Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Fri, 27 Oct 2000 06:37:20 -0400 (EDT)
Random Thought: Imprisonment, Freedom, Teaching

My fingers are stiff; my knuckles are swollen; the tips of my fingers are bloody and calloused; my shoulders ache; my wrists hurt as I vainly struggle to answer 586 warm messages--and a very few chilly ones. That's what I found resting in my mailbox when I returned home last Sunday. I guess talking about dreaming and teaching struck a sweet chord, as it should, with a lot of you good people out there.

More than a few comments, especially one from a student in Montana and another from an adviser in North Carolina, stirred my soul. I'd like to share what I replied to one:

Until a time not too long ago I was for a very long time in my own hidden prison of self-doubt, weak self-confidence, and consuming sense of failure. I am sure, having spoken with students from that other life, I had transferred in some inimitable way those attitudes however I desperately tried to hide it away from both me and everyone else as if I was a magician wrapping myself in a cloak of invisibility. As I have gotten to know me, to engage in a near decade long conversation with myself I often wondered what really has been changing about me these past nine years. I think I know now. It was not merely a change of make-up; it was a make-over. It was not me that was changing. It was my perceptions about myself that was changing. That change allowed me to emerge ever so slowly from the depth of the victimizer to the heights of the overcomer. That change allowed me to seek out, tap, bring to the surface, and use that which was always there but to which I was blinded and deafened. As I ventured inward and reflected, as I got acquainted with myself, I saw how so much had been hollow, shallow, illusory. The truth was that until a fateful day in October of 1991, I victimized myself. I really felt chained and imprisoned, impotent. Though I often roared like a lion for all to hear, many was the time I felt so sheepish where I and no one could see. I slowly and painfully discovered I was an inmate in a deep, dark, confining, and isolated prison cell: myself. Despite my words to the contrary, I kept myself locked in by having only one way of looking at myself.

Since that "hollywood moment, " as my son, Michael would call it, I have been painfully and delightfully discovering a way for changing my underlying belief in myself so that I would become an overcomer. Problem is that I also have discovered that I really can't advise others who ask a bunch of "hows" because what happened, happened to me. And, I have not yet found, the self-help cottage industry not withstanding, the sure-fire how-to-do formula, guaranteed fix-it technique, instant question and answer list, mysterious incantation, or magic elixir or dust. Reading and hearing the words is one thing; living day after day after day is quite another.

No, something far more disarmingly simple yet profound proved to be a vast untapped resource and strength: telling the truth, however uncomfortable and painful. And, believe me when I say it was uncomfortable and painful. I have discovered slowly that in order to achieve I have to become someone I've never been before; I have to develop skills I never had before; I have to acquire an outlook I had not had before. In order to achieve something on the outside, I had to become someone else on the inside. To achieve all that, I came to realization that I "just" would have to struggle to be honest with myself. And the truth was that I thought I was free, and I had to admit I wasn't; I thought I had been satisfied, and I had to admit I wasn't; I proclaimed myself a success as did others, and I had to admit to a deep sense of failure. Then and still, I have a relentless hunger and thirst, relentless desire and need to root out the ways I had limited myself and to discard those beliefs and techniques I had used to deceive myself from seeing what truly is. It meant trying key after key, going through door after door, crossing boundary after boundary, breaking wall after wall, building bridge after bridge. It meant letting go of the self-satisfying, pat answers and grabbing hold to the questions. It meant re-opening the book of my life and start reading the never-ending story, of searching constantly for understanding, accepting that there is no ultimate answer. It meant entering a state of openness, accepting the truth that any "answer" is at best an approximation that is forever subject to modification, adaptation, reapplication, improvement--never final. It meant letting a curious--some say courageous, "let's see" surface. It meant an unending broadening of my self-awareness and awareness of others, of trying to see more of the human playing field. It meant continually deeping my understanding of myself, people and forces.

It meant "the spirit of love." That is at the heart of the true freedom. I have come to realize that love slowly opens the cell door, shoos away that pimply troll called fear. Love for yourself and others has everything to do with attitudes and intentions--and actions: of a commitment to serve something larger than myself; of visualizing a world that is not deeply self-centered and self-interested; of the willingness to be open and vulnerable; of a willingness to suspend certainty; of a willingness to exchange in the spirit of the question mark rather than of the exclamation point; of a willingness to share in order to influence and be influenced; of the commitment to my own completion and becoming all that I can be--whatever that is and wherever and whenever it occurs, again and again and again and.......

And so I become selfish. Sound strange? Well, selfish is a much maligned word. It's gotten such a bad rap as a cardinal sin. And why? If I were to carve some teaching commandments in stone, one would say "Thou Shalt love each of thy students as thyself." That means that I must first make peace with myself, love myself before I can make peace with and love students. That is not being egotistical or narcisstic. It means if you have self-love, self-esteem, self-respect, self-regard, self-acceptance, you're more likely to esteem and respect and regard and accept, more likely to be likeable, less likely to get depressed, more likely to love life, certainly more likely to love people around you. I admit that I need self-love. So, I go in and find it.

I think the highest form of selfishness is to give of ourselves to others so that we may broaden our understanding and confidence, so that we may reach inner security, serenity, and fulfillment. The richest reward in teaching comes from helping others with no thought of reward. This is constructive selfishness. We cannot get unless we give. If you are not willing to serve students, you will not be a class act in class. If you walk into the classroom as if you're entitled, if you shy away from sharing yourself with students who need you, you'll get frustrated. If you believe and give, the teaching coffers will never be empty.

As I slowly and humbly came to that realization--not by intellectualizing, philosophizing, or theorizing, but through personal experience--a deep chord resonated within me that I still have trouble describing, even to myself. There was something new inside me and something new out there. It drew me into a whole new series of commitments and connectedness, educational insights and personal changes; it led me to see an invisible wholeness in myself, in others, and in things that is so often hidden by divisions and separations which we have invented and by which we have become trapped. I began experiencing life in a way I then had no way to describe. I began experiencing a broader vision, wider goals, a higher energy, a true aliveness within me, an aliveness in everything I did and do.

I am forever learning the difference between the positive and forward looking "freedom to be and do" and the backward looking "freedom from." The former is the freedom to create what I want I honestly desire. It's the freedom of personal mastery. Freedom. It's the heart of living. It's life's exclamation points that replace the question marks etched by fear. In my life, in my teaching, in my gardening, in everything it is perhaps among my highest values. It's the core of my dignity. I am always working on the struggle for freedom. The freedom to be free to be truly myself--free of the imposing and imprisoning restrictions of my own self-prejudices, free of the traps of my confining preconceptions of others, free of the chains of the limiting preconceptions others have about me.

Memories and experiences are important, but not as important as how you see the future. Regardless of the past memories or experiences, today is a new day. Someone once said that the past is not equal to the present. How true. As I often say, the present is the only present we have, and we're obligated to unwrap it and relish in its gift. Tomorrow is not yet. We have the power to determine our attitude tomorrow and not let someone or something in the past do it for us. It is for us to choose whether to hear the dark, imprisoning voices of the past or to follow the freeing voices of light into tomorrow. How well I know that.

With that inner sense of freedom, I arduously discovered that each of us can in some manner, shape, and form create something new, something that has value and meaning, something that is important, something that leaves tracks in the sand, something that touches someone's soul, something that alters the future, something that says I was here. Every time I feel that freedom at work, it's like holding each of my son's just just after they were born!!

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier   
Department of History 
Valdosta State University
Valdosta, GA  31698                          /~\        /\ /\
912-333-5947                      /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
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                       -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                        _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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