Teaching always makes me wonder about taken-for-granted assumptions passed down through the generations and how they affect our ability to really see and understand the world. For some reason, this morning I couldn’t help thinking about the way we refer to everything in the cosmos as theuniverse. The prefix uni- means “having or consisting of only one.”
Initially, I viewed the suffix, verse, literally, suggesting that universe meant one shared story. But that didn’t make sense after viewing the definitions of verse:
“writing that is arranged in a rhythmic pattern; poems: one of the parts into which a poem or song is divided: or one of the short parts into which the Bible is divided.” (Cambridge Dictionary)
Next, I explored the meaning of the word universe as a whole.
Universe – “All existing matter and space considered as a whole; the cosmos. The universe is believed to be at least 10 billion light years in diameter and contains a vast number of galaxies; it has been expanding since its creation in the Big Bang about 13 billion years ago.” (Oxford Dictionary)
That didn’t satisfy my curiosity about the origins of meaning, and why we need to characterize of the cosmos as one. I explored the etymology or origins of the term universe and learned the following.
“Borrowed from Latin universum (“all things, as a whole, the universe”), neuter of universus (“all together, whole, entire, collective, general, literally turned or combined into one”), from uni-, combining form of unus (“one”) + versus (“turned”), perfect passive participle of verto (“I turn”).” (Wiktionary)
Still, I wondered why “all that is everywhere through all of time” has been viewed as one. We certainly don’t act as if we view other beings who share this reality as really one with us. But we do expect others to see the world as we do. We expect others and nature to comply with our immediate and personal wants and preferences.
What would the world be like if we thought about the cosmos differently? If we saw the cosmos, or even our world, as collections of multi- (many) verses?
Would our imaginations be open to an infinite number of new possibilities? There have been times in my life when I read science fiction and fantasy novels, especially when facing problems I couldn’t solve without first breaking through limiting assumptions. The global appeal of other worlds presented by creative literature, art, music, and films has been enduring and well-documented. So many of us long for a better world, although we may define what better means in many different ways.
I found the concept of multiverses appealing today.
“The multiverse is a theoretical framework in modern cosmology (and high energy physics) which presents the idea that there exist a vast array of potential universes which are actually manifest in some way.” (Thoughtco)
It satisfies my need to continue to explore the question I ask myself each time I teach research.
Awakening suddenly in the semi-dark before dawn cold because the pile of blankets shifted
The only light muted yellow from the streetlight shining through the window to the north filtered through blinds and curtains
Opening my eyes to readjust covers I notice a strange lacy pattern covering the wall next to my bed
Despite blinking, the pattern remains With a sense of curiosity tinged neither by fear nor wonder I reach toward the wall
The pattern begins flowing and shimmering with light
Is this a dream of waking within a dream, I wonder? or an illusion of my hypnagogic state halfway between waking and sleeping? or is this a deeper vision of reality the patterning of interconnecting molecules that comprise matter and give the comforting illusion of solidity to material objects thus making it easier to function in a world constructed by others’ notions of reality?
I don’t know the answer but just for now I feel the need to put wonder aside to focus on tasks that need doing in the socially constructed reality I share with others in this time
“Stewardship is an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources. The concepts of stewardship can be applied to the environment and nature, economics, health, property, information, theology, etc.” ( Wikipedia)
Teaching requires discipline
“Acting when the time is right”
I arise early on class day
to give myself time to reflect and prepare
greeting the morning just before sunrise
gazing up at the cloudy grey skies
transforming miraculously before my eyes
ever pinker flowing clouds glowing above
trees of shimmering gold, orange, and red
an important foundation for
contemplating the things I love
Preparing enough to put stage fright aside
(still a constant despite decades of teaching and public speaking)
Autumn is always a busy time with gardens to harvest and a college course on research that needs to be updated. My colleague and I always try to consider what students will need to know for their work with people in the future. This year, we decided to focus on weaving our courses on research and community practice together even more tightly to help reduce confusion and workloads for our students. The shared focus we chose was exploring the connections between access to clean water and healthy communities.
Of course that means I have an opportunity to learn more about research on another topic that is relatively new to me. Fortunately, working collaboratively, my colleague and I discovered a number of important resources that we plan to share with students. Because this topic is so crucial for all of us, I’m sharing some of those resources here, too.
Following is an overview of what we have drafted thus far for our classes.
The focus of our work this semester will be on the connections between access to safe water and community health. Water is essential for life on our planet, yet many of us have grown up in communities where we learned to take it for granted. This is not the case for many people around the world. As climate changes accelerate and water supplies become endangered by pollution from many sources, issues affecting water quality are beginning to affect all of us. The question we need to consider as social workers (and members of communities) is what can we do to assure access to clean water before it is too late.
It is estimated that 80 percent of the world’s population lives within sixty miles of the coastline of an ocean, lake or river. (Wallace, 2014, p. 9)
Coastline communities are profoundly affected by the cleanliness and quality of the nearby water. Proximity to water doesn’t mean that access to clean water is a simple matter, even in countries that are classified as “economically and/or technologically developed,” like the United States. Outdated plumbing and pollution from natural or anthropogenic (human-caused) disasters have threatened water supplies. Communities that are economically or technologically disadvantaged face a host of other challenges.
Picture a day without clean water: You wake up to dirty clothes and bedding, as laundry is limited. You don’t take a shower, you can’t wash your face, and there is no coffee. As a woman in some places, you must take your daughter on a six-kilometer trek to fetch water for the day’s cooking, drinking, and caring of ill family members. To go to the bathroom, you wander deep into the fields, which is not only an inconvenience—it’s a safety risk. Besides snakes, spiders and aggressive animals, there are also ill-intentioned men. Sexual harassment and rape are not uncommon. (WWF, n.d., para. 1)
Wallace’s (2014) research points out that there are deeper connections between human communities and water beyond the physical necessity of water to sustain life.
There’s something about water that draws and fascinates us. No wonder: it’s the most omnipresent substance on Earth and, along with air, the primary ingredient for supporting life as we know it… Water covers more than 70 percent of Earth’s surface [96 percent of it saline]; 95 percent of those waters have yet to be explored. From one million miles away our planet resembles a small blue marble; from one hundred million miles it’s a tiny, pale, blue dot. ‘How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean,’ author Arthur C. Clark once astutely commented. (pp. 8-9)
Our innate relationship to water goes far deeper than economics, food, or proximity, however… [W]e spend our first nine months of life immersed in the ‘watery’ environment of our mother’s womb. When we’re born, our bodies are approximately 78 percent water. As we age, that number drops to below 60 percent – but the brain continues to be made of 80 percent water. (p. 10)
Without access to clean, safe water, life itself is at risk. Research and community practice provide us with a valuable opportunity to learn from the experiences of people in our local region, in our nation, and around the world. Communities both near and far have had to deal with disasters that left them without access to safe, life-sustaining water: hurricanes, droughts, forest fires, wars, toxic chemical spills, or faulty water and sanitation systems. From a social work perspective, access is important for the people we will serve at both the micro and macro levels of practice. This semester, in both research and practice with community systems, we will identify ways to explore issues affecting access to clean water and related consequences, as well as the effectiveness of organized community-awareness initiatives and innovative solutions among communities and community systems.
One of the most powerful videos I have watched about the connection between clean water and community health is the story of what happened to the Pima and Tohono O’odham peoples in southern Arizona when the river that once flowed through their homeland was diverted to provide water for white settlements and cities. After decades of fighting to restore the tribe’s water rights, Attorney Rod Lewis negotiated a settlement with the state of Arizona that guaranteed the return of water and funding to build the necessary infrastructure. The following video clip, from Unnatural Causes – Bad Sugar, tells the story of one of the tribe’s recovery initiatives:
Nichols, Wallace J. (2014). Blue mind: The surprising science that shows how being near, in, on, or under water can make you happier, healthier, more connected, and better at what you do. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Ultimately we are all alone
in a universe that seems indifferent
to the suffering of so many
our hearts may sometimes feel the pain
yet we can do little to understand or change
the ongoing forces of destruction and oppression
The only response may be doing what we can
to at least ease distress in the moment
when someone knocks on our door
not asking for healing or sanctuary
but merely a temporary respite
from chaos and imminent threat
The forces of harm remain unabated
attracting those who feel they have no worth
like moths mesmerized by a candle flame
that will surely consume them
unless they wake up in time
Perhaps kindness from a stranger
who asks nothing in return
will be enough to lighten the burden of aloneness
for both the askers and the givers
temporarily revealing the importance of compassion
Inspired by real life and two differing perspectives. The first is a reminder of the work of Albert Camus (1913-1060), who
“… introduced and developed the twin philosophical ideas—the concept of the Absurd and the notion of Revolt—that made him famous. These are the ideas that people immediately think of when they hear the name Albert Camus spoken today. The Absurd can be defined as a metaphysical tension or opposition that results from the presence of human consciousness—with its ever-pressing demand for order and meaning in life—in an essentially meaningless and indifferent universe. Camus considered the Absurd to be a fundamental and even defining characteristic of the modern human condition. The notion of Revolt refers to both a path of resolved action and a state of mind. It can take extreme forms such as terrorism or a reckless and unrestrained egoism (both of which are rejected by Camus), but basically, and in simple terms, it consists of an attitude of heroic defiance or resistance to whatever oppresses human beings. In awarding Camus its prize for literature in 1957, the Nobel Prize committee cited his persistent efforts to “illuminate the problem of the human conscience in our time.” He was honored by his own generation, and is still admired today, for being a writer of conscience and a champion of imaginative literature as a vehicle of philosophical insight and moral truth” (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
“When did the world break open for you and reveal its radiant light?
“I’m guessing we all have had fleeting revelatory glimpses of the sublime, the numinous. Sometimes it takes a great loss or crisis to trigger the moment of grace….
“These diamond-sharp moments cut through our haze, yet inevitably fade. We may relegate them to a corner of mind as moments of madness or anomaly, but such non-ordinary experiences seem to be in the increase and may be showing us a world more real than the one we think we know” (Kosmos).
It’s not easy when others expect you to be a bodhisattva
or describe you as the smartest person in the room
You know it’s the kiss of death to friendships
Those who seek status and control will vengefully attack
Those you thought friends will opine “I’m not in your league”
and demand you assume responsibility, make decisions, and lead
How can others learn their own wisdom, strengths, or who they are
if they always expect others to know the answers and serve as the vanguard?
You know you’re not anyone’s guru –
you stumble and fall more times than most
After a while you retreat and grow silent
knowing others need to find their own truths
all you can do is to keep seeking and forging your own path
It’s a paradox, isn’t it
when the only way to lead is to simply live
without need of recognition or followers
in hopes that others will find the song in their own hearts
that’s been waiting patiently to be discovered all along
I wrote this poem when I was wondering if I would recover from a serious illness recently. Although I am recovering, there are no guarantees for the future. It’s only one moment at a time now, so I have to be ever mindful of how I spend those moments. I had no intentions of sharing this poem until today when I read the following passage from Gitanjali: Spiritual Poems of Rabindranath Tagore.
I THOUGHT that my voyage had come to its end at the last limit of my power, ⎯ that the
path before me was closed, that provisions were exhausted and the time come to take
shelter in a silent obscurity.
But I find that thy will knows no end in me. And when old words die out on the tongue,
new melodies break forth from the heart; and where the old tracks are lost, new country
is revealed with its wonders.
(from Gitanjali: Spiritual Poems of Rabindranath Tagore – An e-book presentation by The Spiritual Bee, pp. 31-32)
I wonder how many others have felt silenced by others’ expectations for them to be strong, smart, or a spiritual healer because of their Native American heritage. Reading Tagore is helping me focus on following what’s in my own heart. He’s a gifted thinker and poet.
If you want to read more of Tagore’s work, you can access a free copy from The Spiritual Bee. “This e-book is a reproduction of the original “Gitanjali – Song Offerings” by Rabindranath Tagore, first published in 1913. This book is now in the public domain in the United States and in India; because it’s original copyright owned by the Macmillan Company has expired.”
The Spiritual Bee also has a number of other copyright-expired books that can be downloaded for free.
A welcoming space for resistance to the forces of oppression and hegemony.