Let me tell you, if you will, about a book that completely changed my attitude.
As a faculty member in higher education it is my responsibility to assist students in their learning process. When I was an undergrad student studying at the university it seemed some professors decided that their job was to “break down” a student’s ideas, to strip away any belief system, value system and previously held ideas about the world so that the professor could “build” us back up. Unfortunately, it is much easier to destroy something than create something and students are sometimes left stripped and wounded without inspiration or motivation for further ideological pursuits. What can result is a state of mind where nothing seems meaningful or important. It is much easier to “shock” with tabloid style teaching in order to “mess up the minds” of students than it is to take the subject matter and analyze it in order to help students apply it in a productive way. There are things that I don’t share with my students, not because I disagree with the information, but because it is something that is not necessarily important and possibly can be harmful to the human psyche. For example, there are things I have seen and heard that I wish that I had not encountered. They are not productive ideas or images; and sometimes they are disturbing to the point of being destructive without provision of healing. This is not to say that I don’t present painful topics in my classroom. Historical and contemporary society provides plenty of topics in this area. But how then do we take those and learn from them. Enter the book “Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy” by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone.
This book offers helpful practices and ceremonies, such as deep conversation, visualization, and “Breathing Through” in order to process the suffering of painful topics. It gives instruction and important suggestions for processing pain: “Now open your awareness to the suffering in the world. … Should you fear that with this pain your heart might break, remember that the heart that breaks open can hold the whole universe. Your heart is that large. Trust it. Keep breathing.” (74-75) In order to deal with challenges that are beyond our capacity the authors suggest “seeing with new eyes.” This is accomplished by the “…four discoveries: a wider sense of self, a different kind of power, a richer experience of community, and a larger view of time.” (82) In order to accomplish “a wider sense of self” the authors share the example of the Shambhala warriors where compassion fuels us to take action and the awareness of “radical interconnectivity” gives us the realization of the repercussions of our actions. Once we have the wisdom of suffering and realization that we can take action, then comes inspiration. Three practices that inspire vision are: creating space and allowing for quiet moments, being intentioned and giving attention to the ideas that flow and capturing the vision by some method such as writing it down in order to remember it. After the vision is established then change happens. The authors state, “There is a saying that important changes often go through three phases. First they are regarded as a joke. Then they are treated as a threat. Finally, they become accepted as normal.” (186)
These are just a few of the life-changing ideas found in this book. I am looking forward to taking these ideas and practices to my students. This book has fueled my goal of being a teacher who also inspires.
What were some of your favorite practices/ceremonies found in this book? Are there any that you want to try? Have you already tried one or more? If so, which were most helpful?
Macy, Joanna and Chris Johnstone. Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy. Novato, California: New World Library, 2012. Kindle edition.