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Author: susantara

Everyday Heroes

Everyday Heroes

Sometimes our light goes out, but it is blown again into flame by an encounter with another human being.  Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light.  -Albert Schweitzer 

Every morning, I take a few moments to give thanks for various blessings in my life, set an intention, and invite into my day enough guidance, support, mindfulness, and skill to manage my classroom and other interactions effectively. This morning when I woke up, my heart was filled with gratitude for the ways in which such guidance and support have manifested, and I feel compelled to write about a few people who make a positive difference in my life.

This school year has been exceedingly challenging for me thus far due to a number of factors, including: school reform mandates, challenging behaviors, increased class size, and limited human resources. I find solace in knowing I am not alone. Public school teachers all over the country – licensed, highly educated, experienced, committed, caring professionals – are feeling overwhelmed and disempowered by a system that is being driven by statisticians and politicians at the state and federal levels who in general appear to understand neither child development nor the realities of the classroom. That being the case, I want to acknowledge two angels in my professional life who provide me with valuable guidance and support through the storm. 

The first is Sally Haughey of the Fairy Dust Teaching blog. I knew the instant I visited Sally’s newborn, Waldorf-inspired blog nearly two years ago that she was a kindred spirit. When she began offering professional development courses online via her blog, I signed up for every one of them, hungry for the wisdom she offers so generously with regard to “soulful teaching.” She has been holding my hand all the way from Oklahoma for more than a year now and enriching my life both in and out of the classroom. I am grateful for her vision, passion, and inspiration and for the technology that makes such sharing possible.

Another small miracle in my teacher life is a community volunteer who is helping in my classroom every morning out of her sheer love for children. Peggy does not have any children in our district but is a retired high school teacher from another district who lives in the neighborhood. I didn’t know her until a connection was established via my administrators. Unless you are a teacher, you probably have no idea how much of a difference volunteers can make in the life of a classroom, especially now that the whole game has changed. If there is any way to help a school or teacher in your community, please consider doing so. It is becoming clear to me that some of the finest teachers are among those most seriously considering jumping ship, and you might be responsible for keeping one in the classroom.

Several years ago when I was in the midst of a graduate program in education, I encountered some obstacles that nearly caused me to abandon my dream of becoming a teacher. On my birthday, I had a powerful dream that has stayed with me all these years and filled me with confidence and optimism. In the dream, I was traveling on a road surrounded by water, and it was raining so hard that the road up ahead in the distance was flooded. I didn’t know how I’d ever get back to my car. When I finally reached the flooded area, I noticed there were several flotation devices off to the side, and I used one to get across. The point was that I couldn’t see these objects from the distance; they appeared when I was truly in need of them. The dream convinced me that there would be help available when I need it – help I would not be able to foresee. When circumstances seemed bleak, the memory of that dream helped me to push through.

The two women mentioned above are examples of the kind of help that becomes available in times of need. I never could have imagined or anticipated the gifts they would give me! They appeared all of a sudden as if out of nowhere.

Finally, I want to mention two other people whom I consider everyday angels and whose positive energy is infectious. The first is a man named Lorenzo who works on a road crew at a construction site I drive through every day. He is so friendly and animated and looks like he is having the best time managing traffic. Talk about positive vibes! It always makes me smile and feel good to see him. He’ll exclaim (even through closed windows), “What a beautiful smile! So great to see it!” when I drive by and wave back at him. He is like a performer interacting symbiotically with an audience, fueled by the energy that returns to him.

Today during a staff meeting, the presenter happened to mention Lorenzo and that he’d given him a gift card. Then we discovered that other staff members also have given him gifts or stopped to thank him for his incredible, uplifting energy. I considered taking an alternate route around the construction on my way to work in the morning but decided I’d rather leave a few minutes early and wait in traffic in order to experience Lorenzo’s extraordinary energy! When I mentioned his exuberance on Facebook, several people commented that his happiness fills them with happiness and excitement and that they go out of their way to see him. What a gift he bestows upon our little corner of the world! I wonder how far it ripples as each of us, uplifted by his cheerfulness, goes about our day.

No doubt the finger pointing at the left edge of this photo is attached to a smiling face!
Spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, explained that the first step toward finding more satisfying work is to change how you do what you’re already doing by bringing full presence to it. You radiate positive energy, and then perhaps somebody will notice how present you are and feel drawn to that. Then perhaps you will make a connection that leads to a new opportunity. Or perhaps the act of being present will breathe new life into the work you already do. I think of this when I drive through the construction site because that is the kind of energy Lorenzo radiates.

Addendum: Lorenzo’s smiles and greetings have created such a buzz and touched the hearts of so many people in our community that a couple articles have been written about him, and he recently was given the key to the city and made an honorary citizen “because of the unbridled joy he gives to all those who pass by him.” What an extraordinary example of the difference one person can make  through the power of a smile and simply being kind and loving to everyone he sees! 

And then there’s Bill, the crossing guard/custodian at our school – an older man who has got to be one of the sweetest, gentlest souls on this planet. Every morning, he greets me by name with a smile and a few words about the weather. I look forward to his daily greeting. On special holidays, Bill gives all the children candy canes or other small treats just to see their smiles. Truth is, he reminds me so much of my deceased grandmother, who also loved children and worked at a school. Last Christmas, I gave Bill a card that acknowledged how much his morning greeting means to me. I knew that if I didn’t communicate this to him, I would regret it someday.

Peace Pilgrim said, “Just as there are no little people or unimportant lives, there is no insignificant work.” By the very nature of the energy we put forth in the world, each of us has an effect on those with whom we come in contact, however briefly. Never underestimate the power of a smile or kind word to light up someone’s day. May we be a channel of blessings to others through the energy we emit throughout the course of our daily lives, and also be receptive to blessings that flow to us through the simple, caring actions of others!

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

The Story of Patrick Cottonwood

The Story of Patrick Cottonwood

This year, I have spent much time observing the Eastern Cottonwood trees on the riverside and have fallen in love with them. They have amazing energy and a fascinating life cycle, and I want to share their story with you. Recently, I learned that cottonwood trees are sacred to the Lakota people and are central to the Lakota Sundance ceremonies. I experience cottonwood energy as quite powerful and therefore was not at all surprised to learn of the cottonwood’s significance to the Lakota.

Spring came early this year, and I was able to start kayaking in March, which was unprecedented. I took a lot of photos of trees along the shore, to share images of tree life cycles with my students on our SMART Board. Actually, I was quite blown away by noticing that leaves in spring begin with colors quite similar to the colors of autumn. (How can it be that it took nearly half a century for me to notice or remember this?) I photographed maple, oak, and willow trees and a mystery tree that took a while to identify. The mystery tree turned out to be an Eastern Cottonwood.

First came the buds.

The buds continued to grow

 

…developing more scales.

 

When I showed my kindergartners the photo below, they loved the “starfish” and began calling it the “Patrick tree,” after a starfish character in the SpongeBob cartoon. After seeing this picture, they made a habit of asking if I had more pictures of the Patrick tree. Naming the tree was a very important development, which came entirely from the children. Once the tree had a name, it seemed to come alive and become interesting to them. Even I began to think of Patrick as a personality and wanted to learn more about him.

 

I still didn’t know what kind of tree Patrick was but continued to photograph his changes. Next, the catkins developed –  drooping strands of tiny flowers.

 

 

 
 
 
Eventually, tiny leaves came out and began to unroll. 
 
 
 
The leaves continued to grow, appearing shiny and waxy at first.
 

 

 

At this point, I had become downright intrigued with the “Patrick” tree, did some research, and was able to identify him as a cottonwood. The next day, I went to school, excited to tell the children that I learned Patrick’s last name. He has been “Patrick Cottonwood” ever since, and I just love that name!

Patrick Cottonwood’s leaves continued to grow in size and deepen in color, losing their waxy sheen.

 

I have read in multiple sources that one of the reasons why the cottonwood tree is considered sacred is because its leaves provided a pattern for the tipi. According to The Cottonwood Tree: An American Champion by Kathleen Cain, Lakota (Sioux) holy man, Black Elk, explained that children began making little play houses from cottonwood leaves, which inspired the elders to construct tipis. In addition, if an upper branch of a cottonwood tree is cut, the cross-section reveals a five-pointed star (which seems to explain the five-pointed starfish pattern of the buds).

 

I read that cottonwood trees are either male or female, and that the name “cottonwood” derives from the appearance of the female cottonwood tree in fruit stage. I was eager to see which cottonwood trees would go through this stage in late spring. Patrick didn’t, which meant he was, indeed, male. But here is a photo of a tree across the river from Patrick producing green fruits that contain cottony seed clusters quite similar to milkweed. The children named this tree “Fluffy.”

 

I explained to the children that Fluffy was Patrick’s girlfriend, and he sent gifts (pollen) to her through the wind, and then she would reciprocate by becoming cottony and releasing cottony seed fairy babies into the air when the little fruits opened. Patrick and Fluffy love to give each other gifts!

 
 
On windy days in late spring, I enjoyed stopping to float near the cottonwoods and watch the seed fairies fly into the wind. (Fortunately, I seem to have outgrown my pollen allergy.)
 
 

Here (below) is Patrick, living peacefully on the riverside. Cottonwoods are similar to aspens in that their leaves quiver and rustle in the wind. When I approach Patrick Cottonwood by kayak, he is an endearing sight because it looks like his heart-shaped leaves are waving hello and beckoning me to pay him a visit – which I do. I rest for a while beneath his canopy of leaves. This is one of my peaceful places where I bring my questions and often find answers. Patrick teaches me a great deal about patience.

 

Patrick looks pretty much the same throughout the summer.

 

But now, on the first day of autumn, his leaves have begun to turn gold, much like human hair turns gray with age and wisdom.

 
 
Soon he will be completely golden and then will release his leaves throughout October until a late October breeze comes along and leaves him bare. And then he will take a long nap. When he awakens, the fascinating process will begin again – one big circle that includes a time for rest. As I watched what seemed like millions of cottonwood seeds floating on the river back in late spring, I wondered where the new generation of cottonwoods would make their home. Only time will tell.
 
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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Monarch Magic

Monarch Magic

When we walk to the edge of all the light we have and take that step into the darkness of the unknown we must believe that one of two things will happen: There will be something solid for us to stand on or we will be taught to fly.   Patric Overton

Ever since I began teaching kindergarten, my husband and I have made a tradition of searching milkweed plants for monarch caterpillars over Labor Day weekend, right before the school year starts. The goal is to collect a few caterpillars so my students can observe the dramatic and colorful  transformation from caterpillar to butterfly; however, it is an activity we truly enjoy doing together each year. My husband has fond memories of his mother packing him a picnic lunch before he headed out to look for monarch caterpillars as a child, and he cherishes the opportunity to continue this tradition with me. Observing the monarch life cycle is a magical way to begin kindergarten and a powerful reminder of the potential for transformation and transcendence. There are so many metaphors to be found in the monarch life cycle, and it is interesting to notice which ones resonate most strongly each year.

Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed leaves, and when the caterpillars hatch they begin eating the leaves, which is their entire diet. During August, we note the locations of the most promising milkweed patches. Some years, despite a great deal of effort, we come up empty handed. Last year was such a year. We didn’t find any monarch caterpillars but returned home with a great story. After combing all of the known milkweed patches, we expanded our search along the country roads near our home and noticed an impressive field of milkweed across the street from a farmhouse. Feeling both desperate and adventurous, we decided to knock on the door and ask permission to look for monarch caterpillars in the field. The old man who came to the door obliged our request; however, the grass was so tall that we gave up soon after beginning. On our way back to the car, the man came back outside to ask us if we had any luck, and we ended up having a lovely heart-to-heart conversation with him about life in this day and age. I wish we could have filmed him talking. He was a retired dairy farmer and spoke about how much better farming is in Canada because farmers get paid better and can afford to maintain their property and equipment, which is not the case here. He really opened up to us and talked about his perception that too much damage has been done to this country by greed, and said he is not sure we can fix it at this point. It was such a joy to interact with this kindhearted man and to hear an old farmer share his wisdom. A couple times during the conversation, I actually found myself choking back tears because I felt my grandmother’s spirit coming through him quite powerfully. (Her urn is decorated with a pastoral farm scene, paying tribute to her Vermont roots and her love of Vermont farm life, which was an important chapter of her life.) Without ever mentioning this to my husband, as we were driving home he remarked that he felt my grandmother’s presence during that conversation. That is one caterpillar mission I always will remember.

This year, however, we saw several monarch caterpillars and butterflies the week prior to Labor Day and knew we would be successful in fulfilling our goal of collecting caterpillars.

Sure enough, when it was time, we ended up collecting seven caterpillars. We begin by looking for tender, green milkweed leaves that have some holes eaten through them. We also look for droppings. Often, the caterpillars munch on the underside of milkweed leaves and thus are cleverly hidden, so we need to look for clues suggesting their presence. We squat down low to the ground to see the underside of the leaves.

This year, we found three large, plump caterpillars that looked like they were nearly ready to turn into chrysalises and were likely to do so before school started. We also collected four very small caterpillars so the children would be able to observe the active larva (caterpillar) stage.

We put the caterpillars and some milkweed into a butterfly tent with mesh sides and a transparent top that zips open. The very hungry caterpillars munch their way through leaves until they have had their fill and somehow know it is time to enter the next stage of their life cycle. I am amazed and inspired by this part of the process and how the caterpillars know when it is time to change. I wonder how often the human capacity to think suppresses an inner knowing that it is time for us to change. How often do we convince ourselves to resist doing something different that would result in living a more authentic life because we are so used to a particular way of being – and it feels too risky to do otherwise?

Each in his or her own time, the caterpillars climb up the walls of the tent to the top, and eventually begin making a silk button from which to hang. The caterpillar hangs in a “J” shape for a large portion of a day before turning into an emerald-jade green chrysalis by molting its skin. The skin, which has become too tight, begins to split around the bend of the “J,” and the caterpillar wraps itself into a chrysalis. It wiggles and jiggles its way into the chrysalis stage.

This year, all of my caterpillars managed to turn into chrysalises when I wasn’t looking. The link below will bring you to a wonderful, real time video of a caterpillar turning into a chrysalis. My students have asked to watch it over and over again:

Monarch Metamorphosis: Caterpillar to Chrysalis in Real Time

The monarch chrysalis is an elegant sight – an emerald green case embellished with numerous, patterned golden dots, like a jeweled crown.

 

 

For about ten days, the green chrysalises hang, quiet and still. The children check the butterfly tent every day when they enter the classroom to see if a butterfly has appeared. Throughout the week, the chrysalis fades gradually in color until it becomes transparent, like a window. Although this is the time when the least activity appears to be taking place, it is a powerful time of metamorphosis. It reminds me of the human potential for great transformation to take place during periods of stillness.

In time, the chrysalis splits open, and the butterfly emerges. This was just beginning to happen when I entered my classroom this morning, and I grabbed my camera quickly!

The butterfly lowers itself out of the pupal case, extends its legs, and clings to the pupal case.

The abdomen is swollen with fluid that needs to be pumped into the tiny wings to help them expand.

 

Eventually, the wing tips will fill with fluid.

And then the butterfly will wait for its wings to stiffen and dry.

After several hours, the adult butterfly will be ready to fly. The monarch butterflies born in our area at this time of year will migrate to Florida, Eastern Texas, or Mexico and gather on trees that are literally covered with monarch butterflies. It is amazing to think that such small, delicate wings will carry them thousands of miles on a rigorous journey and that each butterfly somehow is able to find his or her way!

 

When it is time to release a butterfly from our butterfly tent, I gather the children on the playground outside our classroom and let the butterfly perch on their fingers if it is not in too much of a hurry to try out its wings for the first time. The expressions of wonder and joy on the children’s faces are priceless, as is the gentleness with which they pass the butterfly along to the next classmate and the sincerity and hope with which they wave and exclaim, “Fly, butterfly, fly!” This is an authentic learning experience that leaves an impression on the soul that no assessment tool could ever measure.

It is a truly magical way to begin the year, and I continue to be inspired and fascinated by the process every year.

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Angel Clouds and Synchronicity

Angel Clouds and Synchronicity

A couple days ago, I came across a picture of an angel-shaped cloud above a prayer vigil taking place in Aurora, Colorado following the Dark Knight massacre:
 
 
This reminded me of an angelic cloud formation I noticed in the sky two months ago.
 
 
That evening, I was floating on the river around sunset thinking about a challenging personal situation and feeling good about how I was able to be a vehicle of love. The sky was very beautiful, and I felt an incredible sense of peace.
 
A week earlier, I had a vivid dream that began with the most beautiful sky I had ever seen, with very tiny, angel-shaped clouds moving in a circle. The sky above the river that evening reminded me of the sky in my dream, except for the tiny angel clouds. Shortly after making that association, I noticed a white mist moving rapidly through the other clouds, and then the angelic cloud formation appeared large in the sky in front of me.
 
 
My jaw dropped open and must have stayed that way for a couple minutes. I was in awe, gazing at this angel cloud in all its glory. I had never experienced anything like it before. It was numinous.
 
When I came back inside the house, I felt compelled to take out my 18-year-old deck of Universal Cards. This is a set of 88 cards, all of which contain a word except for five cards that contain the image of an angel. Wouldn’t you know, the card I drew was one of the angel cards?
 
 
 
As if that weren’t enough, while I was staring at the card, I heard the sound coming from my computer that lets me know I received an e-mail. The subject line was “Meet the 6 Bras Our Angels Can’t Live Without.”
 
Apparently the universe has a sense of humor.
 
The next day, I dropped my son off at his friend’s house, and on the way home I was thinking about the angel cloud. Then I turned on the radio in the middle of Pink Floyd’s song, “Learn to Fly,” which I’ve probably heard only once or twice in the past 20 years. The line sung within seconds was, “Can’t keep my eyes from the circling skies…” (which reminded me of the dream of the tiny angel clouds circling).
 
I laughed the rest of the way home.
 
I love synchronicity. When a series of seemingly related events like this occurs, it feels like I am following a trail of breadcrumbs – not knowing where it is leading but feeling certain that I am on the right path. I write about it so I can remember – because in time the details fade away.
 
Just had to share this story and my angel cloud picture with you since it’s been on my mind the past couple days.
 
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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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