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:

The Spiritual Tourist’s Guide to Casual Spirituality

Buddha Maitreya

 There are a wide variety of ways in which we can be “spiritual tourists.”  I should tell you a little about how I came to this name for this state of spiritual inquiry.  Each of us here has done some traveling, my husband Dan and I have done a good bit by car because we really like the way you can get close to the landscape, open the windows, smell the smells & see the colors.  We like to get a place and stay for a while and find out what a place is like for the people who live there.When I began teaching classes online  years ago, one of my students was a very intelligent, creative woman from the South.  She had worked as a businesswoman and was very successful in her work.  She was able to do the written work of the course very clearly and to express herself somewhat exuberantly and amusingly with her classmates.

Abruptly, she dropped the class and when she did so she sent me a long email in which she admitted that the work was more than she had expected and that she had come to view herself as a “spiritual tourist.”  This distinction in the way she had described her state of spiritual participation came in a very authentic and honest communication and was the beginning of my thinking about this idea.

In any case, each of us can use this reference, this state of being a tourist as a metaphor for how we approach our spirituality.  For instance, there are those who fly above the earth in a jumbo jet. These are the folks who learn intellectually about the “high notes.”  They may know the names of some of the major religions and the geographic places where they originated, but the practices and basic ideas of those spiritual paths are obscured from their view, as if by the cloud of unknowing.

Then there are those who pilot their own small aircraft.  These fly closer to the ground and because they do, they get a much better view, but these are the folks who are still learning facts and the details, but they don’t really try out any of the specific practices or think about what it would mean to apply the ideas in their lives.  While they may have a more detailed view, there is still missing any practice of what one has learned.

There may be a bit of yearning to do so here, but these are still a people who are moving so fast through their lives that they still can’t seem to find the time to slow down, sit down, and go within, where what they have learned in their inquiries might begin to seep in.  The possibilities of going within have not yet been revealed, but there is a sense of intrigue, a sense that one day one not so far off, one will begin to engage on a deeper level.  The choice about when is still open.

Now this metaphor can get extended pretty far so that it includes parasailers, paragliders – you know who I mean, these are the folks who take some kind of motor driven vehicle or boat, and using it’s velocity, fly behind it.  This is a metaphor for those who begin following someone else’s inspiration because they have not yet learned how to generate their own.  These are likely to be the folks who you see on TV following a great evangelist or a guru.  Now I know that this can be an authentic path, and what we are talking about here are those who are looking for someone else to do the work for them.  They don’t yet know that there is a source of Truth inspiration within themselves that is bottomless and rises whenever they call upon it.

And there are those of us who really are driving our cars over the landscape of our spiritual lives.  We see things far off and we see some things close up.  Sometimes we drive right over to the experiences.  Sometimes we drive way too fast and all we see is a blur.  Sometimes we drive with a few people in the car with us and we all report to one another what we see as we go along.  This is pretty much what being in an open spiritual community is like.  We don’t have to do all the work ourselves, we trust that someone in our community will let us in on their experience, and as a result, we will learn from their experience as well as our own.  We serve one another in this form of spiritual tourism.

In all these descriptions there is a sense of aimlessness, a sense of wandering around without a purpose.  What would make the greatest difference in our experience of how our spiritual lives work?

Just about everyone whom I have known who lives a deep and purposeful spiritual life has certain qualities.  These are focus, commitment, a sense of oneself being worth the investment of time and effort, and the knowledge that they were not alone.  All of these are founded on the profound knowledge that all is LOVE and that God is the essence of love.  In New Thought we say that Love is also what we are.  That whatever God is, we are that too.  In How to Speak Religious Science, Dennis Merritt Jones writes:

“He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is Love.” Love is the self-givingness of spirit to its creation and is a cosmic force whose sweep is irresistible. Love is the highest vibration in the universe; nothing can withstand its embrace. The opposite of love is fear. In the light and vibration of love, the darkness of fear cannot exist. To know God’s presence is to experience unconditional love. To see the presence of God in others is to love them. Unconditional love is always the answer.”

This passage brings to mind what it would mean to be a tourist on foot, the kind of tourist that the Peace Pilgrim was.  Can we be that courageous?  Can we trust God for each and every part of our experience, for each bite of food that we eat, for the place where we sleep, for the nature of our work each day and for the bounty of our personal spiritual experience?  Could we let go of the trappings of our life as she did in answer to the call of Spirit?  Can we go on foot wherever spirit leads us?  Notice how extreme that might feel?  And yet, each of us has a yearning to go farther, to go deeper, to know God better and there is really only one place where we need go to do so, within ourselves.  So let’s do that today.

So let’s clear off our laps, adopt a good meditation posture now, close our eyes, and for a short bit of time, let us go within and contemplate what kind of spiritual tourism we wish to engage ourselves in at this time in our lives.

Picture yourself flying over the earth in a great jumbo jet.  Notice the great mountain ranges of Spirit, Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism with their great contemplative and meditative practices.  Will you take a smaller aircraft and fly closer to the ground of being now?  Will you commit yourself to engaging in meditative practice, if for only ten minutes a day listening to the still small voice within?
Will you take that smaller aircraft and flying it over Zen Buddhism now, will you choose mindfulness practice, choosing to be aware moment-by-moment in your life?  Will you now choose to think more deeply before you speak, knowing that your words have creative power?  Will you reverse the path of negative thoughts when they arise, practicing more carefully the affirmation of the deepest desires of your heart so that more often in your day you radiate out the light of love?  Will you affirm now the practice of thinking consciously for the good of all humankind as often as you can, increasing the frequency of such thoughts as you grow in the demonstration of Love for all?
When Jesus said, “Know the truth and the truth shall set you free,” he was simply saying to the degree you know the real truth about yourself, you will then be free and able to direct your own life in wonderful, creative, meaningful ways, simply by understanding that your every thought is creative.

 The practice of Truth is personal to each, and in the long run no one can live our life for us.  To each is given what he needs and the gifts of heaven come to all alike.  How we shall use these gifts is what matters…”          Dr. Ernest Holmes, The Science of Mind

The truth about you is this, “God in you, as you, is you.” God really is all that is. Know this truth and you are free to express your true Self!  Spiritual tourism is not something that we have to be worried about.  It is our self-exploration in action.  It is our self-knowingness and it is up to us how we go about it.

Comments from Open Salon

Hi. There is a lot here to contemplate. I’ll have to re read it
sevveral times. But what I know is that you speak the truth
and you speak from your heart.
It seems the hardest part of being a Spiritual tourist is taking
that first big step of opening up. Once one does that, it’s like
“what was the big deal?”
Thank you!
After reading your blog today, I am sure you are quite able to be open and available to spirit Dakini. Thanks for your kindness & recognition.
Bump to get by the mass postings of SPAM this morning.
Nice to see you. Enjoy the sand.
Susanne–I’d be curious as to your view on something. Whenever I talk to someone versed in one religious tradition—no matter which one—and I ask them about another–they often say thes same thing:
“I only have time to really know one language of relgion.”

Has that been true for you?

And 2nd—what I search for here in what you wrote—is community. I see the relationship between the individual and the higher power (for lack of a better term) but I don’t see it done in community.

To me—I need that community.

Is that here and I missed it? Or is it not here?

Thanks for reading this!

Roger

I don’t agree with those folks who say they only have time for finding only one religious/spiritual expression. I think we should continuously inquire throughout our lives Chicago. I do focus on the mystical tradition because it is virtually impossible to cover all religions with any depth. That should not be an excuse not to inquire. Part of the problem, I think, is that some folks look for there to be a ‘final answer.’ I don’t believe that we can know one while we live. We do the best that we can.

As far as I am concerned, participating in a spiritual community is the best reinforcement we can find, bit it takes a good bit of care to find a community where one fits. Sometimes it takes more than one to meet ones needs. In the case of this post, it is written for the individual, but in my experience, while spirituality is a personal, inside job, spiritual community provides a way to share ones experience, challenge, growth and gives us a self-correcting mechanism. Somebody will set you straight if you know and trust them to do so. But some communities are just ‘attaboy’ generating places for the egos of their leadership. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Intuition is valuable in spiritual experience. My first sermon was about Spiritual Community. I’d be happy to share it with you if you send me a message with your email so I can send it privately.

KNOWING MYSELF: Miss Penny of Long Ago and Far Away Maryland

Her name was Adele and she was a widow who had sharecropped in North Carolina tobacco.  She was so tiny that she made me feel tall, and at 5’3″ there are not many women whose heads I could tuck under my chin when I stood behind them.  I believe she was over 75 years old when I moved in next door, and she smoked like a Hoover on fire.  She had the kind of skin that only a Camel smoker can cultivate over many years.  My only defense to her smoking at the time was that I smoked my Marlboros along with her as we drank endless pots of coffee.  Everyone called her Miss Penny but nobody knew why or how, since neither her first or last name was Penny.



She was my next door neighbor in North Laurel, Maryland 1971-3.  I lived next to her when George Wallace was shot at the GIANT FOOD store where we went to shop for groceries together with our fists full of coupons.  I was collecting the brown and mustard floral ironstone ‘dish of the week’ that you could buy if you spent $10 on food.  Miss Penny would always buy Eggo waffles even though I told her I would make them for her homemade on my Sunbeam.  She thought them to be very modern, popping them into a little toaster oven in her closet-sized kitchen.

If you could picture the house below painted white it would look a lot like the house she lived in, it was made out of a steel shipping container.  I believe her husband had done the work just before he died.  She lived there alone, and since it was very tiny, maybe that was a good thing.  There was another shipping container in the back yard sitting at an angle that said it had been dropped off without any idea that it would sit there with weeds growing up around it for many, many years.  It was going to be a second part of the house, but then death intervened and the house stayed small and housed this sweet little widow for about three decades.

boxcar cottage

The front had an elevated tiny front porch and stairs that were built of cinder block and painted grey.  It was not so large as the one shown here, I think one fan back metal chair fit there and I painted it red.  There was an old galvanized bath tub out in the back too.  I painted it red, brought it around to the front yard and  filled it with dirt and planted it full of Anenomes, Muscari, Daffodils, Geraniums and Creeping Charley for a Mother’s Day present.

IMG_0323

Miss Penny sewed for folks to augment her tiny Social Security check.  I think her daughter sometimes sent her some money.  I only saw her there visiting her mother once in three years.  It wasn’t that long a drive to where she lived in Virginia, I knew because I drove to National Airport two or three times a week in my little Volvo 122S.

1968_Volvo_122SMiss Penny taught me to refine my shopping mojo.  She was the queen of thrift shopping.  She knew all the stores and when the annual tag sales were held by churches and civic organizations.  She was my second hand shopping mentor.  I would take her to lunch after we plundered the sales and spent less than a couple of bucks to drag home dishes and pots and utensils that I didn’t have as a young bride who married far from my family in California.   I found vintage 1940’s clothes that fit my taste and she taught me to alter them.  Dresses like this:

 1940's Pink Sequin Bow Black DressPeplum Dress

Now it cost hundreds or more to get these.  I got them for something like $2.  Maybe I’d have to renew the sequins.  Miss Penny would show me how.

Now here’s the truth about what I was like at age 21.  I was a snob about getting to know anyone who wasn’t close to my age.   I was just beginning to get over a painful childhood and I hid out in the culture of my youth and I smoked a lot of pot and dropped quite a few psychedelic drugs.  I wasn’t sure yet what I wanted out of life or what I could actually have.

One day, I was in the kitchen washing the dishes listening to John Prine album we had just gotten.  It had a song on it that got right under my skin.  Here’s a video of him singing it recently:

Because of this song I got to be friends with Miss Penny.  I learned a lot about being helpful to others, about learning to have fun some other way than what I already knew how to do.  I learned that making do isn’t the worst thing that could happen.  I learned how to be something more than a stupid kid.

In Memory of Miss Penny

She Retreated

 Laughing Nuns

She clawed against the forgetfulness

She imposed upon herself.

She had not remembered names very well.

That way, she didn’t commit to memory

The friends she didn’t make;

The names of those who were not inviting.

Without names, it is easy to disregard people,

Driving out any sense of existence.

The habit protected her from the unapproachable,

The eyes that suddenly averted upon arrival,

She understood what she was doing,

And she kept doing it, other ways of being

As unfamiliar as the names that she forgot.

She tried, somewhat unsuccessfully,

To be a good friend to the few who

Were not thrown off by her insular ways

&  self-imposed isolation.  The names

That she did remember.

She used to yearn for a ‘best’ friend,

But she really didn’t have the skill,

Always doing too little and then too much.

She withdrew into her laptop,

Just as her grandmother had retreated,

Misunderstood, into her gardens.