does his life teach us about the nature of freedom and the fight for justice?
I’ve been grappling with this question for years and very recently with great intensity. It goes hand in hand with my ever evolving interpretation of my role as an educator and a change agent. In response to an enticing job offer, I’ve been asking myself what I’m willing to do (or not do), what I’m willing to give up to be an educator, and not only that— to be an educator with a seat at the decision making table. It has become clear to me throughout this process that there are always two conflicting forces at work—one living in accordance with one’s principals and modeling freedom tirelessly and the other agreeing to sacrifice freedoms in the short term in order to gain access & advantage in the long run. The latter, it seems to me, is what happened to Mandela and I want to know if he would have had it any other way.
Following the gentleman from Soweto, another man spoke about Mandela’s infinite emotional intelligence and strategic thinking in the years following his imprisonment. I can’t imagine what 27 years behind bars might do to a person’s mind, body and spirit and even the site of President Obama visiting his cell and looking out through the small window onto a dry landscape is as powerful & deafening as a holocaust survivor standing in the center of a concentration camp three decades later.  How can we integrate the feeling of overwhelming shame and suffering that human beings inflict on one another? It’s like trying to explain how we allow a child to die of hunger in one country while in another, we throw half eaten steaks out after a dinner meeting.  How can we make sense of a human spirit that survives torture? I think what I’m curious about is do we really believe Mandela gained the gift of emotional intelligence from the suffering his oppressors imposed upon him or do we tell ourselves this to appease our conscience?  Do we say Mandela is like Jesus Christ who suffered and died to free us all from our sins? 
Perhaps I’m in denial about the purpose of life or the road to freedom, but I’m beginning to question how we understand freedom.  Must we sacrifice ourselves, someone else or a group of people in order to heal, experience justice or have goodness in our lives?  Is this notion of sacrifice just as archaic as slaughtering a lamb or throwing a child into a volcano, an offering to the Gods?
If each of us stopped for a moment in full and complete presence and said, it is notrequired that we sacrifice anything or anybody in exchange for love & belonging, safety & shelter, health & well-being, fulfillment & self-realization—then what would change about our behavior and the choices we’d make?

I’m in mourning today for the life of Nelson Mandela, our Madiba. But I agree that his death is a celebration and a liberation from a life of profound suffering, sadness and sacrifice.  I want each of you who are talking about Nelson Mandela in schools to discuss what his life means and what we can  learn from it as we grapple with freedom, justice and our fight for an egalitarian society.  Furthermore, I want you to think about what you think you have to sacrifice in order to gain what you have told yourself is for some “greater good.”  Ask yourself who and what you are sacrificing and what damage that might do at the present moment. Imagine that it might not be necessary that you suffer, that you can live freely and offer freedom to others at this very moment. How would that belief change your life? How would that change how you teach?

For Gandhi, Anais Nin and Maria Montessori

Key Terms: Catharsis & Shamanism

You know you are at a special place when life feels like a precipice and you cry at the drop of a dime. Everything is real and sensitive to the touch, memories of those who have crossed my path are inside my skin as if they live there, both in good and bad, but mostly goodness in their spirits, each one is filling me, hugging me, holding me and rocking me a lullaby to safety.
I am not alone and I know who I am! 
In celebration, I offer my readers a public prayer.

 “I am a Shaman and I am not.
Just human.
I need you to stand with me as I face the decisions that will no doubt impact my life
I call to you, my Spirit Guides to console me while I let go of pain and disappointment
My house, that is no longer, I’ve wept you too long.
I’m letting go of loss and the fight.
I stand before you, but my knees are still healing—
I’ve recognized and accept my shadow side and have interrogated my refusal to believe
My imperfection is perfect.
Thank you for giving me the greatest gift of my children.
Thank you for forgiveness and compassion.
Thank you for protecting me.
My prayer to you this morning is filled with gratitude and dare I say hope?
I am filling with the nectar of resilience!
I know now that I am Shaman.
So guide me and trust me, for it is time.
Teach me but let me lead.”

The Spirit of Agency Part 2

At the molecular level…

Unpacking a lot of negative energy, opening doors and discovering the power of channeling energy in and out of my life. I watch to see if my moves impact others and I’m amazed that it is truth. The more we liberate energy within ourselves, people around respond to this energy. It’s like making holes in the wall of your being. Imagine taking a hole puncher and poking holes all around your energy field so that light goes in and out like tiny sun rays.  Yes, it’s a bit sci-fi but do it with me in your mind and see what happens. You will want more of it, watch. I want more of it so I’m poking away and on the outside, I get rid of all the clutter around me, purging, boxing, letting go. I think if I keep poking holes in me, I will eventually have nothing separating me from the air and the light and everything else around me. I would just disappear wouldn’t I?

I have a confession to make. My whole life I’ve said, I love school. I love the smell of pencils and books and learning something new makes me very happy, excited even. I made my life school. After I graduated, I became a teacher and went back to school and kept going back and ever since in one form or another, my entire life has been about this thing, this framework we call school. I go to it, I work in it, I talk about it, I want to change it, mold it, I read about it, I dream about it.  School is has always been an essential part of my identity. That makes me a lifer, like being a teacher and school are the archetypes for my life. 
That said, I have a confession to make.
I’m so tired of the oldness of it.
I want us to fly away and out and over –instead.
I want to act up and be silly, and so…
I want to throw text books in the garbage.
I want to talk to my partner and talk back at you for telling me the ‘rules.’
I want to roam the halls–instead 
     eavesdrop on conversations that seem more real to me than anything.  

I want to peer in between the cracks.
I want to be F  R  E  E  E EEEEEEEEE!
Do you want to be free with me?
Is it possible for me to be FREE and be a teacher at the same time?  I mean, can I really do it?
Here’s a story.
Me and a collegue gather information about a teacher, huddled together in the back of a room, him in a suit and me, well likewise but for a woman. (you know what I mean). His papers are so neat and tidy and there are check marks going up and down the column as he reviews the protocol and the rubric and all I want to do is giggle and laugh and grab his lapel and ask him where he lives and if he’s making enough money and if he has kids and how did he get into the business of schools? Instead I compliment his professionalism and admire how well he keeps every conversation perfectly in order and he smiles at me and says, if I don’t structure myself, I become way too weird…no one would understand me.  I throw my head back and laugh because I know exactly what he means. Me too, I tell him and all I could think about was–who is this man really and why is there no place for his ‘real’ self in schools?
Does freedom imply that you don’t do rules, don’t believe in structure, don’t care about consequence?  
Does freedom mean you don’t want to keep your bottom stuck to a seat? Does freedom mean movement, creativity, out of the box thinking?
Is it possible for teachers to teach freedom in school or is school by nature the very opposite of everything it means to be free?
Can we expect, demand our students to stay, to sit, to listen, to do this or that– when deep down inside we’re suffering, hating every minute of it, or hating them, ‘those’ kids who make our life difficult, make our jobs feel more like a prison rather than a school?
Then, I think this. Shhhh. Don’t tell anybody. 
What would that classroom of recalcitrant boys and girls look like without order, control, rules?  My rules.  Why, they’d probably
Kill themselves to death (those savages)
Or break something
Talk shit
They might hurt somebody
Or plan to hurt somebody after school
Join a gang or start a new one
Sell drugs or take some
What else?
They definitely would not CHOOSE to learn something.
Wait, maybe if one or two or a handful of them did, what would they choose to learn? Not the curriculum of course, that would be boring
And if they did, choose that, then, wait—
What would that mean?
Most, might vegetate on the computers in the back of the room.
Others on cell phones, iPads and the like, if they have it.
Headphones would be on, you think?  They’d choose to listen to music.
Some might put their head down.
Do you think they’d get tired of sleeping?  I’m asking you, really.  Do you think the kids in your class would choose to sleep all day?
Here’s a quote:

“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of genius of each.” Plato
Who does this quote refer to?  All kids, or just some kids?  Your kids? Poor kids? Smart kids, stupid kids?
The Spirit of Agency is believing at the molecular, spiritual level that you can make a difference in the world not by changing others, people and things—but by opening your spirit enough so that the light of others can shine through you.
It is not about them.
It is about you.
If you are not free to be you, to live in your truth—then you cannot teach someone else to be free.
I cannot teach anybody to be free because I’m scared of what absolute freedom means. That is why I’m engaged in the process of poking holes.  My goal is to engage in the process of freedom, one step at a time, one hole at a time, one day at a time.

I’m asking you to consider the same.   What are you an agent of in your classroom and is your spirit aligned with this mission at the molecular level or do you need to poke a few holes in your armor?