Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Tue, 14 Sept 1993

Blueberries! That's what I was thinking about this morning as I knifed through the water-ladened, warm, darkened, south Georgia air. Now, you may ask why I was pondering those luscious, succulent, squshy, blue pearls. Well, its because of blueberries that I can teach a class of about 60, still be aware of and sensitive to the needs of that single student, and get the results that I have discussed in earlier Random Thoughts. Blueberries help me to focus and to care.

It all began when I climbed that cliff almost two years ago. I vividly remember the scene as if it were yesterday. There I was, pacing back and forth at the foot of that rock face, waiting for my ever-approaching turn. I was unaware that I had begun to focus intently on that rock as I never had been able to concentrate on anything before. As I started to climb, I stopped thinking and began feeling. All sound blacked-out. I was aware of nothing else but that cliff. Looming above me, I found gaping hand-holds and protruding ledges to place my feet which I had not seen from below. I felt myself becoming one with the rock. While belaying down, I was stunned to discover that those protruding ledges were no more than 1/8th to 1/4 of an inch wide! The cavernous hand-holds were mere indentations in the rock. As I got back into my head, I called my experience an "adrenalin surge." Curry, you remember him, said, "Louis, you stopped looking and began to feel."

He was right. The next morning, a Sunday, long after my hormonal levels had returned to normal, I still felt a tingle along the surface of my entire body. It was as if, no, I was aware of each and every follicle. As I gazed out from the porch behind the lodge I was struck by all the distinct sounds I heard: the singing of different birds, the sounds of the animals, the movement of the trees in the breeze. Each and every needle on the trees, each and every leaf on the bushes, each and every petal on the few flowers, each and every blade of grass was clearly distinct as if I were looking through a microscope. I told my wife I could swear that I could hear them all talking to each other. As we in the group talked about our experiences, I was amazed to find that my mind was not drifting, all the normal distracting chatter to which I usually succumbed was filtered out. I was listening intently to each of their words as I never had listened before; I was seeing each of them as I had never seen anyone before. I felt connected, and it was exciting and fulfilling!

The next day, Monday, I walked into class, my skin was still tingling. And this is the God's honest truth, it was as if someone had taken a grip on each end of the room, pulled and expanded it as you would do to soft taffy. The desks seemed spread farther apart. The mass effect of the class was diminished. The separateness and individuality of each student was accentuated.

I have always prided myself on being student-oriented, but on that day I saw far more intensely then I had ever seen before. The student in the seat was not a student. That student was a person. That person was a somebody. That somebody mattered, a somebody who is unique. I heard each of those somebodies with a clarity I had not heard before. The normal distracting chatter was blacked-out. My thoughts were totally concentrated on the student at whom I looked or the student whom I heard, and the students responded as if they had received a shot of adrenalin. I experienced an exhilaration that was as undescribable as climbing that cliff, a sense of connectedness and a sense of meaning and purpose more intense and true then I had experienced at any time in my life.

After class, when I returned to my office, however, I suffered a revealing and educating "let-down." I studiously sat at my desk, slowly, very slowly, sipped on my coffee, and thought deep thoughts. I did not like what I was thinking. It was uncomfortable. Hell, it was painful because while it was a long walk from the classroom to my office, it was just a short step to realizing that while I am a student-oriented professor, I was not the teacher I thought I was. I was not actually in close touch with the students in my classes as individual persons as much as I had prided myself. I was far more detached than I wanted to believe. I was not "showing up" for my classes and paying attention to the students any where near what I should be doing and was capable of doing. I was looking far more at the mass of the entire class than seeing each individual student. I was hearing sounds far more than I was listening to their words. I decided that I was not sufficiently focused, that I had been unwittingly tuning out all sorts of things because I was too preoccupied with other concerns: myself, combat with the administration, committee meetings, research, grants, writing, publication, personal and family problems. I knew for a long time that this was the case, but would not admit it. This experience made me confront the reality that I was far more the professor than the teacher, and that was not me, not the true me.

As the week passed, I found that tingling diminishing. It was harder to maintain my focus. I was losing it, and I was both scared and angry. That following Saturday, I had come in from a wee-hour walk and was once again struggling to think how to keep my focus. Going to the north Georgia mountains and climbing that cliff every day as a booster shot was out of the question. I had just about surrendered to the inevitable as I sat down to a bowl of Wheaties and blueberries. Because the blueberries were out of season and expensive, I decided to savor slowly each and every one of them, knowing they'd be the last until the following summer. Just then, my wife staggered out from the bedroom, groped for a cup of coffee, plumped down in the chair next to me and said, "Honey, why are you eating so slowly. Not feeling good this morning?"

And then it struck me. While I loved blueberries, I always ate them so fast that I rarely tasted a one. My lovely wife always has chastised me that I gobbled and gulped my food. "How can you appreciate what you're eating. I don't understand how you even know what you're eating?" she'd always ask and admonish me as I was invariably the first at the table to finish my meal. So, this time I picked out a blueberry, slowly rolled it in my fingers and felt it; brought it up to my eyes and saw it, put my nose to it, slowly inhaled and smelled it, slowly drew it to my mouth and felt the expectant saliva gushing forth, took it into my mouth and let it sit on my tongue and began to taste what I had unthinking always eaten and swallowed automatically. My wife thought I was "going blueberries." But, later I told her that I realized that slowing down, sensitizing myself to that single blueberry, tasting it, made me appreciate it and focused me on the immediate moment.

I realized that none of us can appreciate the most valuable things in our lives if we let them whiz by unnoticed and unappreciated. It's almost like reading a newspaper or watching television or engaging in a conversation and eating without fully experiencing the wonders of taste. I was so busy physically or mentally rushing from one place to someplace else that I was inadvertently missing things. Sometimes we eat so fast or are so distracted, we're out of touch with the whole process of tasting. And I have been focusing on that single blueberry--or strawberry or a slice of banana (a bit messy) or a raisin or an almond or whatever--every day. It's a daily exercise that complements my power-walk thinking time. It all has to do with concentrating on the experience of tasting that blueberry in that particular moment. It's not magical meditation. It's a training that anyone can do in the same way someone trains him/herself to do anything. It's about awareness and sensitivity. When you're tasting, just taste. When you teach, just teach. Be completely engrossed with the tasting--and the eating. Be completely engrossed with the teaching--and the student.

As I've learned to concentrate on that single blueberry, I've trained myself to focus on each and every student as a meaningful, unique person. It tells each student that "you matter to me." That's important because the opposite of love is not hate; it's indifference. We need teachers who teach with their hearts wide open. I think education is evoking the will to learn. It's evoked by letting the student know that he/she matters. It's not evoked by being indifferent.

I don't think it is too much to ask those at the head of the class to have mastery of a subject and to possess social and personal skills as well. It isn't enough to be just competent and efficient. Being competent and up-to-date in your field is essential. But a teacher is a care-giver and must pay attention to the underlying relationship with his/her student. And we cannot teach those whom we do not know no less than we can teach that which we do not know.

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
Department of History                      /~\    /\ /\
Valdosta State University          /^\    /   \  /  /~ \     /~\__/\
Valdosta, Georgia 31698           /   \__/     \/  /     /\ /~      \
                            /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\
                          -_~     /  "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\
                             _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -\____

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