When Things Get Tough

river3-2A student asked, “When times of great difficulty visit us, how should we meet them?

The teacher said, “Welcome.”

An essay by John Tarrant, Roshi, director of the Pacific Zen Institute, calls this an ancient koan suitable for our time. He says In hard times, we long to touch and feel the vastness and blessing of life. Welcome might open some blue sky in the heart.

This past month has left me welcoming…alas, cracking open. It started with my sister dieing at a young 66. Though I have no full siblings, this step sibling was the closest one I had. The last time I saw her she touched her forehead to mine. While we both cried, she told me she had loved me from the moment she saw me. 

I remember the moment. I was in the driveway of my childhood home walking out to her car. I was six years old and fragile, not just because of age, but because my mom and dad had recently divorced. An extremely sensitive child, I was devastated. What seemed like overnight, I had two brand new families, neither of which  I felt I fit into well. There was nobody to talk to about it, and even to this day, I don’t feel people truly understand that devastation. It’s such a feeling of loneliness. I wanted my old family back and there was nothing I could do about it. It wasn’t an option.iphone-pictures-117

When Sherry came to pick me up, she had a big smile and gave me a warm hug. “Welcome, baby sister.”

As an only child, I felt a tie I had not felt up until that time. A sibling tie. With that love, she immediately staged herself as ally in my Dad’s family. She remained protective of me until her recent death. Through her multiple marriages, regions she lived, and years that passed, we remained close. We had a psychic connection. I always felt loved when she was near, either physically or mentally. She was the one who ALWAYS remembered my (and later my kids’) birthdays even when everyone else forgot.

dscn4431Sherry was extremely creative and her creativity flowed any and everywhere she poured her energy. When I was young, I often spent the night at her house staying up until 5:00 a.m. having dance parties. She carried a charisma and sense of fun that nobody I knew had. Only later, in my adult years, did I recognize that as unmedicated (and self-medicated) bipolar disorder. Even to the end, that brain illness was never treated properly or talked about. In my twenties, she once told me that during a hospitalization, her then husband leaned over, looked into her eyes and said, “Why are you doing this to me?” That reaction was so hurtful to her, I think it prevented her from really getting the help she needed to shine her full authentic self.

amadorI still feel her with me as much as ever, nudging me to learn palmistry or design a cookie platter. Createlittle sister. I loved you from the moment I saw you.

Next, maybe a week and a half later, while Mike and I were hooting it up in Gold Country at a Redneck Barbecue, his mom, Janice, went to the emergency room by ambulance with stomach pains. He went down to LA the day we got back and spent a gut-wrenching next few weeks not knowing which way the road would turn.

She was 88. Infinity infinity. It was to be a minor surgery, as minor as one could have at that age. But finally, that surgery ended up in a funeral last week. As we stood at Hillside Memorial Park in Culver City, a beautiful Jewish cemetery we’ve visited many times before, the rain poured down over us. The water flowed down the steps of the main waterfall. Just after spooning dirt on the casket, and putting the casket next to her husband of 60 some years, the Rabbi said, “We now will know Janice in a different way than in her physical form. We will now know her through stories.”janice

I didn’t feel I was given the voice to tell the best story about Janice in the last few weeks so I will tell it to you.

Each time Janice first saw me, her true nature emerged. She was the BEST hugger I have ever met. Her hugs were a unique combination: warm like a fluffy blanket, but firm like you knew she meant it from the bottom of her heart. They were usually accompanied by a kiss to the side of the head and a noise which meant, I loved you from the moment I saw you. I looked forward to those hugs and every time they came, all these feelings about them came rushing back. I know she knew I felt this way. She came to me after she’d passed, rousing me from a sound sleep at 11:40 p.m., with one last hug. It was a doozy–a gift–and I will always treasure it as I had all the other unique ways Spirit showed Itself through her.

The Rabbi also talked about those ways–her creativity– and how it emanated in so many forms: hand crafts, painting, gardening, cooking, and in her later years, computer graphics. Every birthday she spent time making customized cards for each of us, children and grandchildren, with generous checks included. Each design and rhyme was tailored to the recipient’s year, past and upcoming. We will all miss that thoughtfulness, generosity and creativity when our birthdays roll around. This was my husband’s card waiting on her computer for his birthday, which fell two days after hers. She was buried on her birthday. She’d already been working away on his. The message, prophetic.mikebdaycard

Create, little sister. I loved you from the moment I saw you. 

And only now do I feel like I can find the words. When things get tough, I pull inside. To meditation. To Spirit Itself. To my husband and my kids. To my best friend. To the tight circle I’ve built around myself to insulate myself in Love. To my dreams. To my journal. To my prayer partner. To that space where I completely trust I will be held and not let down.

And, yet, the koan sounds in my ear: Welcome might open some blue sky in the heart. 

Indeed. Without the divorce that hurt so much at 6, I never would have found my Sherry. Without the years we had together, I would have never experienced that sibling feel. Without Janice, I never would have known such a Hug. All these gifts, all these gifts. I would not trade them for the moon…certainly, not to prevent the pain of tougher times. Instead, I welcome them. I welcome them, recognizing that without the one, the tough times of loss, there isn’t the vastness and blessings of life.

And in the end, my heart is filled with blue sky.

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Posted in conscious living, creativity, death, friends, healthy living, Inspiration, mental health, metaphysical, relationships, resilience | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Revisiting Amador-able

suttercreekLast year around this time, Mike and I grabbed a handful of friends and hit up the California wine region of Amador County, a little pocket of gold country east of Sacramento.grapes

 

 

 

 

 

This year, we weren’t planning another trip, but ’bout a week ago we asked ourselves, “How can we possibly miss Andis Wine’s Redneck Barbecue?” We decided we couldn’t. With an invitation like this, how can you resist?banner

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We fumbled around for last minute places and decided to stay where we went last year. The Sutter Creek Inn ended up being the perfect place.

suttersign This historical Inn had ghost hunters scouting about last year. Nobody wants to talk about ghosts around the Inn, but somehow we heard that word at least once each time we were there. The Inn is old and quaint, each room different from the next. I let the owner choose our room. My only caveat was I wanted a “hanging bed.” In some rooms, beds hang from the ceiling. These swinging beds are amazingly soothing, surprisingly even after a few glasses of wine.

The room was beautiful, with a woodburning fireplace and lots of wood. The bathroom was almost as roomy as the room itself! There was a huge painting hanging over the sunken two-person tub giving it a modern flare, along with a plant that reminded me of Seymour. And, of course, the hanging bed.room

Best of all, along the walls hung rows of books spanning time. My favorite thumb-through was a first edition from 1949 on Transcendentalism. It was signed by Jane Way, the woman who bought the Inn originally back when women didn’t do such things. (Confession: I really wanted to keep that book, but I didn’t.) Last year, I took a picture in Jane’s parlor and I swear you can see her playing the piano in the mirror reflection. In case you missed it last year, here it is again. Decide for yourself.

ghost And speaking of ghosts…

Check out this portal-looking view on Main Street right out front. Even if you’re not buying the whole supernatural bend, the nostalgia of the town can’t be denied. Antique shops line Main and some of our breakfast friends (non wine drinkers) came just for the antiquing.

street2The other shops on Main range from boutiques with local art products to our favorite amazing cheese shops with cheeses from all over the world. You can do a wine/cheese tasting here if you like. They even loaned us a knife for the night and refrigerated our cheese while we went to the barbecue. (We took one to share with our redneck friends. Turns out we found some appreciative millennial cheese lovers so it worked out!) Here’s the storefront so you don’t miss it.

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The buildings in Sutter Creek can be described as Gold Rush Chic. Well, sort of. Like Gold Rush Redone…Chic. I’m pretty sure that’s an architectural style from my days in Urban Architecture class at UCLA. sutter  Whatever you call it, it’s a few steps back in time and gorgeous in Autumn. Check out these leaves at Deaver Winery. Like a painting. That times infinity.

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At the barbecue, we ran into Lorenzo, the sales/marketing guy for Andis. Last year when we met Lorenzo, he had not been in the US long. He hails from Italy and comes from a 4 generation winemaking family. He always knows where the best wines are hiding in the Andis barrels and how to blend them together for us. Wait until you see what’s coming in 2020!lorenzo

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At the barbecue, we made some new millennial friends. Remember? The ones who loved the cheese? They were really insistent on us dancing to the Knuckleheads. They took about 100 pictures, but you can get the vibe with one. We had fun eating ribs with those two, and dancing in between wet wipes.

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The next morning, breakfast proved a feast of information. We discovered a new California wine region not yet explored–Lodi–and now know the guy who owns the kayak shop.

We also met a couple who told us we must go visit the “ghost town” of Volcano.  breakfastZucchini walnut pancakes topped with fresh peach syrup and an itinerary of activity. Off to Volcano we go.

The drive was gorgeous, but steep and curvy. Signs indicated the road narrowed. We both laughed because there wasn’t much narrowing option. Lucky for us, no cars passed us coming down and we were able to navigate ourselves up through the autumn forest.

When we rolled into “town,” first we saw a motorcycle gang (I mean, club) that took over the Whiskey Flat Saloon. See that guy hightailing it out to make room?bar

The second thing we saw were ghost hunters in ghost hunter cars in front of an old hotel. And then we saw this sign. pop103Can you see how someone changed the 0 in 100 to 103?

The must-see place everybody raves about is The Kneading Dough Bakery. Remember how we just had breakfast? It really didn’t keep us from diving into the offerings. We took our Sutter Mills coffee (no lattes in these parts) and baked goods to the secret garden doused in color. fall5From under the canopy in every direction lies fall and nostalgia.

bakeryWe took a walk around the town which doesn’t take long. That is, unless you take the time to read all the signs on the artifacts. Volcano has Union roots from the Civil War. The town bell is a gift from a Unitarian Preacher who appreciated town support for Lincoln during the war. (Come to think of it, there’s another town called Lincoln and one called Plymouth…oh, and Jackson. A theme?)

Check out Old Abe.  And his plaque.

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The rock around Volcano looks like volcanic rock from Hawaii. In the creek, tumbling stones turn to volcanic slate as you drive into the town. We couldn’t find evidence of a volcano, and I haven’t Googled it, but the story we made up was that a volcano imploded on itself and spewed out the rock. You can adopt that one or make up your own…or go really boring and Wikipedia it.

tree We’re sticking with the imploding Volcano theory.

All in all, each time we explore Amador County, we find another nugget. The wine (especially the Barberas) is phenomenal, the history is retained and appreciated by the locals, the drives are gorgeous, and, well, it’s just plain Amador-able.leaves

Posted in healthy living, nature, travel, wine and food | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hope For Our Babies: #LetsDoThis

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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.                              Margaret Meade

I can’t remember when it started. I just always had a baby I was carrying around. As a child I had a severe doll obsession. I was never without one. As soon as I could hold live babies, I would seek out family friends that had them with a hidden agenda to “babysit.”

In my early 20s, I had one of my own. In my mid 30s, another. These moments were hands down the most powerful breaths in my life. These children brought hundreds of more children into my life, children that called me Mom, Momma, Momma Weil. I love them all. I hug them when they come and when they leave to make sure they know it.

I taught elementary school, and the numbers exponentially grew. The Babies, all of them, are a constant thread that runs through my day, 24/7, and have been in my heart since I arrived on this planet.

I think that’s why this Calling has poured into my heart the way it has. My vision started as a dream to see each child going through a mental health rough patch get back on track as soon as possible–and for them to believe that can happen. To give them hope–a strength to believe in the essence of who they are beneath the layer of the illness. Perhaps that’s because I bargained with God that if my first child could be relieved of the pain he felt through his teens, and his constant desire to leave this earth because of it, I would dedicate this lifetime to helping all the babies I could.

There’s a thing that happens when symptoms flare up in a child. It’s steeped in fear of being different and “crazy.” It’s wrapped in pain and secrecy grown out of confusion about what’s happening. It’s a knife in the self-esteem heart as the child often feels screwed by being handed such a fate. It’s a gateway into street drugs to “normalize” and find relief from the chaotic swirl. It’s a thing that’s hard to know unless you’ve taken up residence with it in the same home, waking with it and laying with it while it shakes in the dark, afraid of the night terrors that live at the edge of sleep…but knowing not sleeping brings with it dire consequences.

To watch a child go through this pain breaks my heart into a million pieces. Knowing that so many “professionals” don’t even really get it, activates my anger and frustration. In certain places, the knowledge exists, but it’s like somebody tore that information up in a million fucking pieces and threw it into the air laughing, “You figure out how to help your child. Good luck.” Gluing those pieces back together and sharing that cohesive picture is my mission. Getting this message directly to the parents and allies who need it is my vision.

Here’s what I know. By taking optimal steps to recovery, and recovery IS a thing, time can speed by and get the child living out his unique blueprint. This inspires me to no end. This can only happen, by the way, if the child is allowed out of the mental health closet by well-meaning parents often worried about “what people will think.” By hiding the child, the child gets the message that “something is wrong with me and this is my fault” when the opposite is true. The child’s internship with mental health symptoms can make that child stronger, more empathetic, more resilient, and more understanding of this beautifully diverse world we live in. Where we fall down now is in the secrecy step which prolongs the period of time before people can look to others for support, education, and advocacy for their child.

Imagine if all those babies came forward how those 1 in 4 stats would change. Children’s mental health issues are without a doubt the current elephant in the room. When my family was going through our first dark night crisis, my oldest child was 12. People turned their backs on us right and left. We felt so isolated and afraid for our child. I was desperate to help my baby who was in so much pain. The place I turned was a confidential list serve where there were hundreds of moms like me in the same boat. Just knowing I was not alone calmed my heart. I knew that through Group Wisdom, as embodied in this place, I would find the support and education I needed to help my child. I vowed never to stop helping others with the knowledge that I gained on the journey to helping my own baby.

Enter Hope for Our Babies. This is the start of an outreach to gather a tribe of parents and their allies (this should include all of us, folks) committed to a vision that together we can help all kids through the mental health tunnel and to the light on the other side. The quicker, the better. By calling on each other for support and education, this grassroots effort is meant to roll out a group of voices for change. We’re starting with California (because it’s in 48th place in the US, which is pathetic, and I like a challenge), but the reach will extend far beyond the Sunshine State.

How can you help? First, click on this link and then click like:

https://www.facebook.com/HopeforOurBabies/

Second, copy and paste on your social media to share. If you are a parent or ally, and want to share in a closed group, click on “Contact Us” and you will be taken to the group page where you may find guidance that can help you on your journey.

By liking and sharing, we can extend our reach to parents and allies who have babies of all ages they are supporting on a regular basis. By pulling the pieces together, in a solution oriented format, we will gather resources and filter it through Group Wisdom. I am a firm believer that we are put here to serve others by sharing the nuggets we’ve gathered on our journey. That’s where joy lives. I’m also a firm believer that we are all connected, and by helping our babies on their journeys (ALL THE BABIES of all ages) we have the best shot at creating a world that works for everybody.

#LetsDoThis!

Posted in anxiety, belief systems, beliefs, bipolar disorder, conscious living, early onset bipolar disorder, education, facing your fears, hope, Inspiration, mental health, mental health and children, NAMI, NAMI Basics, parenting, Parents and Teachers as Allies, positive attitude, psychiatric, recovery, resilience, United Advocates for Children & Families | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Choice Points and Esalen: I Choose B-Infinity

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Each time a cycle comes to an end, it opens an opportunity called a choice point…                  

Greg Braden

We have a choice between the power of love and the love of power… 

From the documentary, Choice Point: Align Your Purpose

Last week, I went on a journey. This journey happened on so many levels, I can barely find the words to encompass it. It wasn’t all butterflies and unicorns (though many Monarchs appeared in the story. Literally hundreds.) The shadow was certainly present and I felt deep pain at points on this trek. Trying to tell the story in its authenticity is like trying to paint a picture and not capturing the scene…like when the colors you choose, or the scope on the canvas, does not allow for the image you are taking into your heart. Or when you shoot a camera lens at a breathtaking scene and the camera only picks up a titch of the beauty. There’s a disconnect between what lies in the present moment and what is being saved to pass on.

To this end, I actually wrote another blog entirely on this Esalen experience. But it was lacking because I was trying to mentally process it instead of letting it flow from my heart space. I’m going to try it again. Here. Now.

The journey began physically in my car as I took in a three hour board meeting conference call for the United Advocates for Children and Families, a California non-profit advocacy group whose goal is to empower families in California with children facing mental health challenges. California falls down hard in the area of children’s mental health, especially in the rural part of the state where I grew up and currently live again. My current calling is to shift that. Through writing. Through film. Through conversation. These conference calls give me a vision of what we’re dealing with and often leave me overwhelmed at the scope of the problem. Choice Point 1: (a) sink into the overwhelm or (b) follow the intuitive lead to reinvent the landscape even when it’s difficult. I choose b.

As often it seems to fall, I spent a transition day between that state of mind and the next with my friend Katherine. Katherine and I met 18 years ago in Manhattan Beach Mommy and Me and have remained friends ever since. Katherine’s thoughtfulness and playful spirit always promise such a great time. Not only did we sing 80s tunes–Carpenters!–at the top of our lungs on the way to The Refuge in Carmel Valley (she always saves passes cause she’s awesome like that), but we hit up the Monterey Jazz Festival (more passes), a perfect way to enjoy moments. (Thanks, Kath, for not making me go 0 to 60 in the Tesla even though I know you love it. And, thanks, for always being such a thoughtful friend.) Here she is taking a Sunday break in what my husband calls the Snuggie of 2016, the Wind Pouch, which a vendor tried to trick us into buying for way too much money. mont12

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The colors, the smells, our Carribean/Indian combo lunch shared over brainstorming documentary ideas, listening to people and their stories, playing in the sunglass booth, listening to sounds of jazz while people watching…and let us not forget about the miles and miles of shore we walked down Seaside (pre-jazz prep), smelling the ocean, feeling the sand in our toes, and catching up on the past 4 months since my last Carmel drive-by.

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Choice Point 2: a) distract yourself with the next/previous/next thing; b) be in these real moments with friends and appreciate them with deep gratitude. I choose b.

As Simone Weil said,  Attention is the purest form of generosity. I am so fortunate to have a close, inner circle that understands that from both a giving and receiving position.

SIDENOTE: Before we leave Carmel, I must tell you about Poke Lab! This is the best poke place outside of Foodland on the Big Island (or that other place in Kona) that I have seen. It’s AWESOME and if you love poke, you must seek it out. Only open for 6 months, but it will definitely be a chain. (I’m really feeling I should have Google Ads right about now.)

As the journey continues Sunday afternoon, I weave my way into the smoke surrounding Big Sur. The drive is always gorgeous, but the hills were burning and the smoke was thick this particular Sunday. This was a metaphor as it often is where nature meets truth. I was excited to come together with my five friends. One from high school. Two from college days. My best friend since my mid-20s. And a new friend from Tenerife I hadn’t ever met in person, but had heard about over the years.new1

As I drove down Highway 1, I had a feeling Lissa Rankin’s “Anatomy of a Calling” workshop was only the excuse needed to land on the laboratory called Esalen, the precipice of the human growth potential movement, with these 5 strong women and the other players in the play. While I enjoyed the workshop and its community very much, I soon realized my true calling this time reached beyond more schedule following.reservation

e32What is Esalen beyond a gorgeous retreat center in the middle of the Big Sur Coastline? Esalen is known historically for its ability to be a canvas for human potential in the world. If you want to see your junk close up (and I’m not talking about the view at the clothing optional baths), this is the perfect place to do it. If you want to see what’s possible in the world, and be willing to face the naked truth about yourself and your global community, this is the place to do it. If you want to understand your connection to nature via your spirit and your heart–not just your mind–this is the place to do it. The more you can do that, the more you grow.

Named after the Esselen people of the Monterey Peninsula, this nonprofit touts itself a Pagan Monastery. Having stayed in several monasteries before, I definitely feel that vibe when I’m there, though monasteries don’t come with bars and mineral baths. I guess that’s where Pagan joins in. There is the routine of a monastery, with three meals a day from the garden, and the proper busing of items in their receptacles. There is community eating, and ritual in workshops, rustic lodging, and amazing gardens that supply food for meals. Here’s my best friend, Netters, making friends with the gifter of our morning eggs.e30

There are altars set up around the sacred land, and morning yoga to get your down dog on while looking out over the vast Pacific. Sweet peas hang on a large fence with scissors nearby so visitors can cut flowers for their rooms.  Monarch butterflies dance in the sky and flit from flower to flower, happy and carefree.e25like

A meditation hut looks out over the Pacific. It’s hard not to be transported. This is the view from the window. meditation

The land here feels sacred. From the collective energy of the Esselen people and all those that came after to soak up the healing mineral waters, an energy resides that’s hard to miss. But this group of peoples was decimated by settlers, and that energy is tangible, too. The feeling of cycles is in the air here. People at crossroads, in huge life shifts. One man we talked to in the baths had been living on the property for 9 months (which he’d done before for 2 years some five years earlier), working in maintenance and taking classes in consciousness the rest of the time. There is a feeling of sacred transition, personal retreat, and evolution afloat. It feels like Esalen Island, physically and metaphorically.

new2Yet, everybody moves through this space differently. One thing Esalen teaches you so clearly is that each person carries with them a lens filter through which all reality is viewed. Each being’s interpretation is purely subjective, as they hold up the mirror to themselves through their reactions to others. Paying attention to what’s in the mirror is not always comfortable, sometimes even painful, but it’s the key to evolution. Not everyone is ready to do it, yet to ignore it is to stagnate. Choice Point 3: a) give up growth for the sake of what is familiar, even if that familiarity causes suffering, pain, or dysfunction, or b) drive into the fire even if it feels like you will get burned and it will be hard to breathe…emerge on the other side, stronger. Much stronger. I choose b.

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For me, the whole adventure was planned intuitively for lessons I needed to learn. To listen intuitively while there, I maintained a meditation practice daily despite the distractions of regulated workshop hours, meals, and social times. That was important to me so I could clearly hear my intuition and not everyone else’s stuff. We did yoga and chakra meditations. I journaled and drew in the forest, my feet plunged into the ice cold stream. We sat in the baths under an unbelievably extensive cover of stars listening to the waves crash against the cliffs.

e11When I returned home three spiritual allies, for whom I am so grateful, helped me see through the smoky emotions I had learned on this journey–and how I had set the whole thing up to learn them without even being conscious of it. (My Intuition is a master planner.) Choice Point 4: a) We can live on the surface of De Nile, or b) We can listen to spiritual teachers we trust to help us grow and evolve. I choose b.e2

One of the key lessons from this visit to Esalen: Trust the Universe. It’s got your back–always! On the third day, I felt my intuition strongly say, Go into the forest. Walk the paths to the baths. Experience the land. e17e20like

When we woke up, and we laid giggling in our cabin, I told Netters I knew clearly I was to trade the structure of the workshop day for the non-structure awaiting definition. She thought that sounded like a good idea, too. Having been on Tech-Disconnect (on my own intuition and to respect the limited bandwidth resource of Esalen Island), I whipped out my cell and took pictures. We found beautiful coves to sit in and just be, a luxury we don’t have often since my husband and I moved from LA where Netters still lives. We took selfies. We sat in the stream. I did readings for her in the forest near our Day 1 Despacho Ceremony. We sat in the hot springs for three hours watching the otters play in the surf (or was it seaweed? We’re still not sure.)  We meditated together in the Meditation Hut. We ate without having to navigate the crowds and rush off to the next thing. It was perfect. Choice Point 5: a) stick with the original mental plan at all costs, because it’s familiar and predictable or, b) listen to your heart intuition and follow it 100% of the time. So grateful to choose b!like3

Midway through the week, I started having withdrawals from contact with my husband, my children, and my mom. My husband and I both work at home and spend tons of time together, so no contact for 7 days was A LOT. Same with my youngest son. My mom and I talk daily, too, and not talking just feels weird. I was missing my peeps!

However, my intuition had called out the Tech-Disconnect and I wanted to honor it. So on Wednesday, in the middle of a withdrawal period, I was prompted to pen my husband a love letter. When was the last time I even thought about doing that? I couldn’t remember. Choice Point 6: a) second guess an intuitive prompt, b) follow your gut to PachaMama’s Magic Camp. I choose b. When my husband read the letter out of my journal, a gem fell out, and that will be a magic story for a future blog.e29

As I drove away from Esalen, the smoke had cleared from the fires. Emotionally, not so much. However, as I returned to the world I had held on sacred pause for the previous 7 days, I felt so happy to reconnect with my family and spiritual allies. My cell became active as I used it to pay for coffee in Carmel. Ahhh, the tasks technology allows us to do. Up popped 40 texts, 2,000 emails, 4 calls, 90 Facebook notifications (not to mention Twitter, Linked In, and all my friends on Word Streak thinking I’d driven off a cliff)…and a ringing phone as my husband saw the Starbucks app prompt up a tip and knew I was back on the grid. I was so excited to talk to him! I caught up with my peeps on my cell all the way from Carmel Valley Starbucks home. That’s seven hours of catch up.

I understood why my intuition put me through that period where I was meant to focus on that which was in front of me: friends from all different stages of my life, all in their own different different parts of the journey. Had I questioned it and not followed it I would have missed this valuable lesson: I appreciated so much how much each member of this close intimate team–as well as the “strangers” I talked to throughout the week– taught me about life.  Choice Point 7: a) status quo,  or b) Status Quo Buster! I choose b.

And so the elixir. Realizing love does not mean holding on to something simply for the sake of holding on just because you have been in that holding pattern. Love means honoring the frequency at which you vibrate and not making yourself small because someone else needs you to be small so they can be big. Love means standing in your power, but not being egotistically consumed by what the world sees as powerful, for the true Power is not about you at all. It never was. Instead, it is only found in your ability to get out of your own way…to open to the greater Universe that wants to express itself through you as you. It’s about Flow.

Choice Point 8: a) the love of power, b) the power of Love. Which do you choose? I choose b. Infinity.e14

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in awakening, bathing ritual, belief systems, connection, conscious living, friends, Inspiration, intuition, metaphysical, relationships, self-care, SoulTransformation, spiritual, subconscious, Synchronicity, United Advocates for Children & Families, yoga | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Gaining Perspective: A Slow Moving Train

trainWhen I was at Occidental College doing my Masters’ work for my CLAD (Cross-Cultural Language and Academic) Teaching Credential, I took a race and ethnicity class. Oxy was an extremely progressive institution unlike any I had experienced in my prior education. The R&E class was that times 100.

I was the only white student. That disturbed me. Why weren’t more white people interested in learning about different cultures and races? I soon discovered why. There were many difficult conversations in that class that always came back to white right and the suppression of other cultures throughout time by white people.

But not me. That’s not how I thought. I didn’t want to be the poster child for that. I understood the perspectives shared in the class. I wondered if they could see past the hurt and pain to understand mine. This was especially true of the professor who just seemed angry I was in her class. I tried to work out the unnamed issue in her office hours. I tried to participate in class. She just didn’t like me. Was it because I was white?

I still don’t know the answer to that question to this day, but I decided that the class was a great opportunity for me to understand new perspectives. From the teacher. From the students. From the raw, honest feedback. My goal was not to be liked or even understood. It was to understand where others were coming from. Their experiences, both good and bad.

We studied history like I hadn’t studied it before. We looked at the native perspective instead of the pilgrim perspective. We studied matriarchal cultures instead of the traditional patriarchal one I found myself living in each day. We pulled out the pain that people feel because of the race/ethnicity/gender they were born into and took a good look at what it all meant. Emotion soup.nativeplay

Tonight, that all came flashing back. At my son’s rehearsal for a play which retells history in Shasta County (and many places, really) from an indigenous viewpoint, those feelings filled the room with the first run through on the script.  The play tells the story we didn’t hear in grammar school. It tells the story from the perspective of the native. The play is called “Undamming History” and will play at the historical Cascade Theater on Saturday, October 22. It is a project put together by the Shasta Historical Society and includes indigenous tribal leaders from the area.

During one scene, it all came rushing back. The heated talks in R&E at Oxy. The crap way I felt after each class, not only because of my own white guilt, but because of the hurt and pain of so many others who had been treated a particular way because of the way they look. In this scene, a woman had to read lines about how the explorers cut the natives’ hair and force them to assimilate. Explorers said the long hair went against the their religion, their perspective of what was good and right. As she read the lines, her voice cracked…her pain tangible and audible. Just reading the lines brought up so many feelings. Though this is not a new idea, and one I have seen before, watching the emotion of someone who experienced such treatment hurt my heart.

I felt the pain bubble to the surface. The long hair symbolized spirituality the natives felt. They were told it was wrong. How confusing for the children in school, the children who were teased. My son plays a bully in this play. In real life, he is the child who defends anybody who is underrepresented. It was hard for me to watch those words come out. I know it’s acting, but it was still hard watching how kids treat other kids. When I was teaching, I started developing communication skills in my students on Day 1 so they wouldn’t interact like this. Still, they do. To see the truth of how people treat those who are different than them, and to realize this is still so true today, puzzles me.

Why is it so threatening to be around people who are different than we are? Why do we feel the need to convert them to our viewpoints, be they religious, political, or other? Why can’t we celebrate the beautiful aspects of varying cultures and ways of being in the world without feeling we need to make them line up with our own?

I think we can. It’s plays like this one in a conservative town that give me hope. It’s themes like “Women in Filmmaking” that ran through the local Fire Reel Film Festival last weekend I find progressive and promising. Sometimes it might feel like it’s a slow moving train, but I do fancy it’s moving.

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Resilience in the Face of Suicide and Trauma

liveI have had a powerful week of taking in stories of resilience for my new documentary project. The hottest pain point I can imagine in dealing with children’s mental health is losing a child so desperate to relieve the pain of mental illness they kill themselves.

Surviving that. How does one do it? I learned sometimes people don’t. There is a high correlation between people who lose children to suicide and then complete suicide themselves. I learned that it is more compassionate to say complete suicide instead of commit suicide, because “commit” implies a crime, as in “he committed a murder.” I learned that there are incredible people helping other people through the pain that surrounds suicide in powerful ways.

All this I was able to learn because people were willing to share their stories openly with me. I see these stories as anecdotes of inspiration and strength.  I’ve listened and marveled at the strength of the human spirit. Two women I spoke to had lost children to completed suicides. One of those children was just fourteen years old. The other child was 26 and left behind a 5 year old child. Out of those tragedies came this: a bond with each other that is tangible to an outsider. An understanding of the suffering like nobody on the outside could possibly get. A resilience to take these tragedies out into the wide open and transform that event into an inspirational strength to help others. What better gift?

One of the moms has invited others to walk with her towards an open conversation about children’s mental health. Her daughter had been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder when she was younger and had struggled with managing the illness. Transitional youth (18-24) in this country are tragically ignored in many ways, but especially in the area of mental health. Because of privacy rights that have taken a left turn, transitional youth with a brain illness like Bipolar Disorder are left with a brain misfiring, often telling them not to tell their parents. Suicide ideation is common. Their parents can not get information on their child because of the rights (but are certainly expected to pay for any outstanding bills the child incurs along the way.) Often unaware of the pain their child is in, they are unable to guide their child to treatment options. It’s not uncommon for that child to wind up homeless, addicted, in prison, or dead.  Listening to these stories reminded me as a culture we must do better.

I’m struck by the strength that comes from sharing these stories. It’s the thing that people point to as their support. God is often mentioned as key. One woman, whose story will be shown on 9/10 (this Saturday on Lifetime), was abducted as a teenager. She was held in captivity by a man and his wife who tortured her for seven years until she escaped. They kept her in a box. Colleen’s story, “Girl in a Box,” will be followed by a documentary on the Northern California events. Colleen openly shares her story to help others on their life path.

I talked to many people in my own circles last week that were having a hard week. It usually centers around too much to do and not enough time to do it or unexpected life changes. But when I meet people who have gone through experiences like surviving suicide and torture, it reminds me about what’s important. We are here to help each other. We are here to listen to others, even when we are sucked into our own dramas. We are here to take our traumas and transform them to good that can help other people.

We are here to remember why we are here.

 

 

 

Posted in belief systems, bipolar disorder, Inspiration, mental health, mental health and children, resilience | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Falling in Love

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“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”  Albert Camus

I love this time of year in Nor-Nor Cal. The 110 degree days slip away slowly, sheepishly sliding into the 90s. The oaks let go of their first fall leaves. The crisp leaves dance through the air before gathering in piles on the ground.  The liquid ambers tinge just slightly on the leaf edge. Reds, oranges, yellows dappled with green. The light changes in the sky. It’s a softer, gentler light that doesn’t demand 7:00 a.m. sunglasses. The geese fly so low overhead I hear the whir of their wings before they make any sound. I look up and notice the phenomenal V-collaboration. I feel I can reach up my hand and touch their soft, powerful wings–and fly.

One of my favorite things is to sit out back on the loungers with my husband Sunday mornings sipping coffee while our adolescent lab runs around peeing on plants and chewing sticks.  This morning we did that. I felt the fall moving in closer and closer. I heard the rooster in the background. I heard the train pulling through town even though it was miles away. Sound travels in the country. Sounds of birds talking amongst themselves, fallthe donkey braying in the distance, the hummingbird pulling nectar from nearby flowers and fluttering its wings so quickly we hear it 50 feet away. The cool morning air felt like a friend I hadn’t visited in way too long.

It’s in this moment I find my connection with the Creator of all things. This lounge chair is my pew. This canopy of oaks under the blue sky where the hawk glides around and around is my chapel. The seasons, especially fall, show the cycles of life so vividly. Such bright colors. It’s a time for such reflection. It’s a time to just sit and soak up the beauty that is this life. Not to rush anywhere or do anything. Just to celebrate “being.”

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All my babies were born in the fall. They, like the season itself, are my daily teachers and editors. For that, I am filled with deep appreciation and gratitude. My life is so full because of them and I have evolved with them more than I ever could dream of doing without them. They are the colors of my world. They are the sounds in the distance and in the fore. They are my roots.

They’ll tell me it’s not fall yet because the calendar doesn’t claim the date. But I know better. I know because the signs are all here. My heart is bursting open. I’m falling in love.

 

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Looking Through a New Lens

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I spent the first 18 years of my life in Shasta County before moving to Westwood to attend college at UCLA. My town of Cottonwood was small in numbers, but wide in space. Many houses came with spacious land and it was nearly impossible to rent. People owned their houses and were there to stay. Nothing new ever seemed to happen.

When I moved to Southern California, I stayed for 30 years. I loved the diversity and culture. Everything was always changing.  As a young person, renting was the norm as houses were too pricy to buy in the areas I wanted to live. People were in constant flux and I moved 28 times during those early years. When I married and we bought a house, we stayed there 15 years, cloistered away in a beach city gated community where there was less coming and going.  We needed to think about schools and stability of space. Finding a home base was key to surviving the swirl for our kids.

When we moved back to Northern California in 2008, I saw the area through new eyes. Physically, it looked mostly the same. Front Street was still lined with historic buildings that looked like they were about to fall over. The old barn on Gas Point, the town icon, was barely hanging on, tattered by decades of 110 degree summers and stormy winters. It was still hard to drive any place without passing an animal, often lazing near the side of the road. My favorite neighborhood watch alert was, “Hey. Anybody missing two horses? They’re in my yard.”

But at closer look, things had changed. There seemed to be a new appreciation for the arts. Schools had gone up to support the arts. There were art hops in various places through town. There were strong theater programs for kids outside of school. Everybody I talked to was either a writer, a painter, an actor, a performer, a poet–or wanted to be.  I wondered if it had been this way before and I just didn’t see it from my young perspective. After all, my mom was quite a painter when I was growing up. It never occurred to me that there were others out there.

But a weird thing happens when you have space around you filled with nature. When we moved to Cottonwood, my writing world opened up. I wrote a second novel and multiple shorter children’s books. I became more interested in painting and philosophy. I felt myself opening to the flow of the Creator creating through me. I could feel the flow more clearly. All art modalities were fair game.

Most recently, that flow has taken me to the world of the performing arts, an area I didn’t have much interest in 5 years ago. I’ve always loved to go to movies, and loved my early job working at the Gateway Cinema in Anderson. Still, I never felt a draw to make a film. But in staying open to the flow, and listening to the call of my intuition, I can say with certainty this is my next playground to creatively express what I believe wants to be created.

In my process of setting up a film company and entering pre-production on a documentary film, I have had the joy of discovering the Shasta County Arts Council and Performing Arts Society. On Friday night, I shadowed kind Mike Flanagan. I wasn’t even sure what we were filming until I showed up. It turned out to be a poetry reading with one of my past writing partners reading. I saw other writers there. Poems were read with passion covering diverse topics.

The Old City Hall, where the event took place, is a historic pleasure. Checkered tile floors and palatial curtains set the tone. Fifty years ago, drunk men were thrown in the black iron jail cells downstairs, one of which still remains as a storage unit. With no air, and 110 degree days, that was punishment at its best.

Setting up to film this event was full of the chaos of production. As people showed up early and milled about, frantic set up ensued. I learned from the film class I taught this seems to be the nature of the beast. We were shooting from two cameras and a gazillion wires weaving in and out of pathways and to a variety of laptops and screens. There’s so many things to consider. There wasn’t much time for tutorial, so I jumped in pushing buttons trying to figure out the camera. (Turns out, I have an uncanny skill for finding menus on the camera nobody has ever seen without leaving any clear breadcrumbs on how to get back.) Mike patiently signaled me (though I was not at all clear on the signals as this was my first day), so he would then need to come over and whisper what the signal meant.  He insisted I was helpful, but I’m pretty sure he was just being kind.

Standing for three hours in hypervigilance turns out to be a tough gig. Camera people have a tough job! That was the best lesson for me to learn. There were other takeaways as well. Things I’d learned in my beta film class, like turn the fans off, came up. What wasn’t covered was how you turn the fans off if they’re locked in plastic covers and you don’t have the keys? I learned that filming hazards are more a norm than an exception and how it’s important not to walk in front of your camera when it’s live. Yep. I did that.

As I reimagine my role as filmmaker, I realize it’s so much more collaborative than that of a writer. Writing can be collaborative to an extent as you move back and forth between editor (writing partner, writing group, your mother) incorporating changes.  However, it is not the simultaneous collaboration that making a film calls for. Not even close. That dynamic is more like a dance where all parties are moving together simultaneously. There are so many balls to juggle, boxes to check, personalities to play with all in a shared moment.film2

I looked through the Canon lens and felt I was looking at the place within myself where I was most comfortable. Writing poetry in the quiet of my own space. Maybe stepping out to read it to others. Then, returning to my own quiet space to write more. That is certainly my comfort zone.

But I have never been one to cling to my comfort zone too long, especially if I feel called to stretch. I just think it’s really interesting I had to return home to a place I felt I’d never grow in order to do it.

 

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Team Dream

dreamcircle2Do you ever have an experience that gives you so much hope and inspiration about what humanity could pull off if it only focused on what’s important? Three days ago I had just that experience.

Since I was very young, I’ve place high value on dreams and what they have to offer if you work with them. I had very clear, precognitive dreams where future scenarios would play out in my dreams before they happened in the daylight. I thought everybody did this. I quickly learned, by the way people would look at me when I said “I dreamed this,” that not only didn’t everybody do that, but they also look at you like you’re a freak if you say this.

In an effort to fit in, I stopped talking about dreams with most people. I quietly studied any books I could get my hands on about how dreams had played out through history. I learned that many, many cultures put high value on what happens in the dream state. I saw how others knew what I had come to know: the gift of dreaming is one of those treasure maps we’ve been given to not only prosper in our personal lives, but also thrive communally and globally.

The more you pay attention to them, the more they give you to pay attention to. I know this general universal law. What you appreciate, appreciates. I committed to paying attention. I started a dream journaling process. I keep one journal by my bed with a light and pen. I jot down my dreams, and then type them into my official dream journal during my morning routine. My dream journal now sits at 70,000 words and offers me a peek into my psyche, world events, the overall collective. It’s a fascinating glance.

My dreams seem to shift to new levels which I can tell by the landscapes. I never have recurring dreams. My theory is that because I pay attention to the story my dream is trying to tell, it can move on to new material without having to show reruns. I’ve learned my dream symbols which are more reliable than the dream dictionaries or other people’s ideas of my symbols. For example, I dream about being on campuses frequently. When I have a campus dream, I know that means I’m in a higher learning period spiritually and a series of that landscape will also be followed by a peaceful, snow landscape dream which means I have learned the spiritual lesson I needed to know.

Still, all this dream exploration was happening in the isolation of my space. The only person who I really shared occasional dreams with was my husband and he’s not really into dreams. Intuitively, I knew this material was meant to be shared. Three years ago, I set out to decipher what that looked like. I spoke out my intention in a philosophy class. One person slipped me a note and told me she was interested and had done some advanced work in the area. We started to meet. Another joined. In this small laboratory, my intuitions were confirmed. Dreams are meant to be shared and examined as a collective. They are a treasure map for possibility.

I continued to study, read, watch documentaries, attend a 4 day Dream Tending workshop at Pacifica in Southern California. I joined an online dream group and followed the World Dream Initiative, meant to show the collective flow of dreams across the world. Still, something was missing. In the online dream group, many of the dreamers were Pacifica students meeting live. I knew the live element was somehow key. Something about the indigenous influence of tribes pouring out of their villages each morning and sharing space needed to flow into the circle somehow.

Lingering in the back of my mind was that if I just kept paying attention to the dreams, and how they wanted to work with humans, a circle would come. I started laying the intention. I would stay open and wait until the timing was perfect. Three days ago, that time came.

I set a time and place to have the dream circle. I knew at least a few people were interested and that would be enough to start seeing the possibilities. We went through some very basic dream recording tips and programmed a dream for this circle with this prompt: Show me exactly what I need to know right now for my dream group, myself, and my world? 

As the nature of a dream circle is centered on confidentiality of that sacred circle, I won’t share specifics. Suffice it to say, twelve people showed up to this special, sacred space, and the connections were pure magic. The synchronicities throughout dreams confirmed what my intuition has always known: there are very different types of dreamers who bring unique gifts that are meant to be shared together for the benefit of the individual growth, the tribe and the world.

I think the reason it has taken over 50 years for me to find this circle is because the timing is now perfect. This is a group committed to expanding their consciousness (and that of others) in a way that feels clear of hidden agenda. In the unlikely venue of conservative Nor-Nor Cal, I couldn’t have predicted it.  It just goes to show–all in perfect time and geography is, so often, only a perceived barrier.

I’m grateful, inspired, and enthusiastic about sharing space and time with these amazing beings, their pure intentions, and their dreams.

 

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Standardized Tests as Birth Control?

act2Last week, my 17-year-0ld, Jordan, headed east to stay with my oldest son, Abe (28) and Kelly, my oldest son’s partner. Both Kelly and Abe are professors at University of Arizona. Both are highly capable, intelligent, and organized doctoral prodigies.

The task at hand for this reality show: help Jordan launch the Common App, the application many universities use for admittance. Also on their plate: begin the ACT Prep Course (live online) and AP Spanish summer work. They had 8 days to complete their mission. It was a tall order. The most challenging part for everybody, hands down, was starting the ACT course.

The reason we need ACT Prep is this. Times are not like they were when I took the SAT. My prep was walking into the room and sitting at the desk. Because I’m an overachiever, I brought FOUR No. 2 pencils. That got me into UCLA somehow. I don’t remember my scores, but I don’t think they were particularly impressive. Today, universities won’t even look at scores under a certain level. UCLA had the highest number of applications last year (206,000 applicants) battling for 6,000 positions. Despite top grades and well-rounded activities which show perseverance, low scores can block a student from the four year school they hope to attend.

Furthermore, we live in a small, rural area that doesn’t hold high expectations for students to go to a four year university. Because of that, the SAT/ACT gets little attention at the school or in the area. There are no good live prep classes. There are no “test taking skills” classes. This is a huge disadvantage to rural students and many get discouraged. They give up on school and college altogether. The most commonly taught strategy for college entrance exams is showing students how to avoid them by starting out at a junior college. The problem there is that many students fall into a black hole and never make it to the next step.

There are online “free” courses in some cases for standardized tests, but they aren’t user friendly and further frustrate many learners. After extensive research, and asking everybody I know, we finally landed a live online prep course that seemed good. Jordan would start the August sessions in Arizona and take the ACT in September.

Despite the task in front of him, and the future of his brother’s dreams in his hand, Abe managed to balance work and fun with precision. I remembered sitting down on Abe’s bedroom floor when he was in third grade, teaching him time management for 4 hours against his protests that this was not school work. (Side rant: in the education reform effort, can we please make this schoolwork and teach kids this life skill so they can be successful?) I felt so proud that Abe had learned his lessons so well over the years and was now able to help his brother learn this skill by modeling it. By the time Jordan came home, Abe handed over a detailed report of all that had been completed, along with an Excel spreadsheet of deadlines and dates. Computer folders were all set up for applications and scholarships. Jordan’s personal statement, which was so clearly all Jordan, had undergone several drafts. Just to reiterate: hands down, the hardest part of the week was the ACT prep.

After the arduous online weekend classes, homework was assigned. “ACT homework is hard!” was Abe’s text response. Luckily, Kelly had retained early math and was able to help act1navigate there. In the end, they decided prepping for standardized tests is exhausting. It’s not because Jordan doesn’t know the material because he does. The problem is figuring out what the standardized test maker is asking, and how said writer is construing the question. It’ not about intelligence, but rather about being able to get into the head of the question writer. The only place this skill is really relevant is on standardized tests, and one takes those probably less than five times in life. Is this clearinghouse really the best we can do?

When I was getting my Masters in Teaching the mantra was this: don’t teach to the test. That, they said, is very bad. Yet, when I was teaching second grade, and it was testing time, the school made a big deal about calling homes and telling the kids to eat breakfast (as if that’s not important the rest of the year.) They set the stress level up so high around standardized testing that 7 year olds would cry and throw up from parent/teacher pressure to perform. I did everything I could to lessen that pressure for the kids. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t. The experience throws the kids on the anxiety spectrum over the line. The whole swirl is counter to authentic learning.

After the tests are taken comes the next wave of dysfunction. If the student does poorly, she starts to think she’s dumb (and often so does her parents if they are not educated about the tests.) They lower expectations. In reality, the clearer measure of a student’s ability to succeed is so much wider in scope. It rests solidly in consistent classroom performance and ability to balance activities with schoolwork independently. Whether or not students get high standardized test scores should simply not be the gate that allows them to pass through to higher education.

On a school level, the administration used to use those scores to evaluate the teachers’ performances–a travesty. (I do hope this dinosaur has moved out, but somehow I doubt it.) Even people in the highest ranks of educational policy don’t seem to understand the problem with using these tests as accountability measures, probably because they don’t understand pinks and blues (so binary!) and how classrooms are set up.

The Ps & Bs process goes like this. At the end of each year, there is great discussion of how classes will be stacked the following year. A teacher’s strengths are looked at, as well as their weaknesses. If the teacher is more patient, they will get more special needs children. If the teacher is better with teaching advanced, outside-the-box thinking, they’ll get more “gifted” students. Everybody gets even boys and girls for the most part, and everybody gets a child with a reputation for being “challenging.”  This was, at least, how it worked at the elementary school I taught at, which was one of the top 100 schools in the US.

Come spring, when the kids are tested, their scores reflect the general demographics of the class, and that’s really the luck of the draw despite the best efforts on pink and blue day. Every good teacher I’ve ever met dreads testing. It’s stressful for everybody. Because of the high stakes put on tests results, I’ve even known teachers who have erased student scores to make them higher so that their class totals would look better. That’s how much pressure the teachers feel because of the system structure. That pressure is in direct ratio to great teachers leaving the profession. You can see under this model that high scores DO NOT reflect better teaching, but only a ridiculous system that culminates later on in undergraduate/graduate exams, and professional entry exams.

Which brings us back to college entrance exams. Between my husband and I, and my son and his partner, we have over ten undergrad/grad degrees. Still, the ACT is hard! I find my stomach clenching over complicated percentage questions. As a team, we might be able to address every section on the test, but even for a very educated adult, it’s hard. The very good prep instructor (an Ivy League Mechanical Engineer) also found himself stumped on a science problem he was helping students navigate through. The specifics, like calculating a small arc on a circle, or exploring all archaic uses of the semicolon, are confusingly irrelevant and feel a lot like hazing to me.

And what about the more global concern? What happens to the kids that would be great college students, but don’t have a support team in their home? What about kids whose parents speak another language and haven’t gone through this gatekeeper? Should they be eliminated because we can’t figure out any other way to assess our students’ readiness?

I kept trying to look for the positive aspects of standardized testing, and other than the business side for the testing people or the ease for the universities in the admissions process to deal with high application pools, I couldn’t find the sunny side. Then, with the help of my oldest son/teacher, I saw it. In the thick of the ACT Prep, Abe texted, “I have a new respect for you as a parent and have solidified my desire to never do it!”

Standardized exams as birth control! I knew they were good for something.

 

 

 

 

Posted in conscious living, education, facing your fears, parenting | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments