I’m not here to teach you anything: Some thoughts on facilitating

I originally wrote this post in 2014 for the blog of tlanetwork.org, the website of the Transformative Language Arts Network. It seems appropriate to re-post as I am preparing a graduate course on Expressive Writing in the classroom for Castleton University’s Center for Schools. Although in this situation I will be technically a lecturer/teacher/professor rather than a facilitator and I will be imparting more information than I would in a workshop, I will still apply the methods I know best and which have proven to be helpful to participants.

~

Justus Sustermans - Portrait of Galileo Galilei, 1636

Justus Sustermans – Portrait of Galileo Galilei, 1636

“I am not here to teach you anything.”

Expressions of confusion flicker across the faces of those circled around me. Wasn’t the very reason they signed up for this workshop to learn something?

I continue: “I am here to show you how you can learn from yourself.”

Smiles break out and the workshop begins.

While this is not intended to be an op-ed on the benefits of teaching critical thinking, how I facilitate is how I believe children should be taught: Teach them to learn for themselves. And this is how I approach my workshops. I give guidance, I provide prompts, and then I sit back and witness my “students” learning from and for themselves (and from the words of others in the room) — not to impress me, the “teacher.”

How does this work with TLA? Galileo Galilei said, “You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself.” Transformative Language Arts, or any form of self-expression which facilitates healing change within a person, is, by its very nature, a way to tap into something within: a wisdom, a knowledge, a gnosis that we may not immediately know on a conscious level. It is only when we can know why we do the things we do or feel the way we do, that we can truly learn about ourselves. And when we know we can grow. I could talk until I was blue in the face about the benefits of writing, but until they try it themselves and see that it works, that they have the ability to discover their own truth, I have taught nothing.

While many people want to learn definitive tools, to come away from the class with a bulleted list of techniques or goals accomplished, it is the job of a facilitator to show them why it works. By all means, give them the list to take home (so they can continue self-teaching after the workshop), but it is only by doing it will they truly understand the how and why.

Yes, you may be the “expert” and you do have much information to impart. Indeed, I sometimes get so excited by everything factoid and bit of research I have learned that I want to share it all. But it doesn’t help be a talking head.

Jim Henson wrote: “[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.” If you are a facilitator, I would assume (hope!) you have done the work yourself. You know the ups and downs of writing on your own road to self-discovery and healing. This knowledge, this self-awareness will show more than you could ever tell.

Yes, give them the tools, the safe space, the opportunity, but then get out of the way. The best teachers instruct by asking questions. When you provide the opportunity for your “students” to ask themselves the deepest questions they may have ever faced, you are giving them a great gift: How to learn from themselves.

I simply decided to live

This the fifth in a series of poems from the “Write to Recover” group I facilitate. I put them together from phrases that resonate with me while participants read. I add nothing but punctuation and the occasional conjunction. This one is comprised of the words of five participants.

bricks

Sometimes the way is right in front of you.

Dancing fool that I am,

Breaking down a wall

To feel OK with myself;

Scraping away the negative words

I learn my own true vision.

~
I came from another planet named womb,

A learning person

With fear of being whole.

~
But fear can motivate,

And I simply decided to live!

~
Aware of a new life, I’ve been given time

Tick tock…

Constant contact with God,

No stop signs in sight.

I feel whole now, whole when connected.

~
Yes, I can:

Make my world bright and colorful;

Elaborate my need to be on this planet;

Remove the hate.

~
Paint my life in print —

My beautiful creation,

I will see it through.

Respect me in my uniqueness

Because now it is time to rest.


Stop striving. Start listening.

This is a follow-up to this post: On a mission (statement)
credit: Joanna Tebbs Young

credit: Joanna Tebbs Young

I’ve written of Serendipity and Synchronicity before. There have been many examples of it in my life, such as the time two women showed up to one of my workshops out of the blue. It “just happened” that these two women were from the very organization I had been trying to connect with the previous week but from whom I had, frustratingly, received no response. Turned out they had never received my email, but had picked up one of my brochures and felt my work was perfect for their organization.

These occurrences always seem to happen right after I have had an emotional break-down of epic proportions. Crying. Blubbering about giving up. Despairing. Wondering how I will ever make things work.

You see, I forget. Every. Single. Time: I can’t make things work. I get caught up in trying too hard, striving, driving to do and be more. Without even realizing it I do this. It’s an unconscious thing.

Instead, I have to remember to allow things to happen organically. I have to be open to possibilities. And above all, I must be authentic and truthful with myself.

So, here is the latest series of synchronous events.

First, I have been trying to find work in a particular industry for a while. Reason being: it seemed the only possibility for any real money. However, even as I was pursuing it my gut was saying to my brain, “Hey, up there! I’m not so sure about this!” But I kept pushing anyway.

One meeting that made me feel a little ill, then another. But still I put together proposals and hoped for the best.

Then, one day, during a writing exercise (as described here), I realized I had it all wrong. This wasn’t what I wanted to do. Instead I created a new mission statement.

As soon as I did that, I felt clearer.

And things began to happen.

1. The director of an art center asked me if I’d like to teach a summer workshop for teen girls. As my graduate research was focused on the loss of voice experienced by girls at adolescence and how expressive writing can help reclaim it, this is a perfect fit for me. I put together a proposal (one that didn’t prompt my stomach to yell at my brain).

2. During a conversation around this same time, someone pondered if my work might be a good fit for enrichment classes in independent schools, for which this person had quite a few connections. I thought “That sounds exciting. Maybe so…” and filed the idea away. Until…

3. While putting together the art center’s summer class proposal I was asking for some wording input from parents of teen girls. This prompted one mother to suggest I put in a proposal for an enrichment class at her daughter’s independent school. Because I already had a proposal in the works, I was able to tweak it and send it off immediately.

4. Because I now had a proposal specific to an enrichment class I could now contact the person who had suggested enrichment classes to me the previous weekend and say, “Hey, hook me up with your connections!” That person asked if I had a flier she could give out. Well…

5. I had that very day been designing one. As soon as I created my new mission statement a couple of weeks ago, I had decided I needed to put together a new flier. With this additional, potential audience in mind I re-worked it slightly and soon it will go to print.

6. Meanwhile, I discovered a conference, for which I registered, is coming to a neighboring town focused on mentoring young women, and I was just asked, thanks to a recommendation from a wellness director at one college, to run my intro to journaling workshop for students at another college.

Trust. It is a difficult, difficult thing to do, especially when the bills are piling up and walls seem more numerous than open doors. But I believe it is these walls and road blocks that signal you’re not on quite the right path, often it’s close to the right one, but if it’s slightly off, you will get the message. The Universe likes focused aim with the target being your authentic passion.

Eve Ensler said in one video (I apologize I’m not sure which one), and I paraphrase: Happiness is action… and giving away what you want the most.

I felt silenced as a young girl (and not so young) woman/person. I want to be heard. I want a voice. This is what I want to give to other people. Once I articulated what it was I wanted and needed and really heard myself say it then things began to click into place.

I have no idea where, if anywhere, any of these recent events will lead, but it feels like a step forward through an open door, instead of trying to smash through a wall.

Prompt: I’m trying too hard to… What I really want to do is…

W.O.R.D.S.: Feminine (or Mother’s calling)

The W.O.R.D.S. Project (Words Open Resonating Depths of the Sacred): A weekly alphabetical search for questions.*

klimt mother childFeeling something’s deeply wrong

Equality and equity are words they say, but

My body knows the wound of centuries,

Ingrained in the soul of every woman who has ever been called “bitch” or hysterical for

Nothing more than speaking her heart’s song or acting with her

Intuition, her gnosis, her body’s knowing.

No, this wound is deep and it gapes open at times, crying out for balm.

Express the rage. Create! Until we can all shout and cradle the swallowed words of our grandmothers.

~

Expressive writing — expressing the emotions, the body’s feelings, flowing from the unconscious — to my understanding, is a way to tap into the culturally suppressed side of our psyche, which can be symbolized by the “feminine,” that which is archetypically the nurturer, empowerer, and collaborator  in both females and males.

This type of writing, then, can be considered a form of self-mothering. It is a way to care for our inner child.

The following is an excerpt from my Masters’ thesis that explains this further:

I believe it is the suppressed “feminine” voice of the psyche, that which yearns for connection and affiliation with nature, others, and self, which has been held down by fear in order to keep hierarchy in place.

Releasing this “feminine” aspect through writing gives voice to the other half of our psyche and to our natural selves, our actualized self and helps bring us into balance.

Like a mother builds up her children, we can write to vanquish the fear, to build self-confidence—to empower ourselves—so we can empower others.

Through writing we can enter whole, balanced, meditative states that increase “flow” and feelings of connectedness.

When we write we are fostering our own psychic growth towards self-actualization which paradoxically connects us to ALL through understanding and compassion for our shared human-ness.

Prompt: I feel the feminine wound…

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*This project is an off-shoot of the work I did for my graduate degree where I used Words to help heal from my negative indoctrination from “The Word.” Words are powerful agents for transformation! (Thesis/Final Project: Calling Little Gypsy Home: Reclaiming Voice Through Expressive Writing and the Sacred Feminine; Memoir: Sing from the Womb: Leaving Fundamentalism in Search in Voice.)

W.O.R.D.S.: Divine (or why do the crickets sing)

The W.O.R.D.S. Project (Words Open Resonating Depths of the Sacred): A weekly alphabetical search for questions.*

Divinity humming in the trees and throbbing

In the mud;

Vibrating through earth’s veins and pulsing

In my blood.

No one, no thing is apart from deity,

Every life is a part of the whole entity.

Di/De= root meaning “apart” or “separate”/”off” or “from”
Div/Dei= root from deus, meaning “god” or “god-like”
Divine/Deity = “god,” “god-like” or to perceive by intuition (not sight)
In = root meaning “not”
Therefore… Individual = NOT divine, not god, apart from god or not being able to perceive through intuition.
Jung’s concept of Individuation = psychological integration, i.e. the bringing together of divided parts of ourselves, all our senses, memories, disassociated parts of self (due to trauma or cultural training), and our conscious, unconscious, and higher and collective conscious.

Without going into Jungian psychology (that’s a rabbit hole I’m not fully capable of scaling), I’m going to briefly share my understanding of divinity, which I am still questioning and tweaking as I go along.

The very language we speak reflects the separateness of “god-ness.” But our language originated in cultures that also separated mind from body, men from women, the mortals from immortals, and humans from nature.

But this concept of Otherness has not always been in the human consciousness.

At one time, Earth and Nature was the only consciousness. Her rhythms, her vibrations, and her energy in the form of the seasons, the life-death cycles, the very workings of our body and the bodies of every creature and oxygen-breathing form was what brought the All together as one. The idea of “apart” did not exist.The All was a Whole of which All were parts.

Earth hasn’t changed, only our story of how it works has. Let’s change that story.

Like an orchestra playing a symphony, each instrument produces its own vibration, which when played together create a perfectly cohesive sound: one tune as a sum of its parts.

It has been found that every single thing on this planet (nay, in the universe) emits its own vibration (and we can entrain to the rhythm of others, both human and otherwise). This is its inDIVidual energy.

But all those energetic vibrations pulsing together make up the DIVine – the “god-experience” which we sometimes can tap into. You know, those “mountain-top” moments of transcending Self, when we suddenly know that we are not alone and that all is one.

All world religions acknowledge that one must transcend to know/experience “god.” It is no coincidence that drumming, chanting, singing, intoning, dancing, and other rhythmic/vibrational activities have been used as ways to access the sacred, i.e. to integrate that which has been apart from us.

To be inDIVidualized in the process of inDIViduation is to bring together in harmony all the parts of our Self that have caused us personal dissonance. And once we are in tune (intuition?) with our whole self, we can get in tune with the All: transcend ego and connect with a higher consciousness.

The Divine/Deity is the energy/life-force with which we all vibrate and sing, like a symphony of crickets.

Cricket Symphony

Prompt: I acknowledge divinity in myself…

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*This project is an off-shoot of the work I did for my graduate degree where I used Words to help heal from my negative indoctrination from “The Word.” Words are powerful agents for transformation! (Thesis/Final Project: Calling Little Gypsy Home: Reclaiming Voice Through Expressive Writing and the Sacred Feminine; Memoir: Sing from the Womb: Leaving Fundamentalism in Search in Voice.)

The W.O.R.D.S. Project: Calling (Or, how do I know my bliss?)

The W.O.R.D.S. Project (Words Open Resonating Depths of the Sacred): A weekly alphabetical search for questions.*

Can you hear the calling of your soul?

And are you really listening?

Listen, listen with your heart,

Listen with your breathing

In, and your breathing out.

Notice how your body feels when

Guiding words vibrate within.

“It was his calling to be a doctor.” “Midwifery is my calling.” “I was called to be a writer.”

Our calling. What does this really mean? And who’s calling?

Some would say it is God who is calling us to our destined path. Well, maybe so – if you believe God is happy to let you do whatever it is that sets your soul free and your spirit soaring. Unfortunately, some believe that those things that make a person happy and fulfilled are contrary to God’s will and so they stunt their own potential in pursuit of unclear message of what it is to be acceptable to God.

That’s not my idea of a divine, higher source of wisdom. For me, divinity IS the journey towards, the search for,  as well as that itself which brings us FLOW (when we lose time doing something we love and have a talent for – our gift). It is the quest for, and the experiences of, transcending the monkey-mind of ego; that place where we are challenged, yet loving it (even during the difficult spots).

We know what these experiences are, what activities can bring us to that place, but we don’t always know it. Contradiction? Not really. Deep, deep inside, in that place that resonates when we hear and recognize some innate truth — when we catch our breath, or our eyes suddenly smart with tears — that is the place of true, gnosis: Knowing

But, as humans in a head-mind “body,” we’re not very good at accessing that spot on a regular basis. It’s deep down there in the body. In our cells, not our thinking mind. We have to listen very carefully to connect to that place. And many times we’re doing everything except that which resonates, that which causes us to flow  beyond, below, and above our critical, fearful, rational ego that tells us we SHOULD be doing this, that, and anything else that will make us respectful, scripted members of society – perfectly.

But that place is calling. That place which knows what your Purpose — our Bliss — here on earth is calling out. And if you listen carefully, very carefully — and it might take some practice, a lot of “walking” around down there — you will hear your Higher Wisdom speaking to you, reminding you what you probably knew intuitively as a child: Your Calling.

So, who’s calling? You. Divine You.

I write this as a reminder to myself because my “calling” has become a little hoarse lately. I thought I knew — and I know I’m on the right path — but the exact destination (or journey, because life is a journey, not a destination) seems to have shifted. But that’s how this thing works: Listen, take a step, listen again, take another, sometimes in the opposite direction than you thought. And that is exactly perfect. Whatever step you take it is enough and right for today for tomorrow you can take another.

~~~

*This project is an off-shoot of the work I did for my graduate degree where I used Words to help heal from my negative indoctrination from “The Word.” Words are powerful agents for transformation! (Thesis/Final Project: Calling Little Gypsy Home: Reclaiming Voice Through Expressive Writing and the Sacred Feminine; Memoir: Sing from the Womb: Leaving Fundamentalism in Search in Voice.)

W.O.R.D.S.: Belief (or What is the definition of love?)

The W.O.R.D.S. Project (Words Open Resonating Depths of the Sacred): A weekly alphabetical search for questions.*

Belief in a life lived is all I need, because

Every day is a leap of faith.

Living in unity with the All,

Invites me to believe in Trust.

Envisioning the path on which I walk

Forwards my Wholy Self.

Am I a Believer? Yes. I believe in lots of things.

The smell of freshly cut grass in the summer. My children’s downy-soft earlobes. The full moon rising majestically over the Vermont mountains. The melancholy crooning of the mourning doves. The taste of dark, rich chocolate melting on my tongue.

I also believe in writing with groups of supportive, heart-honest people.

I believe in making decisions based on compassion (including for yourself), not rules. And acting from a place of confidence and happiness and love, not reacting from a place of fear.

I believe in equity, not equality. In cooperation and collaboration, not competition and conquering; power-with, not -over. In giving a hand-back to give a hand-up.

I believe in a Universe that is unfathomable, a mystery. A Universe – within and without – that yearns, and endlessly realigns, for balance and wholeness. A Universe that is a web of All That Is: all connected and all valuable to the Whole.  believe when one part is weakened, so is the All.

I believe this is a great and simple definition of love: “Wishing for the happiness of the Beloved.” (Buddhist). And God is Love. Lotus is Flower. Love is God. Flower is Lotus. Love – wishing for others’ happiness – is the definition of divinity.

Yes, I am a Believer: In the divine in myself that is the divine in you that is the divine in all that is the Divine.

But that doesn’t mean I completely understand or know all the answers… and that’s okay.

Prompt: “I believe…”

~~~

*This project is an off-shoot of the work I did for my graduate degree where I used Words to help heal from my negative indoctrination from “The Word.” Words are powerful agents for transformation! (Thesis/Final Project: Calling Little Gypsy Home: Reclaiming Voice Through Expressive Writing and the Sacred Feminine; Memoir: Sing from the Womb: Leaving Fundamentalism in Search in Voice.)