Copyright © Louis Schmier

Date: Wed 2/21/2007 3:10 AM
Random Thought: Lily Conference on Teaching and Reflection

I wrote this Sunday night on the inside cover of my crossword puzzle book while languishing in the Atlanta airport:

So, here I am in the Atlanta airport returning from three exhilarating and rewarding days at the Lily-South conference on college teaching in Greensboro, North Carolina. And, that's an understatement. It's 9 p.m. The place is a cacophonous mad house. No exaggeration. Flights are being cancelled; planes don't have crews; delays are rampant; people are contorted in less than inviting seats surrounded by walls of carry ons. The gate for my flight had been changed. No seats here at the new one. I'm sitting on the floor, leaning against a pole next to the automated trash can with all these familiar and unfamiliar, expected and unexpected, dissonant and rhythmic, inviting and uninviting sounds, movements, images, and smells pulsating around me. I know; it's a mixed metaphor. My only defense for this grammatical offense is that I've been here waiting, waiting, and waiting since 5:30 p.m. And, this is after I had waited, waited, and waited for three hours before that in the Greensboro airport. Having a Ph.D. doesn't mean you always smart enough to make the best of flight connections. Now, they've just told us that the plane to Valdosta will likely be delayed another hour or two. I've already done 16 Sunday LA Times puzzles in my book! But, how many crossword puzzles can you do before you get cross-eyed? I'm tired of crossword puzzles. I am just plain tired. Well, actually, there's nothing plain about my fatigue. My exhaustion is not from all this waiting. I've just spent three days of intensely passionate listening, presenting, talking, exchanging, sharing, teaching, and, above all, learning.

Popeye, the Sailor Man, said, "Youse gets out whats youse puts in." Well, I must have put everything I had into the conference because it sucked out almost every bit of energy I have. Without fear of being accused of hyperbole, my brain is crammed; my muscles are numb; my adrenal glands are drained; but, my heart is full. Actually, I'm jotting down these words because a few minutes ago, as I got up to stretch my aching gluteus maximus that was just about maxed out, I had reached into my pocket for some change to get a Coke and had felt the soft torn piece of paper of my spiritual word for the day. Having forgotten what it was, I had taken it out, carefully had looked at it, and slowly had fondled it. It read "reflection." Sometimes you don't ask.

So, here I am reflecting on having spent three days in community with long time colleagues, but more importantly friends, such as Todd, Jim, Laurie, Ray, Barbara, Maggie, Bill, Linda, Jane, Scott, and Milt. I met new colleagues, and hopefully new friends, such as Michelle, Renee, Kurt, Sandy, Brian, Peter, Jane, and host of others. They're all spiritual people, you know, whether they know it or not, and Lily-South was a spiritual experience whether its organizers and participants know it or not. Why? Because I think a spiritual person is a person who is far less godly than she or he is deeply human. These people, these "questers" on their pilgrimage to help others. They are alchemists who turned a mere bagel and cup of coffee on a breakfast buffet into a feast, a normally impersonal hotel into a warm and inviting home, a chat into a penetrating learning moment, strangers into embracing friends, a professional conference into an meaningful personal experience. Each of these people is a spiritual person because of their otherness. What do I mean by that? Well, a spiritual person is a person who is far less into her/himself than she or he is into others. And, a person who, alone, has seen something beautiful, who has heard something melodic, who has tasted something delicious, who has smelled something fragrant, does not completely enjoyed it until she or he experiences the complete joy of sharing her or his joy with others.

You know; the more I think about it, the more I realize I had left out one key ingredient when I talked of my daily renewal and resilience plan a couple of months ago. I didn't talk about conscious reflection. It's not enough to have a spiritual alphabet and pick a word to live by each day. You've got to think of and identify the things that happened that day and reflect on why they occurred because of the word you decided to live that day. That's what I do over a glass of wine and some cheese while I'm quietly sitting with Susan. I guess that's what I am doing right now. I reflect on a bunch of happenings, things as simple as saying "hello" to a maintenance worker, holding a door open for someone, smiling at someone, or whatever. For me it's a way to savor the pleasing feelings, thoughts, events, and activities as I do a glass of wine or a warm shower or a good meal or a snuggle with Susan. I find that the day's signature attitude and feeling, that word from my Spiritual Alphabet, engages me in satisfying activities and make me see satisfying activities others are doing. As I told Renee Love at the conference--I think I told her--the way things are going in my life depends on how I choose to feel, that my feelings are really my most sincere expectations, that they are my ultimate prayer, and that every part of my life picks up the signals from those expectations. For example, the day I talked with Renee and later with Sandy and still later with Kurt and Michelle and Jane was the day that my word from my Spiritual Alphabet was "listen." Again, I don't ask. I see now that by sincerely admiring the beauty of their desires to help others, I became more beautiful; when I truly appreciated their creative work, my own creativity grew stronger; when I acted respectfully toward their during our conversations, I was more respectful of myself and my own possibilities; when I was generous with them, I found life was generous; when I admired their compassion for students, I found everything and everyone around me admirable; when I listened to the passion of their words and saw the passion in their faces, that passion found a place in me as well. And, all that was true when I talked with a bunch of others.

Here I am, in the Atlanta airport, carrying echoes of the people to whom I was exposed these past few days. If my thoughts, feelings, words, actions, and the results all take their cue from the way I feel, then I have to choose how I feel about myself, others, and what I am doing. That is how my life will play out. That's what any Lilly conference is about. It's putting me amid people where the goodness of life accumulates within me. Now, as I go back into the classroom thirsting to see the students present their Dr. Seuss books, that goodness, and its subsequent riches, will grow.

But, there's nothing automatic about it. I'm not talking about a once-in-a-while, convenient, comfortable effort. I'm talking about an every-moment-of-every-day effort in everything I touch, taste, smell, hear, and see. Nor is it having a goal; it's not reaching a place; or it's not having everything in place. So many of us think that when we get everything just right, and obtain certain goals and circumstances--tenure, a publication, a grant, a conference presentation-- everything will be in place, we will be happy, and all will be right with the world. Life doesn't happen that way. If we want things, such as the classroom, to be perfect, want things to go smoothly, want things to go as we wish, want things to be easy and convenient and comfortable, we’ll be waiting a very, very long time. Life throws us lots of curve balls. But, if we can only hit straight, fast balls, we'll strike out every time, get disheartened, and burn out. You see the whole thing is about not being in new places, but seeing the very place where you are with a new "heart set."

My alphabet, and especially reflecting consciously on the impact of living it, gives me a shot at taking the initiative and filling both my professional and personal life with as much love and joy and goodness and positive experience as I can imagine. I see that each day is overflowing with wonderful possibilities, that I can take hold of those possibilities, and dive deeply into their richness. I let go of concerns about what others would think. I let go of far-fetched worries about what might go wrong. Day after day, by my words, my actions, and my thoughts, I chose my own path. And that path has brought me to precisely where I am and who I am.

I'll tell you. I don't chase happiness. I live it where I am. I am grateful for where I am. If I am driven by anything, it is helping that student help him/herself become the person she or he is capable of becoming. My alphabet is a constant reminder that there is only the slightest connection between my circumstances and the joy I experience. Each moment is what I make of it. There is a bunch of positive and negative influences out there. They're both sitting on my shoulders and whispering in my ears. The only ones I listen to are the ones I allow to resonate inside me and I choose to identify with. This alphabet, and reflecting on the effects of living it each day, doesn't allow the least little setback to get and keep me down as much. I don't cling to outdated assumptions as much. I don't look through opaque presumptions as much. I don't let burdensome conditions own my happiness as much. I don't miss out on so much of life in an attempt to maintain a sense of comfort and security as much. I don't let my fears stop me from living the rich and full life I was created to experience as much. I don't allow myself to be a victim of circumstances as much. I don't hold myself down as much. I see beyond the limits of my perceptions. I understand the power of choice that is mine. I know that it is I who has the waters to douse the flame or the fuel to feed it. No, each and every choice I make determines the details of how my life will proceed.

Enough. Back to waiting with crossword puzzle No. 77.

         Make it a good day.


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

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