Reflective Writing … A Path of Discovery and Learning
Do what you love and love what you do. This sounds simple yet I feel as if my entire life has been a process of returning to this sublime state. At some point in my life I stopped doing what I love in the pursuit of what I was told necessary to survive in the material world. As a child being raised by my grandparents, I lived a simple life. My grandmother stayed home picking green beans and carrots from our garden. My grandfather’s garden was ripe with the colors of every vegetable imaginable and spanned almost our entire back yard, which seemed vast to me as a child. I recall my grandfather spending his days off carefully tending to what was growing while the summer evenings were spent standing, sometimes for hours, watching and watering. Just being with what was growing and tending to it. He was a quiet and a gentle man.
My love of the taste and feel of the earth came from him. As you can probably imagine, my childhood included no schedules to be adhered to and no rushing to and fro. I would wake and move through the day at my own pace experiencing each moment as it presented itself. I spent a lot of my time outside exploring nature, getting muddy, building forts and imagining that I was in some far and distant land. My pet cat, often my playmate, would faithfully spend all day with me, even allowing me to dress him up for his part in my story. I would lose all track of time and before I knew it I would hear my grandmother’s voice calling me in for dinner, bath and bed. I needed no instructions as a child on how to live; I was not worried about surviving. I followed my imagination and it led me to places of wonderment. I created my own stories and lived them out. Sometimes others would join me but I was perfectly happy to play on my own with my beloved pet. I did what I loved and loved what I did.
As I grew older what I loved was insidiously replaced by necessity. Bit by bit I lost track of what brings me joy. My imagination was eclipsed by fear disguised as rationality. Learning became a chore and a necessity. Demands from society to grow up and stand on my own two feet and be independent took over. I can remember feeling a great amount of fear as this dark existential reality sunk in. This was the point at which I was cut off from the source that fed my soul as a child. That lovely cosmic energy that filled, carried and guided me was replaced with a looming awareness that I was alone in the world and that the world was a cruel place. So I stopped trusting and ceased doing and being what I loved. I became a prisoner of a belief system passed onto me by generations of others living in fear. In retrospect, I have done many things that I indeed did not love. Everything from jobs to friendships to hobbies that sucked my spirit dry. A part of me always knew better. Deep in my soul that spirit patiently waited to be rekindled. The reflective writing I have engaged in, for this essay in particular, has provided that much needed spark. Although I have not read the book, this passage from Wally Lamb’s novel, I Know This Much is True shared with me by one of my professors, Charles Scott, seems fitting…
“I am not a smart man, particularly, but one day, at long last, I stumbled from the dark woods of my own, and my family’s, and my country’s past, holding in my hands these truths: that love grows from the rich loam of forgiveness; that mongrels make good dogs; that the evidence of God exists in the roundness of things.
“This much, at least, I’ve figured out. I know this much to be true.”
Education is a process of discovery and should aim to bring alive not only the subject but also the learner in relationship to the subject. Writing for the sake of writing is a powerful contemplative practice that has engaged me in a process of discovery, truth seeking and learning. The remainder of this essay is a result of my contemplative writing as a process of self-discovery and demonstrates what a powerful process for meaningful learning it provides.
My experience in this course, Social and Moral Philosophy of Education, has rekindled my spirit and re-engaged me in the process of writing and learning. It has and continues to free me from a belief system about myself and the world that has been, well … limiting. I suspect it has affected my fellow learners on a deep level one way or another too. For me it was the nudge my spirit needed to wake up. I notice as a result of this rediscovered awareness that I am slowing down, finding the eyes of my fellow humans and making connections with people that I was not making before. I love this! That moment when the eyes meet and the souls connect. A silent understanding is shared. No words needed. This is profound. It is as if we are saying to each other “join me, we are together in this”.
The quality of my relationships is changing, including my relationship with myself. The way I’m teaching is also evolving. There is a gentleness and self-assuredness that was not present in the way it is now emerging. Not based on my knowledge or expertise but based on my humanness, receptivity and openness. A willingness to share in an experience as opposed to orchestrating it. I love this! This feels true for me. Writing about it is helping me unfold my experience resulting in an expanded awareness and deepened understanding. With each word, sentence and paragraph more of what is true is revealed to me. I love how it feels to be with the truth, with reality, confronted by it in a way that stills and quiets my mind. When the truth emerges it resonates deeply. I don’t need science to validate this for me. The instrument of my soul provides the most accurate measurement. I trust this. It has never steered me wrong
Education should be a complete immersion in an experience. One in which every sense is awoken. A multi-sensory experience which we can derive our own meaning from. From which a love of all of life is born. Take the subject of living for instance, or play or gardening. Life in the garden with my grandparents taught me all of these things: A love of life, the smell and feel of the earth and an awareness of the way garden gives life to everything. The way the earth nourishes the roots, the senses, our relationships and the soul. Education is a process that brings us alive and in turn the world itself comes alive, too!
It’s not enough to study the mountain from a distance. We must experience it for ourselves. The summit, the crisp mountain air, the mist of our breath, the rugged rocks, and breathtaking vistas. The sense of being on top of the world and the sheer magnitude and miracle of creation itself. To become part of the world. The realization that we are connected and interrelated with everything emerges and in the midst of those experiences I find myself completely present and in the moment.
When released from the burden of correctness imposed sometimes by external forces, though more often by my own self, writing becomes a truly contemplative practice that is deeply meaningful and fulfilling. Most importantly it is freeing. This is what education is doing for me this time around. Reflective writing is providing me with an opportunity to not only know myself better, it has, more importantly, allowed me to express myself in a meaningful way. Self knowledge and expression are two important constructs I believe necessary to achieve liberation from the alternating states of oppression I have come to know in my life. Self-actualization through meaningful education has the potential to create a much needed paradigm shift in the world. I am bringing to life what I’m learning and what I am learning is bringing life to me and I am growing. I complete this essay with two pieces that speak to my journey thus far. One is a poem by Mary Oliver entitled “Wild Geese,” the other is a verse from a poem entitled “The Invitation,” written by Oriah Mountain Dreamer.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting – over and over announcing your place in the family of things.
By Mary Oliver
It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.
By Oriah Mountain Dreamer
Bai, H. (2013). Peace with the earth: animism and contemplative ways. (C. M. Kenneth Tolbin, Ed.) Cultural Studies of Science Education , 8 (2).
Bradbury, R. (2008, September 11). A Conversation With Ray Bradbury. The National Endowment for the Arts.
Carolyn Manchur, L. A. (2-1-). Discovering A Subject, An Intimate Affair. Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice , 24 (4).
Freire, P. (2005). Peagogy of the Oppressed. New York, NY, United States: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc.
Hanson, R. (2009). Buddhas Brain, The Evolution of Suffering. In R. Hanson, Buddhas Brain, The Evolution of Suffering. Oakland, CA, USA: New Harbinger Publications Inc.
Lamb, W. (2009). I Know This Much Is True. Harper Collins.
Leggo, C. (2008). Narrative Inquiry: Attending to the Art of Discourse. Language and Literacy , 10 (1).
Martin, J. R. (1982). The Ideal of the Educated Person. Educational Theory , 31 (2).
Oliver, M. (2004). Wild Geese, Selected Poems (Vol. 2). Bloodaxe.
Oriah Mountain Dreamer. (n.d.). Oriah Mountain Dreamer. Retrieved from Oriah: http://www.oriahmountaindreamer.com
Whitehead, A. N. (1967). Aims of Education. New York, NY: Free Press.
 Rick Hanson, Buddha’s Brain, The Evolution of Suffering, Chapter 2
 Carolyn Manchur, Linda Apps, Stephen Nikleva and Karen Kurnaedy, Discovering Your Subject, An Intimate Affair
 Heesoon Bai, Peace With the Earth: Animism and Contemplative Ways
 Mary Oliver, Wild Geese, Selected Poems