Taiji Day 22: Around Furniture

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Today, for a change, I did my taiji form and Five Golden Coins in the kitchen, around my grandmother’s dining room table.  My rules for myself were that I had to start and end in the same position — on the west side of the table, behind the chair, facing east.  I had to do the form once-through, and aware-ful-ly pass through all the postures in the Form, but I had to make them fit together in such a way that I passed through the whole room, all the way around the table.

It took twice as long as the form usually takes me, and I almost burned my dinner that was cooking on low heat in the background.  But it was a lot of fun.

Not the Expected Weekend

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I left work on Friday figuring I was going to the DMV, and then to my lady’s house to squire her and her progeny on a tour of the colleges that hadn’t rejected but might do more than wait list our favorite teen.

On the drive to my lady’s house, I watched cops pull over no fewer than three other vehicles — once the vehicle right in front of, once the vehicle right behind, and once the vehicle on my immediate left.  There was a phenomenal sense of being protected, even right under the very noses of the authorities, from reprisal for the ease with which I sailed along the highways and byways on my way north.  Thank you to the powers that guided and guarded me on that trip.  Yikes.

Saturday dawned with the news that our favorite teen had been wait listed with favored status at one school, accepted at another, and been emergency-rescheduled at work.  So instead of doing our expected heart-break tour of schools that weren’t even on the Safeties list a few months ago, we could rest easy, and return to our regularly-scheduled plans for the weekend.  The teen went off to work, and we went to our previously-scheduled Saturday evening engagement.

During the course of which, I was treated to the rare and unusual treat of experiencing a full-on anti-teacher rant.

The ranter in question is not a raving lunatic.  He is a capable and competent parent, a genial and interesting soul, a productive member of several communities, and a hard-working member of society.  He’s not a conservative by any means, and moved himself, his family, and most importantly his children out of a state where he felt the government had grossly overstepped its bounds in the name of small government.  Midway through the rant, he realized I was a teacher, and backpedaled a little, distinguishing between ‘educators’ who instruct students how to learn, and not just what to learn, and ‘teachers’ who merely teach to the test.  I’m not offended on my behalf — he’s a friend, and I hear where he’s coming from — but the conditions which he described in his children’s school are just ghastly.

The kids see the teachers as behaving more like bullies than the parents.  Some of them are the typical time-servers — more interested in finishing their service so they can draw a pension.  Some are ambitious would-be authority figures, looming in classes and hallways, trying to earn enough notches in their belt and hoping to be seen as suitable for ‘vice-principals’ or ‘heads of schools’. Some are timid, broken teachers, burned out by not enough care for their professional development and bad working conditions.  Others are convinced that the students are vicious little bastards, fit only for the army or the prison.

A long time ago, I said that I didn’t know of any bad teachers.  I’m retracting that remark, as best I can.  Increasingly, it’s clear to me that our profession, and the public school systems in this country in general, are in serious trouble.  Yes, we’re under assault from right and left, but that’s in part due to our own failings.  It’s easy to blame NCLB, or the standardized testing, or idiocies like New York’s publication of teacher ratings data.  But really, a lot of those things wouldn’t have happened if our profession was honored and respected.  And if our profession isn’t honored, and isn’t respected, it has something to do with the experience of this friend of mine, this concerned parent, who feels very strongly that his kids are more at risk of psychological attack from the adults in the school than from other kids.  That’s a problem.

Altering Egregores

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Magnolia? Or dogwood?

Is this a Dogwood or a Magnolia? Nope, turns out it's a Rose of Sharon. Changing plants leads to new insight.

Well. Last night, I went to a gathering of friends who talk about and do theurgic work — that is, they do magic as part of their spiritual path. They’re pretty awesome people, and we’ve been meeting at equinoxes for a few times.

Our preferred format for this equinox celebration was the Equinox ceremony from the Golden Dawn, as published by Israel Regardie… until this week.

See, a whole set of circumstances conspired together to prevent our scripts for the event from arriving at our gathering place last night. We laughed, we debated what to do on several levels, and debated “what it all means”. And then our current president got down to brass tacks, grabbed our one surviving GD script, and led us through a discussion of the different components of the ritual, all the way asking, “What are they trying to do in this part? How would we do it?”

So we wrote a new ritual, along the way developing a new theory and a new practice of magic weaving together bits of our own practice and our own development. And then we did it.

It totally worked.

Over the last few days, I’ve been reading about the ongoing discussion (OK, blooming flamewar) in the GD community, and the last outburst of it a number of years ago… and I realize that in my own magical practice I’ve been moving away from GD magic for a few years, at least. It’s no longer how any of us do our work. We’ve bowed out of the current, and I caught a sense during ritual that the egregore of the GD said a kind farewell as we went… and, I think, found a new egregore — the one we’d already been nurturing and developing, that was doing its own thing, and now doesn’t have to try to interface with the GD egregore any more; any of them.

During discussions afterward, it came out that two of our colleagues with teenagers are having a lot of challenges with the public high school that serves the town. Their children are unusual and gifted, and yet they’re getting a lot of grief from administrators and teachers for a) not conforming, and b) not really being in trouble, but not really being out of trouble, either, and c) not being utterly awesome.

And I was reminded, yet again, that it’s really hard to change the egregores of schools. It’s very difficult to change the underpinning, almost theological reality of what American schools are like. What my friends and magical colleagues objected to, was the way in which their kids’ school tried to control what their kids wore, what they said, what they said that they wanted to do and be, and how they wanted to live their life. Out of an average of seven teachers a year, for four years of high school (28 teachers) these two teens liked, and felt they had learned from, two teachers. The same two teachers. The others had seemed indifferent, and occasionally had been bigger bullies than the other students — not physically, of course, but far more in the way of mental intimidation. A 7% or so success rate of teachers helping two kids is not great.

If we as a country are going to resurrect the concept of public education, we’re going to have to do a better job of serving students and their families, because if kids are unhappy in school (particularly of their teachers) they’re not going to learn; the amygdala will see to it that the learning structures in their brains are turned off. Only, it’s going to take more than a shift of ritual structures to turn schools away from a possibly-toxic, tainted egregore such as we have now. It’s going to take some serious rethinking. At the core, though, are the three questions that our ritual president was asking:

“What were they trying to do here? Is that something worth doing? How would we do it ourselves?”