misc-joy

Explorations by Kenley Neufeld

Dharma

Being Present for Our Students

By on May 12, 2018

Bed of Flowers

Being present for our students is a true gift we can offer and these experiences with students are one of the reasons why I’ve loved teaching and being part of an academic environment my entire professional career. As teachers, we have the capacity to change lives in ways that we may not always be fully aware of in the moment. I’m certain we’ve all experienced that moment when a student returns to share some action or word we said that had a deep impact. Our engagement with students can be a big responsibility that can be fostered in many ways: a kind word, a thoughtful smile, a note of encouragement, and even a criticism that comes from a place of wanting to push a student to learn something new.

For those who have taught classes in person, we may have an easier time being in touch with our students and the energy of the classroom. I may notice when a student is having a difficult day or week or even the entire semester. I can linger after class, arrive early, or have a student crying in our office. In those moments, my hope is I am able to practice with empathy and with understanding.

Beginners’ Mind

This being present for students may come naturally for you, and for others it may take some effort. But I know we all have this capacity for empathy and understanding. In my life, I have found cultivating this for myself first has allowed me to extend this more easily to my students. It has been through 25-years of meditation practice, allowing for a deeper understanding of my mind, that I’ve been able to bring this directly into the classroom. And just like our students, a beginners’  mind in myself can keep things fresh and help me to discover new ways to work with students.

How does this all extend into my online classroom? Do I know my students in the same way I might as if we are spending three hours per week in person? Am I able to identify a student in need or crisis through the work posted online so that I might reach out and connect to the student? And, within a primarily written medium, how am I being present for my students? We can create the conditions in our online classes that allows us to know our students better and be tuned into their overall learning experience.

Creating the Conditions for Learning

It’s the humanizing work. It’s the touchy-feely stuff that can help the student feel connected to the course material, to me, and to the college as a whole. The classes I’ve taught online – library science, technology, social media and marketing – are not necessarily touchy-feely topics. But as the teacher, we set the tone. In the online environment we need to offer a little bit more of ourselves explicitly. With in-person  classes, students know I have a deep sense of humor, that I always wear black, that I like to pause in class and listen to student sharing, and that I like using the white board. These characteristics are part of my character. Online students don’t easily get this part of me, but these characteristics are critical for building a classroom relationship for our semester journey.

Creating a space where communication can be open and responsive to both student learning and student needs is key to building instructor-student relationships online. This means taking risks, and it certainly means taking more time. I write about myself, I share photos or videos so they know who I am as a person, and I incorporate personal life antidotes into the learning materials. More importantly, I create as many opportunities for students to interact with me so that I know who they are as humans. This can achieved through  discussion, writing assignments, or video posts. I encourage students to share content they find that is exciting for them. Anything we, as instructors, can do to bring regular, meaningful student interactions into our online class is valuable. And we can build on this foundation to create a learning environment that is grounded in communication and trust. Creating an online classroom that is similar to how I spend 3-hours a week engaging with my students in a classroom is what I try to cultivate. My goal as an online instructor is to foster these human connections to inspire learning. In the end, when I support, guide, and inspire my students, I am nourished by our deep connections as they experience life’s difficulties and joys.

Originally posted on @ONE: Online Network of Educators

An Antique Rocking Chair

By on April 9, 2018

This year I wanted to cultivate more reflection and inspiration in my meditation practice. For the past several months, I’ve been reading a few poems by Wendell Berry each morning (from A Timbered Choir). And though I’ve been married to a poet for a quarter century, it’s not a source of material I often turn toward.

A few mornings ago, these words arrived as I sat with my morning coffee. Looking to capture it here.

Trees and forest. Oh
the many days and nights.
Of cold, of rain, of sunshine.
The birds and squirrels. Hands and
vehicles. Sawmill and finisher.
Restored with love.
To hold me each morning.
With coffee and reflection.
An antique rocking chair.
In the morning darkness.

Trying to have fun and not be to serious.

The Pot Shatters

By on August 21, 2017

When the precious pot shatters and all our valuables roll away like marbles on a table, reality as we thought we knew is disrupted and the game of contriving an ideal self is suddenly irrelevant. 
~ Pema Khandro Rinpoche

Surfing our Relationships

By on August 20, 2017

Cultivating a deep and intimate relationship over a period of decades means there will be times of transcendent happiness and also times of suffering and unhappiness. There is this duality in a relationship. 

Learning how to stick it out is an art. John Welwood’s article “Intimate Relationship as a Spiritual Crucible” in Lion’s Roar (September 2017) offers some guidance. 

This involves learning to ride the waves of our feelings rather than becoming submerged by them. This requires mindfulness of where we are in the cycle of emotional experience. A skilled surfer is aware of exactly where he is on the wave, whereas an unskilled surfer winds up getting creamed. By their very nature, waves are rising fifty percent of the time and falling the other fifty percent. Instead of fighting the down cycles of our emotional life, we need to learn to keep our seat on the surfboard and have a full, conscious experience going down. 

Can you live and practice with the ups and downs of our relationships? My experience is that it’s possible and offers a richness to life that can’t be compared. 

Injustice and the Four Noble Truths

By on June 26, 2017

This morning I spent time revisiting the Tenth Mindfulness Training of the Order of Interbeing. This training sometimes causes confusion for practitioners who are uncertain how to engage in public action and discourse. The text from the book Interbeing is quite clear. 

A spiritual community, however, should take a clear stand against oppression and injustice. This should be done with a clear voice, based on the principles of the Four Noble Truths. The truth concerning the unjust situation should be fully exposed (the First Noble Truth: suffering). The various causes of injustice should be enumerated (the Second Noble Truth: the causes of suffering). The purpose and desire for removing the injustice should be made obvious (the Third Noble Truth: the removal of suffering). The measures for removing the injustice should be proposed (the Fourth Noble Truth: the way to end suffering). 

We can do this and transcend partisan politics. I can think of numerous opportunities in today’s social and political environment. 

 

Insight Gatha

By on June 17, 2017


The partner, child, and parent are the teacher.

Clouds and mountains teach the student.

The seed of diligence supports marriage, family and sangha.

The fruit springs forth from love and understanding.

Coffee Arrives. Looking Deeply. 

By on April 23, 2016

Appreciating a cup of coffee from Burundi and roasted by Blue Bottle – they call the roast Burundi Kayanza MpangaWhat do I know if where my coffee comes? Not much! It is quite amazing that I can sit here on a bright and sunny morning in the Ojai Valley drinking a cup of coffee from across the planet and not even know exactly where Burundi is located. 


Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world, with 80% living in poverty and a majority of the children malnourished. I can’t even begin to understand this statement. It’s a tiny country in east Africa with coffee being its main export – though exports aren’t even a large part of their GDP. Agriculture and rural living dominates. 

On a windless day the flapping wings of thousands of birds pass between Lake Tanganyika and Lake Victoria. Fed by the same waters and agile as a feather, the Mpanga also takes flight.

This poetic digression from Blue Bottle also helps me touch the beauty and majesty of this tiny country. Burundi is the source of the Nile and they also have the 2nd largest freshwater lake in the world – Lake Tanganyika. I can see the natural beauty and the people living to take care of their daily needs where they make crafts, drum, play soccer, and drink beer by the side of the road. 

The planet is small and yet a life experience in Southern California compared to a life in Burundi could be another planet. 

Thank you for my coffee today. I hope it lends some support to the people of Burundi in a fair and supportive manner. Appreciating the apricot and cane sugar flavored of Burundi. 

Catching Snakes and No-Self

By on June 16, 2014

snakeOne of the deepest and most difficult teachings of the Buddha is no-self. In fact, we are warned that it can be dangerous if we don’t understand clearly this concept. Furthering my study and reflection on this teaching, I read The Sutra on Knowing the Better Way to Catch a Snake. In this sutra, we can learn to let go of and not cling to or identify with anything. This is Right View. Let’s look at this together and share our collective insight and understanding.

From the teaching of no-self, we can learn to respond with compassion and see false accusations, slander, and reprimands as having an interdependence with all other things. Each of us are products of our family, society, and culture. Seeing this we can have more compassion. To help someone change, we can work to change her family, society, and culture. We don’t need to feel anger or blame.

The same can be said about praise, adoration; and respect. To receive these and not make us proud or arrogant.

In my practice, I am learning how to be in touch with this teaching for myself and also to help transform the consciousness of my society and culture. Just by keeping aware of the teaching of no-self, I can have more compassion for myself and for those who think and believe differently than I do.

Through meditation, conscious breathing, and deep looking I can open my heart to for a deeper understanding. It takes time, silence and presence to move in this direction. And in doing so, I cultivate the heart of love and will not feel anger, hatred, or vengeance.

What freedom!

To help further apply these teachings, we also have the first two Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing.

The First Mindfulness Training: Openness
Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. We are committed to seeing the Buddhist teachings as guiding means that help us learn to look deeply and develop our understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill, or die for. We understand that fanaticism in its many forms is the result of perceiving things in a dualistic and discriminative manner. We will train ourselves to look at everything with openness and the insight of interbeing in order to transform dogmatism and violence in ourselves and in the world.

The Second Mindfulness Training: Non- Attachment to Views
Aware of the suffering created by attachment to views and wrong perceptions, we are determined to avoid being narrow­ minded and bound to present views. We are committed to learning and practicing nonattachment from views and being open to others’ insights and experiences in order to benefit from the collective wisdom. Insight is revealed through the practice of compassionate listening, deep looking, and letting go of notions rather than through the accumulation of intellectual knowledge. We are aware that the knowledge we presently possess is not changeless, absolute truth. Truth is found in life, and we will observe life within and around us in every moment, ready to learn throughout our lives.

How are you understanding, practicing, and experiencing these teachings?

Graduation Speech at SBCC

By on May 24, 2014

As Academic Senate President, I had the honor of speaking to over 500 graduates at Santa Barbara City College on Friday, May 23, 2014. The following are the words I shared.

On behalf of the Santa Barbara City College faculty, I welcome you. Welcome to our faculty, our staff, our administrators, our board of trustees. Welcome to parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Welcome to partners, husbands, wives, and children. Welcome to our friends. Welcome to our ancestors who can’t be here in physical form, to our spiritual ancestors who have taught us how to live well, to our cultural teachers who have reminded us how to treat each other, and to the land ancestors who have cared for and settled on these lands in the time before us. 

No one of us does anything alone. 

Each person present here today is a part of one another in this moment of celebration. Please take a moment to remember all those people and conditions that have happened to bring us to this moment in time. 

We are all present here today as a community. We are all present here today to honor our 2014 SBCC graduates.

(more…)

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Me

By on March 2, 2014

Happiness, the End of Suffering, and Recovery

Forty-six. That’s not so old – young in fact. He and I are both 46, with young children, and in a long term relationship. We both got sober very young and then maintained that sobriety for many years. Mr. Hoffman made it 23-years, and I’m about to reach my 25th year. This is where the story diverges into disbelief, tragedy, and sadness. Philip Seymour Hoffman is dead from a drug overdose in his own house and a needle in his arm.

How does this happen? Why am I still here and he’s dead? These are the questions on my mind today.

What is clear to me is that success, fame, and fortune do not equal happiness and recovery. Further, many men and women in their forties die everyday. Many probably die from alcohol or drugs. We can’t really blame the heroin, though it is gnarly and deadly, because we know that the drug is just a symptom of a deeper suffering, a deeper sadness, and an inability to cope with reality.

Here’s what I know about happiness, the end of suffering, and recovery. (more…)