Thursday, July 30, 2009

Unwrapping Deep-Gladness Gifts #1: The Voice

Trust me.

It was not noble.
It was not pretty.
It was, quite frankly, largely lust...

...the pens, pencils, and erasers (Ooh!)
...the stacks of scrap paper and occasional tablet of pristine new paper (M-m-m!)
...the box of brazen, color-shouting crayons (Yes-s-s!)
...the stacks of books, old and new, pages yearning to be read (Come to me, ba-by.)

...and the raw power of being She Who Must Be Obeyed. (Ah-h-h.)

Presenting: my first reasons for wanting to become a teacher. Really.

Back then, at age eight or nine, my “classroom” venue varied from the pink-walled bedroom I shared with my sister to my favorite “school” location: Grandma and Grandpa's third floor barn-turned-garage attic. Here among the alluring remnant goods of Grandpa's various entrepreneurial ventures, chomped evidence of squirrels and mice, and plenty of reasons to sneeze, I jumped at every chance to stand in front of “my class” (my older brother, younger sister, and sometimes my cousin, seated in a tidy row of makeshift “desks”). Of course, I gave them lots of “assignments”―involving plenty of pens, pencils, crayons, papers, and books.

Curiously, although we officially took turns being the teacher, my siblings and cousin often let me be the teacher. For some reason, they often followed my “teaching” instructions, until in later years they discovered the pleasures of being unruly―something none of us dared to be in “real school.”

Lucky for me (and my future real students), the siren call of irresistible teaching materials and authority morphed into something bigger...deeper...glad-er.

I remember the moment as a real teacher when I read Frederick Buechner's definition of vocation (from the same root word as “voice”) or calling as “that place where your deep gladness meets the world's deep hungers.” I shivered in recognition. In this elegant phrasing, he extracted from my memory something I had never learned but already knew.

“Playing school” handed me the first piece of my deep gladness puzzle.

What deep gladness puzzle piece(s) did you receive in your childhood? What happened?

Hundreds of workshops and Web sites and thousands of books and experts offer advice, inventories, and other personal/professional development tools. Want to identify your strengths, abilities, and skills to find a job, change careers, earn more income? Click here, please.

Or perhaps you're eager to locate life passion and purpose. A growing multitude of personal coaches are lined up, ready to assist. All of these resources can be helpful and even life changing―if, as I have personally experienced, the individual learner or client is receptive and ready to change.

But the sheer proliferation of these resources tells me something more than individual human development is happening. Something on a collective scale. Something that looks beyond a separate me in search of a we're-in-this-together we.

We is the address where deep gladness lives.

Knock on the door and deep gladness answers if we're willing to risk walking past something we're really good at―and often perform with little sense of contribution or joy―to remember the bliss we abandoned as "childish" play.

Deep gladness answers whenever we, waving at individualism (sitting alone in its favorite cafe, drinking lattes just the way it likes them), remember to return home to the little neighborhoods and big world that hold our shared hungers, hopes, and dreams.

Deep gladness answers when we're ready to fall in love―with our own lives, and where they ache to take us. From resumes to inborn gifts. From just-me to we.

Where does your life ache to take you?

I invite deep gladness to come closer―
I switch my looking
same-old scenes of faceless crowds
entering and exiting subway cars
to seeing
freckled faces of a redheaded family
―mom, dad, sister, brother― laughing
(and I just have to laugh, too).

I enter deep gladness when I (temporarily) park my anxious questions―
  • How much money can I make from this idea, project, book, blog?
  • Which people in this room will speak with me, like my ideas, send me potential clients?
―outside the welcome mat.

I speak from deep-gladness gift―
Suddenly, the thing I am saying to my students
flows through me
as if I am a pipeline to a river that is much larger
than my small stream.
At these times a knowing whooshes through:
I am in exactly the right place
at the ri
ght time
with the right people
doing the right thing.

I forget (momentarily) my limits inside deep gladness―
Instantly, a powerful conspiracy takes over:
everything I see, everyone I meet, shows me
possibility (what could be)
purpose (what needs to be)
passion (what wants to be)
potential (what is ready to be)
or promise (what intends to be)
in ways I've never, ever imagined.

I return to deep-gladness gift
(after getting disconnected for the umpteenth time)―
I halt my struggle to write the “right words” here
to watch mounds of blue-gray density dance
with streaks of radiant light
in eye-popping cloud performance
outside my eleventh story window.

What disconnects you from your deep gladness?

Once upon a time, my usual writing performance consisted of lots of crossing out, scads of paper ripping and throwing, and copious tears. Oh, I could write competently enough―with enough suffering. Writing was my tortuous un-gladness.

Once upon a time, I am rescued. My knights are Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, and the enthusiastic support of a dear writer friend. I live happily ever after: scribbled-out, fast first drafts that are too wordy, too wandering, and maybe even just plain suck become my intimate, if unpolished, companions in discovering my voice.

What rescues and reconnects you?

I scan the virtual horizon. My deep gladness monitor immediately shows me the face of Susan Boyle, who, one fine day in April 2009, stunned U.K. television viewers and, a few days later, the online world in the moment she opened her mouth to sing the first notes of I Dreamed a Dream from the musical
Les Mise

Her story statistics are nearly legendary by now: a 48-year old church volunteer with untamed hair from a small Scottish village. Oxygen deprived at birth causing some learning difficulties. Living alone with cat, Pebbles, after the death of her mother two years ago. Often taunted by village children and called “Susie Simple” by some village adults. Often described by the press as “frumpy,” “plain,” or other even less flattering descriptors. Instantly dismissed by rolling eyes and smirks from Britain's Got Talent judges who are about to rate her audition.

But Susan Boyle knows from the age of 12 that she is a singer, and all she needs is a chance to “make that audience rock....All my life I've striven to prove myself,” she said just before singing on the British talent show, “like I can be accepted that I'm not a worthless person people think I am, that I do have something to offer.”

“Something to offer”?

According to a Susan Boyle fan site, as of June 29, 2009, all YouTube videos of Susan's performances received an estimated 425,000,000 views―this, within ten weeks. Three months after her audition, Susan is recording her first CD, with millions already pre-ordered. 10,000,000 CDs will be sold in the U.S. alone, one of the judges is predicting.

Susan Boyle opens her mouth to sing―and her gift immediately pulls us to our feet in clapping joy and awestruck wonder.

Trust me.

Your deep-gladness gifts―which the world deeply needs―are calling.

With or without applause.

Just check your voice mail.

But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly
gnized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do....

(excerpt from “The Journey” by Mary Oliver)

Extra, Extra!
* Meredith Vieira recently (7/22/o9) interviewed Susan Boyle
* The full text of "The Journey" is in Dream Work by Mary Oliver, and the poem is also printed online.

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