Of late my days have been freer to wander on the farm, work in my studio, and write. I’ve been having an experience, especially after a long walk, where I sit in the shade, and just listen to the many sounds around me – the chatter of birds, the wind, the distant dog bark, a car passing on the road, a plane overhead – but my soul is quiet within me, my mind is at rest. In those moments, I feel like some great healing is taking place, and that my life has been filled with noise for a very long time.
This week, finding myself hungry to read something that would stimulate my mind and spirit, I pulled Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire off the shelf.
In grad school, I had this book as required reading for a comparative education class. But one seldom has time to give readings the slow, close read they deserve in grad school. Paulo Friere is a writer whose every sentence is so packed with meaning it demands reflection and meditation. We spent only one or two classes discussing him, but I felt like I could have spent an entire semester discussing nothing but Freire’s ideas.
Central to Freire’s educational theory was the role of dialogue in the educational process. Education that transforms, Freire believed, could not be a one-sided impartation of information from the superior to the inferior. Rather the teacher must approach as a learner, and the student must also become a teacher. For this interaction to take place dialogue is essential. This dialogue, if genuine (and only if genuine), would have a humanizing effect on both the teacher-student and the student-teacher. He wrote:
As we attempt to analyze dialogue as a human phenomenon, we discover something which is the essence of dialogue itself: the word. But the word is more than just an instrument which makes dialogue possible; accordingly, we must seek its constitutive elements. Within the word we find two dimensions, reflection and action, in such radical interaction that if one is sacrificed – even in part – the other immediately suffers. There is no true word that is not at the same time a praxis. Thus to speak a true word is to transform the world.
By contrast “an unauthentic word” is one that that neglects either reflection or action, thus is “one which is unable to transform reality.” “Human existence,” Freire declares, “cannot be silent.” And to attempt to silence another is, in fact, “dehumanizing aggression.” Therefore it is only in genuine dialogue, where one both speaks and listens, hears and is heard, that transformation occurs. These thoughts have profound implications on how we teach, not only in our schools, but in our communities of faith, in our homes, and in our charities and other social service organizations.
What is necessary for this dialogue to occur? Freire points to five elements: profound love, humility, intense faith, mutual trust, and hope. Without these dialogue cannot occur. But these deserve their own full attention at another time.
Author’s note: Speaking of dialogue, my blog posts usually flow out of dialogue. This one was inspired not only by picking up Freire this week, but also by conversations with my husband as I read him quotes, and exchanges with my fellow blogger Peter here and here.
Though my blogs have been largely silent, I have been writing a lot of late. Since completing grad school (where I had built in deadlines to make sure I wrote A LOT), I decided to set myself a goal of writing a minimum of 45 minutes at least 5 days a week. I don’t always reach my goal, but it has had the result of encouraging me to write a lot, and many days I exceed my goal many times over.
I am working on a book, and I set this goal primarily as a way to combat the resistance that most writers and creative people feel towards doing their most important creative work. The resistance is inexplicable in many ways, because it’s resistance to work we desire to do. As part of this method of facing my resistance, if I really feel resistance, I allow myself to fulfill my goal by writing for a minimum of 3 hand-written journal pages giving full vent to the resistance I feel. The results have been powerful. Repeatedly, when I’ve done this, it has only been a short time before I am back to working on my creative project.
I would be curious to hear others experiences in dealing with their resistance to doing their most important creative work.
As I am researching the development of kiln technology in China, one interesting fact I found was the linkage between the yellow loess that lies in a thick blanket over China and the development of high-fired ceramics thousands of years prior to other parts of the world.¹ The loess in turn was blown in from the Tibetan plateau and the Gobi desert. As I was discussing this with my professor, he mentioned other examples of dust being blown from one part of the earth to another and thus impacting the ecosystems, and thus in turn impacting the cultures that developed there.
As I thought of this, I saw in my mind’s eye dust blowing all over the earth directed by the winds, and I thought of the Western conception of inspiration as breath, and considered both the Hebrew and Greek conceptions of “spirit” which are associated with both breath and wind. It seemed an amazing idea that the earth’s winds blow dust that result in amazing innovation in a culture, and in our own culture the idea of wind is associated with both inspiration and our human spirit, as well as the divine Spirit.
2 The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit [wind] of God was moving over the surface of the waters.
¹Finlay, Robert. “The Pilgrim Art: The Culture of Porcelain in World History,” Journal of World History, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Fall, 1998), pp. 141-187
Around 12 years ago when I had finally realized the dream of having a pottery studio in my house, and was toying with the idea about going back to school to study fine art, I suddenly was interrupted by clear direction that I should move to China. While I knew that China was a genesis point of much in ceramic art history, the opportunity that had opened up to me was not related to that facet of China or that facet of my own life. I surrendered and did not look back.
This fall, I did end up going back to school finally, but my graduate studies are in East Asian Studies, focusing on China. I considered taking art history classes in my program, but there were none that matched my interest. So, I have been studying a wide variety of cross disciplinary subjects from modern Chinese literature to Chinese domestic politics to anthropology. One of the classes was in environmental anthropology. I took the class because my work in China has been in the non-profit sector, and thus I’m interested in environmental issues in China. However, the class does not just examine issues, but also how ideas and innovation come from how cultures interact with their environment. It turned out my professor was interested in knowing more about how dragon kilns came to be conceived in southern China, but said he knew almost nothing about ceramics. I told him I did to which he replied that I should make that my research project then. So, I have.
So, as I do this research I find myself meditating on our dust-like nature which I have written about elsewhere. And sort of amazed that this lifelong love of mine keeps coming back around full circle, just like clay on the potter’s wheel.