We are walking in the forest. It is cold and softly raining, but we are well dressed for the weather and the dense canopy above reduces that gentle rain to a fine mist. I am feeling happy and carefree, I want to skip and jump. You seem contemplative, quiet. After a few minutes we settle together into a calm and companionable silence.
The path ahead diverts around the buttress roots of one ancient tree. We stop at this giant, and I step over the buttress and lean in, pressing my palms against the damp bark. The bark is rough to touch. Close up I can see the rain seeping down the channels in the rough bark, to be delivered gently to the soil and the roots below. Standing here, I imagine those roots reaching down and down into the earth. The roots hold the tree to the earth, and in the process hold the soil to the hillside. The roots of this tree and the forest around it support the tree, support the earth, support you and me.
Deep underground, the roots of this tree also take nutrients from the soil. These nutrients are pulled upwards. They are pulled to the very top of the tree by the evaporation of water from the leaves. The tree is selecting elements from the soil and using them to build more tree. But the roots of this tree are also communicating with other trees nearby, sharing nutrients and chemical messages in a two-way collaborative network. This tree and the trees nearby are not just building themselves. They are building the forest. My palms are on the tree, touching the rough bark. But my mind is down with the roots and wonders whether ‘tree’ is just a human construct and there is only forest.
I turn my face to you. You are leaning backwards on the part of the forest we call ‘this tree.’ Your eyes are closed and you are smiling a gentle smile. Your warm breath makes a little mist as the moisture condenses in the cold air.
You and I, we are both breathing. We breathe in. We smell the damp and the earth and the forest. To me, the air smells green. To you, the air smells clean. We breathe in the air and take the oxygen that the forest has released in the process of photosynthesis. We breathe out. The forest breathes our breath and in the process of photosynthesis it takes the carbon and creates more of itself. Some of this carbon is shared from tree to tree via the roots. The carbon that started in our bodies will nurture the entire forest.
We breathe the forest. The forest breathes we.
My palms are on the tree, I am breathing in my body but my mind is far above and below with the exchange of carbon and oxygen and I wonder whether ‘you’ and ‘I’ are just human constructs and there is only forest.
For most of my life I have held back on being happy when people around me are in pain. And I so want to be happy! When I am in this way of thinking and someone tells me about a problem they are having, I jump in to fix it or demand that they either fix it or suck it up and get over it already!
Then I learned that my happiness should not be dependent on others, that this makes them responsible for my happiness. So I dutifully added a new behaviour to my repertoire – keep the unhappy person at arms’ length, nod, smile, but don’t really engage: Don’t let them spoil that precious vibe. I even labelled some people as ‘downers’
I became familiar with nonviolent communication and now with caring science and learned about the joy of empathy. It is possible to just sit and listen to someone who is suffering and be with them and both of you appreciate and enjoy the connection. Sometimes an opportunity to help arises in the moment and sometimes something clears for the other person and whatever it is just becomes a little more bearable.
The thing is that the quality of my happiness has become so much deeper and more nuanced in these moments. I now know a calm happiness, a deeply deeply sad happiness, a happiness as soft and gentle as a baby’s breath, even a happiness infused with anger and purpose. It has been a long journey of learning and unlearning, and what is behind me lies ahead of me, but I will keep returning my wayward feet to this path. ❤
for synchronicity… seemingly random events that collide in a way that allow us to make something great of them…
A few weeks ago three things happened within three days of each other.
Many students in my area of the university received their first marks and thus become aware of the value of academic honesty and referencing. Some of these students were not feeling too positive about study, or their abilities. I decided to provide an online referencing class though I was worried that I didn’t know how to do this effectively
I attended a seminar on reflective practices in nursing (1) with a library friend. The seminar drew on a nursing-specific tradition of transpersonal human care and suggested that it was possible to create a rich online learning environment that could provide opportunities for students to learn and the experience of being cared for.
In a meeting I heard of an academic who was successfully using a digital conferencing program to have students work in groups during her online classes. I contacted her, and she kindly explained how to do this.
The class was of course a beautiful failure. It was a failure in that I made a mistake in the discussion guide and we totally underestimated that time the groups would take to get working (due to familiarising themselves with the novel online environment). It was beautiful in that all the students happily stayed online for the full 90 minutes (yes, it’s true). They said that they enjoyed interacting with other students in a similar situation and felt more confident with referencing and using the resources. We have also received positive feedback from academic staff.
But, the great thing that was created was not really the class, it is the inspiration to offer a program of classes throughout Semester that uses the same principles to connect with our students online in a meaningful way. And to share this with other librarians at a conference next year. Need for contribution – met 🙂
Horton-Deutsch, Sara. (14 September, 2017). Reflective practice in an academic setting. Seminar presented at USQ Ipswich Campus.
Publish my caring science meets info lit work and apply for PhD + scholarship
Start a creative business
Increase my Ipswich Urban Forest activism and tree planting
Last night I wrote a list of projects I would like to accomplish in a year. Then I used a random number generator and out popped: #3. So that is what I’m up for!
I did this because I want to make a difference in the world but am so indecisive — the absolute definition of hot and cold — and end up spreading myself too thin and never really accomplishing anything. And weighing everything up and being logical about it all just leaves me paralysed and anxious. Bottom line is I don’t believe in order and logic, so needed a method that allows for a safe amount of chaos.
So this morning I went and planted out an eroded river bed with rushes, and tomorrow I will plant 14 gums and some native grasses at the same site … Prior commitments that I will not break. I’m giving myself till the end of October to slow the habitat work down, will limit my garden to just one more bed, and the dance to just weekly classes and practice at home … and there is a poetry class that I enrolled in months ago … you see my problem! But I promise to let it all wind down in September/October and get an conference abstract written up too … caring science & PhD, here I come!
They said I was mad to plant milkweed… but here we are six months later hosting Monarch caterpillers. Now, I’m as ambivalent to all things American as any Australian ought to be, but the romantic tale of the arrival of the Monarch or Wanderer in the late 1860s and via New Caledonia has me intruiged. And the caterpillers are so full of character. How could I resist?