Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Tue, 10 Apr 2001 08:53:14 -0400 (EDT)
Random Thought: Be Aware

Went out more than a bit late this morning. The sun on the horizon was already nestling among the budding branches. I am always amazed at the amazing things, the new things, the astonishing things, the touching things, the little things I see and hear walking the streets day after day, month after month, year after year when I am aware. Today it was a fallen pine cone forlonely lying in the middle of the street, a lone echineaca scouting the way for the others in the bed, an array of amaryllis trumpeting the spring, roses polka-dotting the landscape, a pile of grass clippings heaped on a curb, the rivulets of collected dew on the car window in my driveway, a clumsy bumblebee humming as it worked to borrow into the wood siding of my house, the metallic cadence of a woodpecker high above me rapidly drumming on a power generator, a squirrel jumping from branch to branch. At first, superficial glance, each seemed so unimportant, so trivial, so ordinary. And yet, with an awareness, there is nothing nothing small or insignificant or common about any of them. They all had a way of adding up to a magnificent experience. The ordinary become extraordinary. It is magic; it is mysterious; it is majestic. It wasn't always so. Until a decade ago, in another life, I was not completely open to these things. I was not totally listening. I was not completely seeing, I was not be aware. And, I sadly missed many grand things. I cut off from all this around me--and in me--and the magic, mystery and grandeur had yet to be born.

And so it is in the world of academia.

That is why I some years ago I enacted for myself and struggle to obey a set of awareness "rules of the road" to enforce my teaching credo: "constantly be aware that the classroom is a gathering of 'ones,' of diverse and individual and unique and sacred human beings." It is from which all the other rules flowed:

        "Care.  Don't just mouth it, live it."
        "Focus on the student and his or her learning."  
        "Notice the unnoticed." 
        "No one's face gets erased."  
        "No one goes nameless."  
        "No one is left in the background."  
        "No one is hidden in the shadows."      
        "Every student is valuable."  
        "Never treat every student in every class as the same."  
        "Every student starts with a clean slate.  Don't judge a student
by the ring in her belly button or the tattoo on his arm or the whispers 
of other people or a GPA or the accent of her speech or the color of
        "Love every student.  It's OK to be disappointed or even
frustrated, but don't stop loving them as persons."

Some have asked how I do that. With difficulty, I assure you. And, not always successfully. My usual answer is that I meditate before each class and focus myself. I do. Lately I have found that to be an inadequate answer even for myself, especially when I have back-to-back classes and have to shift gears without a second of hesitation and respite. How do I do that? I do that by struggling--and, once again, not always successfully--to teach hard with a light touch, soft eyes, gentle mouth, and a kind heart. I teach like that because I practice, practice, practice. What do I constantly practice? No, not technique or method or technology however important they are. And, I am not a magician with a mind-boggling trick or a card sharp with an ace up my sleeve.

I constantly practice constant awareness: constant awareness of where I am, constant awareness of who I am, constant awareness of the surrounding circumstances, constant awareness of who each of the students are, constant awareness of the hazards and traps. Like some prey walking in a dark jungle, my eyes are constantly moving and my sense are constantly on full alert. To do that, I practice slowing, stopping, focusing, and being still. I practice listening, seeing, feeling, and being still. I started with struggling to be aware of something as ordinary as water. Slowly I was sensitive to the currents of saliva in my mouth. I was conscious of the and puddling on my eyes. I began to feel, what I came to swear was down to the molecular level, the emerging formation and flow of each globule of sweat. My seeing, hearing, sensing, and feeling swam the unimaginable sites and sounds and sights and forms of water everywhere and all around me: the shower, a cup of coffee, a glass of soda, a fountain, the fish pond, a puddle in the street, a water fountain, a water sprinkler, the drowning humidity. You will be amazed how slowly something as ever-present and common and ordinary as water becomes magnificently wondrous. Individual notes merge into a stirring symphony. Individual strokes appear on a spell-binding canvas.

I assure that if you can master looking and being still, you will see. Sense and be still, and you will feel. Listen and be still, and you will hear. It took time and effort. I had to patiently give it time and effort. I took all the time it took. I put in all the effort it took. I practice when I was alone and slowly used it when I was among others. Still do. I paid attention to what surfaced from below the waterline of my consciousness. I cultivated my sensitivity above the waterline. I paid attention to my thoughts and feelings, to paraphrase Deuteronomy, when I rose up, when I walked along the way, and when I laid down. Still do.

What I call "a sixth sense" is really a capacity that is exercised by the constant opening and scanning questions seeped in awareness: "What is going on here?" "Who is here?" "What am I hearing?' "What am I seeing." "What may happen?" "What would I do if such and such happened?"

A constant word, a constant intimate partner of awareness, is "constant." Constant keeps your awareness honed. Constant keeps your awareness strong. Constant keep your awareness open. Constant keeps you always reaching out and always responding to the sights, sounds, movements, and smells. Constant is the enemy of dull and routine. Constant keeps you awake so you never do anything in your sleep. It is being able to withdraw into silence and motionlessness without pulling in your antennae, and being able to come back in a flash when the signal is picked up. Constant is one of those conditions that makes sure awareness is awareness.

You see, awareness isn't something that is turned on and off. The effort is to be constantly aware, to always know something is ever-present, to always know that something is going on at all times all around you. It takes effort, like my walking. It is not tiring or boring, like my walking. To the contrary, it is invigorating; it is being alive. There are times I can feel each hair on my body. With the awareness mysteriously comes a gift that has a newness and freshness about it. The more I became aware the more I have an appreciation of and affection for each person, especially myself. It is doggone exciting and uplifting.

It took me a while to realize that constant awareness isn't just a bunch of mental calistenics, some daily exercises reserved for a cubbyholed moment, a "couple of sets" that you do for ten minutes each morning, a period of yoga here or a session of Tai Chi there. Awareness isn't like muscle, to be developed by exercising and flexing. It is not the end product of a series of logical steps. It does not emerge miraculously as a result of embracing some beliefs.

Awareness, as advocates of yoga and Tai Chi will tell you, is lived every moment. It is an attitude. It is an attitude towards yourself, towards other people, what they are attempting to express. Awareness creates appreciation. Awareness is respect, value, worth. It is interest, understanding, sensitivity, sympathy, support, encouragement.

I was once asked what was my worst day in class. It was a time when I was unaware. It was a time when that gift of affection was lost. It was lost for a reason. It was when I fell into the trap of letting routine replace awareness. I closed my openness. I turned off the current to my antennae. It was when I stopped listening and seeing for that moment, when I pulled the communication plug out from my soul.

Be aware, the search for good teaching and teaching to do good is to be aware, constantly aware. And since what it is and who it is to be aware of is forever unique, each search is a unique and constant effort. Learn to be aware of what is really being said. Learn to look at what is really there. Learn to let the totality of the situation dive below the waterline into your gut. Set the response button to "delay." You'll be amazed how much you can see, how sharpened what is between the lines and behind the scenes becomes.

There isn't anyone who cannot become aware. Just practice looking, listening, smelling, feeling, and being still while keeping the pedagogical stuff quiet. You will find a way of working with your opportunities in the course of which you will build strength: strength to believe, strength to hope, strength to dream, strength to venture, strength to create, strength to make the right choice, strength to sustain, strength to touch, strength to make a difference.

         Make it a good day.


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

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