Mindfulness Resources: The Still Point of the Turning World

Girl Holding Globe

“Your own awareness can hold the infinity of the universe.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

     ~ T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton” (The Four Quartets)

Past the midpoint of my life, I am often astounded at how little I seem to understand myself (much less the world), not just who I am now but who I am at my core. What are the threads, if any, that connect my two-year-old self with my mother-in-law self and extend into the future, reaching toward my old woman self?

One answer came quite unexpectedly this week as I was doing some research on mindfulness and found an interview with Harvard psychology professor Ellen Langer. Langer’s book The Power of Mindful Learning, which I read soon after it was published in 1998, was instrumental in shaping my ideas of education and parenting and, later, homeschooling. Her ideas drew me in at the time almost without my will. They were comfortable in a familiar way, as though I had stumbled upon a forgotten box of childhood treasures. Watch Langer talk about “Mindfulness over matter“:

If I go back even further, my first encounter with meditation was far earlier, in my early teens when I read a book on transcendental meditation, probably in the late 1970s. To this day I cannot remember where I found the book—it may have been from a teacher or a book my mother had ordered from a book club. What I do remember is being captivated by the ideas and lying on the floor of my room in rural South Dakota, chanting mantras and waiting to feel different.

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

     ~ T. S. Eliot, “East Coker” (The Four Quartets)

Perhaps I should not be surprised, then, that after all these years I am once again drawn to mindfulness, for reasons both different from before and always the same.

If you have wanted to learn more about mindfulness meditation but don’t know where to start, watch meditation teacher, author, and University of Massachusetts Medical School professor emeritus Jon Kabat-Zinn talk about how mindfulness is something that no one can take away from us, then browse the online resources listed below. Who knows? You may just discover the still point of your own ever turning world.

See Also

Wreck Your Creativity

Take chances, make mistakes, get messy! ~ Ms. Frizzle, The Magic School Bus

  • Student-wrecked journals
    Student-wrecked journals
  • Hole-y wrecked journal, Batman!
    Hole-y wrecked journal, Batman!
  •  Turn this page black (using items found in the world).
    Turn this page black (using items found in the world).
  • Turn this page black (using items found in the world).
    Turn this page black (using items found in the world).
  • Blank page
    Blank page
  • Draw something based on the moon.
    Draw something based on the moon.
  • Find a piece of string. Tie this page up with it.
    Find a piece of string. Tie this page up with it.
  • Find a piece of string. Tie this page up with it.
    Find a piece of string. Tie this page up with it.
  • Find a piece of string. Tie this page up with it.
    Find a piece of string. Tie this page up with it.
  • Find a piece of string. Tie this page up with it.
    Find a piece of string. Tie this page up with it.
  • Choose your own wrecking method.
    Choose your own wrecking method.
  • Choose your own wrecking method.
    Choose your own wrecking method.
  • Choose your own wrecking method.
    Choose your own wrecking method.
  • Choose your own wrecking method.
    Choose your own wrecking method.
  • Choose your own wrecking method.
    Choose your own wrecking method.
  • Choose your own wrecking method.
    Choose your own wrecking method.
  • Use this space while dreaming outside.
    Use this space while dreaming outside.
  • Cover this page in lines that you find.
    Cover this page in lines that you find.
  • Blank page
    Blank page
  • Cover this page using only items found in the outdoors.
    Cover this page using only items found in the outdoors.
  • Cover this page using only items found in the outdoors.
    Cover this page using only items found in the outdoors.
  • Fill the entire page with words you see on your adventures.
    Fill the entire page with words you see on your adventures.
  • Blank page
    Blank page
  • Cover this page in circles that you find.
    Cover this page in circles that you find.
  • Write down all the street names in your immediate vicinity.
    Write down all the street names in your immediate vicinity.
  • Find a piece of cardboard in the next five minutes. Tape it here.
    Find a piece of cardboard in the next five minutes. Tape it here.
  • Blank page
    Blank page

 

An important part of creativity is giving ourselves permission to be messy and imperfect. By the time we are adults, however, we’ve often been trained in the art of avoiding messiness and mistakes. School in particular rewards playing it safe rather than taking chances.

Another aspect of creativity is the habit of recording our ideas and experiences. One of the ways that I try to encourage a more playful approach to notekeeping for engineering, business, and nursing students is to assign as a creative thinking “textbook” Keri Smith’s Wreck This Journal Everywhere. Smith’s various editions of Wreck This Journal—part creative journal, part sketchbook, part writing prompts—have sold over 3 million copies. Read more about her in the TIME magazine profile, “Meet the Woman Trying To Save Your Kids from Their Screens,” and on her website.

In the past, I have asked students to keep their own creative journals as a way to practice the art of paying attention, but many of them seemed stuck or intimidated when faced with so many blank pages. Smith’s journals are small (Wreck This Journal Everywhere is small enough to fit in a coat pocket), fun, and full of delightfully unexpected prompts designed to trigger connections with the world around us.

While not every student warms equally to their journal, most appreciate the chance to get class credit for doodling, sketching, daydreaming on paper—activities they have often been told are a waste of time. They get full credit for the journal, which is part of their class participation grade, as long as they use most or all of the pages (they don’t have to follow the prompts, but most do) and clearly get into the spirit of the assignment. Many tell me afterward that they have recommended the journal to their friends and family and that they plan to continue the journal habit themselves.

The photos at the top of this post are a few examples.

Spock, My Childhood Hero and Introduction to Philosophy

Leonard Nimoy as Spock

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ~ Viktor Frankl

I don’t really have the time to write a blog post today, but I feel a need to try to understand the formative role of Star Trek and Leonard Nimoy’s character of Spock in my childhood, so I am giving myself an hour to finish this and hoping I can come close to something not illogical.

Where I Had Not Gone Before

Star Trek, James Blish Star Trek adaptationsStar Trek entered my life when I was twelve. A new teacher came to our two-room rural South Dakota country (and only the second teacher I’d ever had), bringing with her books for our tiny back-room library. Some of those books were James Blish’s adaptations of the original Star Trek episodes and Alan Dean Foster’s adaptations of Star Trek: The Animated Series (I realize now that those books were fairly new at the time). I had never heard of Star Trek, but I was quickly hooked and then ecstatic to learn that syndicated episodes would be shown every day—every day!—after school.

Star Trek was perhaps my first bona fide obsession. I simply could not get enough. I watched. I read. I wrote fan fiction. I pondered episodes and made up new ones. No one else in my family or the school shared my obsession, but I didn’t care. I loved the idealism. I loved the science. I loved the characters. And, through it all, I was most obsessed with Spock.

Stranger in a Strange Land

What twelve year old doesn’t feel a bit like a stranger in a strange land? An alien trying to figure out her place in a world where everyone else seems to glide effortlessly and knowingly from day to day? My emotions at that time would get the better of me to the point where I felt helpless in their wake, and, finally, here was a character who experienced the same struggles and tensions, who felt as though he fit in nowhere, straddling worlds he didn’t understand.

Star Trek, Animated Series novelizations, Alan Dean FosterI did not know it at the time, maybe not even until today, but Leonard Nimoy’s Spock was my first introduction to philosophy, to the age-old questions of mind versus body, reason versus emotion, pain versus pleasure, what it means to be human (or, in his case, half-human). Most important, I internalized through his character the precepts of Stoicism, and there were many difficult days in my adolescence when I would pretend to be not quite a Vulcan, for they do not need to wrestle with understanding their emotions, but a half-Vulcan.

As Lary Wallace writes in Aeon, Stoicism is much misunderstood. He reminds us that the tranquility of the Stoics is due not to apathy but to gratitude, “a gratitude, moreover, rugged enough to endure anything.” Stoicism is also about freedom of mind, freedom of choice, and the inherent value of suffering. While Spock perhaps went too far in his attempts to control his own emotions and often suffered needlessly, I learned from him that the emotional currents of life need not control our every waking moment and that the struggle for self-understanding can be noble, even and maybe especially when no one else sees or notices. In those ideas, I found great freedom and strength, while pretending to be a fictional character.

No wonder as an adult I am drawn to existentialism. Viktor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning, “It can be seen that mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become. Such a tension is inherent in the human being and therefore is indispensable to mental well-being.”

And, with that, my hour is up. Thank you, Leonard Nimoy (and Gene Roddenberry). You will live long in our hearts, and your legacy will prosper.

Note: After I wrote this post, my daughter-in-law, also a Star Trek fan, sent me the link to “Goodbye, Mr. Nimoy — What Spock Meant to One Geeky 12-Year-Old Girl,” by Emily Asher-Perin, which tells her own story better than I.

Bruno Mars, “The Lazy Song” (video featuring Leonard Nimoy, directed by Nez)

Spock Quotes

Header photo by NBC Television (ebay item front release) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Index Spotlight: For the Love of Orcas

Orca and child

Every once in awhile I get an indexing project that is so captivating I find myself reading for pages and pages without indexing a single term (and then I must go back to the chapters again with the eyes of an indexer rather than a reader). John Hargrove’s Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish (Palgrave Macmillan) was one of those books.

Shamu
Photo credit: “Shamu,” Terabyte at the German language Wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0] via Wikimedia Commons
Beneath the Surface delivers on the promise of its title. Those who have seen the documentary Blackfish will remember the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was dragged into the water at SeaWorld Orlando by Tilikum, a male orca who had previously been involved in two other human deaths. Hargrove not only offers background and insight into Brancheau’s death, the consequences of which eventually led to a federal ban on trainers doing waterwork with orcas, he also takes us deep into the underwater of both the career of an orca trainer—the desire to work with these magnificent mammals, the long path to being assigned to the coveted Shamu Stadium, the many facets of behavioral training, such as hand-slaps on the water—and aspects of orca captivity of which the general public is probably unaware, such as SeaWorld’s artificial insemination (AI) program.

Shamu show
“2009-Seaworld-Shamu” by Yathin S Krishnappa – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

What will pull you into the book and keep you reading, however, are the complex relationships that trainers have with the killer whales in their care and the lives and stories of over two dozen captive orcas. One female orca in particular who underwent the AI process, Takara (“Tiki”), born in captivity (the same year my son was born) and called by Hargrove an “accidental princess,” leaps off the page and into the reader’s heart.

“Her name means ‘treasure’ in Japanese,” Hargove writes. “I love her so much.” But this is no cheap, sentimental love: “Sweetness has nothing to do with why I adore Tiki. I love her because she’s strong, she’s smart and she’s tough—and she’s a spoiled brat who knows when it’s time to behave.”

Beneath the Surface, scheduled for release on March 24, 2015, is available for pre-order. Learn more about the book and the author from the resources below.

See Also

Real Time with Bill Maher: Backstage Pass with John Hargrove (in which Hargrove discusses the artificial insemination process):

Blackfish Official Trailer:

Header photo by Robert Pittman [Public domain], “Two mammal-eating “transient” killer whales photographed off the south side of Unimak Island, eastern Aleutian Islands, Alaska,” via Wikimedia Commons

What Is Found Poetry?

Poetry

I admit that I was enjoying found poetry long before I knew it had a name. The following definition is from the Academy of American Poets:

“Found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. The literary equivalent of a collage, found poetry is often made from newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, or even other poems.”

The Guardian article “Poster Poems: Found Poetry” provides a good overview of the history and range of found poetry, including William Carlos Williams’ famous “This is just to say,” which began as a refrigerator note.

Early in my reading of my great aunt Hattie’s Great Plains diaries I was struck by the poetry of many of her entries. Hers is neither a rhyming nor an abstract poetry, but an earthy poetry of candor, concrete words, and lived experience, as this example (a “golden shovel” poem) shows:

April 5, 1934

Another dust storm dark and thick. You
couldn’t see the sun, no weather fit
for even necessary work, continued into
evening after supper. Sophie helped me

dye my faded brown-red dress like
new to black, but it was not a
pretty black so replaced bent hook
at collar, hemmed, and made into

an everyday dress, also used an
old overall for nail apron and extra eye
for clasp. After I lay down for a
nap, Ben brought us sixteen club fish

he caught with just a pole and hook
so fried them up for supper. Will put an
egg in bottle for magic work to cut open
the fistula festering near Mike’s eye.

You can read more found poetry from Hattie’s diaries here, and explore these found poetry resources:

Photo credit: takomabibelot, Poetry, Mosaic Ceiling (Washington, DC), CC BY 2.0

Photo credit: takomabibelot, Poetry, Mosaic Ceiling (Washington, DC), CC BY 2.0