Copyright © Louis Schmier
Date: Wed 11/22/2006 6:43 AM
"Unhappy at work? Moss says mood affecting play." So read an ESPN headline about the attitude and the less than stellar performance this season of Randy Moss, wide receiver of football's Oakland Raiders. Mood affects play. Mood affects work. It's true for all of us. It's a given that we academics sometimes don't offer ourselves. When we're fearful, everything turns into something to fear; when we're hopeful, everything becomes a reason to hope; when we're are angry, anything that comes along can feed that anger; When we're resigned, everything around us gives us reason for resignation. When we're at peace, the world mirrors our peace. Whatever it is that comes from the depths of our being, grows more intense and more concrete as it works its way outward; whatever we hold in our hearts, we will see in our world. Try as we may to put on a face, the things inside have a way of coming out in ways we often don't intend, cannot control, and even cannot imagine. If you wish to change what you do, you have to change what you appear to be; if you want to change what you appear to be, then you have to change what you see; if you wish to change what you see, you have to change who you truly are.
If I was a betting man, what change would you bet most academics pray for? Getting tenure? Perhaps. Getting that manuscript published? Maybe. Having a lighter work load? Could be. Yet, I sense that you'd lose. My gut feeling is that what lies beneath those professional goals is a deeper personal sadness that lurks in the hearts and minds of so many academics. So many have buried it under layers of degrees, position, tenure, and resume. But, that sadness, unfulfillment, dissatisfaction, resignation, frustration, sense of being controlled, and even fear are still down there, eating at so many souls. It hangs over them like an invisible fog; it reeks of a bad odor; it debilitates like stinging and coughing smog. Every now and then, something triggers a hidden fail-safe switch and these hidden and unspoken things make their presence known. They appear in the light of day they shun. Smiles disappear, shoulders slightly droop, and voices lower as such paralyzing words, "I don't have tenure" or "I don't have time" or "They won't let me" or "I have to...." burp to the surface, often uncontrollably and unwittingly, in the course of conversation or session presentation.
What are so many academics looking for? Sustaining resilience and renewal. They want to have professional peace in their step. During four invigorating, uplifting, energizing days on the campus of Miami of Ohio immersed in the Lilly Conference on College Teaching, in conversation after conversation, in so many sessions, I found so many praying they could shout for joy each day on her or his campus. So many aching to live each day with gladness; so many yearning to praise each day with happy songs; so many longing to be free each day from suffering stress and distress. Yet, so many had heavy hearts, weighed down by concerns of getting tenure, weighed down by workloads, weighed down by disappointment and discouragement, weighed down by controlling administrators, weighed down by less than collegial colleagues, weighed down. Sometimes some had turned the TV set off, had closed the book, or had walked out of the movie as if the story was over. The vision of so many was so blurred to the blessing of each day. I'd bet that if academics deeply prayed, they'd pray for help to stay vibrant rather than, as Susan Robison said in her Lilly presentation, brown out, burn out, or rust out. They'd beg for daily resilience. They'd plead for daily renewal. They'd solicit for peace, contentment, authenticity, fulfillment, satisfaction, confidence, assurance, and wholeness. They'd implore for the alms of what Martin Seligman calls authentic happiness.
I'm not sure why I was particularly sensitive to this mood of many of those at the conference. Maybe it was because Barbara Mossberg and I gave a plenary address on renewal and resilience; maybe it was the session by Doug Robertson on engagement; maybe it was the session by Susan Robison on staying "sane in insane place;" maybe it was actively participating in Robert Kegan's workshop on overcoming "immunity to change." Maybe it was the surprising overwhelming number of requests for my "Spiritual Alphabet" that I explained in these sessions. Whatever the reasons, at this conference it was driven home to me that we academics are not much, if at all, different than most people. We're good at preparing to earn a living. We know how to sacrifice years for a diploma. We are willing to work hard to earn a degree. We are willing to surrender ourselves to secure tenure. We are willing to forego peace, joy, relaxation, balance, and serenity to lengthen our resume. We cling to our worries and anxieties. We so often forget to enjoy ourselves along the way. And, we miss so much. No, we are not much different from most people though we too often think we're a higher order of human specie. The truth is that we....are.... not.... very....good....at....living.
Remember what Randy Moss said. Remember Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic drunken tirade? Remember Michael Richards' recent racist outburst? It's not much different when the issue of tenure, for example, explodes on the scene or sneaks up on us. In the course of the last fifteen years, I have become very conscious of the fact that when I am fearful, everything turns into something to fear. When I am hopeful, everything becomes a reason to hope. When I am angry, anything that comes along can feed that anger. When I am peaceful, the world around you begins to mirror your peace. What comes from the depths of my being grows more intense and more concrete as it works its way outward. What I hold in my heart and soul, I will see in my world.
So, though we may try to hide things inside, they surely come out in ways we cannot even imagine. If you wish to change what you appear to be, you have to change what you truly are. So many of us talk of what's wrong. We imprison ourselves in cells of anguish, insecurity, sorrow, and blame. We chain ourselves to safe routine and safe routine breeds complacency and complacency breeds disinterest and disinterest breeds dullness and dullness breeds apathy and apathy breed stagnation and stagnation breeds atrophy. It's like taking a trip down the levels of Dante's inferno. What would happen if we talked of what's not wrong? What would happen if we talked of what's not old? What if we talked about what's new, wholesome, refreshing, and even healing? What would happen if began to rewrite our story by taking Dylan Thomas' words to heart: "do not go gentle into the good night...rage, rage, against the dying of the light." Nice words, but how do you do it. How do you do it every day? How do you hold in your heart a pure and authentic vision of all that you value most dearly every day? How do you build a solid, positive and fulfilling life within and begin to faithfully resonate with the person you choose to be every day?
We each choose carefully what has priority in our innermost being, for that is what shapes the world we experience. My experience during the last fifteen years since my explosive epiphany, sharpen by my bout with cancer two years ago and being a 24/7 caregiver with my angelic Susan the past year is that the hidden secret is to see old things--ourselves, others, surroundings--in new light. It's the best way to feel renewed, to acquire a resilience, and to keep the light from dying. Life shrinks or expands in proportion to living this truth.
I discovered that if there's one thing that would bring me daily hope, joy, comfort, if there is one thing that lays my burdens down, it is me. But, no one can do this for me. No one can light a fire under me. That only results in a blistered butt. To be sure, I have had and needed helpers, guides, supporters, and encouragers. But, it is me who has to light my own inner fire. It is my attitude that is the kindling. It is my attitude towards me, towards others, and towards the world around me. I motivate and inspire me. I give myself the message of hope; I give me my optimism; I give me those magic words of faith, belief, and love. I see my opportunities in challenges rather than barriers. I create my own miracles. I give focus on how young I feel, not on how old I am; I think about how healthy I am, not that I battled cancer; I explore possibilities open to me, not get mired in disappointment or resentment. No one can do it for me. Only I can do it for me and to me.
How do I do that? How do I start and continue to gently let go of those worries, concerns, ambitions, purposes, disappointments, desires so that I do not go gently into that good night. How do I focus on the things that have real meaning and taste the sweet, glorious freedom of being able to bring those hallowed purposes fully to life? How do I cleanse my spirit of the many layers of need to, have to, want to, and can't do? How do I clear a space for me to truly live? How do I weaken those academic artifacts that we strive to hold on to that has a hold on me? How do I rid myself of the need to need, of the need to be seen, of the need to be important? How do I feel free to be authentic, happy, satisfied, and fulfilled? Whatever may be happening in the world around any one of us, there is a way for each of us to get into a zone of positive purpose and heightened effectiveness and deepened meaningfulness. Connect to the person you truly are, and you are there.
Well, I have devised a daily renewal and resilience plan for myself. I have concocted a soulful one-a-day-vitamin for myself. I have created a recipe to feed my spirit. I have created for myself "the message of the day" drawn from what I call my "Spiritual Alphabet. It is an alphabet of enrichment, renewal, and resilience. It is an alphabet of mindfulness, awareness, otherness, soulfulness, empathy, and compassion. Each letter stands for a word which, in turn, contains message for me about how I should feel, think, and act with regards to myself, others, and things around me. For example, B might be for betterment, T for trust, G for genuine, and H for happy. You get the point. It's the message I carefully listen to, preach to myself on the practice of, heed, put into action, and, above all, live intently each day. I imagine that I have been receiving that message in every random happening I experience that day. I inoculate a meaning and purpose into each circumstance. I observe with my heart. I listen with my soul. I practice it each day. It has become woven into every fiber of my being every day. It has become the underpinning of my professional and personal life. It has become my way of life.
It's a simple truth. Find a way to do optimism, to do faith, to do belief, to do hope, to do love. Be gloriously thankful for being alive. Be aware, appreciate, enjoy, and be enthused. You'll get more out of the circumstance as well as life in general. The more you appreciate, enjoy and get excited about something, the more you'll see where lay the real values in your profession and life. Putting this alphabet into action offers me a renewal and resilience literacy. It helps me get myself into that zone, a place where I can focus, where I can be effective, where I can make a solid connection to the best I have to offer. It is not a physical place, but rather a place that I can reach within yourself and from which I can reach outs. It's that place where I can truly live your most deeply held purpose.
Here's the alphabet and the words, not necessarily grammatically alike, for which each letter stands that I've devised for myself and has special meaning for me. I've selected words that are templates to help me strive to put into incessant action my credo: to be that person who is there to help myself and each person help her/himself become the person each is capable of becoming:
I have a ratty cat-in-the-hat hat. In it are a bunch of old Scrabble tiles. On the back of each tile is a word. For example, on the back of an E tile I've written "enthusiasm." On the back of another E tile, I've written "enjoy." Each morning, I blindly pick a tile. I read the word on the back of the tile. That word is my renewal and resilience word of the day. I think about and meditate on that word. I envision how I will....not can, not try, but will...live that word today. I leave the house with that tile in my pocket as a reminder saying to myself.....no demanding of myself...."I will live this word today. I will experience it today. I will see through the eyes of this word. I will listen through the ears of this word. I will savor that experience today." You see it's all in the practice. I'm not interested how I define "enthusiasm" if I am not enthusiastic about me, students, colleagues, grounds keepers, custodians, and things around me. This all brings me up to another level. I don't allow myself drop a level with any excusing excuses; I don't justify any justifying rationales; I don't explain away with mitigating explanations; I don't escape through the backdoor of escaping trys. I heed Yoda's admonition, "Try not. Do. Or, do not. There is no try." Like Eliza in BEE SEASON, I see that word take shape before me, dance around me, and envelope me. I let that word walk hand-in-hand with me, call to me, whisper in my ear, tap me on my shoulder. I make the word into an active verb, an uplifting noun, an energizing adjective or dynamic adverb. I let that word remind me of the peace, satisfaction, fulfillment that is available as close in each moment as my next breath, step, gaze, smile. And, at the end of the day, as I lovingly relax with a life-lengthening glass of wine and cheese with my angelic Susan, I reflect on how I lived that life-enhancing word that day.
The source of truly living a word of renewal resilience each day is both an awakened mind and heart. Each word helps me approach the day with gentleness and understanding. Living each word allows me to unlock the blessings of each day. Unwrapping the present of each day, let's me cross over my borders and extends my boundaries. Living my alphabet is a way for me to rework circumstances that would ordinarily pressure and antagonize, slow down, and drag down in a way that allows me to be in touch with the abundant happiness and peace that's available. It's a way to get into habit to get away from my distracted and burdensome thinking and feeling to experience profound and renewing feelings of joy and completeness. It's a way to find the strength and resilience to stand up, step forward, seize the opportunity of the day, make it count, and make a difference. It's a way, as my good friend, Alex Fancy, said, to be in the moment and of the moment. It creates a mindfulness, otherness, empathy, and compassion in each daily act I perform. Living this alphabet has been for me the ultimately transforming personal, professional, and social engagement about Bell Hooks so often talks.
It sounds so easy, doesn't it? It's not. It looks so simple, doesn't it. It's not. This is not wishful thinking. This is healing work. And, it does take work. Understand that even if you throw off the crutches and proclaim, "I can walk," you need a long time of rehab to learn once again how to walk. Breaking old habits is neither easy nor simple nor fast. Unlearning doesn't come in a flash of flash cards. I've been working on me for those fifteen years, tearing away masks, cutting through dishonesty. Yes, it takes more than a little effort, more than a little time, and lots of courage. It takes what I call the "Six 'P's' of life:" practice, persistence, practice, perseverance, practice, and patience. But, if you can acquire that Midas touch, you'll give yourself a richness and value to every thing you touch. You'll find the light to show you the way. It will help you endure the darkness by showing you the stars and moon.
Whew! Enough. Susan and I want to take this opportunity to wish all our American friends a heartfelt Happy Thanksgiving.
Make it a good day. --Louis-- Louis Schmier email@example.com Department of History www.therandomthoughts.com Valdosta State University www.halcyon.com/arborhts/louis.html Valdosta, GA 31698 /~\ /\ /\ 912-333-5947 /^\ / \ / /~\ \ /~\__/\ / \__/ \/ / /\ /~\/ \ /\/\-/ /^\_____\____________/__/_______/^\ -_~ / "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\ _ _ / don't practice on mole hills" - \____