This issue originally published as A Course for Teachers
The subject is charm. Defined variously as:
a chanted incantation, words of power, magic
The word charm comes from roots that mean: song, to sing, to enchant, to make verses. Such imagery, magic and poetry! I'd like to explore charm from these various perspectives.Civility and Being Charming
First, the civilized, expansive and responsive behavior we call being charming. We can adopt charm in all our relationships. It is the oil with which we anoint small and large meetings. Oil makes the mechanism run more smoothly. Despite "The Ugly American" syndrome, many of us extend this civility to shopkeepers, co-workers, supervisors, friends ... in general to adults we encounter day to day. Why, then, do we often feel charm is unnecessary in our relationships with children and students? Is it considered a sign of weakness? A lack of authority? Is it a matter of problematic boundaries, as we try to assure we not treat students as peers?
Another concern is when charm is a facade, literally a false face. "Sure, I use charm to grease wheels and smooth ruffled feathers, but it's not very honest, is it?", one may respond. Or "Sometimes I act charming, but it's just that, an act. Other times, it's an unconscious habit, not a mindful practice."
We are striving to become more mindful. We have years, decades, of half-conscious habitual patterns. We learned those habits by practice. We learned, as children, that pushing shoving, striking out at others to get what we want -- a toy, a treat, a change in the other's behavior -- had mixed results at best. It usually just didn't work. Parents and caregivers modeled and encouraged substitution of appropriate civilized behaviors. They weren't always skillful at this teaching, and mixed messages about power permeate our world. They often denied and negated our real feelings in the civilizing process. Thus, sublimation, one of the most conscious, mature and valuable of the defense mechanisms, was sacrificed for the legacy of less conscious repression and denial. Our own caregivers fear-based lack of skill is not the discussion here. Their simultaneous love-based intention was to civilize, in the finest sense of the word.
"Civilize: 2: to raise up to a rational, aesthetically refined and humanely oriented level of adjustment to the collective relations of mankind ... to instruct in or bring into line with the standards of self-control, uprightness, and impartial consideration of common needs and aspirations of humankind that are essential to social harmony and security of human freedoms."
As US. president Bill Clinton said last July, "I might say this is another thing wrong with this country. There's not not enough civility in how we treat each other." The New York Times, October 9, Sunday, in the cover story of their Styles section, "Have a #%&$! Day," diagnoses a civility deficit.
Theologian Richard J. Muow, author of Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World, states, "It may be the problem. Unless we can find a way to live with diversity without screaming at each other or shooting each other, it's all over."
Rudeness is rampant in our culture and it may affect our children more than acknowledged. Creative rudeness in rap music, "The Simpsons", and stand-up comedy is often truly artistic. But, verbal violence may lead to physical violence, and nastiness seems an odd aspiration. While there is a healthy dose of identity-honing here (a task of adolescence is establishing a self-identity), there's also a conformity to an ever-less civil status quo. There is a political, ideological aspect to some of this rudeness. Some of it is a mutated version of the nobly unrefined Everyman -- the one who may not have fancy manners or the time for snooty polity, but who has dignity and moral fortitude.
Another angle is described by Ted Seigel, professor of humanities at Cooper Union in New York. The civility deficit is related to "a loss of shared assumptions, which is the underside of multi-culturalism." A "new tribalism" can engender intense artistic diversity and sharing. It can also foster increasing Balkanization, with each self-identified "culture" exhibiting little interest in exploring "shared assumptions," and emphasizing the differences that lead a people to regard the "others" as threatening or less deserving of regard.
A Jungian perspective on the civility deficit is that people are not owning their shadow (the aspects of oneself that one fails to see or know -- usually, these are what one denies to oneself) therefore, projecting shadow attributes onto others. Cultural rudeness is unacknowledged shadow.
Robert Johnson has disseminated Jungian theory to the mainstream with popular books such as He, She and Owning Your Own Shadow, in which he writes the following: "The civilizing process, which is the brightest achievement of humankind, consists of culling out those characteristics that are dangerous to the smooth functioning of our ideals. We are all born whole, but somehow the culture demands that we live out only part of our nature and refuse other parts of our inheritance. We divide the self into an ego and a shadow because our culture demands we behave in a particular manner."
"The religious process consists of restoring the wholeness of the personality. The word religion means to re-relate, to put back together again, to heal the wounds of separation. It is absolutely necessary to engage in the cultural process to redeem ourselves from our animal state; it is equally necessary to accomplish the spiritual task of putting our fractured, alienated world back together again. One must break from the Garden of Eden, but one must also restore the heavenly Jerusalem."
Charm, as I am using the term, is a spiritual practice. It is approaching each human interaction in a spirit of love, recognizing each person as a sibling.
I'm not advocating an ignorance of boundaries here. The boundaries and integrity of each person, including oneself, must be respected. One of the most loving gifts we can give is clearly in behavioral boundaries.
At the same time, our heart is aware of the mystery that we are part of God/Goddess. "The miracle acknowledges everyone as your brother and mine."
Meditation is a means to get out of one's way and to allow the Holy Spirit (or Inner Voice, or Higher Self, or Wisdom) to be heard. As we learn to quiet the ego's insistent chatter by gently ignoring it, we find the place where charm resides. This charm is the ability to listen, attentive and without judgment, to another person. Charm is mindful ability to create inclusiveness.
I'm not suggesting dishonesty about one's feelings. I am suggesting civility. As people are learning the value of reclaiming their emotional life, we mustn't be so reactive that we glorify our feelings. The human animal is a package deal. Emotions are part of the package, to be acknowledged, felt and dealt with. And, they are transient.Enchantment
There is a small but growing trend among westerners to incorporate chanting into everything from worship services to personal growth seminars to corporate team meetings. This is simply recapturing a natural part of human heritage, one which only this small, economically dominant corner of the world even forgot. Chant was never completely forgotten.
Chanting, words repeated for their effect on mind and body, has been used consciously by folks as diverse as Martin Luther King, Jr., and advertising executives. The army uses chants, as do political parties, Klan gatherings and peace rallies.
We often allow others to intimidate joyful, spontaneous music making. Remember, it wasn't long ago when nearly everyone played some instrument, usually with glowing mediocrity, be it piano, harmonica or voice. So, too, have we allowed the life affirming, energizing and focusing part of chant to be captured and bastardized.
There may be an instinct to deeply respond to sing-songy repetitive phrases -- hence the appeal of nursery rhymes. Alas, I hear small children sing advertising jingles more often than Mother Goose. And, who among our readers hasn't found some mindless phrase, complete with brand name, relentlessly intruding on their thoughts? I have had no television for thirteen years, and listen exclusively to public radio. Still, the insidious chants of car barkers and soda sellers find their way into my cortex.
Let us re-enchant our world; take a cue from the majority of humanity and reclaim chanting. A chant is simple, clear, repetitive. A group can learn a chant in a moment and raise voices in communion, reflecting that "all minds are joined."
In our society, voices may join on sing-alongs and hymn-singing. If one is group-singing unfamiliar material, the head is engaged much more than the heart and body. The head is reading text, musical notation, or struggling to remember a chorus. My experience as a songleader is that even the simplest chorus needs at least four repetitions before the majority of the audience is singing.
There is also the specter of perfectionism, a shame-slinging gremlin we feed with our anxieties of not being or doing or having enough. So many people are shamed into silence, never singing, except, perhaps, alone.
Two of the most common sing-alongs in America are The Star Spangled Banner and Silent Night. No matter what key the crowd begins on, few are left singing the high notes with power or confidence. Even Happy Birthday, with its octave jump on the third line, gets thin.
Chants, however, are forgiving and inclusive. All may not be singers (a commonly held belief with which I disagree), but all of us can chant. Teach chants to your family, children, co-workers. Opening or closing any meeting with a chant has the potential for bonding participants quicker and more surely than any other method I've used.Affirmation
Magic spells, mantras, prayers; since time immemorial, people have known the power of words. Chanted, sung or whispered in the heart, they have been used to focus attention and inspire intention. The ancient technique is commonly called affirmations.
Gerald Jampolsky, author of several books inspired by his study and application of A Course in Miracles, writes of daily saying the prayer of Saint Francis:
Many people in Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery and support groups use the excerpt from Niemoller known as The Serenity Prayer:
One friend, as he drives to work, quotes aloud, "This is the day which the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it." Some days, he doesn't sound convincing to himself. So, he repeats the statement as often as needed until the benediction opens through his heart and he affirms the day yet again. Notice he is affirming to rejoice in the day, no matter what it brings. This isn't to deny he may sometimes feel loss, anxiety, longing or any of the nuances of love and fear of which we as humans are capable. This elegant statement simply affirms his faith that all life is a key to the door of the infinite. All experiences are opportunities to extend either love or fear.
Much of the Workbook for Students section of A Course in Miracles is based upon the principle of affirmations. Often, the lesson is a short affirmation to repeat, with and without contemplation, several times a day. Habit. Practice. A few affirmations from the Workbook:
Love is the way I walk in gratitude.
Collect works that touch your heart, that inspire you. They may come from anywhere: novels, wisdom literature, poetry, liturgy, your journal, Hallmark cards, the words of a friend or child... Memorize passages and they will be available when you are in a dark, cold place, to illuminate. The mental exercise of memorization is stimulating. Seldom demanded of students anymore, required memorization of literature often inspires a special respect for beautiful expression. This loving respect needs slow careful study for incubation.
I have hundreds of songs in my head and call upon them regularly. Even the silly, brilliant Jabberwocky (Lewis Carroll) is intact in my mind and makes me smile. I memorized it in response to an assignment to learn The Gettysburg Address. My brother Steve and I determined to do one of our own choice. I still love reciting its cadence and invented words. (At least one of these invented words, "chortle," a hybrid of a chuckle and a snort, has found its way into the Oxford English Dictionary.)Summary
The word charm has roots which mean song, to sing, to enchant, to make verses. Charm is the oil with which we anoint smal and large meetings. Charm is a spiritual process ... approaching each human being in a spirit of love. Meditation is a means to get out of one's way and to allow the Inner Voice to be heard. Let us re-enchant our world; a chant is simple, clear, repetitive. We can affirm our faith that all life is a key to the door of the infinite. Resources
A Course in Miracles, © 1975, the Foundation for Inner Peace, Glen Ellen, CA, ISBN 0-9606388-2-2.;
Good-Bye to Guilt, © 1985, Gerald G. Jampolsky, MD., Bantam Books, New York, NY, ISBN 0-553-34574-5
Owning Your Own Shadow, © 1991, Robert A. Johnson, HarperCollins, New York, NY, ISBN 0-06-250422-3.Final Thoughts
The purpose of life is to increase the warm heart. Think of other people. Serve other people, sincerely. No cheating.
© 1993 JeanneE Hand-Boniakowski