30 March 2017

WomenExplore Lecture and Discussion Forum reflects on significance of media

The following is a reposting of Johnathan Kindall's review of a day at WomenExplore's lectures on 16th March 2017.  It was published on 21st March 2017 in the Daily Free Press, the independent student newspaper at Boston University.

Stephanie Leydon speaks Thursday afternoon at the Democracy Center
about how media acts as an informer and manipulator in today’s society. 

March 21, 2017  by Johnathan D. Kindall

WGBH television and radio reporter Stephanie Leydon met with a group of Boston residents and students at the Democracy Center in Cambridge Thursday afternoon to discuss power, problems and importance of modern media and communication.
WomenExplore, a longstanding lecture and discussion forum, hosted the talk. The self-characterized charity with an educational focus was officially founded as the Theological Opportunities Program at Harvard Divinity School in 1973, but the origins of the group stretch as far back as the 19th century.
Every spring and fall, WomenExplore holds a 10-week lecture series. A different guest speaker is brought in every week, and the listeners discuss a topic for nearly two hours. The theme for the Spring 2017 sessions is “From Monologue to Dialogue: Building Community.”
Lindsa Vallee, of Brookline, has attended WomenExplore meetings for more than a decade. Vallee, who moderated Leydon’s lecture and discussion, said she finds every meeting uniquely stimulating.
The topics, speakers and discussion keep my brain alive,” Vallee said. “They keep me thinking and aware of new issues.”
Each guest lecture is preceded by a “focus talk,” a short presentation from a member of WomenExplore that opens up the floor and prepares the minds of the group for the topic at hand.
Barbara Villandry, from Nashua, New Hampshire, provided the focus for Leydon’s lecture.
Villandry reflected on the days of Walter Cronkite and Edward Murrow, and reminded many of the attendees about a time where it seemed as if the news could be wholly trusted.
She voiced her concerns with the current state of the media, going as far as to draw comparisons between now and the times of Joseph McCarthy and his Communist witch hunt.
The pendulum swings both ways,” Villandry said before giving the floor to Leydon. “And I hope that we will soon be back to a place where truth reigns supreme.”
The event then transitioned into Leydon’s lecture, which was centered around her recent attention to partisan divisions and the media following the 2016 presidential election. The title was “The Media: Informer or Manipulator? The Public: Discerning or Naïve?”
In the months since the election it’s been my professional obsession,” Leydon said to the audience. “I can’t get enough of the divide story.”
Leydon’s feature on WGBH, “Greater Bostonians,” often focuses on individuals and their personal stories. The show’s mission is to highlight those passionate about social change.
People let me into their homes and there’s a human connection,” Leydon said.
However, that connection isn’t always easy to make, she said.
We’ve moved beyond identity politics, to politics being our identity,” Leydon said.
She continued to explain how, when she is working on segments for “Greater Bostonians,” many of those walls thrown up in defense of political identity start crumbling.
She drew on these grounded, everyday stories in her lecture.
One such story was that of a New Hampshire couple named Ben and Laura. The two, who had never been particularly active politically, were faithful Trump supporters in the election.
Leydon talked and checked in with the couple at multiple points throughout the election process, and her coverage of real, hardworking and honest Trump supporters resonated with a lot of her Boston listeners, some of whom had never met an ardent Trump fan in person.
Leydon said she wishes the mainstream media would have paid more attention to smaller stories like this during and after the election. She characterizes stories like Ben and Laura’s as a “window to our collective identity.”
She also said she believes that such a focus would begin to bridge the gap between the two sides of the political spectrum. She emphasized the importance of a media-literate public that can recognize blatantly false news and has the skills necessary to seek out truth.
The basis for media literacy is critical thinking, she said, but specific and catered media literacy classes in schools could be a vital step in the process.
I don’t know how we have a discerning public without a media literate public,” Leydon said.
Vallee agreed with the necessity of starting a dialogue, which is exactly what WomenExplore is attempting to do with their lectures and discussions.
The election results tell us that there hasn’t been enough dialogue in our country,” Vallee said.
Vallee said she believes that anything that opens up a discussion can create a more united country.
Leydon does not plan to stop telling the stories of real, everyday people on either side of the political divide anytime soon, commenting that even the discussion following her lecture gave her ideas for new stories.
I’m a journalist,” Leydon said. “When I go out, I have a microphone and a camera. Sometimes I remember to bring a pen and paper. But most of all, I have my ears to listen.”

03 November 2016

Where's the Hope?: Innovation in Education

Focus talk given on 6th October 2016
—Jan Rosenberg

My journey as a teacher began in 1978, when I was a reading tutor in a public school in Hartford, Ct. All of my students came from one of the poorest housing projects in an economically challenged city. Two years later I moved to Maynard MA. From then until my retirement in 2009, I worked in the field of special education within public middle and high schools in high socio-economic status communities. Since retirement I have been a long-term substitute teacher, and an ESL tutor in Lowell. I also taught two summer sessions of the reading program at the Boston Arts Academy, remediating reading skills with rising tenth and eleventh graders.

At the outset I would like to state my core beliefs. First, robust public education, while a challenging project, is essential to democracy. Strong teachers’ unions support, rather than harm, quality education. Teaching again has to be made viable as a profession and as an entrée into the middle class. Finally, I believe that the underlying inequities of our society have to be addressed. Generally speaking, poor students have less opportunity for a high quality education that those living in high SES communities. It has been over fifty years since the War on Poverty and Civil Rights Movement, and yet, according to a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor, “school segregation has become even worse in recent decades. A report by the US Government Accountability Office earlier this year found that the percentage of public schools with high concentrations of poor and black and Hispanic students has nearly doubled since 2000.”

In my view the two most significant and large-scale drivers of change in education over the last two decades have been the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, and the voucher/charter school/corporate reform movements. NCLB demanded greater accountability via yearly tests of student achievement in the areas of reading and math as determined by each state. If the required improvements were not made each year, schools, were punished with decreased funding, and ultimately, by state takeover. Because absolute, not relative improvement was sought, schools were labeled as failing even if improvements in performance had been made. Having had students enter high school with minimal reading, writing, or math skills, I can say that I strongly believe in accountability around student learning. However, as a full participant during those years, my observation was that the testing regime contributed to increased anxiety for both teachers and students, impacted negatively the amount of time devoted to learning, and increased “teaching to the test”. On the other hand, I observed a principal-led initiative around writing responses to open-ended questions that was easily actionable, and which made a significant difference both in school culture and in the student performance of that school on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress), which is a yearly assessment given to a random group of students that predated NCLB. By 2015 so much criticism of No Child Left Behind had accumulated from across the political spectrum, that Congress took away the national features and replaced it with the Every Student Succeeds Act, passed in December 2015. ESSA limits the role of the federal government, but continues to require annual testing between third and eighth grades.

The second driver of change has been the voucher/charter school/corporate reform movement. While its history is very long and complex, it has roots both as a parent-led movement to increase options and successful educational experiences for their children, and as a libertarian free-market economy belief in a profit-based education system in which resources are controlled by private entities rather than locally-based and publicly elected school boards. Therein lies the problem! This cause has been taken up by the Koch Brothers and their related network as well as other billionaires, like the Walton family. Public schools and teachers are to them, examples of how regulation does not work. While we have many excellent charter schools in Massachusetts, we also have Question #2 on our November ballots. If approved, this would lift the cap on charter schools, and divert, over time, greater amounts of money from the public schools, as well as removing local decision- making from the school districts with regard to any new charters.  So, what else is wrong with this picture? More charters essentially leave the problem of inequity in access to quality education untouched. Charter schools can choose their students in a way that leaves out the neediest. In addition, national experience with charter schools indicate that without greater oversight and transparency, charters are vulnerable to corruption and fraud. Finally, the effectiveness of charters has not been demonstrated in a consistent manner.

So what has happened to educators as a result of these two large drivers of change? Working conditions have deteriorated, and it has become more difficult to not only recruit, but to hold on to excellent teacher candidates who might have entered the field. Schools and teachers have been told to do more with less AND score higher on tests. Teachers have been demonized; there has been a very active campaign to eliminate tenure and procedural safeguards for teachers in conflict with their administrators. In fact, there has been an active campaign to deprofessionalize teaching, placing inadequately trained people into classrooms. Emphasis has shifted from qualitative to quantitative evaluation systems, with punitive rather than collaborative consequences, akin to the punitive responses to insufficient growth on NCLB scores. Inadequate resources for the support of students with learning needs and mental health issues continue to be the norm rather than the exception. At the same time teachers have been confronted by increasingly complex students with learning needs, mental health issues, and language challenges in their classrooms. Corporate reformers are also pushing online monitoring of student performance and universal data collection, as well as personalized teaching via digital device – another way to eliminate teachers!

So where’s the hope in education? I see hope in a number of corners. As a special educator, I see hope in the growing research base on addressing dyslexia, specifically when and how. There is no need, if we choose to make resources available, for students to suffer through k-12 without knowing how to read. Similarly, I see growing improvements and sophistication in how to work with students on the autism spectrum, including how to transition such students to the worlds of work and higher education. I also see great hope in the Massachusetts initiative to create trauma-sensitive schools, which has the potential to impact a large number of students. Yet another source of hope for education includes such programs as CARE for teachers, or Cultivating Awareness and Resilience for Educators. It is a unique program “designed to help teachers reduce stress and enliven their teaching by promoting awareness, presence, compassion, reflection, and inspiration- the inner resources they need to help students flourish socially, emotionally, and academically”. Hope also lies in the many teacher-led initiatives to improve the quality of curriculum, pedagogy, and delivery of services, about which one rarely hears.

Ultimately, hope lies in an informed citizenry, committed teachers who are respected and well-paid, and in the students themselves, who are very much worth fighting for.


09 June 2016


—A message from Lindsa

The Watertown library is hosting a showing of the film SHE’S BEAUTIFUL WHEN SHE’S ANGRY, by Mary Dore and Nancy Kennedy.  The date is June 22, a Wednesday evening, with screening and discussion.  The tag line for the film is: “a dive into 2nd wave feminism”.


13 April 2016


Karen Voght, Wellness, Inc.
Good morning! Thank you inviting me to speak about The Body in Motion, and for this opportunity to share my passion for bringing wellness skills to children early on in their lives ...through their ABCs.

I'd like to 1st introduce you to my esteemed colleagues. This is Adam and Eve, the first human bipeds who needed to adapt to earth's pull of gravity on their new 'upright posture' and freed-up hands and feet. And this is Valkyrie, a NASA Robot in training. When they heard I'd be speaking to Women Explore, about bodies in motion, they asked to form a panel. They'd been wanting to practice for CSPAN, so they gave me their script and assigned me the role of interviewer! (BTW, they apologize for their lack of attire, but we thought it best for you to see their body's inner support network of muscles, and why they need to keep them in balanced and in good working order for the inner and outer wellbeing of our species)
They understand that biped muscles are designed to behave like faithful soldiers who non-judgmentally 'repeat directions' sent to them by physical, imagined, and artificially generated stimulations. This includes encrypted language codes, which, as sensori-motor representations, get programmed into their body's automatic responses systems ...just at different levels of awareness. What originally conditions them will retrigger their memory recall.
The process of language encryption begins in utero. This altered the way bi-pedal children began developing motor memory differently than when their parents communicated primarily through body language. With alphabetically linguistic mothers, children's muscles began to respond to the sounds of their mother's phonemes in the 7th month in utero. A different muscle responds to each phoneme (sort of like the keys on a piano). No two children will respond to the same phonemes with the same muscles, and each will have a slightly different time pace. It appears that children produce similar motor responses to similar human and simulated speech sounds: NOTE: Studies done on babies' mothers show that replacing a mute mother's lack of voice by a tape recording placed on her womb in the last trimester would enable the baby to incorporate those primary sounds of language (*Condon, W. )
This research made us wonder how today's world, increasingly filled with the artificial sounds of machine-produced languages, might possibly have the potential to alter the very 'nature' of a child's ability to RESPOND to the early sounds of his or her own 'mother'. As Natural language processing technology has become the holy grail of companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, etc., we began to question how alphabet-related technologies might be increasingly influencing the wellbeing of a biped child's life as well. It is these questions, and our concern over the increased impact corporate profiteering is having on the wellbeing of our society, and the future of our children, that has the panel in a quandary, and what we would like to explore with you today:
ADAM would like to start by sharing his concern. ...A long time ago, he detected that the direction his and Eve's lives took 'seemed' to have been scripted by the very first copy of a Biblical Story, published by the new Guttenberg Printing Press, that allowed it to be 'economically marketed' to people worldwide ...the remote source of its words unknown and unverifiable (containing only 1st names and mostly unconfirmable dates). In that story we were driven out of Paradise for eating an APPLE, and cast into a frightening, yet fascinating world of wild UNKNOWNS, with the need to forage for food, and find protection as the first human 'bipeds' subject to earth's pull of gravity on our muscles. As facilitators and organizers of increasingly flexible body's movements, supporters of upright postures, and recorders of the impact our new heel-toe ergonomics would have on mapping the GPS of our brains, we learned ways to move, survive, and flourished in nature's environments as nomads, hunters, gatherers, and agriculturalists, through the cooperative power of our smart bodies, brains,& imaginations. Ubiquitous Alphabet writing and reading tools, however had begun to forever change the STORIES of our lives.
EVE ... lately we feel as though we are being rescripted into a more modern day STORY version of The Land Of Oz In The Age Of Digital Machines. Ironically, it is also a time where yet a bite of another APPLE again seems to be becoming a big source of societal change! We understand that the way the mobility of our bodies maps our immobile brains determines what type of a life we live. But these day's our muscles feel quite underappreciated, afraid they can't keep up with the pace of change, and concerned they may soon be unemployable!
You see, generations of over-dependency on fine-motor, audio-visually taught alphabet education for the masses slowly diminished our body's need to move to communicate ... displacing the rich information acquired by our other bodily senses (why Shakespeare may have become so famous); increasing toxic stress buildup; and altering our capacity to sense natural vs synthetic pheromones (the scent of a human, etc), to touch and comfort, perspire and inspire, to explore, invent, rest and emote, and even the way we reproduce. Increased lack of our X-lateral, bipedal body movements led to progressively sedentary and domesticated lifestyles ... changing O2-CO2 ratios/heart strength, blood flows, unevenly balanced right - left brain mapping, foresight and ability to plan, to modulate our emotions, and to maintain the pull of gravity's force on the larger muscles of our hips, legs, pelvic and spinal regions. But most important has become the loss of our capacity to detect truth and generate predictability in an age where a universal communication tool for the masses can instantaneously edit and rescript a user's reality from a distance, along with their user's capacities for movement that is
fundamentally vital to maintaining body health and wellbeing on planet earth.
“Today’s brain is a consequence, not a precursor of symbolic language. Language can change our response
system faster than evolution changes our genes”. T. Deacon, Author, The Symbolic Species.
ADAM ALPHABET TOOLS EXPANDED into alphabet keyboard finger-typing tools; computers; internets; smart phones; chat rooms, emails, texts, blogs, touch screens, and software ...endless forms of upper body, fine-motor communication devices. Soon, it seemed that, with the right tools, anything or anyBODY could be photo shopped into or out of a story's appeal and intent. TV, Disney movies, and online games altered our brain's synaptic threshold levels with larger than life, colors, sounds and actions of fantastical characters to levels unable to have been previously perceive by our bodies.
Artificially enhanced levels of perception began to make mere mortals (earthlings) appear insignificant, especially as movies combined overloads of simulated auditory 'noises' which foster a state of disassociated hearing that weakens connections between words and pictures.
Eve & Adam requested to bring this to your attention as they now see a societal pattern that is increasingly impacting our youth, namely, the speeding up of fine-motor eye tracking movements while physically disconnecting the body's larger motor movements through the ubiquitous use of screen technologies. Reading and listening skills become disrupted as pop up adds, scrolling texts, dubbing, and digital news trackers on screens take our eyes and ears in different directions that do not always synchronize voice messaging with the images seen on the screen. The ubiquity of such devices increases peer pressure to fit in. Unfortunately, increasing numbers of industries are being spawned that market stories which capitalize on levels of societal anxieties, and then develop products to 'comfort and heal'.
EVE Today, governments, corporations and educational institutes increasingly employ DIGITALLY ALPHABETIZED STORY TELLING to market their products. We live in an increasingly convoluted world where fear sells. Their stories incorporate language elements of fear and comfort to capture their buying audience's attention. Incorporating our muscularized bodies into their storylines has even led to corporations now being legitimized as real people by the supreme court.
ADAM & EVE SAMPLES of this duplicitous marketing strategy abound:
Where would cosmetic companies, Insurance companies, and Legal systems be if we were not increasingly bombarded by constant advertising stories preying on our vulnerable natures?
Facebook's thumbs-up logo now connects all our bodies with only one digit on our hand. (Facebook dependency)Their bodiless Emoji are increasingly replacing language as part of our younger culture's internet communications. Even China markets are now looking into creating a common bodiless language of emoji with Facebook. Do they ever wonder how a child in utero will learn the phonemes of that language?
GOOGLE rebranded to ALPHABET (a brand word every child world wide will readily recognize!) Yet warns those that use AdBlockers will not be allowed to use their Search engine.
APPLE claims to protect privacy while it tracks and records each stroke we TYPE with, and designs Siri, their natural language processing assistant, to be a universal voice that also tracks our locations and inquiries ... all while inserting terms of service that overwhelm any mere mortals capacity to read or interpret.
Political campaigns create stories/ Big tech investing creates stories
Media chooses which stories to air that will constrict our muscles and hype up our adrenaline. Military/Wars/gun manufacturers all have a story: ISIS vs over-domesticated, sedentarily bred and educated citizenry. One and all is able to advertise their wares on Facebook as the number of internet searches (clicks) and purchases generate markets and income for their cause.
Surveillance technologies abound: ( http://www.buzzfeed.com/peteraldhous/spies-in-the- skies?ncid=newsltushpmg00000003 ) What if there is a typo error or a similar address spelling!
BIG PHARM repeatedly speed product side-effect warnings across their TV screen commercials: Do they miss any part of our bodies that can't get diseased?
Health ethics cannot keep up with the speed of changes to our bodies and brains from precision medicine, neuro technologies, and computerization of medicine.
Spam and bots provide huge numbers of CLICKS that help prioritize Social Media marketing messages.

Space stories help our bodies escape to the moon and other planets only suitable for robots, while we watch real children & their families on planet EARTH experience the largest migration since World war ll. Religions have always communicated through the power of stories _____________________________________________________________________________________ VALKYRIE HOW WILL OUR CHILDREN LEARN TO MOVE? Babies muscles are magical as gravity has not yet taken over. But commercial enterprises take over earlier and earlier as they learn the value of entraining kids' muscles to use fake money charge cards ... turning them into trained consumers as soon as their little digits and eye muscles adapt to fine-motor accuracy tracking skills. Earth parents and educators can't compete with digital fantasticality and its impact on youths' addiction to fiction. Fantasticality has replaced humanitality. Who among us is safe from being written into a STORY and STORED at some unknown Corporate data bank in the cloud. And now, they've learned that Neuro tissue has the ability, if you punch/type in information to it, it will take you to your goal! Heaven help us if there is a neuro-typo Spellchecker doesn't catch!!
Yes we are well on the way to becoming a new hybrid earth species. But, as an astronaut robot, I do wonder how future earth children will learn to move as space stories increasingly excite and incite their muscles and their minds for life in space only suitable for a robot (0 gravity in Space alters emotional capacities), especially now that Astronaut Scott Kelly, upon return from one year in space, lets us know about the eye, bone density, emotionalities, and muscle atrophy risks of space ..AND that his feet don't get to touch ground and foster the benefits of X-laterality in micro gravity environments.
1. It looks like we may have been seduced again by an APPLE to put too much trust into an increasingly universal alphabet writing tool held in the palm of our hands!
2. OR, is it that original sense of warmth, comfort, nurturance, and freedom from gravity in the mother's womb that causes us muscles to seek gravity-free space adventures?
3. OR, or is it the calm feeling Alpha Waves trigger when our eyes look up toward the heavens that frees us from the constant Beta Wave activity of our eyes darting from left to right to read all of those alphabetically encrypted stories!
Thank you for exploring this quandary with us today.
  1. As stories can fake-out our interior motor responses and feelings that exhaust and damage, as
    well as enhance our immune systems, ask yourselves 'Whose lips, hips, and fingertips your own words are moving when YOU speak/read/write/teach/learn/self-talk/imagine/dream/and tell secrets or tall tales!
  2. Be sure to ALPHABETIZE lots of kindness and caring into your words.
  3. OR, at the minimum, GET THEE TO AN ALPHABET PT !(http://www.alphabetfitness.org)
    ©2016. Wellness, Inc.

01 April 2016

About Karen Voght

On Thursday 31st March 2016 WomenExplore was privileged to hear a "panel discussion" presented by Karen Voght, Founder/CEO Wellness, Inc., MA/WA,  Global Health Through the ABCs www.alphabetfitness.org on the topic of "The Body in Motion", a part of the Spring 2016 lecture series on the theme "Caring for Ourselves... Caring for the World...  Creating a Healthy and Meaningful Life from the Inside Out".

Karen Voght is a Long Island - raised child; transplanted to W. Hartford, CT for her adolescence; a Graduate of Psychology; and the co-author of the original Child-care Licensing Laws for the State of CT, Maternal & Child Health Care Div.  She became a successful entrepreneurial Real Estate developer in Wrentham, MA while raising 2 very entertaining children; and has spent the last portion of her life applying her love of research and innovation to generating stress prevention tools for young children to help them grow up healthy, happy and well.  She became the founder/CEO of Wellness, Inc., and her creative tool of choice became the alphabet! 

         Karen had done a large amount of testing her program's concept developments with inner city YMCA preschool programs - primarily Hispanic 4-5 year olds - and discovered that many inner city impoverished areas did not have the wherewithall to expose their children to the potential for wonderful imagination, so she set out to find possible causes. Those causes narrowed down to an excess of life stressors within families and communities;  lack of natural play and active body movement due to unsafe neighborhoods;  and lack of healthy adult role models (parents and educators).

         Being aware of the imagination's need for rich sensory stimulations and fully cross-lateralized body movements Karen set out to redesign the 26 letters of the alphabet (a learning tool learned by all children) into Alphabet Fitness Fonts to activate children's bodies while they were learning the fundamentals of alphabet communication skills!  Her typable font character would become the children's literacy and fitness coaches.  Chimp Shakespeare's ABCs taught the 3-4 yr. olds alphabet yoga-like workouts, and Akiddo Kids font taught body language communication to the older children.  Miss Spells was saved for smaller groups of just girls (like in the Democratic Republic of Congo's all-girls school)  She even designed the first Alphabet Fitness Puzzles with her Chimp fonts for Chimp Sanctuary fundraisers, and a special Miss Spells' Boston Herald Puzzle edition for literacy..  Please feel free to find tons more at the Alphabet Fitness website: www.alphabetfitness.org.  Many free downloads are there for you, your children and grandchildren to exercise their bodies along with their classmates and playmates; brothers, sisters, and cousins; parents, grandparents, and educators too!

         As Karen is concerned about corporate profiteering on the future of our children’s wellbeing, she'd like to EXPLORE the topic of her talk today: "JUST WHO IS MOVING OUR LIPS, HIPS, AND FINGERTIPS IN THE DIGITAL AGE?"!

14 November 2015

Peace of Heart, Peace of Mind

By Chris Farrow-Noble
Existential Focus Talk for Women Explore
November 12, 2015

To bring us together to this question, “What Matters to Me and Why?,” I offer the Metta Meditation, which I recently rediscovered in a women’s circle in Maine.

May I and all living beings be free from suffering.

May I and all living beings be well in body and mind.

May I and all living beings be at peace.

To warm our circle, I light this candle and invite Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s words:

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

I am on a spiritual pilgrimage and feel most centered when I know my goal and see a path leading forward with clear steps ahead, one step at a time.  

What matters to me is that I feel alive, eager, excited, inspired, and passionate for the next step.  I am fully tuned in, open to the present in front of me.  It matters at every turn, looking backward and forward, to know I have done, and am doing, my very best with the information and experience I have at the moment. 

The Summer Day, a poem by Mary Oliver, speaks to me: 

“…Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
(Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, 1992)

(SING this one line):         “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”

(Take one rose and put it into the vase.)

1) I begin with the first rose, representing Me in this Wild and Precious Life.

What matters to me as one spiritual being
 having a human experience at this time in this lifetime?

It matters deeply to me that I love, feel loved, and am loved.

I want to feel accepted for who I am, not who someone thinks I am, or someone they want me to be.  

I want to feel heard, to be able to speak clearly without hesitation or judgment, not feeling rushed or cut off. 

I want to be visibly present in my home.  I want people to think, “Oh, Yes! Chris lives here!” 

I want to have eye contact with the person I am speaking with.  It’s more likely to sense that they are listening to me, not looking over my shoulder or paying attention to someone or something else.  

I want to speak in person when we make important decisions.  My husband Chris and I call it an eye-to-eye decision.  It’s then less likely for one of us to think we’ve have made a decision before we have confirmed it. 

It matters to me to have open-ended, non-stressful time

I treasure beautiful golden unscheduled open-ended time for creating.  A clear desk to welcome words and images. A full afternoon to paint or an open evening to write by the fire.  Spontaneous time brings unexpected thoughts and dreams, long forgotten hopes and unexplored paths.  

Unplanned time opens the door for interactions with strangers, unpredictable relaxed conversations with family and friends that go where they will, not driven by necessity or deadlines.  I long for intense exchanges with honest emotions and reactions.  

It matters that I find ways to express myself creatively.  

I need a place to sing, usually with others but sometimes on my own.. Making beautiful music in a cozy space is one of the highest kinds of personal expression.   In the fullness of that fleeting moment, we can hear the ebbs and flows of the song: , its rhythm, lyrics, melody, tune, harmonies, pauses, personal touches of the musicians, and our own connection and emotion. 

I must write – it’s my preferred way to take my thoughts from me to others.  This can happen anywhere – in a morning café, sitting on an Austrian hillside, typing at 5:30 AM in New Zealand.  I’ve always written to understand myself; this inbred personal therapist that has never let me down.  At two significant crossroads in my life, I wrote 15 pages in my journal and came to a clear decision and action.  I am always more settled after writing, as shown recently when I arose at 3 AM when I couldn’t sleep and wrote until I’d emptied my full heart onto paper. 

It matters greatly to me that my writing is read by a wider audience.  I am committed to getting my writing published and out to the broader world. 

Photography has led me, and now watercolor painting beckons.  Time escapes when I set aside painting time.  One color leads to another; one texture begs for another layer.  I haven’t yet found my style or perhaps even my medium.  Similarly, I delight with time to cook, to bake, to grow flowers and arrange them. 

My newest self-expression is on the stage! Last year an inner voice urged me to audition for the musical Carousel. With the New Surry Theatre in Blue Hill, Maine, I sang in 12 performances of Carousel.  I auditioned and got a part in Natural Fractal, but the play was cancelled.  I drove 40 minutes to audition for Men’s Lives, based on the book by Peter Matthiessen.  I got the leading female role as Alice in this staged reading and sang a solo of “Hush Little Baby.” I plan to audition in March for the role of  Sister Aloysius in the play “Doubt.” I have caught the bug and hope to get a chance to bring another person’s character and persona to life. 

Of course, my seven existential focus talks with TOP and Women Explore have been significant creative openings. Telling my story turns out to be important to me, and I encourage everyone to share theirs.  Since 2009, I’ve spoken on Globalization, Living with Fear, Sensuality & Sexuality Throughout Life; Challenge of Communications with Mothers and Adult Sons; Family Secrets, How the Media Desensitizes Us to Violence, and Women’s Bodies and the Media.  Thank you for these opportunities. 

It matters to me that I continue to learn. 

Whether I am learning a new culinary skill, the Italian language, the ukulele or guitar, a dialogue, or a history of a culture, I am growing and expanding. I have a sense of well being when I can take in new information and then integrate and use it.  Being an eternal student demands that I stay focused and be fully present.  Traveling is still a very strong pull; I hope to live in another culture again in these freer years ahead.

Learning about dreams has been a lifelong course. Where do they come from?  Why is this dream here now? How can I tap further into my subconscious to know more about this personal dream theatre? I am deeply moved by encounters with people who are no longer alive or in my life.  I participate in two dream groups and recently offered a workshop integrating Dreams and the Labyrinth.

It matters that I am healthy – physically, mentally, and emotionally.  

I watch carefully what I eat and how much wine I drink.  I am playing tennis again after 50 years.  I’m learning to read chords for the ukulele, and staying connected to people who matter in my life.

2) Now, I add my 2nd rose, representing Chris Noble, my life partner, who is here today.

Ten years ago on August 20, 2005, Chris and I decided to share our promises with the people gathered for our wedding.

These promises matter to me because they have held true and guide us during difficult and easier times in our life together. 

I share them again with you, dear friends:

1) I promise to raise and to be open to discuss anything that could be unsettling or harmful to you, me, or our relationship. J promise to do this as soon as possible, and not to let these issues fester or simmer beneath the surface. 
2) I promise to be totally and completely faithful to you.
3) I promise to be careful and attentive, and not to speak or act in a way that is harmful to you.
4) I promise to do everything I can to make your life easier, to encourage you to identify and achieve your goals, and to hold you accountable in a positive and loving way if you don’t try your best to do these things.
Chris and I learn each day about the realities of living with another human and spiritual being. Our promises are broad and could be edited and expanded.  We now know that it matters for us to be totally who we are.  We know better how to acknowledge our differences, respect each other’s ways, and still love each other.

Our daily lives with the ups and downs, eruptions and silences, matter deeply because I love him and he loves me.   We have made a loving commitment to be partners for the rest of our lives.  

3) I add this 3rd rose for my Immediate and Extended Family,

It matters to me to feel in close touch and connected with our adult children and their families.

I live 3000 miles away from Portland Oregon, where my son Carter, his wife Kate, and my two granddaughters, Mika and Anna live. Our close connection can include email and telephone, but in person is best.  I can see them, feel their moods, laugh and cry with them.  We can share quiet or conversation without regard to time ticking away or external demands on the phone.  We can engage with all our senses and know what is happening in each others’ lives, ups and downs of jobs, families, transitions, aches and deep pain. I can feel what they are experiencing, not just learn the facts.  I can be on the floor to hear Mika’s stories that she weaves for her little sister.

My Mom’s recent 99th birthday celebration brought us precious time together.  I could swim with 4-year old Mika, hold 6-month old Anna, and talk intimately with Kate and Carter about life.  There is never enough time, but we look forward to our next time together. I hope someday to live closer to their homes and lives so we can know the girls as they grow up, oh so quickly. This geographical gap between us is difficult for me, and I want to find additional ways to feel connected. 

One of my “new” sons, Matthew, and his wife Apple now live in the Northwest in Tacoma Washington, and Jeremy, the older brother, lives in North Carolina.  We will be together with all three sons and their families over a week in December holiday time. We are all learning to be fully ourselves, honestly and openly, and truly look forward to this time together.

It matters that I love and feel loved.  

I have quite a few gremlin visits at night when I question if I am loved.  I’m not sure where this comes from.  I don’t have control over others loving me, yet I know that I love and care deeply.  I can only be myself, live honestly, share my love and hope that people can feel that love.

It matters to know that my 99-year-old Mother is happy and safe.

My mom just celebrated her 99th birthday with family and friends joyfully sharing what she has meant to them.  Now, she is in a very challenging transition, adjusting to living in a memory care home in Ventura California, near my sister Diane and her fiancé  Bob.  

From this 3000-mile distance, I want to know how she is feeling, how her days are going, how she likes her new home, how she feels about the daily pace and structure in her life.  It matters to me so deeply that she feels peaceful, calm, comfortable, loved and loving, at home, even joyful as she expressed in her poetry.   Is she happy? 

I treasure the memories of our conversations  when she was in her own home only a month ago.  In the mornings over coffee while we were still in our comfy robes, we would talk about her sense of coming back from a long long time ago -- returning to her home after dreams or another place, before time, before Jesus, before life.   She often said it was a long way from her bedroom to the sunroom, from sleep to today. 

It matters to be with her as often as possible and to be sure she is in the most peaceful place possible for the rest of her beautiful life

4) I offer this 4th rose to honor Beauty and Nature.

It matters to me to feel Beauty in me, all around me, and to share beauty with others.

I long for full relaxed time outside surrounded by beauty and nature.  It has been a long time since I felt the pull to just sit and let the thoughts flow.  I long for the open time to follow a trail into the woods to see what I come upon. 

I long to be surrounded by wind, dragonflies flitting ahead of me, lizards pausing as I speak to them.  Hummingbirds finding their food within moments of my refilling their dish; houseplants thriving as I shift their location.  Snapping turtle coming out on my labyrinth walk; frog pausing in the labyrinth pathway, witnessing the showering of oak leaves onto the green grass, hearing and feeling the wind sing among the white flags in the labyrinth.

I am blessed daily by our golden retriever Ana Luzia with her constant company and appreciative, loving eyes and presence.  I say goodnight to her every night.

In the past six months, I learned about creating and constructing labyrinths and painted my first original classic labyrinth on the floor of our 100-year-old Reversing Falls Sanctuary.  Last Saturday, I created what feels like a new labyrinth by putting over 200 flags along the right side of the pathway of our 10-year-old field-mown labyrinth.  I put each flag 1 long stride apart and added flags closer together when the path came to a curve or turn. A friend donated 25 yellow flags for the Center, which we marked with a large harvest orange chrysanthemum.  This so aptly represents my Mom – or Mum -- in the Center of my life now. 

5) Thus, my 5th rose, for my Friends,Tribe and Community

It matters to me to have real, honest, open friends, both men and women, who are there for me and know I am there for them.

I am blessed with deep, still growing friendships with my husband, family, Fireworks sisters, and loyal friends in this country and abroad.  I have lost several close friends and miss their loyal company. 

My sense of being part of a tribe began at Pinewoods Folk Music Camp and extends now to my community in Maine.  I feel part of a whole, acknowledged and appreciated.  I know I can explore old and new aspects of my own being over time. I can take risks, such as jamming with my newly restored Kamaka ukulele in a circle of musicians and singers last week. 

Our Alice's Field Labyrinth (Field of Flags Peace Labyrinth) near Maine home
in the process of being built. The green areas show the path of the labyrinth.

We first created the labyrinth 50 yards from our home in Maine at the time of our wedding.  For 10 years, we’ve offered meditative walks to the public.  Yet now, in using the memorial flags that have honored those who have died in the Middle East, I sense this labyrinth as more a part of the community.  While installing the flags, I focused on the pathway, the colors, the wind wafting through the flag, and the calm between the bursts.  I was lost in its creation. I am grateful to be able to offer these beautiful sacred labyrinths as a place for people to walk peacefully in the midst of their busy lives. 
Our Alice's Field Labyrinth (Field of Flags Peace Labyrinth) near Maine home
6) Now, a 6th rose for the broader Nation and World.

It matters to me to know that we are all One, all Connected, all part of the Whole.

Yet so much is pushing toward Separateness and Violence.

In this bigger context, I am still learning, reading, trying to gather information to get a sense of what I can do.  I am still asking questions and seeking answers.

What can we do about the proliferation of guns and killing?

What are the next steps in understanding the links between mental illness and suicide?

How can we raise our awareness of the volatile family relationships that erupt into domestic violence and death?

Why the Children?  Why are they the ones to suffer and die at the hands of the people who brought them into this life?

What is our next step in this unfathomable refugee migration?

It matters to me to find a way to make a difference in our world.  

Perhaps I can return to teaching English as a Second Language to help people communicate their needs and dreams.

Perhaps I can continue to build labyrinths to encourage communities to walk and talk together. 

Perhaps I can consistently walk for hunger or suicide prevention or to Save The Children.

Perhaps I can help build a bridge of music as Bill Staines suggests in his song, Bridges:  (Sing last verse below.)

“Let us build a bridge of music, Let us cross it with a song,
Let us span another canyon, Let us right another wrong.

Oh, and if someone should ask us, Where we’re off and bound today,
We will tell them, “Building Bridges,” and be off and on our way.

Oh, and if someone should ask us, Where we’re off and bound today
We will tell them, “Building Bridges,” and be off and on our way.”

7) I will end with the 7th rose for Spirit

It matters to me to feel spiritually awake

I have always been a seeker on a path with yearning and questions. When I was a younger, I tried many denominations, believing there was one true one.  I am now at peace with the idea that there needn’t be one true faith; each can offer us something of value.  

Reversing Falls Sanctuary classic labyrinth, painted in July by community

In the past 16 years, I have been involved with a labyrinth community as a writer, walker, teacher, creator, builder, dream-worker, and Council member.  I walk a labyrinth often, wherever I am and value the moments of meditation, quiet, and community.  In 2014, I walked a labyrinth every day.  I will continue to follow its path and calling.  

I will ask all the questions that come to me about God or Mystery, Spirit, prayer, meditation, unity, love, hate, death, and life.

I will continue to take one step at a time on this pilgrimage of life.  I will take risks to follow my heart and reach out to those who are in pain, grief, or difficult times. I will seek ways to be with people in person.  I will find ways to express my caring, help find solutions, and tell my story. 

 It matters to me to know that I am beautiful and to believe in my gifts and myself.  It matters to me that I love myself, my husband Chris, my family, beauty and nature, my friends, tribe and community, and the broader world around me.  It matters that I find my part in bringing peace.  

Let’s close with a song based on a Navajo prayer.  I’ll sing it once and then please join me.

“All before me, peaceful
All behind me, peaceful
Under me, peaceful
Over me, peaceful
All around me, peaceful
All around me, peaceful.”

Thank you so very much.

Christine Farrow-Noble
Cambridge, Massachusetts
November 12, 2015

Some links to labyrinth organizations and resources:
http://www.veriditas.org     International organization for training and experiential workshops
https://labyrinthsociety.org  Wonderful informative annual gatherings for interested people
www.labyrinthos.net  Amazing resource of history, photos, instructions to build
labyrinthlocator.com  Worldwide locator of labyrinths