Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

Old, New, Newer and Older

September 2, 2018

I think I have the beginning of an understanding of the stereotype of older people, particularly older workers, as rigid and inflexible. Not saying the stereotype is valid, but that I am seeing in myself some qualities of resistance to change that could, if taken to an extreme, become a rigidity not conducive to continued employment.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is only one expression of a mindset that I recognize can be attributed to older people, older workers, including myself. “Been there, done that, don’t need to do it again to know it doesn’t work well” is another. As is the certitude that having explored a variety of ways to complete a task over years of  trial and error, and settled on the best alternative for myself, I am unlikely to welcome the suggestion that I shift to a different option.

This preference for patterned behavior shows in the sequence with which I complete member assessments for my work, and the place I like to keep the salt shaker by the stove in my kitchen. Not that I can’t do the work in a different order, or find the salt when I need it after my husband has left it where he last used it, but I know I am more efficient and sure of the outcome if many small bits of my daily life follow the consistent, established routine.

I don’t think that’s a preference unique to older people. Though I’ve lived amid accumulations of things in relatively small spaces most of my adult life, I’ve nonetheless kept an order to the piles and know exactly where to lay my hands on whatever I need.  And I periodically go through the stacks and discard or give away. Rather it seems to me that one of the benefits of growing older is having had the time and experience to understand the value in routine, consistency, and a personal sense of order and rightness to how things should be done.

Which isn’t to say that I refuse to change. My life has been mostly about change these past 6-7 years. New work, new marriage, new friendships, new style of cooking, new patterns everywhere I look.  And now a whole new database system being introduced at work that I have embraced to the point of volunteering for the work group implementing the transition and will be serving as one of the “go to” mentors for my coworkers when they have questions about how to function after “go live” in October.

I do see, however, that I am inclined to notice what the new system will not do as well as the old, or to identify likely points of friction for myself in adapting to the new process requirements . This attitude is in contrast to (mostly all much younger than I) management’s persistent, cheer-leading enthusiasm for how the new system will solve all the problems we have had with the old one. I do see advantages to the change – but I also see disadvantages, as well as the load of work for each of us getting our caseload records switched over.

One apparent benefit to the new system is the way it tracks mandatory contacts and schedules for the worker, so that deadlines are much less likely to be missed. For many of my coworkers this structure seems beneficial. Never having had a problem with keeping track of and organizing my workload, to me it felt like objectionable micromanagement until I understood the system well enough to know how to address the “to do” list in a way that gives me back my sense of being the one to control my workload.

The older-person me first perceived the objection. A younger-person me (as I usually experience myself) understood that I needed to learn enough about the new system (cooking style, living arrangements, income sources) to adapt its methods to my needs and also to adapt myself to its structure. Which is what reducing the stress of change is all about. Adaptation.

If living long has taught us anything at all, it must be that life is inevitably about change and adaptation. Failure to change and adapt is, essentially, death. Maybe not instantaneous, but certain.  Most interviews with people who have exceeded normal lifespan expectations include mention of continuing to engage with life interests and learning, continuing to seek new stimulation even if the level or extent of options is reduced by physical frailty.

The most productive workplaces, then – indeed the most productive communities, groups, social organizations – would seem to be those that have recognized the importance of balancing the energy and enthusiasm usually associated with younger people against the wisdom of experience offered by older participants. In simpler societies, even in our U.S. culture not so very long ago, that value was recognized and respected.

Is it just my jaundiced old lady view, or am I accurately seeing yet another exacerbation of polarization in U.S. society, and a deepening divide between young and old, each group believing for example the scare headlines about cost of, loss of, social programs and a resultant mistaken belief that here again we are faced with “us” against “them.”  

My still young mental self, the part of me that embraces change and declares itself ready to adapt as necessary, is seeking to find commonalities between generations, and encourage the valuable cross-pollination of ideas that benefit us all, just as it has been ready to learn the new work database system, simultaneously appreciating its benefits and questioning how we will manage its shortcomings.  My older self can be heard repeating the voice of the 70 something protester against the effort to impose a Muslim ban (and the broader reintroduction of blatant discrimination that many of us fought against in the 60’s and 70’s), “Didn’t think I’d have to be here protesting this yet again.”

Another adage, about those who do not learn from history being condemned to repeat it, comes to mind. Unfortunately, on a societal level, the unpleasant repetition also imposes its negative effects on those who have learned the lessons and done their best to prevent the country from falling back into old ways. Living long enough to see this cycle around and back again becomes both a blessing and a curse, an opportunity to teach but only if there is someone ready to listen and learn.

It has never been different. I am reminded, almost too frequently these days, of the translation of a tablet excavated from the ruins of a Greek village, in which a father lamented the laziness and reluctance to work of his teenage son.  The writer who shared that tidbit of information concluded, as I will here, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

I therefore do my best to detach, discern where balance can be found, place  my attention on those things that matter in the long run, and cultivate an attitude of patient acceptance, doing what I can where I see myself able to be effective, and letting the rest slide by.  

“I am here. I am alive. I am trying.That is enough.”

Changing Direction

April 7, 2018

With a frequency perhaps greater than experienced by some of my peers, I come to a point in whatever I am doing professionally that is not burnout, but close to boredom. When the challenge of mastering a line of work wears off, I find myself looking around for what to do next or differently. Over the years, that point has come in conjunction with other changes in my life circumstances, enabling me to shift from education research to paralegal, program manager in state government to college psychology teacher, home health manager to trainer to care coordinator with an MCO. Along the way i’ve had a private practice as a licensed mental health counselor, become a CPR instructor, written (but not published) three books, published 4 years of weekly columns in local newspapers and sold my jewelry designs at craft fairs. I’ve also plastered houses, laid flagstone floors, raised various animals for food, and at one point was making 40 loaves of bread a week by hand, for sale to an established list of customers.

The position I’ve held longest was as regional manager of a home health agency. I was simultaneously a case manager for one of the Medicaid programs the agency served. It still amazes me that I kept at it for more than 12 years, the second time around (I built the branch for 5 years, left for three, then accepted the urgent request to rejoin the agency.) That second twelve year period was a lesson in endurance, and set me a challenge of finding new ways to engage in order to keep my interest intact. It also exhausted my willingness to be “in charge” of anyone else’s performance.

My present employment meets virtually all my recognized requirements, enabling me to continue with full time work at an age where most of my peers have retired. I work from home, I am engaged one on one with clients, I am not subject to onerous supervision so long as I complete my work by the required deadlines, and I can set my own schedule within the broad guidelines of being “at work” the common Monday to Friday week. I’ve been able to participate in pilot studies of new technology and had my recommendations welcomed, for the new database support system being developed. I’ve been satisfied with the work for more than 4 years, and expect to continue with it for several more  – but I also recognize I’ve come to another of those “it’s getting to be same old same old” points.

I have read the many studies that stress the importance of pursuing a passion into one’s older years to support the retention of health and to encourage enjoyment of later life. From my early childhood, I have carried within me an awareness that I am fated to be long lived.  My relatively recent assumption of new family responsibilities gives added importance to being productive and engaged through those years.

Most of my choices of employment so far have been limited by my decision to respect requirements imposed by others in my life. When I would, for example, have sought work outside the U.S., I did not feel free to pick up and go. There are similar constraints now on my choices, though not anyone telling me I cannot do whatever it is I decide I want to pursue.

Instead, my challenge is to identify what might catch and keep my interest for a long enough period to see me through my remaining years. Several friends from whom I’ve solicited input have posed questions to help me.

a. “Is there something you’ve always wanted to do but the time wasn’t right?”

b. “What does your spiritual path tell you about how to move onward?”

c. “What floats your boat?”

I’ve also been gifted with observations from those who know me well.

d. “You come alive in the classroom, or any teaching setting.”

e. “For you I sense that the answer lies in one on one relationships.”

f. “You are uniquely skilled at channeling your spiritual awareness in ways that benefit others.”

My spiritual Teacher instructs that, to implement a new direction, I should not get too specific. Better to create a framework and then be patient and let the Master fill in the details. That is essentially how I landed in my present employment, after 18 months of searching and applying for whatever became available. So I am now seeking to identify the elements of the new framework. I already know they include at least the following:

  1. Something I can prepare for while still employed in my present job
  2. Something that in one way or another involves teaching
  3. Something that gives me the opportunity to travel, though not necessarily requiring that I live for an extended time elsewhere – I really do like living in northern New Mexico!
  4. Something that stretches my mind, requires me to learn a new skill, or significantly deepen my understanding of a topic I’ve studied
  5. Something that lies within my current physical capacities and can be continued if/as these slowly diminish with age

More than a hobby, but not such a new career as to require years of study to make the switch.

I’m mostly pleased that the question “what have you always wanted to do but not been able to?” doesn’t seem to have an answer. Pleased because I recognize that I have in fact done most of the things I really wanted to, slightly dismayed because I am not helped now with any nudges towards my next steps.

Whatever emerges as my eventual new passion, the process of seeking it has already brought benefits. Where I had been thinking that most of my choices have been constrained and limited by others, I now recognize that at the important points I have pushed through obstacles and gone for what I wanted. Just a few examples include: finding a way to continue horseback riding while living in the heart of Paris, making my way to New Mexico despite strong parental opposition, committing to relationships that have enabled my growth despite societal pressure to avoid them, and not letting lack of formal training in an area keep me from taking on work in that discipline.

Asked in a survey of alumni from my college what was the greatest benefit of my Swarthmore education, I answered immediately that it taught me how to learn anything I wished to. It taught me to think. It gave me the opportunity to experience accomplishment and to know that I have a good mind I can use to master any subject I wish to learn.

That mind will have its role implementing the details of whatever new direction my life takes. Mind will have to wait, however, until my heart, spirit, Soul perceives the direction the Master will prepare for me. And the ego-I must wait patiently for the frame outlined above to have its details filled in by a Soul much wiser than the most highly trained mind.

In the meantime, today was a sunny spring day and perfect for a trip to Santa Fe to do errands and to take a walk up Canyon Road. To everything its appointed time.

Baraka Bashad, may the Blessings Be.

Odd One Out

November 19, 2017

I’m vacillating between two topics, Michelle Obama’s recent concise advice to “focus on what you can control”, and a rather more controversial reflection on color discrimination across species. I sense there’s a linkage underlying the two subjects which may emerge as I write. We’ll see.

We have two mother goats of the Boer breed (white with brown and black markings around the head and neck) who were each impregnated by a handsome white billy and each produced twins. One set of a male and a female are shades of brown, the other of two males are opposites, one all white like his daddy, the other all black like none of the rest.

Knowing nothing more, if you were required to bet on which kid is the odd one out, how would you place your money?

Years ago when there was only one main prison facility in the state and I was teaching psychology in the New Mexico Penitentiary, an albino Black man in my classes wrote a paper about the unique discrimination of being an “oddity” within his culture. I’ve read that in some African cultures, albinos are considered to be evil, and are persecuted and driven out, if not killed shortly after birth. Albino individuals in Caucasian society are also at risk of suffering from humanity’s’ general intolerance for differences.

Have you now concluded that, as is the case, the pure white kid is the one who is pushed away from food, isolated and scorned, and the only one whom our dog actively harasses? Was the white one also your first bet?

I can discipline my dog to refrain from attacking and harming the white goat. I can do little about its isolation by the rest of the herd, beyond assuring that it gets enough food which, given the large pasture they all inhabit, is fairly well guaranteed.

By extension, does that mean I am right to focus my energies these days within my own world where I can have some influence, perhaps make small changes for the better without wasting energy on much of the larger political scene? I sign the petitions to those I think will listen, or who may be influenced by sheer numbers; I don’t bother with the ones I am certain will fall on deaf ears.

And I continue to wonder about the evident cross-species tendency to exclude, ostracize, put down and otherwise do harm to those perceived as “different”. Have we any hope, as thoughtful human beings, of altering on a large scale what appears to be a fundamental biological motivation? Is the current atmosphere of intolerance and defensive anger perceived in many countries around the world, simply a resurgence of basic human nature rather than a “swing to the right” or some other philosophical trend?

I have no answers. I do take comfort from following Mrs. Obama’s advice to “focus on what you can control”. Anything else is just a waste of energy.

The challenge, of course, is discerning what one can – and one one can never – succeed in controlling!20170727_092225

Driving into Awareness

April 6, 2014

I am teaching someone to drive – again – no, I am again teaching someone to drive. There, that’s better, more accurate.

The same process of correction, of attention to exact explanation is required of me as the driving teacher (not driving the student hard, but teaching the student the art of driving). And it is as much art as science. Getting the feel of the vehicle, of the wheel, of how the car wants to straighten itself out from a turn so that trying to do the straightening produces an over-correction. Learning to position oneself in the lane, noticing important warnings of the intentions of other drivers, processing what one sees and hears without needing the time to consciously think it all through. Driving, especially in traffic, requires quicker responses than conscious thought permits.

I am, again, teaching someone to drive, and valuing this opportunity to become conscious of what I do instinctively. Valuing, also, this occasion to notice not just what I do right, but what I’ve gotten a bit sloppy about, and don’t want to continue to do, now that I need to be a role model of safe, defensive driving.

My daily spiritual practice is essentially an exercise in shutting down thought, in order to become aware of the subtler levels of my being. Very close to what I must do to teach someone a skill at which I am so practiced that I conduct the activity beneath the level of awareness and thought. When I come out of my daily contemplation, I often bring a new insight with me, into consciousness, then do my best to put into words and actions what I’ve been gifted to perceive. Very much like the way in which I am opening to the subtle habits ingrained by so many years of driving, and attempting to give voice to them in order to instruct my student.

So teaching someone to drive is a spiritual exercise! Or at least it can be, if one chooses to make use of the experience for one’s own growth in understanding. And in patience. And in trust.

The vehicle being used is my ‘second’ car – the back-up GMC that serves as my guarantee of transport should my trusty and trusted and much loved VW Rabbit ever fail me. (It has not done so, as yet, in ten years and nearly 220,000 miles of mostly solitary driving). I’ve realized already that I would be far more tested were I to be giving the lessons in the Rabbit. Not just because it’s a stick shift whereas the GMC is automatic. I have virtually lived in the VW; it’s packed with all that’s necessary for me to survive through a snow storm, hunker down to wait out a dust storm, take advantage of an unexpected opportunity to camp out overnight, be appropriately dressed for sudden changes in weather, provide roadside first aid in case I come across an accident… you get the idea.

Resting at Home

Resting at Home

My Rabbit has become far more than reliable, reasonably inexpensive transportation. It’s home away from home, an important means of connecting me to the world, a key element of my ability to earn my living and, because Rabbits remain relatively uncommon on our roads, a distinguishing mark of my presence. Not so long ago, I needed to let a mechanic drive the Rabbit so he could feel in the steering what I sensed was a developing problem. Sitting in the passenger seat as we went around the block was one of the harder things I’ve done recently.

Sitting in the passenger seat of the GMC has not been difficult. I don’t have much history with the Envoy, and my student is both a quick learner and a careful driver. The challenge for both of us is that he grew up using public transportation, not riding in cars, so he still has to acquire the non-verbal, body sense of what driving a car is all about. It’s not at all the same as riding a motor cycle, which he has done.

I’m also familiar with riding cycles – not driving them, but happily sitting on the back, free to enjoy the wind in my hair and the scenery flashing past with an immediacy totally lacking when one is shut inside a car or truck. I used to get the same sense of connection with my surroundings when I rode my horse out through the gate of my property and into the extensive acres of my neighbor’s ranch. A brisk canter to the far fence shut down thought and opened up my inner world. Yet another form of spiritual exercise.

Perhaps I should suggest to my student that he do a short contemplation before his next turn behind the wheel? Most physical skills come more easily when one relaxes into them (think of learning to float in order to swim). Those same skills suffer when one over thinks them (tensing up in the water, and sinking). Riding behind on a motorcycle, one has to relax and let one’s body bend with the curves in concert with the driver. Up on a horse, one must become one with the rhythm of the horse’s gait. Behind the wheel of my Rabbit, I feel in tune with every nuance of the vehicle, I know that car as if it were alive.

How does one teach that sort of awareness?

Hearing one’s True Voice in contemplation and then living from one’s Divine Self are, like driving a car well, skills which cannot be mediated through the mind. These skills cannot, therefore, be taught. They must instead be caught by the student, who first observes them being modeled by a teacher and who then, by trial and error experience, learns to shut down the mind and respond from a wise and capable Soul.

Inner commune, connection, inspiration, followed by action – the sequence of a spiritual exercise – is also the sequence many artists describe as their process of creation. Learning dance choreography many years ago, I was told by Miss Widener to stop thinking about my composition and instead to just feel my way through it. Yesterday I asked my student if he could feel how to respond to the impact of wind on the Envoy’s steering. Today I am challenged to create, with words, a feeling of intuitive understanding in my readers.

Do I evoke an “aha, yes, I am aware of that part of me?”
Do you go there, learn, trust, respond, live from that core? Yes? Then I’m happy for you.

If not, or not yet, teach someone to drive – or ride a bicycle, redecorate a room, weave a rug, or work with wood. As your student learns a new skill, you’ll gain a new level of awareness, and enjoy a new way of Being.


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