By Sue Caulfield
One of my postings in Eclectic Threads (May 10, 2014) was about Leonard Cohen, specifically one of my favorite stanzas of all time, from Cohen’s Anthem:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
About five days ago, out of the blue, I found myself wondering about Tom, the man who first introduced me to those lines by Leonard Cohen. Tom was a student in one of my graduate-level research methodology courses. As the class explored how to research a topic, we discussed where we find meaning, how we find meaning, the importance of different data points, as well as the importance of knowing ourselves and what gives us meaning, as the latter certainly influences how we engage the research process. Each week, a different student would lead a discussion about part of the week’s assigned reading. When Tom’s turn came around, he played Cohen’s Anthem as part of his presentation. That was ten or twelve years ago and this stanza has been a mantra to me ever since its introduction. I was thinking about Tom and offering him thanks for the introduction.
Here’s where the intuition comes in. Yesterday, at a retreat workshop, who should join me at the lunch table but Tom! I had an opportunity to thank him in person, letting him know that those lyrics had become a staple of my meditative wall hangings and that those lyrics had become very important to me as a person.
Believing as I do that we are all connected, through threads we cannot see but can feel when we leave ourselves open, this week presented me with yet another reminder to trust the universe. Something in the invisible thread tugged on me last week, reminding me of Tom and the gift he gave me many years ago. As lunch time approached at the retreat, I contemplated going out for lunch rather than dining at the retreat center. But something held me back, something led me to that table, to reconnect with this person.
When I think about “a crack in everything,” I think about openings, about being present, about being in touch with what is showing up for me. I try to keep this opening alive in my art work, allowing space for new ideas and new techniques to make themselves known to me. This is not always easy, as humans are usually drawn to the familiar. Yet, in opening to the unknown, amazing things can be discovered.
Reconnecting with Tom reminded me of one of the consistent threads in my approach to teaching – allowing diverse voices and information to be brought forward. Talking with Tom yesterday led me to reflect: how many graduate research methodology courses would open up space for song lyrics? By opening up space for my students to bring forward what has meaning for them, I am enriched. Cohen’s Anthem is but one example of the ways in which my students have significantly impacted my life.
I returned to teaching this summer, after a seven-year hiatus as an administrator. I am fortunate to teach at both the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts (KIA) and Western Michigan University (WMU). The former has me teaching a studio class, which is a new experience for me, while the latter has me back in a more traditional classroom, while still creating space for different voices and new opportunities.
I have enormous gratitude for work that feeds my soul. Teaching is at my core. I trusted my intuition 18 months ago when it told me to return to the classroom at WMU. I trusted my intuition again when it told me to begin teaching screen printing at the KIA. Teaching is hard work, which I am reminded of every day. Yet, teaching creates openings and teaching allows opportunities for the light to come in.
Returning to teaching after seven years, seven years wiser, I find myself less attached to seeking perfection in the classroom. Indeed, I find myself more focused on creating space. I find myself bringing in music, poetry, visual images – all designed to stir our thoughts on the topic of the day. There are days when my brain tries to tell me that I need to strive for perfection. Fortunately, I have spent more time flexing my intuition muscle, helping it to grow strong. My intuition, my gut, knows what is important. Tom was very gracious yesterday, telling me I was a great professor. I do not know if I am a great professor, but something in that interaction of ten or twelve years ago left a lasting impression on both student and professor.
In my artist statement, where the content can change based on a particular exhibit, the last line always remains the same: If that work touches others in some remote way, it is the essence of striving for true connection, and rings more true to me than other endeavors. I am grateful for the connections I have made and look forward to those yet to come.