I am reminded yet again, of how the lines between the so-called "categories" of life become blurry. In an earlier post I wrote about seeking passion - in yoga and in other areas of life.
Work is definitely one area in which there must be passion. Sure, there will always be moments of frustration, or moments of doubt, when the challenges are great. But at the end of the day, there must be passion. This is what gets us up in the morning.
I am fortunate that I have found something to be passionate about early on, and have since worked in the field of early childhood intervention. Years ago, in my first year of teaching, I learned a very valuable lesson from a child and family I worked with, about the inclusion of a child with a disability. That child, that family, and that particular experience was my first teacher. I am humbled to this day, and I owe them much gratitude for teaching me an important life lesson and inspiring me to become a better teacher... and more importantly, to teach with compassion and passion.
I recently had an opportunity to listen to Ann Turnbull, a well-respected professor, researcher, and national expert in the field of special education, through a "webinar" for educators and families. She herself is a parent of an individual with a disability, and she spoke about her son, who passed away last year at the age of 40. He developed a passion for music in early childhood, and this passion for music continued on throughout his adult years. This was her message to the audience of educators and families:
"What passions are you facilitating in the children that you teach, so that they can use this passion as a way to connect with others, to feel self-esteem... as a way to contribute, as a way to truly have a quality of life?"
Wow. That is a great challenge. It is a challenge that inspires: how do we take action from here?
She went on to say:
"Make room for genuine relationships."
And the most important lesson: "We are not just in the education business, or the rehabilitation business. We are in the dignity business."
These are important lessons, not just for the work we do to practice inclusion in classrooms, but beyond that. In yoga, we talk about yoga "off the mat" - we talk about how we "live" our yoga. Along the same lines, how do we "live" inclusion beyond the classroom? How do we truly include people of varying abilities in our lives, in our communities, so that they have dignity and quality of life?
So why am I writing about this?
Because I think that yoga - which by definition, is union - is also about inclusion. I am not separate from you, or you, or you. Which is why, at the end of a yoga practice, an instructor typically says, "Namaste." The word is derived from the Sanskrit namas, which means "I bow," and te, which means "to you," - "I bow to you." An extended translation is "The light in me honors the light in you" or "The divine in me honors the divine in you." Such beautiful, profound words - but made even more beautiful when it carries over to other parts of our lives: to our relationships, to our work, and everything else. Because what good is my spiritual practice, if it is not truly practiced?
So I am prompted, especially, to think about how I should try to live by these words in my work: to always remember that people are differently-abled, not disabled. To keep in mind that we are not separate, and that by disregarding your dignity I also disregard mine. To never forget to hope... and to be a source of hope. To not just teach with passion, but to elicit and foster passion in others, so that they can live out their passions. Because the purpose of education goes beyond the 4 walls of a classroom.
Because we should all be in the "dignity business."
And so I say to all those children and families who have taught me the most important life lessons, and reminded me everyday about dignity: Namaste. I bow to you. The light in me honors the light in you.
To Gabe and his mother, Mrs. K: Thank you for what you've taught me through your compassion and gentleness.