Of Cookbooks and Lynchings

by Jessie.yang on flickr“Men and women in automobiles stood up to watch him die.” That’s the sentence one student recalled when I asked the class what was memorable in Eula Biss’s essay “Time and Distance Overcome.” The man who died was a black man “accused of attacking a white woman.” For his alleged behavior, he was “tied to a telephone pole and burned.”

After we discussed the short essay for about forty-five minutes—its structure, its late revelation of her personal connection to the subject—her grandfather was a lineman who broke his back when a telephone pole on which he had been working fell—I directed the students to the last section of Biss’s powerful Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays, which offers additional information and reflections on the writing of each of the essays.

“I began my research for this essay,” writes Biss, “by searching for every instance of the phrase ‘telephone pole’ in the New York Times from 1880 to 1920, which resulted in 370 articles.”

This alone, I thought, is useful information for a first year college student: how one conducts research for this kind of essay. [Read more…]

You Must Be Present to Learn

4833326522_a6c37bda2e_zFor the past five years, I’ve been experimenting with the use of contemplative practices in the classes I teach at UNC Asheville. For a quick overview of the range of contemplative practices being used in higher education today, see The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society’s Tree of Contemplative Practices.

On the eve of a new academic year, today I offer you a list of some of the things I’ve observed as I explore the use of this powerful pedagogy in my own work as a contemplative educator. [Read more…]

My Money, My Life

5403459115_9c7a3833c1_zMy money is the Tao te Ching, translated and introduced by David Hinton. My $12.87 turned into this teaching:

Once it’s full of jade and gold
your house will never be safe.
Proud of wealth and renown
you bring on your own ruin.
(#9)

My money is a boarding pass for American Airlines flight 5469 from Greenville, SC to Charlotte, NC, and my money is a connection in Charlotte for a flight to Philadelphia, PA. My money connects. My money flies.

My money is in my ear, amplifying your voice. Now I no longer yearn to hear you. [Read more…]

The Dragon and the Yahrzeit Candle: On Forgetting and Remembering, Part 3

8407335830_6cda2c94c5_zContinued from yesterday and Tuesday.

In Hunger Mountain: A Field Guide to Mind and Landscape, David Hinton observes, “We tend to ignore the disappearing, the forgetfulness, but all day long, day in and day out, forgetfulness keeps us woven into dragon’s traceless transformations.”

The dragon, he explained earlier, is “China’s mythological embodiment of all creation and all destruction, the ten thousand hunger-driven things tumbling through their traceless transformations.

“Self, that center of identity,” Hinton continues, “is a denial of dragon and the empirical reality it represents: the generative female structure of consciousness and Cosmos. It is a denial of forgetfulness and of our actual moment-to-moment experience. That denial is part of dragon, of course, but it is dragon’s blindness to itself. And as the defining structure of the center, language is the medium of that blindness. It too is a denial of forgetfulness and Absence and the generative nature of things.” [Read more…]

The Dragon and the Yahrzeit Candle: On Forgetting and Remembering, Part 2

12798592043_af6641e703_zContinued from yesterday. 

I dive into the pool. My body remembers water. My body remembers how to swim. My arm swings overhead, my arm follows through, my hand plunges into the water, pushing water, propelling my body forward down the lane.

It seems to happen naturally, automatically. I don’t need to think to swim. I don’t need to remember how to swim, what to do next with my arm, my legs, my breathing.

Even when I try, I can’t catch the intention, if there is an intention, that precedes stroke, stroke, flutter-kick. “I” don’t swim. I am swimming.

I think I learned to swim when I was around five. I don’t remember exactly when. I’m pretty sure I learned in Aunt Cis and Uncle Gene’s pool, luxury behind their home in Cheviot Hills, West L.A. I remember Cheviot Hills. I remember the pool. [Read more…]