Friday, September 4, 2009

gliding into september

I don't know if I should apologize for being in a grumpy mood last month or if anyone even noticed. Perhaps my bad moods are like other people's good moods. Nevertheless, I thought I should approach September with a better attitude (at least for the first post - I can't guarantee more than one day at a time).

Not having anything of a particularly positive message of my own what I'll do is tell you a story I read in a new book by Jack Kornfield last night called 'The Wise Heart'. He's a western Buddhist teacher from my generation so he's old and likely not very relevant to most but I enjoyed the story:

"On a particularly fidgety and distracted afternoon a high school history teacher told her class to stop all their academic work while she wrote on the black board the names of all the students in her class. Then she asked them to copy the list. She instructed them to use the rest of the period to write beside each name one thing they liked or admired about that student. At the end she collected the papers.

Weeks later the teacher again stopped the class. She handed each student a paper with his or her name at the top and on it she had pasted all 26 good things the other students had written. They smiled and gasped in pleasure that so many beautiful qualities were noticed about them.

Three years later the teacher received a call from the mother of one of her former students with the terrible news her son had been killed in the Gulf War. The teacher attended the funeral, where many of the young man's former friends and classmates spoke. Just as the service was ending, his mother approached her. She took out a worn piece of paper that had obviously been folded and refolded many times and said, 'This was one of the few things Robert had in his pocket when the military retrieved his body'. It was the paper on which the teacher had carefully pasted the 26 things his classmates had admired.

As the teacher dried her tears, another former student opened her purse, pulled out her own folded page and said she always carried it with her. A third ex-student said that his was framed and hanging in his kitchen; another told how the page had become part of her wedding vows. The perception of goodness invited by the teacher had transformed the hearts of her students in ways she might only have dreamed about."

Nelson Mandela once said, 'It never hurts to think too highly of a person; often they become ennobled and act better because of it.'

I know it's not always going to be easy but it's worth a try.


Liberality said...

that brought tears to my eyes. I think we should all do this right now, in whatever group we happen to be a part of. thanks for posting this!

Pagan Sphinx said...

That teacher wasn't just going through the motions, though. I've seen this done by many teachers over the years I've spent in the field. This teacher didn't just have her students perform an exercise, she must have bee a truly loving and giving person and that's probably what made all the difference to these young people.

I love this story. Thanks. And I love the painting. Let me go and have another look at it now...

Lisa said...

I love the Mandela quote. And the painting. And the idea behind this. Our kids sometimes get into verbal battles where they insult each other. We make them say something nice about the other. It made kill them, but they manage.

It's important for me to seek out the good and not just focus on the bad. The bad comes too easily to my attention.

The Crow said...

Your painting depicts how I feel about September. I want to dance through the leaves, through the chill air, through the light that makes a noticeable change right from the start of the month. September is magical, and makes me feel that way too.

I am going to put the teacher's lesson to use in my family. I hope it will help.


The Crow said...

PS: I didn't think you were grumpy in the last post. You made perfect sense to me.


Border Explorer said...

Swear to Goodness, your art alone puts me in a good mood. I don't have to read a word you write. Those words, however, are also totally worth it. Thanks for an uplift, Susan.

Randal Graves said...

Nice story, but I'm glad no teacher ever made us do this. Writing a research paper would be easier. And I didn't notice an overt grumpiness. ;-)

susan said...

liberality - Right after this story he wrote about an exercise which is to wait for a day when you wake up feeling good before work and set out with the intention of seeing the nobility of three people that morning. You do this five times. Later you try for a whole day and then gradually add more people.

pagan - Yes, she sounded like a remarkably kind and perceptive woman. Good teachers are still the best resource the country has.

lisa - I think Nelson Mandela is an amazing man too and you are a wise woman to teach your children so well.

I'm glad you like the painting. Every so often I recycle a previously posted one up here for people who may not have seen it and because if it had to be a new one every time I'd only post 3 times a year :-)

the crow - We moved out here at the beginning of a September when I first saw California poppies. This was the origin of the Oregon paintings. I'm very happy it's inspired you.

be - Good. You deserve all the uplift anyone could provide.

randal - I don't know that I could have managed it way back when either. Advanced calculus would have been easier for me.

La Belette Rouge said...

That is one saucy unitard in your painting. ;-)Nice way to glide into September. Really beautiful lesson plan. I do think blogging can be like this exercise that you shared. We go from one blog to the next and affirm, inspire and encourage each other. I suppose not every corner of the blogosphere is like that, but I am happy that ours is.

linda said...

this is a wonderful story and it does seem something like what we do on our blogs each day, or when we can anyway...go around, as belette says, supporting each other...and my dear, you do not seem all that old or grumpy to me, someone who IS old and grumpy...OK, grumpy is for sure, old is sometimes not so old but you get it...

love this painting, and thought it was very clever how you did it...when I first saw it on my screen, I didn't realize there was a woman in the unitard but rather, thought it a butterfly and then I saw her and thought you were quite the joy and whimsy here, as always in your work.


linda said...

went back and looked at it again and now, don't know how I didn't see her!! very beautiful image...

susan said...

belette - Good point about that being the best part of blogging. It's very true in our little corner and we have lots of fun too. Tomorrow I'll have been doing it for two years and I never could have imagined all the wonderful people I'd meet.. like you for instance.


linda - Good evening, my friend. It's true about the mutual support and I'm very happy to be part of it - even just a small part. No, I'm not all that grumpy except when I read the news and have to argue with insurance companies at my job.

I'm glad you like her :-)

Seraphine said...

i dropped a penny on the ground. it wasn't worth the bother of picking up.
somebody might have found it and put it in their shoe for good luck.
sometimes good is done without even trying.

why do we say wonderful things about people at their funerals, things we didn't tell them while they were living?

i love your new painting, susan! i like the idea of being able to fly (be free) even while existing inside a box. plus, the way you present the flowers in the corner implies there is much more in the box than what we see.
there are nice warm colors in the box.

can i think of 26 things to say about you? i think i can.
most would be variations on the theme of generosity and kindness; your UNSELFISHNESS. (I love that about you, because I'm very selfish. or rather, i'm self-centered, which isn't precisely the same as selfish, but close enough for horseshoes).
i love your mind, your world view, your commitment to a better world, your sense of proportion and your good heart.
i love your stories. is that 26 things yet? no.
i love that you'd forgive me if it's too much or two little.
you appreciate effort. you don't judge too harshly when the heart is in the right place.
and i love your sense of justice, your being a champion of individual expression as much as you are a supporter of shared community values.
i love your imagination. your tete-a-tete, your cleverness, the way you keep your "door" open to new experiences.
i think you're romantic. yes, the crow stories confirm it.
you're graceful.
you encourage others, you are beautiful, you inspire, you make me smile. you express honesty.
you post on other people's blogs.
i think you could make a shower curtain out of silk if you put your mind to it.
all nice things. in no particular order, just what popped into my mind about you, susan.
oh, and you're modest.

thank you for the teacher story.
p.s. you're a good teacher.

gfid said...

my youngest kids had an elementary school teacher who did this part way through the year, with every class. she must have read the story. she was an excellent teacher. i knew a lady who was terminally ill, who made a point of telling her family what their fine points and strengths were, before she died. this made such an impression on me that, the following year, i gave my parents each a letter for mother's day and father's day, telling them all the fine things they'd done in raising me, and how i thought they had made me a better person. we're not an affectionate or demonstrative family, so they were terribly embarrassed, and it's never been mentioned again, but i hope it blessed them in some secret way. and i know an artist who taught kids' classes in art for years, who was a brilliant educator. i think i'll write about her in my next post.

gfid said...

oh, and the autumn flutterby..... exquisite

Nancy said...

I had heard this story before, and was very touched. I agree that finding the finest in each other benefits everyone. I would often ask my children to tell one thing that was very pretty about someone they thought unattractive or not very nice. Sometimes it was nothing more than they had pretty eyes. But my child's thought about pretty eyes had challenged their belief that the other person had no redeeming qualities. They then could see that maybe, just maybe, there were others.

susan said...

sera - You absolutely took my breath away by writing all of this. I'm amazed and so very grateful to know you see these wonderful qualities in me that I'm going to print it and keep it close always. It will remind me of all the benefits to be gained from sharing rather than holding on tight. We're meant to fly but if we're stuck in a mire the only reasonable response is to help one another get out. There'll always be time to laugh at how silly we looked caked in mud later :-)

susan said...

gfid - It's most definitely one of the most beautiful lessons I've ever heard of a teacher giving. I'm happy your children had such a wise teacher and that you sent your parents the letters you did. Since I traveled so far from home first when I was very young I've always been aware of how easy it is to lose someone forever. It's good to let people know you love and appreciate them.

nancy - I can tell by reading your posts that you were always a very good parent. Teaching your kids to find something good in people who weren't necessarily kind to them was a great example.

Seraphine said...

it wouldn't be living if we don't get caked in mud sometimes. right?

susan said...

sera - Crows actually enjoy mud baths .