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Learning to Live Better: Participating in the Senior Olympics

An interview with Mike Fishman

 

This interview was published in Seeds in 1997,1 after Mike's remarkable triathalon performance in the 1996 Senior Olympics at the age of 83. The highlights of Mike's subsequent stellar career at the Senior Olympics are described in the postscript to this article. After Mike's death in 2008, Seeds felt that the enthusiasm with which he had lived his 95 years was a real gift to be shared as widely as possible.

Michael Fishman was born in 1913 of a Polish mother and a Russian father who had arrived in America about 1907. In 1918 his mother died of the flu, and young Mike was sent to an orphanage where he lived until he was 13. This marked the end of his formal education-he was in 8th grade. At that time, the shoe industry was a thriving business in the towns north of Boston. His father and brothers worked there for several years, and Mike eventually opened his own successful tannery.

Upon his retirement, he and his wife Hermine moved to Cape Cod and, at the age of 79, he began training for the Senior Olympics. Ron Fishman, Mike's son, conducted this interview in Cape Cod in the summer of 1996.

You participate in sports events for seniors. Can you tell us something about this? What sports do you practice?
Originally, I played golf most of the time after I retired. Eventually I bought a bike for the first time in my life, so then most of my activities revolved around biking and golf.

How did you get interested in bicycling?
A neighbor of mine bought a bike-he went to Sears Roebuck and got one. He asked me to go along with him, so I went to Sears and bought a bike, too. I'm the kind of guy who likes to try something new, and that sounded new to me. The funny thing is, I don't remember ever going biking with him again. I found some friends of mine who had bikes and we formed a small group and started biking. This was about 10 years ago.

And how old are you now?
I'll be 83 on October 10.

So at 73 you started bicycling?
Yes, for the first time. Since the original group was formed, it has grown to about 50 people. There are lots of husbands and wives, and about 90 percent of the group is retired. These are people who like to get out and do things. They're not couch potatoes, and it was a pleasure to meet these kinds of people.

So what was in part a social event also turned out to be good exercise?
Exactly.

But you also took it a step farther. You went into competition.
Yes. When I was about 78 or 79 years old, a friend of mine was looking for a tennis partner. I had played some tennis before, but I wasn't very good at it. This was great, I thought, because it was so different from golf. Tennis is really exciting. You can go out on the court at 9 o'clock and by 10:30 you've had a very good workout.

And you got some lessons, didn't you?
Yes, that was the first thing I did, and this is good advice for anyone. I started getting lessons, because there is one thing that I found out-bad habits have a way of sticking with you. Getting good habits is very, very important, and the only way to get good habits is to get an expert to show you what good habits are.

You weren't very active before tennis and biking. Did you find that trying these activities inspired you to do more things?
Yes, I noticed how much better I felt. So I tried more and more things.

You've been a swimmer for a good part of your life, too.
That's right. I didn't get much schooling in my life, but I did join the YMCA, and eventually made the YMCA swimming team. It is my favorite sport, because swimming is a sport that utilizes your whole body. There is not so much strength in it, but there is a kind of rhythm to it. I find I even start singing a song as I get into the rhythm, and it is very relaxing.

Do you find a kind of silence in swimming?
Yes, indeed. You are there swimming, all alone really, where no one can interfere with your thoughts. It's peaceful.

There is one other sport that is a fairly recent addition to your sports repertoire, and that is running.
Right. I had never done any running in my life except on a tennis court. Then a friend of mine asked me to be his tennis partner in the Senior Olympics. It was to take place down in Springfield, Massachusetts, and that seemed like a long way to go for just a couple of sets of tennis-it's more than a 100 miles. So I asked him what else they had in the Senior Olympics. When he showed me the list, I couldn't believe it. They have practically everything that they have in the regular Olympics. When I saw the triathalon, I said, "Gee, this appeals to me. This is a challenge."

What is the triathalon event?
It consists of a quarter of a mile swim, a 12.4-mile bike ride and a 3.1-mile run.

Wasn't that a lot to take on at 79 years old-training for such a competition?
I just don't think in those terms. I never seem to be able to feel I am any particular age. The only feeling I ever have is what I think I could do. And I thought I could do it. So I chose to swim, to play tennis competitively, to run. I sought out a running coach to teach me how to run.

How do you find coaches?
Ask around! Actually, I had a small problem with my heart-it would skip a beat. So I went to my heart doctor and found out he was a marathon runner and a triathaloner. He is sort of a mentor for me. I still call him for advice. He gave me the names of some good coaches. In fact, he has a video of me when I was on Boston and Cape Cod television, and he uses it in his lectures. He told me he is going to use me as a role model, whatever that means!

Well, you are definitely a role model, for many people of all ages. Tell us more about how you got involved in the Senior Olympics. What was it like? What did you do?
Well, I got some training on running and swimming. Swimming is altogether different today from the days I used to swim at the YMCA. The scientists took over, the coaches began to use very scientific instruments to find out the most efficient way to swim. I actually had to almost learn how to swim all over again, because it is so completely different from the old method of swimming. I saw a running coach, too, and I talked to my heart doctor about it. I told him that my wife was very, very worried that I was going to go out and kill myself. So my heart doctor asked me, "Are you enjoying it?" and I said, "Yes, very much," and he said, "Well if you die, you die!"

My running coach said pretty much the same thing. I asked him, "What do you think of a guy my age trying to run three miles (without stopping, if possible!)?" and he said, "You know, you are going to spend a hell of a long time inside that casket. If you enjoy it, do it." And he said I looked physically able to do it. So I got the coaching I needed. I even got coaching on my bike recently-I got a new bike, a real racing bike.

So you feel having good equipment is a real benefit?
Good equipment, depending how serious you are, that is, if you really want to do it. The bug has bitten me. I want to do the triathalon when I'm 83, when I'm 84, when I'm 85. Good equipment is very important.

The first time I did the event, I did the triathalon in an hour and 49 minutes, and the second time I beat that time by six minutes. My big incentive today is to beat myself. At my age, I don't get too much competition. Not many people my age are doing this event. This year I beat every mark that I did before, even in swimming: the 50 meter, 100 meter, the 200 meter, and in singles and doubles tennis.

How do you find training? Is it better for you to train alone, or with other people?
Oh, I've done it both ways, but I much prefer doing it with other people. In our bicycle group, for example, we have grown to about 50 people. Every other week or so one couple invites the rest of us over for brunch, then we bike together and have a great time.

Did you find it difficult to get in shape for competition?
Yes, first of all, you cannot start in competing right away. You've got to build yourself up for competition. I'm the enthusiastic type, and as my running coach told me, I could hurt myself by forcing too much. As a starter, you've got to do little by little, stage by stage, until you reach the level where you are able to compete. If you go too fast, you can hurt yourself, you can pull a muscle or have a problem with your hamstring. So you've got to do it intelligently, and get the right kind of advice.

Did you ever find that you did push yourself too much, or did you always follow your doctor's advice?
My doctor told me, "You are the kind of guy who will have to learn from experience." And it was true. I was too excited and I did get some muscle strain because I was too anxious to get ahead as fast as I could do. You've got to do it intelligently.

Was it difficult to get back in training after being laid up for awhile?
Definitely. You need a schedule, and when you get off your schedule, it takes some time to get back into it. Also, I'm not a morning-type person. Most people get up early and are in the swimming pool by 6:30, but I like to sleep late and then read the funny papers. So I've been able to incorporate this into my schedule and my way of life.

So you've found a nice balance, being able to get the discipline you needed without making it forced?
That's right. And it took about a year of training before I got any kind of confidence that I could compete. The word Olympics always kind of scared me. I thought everyone there would be these great athletes. But I wanted to try. And I found out they were pretty much like me. They weren't that far superior to my abilities. Of course, my biggest competitor is myself. I am always trying to beat my own marks.

I'm always talking Olympics to my friends, and sometimes I think I should use another term, because they feel they're not competent enough to do it too. They think they are too old. But I didn't start until after I was 70, and it's hard to convey my feelings to these people. If only you would try it! There is such a camaraderie with my competitors, I look forward to seeing them, and it's a friendship that is special. Everyone is friendly and helpful, they will give you advice to help you compete and maybe beat them. They are nice, nice people, and it's worthwhile just to get to know these people.

I know I'm not going to break any records in these events, but the experience-not only competing, but sharing the experience with others-has made me feel so much better, so much younger. I don't do anything I don't want to do, I enjoy it all. And I'm not looking to live longer. I'm looking to live better.

Do you think you discovered something in yourself you didn't know was there?
Well, let's see. What's the word I want? It's a challenge. And challenge always spells excitement. And if you have fun doing it, I tell you, there is no better way to retire.

What kind of advice would you give to seniors? Is it a matter of getting physical exercise or of getting into competition?
Feeling good physically is what is important. If competition is not your cup of tea, of course you don't want to get into it. Physical exercise is what is important. It's a matter of your mind and body. Your mind can be affected by your body.

This advice is for people of all ages: see a doctor, get advice, and stick to it. There was a time I weighed 170 lbs. and I'm 5 foot 6. I weigh 130 lbs. now. At that time, my cholesterol was close to 200. Now it's down to 151. And it is practically all due to my exercise. I'm not aware that I changed my diet that much, but I must have a little bit due to the incentive of the exercise, but I'm sure it was the exercise that made the difference.

What are the ages of the participants in the Senior Olympics?
Fifty and up. The largest group is between the ages of 60 and 70. You compete only with people within increments of 5 years. If you are 80, you compete with people between 80 and 85.

How many compete at that level?
Very few, very few. When I played tennis, I only had three competitors. When I swam, it was also three competitors. For the triathalon, I was the only one.

I know that it was a very emotional time for our family (and your grandchildren) when we all watched you at the Senior Olympics in June of '96. Everyone receiving awards there was more than 10 years younger than you. They received their awards first, starting with the gold, silver and bronze medals, and when they announced your gold medal, there was a standing ovation. A very long, sustained standing ovation. Everyone else got polite applause for theirs. How did you feel?
The applause surprised me because I don't think in terms of age. I always think, "Hey, I'm like these other guys. I'm no different." But what pleased me the most was seeing my family, my kids and my grandkids, and their wives. I could see they were proud of the old man. In fact, my grandson always called me Poppi or Grandfather, but now he calls me Mike. He puts me in the same category as himself. I find that a supreme compliment, coming from a teenager.

That's for sure! So you were surprised by the standing ovation?
I sure was. I was amazed at the length of applause. It didn't stop until I got off the stage.

It's really inspiring for people to see someone willing to make the effort.
That's what I got out of it. Some of my competitors came and told me, "Hey, maybe I could do the triathalon when I'm your age." They look at me and they see that I don't seem that unusual.

You are not resting now, either. You plan to participate in the nationals?
Yes, in Tucson, Arizona, about 10,000 people will be competing in May of 1997, and I look forward to that, meeting people from all over the country there.

What have you learned from competing in the Senior Olympics?
If I could pick one word, it would be "exciting." You've got to find something that excites you. After you play bridge for awhile, it might not do that. If you can plan ahead to do something that excites you, it will make you years and years younger. I've enjoyed it so much. I advise all those couch potatoes out there to change their lifestyle. It doesn't have to be the Olympics-just get out there and meet people and find something fun to do. 

 

Postscript

When I interviewed my father for Seeds more than 12 years ago, he was four years into his life as a "Senior Olympian." He had already made his mark on the track and in the pool not only as the oldest competitor, but as one of the most game. This was only the start of what turned out to be a 15-year adventure of preparing for and participating in these events.

In 1997, I joined Mike in Tucson, Arizona where he participated in the National Senior Olympics. Ten thousand of the country's top senior athletes converged in the desert to compete and have a good time. Mike signed up for the triathlon, joining only 76 others who stepped up to take on the most challenging event offered. The race began at 6:00 am due to the heat. After only a few hours of sleep and a bottle of Jolt, Mike got a fast start and never looked back. Contrary to his statement in the interview before the competition that he wouldn't be breaking any records, he smashed the national record by over 20 minutes in the 80-84 year old age group. He also beat 25 contestants younger than himself! He attributed this feat to being at the peak of his biorhythm.

His career as a senior athlete extended to almost yearly regional appearances at the re-named Senior Games. He also made a journey to Utah at 91 to participate in the World Games. His balance had since abandoned him, making bike riding impossible, so very reluctantly he gave up the triathlon. However, his passion for tennis grew more every year and provided an ever-expanding place in which to channel his enthusiasm, hone his skills and make new friends-which he always did! When neither I nor my brother was available to play with him, he would hike a mile and a half to a tennis court with a racquet and a bag full of balls. If there was nobody there to play with, he would practice hitting the balls for hours. He often found a kind soul to drive him home afterwards, often after getting lost.

At 93, he tore his hamstring two-thirds through the 200 meter dash and slumped to the ground in pain. Seeing that he was almost at the end, however, he picked himself up and dragged himself to the finish line as the onlookers jumped to their feet and cheered him on. He was back at the Games in 2008, at 94, and with his granddaughter at his side as his trainer, Mike breezed through the 100 and 200 meter dashes. He wanted to then run over to the pool to compete in the 100 meter freestyle, but we held him back. Mike had developed aortic valve stenosis over the last few years that restricted the blood flowing from the heart. The cardiologist had warned that at any time, especially while exercising, the valve would close up and his heart would stop beating. Although we had adopted Mike's "if I die, I die" attitude towards his ongoing exploits, we weren't going to push it.

A month after that competition, when Mike and his wife Hermine of 69 years were finishing a walk on a beautiful summer afternoon, he had a heart attack and died instantly. He had been enthusiastically planning his next big "event" in October, the celebration of his 95th birthday.

Over the years, Mike had become a kind of rock star at the Senior Games, on the tennis courts and where he lived. People always approached him, thanking him for being such an inspiration to them. He represented an alternative to old age that was fun and energetic and displayed an attitude that had no giving up in it. He never used old age as an excuse to slow down, even after dementia had become part of the equation. He was, and will continue to be, a bright example how to approach life as an exciting challenge until the very end.

Ron Fishman, 2008

 

1. Originally published in Seeds of Unfolding, Vol. XIV, No.1, 1997.

Mike and granddaughter Kate being interviewed by Chinese TV after the 200 meter dash. The clip was broadcast in China in a piece about athletically active elders.

Mike and granddaughter Kate being interviewed by Chinese TV after the 200 meter dash. The clip was broadcast in China in a piece about athletically active elders.

 

 

Interdependence on a Personal Note

By Cafh Members

Everything we do has an influence on us, on those around us and on the world, whether we perceive it or not. The importance we give to this influence and to our way of life reveals who we are, not only to others but also to ourselves. Spiritual Life, chapter 11.

The teaching of Cafh stresses the need for all human beings to develop an attitude of interdependence, given the fact that we are simultaneously individuals and a part of a much greater whole. As a group of Cafh members in Los Angeles, we undertook to examine practical ways in which to develop this attitude in various spheres of our lives. The following article looks at interdependence in the personal sphere. To read another article on this theme, go to "Interdependence in the Workplace," published earlier in Seeds.

gardening

Everything that we usually consider as important has to do with other persons. In the home environment we are wives or husbands, parents, sons or daughters, grandchildren, companions. We have relationships with many people. Here is what two of us discovered in reflecting upon interdependence in our personal lives.

Home as a Place to Nurture Interdependence

For two years after selling our long-time home, my husband and I did not live in one space that we could set up as our "home." We stayed with different members of our family, living out of suitcases and borrowing others' kitchens, bedrooms, and bathrooms. Our family members were very generous and loving, but not having an "outer" home really took a toll on my inner stability and overall sense of well-being. I realized how dependent I had become on one place to call home—my home. I learned how to build my "inner" home: a place in my being where I could become stable and strong wherever I found myself awakening each morning.

The experience taught me how I had taken my inner home for granted, not being conscious of how it is with me wherever I am. During these two years, I developed a method consisting of various practices to foster an interdependent attitude. I deliberately nurtured my inner space with meditation, reflection, silence and joy. In this way my interior home supported me whenever needed. The experience of living without an outer home made me realize how necessary a strong, supportive inner home is. This is true whenever one travels or one's routine is interrupted for any reason.

After rebuilding our outer home, I will never take living in my own home for granted. We are stewards of our home—taking care to create a safe, comfortable, beautiful space for ourselves and all family and visitors who enter. An interdependent relationship with our home is fundamental, because this space provides the place within which souls live and flourish. Although the inner method I developed can be practiced anywhere, I see that having one environment in which to unfold and experiment with life contributes a great deal to a soul's peace and well-being. Home is also a place to invite people to, a place for friendships to develop and activities to take place. A home becomes a place to offer others a full expression of one's life, and this of course includes the Road of Cafh. Thus, we take care as we build our home, and our home offers its presence and space to many.

In our case, our home also offers an opportunity for four people to practice interdependent living, as two of my sisters also live on the estate. We've applied the exercise of dialogue in order to discuss living issues, resulting in minimal emotional conflict and few interruptions. We share common spaces while maintaining individual privacy. We greet each other with love and compassion each morning. We fill in for each other during times of travel. We nurture each other in times of illness. Because of living interdependently, we live joyfully and peacefully, supporting each other in times of trial and fully celebrating our lives together. Truly our home is a blessing for many.

Challenges and Opportunities with Marriage and Family

I find that being interdependent in the relationship with my husband takes a lot of effort from both of us. Interdependence comes out of the attitude of mutual respect and mutual understanding, and it encourages us to speak more candidly, to be more honest and to deal with issues rather than to ignore them. So we go into the situation not trying to find "my solution," and not knowing where we are going to arrive, although we know that it will be better than what we are experiencing. Of course we need to be humble, to accept changes and be willing to be vulnerable. Only in this way can we exchange insights and listen heart to heart with real respect and empathy. In other words, we are two independent persons who recognize the interdependent nature of our problem and want to solve it interdependently, not spending time fighting or defending our positions.

For me this is not easy. I would like my husband to agree with me, to think the way I think, to go along with my ideas. But this does not happen the majority of the time. And I recognize that if we did not have differences in our opinions, we would not have the option of creating new solutions and opportunities. In fact, we count on each other's different perspectives to help us make better decisions. We count on each other's strengths to compensate for our individual weaknesses, and then we work interdependently as a complementary team. For example, it is easier for me than for my husband to write down ideas, to prepare documents, to complete manuscripts or teachings. But his understanding and interpretation of teachings, books or new theories or concepts is very thorough and far deeper than mine. So we work together very often. I write and he gives me long explanations for many of the points that we want to make.

I also have concluded that interdependence is really important for my family as a whole. For many years, we usually celebrated every birthday, anniversary or other special occasion at our home with a nice dinner. Since it was very hard for me to delegate jobs in the kitchen, thinking it would take me more time to explain and show how to do something than to do it myself, I never asked the members of my family for their help. Consequently, after a whole day of hard work, I would end up being nervous, upset, exhausted and disappointed with everyone for their lack of cooperation. With time, I came to realize that if we all shared the effort, just as in any other work, the dinners would be easier—not so tiring for me—and we could enjoy the time together in a more relaxed and happier way. When I showed my kids that we could work interdependently for this to happen, everyone responded in the most beautiful way.

I also try to help our grandchildren understand what interdependence is. Now that they are old enough to comprehend the meaning of synergistic effects, they realize that working together, having fun together and caring for each other lead to a much more creative and nurturing environment than being concerned only with oneself. So now, instead of giving them individual presents for the holidays, I buy them games that all the family can participate in and together enjoy the challenge of collective thinking.

One such game is "Pandemics." All the players form a team that works to prevent the spread of epidemics throughout the world and save humanity from a global pandemic. Each one takes on the role of one of the scientists at the Center for Disease Control, but it is up to the whole team of specialists to find cures for the diseases before we are wiped out. Players must work together, playing to their characters' strengths and planning their strategy of eradication. This is a truly cooperative game, where you all win or you all lose, where, instead of competing against each other, everyone makes their best effort so that together they will be able to bring health and care to others.

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In retrospect, we can say that a home is definitely a building, but when we live interdependently, a home is so much more: a space for respecting quiet reflection or collaborating in joyful gatherings. This "space" becomes an expression of the people living there and the activities and events that happen there. A marriage, a family, a friendship, a gathering, a building—who can say these are not all "homes"?  One is reminded of the well-known saying: "Home is where the heart is." 

Kitchen


 
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Integrating Meditation and Daily Life

By Bob Magrusso

 Robert Magrisso has been a Cafh member for over 40 years. He was one of the founders of the Cafh group in the Chicago area where he and his wife raised their family and continue to live. He is a physician practicing internal medicine and is also an artist. Many of his articles and artworks are available on the Seeds of Unfolding website (see list below). He is particularly interested in the intersection of science and spirituality. Bob was interviewed by Maristela Zell, a member of the Cafh group in Chicago.

 

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foot path

Interdependence in the Workplace

By a group of Cafh members

 

Everything we do has an influence on us, on those around us and on the world, whether we perceive it or not. The importance we give to this influence and to our way of life reveals who we are, not only to others but also to ourselves. Spiritual Life, chapter 11.

The teaching of Cafh stresses the need for all human beings to develop an attitude of interdependence, given the fact that we are simultaneously individuals and a part of a much greater whole. A group of members of Cafh in Los Angeles undertook to examine practical ways in which to develop this attitude in various spheres of our lives.

Given its importance to modern society, the theme of interdependence in the workplace is being studied in many forums today. For the purposes of organizing our reflections on our own individual work on this topic, we would like to present some of the key ideas that Stephen R. Covey shared in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.1

Habit 4: Think Win-Win
Genuinely strive for mutually beneficial solutions or agreements in your relationships. Value and respect people by understanding a "win" for all is ultimately a better long-term resolution than if only one person in the situation had gotten his way.

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
Use empathic listening, with the intent to understand, to be genuinely influenced by a person, which compels him or her to reciprocate the listening and take an open mind to being influenced by you. This creates an atmosphere of caring, respect, and positive problem solving.

These are but two of many habits that build interdependence in the workplace. We explored them as we confronted and resolved various challenges in our daily efforts to express the spirit of interdependence. Here is our account of what we discovered and practiced in our places of work over the course of a year.

Challenge: to realize that although we work hard to make meaningful contributions to our field of expertise, that contribution is not the result of independent effort

One of us deals with this challenge in her research.

In my work I try to discover the mechanisms that move cells to behave in one way or the other, or the pathways that signal cascades of reactions in different tissues of the body, or the genes that, when mutated, cause diseases in animals and humans. As I do this, I make the effort to keep in mind and be grateful to all those who have worked on these questions in the past, or who are now publishing their data on studies that have paved the way to what I'm doing today, or who communicated the things that did not work so that I could find what would lead to a solution. I try to acknowledge my interdependence with all these other investigators as well as with the technicians and students who, in one way or another, are helping me to obtain the longed for results. I have made it a habit to share the credit we get with the many researchers who preceded us. It is only through this interdependent effort that we can achieve progress, since no one researcher has all the ideas, knowledge or capability to carry out the complete work. Therefore, it is really important for me to be able to work together with others, learning from each other and helping each other, for the good of those who will receive the benefit of our hours and hours of study and dedication.

Challenge: to realize that, in interdependence, there are no authorities

This is a challenge that several of us working in different spheres wrestle with.

When collaborating with coworkers who lack the practice, wealth of experience, or background knowledge that I and others have, it is easy to assume that they should spend more time listening than speaking. When they bring up suggestions that have been tested and found impractical, it's easy to dismiss them and bring up what we feel would be effective. But, then I remind myself that these suggestions are being tried by new individuals who will have their own experiences and insightful outcomes to share if only they are allowed to do so.

In the field of education, particularly early childhood education, changes have occurred that I believe are not necessarily to the benefit of the students. But these are the standards that have been adopted, and coworkers who have been trained in these standards can help me to accommodate and enable the students under my care to be successful. Moreover, to quote or be attached to my own "authorities" would be to negate the fact that my coworkers are also educated professionals who have information and insights that can expand my understanding in this domain.

Imbued with the spirit of interdependence, we understand that nobody learns from just one person; we always learn from each other.

Challenge: individual styles

This is a hefty challenge! With limited time for discussion of critical topics in the workplace, it is easy to become impatient with individuals who want to bring up personal issues. But, for these souls, those issues are vital and so have a place in the group setting. By giving them some time and listening to them, we may be able to solve problems and achieve a good and healthy environment in the place we spend so many hours every day. We approach situations differently but we are all part of the same team.

The awareness of different styles, however, is not one-sided. Coworkers may also give us feedback on our own attitudes. One of us recounted her efforts to meet this challenge.

I also try to work in an interdependent way with the students I teach in classes or in the laboratory. I give them information that they need to assimilate, digest and make their own, but they teach me to be patient, to repeat the same thing as many times as necessary without getting bored or anxious and to be open to insights on how to interact with some of them. They also give me feedback on attitudes or habits I have and am not aware of. Indeed, many of the ideas that I develop in our studies grow out of their ideas or questions.

Just yesterday, one of them, after discussing at length parts of a manuscript that we were writing, said to me:

You are so stubborn and only write in the classical way, in the style you have always followed! Why can't we write using a freer style and explaining things with more realistic examples that people can relate to better? For example, why can't we say that the staining pattern of this compound resembles a string of pearls or a necklet surrounding the cells' nuclei?

After a minute of silence, I realized that I needed to be more humble. I accepted this student's input and we changed and/or incorporated several other statements into the paper. I learned that in order to maintain good relationships with others, I can't always do things the way I think is proper or the way I want. Instead of sticking to my "independent" way of acting and deciding on things, I have to become more interdependent.

When reflecting on this incident, I saw how it related to something that I had read by Hans Selye,2 a world-wide recognized endocrinologist who introduced the concept of stress in a medical context. He compared the results of an independent-achievement focus to

...the development of a cancer, whose most characteristic feature is that it cares only for itself. Hence, it feeds on the other parts of its own host until it kills the host-and thus commits biological suicide, since a cancer cell cannot live except within the body in which it started its reckless, egocentric development.

In other words, I need not only to acknowledge my self-centered behavior, which harms all my relationships, but also to change this behavior and work together with others. This interdependent attitude allows me to make the best use of my time and get good results. Moreover, instead of spending time trying to solve problems created by a lack of communication, I work on my relationships to make effective communication possible.

It's not simply a matter of interdependence between adult teacher and adult student. The same humility and recognition of individual styles are meaningful in connections between adult teacher and child student. A striking incident proving this point has remained with me throughout the years.

One of the learning challenges for young children, no matter how simplistic it may be, is standing in a line. It was a hot afternoon when the validation of interdependence in communication occurred.

A group of thirsty children were standing in line, but one of them kept pushing and shoving. I kept repeating "stand in line," "stand in line," but the student kept on pushing and shoving. Finally, exasperated, I turned to him and said, "Do you know what stand in line means????" He calmly replied, "Yes," raised his two hands in the shape of claws, and replied, "standing in lion."

* * * * *

Yes, young or old, animal, plant or mineral, we are all interdependent! And, without allowing for space, time, and silence, we will find it difficult to work effectively together

Notes

1 Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (NY, Toronto: Simon and Schuster, 1990).

2 Hans Seyle, Stress without Distress (Philadelphia & New York: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1974), p. 65.

Awakening: An Illustrated Search for Meaning

By Delia Tolz

 
Beckoning Call
 
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Each of us asks ourselves at one time or another: "Why am I here? Is there a deeper meaning to life? My life? How can I become more aware? Is there a Divine presence? How can I nurture the Divine within myself?" Awakening offers us a simple and beautiful, yet direct and profound, method to awaken, or uncover, the inner recesses of our hearts and minds. Then, these questions, and perhaps a response or two, might be explored.

In the introduction Delia Tolz shares her own spiritual journeys, thoughts, and meditations. Images that she evokes inwardly help her to go deep into her heart and soul, where she discovers guidance and her true intention during that moment and the many moments of her day. As an artist, her inner experiences are "translated into colored pencil drawings. They are the tangible expression of my inner journey and a way to share it with others."

Each of 30 illustrations is accompanied by a title and a "verse, prayer, poem, or inner dialogue that came to me as I was drawing." This is followed by a simple exercise and two short questions to help the reader go more deeply into his/her own search for meaning. The written words which complement each drawing demonstrate that a few words can embrace depth and focus meaning. The colorful, evocative images touch us in a space unreachable with the spoken language.

The artist includes a section entitled "Working with the Drawings" to help the reader develop an approach to using this book as an aid to awakening. She offers several suggestions, so each can discover his/her own method-what works for one's personal meditations or reflections. We each have gifts, often hidden, for us to awaken and nurture. Delia Tolz offers us the possibility to actually uncover what lies within us by sharing her very unique and special gifts with us, and for this we are deeply grateful.

I would like to share the way I worked with one of the images, Dance of Life (pp. 40-41).

The inspirational reflection is simple: I dance in unison with my companions. The exercise gives us a clue how to carry out this "dance:" When I notice that I interact with a companion through the patterns of a role, I pause and shift to my true inner self. "Well," I thought, "how do I know what my true inner self is? How can I identify it and bring it forth?" The first question gave me just the clue I needed: Who is beneath each role?

Dance of Life
 

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For several weeks, I had been disagreeing with my spouse over a particular issue, and for the life of me I could not understand his point of view. I was clearly wedded to my own opinion. When I focused on the exercise and question, I realized I had fallen into my usual "role" of spouse, which completely limited my perspective. I thought: "OK, I may not understand my spouse's point of view but I can at least try to listen to him explain it without judging him." Boy, was I surprised! He had put a lot of thought about our marriage and future into his viewpoint, and on this we found common ground. I then shared my objections, and he understood. Together we resolved our disagreement and were able to move forward. So, I actually was able, through experience, to answer the second question: Regardless of my role, do I connect with others? Yes! A big, resounding YES!

I recommend without any reservation this book to anyone and everyone. Each of us will interact with the pictures and words in whichever way, on whatever level, we choose and are comfortable with. At the very least we enjoy a few moments with new ideas and images. For most, a whole new way of viewing one's world-everyone's world-will open for exploration, reflection, and interaction.

Feedback from other readers:

Mary Hoeppner: "The pictures are particularly helpful for stimulating an open mental and inner attitude."

Roberta Sweat: "I think this book is terrific. The line drawings are so beautiful and the accompanying text is wonderful. It is a good book for meditation."

Jack King: "What a wonderful trip. The art is so special. As I did some of the exercises the colors of the pictures captured me. The depth of the exercises expanded into a practice that allowed me to meet the Divine. I am going to give copies to my family because I feel it will be something they can resonate with. I cannot say enough about how the book took me to places I have never been. Glorious, beautiful, I cannot put into words the effect of the book."

Pauline Herbert: "Awakening brings me a 'user-friendly,' simple guide to traveling deeply into my soul. The questions penetrate surface personality patterns and seem to take me right to the core of my essence. Also, Delia's pictures have such a beautiful abstract and open quality which appeals to my imagination. I keep her book close by my meditation space at home."default clip image001 0001

resources2Infinite Possibilities

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