On My Journey Through Darkness

I recently reread a short essay by Maureen Watson (2015) titled: Treasures in Darkness: Loving the Questions.  In the essay, Watson speaks about what it feels like to live in the darkness. A year ago I was in a dark place, and although I had good reason to be there, it was torture. Parker Palmer’s metaphor of winter also speaks to where I was at the time. It was cold and it felt like the wind was blowing hard as I stood on a flat plain all alone in the dark of night.  1488905_10102331116884928_919608754_n

My choice to phrase the above paragraph in the manner that I did was intentional, and does mean that I’m no longer solely in that place. I don’t want it to be heard that I’ve somehow done a 180, but I have made progress. And I can see the progress. All of this I share because recently I’ve been thinking about how I once had a counselor who asked me if it was okay to revisit experiences that I thought I had worked through.  I was in a very stubborn place and was sharing with her that I refused to consider the past…I just wanted to be fixed even though I knew that she wasn’t going to tell me how I could be fixed. She pointed out that despite working through something in the past, I had since had more experiences that might lead me to see my past experiences differently, and she asked me if I thought that was possible.  Her question stayed with me, and is often something I still consider.

All of these thoughts combined with a passage I was recently reminded of in my Introduction to College Student Personnel course:

“Personnel workers see the person–at whatever age–not as a single moment independent of the past and the future, but as a transition point in a stream of experience that goes back to infancy and will continue on into the future” (Lloyd-Jones, 1954).

And the combination of these thoughts with current events such as the shooting of Keith Scott, the homelessness of the Syrian Refugees, the Native American tribal land protest, and the weekly interactions I have with first generation students place my mind in a spot where I can’t imagine how we could ever feel settled in higher education.  Yet, feeling settled is often what I believe we desire.  I know that I’ve desperately wanted to feel the security of having settled over the past year and a half–the safety that I can count on at least one piece of knowledge and believe it to be true.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could feel comfort in spite of today’s current events instead of only frustration and darkness?

It is in these moments of desiring comfort and stability, however, that I can see that I’ve managed to get through the dark place I was in and find a bit more light by going one step at a time.  And this time, I deeply value the light rather than taking it for granted.  In other words, now that I am able to see how far I have come, I find that I want to make sure that I am always a bit uncomfortable, and in many ways I hope that we all are a bit uncomfortable. For it is in that spot, that I believe we discover the most about ourselves.


Looking Within to See What is Out There

This is the second summer I’ve had the opportunity to help guide a book club with a great colleague, Stacey, for the First Year Experience (FYE) instructors. Last year, we facilitated conversations about Ken Bain’s book, What the Best College Teachers Do. It was a pretty quick, but worthwhile, book…and not just for those teaching FYE courses (really quite a good book for anyone interesting in teaching/learning).

This year, the book we’ve selected is Parker J. Palmer’s The Courage to Teach. From what I understand it is sort of considered a classic to those that teach (my clue to this realization was the publication of an anniversary edition). I actually have already read it once, but it about 10 years ago, so am excited to be reading it again this summer.

Although the book club hasn’t officially started yet, I have begun to read the book. And in true Palmer style (I’ve read a few of his other books–which I highly recommend!) he’s got me thinking. Sometimes I think that he has some sort of magical power that enables him to speak directly to what I’ve been ruminating on the most. This was at least my experience this week (and has been my experience many times in the past). Since the school year has come to a close, and I’ve actually found myself experiencing a bit more stress free environment, I’ve been spending a lot of time consider how I see myself in relation to others, as well as how it seems that others are seeing me. Unfortunately in my experience these two “selves” aren’t always the same for a myriad of reasons, which can lead to frustration and curiosity. Lately it has led to much more curiosity, which has also been pleasantly accompanied by a calmness. I heard Palmer speak to my recent reflections when he wrote,

“..we cannot see what is ‘out there’ merely by looking around. Everything depends on the lenses through which we view the world. By putting on new lenses, we can see things that would otherwise remain invisible” (Palmer, 2007, p. 27).

And my response to him would be, “Yes!” However, I still felt just as contemplative after reading his thoughts. His words, though, were helpful in that they reminded me that there are always more ways, “lenses” to look through at our experiences. Sometimes I will admit that it can be quite challenging to kept such a perspective in mind. Full confession…it is terribly hard to keep this in mind when I feel hurt, upset, wronged, etc….synonym in any other negative feeling word because it is in those moments that I want to be right. That I want my way of understanding the experience to be THE way of understanding the experience. My lens to be the correct lens. And so when I consider the differences I notice between how I see and understand myself, and how other others might see and understand me, I cannot help but wonder what other perspectives besides just those two might exist? How I can find even more lenses to try on as I seek to understand my experiences, and how I can recognize my desire to be “right” in such a way that it becomes just one lens through which I am viewing the world?