Category Archives: Personal Growth

Back to School

Last night I had a recurring anxiety dream: that I was back in high-school taking a math test.

Upon waking, I wondered why that dream was resurfacing now, and admitted to myself that I was having some anxiety about the start of the Spring semester in a few days. I’m sure this anxiety is common for teachers just as much as students.

Bashar tells us that anxiety occurs when excitement gets obscured by a negative belief. I wondered what belief I held that soured my excitement about returning to the classroom and found that it was this: the fear of not being good enough. We meet again, old friend. I suddenly felt with compassion towards the students who often struggle with that same fear.

When confronted with a fear, I do my best to just sit with it. Invite it in. Say hello. As fear and I looked at each other over our cups of tea, I remembered something Malidoma Some said: that Spirit often works better with the part of us that doesn’t know.

And what is the fear of not being good enough but the fear of the unknown? Realizing that, my grasp on that fear softened. I didn’t have to conquer my fear. I didn’t have to transcend it. I could instead honor it as a necessary element to the inner opening I sought through my teaching.

In a sense, I could place my trust in fear. I could trust in the unknown. We can trust in the unknown.

And if you’re a student reading this, let me clarify that trusting the unknown is not an excuse to not do one’s work. It’s just a different kind of work, wink, wink.

 


21 Day Challenge

May 14th,

Two little birds swing

On thin branches, suddenly

All the leaves have eyes.

One day, while driving around in the Grey Pearl, I wanted some company, so I switched on the radio. The tape and cd player haven’t worked in ages, which doesn’t stop me from having tapes and cds in the car. I can’t bring myself to get rid of them. It’s sort of like keeping a picture of an old person from when they were young. You want to remember them in their glory days. Or maybe I just want to remember myself that way: Tai and Natasha driving downtown on the FDR listening to Missy Elliot, Tai driving to Boston for the first time listening to Destiny’s Child, etc.

The Grey Pearl is at the point in her life when I’ve stopped fixing things. She’s all meals-on-wheels-y and has the eau of stale popcorn and wet dog. I take her out once in a while for a slow drive to the Stop-n-Shop.

April 24th, Buy turkey sausages and tangelos. Not necessarily in that order. pause pause pause pause pause pause pause pause pause pause pause…

The radio still works as long as you don’t have the wiper blades on, the lights on, or the defroster on. She can only handle one function at a time before she starts screeching like a Nazgul, a sound so ghastly, it makes even the hardest homie on the corner cringe with fear as I roll by.

It’s hard to mention the Grey Pearl without indulging in a bit of nostalgia. But this is not about her. It’s about what I heard on the radio that day.

It was a sunny day. I risked the radio without a complaint from Pearl. I tuned into NPR with me and Pearl cruising along at 30 mph. Good times.

April 29th, Let go let go let go let go open open open…

Enough of this it’s time for bed

Undo the thread of writing dread

Unknow my head

Uncross my doubt

Navigate the round-a-bout

The moment I switched on the radio, I heard a male voice say, “If you want to write, you have to write every day. Around the 21st day, something happens. It takes on a life of its own.” I took this as a sign.

I drove home with images of how I might transform into a Rumi or a Murakami after my twenty-one days of writing. One day they might even interview me on NPR!

I wanted to take on the challenge. I tried to write every day, but some days I just couldn’t. I didn’t feel like I had anything to say. I gave up, boo hoo. I’d heard from writers before that in order to grow, you have to make it a daily practice, but I could never assume that discipline.

I mentioned this to an artist friend of mine who suggested just writing without any agenda. Without the need to share it or even have it make sense. Just practice every day, even if you write the same word over and over again.

April 28th,

Inscrutable Inscrutable Inscrutable Inscrutable Inscrutable Inscru–

Let’s keep dancing, shall we?

Maybe not.

Genius isn’t creating.

It’s knowing when to stop.

Stop your roll

Stop your flow

You enter things you should not go

Ho ho, said the keeper of the beat

Learn to make your moves discreet

I do not mend the mind that flows

It knows its road

It holds its goal

The soul of hand, of paper, pen

That moves the glen

Of writing zen

Cannot compete with screens of light

Of kindle fires made with wires

Delight the light-weight simpleton

Whose cannot-carry shoulders win

The world gets smaller every day

A box-shaped box

Has found its way

Into our hearts

And don’t forget the world of art!

It’s found its way inside there too

Next to the extinct kangaroo

Reducing nature to a myth

No one will remember this

Except in dreams

That thing of green

You mean a tree?

Is that its name?

A fiction, unicorns the same.

His words freed me. Writing became a part of my daily practice. I found that because I had to write things down, I could not avoid anything. What I mean is, often when I feel blue let’s say, I try to avoid or change this uncomfortable feeling, but I found that, in the space of avoidance, I couldn’t write. Not even a stream of consciousness. I had to write the truth of what was and somehow the writing of it allowed me to process it and move on. I know this is nothing new. That’s why people keep journals. It’s just new for me.

I became interested in the process itself. I started out printing by hand. Then, a day or two into the twenty-one day challenge, my writing switched to cursive, mid-sentence. Then one day, I started writing vewy vewy small.

May 15,

I am so lonely. I am Yoda’s little brother, only five hundred and eighty-seven years old. I am not a Jedi like my brother. I am an alcoholic.

The rest of the family does not talk backwards like Yoda. We speak in straight sentences. Our father tried to beat it out of him, this quirkiness of speech. He said it’s a big waste of commas, so Yoda ran away.

Yoda came to my room one night. He said, “Fred, running away, I am. Take the beatings any more, I cannot. Miss you, I will.”

I cried. I begged him to stay, or take me with him. He said I was too young, only eighty-seven at the time. That’s young for us Yodas.

Yoda, incidentally, is the family name. The one you call Yoda is Clavsti(((comb Yoda. It’s hard to pronounce in your tongue.

Before he left, he gave me an (((-))) 8, which is a kind of seventeen legged creature from our planet. It wasn’t a real (((-))) 8, but fashioned out of mud and aluminum foil. By swinging it in loops from its tail, Yoda said I could contact him wherever he was in the universe.

At night, I like to swing my (((-))) 8 by its tail and talk to my older brother. I like to believe that he can hear me, wherever he is. Sometimes I hear stories at the bar about the great Master Yoda, about the battles he’s fought against the empire. I like to wave my three-fingered fist in the air and cheer him on: Go Clavsti(((comb!

Epilogue: Day twenty-two

A dose of nature

Free me from this mundane head

All the snakes are out.


Loving through Anger

I grew up in a family of politicos whose views extended as far left as the eye could see, with the exception of my brother who briefly flirted with Republicanism, mostly out of rebellion towards my mother. Family dinners were a stew of heated debate. Though I sat mostly listening, silently enthralled, I never seemed to develop a political bug. I was an arteest.

I have always hated to watch the news, all doom and gloom. I’m sensitive. But at some point, art becomes political. Spirit becomes political. With all the stuff brewing in the world right now, I just can’t look away.

Funny thing about the news is there is so much obvious stuff that doesn’t get mentioned. Anchors tip-toe around the pink elephant in the news room, exhaling a sigh of relief when it’s time for sports and weather. Today, Hilary Clinton denounced the murder of the four white tourists yachting off the coast of Somalia as a tragedy. While I’m sorry that those people lost their lives, isn’t the real tragedy here, um, Somalia?

I don’t know the whole story of Somalia’s history, but I know the story of colonialism in Africa. My Somalian-born neighbor, Usef from up the street, gave me some gory details that made me sympathetic to the so-called pirates. Not the pirates responsible for the recent murders, but the Somali pirates in general. From his point of view, foreign colonizers and business interests were the real pirates. They started this fight. I’m not that smart, but if I was rich and white, or just rich, or just white, or just anybody come to think of it, now would not be the time to take a private cruise off the coast of Somalia.

And another thing, harumph, the corporations, as they have for decades, are trying to get rid of unions in order to get more power. As if they don’t have enough. Why isn’t the emphasis on taxing the rich instead of taking away a teacher’s friggin’ pension? People argue that high taxes push business away, and no jobs will be created, but those people have a short memory. That’s not how it started. Business left this country out of greed in the first place. Now, not only are they not paying their fair share of taxes, but they are also not creating jobs. And debt is the state workers’ fault? Well, we may not have a dictator to overthrow, but we got some seriously greedy business booty to bust. And they’re not armed. Yet.

Now that I’ve gotten myself all riled up as perhaps you get watching the evening news, it might be a good time to point out that, while I’m angry, I don’t want there to be a violent revolution here. I want there to be a revolution of love and consciousness. And I believe, as I’ve stated before, that, no matter what, everyone gets to grow. I don’t want anyone to be punished, not even corrupt politicians and corporate bosses. Let’s not waste any more time on that. I want us to expand our consciousness towards compassion. I want us to lead with love and consciousness instead of fear. Without that, we will eventually end up right back where we started.

Perhaps, since the time of “civilization,” we’ve suffered from the effects of CFG (competitive, fearful grasping). In politics and business, it’s things as usual. But I have the sense that something is changing. It’s not just that people are fed up. Something is changing in us spiritually. For the first time in history, people are becoming empowered to listen inwardly and develop a spirituality separate from organized religions.

While there is evidence everywhere of many structures falling apart, there is also evidence of things coming together in new ways. For instance, there is a stereotype of people who take yoga as being kinda granola-y. There is a stereotype of people who do hip-hop as being urban, mostly black, youth. But, I see the same demographic of people taking yoga as I do in my Saturday morning hip-hop class. And guess what? The demographic is everybody, all ages, cultures, sexual-orientations and colors. There was a time when that just would not happen, in Boston or anywhere.

Our inner voices are telling us that it’s ok to love what you or others previously held apart. We are listening and trusting that inner voice more and more. Even after over thirty years dancing, it’s still a little scary to show up to a new class. I can only imagine the courage it takes for someone who has never danced before, as is clearly the case for some. When I see a middle-aged, Asian business man for instance, strutting across the dance studio gettin’ his swag on, I think, wow, now that’s my nigga! Somethin’s changin’ y’all. And maybe things like yoga, spirituality and the arts are leading the way…

“What are you doing?” I ask Mr. Octopus.

“Gettin’ my krrrump  on!”

“Oh, I was worried you were having a seizure.”

“Don’t hate!”

He’s right, as usual. It’s ok to get angry. To feel hurt, betrayed, but, God, Spirit, Ancestors, please grant me/us the grace, to, even in the throes of our anger, leave hate and love.


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