GREAT TEACHERS: Halvor Gerald Adcock v. Board of Education

Not everyone is interested in reading legal decisions.  The one I have pasted in full below this essay says a whole lot about why I loved Mr. Adcock.  He taught me to speak up.  He taught me to personally, and not just theoretically, value free speech and full self-expression.  He risked his career to actually engage fully and completely in his career as a teacher.  He did this in largely military San Diego where just telling boys, who were often the sons of Marine and Naval families, and who would soon be draft age, that there were legal and ethical alternatives to military service was more than a little bit poorly received.  There were consequences.  Still, he stood up when others sat on their rights or kept their mouths shut.

He showed me that being fully myself and doing what was my right as a citizen was GOOD, that my duty toward fully inhabiting my life responsibly and expressing peacefully what I believed was a powerful good that ought not to be suppressed, that it had value in learning to know who I am and what I believe.  He, of all teachers, started me on the road to fully realizing who I am.  For that I am and have always been eternally grateful.

Freedom

One day in American History class he drew a chalky version of the above illustration on the green chalkboard and began a conversation about personal liberties that was the most wide-ranging historical & philosophical conversation I had ever experienced in my young life.  I was astounded and completely engaged.  The one thing that he made clear is that freedom is constrained by a good many things and some of them are our own personal decisions, some of them are the constraints imposed by law and under the U.S. Constitution, and the part that really stuck with me was that the size of the field in which we live is governed by our own choices to defend our rights and to fully take advantage of the opportunties that were available to us as citizens of the United States.  For the most part, that box around the stick figure was only so tight as we allowed it to be.

I was an active participant in some of what is described below, but being a member of the Class of 1968, I was no longer living in the area when the legal action took place.  I didn’t even learn of this until decades later when in my forties I attended law school.  Imagine discovering that ones inspiration had gone fully to the mat for what he had taught you.  What an inspiration, what a man!  What a teacher!


Adcock v. Board of Education [10 Cal.3d 60]
Adcock v. Board of Education , 10 Cal.3d 60

[L.A. No. 30074. Supreme Court of California. September 13, 1973.]
HALVOR GERALD ADCOCK, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE SAN DIEGO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT et al., Defendants and Appellants

In Bank. (Opinion by The Court. Separate concurring opinion by Clark, J. Separate dissenting opinion by McComb, J.) [10 Cal.3d 61]

COUNSEL

Thomas A. Shannon and Ralph D. Stern for Defendants and Appellants.

Levy & Van Bourg and Howard L. Berman for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Harold F. Tyvoll as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Respondent.

OPINION

THE COURT

Defendant Board of Education of the San Diego Unified School District (hereinafter “board”) and its secretary, Jack Hornback, appeal from a judgment granting a peremptory writ of mandate. The writ directs the board to set aside its administrative decision transferring Halvor Gerald Adcock (hereinafter “Adcock”) from Clairemont High School to another school, and further ordering the board to reinstate Adcock to his former position, that of a tenured teacher of social studies at Clairemont.

For the reasons explained below, we conclude that the trial court was correct not only in making an independent assessment of the record but also in determining that the reason for the transfer was the disapproval by the school administration of Adcock’s exercise of First Amendment rights and in concluding that the subsequent transfer was not justified by any compelling state interest.

Adcock taught social studies at Clairemont from 1958 until June 1969. [10 Cal.3d 63] Clairemont is a senior high school located within the San Diego Unified School District, providing instruction for grades 10 through 12. In June 1969, the principal of the school submitted a written memorandum requesting Adcock’s transfer to another school because of his criticism of certain school policies and regulations and the effects of the criticism on school staff and parents. The criticisms related to the dress and grooming code, the outside speaker policy, and the administration’s refusal to permit publication of a second student newspaper. fn. 1 The request was granted, and Adcock was reassigned to Roosevelt Junior High School where he taught seventh grade classes during the 1969-1970 school year.

On Adcock’s appeal to the board, a hearing was conducted by a state hearing officer of the California Office of Administrative Procedure substantially in accordance with the hearing procedures set forth in the Administrative Procedure Act, section 11500 et seq. of the Government Code. After seven days of hearing which included the testimony of some 30 witnesses, the hearing officer submitted a proposed decision finding the transfer discriminatory and a misuse of delegated authority, and ordering Adcock reinstated at Clairemont High School. fn. 2 The board unanimously declined [10 Cal.3d 64] to adopt the proposed decision. Instead, acting pursuant to section 11517, subdivision (c), of the Government Code, fn. 3 it reviewed the record of the hearing without taking additional evidence and afforded each party the opportunity to submit additional written argument. fn. 4 [10 Cal.3d 65]

The board’s findings can be summarized as follows: Adcock’s open and persistent criticism of rules and policies tended to undermine the authority of teachers, the administration and parents. He spoke out against administrative directives. His attitudes alienated some of his fellow teachers, administrators, and many parents. This divisiveness became a matter of concern to the principal and his administrative staff because it affected faculty morale and community attitudes toward the school. Adcock was never told to desist nor told that if he persisted he would be transferred to another school. The board made no finding concerning the distribution of handbills.

The board concluded that Adcock’s transfer was not discriminatory and did not involve a misuse of delegated authority. It approved the transfer. However, the board ordered Adcock transferred to a position of equivalent rank and grade, found that the transfer to a junior high school was not such a transfer and transferred him to another high school within the district.

Adcock petitioned the superior court for a writ of mandamus. (Gov. Code, ? 11523; Code Civ. Proc., ? 1094.5; Griggs v. Board of Trustees, 61 Cal.2d 93, 96 [37 Cal.Rptr. 194, 389 P.2d 722].) The case was submitted on the record before the hearing officer without additional evidence. The court issued the writ of mandamus concluding that the transfer was made as a means of, and with the effective result of, denying Adcock his First Amendment freedoms.

[1] It is settled that a teacher’s right to speak is constitutionally protected as long as it does not result in any disruption, or impairment of discipline or materially interfere with school activities. (Tinker v. Des Moines School Dist., 393 U.S. 503 [21 L.Ed.2d 731, 89 S.Ct. 733]; Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563 [20 L.Ed.2d 811, 88 S.Ct. 1731]; Keyishian v. Board of Regents, 385 U.S. 589 [17 L.Ed.2d 629, 87 S.Ct. 675]; Bekiaris v. Board of Education, 6 Cal.3d 575 [100 Cal. Rptr. 16, 493 P.2d 480]; L. A. Teachers Union v. L.A. City Bd. of Ed., 71 Cal.2d 551 [78 Cal.Rptr. 723, 455 P.2d 827]; Board of Trustees v. Owens, 206 Cal.App.2d 147 [23 Cal.Rptr. 710]; see also Note, Developments in the Law — Academic Freedom (1968) 81 Harv.L.Rev. 1045, 1071-1075; Van Alstyne, Constitutional Rights of Teachers and Professors (1970) Duke L.J. 841.)

[2] Although the “substantial evidence” rule has been held to be applicable to determinations of local administrative boards, it has been essential to adopt a special rule or standard to review administrative decisions [10 Cal.3d 66] when constitutional rights are assertedly limited. (Bekiaris v. Board of Education, supra, 6 Cal.3d 575, 586-587; Bixby v. Pierno, 4 Cal.3d 130, 140-141 [93 Cal.Rptr. 234, 481 P.2d 242].) As no party to this action has challenged the continued vitality of the “substantial evidence” standard of review in most determinations of local administrative boards, we have no occasion herein to reexamine the same.

In order to retain the ultimate responsibility for insuring that constitutional rights not be abridged in the absence of a sufficient compelling public interest, the special rule referred to above requires that the trial court must make an independent assessment of the established factual elements to determine whether the true reason for the board’s action was the exercise of constitutional rights and, if so, whether the resulting limitation on the exercise of these rights can be justified by any compelling state interest. On appeal from the decision of the trial court, the appellate court must uphold the trial court’s determination as to the basis of the administrative action if supported by substantial evidence. (Bekiaris v. Board of Education, supra, 6 Cal.3d 575, 590 et seq.; L. A. Teachers Union v. L. A. City Bd. of Ed., supra, 71 Cal.2d 551, 557.)

In Bekiaris we held that the special standard applies when it is claimed that the administrative action in dismissing an employee was based on official dissatisfaction with the exercise of constitutional rights. This rule is not designed to protect the employee’s employment rights but is intended to protect the employee’s freedom to exercise First Amendment rights. Accordingly, it has been applied in cases where the employee had no tenure or civil service rights and where the employee could have been dismissed for no reason whatsoever. (Rosenfield v. Malcolm, 65 Cal.2d 559, 564 [55 Cal.Rptr. 505, 421 P.2d 697]; Bagley v. Washington Township Hospital Dist., 65 Cal.2d 499, 504 [55 Cal.Rptr. 401, 421 P.2d 409]; Stanton v. Dumke, 64 Cal.2d 199, 207 [49 Cal.Rptr. 380, 411 P.2d 108]; see also Hollon v. Pierce, 257 Cal.App.2d 468, 476-478 [64 Cal.Rptr. 808].) Because the rule was established in order to protect constitutional rights and not employment rights, it must apply not only to dismissals but also to all administrative sanctions based on conduct protected by the First Amendment.

Any sanction imposed for the exercise of protected First Amendment conduct must be viewed as having a chilling effect on speech and on the right of teachers to engage in those activities which are protected by the First Amendment. Lesser penalties than dismissal can effectively silence teachers and compel them to forego exercise of the rights guaranteed them by our Constitution. [10 Cal.3d 67]

Thus in Finot v. Pasadena City Bd. of Education, 250 Cal.App.2d 189 [58 Cal.Rptr. 520], a transfer was invalidated because it had been based upon activity of a teacher related to exercise of First Amendment rights. There, a high school teacher was transferred from his classroom assignment to home teaching though his pay and rank remained the same. The court held that even though he could have been assigned to any teaching duty for which he was qualified and for which he was needed (Ed. Code, ?? 931, 939, subd. (c)), his right to engage in such activity was constitutionally protected, and that his transfer from one assignment to another because of the exercise of his constitutional rights violated those rights and constituted a legally remediable detriment.

We concede that the superintendent obviously has and must have very broad discretion in transferring teachers from one school to another, i.e., when it in fact “is in the best interest of the district” (Ed. Code, ? 939, subd. (c)), and his discretion ordinarily will not be reviewed or interfered with by the trial court. It is only when it is asserted that the motivation for transfer is based on a teacher’s exercise of constitutionally protected rights that the trial court will conduct an independent review of the record to determine whether the assertion is true.

The United States Supreme Court has emphasized that “The vigilant protection of constitutional freedoms is nowhere more vital than in the community of American schools” (Shelton v. Tucker, 364 U.S. 479, 487 [5 L.Ed.2d 231, 236, 81 S.Ct. 247]). It is the classroom and academic institutions which are the marketplace of ideas and where the exchange of ideas and arguments are to be fostered, not curtailed (Tinker v. Des Moines School Dist., supra, 393 U.S. 503, 512 [21 L.Ed.2d 731, 740-741]).

In Tinker the court also stated: “in our system, undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance is not enough to overcome the right to freedom of expression. Any departure from absolute regimentation may cause trouble. Any variation from the majority’s opinion may inspire fear. Any word spoken, in class, in the lunchroom, or on the campus, that deviates from the views of another person may start an argument or cause a disturbance. But our Constitution says we must take this risk [citation]; and our history says that it is this sort of hazardous freedom — this kind of openness — that is the basis of our national strength and of the independence and vigor of Americans who grow up and live in this relatively permissive, often disputatious, society.

“In order for the State in the person of school officials to justify prohibition of a particular expression of opinion, it must be able to show that its action was caused by something more than a mere desire to avoid the [10 Cal.3d 68] discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint.” (Tinker v. Des Moines Schol Dist., supra, 393 U.S. 503, 508-509 [21 L.Ed.2d 731, 739].)

It is true that the more serious and disturbing allegation against Adcock is the claim that his conduct resulted in disharmony among the faculty and resentment from parents. Yet as Tinker and L. A. Teachers clearly point out disharmony from speech is a natural by-product and any limitation or penalty imposed in the name of prevention of disharmony is an attack on speech. Furthermore, both decisions hold that disharmony is not a sufficient state interest to compel restrictions on First Amendment activity or to penalize a teacher for exercising First Amendment freedoms. [3] Mere fear of disruption due to the expression of unpopular views will not justify interference with the free expression of opinion. (Tinker v. Des Moines School Dist., supra, 393 U.S. 503, 508-509.)

[4] In the absence of actual disruption, any kind of administrative discipline for the content of speech is improper, where, as here, the unpopular views are uttered in forums designed for the airing of different views on controversial issues and where, as here, the views are uttered in a polite but forceful manner.

In balancing the important right of school authorities to administer the system efficiently, effectively and without internal antagonistic factors, the court must look carefully into both the dynamics of why the administrative action was taken and the inherent effect of taking it if that effect is also a part of the cause. Priorities place constitutional rights above unlimited administrative authority to act in their derogation. Disharmony and friction are the healthy but natural results of a society which cherishes the right to speak freely on a subject and these resultant by-products should never prevent an individual from speaking or cause that individual to be penalized for such speech. Any attempt to do so abrogates the protections that the First Amendment affords to all.

It should be pointed out that the penalty invoked against Adcock arose in part out of his speeches at the Open Forum at Clairemont. To help meet the growing unrest at Clairemont, school officials created an Open Forum as an outlet for expression of ideas of pressing interest which students, teachers, parents or the administration, felt needed resolution and which would be exposed to open discussion from all sides.

To create a forum for free and open discussion of the problems vitally affecting the institution and its members and then to penalize a participant who assumes the sincerity of purpose in its creation and therefore freely [10 Cal.3d 69] participates, particularly in the absence of any objection to the nature of his participation at the time, is akin to entrapment. [5] To invite teachers to openly discuss with parents, students and the administration the subjects logically before the forum and then to charge them with being uncooperative, obstructive and offensive to the administration, to other teachers and to parents because they argue their positions with vigor and at length is arbitrary and capricious administrative conduct, even in the absence of constitutional considerations. The dilemma is further exacerbated when no showing is made that such speeches disrupted classrooms, teaching efficiency, or in any way led to a potentially dangerous situation at the school.

[6] Adcock’s speech did not pose a threat to interests of the school district which would justify a speech limitation. So far as appears from the record, all of his criticisms were made at a proper time and in an appropriate place and manner. His speech which resulted in friction was not speech that occurred in the classroom or that affected or interfered with his teaching. On the contrary, it is undisputed that Adcock was an unusually effective teacher. He obeyed the rules he was working to change, his criticism was directed toward accomplishing change, and he encouraged utilizing existing means for effecting change.

We conclude that the reason for the transfer in question was the exercise of protected First Amendment activity. That conclusion can be reached either by using traditional guidelines regarding judicial review of administrative decisions or by the application of independent review accorded those decisions which place an individual’s constitutional rights in jeopardy or which as in the instant case impose sanctions upon the individual for the exercise of those rights. The record clearly sustains the findings of the trial court.

The judgment is affirmed.

CLARK, J.

I concur, though reluctantly.

True, while a public employee serving at the pleasure of his employer may be dismissed for slight cause, he may not be discharged or demoted for exercise of a constitutional right absent a compelling governmental interest. (Bogacki v. Board of Supervisors (1971) 5 Cal.3d 771 [97 Cal. Rptr. 657, 489 P.2d 537]; Finot v. Pasadena City Bd. of Education (1967) 250 Cal.App.2d 189 [58 Cal.Rptr. 520].) Likewise, since substantial evidence supports the trial court’s finding that Adcock’s transfer occurred in large part because of his exercise of First Amendment rights, we are bound by that finding under Bekiaris v. Board of Education (1972) 6 Cal.3d 575 [100 Cal.Rptr. 16, 493 P.2d 480]. [10 Cal.3d 70]

My reluctance stems from the majority’s subsilentio extension of the first premise to this case.

All the cases of which I am aware resting on the principle for which Bogacki and Finot are cited above involve dismissal from public employment (see, e.g., Bekiaris v. Board of Education, supra, 6 Cal.3d 575; Rosenfield v. Malcolm (1967) 65 Cal.2d 559 [55 Cal.Rptr. 505, 421 P.2d 697]; Bagley v. Washington Township Hospital Dist. (1966) 65 Cal.2d 499 [55 Cal.Rptr. 401, 421 P.2d 409]; Ball v. City Council (1967) 252 Cal.App.2d 136 [60 Cal.Rptr. 139]; see also Fort v. Civil Service Commission (1964) 61 Cal.2d 331 [38 Cal.Rptr. 625, 392 P.2d 385]) or transfer tantamount to demotion (Finot v. Pasadena City Bd. of Education, supra, 250 Cal.App.2d 189). The majority’s apparent dependence on that rule imports into this case the assumption, perhaps warranted where dismissal or demotion is concerned but not fully warranted here, that the challenged administrative action is essentially punitive. However, where as here a transfer involves no demotion, loss of status, or diminution in pay, it is at least as reasonable to conclude, absent evidence to the contrary, it was made for some legitimate managerial reason as for an impermissible punitive one. While I concede the record discloses sufficient evidence to justify a finding of punitive motive, it also reveals evidence the board was motivated by several sound reasons for effecting a transfer.

Reassuring upset parents is a time-consuming and taxing duty for school administrators. Dissension among the faculty poses serious problems affecting efficient operation of the schools. The possibility of student disorders was particularly threatening when this case arose; anything which might undermine already shaken respect for the authority of parents and teachers could reasonably be feared as encouraging such a result. Were it less clear the board harbored an improper purpose (and more clear the dangers feared by the board had materialized, a point I touch on below), these reasons would, in my view, have justified Adcock’s transfer.

A second difference between dismissal and transfer warrants comment. Termination of an employee constitutes radical surgery. Demotion is likewise a drastic measure. In contrast, lateral transfer without loss of rights, status, or pay is a far more moderate action, with far less impact on the exercise of protected rights. Indeed, the spirit of restraint shown here should be encouraged.

Finally, if school administrators are to be charged with efficient management of their schools, they should be given authority commensurate with that responsibility. If they are not allowed to meet potential problems (as [10 Cal.3d 71] apparently they are not; see Tinker v. Des Moines School Dist. (1969) 393 U.S. 503 [21 L.Ed.2d 731, 89 S.Ct. 733]), they should at least be permitted to remedy the consequences of exercise of protected rights by the Adcocks of this world once those consequences have occurred. As I have suggested, the evidence that the anticipated effects of Adcock’s outspokenness had actually begun to make themselves felt is not particularly strong and probably not sufficient to distinguish this case from Tinker. But the rule apparently relied on by the majority fails to make allowance for even minimal remedial powers and, for that reason, its wisdom is open to question.

In short, I would soften the impact of the Bogacki principle in circumstances such as those presented here. Where the public employer acts for legitimate managerial reasons, where it acts with restraint and in response to actual rather than anticipated problems, and where the impact of its action on protected freedoms is both indirect and slight, something less than a compelling governmental interest should be required in justification of the action. My comments above indicate this suggested rule was probably not met here; hence this concurrence. But the majority opinion appears unwisely to extend a rule developed in far more serious cases to one so different in degree as to be different in kind.

McCOMB, J.

I dissent. I would reverse the judgment for the reasons expressed by Mr. Justice Ault in the opinion prepared by him for the Court of Appeal in Adcock v. Board of Education of San Diego U. Sch. Dist. (Cal.App.) 103 Cal.Rptr. 633.

?FN 1. In an inter-office memorandum to the assistant superintendent of schools, the principal gave the following five reasons for the transfer:

“1. In contacts with students and parents he has been openly critical of certain school and district rules and regulations such as the dress and grooming code and the outside speaker policy. This has tended to undermine the authority of teachers, administrators and parents.

“2. He has demonstrated an unwillingness to accept administrative directives. For example, following a decision of the Superintendent not to permit publication of the ‘Open Mind’ newspaper, Mr. Adcock and some of the students continued to pursue the issue on campus, in the press and on television rather than to work toward the alternative proposals suggested.

“3. At the weekly Open Forum meetings involving parents, students, and staff members, Mr. Adcock has utilized a considerable portion of the time to criticize school policies related to dress and grooming standards, outside speakers and the ‘Open Mind’ publication. This has resulted in a number of complaints from parents.

“4. An increasing number of parents have requested the school not to enroll their children in Mr. Adcock’s classes or to have them withdrawn from class. The reasons given represent considerable disagreement with the social and political points of view advocated by Mr. Adcock and the lack of balance and fairness in the handling of controversial issues in the classroom.

“5. Mr. Adcock’s actions and attitudes have caused dissent and unrest among a growing percentage of staff members and parents. As a result a disproportionate amount of the counselors’ time and the principal’s time must be devoted to the issues and the problems raised.”

?FN 2. The hearing officer’s findings include a summary of the evidence in the record. They may be summarized as follows: 1. Adcock’s criticism: Adcock was openly critical of the outside speaker policy, the dress and grooming code, and the administration’s refusal to permit publication of a second student newspaper to be called the “Open Mind.” He sincerely believed that the position taken by the district and school authorities should be changed. He was never abusive. He was not overly loud or offensive. Above all, he was never ordered to desist. Furthermore, most of his criticism was made at convocations of parents, teachers, and students, sponsored by the school, which were called “Open Forums” and existed for the purpose of open discussion of subjects in which the school was concerned. It is not true that the open criticism tended to undermine the authority of teachers, the administration or parents. On the contrary, the debates led by Adcock tended to add to the educational maturity of the students.

2. Unwillingness to accept administrative directives: At no time did he actually violate any policy, rule or regulation of the school or of the district, nor at any time did he invite, advocate or tolerate their infraction by any student. He was never ordered or even requested to cease pursuing the subjects, nor was he threatened with transfer or discipline if he did not cease.

3. Utilization of time at open forum meetings: The chair was authorized to rule on any motion to suppress a speaker, but no one ever protested his right to speak in these meetings, or requested him to desist.

4. Parental request to remove children from his classes: Two or three parents withdrew their children from his classes during the 1968-1969 school year. Twenty-one other parents of students who might have been assigned to his class wrote the principal expressing the desire to have some other teacher instruct their children. The complaints of these parents stemmed predominantly from political and philosophical beliefs at poles opposite to those held by Adcock. There is no proof that Adcock dealt with controversial issues in a distorted manner in the classroom or in other than a fair and reasonable approach.

5. Dissidence: Differing views in the school, and division of opinion on the staff was undoubtedly of concern to the principal and his administrative staff, yet there was insufficient proof that it consumed a disproportionate amount of his or his staff’s time.

The hearing officer also found that an important incident underlying the transfer was an incident which apparently was not mentioned in the principal’s memorandum. In the spring of 1968 Adcock and another teacher from Clairemont High School distributed handbills in the vicinity of other high schools in the district. These handbills listed the legally acceptable alternatives to the draft, and other means which could have been used to avoid the draft. The handbill mentioned the criminal penalties involved in the use of any illegal means but in no way advocated either legal or illegal activity.

The hearing officer found that the distribution of these handbills created a storm of objection among certain parents and teachers of Clairemont High School, and that the school’s principal in requesting Adcock’s transfer, was actuated significantly, if not principally, by the more vociferous of this group of teachers and parents.

?FN 3. Section 11517, subdivision (c), provides in part: “If the proposed decision is not adopted as provided in subdivision (b), the agency itself may decide the case upon the record, including the transcript, with or without taking additional evidence, … The agency itself shall decide no case provided for in this subdivision without affording the parties the opportunity to present either oral or written argument before the agency itself.”

?FN 4. The additional argument submitted by the school district’s counsel essentially maintained that the First Amendment should not be extended to the instant case, and that the transfer was made entirely in good faith.

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Bhagavad Gita: Fear not what is not real


“Fear not what is not real, never was and never will be.  What is real, always was and cannot be destroyed.”

The Bhagavad Gita


“In principle and in potential we are immersed in good for we are in the Mind of God. But we have freedom, or volition, to create in our own experience, out of the possibilities of life with which we have been endowed, the prerogative of heaven or hell. So we need to shake ourselves loose from the tyranny of fear and superstition and isolation and the emotional traditions.”

The Spiritual Universe and You

Ernest Holmes


Beginning anew is the key to waking up. If we keep trying to do the same thing over and over again expecting a different result, even we begin to suspect our mental state as a hellish one, while we may not yet grasp who is at cause in the matter. Of course, we are always at cause in our experience and this is a difficult thing to consider when we are going through a rough patch.

If we start anew, we can begin again to directly experience this environment of good that is our natural home. What if all that other stuff we experience is something we have made of the good opportunity that we are given? One of my early Religious Science teachers, Rev. Dr. Dominic Polifrone, used to tell us that “Everyone goes through hell from time to time, but that’s no reason why you should stop and build your house there!” Each of us lives in alternating states of present awareness broken up by intermittent periods of unconsciousness—not all of them deep sleep! The practice of affirmative prayer, and the supportive practices of contemplation, spiritual study, service and mindfulness in our everyday lives begin to lengthen the experience of present awareness, or consciousness, little by little until those around us actually have easier lives as a result of the spiritual transformation that occurs in us. I believe that we know we are doing well when folks around us begin to have improved lives.

Not long ago, I was talking to someone here locally, and the practice of humility came up. I believe a true, deep, and spiritual humility arises in us when we realize that we are truly made of Divine stuff and we begin to tell the truth of who we are, making no more, and no less, of the lives that we are given. The more we allow God to be God in and as us, the more amazing the things that we are able to do with our lives; the more the people around us reap the benefits of what we (You, God & I) have wrought with the opportunity of life itself.

And, of course, we all screw it up from time to time. We get grumpy, impatient, tired or find an infinite number of other ways that we can block our divinity its full expression. You can fill in the blank for yourself here; you know how it looks when you get off track. From time to time we need renewal and self-forgiveness. I urge you to take a few minutes to release all feelings of failure, frustration, denial, or any form of self-rejection and judgment you may have held against yourself. We cannot begin anew and hold any form of grudge against ourselves or another. Picture yourself releasing it as a small boat on the river of life. Allow it to sail away beyond the horizon, forgiven, released and then allow yourself the respite that only such forgiveness can grant. Let it go. Don’t waste time making yourself wrong.

Wake up. All is well!  What you are afraid of is not real.


AUTHOR TAGS:

TIME & SPIRITUAL MATERIALISM

Peace Principles

GLOUCESTERSHIRE OLD SPOTS
There was a hog farmer, Brown we will call him, who year after year won first prize at the county fair with his pigs. His neighbors competed each year, but always lost to Farmer Brown’s hogs. At last the lot of them threw up their hands and went to Brown.
“We give up,” they said. “We won’t compete against you anymore. But please just tell us what it is you do that causes your hogs to win every year.”
“Well,” he said, “okay. The first thing I do is get up every morning at four and get out to the barn early so I can wake ’em gentle. Then I mix up a batch of oats I’ve soured up for a few weeks until they’re just right and mix that in to a careful proportion to the other slops. After their breakfast I walk ’em out to the yard, hose ’em down and give each one a hand drying and a rubdown. While they are out for the day I hose down their place in the barn, put in new hay, and clean the area until it’s good enough I could sleep there. That evening I bring ’em in and give them a special corn mash mix I fix up by hand. I try to spend time with each hog, talking to it, brushing it down. Then I bed the whole bunch of them down and make sure each has a comfortable place. I usually stay awhile and sing them asleep.
“You do that every day?” the other farmers asked.
“Sure.”
They said, “But isn’t that a huge amount of time?”
“Well, boys,” the farmer admitted. “It is.” Then he added, “But what’s time to a hog.”
Hampshire Hog

Someone sent me this story years ago.  I have no idea who wrote it, but I still appreciate the lesson.  Imagine, how often we judge ourselves harshly because the way we have been living our lives hasn’t produced the result we wished to produce, as quickly as we would have liked?

In one of the best spiritual books of the 20th century, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chogyam Trungpa, he wrote of spanning the gulf between the esoteric tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and the everyday joys, sorrows and questions of spirituality in everyday modern life. In this book, Trungpa focused on the presentation of the spiritual path from the perspective of the role of expectation and promise of reward.

Before I read that book, I was still trying to be a “good girl” and was trying to get living “right” so I would really be worthy of a better life than it seemed the one I was born into had been so far.  Let’s not talk about my being in my early thirties at the time!  Perhaps Buddha would smile on me and suddenly things would be so much better. It wasn’t working for me and I was deeply dissatisfied.

Trungpa wrote about how these expectations obscure our ability to be with life the way it really is, and isn’t.  So long as we have a story about how long it takes to do something, we can use that story to stop ourselves in two ways:  the first being that we block ourselves from experiencing the present moment, and the second, we impede ourselves from moving forward in our lives in the direction of our dreams because we create the idea of difficulty as a burden, as if life should always be easy and challenges have no value.  Where do we get the ideas that we should pit “easy” against “challenging” and one should be of higher value than the other?  What makes a lifetime project of less value than a quick fix?

What if we would simply choose today to live a spiritual life today, and tomorrow we choose again what kind of life we would live, today we don’t have to worry about it and we don’t have to worry about results or spiritual attainments?  Wouldn’t living such a simple life relieve us of the burden of opinion, measurement and self-inflicted suffering?



Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism – Chogyam Trungpa
The now classic Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism is the record of two series of lectures given by Trungpa Rinpoche in 1970-71.

BEING OF SERVICE: Compassion in Action

“Reputation is what men and women think of us; character is what God and the angels know of us.”     Thomas Paine


I don’t know about others, but I know what it means to have a “reputation.” That’s what we called it in high school when a girl was thought to be sexually active. Never mind if it was true or not. I was one of those girls and I can tell you, it is really weird dealing with the product of empty gossip, or what was described in law school as arguing facts not in evidence. What people say about us often is the result of idle conversation and gossip. Even people who know nothing about you will talk. Whatever “they” might say, it has nothing to do with what we know of ourselves.

BEING OF SERVICE: Compassion in Action

After the death of Thomas Paine in New York City on June 8, 1809 the newspapers read: “He had lived long, did some good and much harm,” which time judged to be an unworthy epitaph. He left a tremendous philosophical legacy, but in his day he was vilified for a few mistakes.

thomas-paine

When we mean to be of service, whether we get a reputation for helpfulness or for failing to help often has nothing to do with what really happens. This is the legacy of many who are of service. You may not be known for what you do — do it anyway!

Garden Path

While there is no need to hide the nature of what we do, as some people want to do for religious reasons,  if we are looking to become “known” through acts of service, we could well ask ourselves, “What service is there really for those being served?”

In any case, we can’t control what others say about us anyway. Finding the true joy of self-expression in service is it’s own end. When we serve we share the opportunity to express what is divine, or best, within us–and with those with whom we share the experience. Nobody else really needs to know. We can’t prove we are good people. It isn’t our purpose and trying to prove how “good” we are only points to our doubts about ourselves.

Remember, it is your own character that is among your riches, for you are divinely made, and no matter what “reputation” you might enjoy — you know in your heart of hearts  is true of you. Enjoy that knowledge and celebrate it in offering your hand in the equation that service represents in our lives. Service is always some part of what is best about living expressing perfectly through, and as, you!

Perhaps someone reading this can share ways that they have been of service that have contributed to their own sense of self in unexpected ways.

She Hit me: Forgiving My Mother

I wrote the original version of this about 20 years ago and have re-edited it a bit.  (I’ve had a few more insights into relationships & forgiveness in the intervening years). I have practiced forgiveness long enough that I have forgiven all the people who hurt me as a child, and myself for the ideas I once held about myself as a result of an abundance of the difficult events I reveal here. What a freedom comes of forgiveness! We don’t have to let those who once hurt us suppress our lives, limit our choices or dim the luminous nature of Love that is borne in each of us and seeks to express as us… 


She Hit me:  Forgiving My Mother

Rev. Dr. Susanne Freeborn


Me and Mom

I changed schools 27 times before I dropped out of high school. That was only 45 days before graduation. This was not because my father was in the military. It was mainly because my mother was single–with 5 children by the time I was in high school. My parents never married. It wasn‘t for want of a proposal by my father that they did not marry. He begged my mother, but she was having none of it because her first husband had deserted her when she was still a teenager, and she was not going to let that happen to her again. It mattered not to her that my father loved her or that they had two children together. She was not going to be hurt again. Then my father killed himself a few years after they had separated, when I was only seven years old. He drove his truck into an enormous Coastal Live Oak tree at 60 miles an hour somewhere near Fresno, California in the great San Joaquin Valley. He left a suicide note they said, I wasn’t allowed to see or hear it.

There is not much point in going too deeply into a description of the pain and suffering of my childhood, just a sketch will do. Remember the Fifties and Sixties? Being a single mother was not common then, nor was it understood, supported and God, there was no respect at all.  We would be called “That woman and all her brats.”   Women didn’t make even close to equal pay, child support was not enforced, nor was it reliably collected by the state even if there was a court order in place. Our family life was a serial travelogue of spots between a rock and a hard place.

We were all bastards. One of my two sisters still doesn’t know her father’s name. None of us had five different sets of school clothes, and making friends was a dangerous business if you knew that you were only going to end up moving away right after you finally made some friends. And leave we did, because we were evicted from our home repeatedly when my mother ran short of cash.  During my sophomore year of high school in the spring, when all the promise seems to be returning to the planet, we had to eat corn meal mush for two months straight because there was nothing else. We were very desperately poor and it was very hard for my mother. She came home exhausted from her job as a cook and beat all of us out of her frustration and anger.

At one time we were taken from her by the state and sent to live with our grandparents after a neighbor saw her beating me with a stick of lathe. A couple of years went by and then they sent us back to her, though nothing had really changed, except what house we lived in. During those years I fell prey to sexual molestation by two of my uncles and a male babysitter. When it was discovered, my grandmother acted as if a nine-year-old girl could actually be provocative to her sons, who were much older than I, one of them in the Navy. She taught me to feel guilty about the inappropriate behaviors directed toward me by men.  She said men only wanted one thing.  I didn’t feel safe in the world unless I was with my Grampa, but I couldn’t always be with him.

I tell you this so that you will understand why I had to come to know forgiveness intimately. Children who have a difficult childhood usually think that they are in some way responsible for what went wrong and we blame our parents for what we perceive as their failures to love, protect and provide for us. We, and our families, are fundamentally wrong in our own eyes. My poor mother was damned from the beginning.  If the circumstances weren’t difficult enough, Freud was let loose on the world prior to her arrival and I was taught to profoundly blame her for everything. However, blaming Mom and my father brought me no peace, and only more suffering and a state of perpetual victimhood.  I loathed being a victim.

I don’t remember exactly what it was that brought the miracle of forgiveness to me. But sometime during college, when I was around 28 years old, I was pursuing Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland and I began to see the culture that my family had lived in a wholly different way. I saw the terrible economic and societal pressures my mother had faced and saw that she had not given up on taking care of us, even though she was alone and without much help. Even if she had to lie to the landlord or creditors, she had always done her best to keep us safe. No matter what. And I began to realize why she had been angry and that in her grief and anger she had hurt us.

I became a little less overwhelmingly angry and disappointed with her and began to forgive her. I began to let her love me the way that she did instead of the way that I expected her to love me like June Cleaver. I began to love and respect her for how she had taken care of us, swallowing her pride, setting aside things that she had been taught, like honesty, so that we would be OK. She didn’t expect much from life, so she didn’t, couldn’t, have great hopes for us in matters of education or future professions. I saw the price she paid. She simply ensured our survival. She thought life was hard and so it was. She really didn’t have much time for being a soft, warm & loving mother.  She was more like Sisyphus, continually rolling our family up a hill, never reaching the top, never being able to relax or to rest.  Love does not always fit others pictures of what it ought to be.  When you live only to survive many things look as if they belong only to others.  Still my mother kept a roof over our heads that had a door to the world.

Realizing this allowed me just enough space to see another possibility for my own life. That I had all the say in the story of my life. My barely blessed mother let in just enough light under the door for me to see another kind of future. My life was very hard when I was young, but it has been one miracle after another since the day I began to forgive my mom.

I had to forgive my mother so many times that it seems like I have made that choice an infinite number of times. Yes our life was hard. Yes, I was horribly, overwhelmingly angry. Yes, I thought for a very long time that it was all her fault. Then I thought it was my fault. Along the way to forgiving Mom, I forgave myself into a life of freedom and joyous self-expression.

My Mom lived with me after having experienced a series of strokes, and I took care of her as tenaciously as she took care of me when I was a child. I kept flowers in her room because she said that “they look like happiness” and because, for me, flowers symbolize the grace of God. A grace that allowed me to see the error of the judgments I made as an innocent child against her and against myself.  Mom died in January 2000.  I am so fortunate that I used my time and my life the way I did prior to her death.  That the wisdom of forgiveness revealed itself to me and I was able to share it with her, I couldn’t be more grateful for the peace that existed between us when she made her transition.

Trike

Questions About God: Einstein on Being of Service

“Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seemingly for a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others…for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.”  Albert Einstein

Susanne 2014

Being of service to others takes our focus off of ourselves and looks for how we might be useful where and how we are. When we feel grateful, we naturally want to share ourselves and our good fortune. Being in service only increases our gratitude and joy and our experience of the unity of all life.

When we choose to be of service in the depths of life’s deepest anguish, when we can engage in the deepest alchemy that life has to offer at such times, this is when we know that we have grown in Spirit. “I am alive in Spirit, Spirit is alive in me,” is a chant sung in many New Thought centers written by singer songwriter Melissa Phillippe.  These words point to the same idea that Einstein is pointing out in the quotation above.  We know Grace through these generosities of Spirit that we share.

Times are difficult, and such times are a powerful time to know gratitude for simple things; Love is such a simple thing. Love knows no bounds nor does it require that life or anything within it be different in any way. It allows life’s difficulties to surface to find the divinity hidden within each experience. May we appreciate this divinity in all of life for the hidden gifts within each difficulty.

“Be silent as to services you have rendered, but speak of favors you have received.” Seneca (5 BC – 65 AD)

This modesty of spirit is a matchless empowerment of the heart and a source of deep wisdom.  A single unity underlies all life, now is the best time to explore this unity.