Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Intentional Life

Photo by Megan Black
This may sound weird but all my life I have regularly given myself assignments. OK. Maybe not so weird for someone who ended up becoming a teacher but when I say assignments, I am not talking about the traditional kind. I’ve assigned myself tasks like, get to know every tree in my neighborhood. What are their names? What have they witnessed? Who lives in them? What about them is edible? This has been an ongoing assignment from the age of seven actually.


Vivian and Ray Kell are sandwiched by my Mom and Dad.
Another mission I gave myself was to make friends with an elder in my community. I chose Ray Kell and by proxy his wife Vivian. Ray is 90 years old now. Vivian is 89.  I have called them my friends since they were in their early 70’s. Ray and Vivian have ten children, 33 grandchildren, 17 great grandchildren and counting. Ray is a veteran of World War 2. He and Vivian are activists for peace, justice, and equality. He plays the piano and sings at least an hour every day. Preferably more. Sometimes you have to beg him to stop. He still plays 18 holes of golf and carries his own clubs. When he was 84, Ray raced me up five flights of stairs and beat me. The Kell's vegetable garden is spectacular and feeds many in their neighborhood. They work every Monday from 6:00AM until 1:00PM in the Manna Meal Soup kitchen. Every year for the past 20, he and Vivian pack up their car and travel the country for six weeks visiting all their kids and grand kids while camping, in a tent. On Ray’s 90th birthday earlier this year, he challenged himself to do a freestanding headstand and hold it. He achieved his goal in the middle of his daughter’s backyard while his grandson played a three minute waltz on the violin. I guess you could say Ray also gives himself assignments. He certainly lives a life of meaning, purpose, and intention and I aspire to be more like him.


An Excellent Read for an Intentional Life.
Which might be why I regularly assign myself reading. This summer I read How to Be an Explorer of the World  by Keri Smith. And guess what?! The book is filled with interesting assignments, only she calls them explorations. I highly recommend it. The author challenges you to collect tiny things and make a mini museum in an Altoids tin. She suggests making sculptures out of ten things you find in a drawer. There are 59 different explorations. Most of them involve field work. Keri Smith offers 5 field work tips. I would like to add a sixth one based on personal experience and follow it up with ten explorations, not in the book, that I found made my life, and occasionally the lives of those around me, better.


Field Work Tips:
  1. Never leave home without a notebook and pen.
  2. When practicing deep looking or deep listening, it is best to work alone.
  3. Respect the community in which you explore. This applies to all aspects of nature, human or otherwise and also includes property, public or private
  4. If you find yourself being questioned as to the reasons for your activities, the phrase, “I’m conducting research” usually satisfies the nosiest interloper.
  5. Expect the unexpected and you will find it.


My 6th Tip: You can never have too many pockets when exploring. Be sure to bring scissors, zip lock bags, looking glasses, a camera, a snack and water bottle, some tissue, and plan to stay out a long time.  


10 Recommended explorations not listed in the book. This is interactive, folks, please do the counting. (I’ll hold up my fingers you say the numbers.) Ready? 1


  1. Never pass up an opportunity to dip, dive, slide, swing, glide, skip, twirl, rock, or dunk.


2. Look for the color purple everywhere you go. Then, when you are old enough, read The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Pay Attention to what Shug says. “Shug a beautiful something.”


3. For an entire day, if anyone asks you a question, sing the answer. Make note of the questioner’s reaction.


4. Discover your favorite apple. They don’t all taste the same. Mine is a Fuji. Try one with some extra sharp Pinconning cheese. Seriously. Try that.


5. Listen only to the voice of love inside your head for a whole morning, or a whole day. Keep practicing until you can do it for longer and longer times.  If the mean voice starts talking, sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” to yourself until it goes away.


6. Every once in awhile, make yourself an omelet.

7. Find an interesting elder in your community. Get to know them. Ask them questions. Listen to their stories.

8. Make your worst enemy a kindness salad...or a batch of yummy cookies. Again, make note of their reaction.

9. Dance in the grocery store.
10. For one moment each day, stand still where you are. Breathe into your belly. Be mindful that every day, every single day, even the heart crushing ones, we are surrounded by the mighty love of God.

Every Monday Morning at The Grosse Pointe Academy we begin the week with Chapel. The faculty rotates giving a short inspirational talk. This was mine for the 2015-2016 school year.

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