Saturday, January 08, 2011

Alvin, TX (near Houston)

Was awakened at 4:30 because someone in the room next to me thought it was OK to turn on the TV. I had forgotten that, in Europe, hotel walls are thin, apparently even in Holiday Inns. Nonetheless, I rolled out of bed in time for a leisurely shower, shave, and morning preparations for the day. I shared a cab to the airport with a couple of my students, and had no toruble with the airport check-in. Over the years, I've learned to pack just enough for my needs and wants, and to stay well under the luggage weight limits. Security didn't take long. Much of the hysteria over long lines and security procedures seems to be just that...hysteria.

Had breakfast at Heathrow Airport at a restaurant called The Bridge -- a good mushroom and cheese omelet, with a baked tomato half, traditional fare in the UK. I passed on the large baked mushroom alongside of it, though. Shortly thereafter we boarded our plan for the long flight home. I'm glad I brought along plenty to read.

On the same flight were some of our MAc students who have been traveling in London and France, including several who are former students of mine. It was good to see them and to have a chance to talk a bit with them.

The video on the plane wasn't functioning, but I didn't care much, not being one for watching much TV. It did occur to me though...what a marvel it is to be able to travel thousands of miles through the air in a single day in relative comfort and ease! I think of the pains and suffering of the people of the Willie and Martin handcart companies, and I'm embarassed that I might ever have complained or been impatient in my own travels. What a blessing it is to be able to go quickly and comfortably almost anywhere in the world.

Mary Ann and Jason met me at the airport, and we left straight for Houston to be with Sara dn Jacob for the blessing of their daughter, Mara. We stopped only for a quick bite to eat and to fuel up once, and arrived at the Morrill's home a little after midnight. It is kind of them to let us stay with them, and we appreciated their hospitality. I'm exhausted, but glad to be here for Mara's day.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Staffin, Isle of Skye, Scotland

After breakfast and the traditional "final words," ceremony and graduation, it was time to say good bye to friends new and old. 

Shortly after, we were on the bus back to Inverness, and what a beautiful winter wonderland it was for much of the trip!

Four hours later we arrived in Inverness. A couple of hours in the small Inverness airport, a short plane flight to Gatwick, and an hour bus ride to a hotel near Heathrow Airport and we were able to settle in for the night. Our final dinner together was at the hotel...none of us wanted to go out in search of anything better, but as usual for hotel restaurants, it was overpriced. The food was pretty good, though, and we enjoyed eating and talking together.

I was tired, and ready to go to sleep, so I was one of the first to finish and go to my room. Others told me later, though, that nobody stayed much longer. I think we're all ready to go home. The only thing between me and my home and family now is an airplane ride and about 4,700 miles. I'm looking forward to seeing my family again!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Staffin, Isle of Skye, Scotland

People straggled in to breakfast this morning. I think the late nights are starting to get to them.

Much of today was given over the AFCIPS questions, and pondering how we would respond to them, another mind and heart-expanding experience. These questions bring focus to the Columban values of awareness, focus, creativity, integrity, perseverance, and service. Last year, enhanced and expanded awareness became my objective for the year. This year, it is focus. But I realized long ago that what really drives me is the desire to serve, to be a force for good in the world, but not in a programmatic way. My desire is to serve one on one, to bring light where there is darkness. Though I see great value in the programs an institutions created by others to serve those in need, I feel a stronger pull to help the one, to make that individual connection that so many (including myself) need so desperately.

During the day, some of us went for a drive and then a walk along the coast, and were treated to some beautiful vistas of Scotland. I enjoyed watching my students marvel at the scenery and enjoy the awesomeness of the land and seascapes.

I was able to get some pretty good shots to remember the land and sea.

On the way home, I saw the funniest sight, though it makes some sense. Columba is a world class leadership development center, but it is also a social center for the citizens of Staffin, many of whom are elderly.
We also engaged in a rescue simulation, searching as a group for, and bringing back a "lost person," a full-size dummy. It was an interesting experience, and I think the students enjoyed it. Carrying that dead weight back was a bit more exercise than I had anticipated, but I only shared the burden with several of my students.

In our last night at Columba, we visited the Columban Garden, with it's wonderful labyrinth. It was dark and most of the path and fixtures along it were covered in ice and snow, but I didn't need to read the reminders of the Columban values to appreciate once again a solitary walk. That it was followed by thoughtful quiet around a bonfire in the center of the labyrinth was icing on the cake, so to speak. It was the special, contemplative experience that I remember from previous years.

Today is our last full day in Scotland, as tomorrow we return to Inverness, and then in the afternoon fly back to London, and so we had our celebratory dinner together. Guy and Gary came in full Scottish traditional garb, wearing kilts, sporrans, skean du, and formal jackets. They were an awesome sight! I wish I had taken a photo, but as happens too often, it simply slipped my mind as my thoughts were drawn elsewhere. Our dinner was accompanied by recorded bagpipe music, and at one point a young bagpiper from the village of Staffin. He was also outfitted in kilted gear, and to my untutored ear, sounded very accomplished. I don't really know enough about the bagpipes to know if he was technically good, but it made my heart thrill to listen to him. How I admire people like him who have developed talents that allow them to bring joy into the lives of others. I've little to offer like that, but can certainly appreciate the talents others are willing to share.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Staffin, Isle of Skye, Scotland

Guy and Gary ran the Visual Explorer exercise today, one of my favorites. It is a powerful way to get in touch with one's past, present, and future. It seems to deeply affect those who participate in it, and certainly did so for me a few years ago. I gained some real insights into why what is most important to me, and how that has played out in my life. This time, I excused myself from the exercise, because it can be so emotional and personal for the students. I used the time to get some much needed work done.

After another tasty lunch, Gary introduced an exercise designed specifically for our purposes. In small groups, the students were asked to creatively identify one or more possible legacy projects for next semester. Then, in five minutes, they were to prepare and "pitch" one of them to the rest of the group. Those of us listening used red (thumbs down), yellow (neutral, not sure), and green (approval) placards. They were permitted a half an hour, two flip chart pages, and some markers to prepare the pitch. I thought it was a great way to begin to build some creative flow and momentum for exploring ideas for the legacy projects they will do in the spring semester. If I teach the spring class again next year, I will certainly use this exercise with the whole class as a generative exercise in the fall.

This evening, we took our "future" walk through Tote Forest, another of my favorite experiences at Columba. In silence, we walk one by one along a path through the dark forest, with the injunction simply to contemplate. The walk alays seems to calm the usual frenzied pinging of my thoughts, the bouncing from one thought or idea to the next with no let up. My thoughts always seem to bounce off the walls of my mind and jostle each other for attention, and yet I rarely am able to focus on one thing for any length of time. Walking through the forest, surrounded by the dark and the trees, somehow the mental frenzy settles a little, and I find it a little easier to focus on one thought at a time.

Each time I have experienced this walk, I have thought that if I would make time for a 15-20 minute walk each night, or even just once each week, it would have some real benefits. It was raining and cold tonight, and I neglected to bring my waterproof pants along, my jeans quicklt became soaked, and I was cold by the end of the walk, but I minded not at all.

Seems like a good idea, to take an evening walk once in awhile.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Staffin, Isle of Skye, Scotland

And so the journey it has in years past. As I had hoped, the students seem to be engaged and curious and interested in what is to transpire.

Unfortunately, I didn't sleep well at all last night. What with the six hour time difference, and my increasing inability to sleep through the night anyway, even after yesterday's late hour, I was up and wide awake at 4:30 this morning. So, I got up to read and write for while before breakfast.

After a good English breakfast (remarkably like a good American breakfast lol), we started the activities for the day. First, it was an exploration and narrowing down of the core values each of us has adopted. It's interesting to me that so many who come here find surprises and disconnections in this exercise, and yet the results invariably feel so right. The climb up to the Old Man of Storr, with occasional pauses for rest and reflection, was as important to this exploration of values as ever, and as inspiring as ever.

As I remembered from past visits, the views from the Storr were spectacular! There is something majestic about seeing the world from the side of a mountain, whether it is the Storr in Scotland, the Andes in Chile, of the Rockies in North America. I find myself inspired and it almost forces me to reflect on the things in life that are most important, most central to who I believe myself to be. I do love the mountains.
I loved the climb up to the Old Man. A couple of the students struggled a bit, but I was proud of them for persevering. No quitters in this group! By the time we reached the Old Man, it had grown quite cold, and the wind was bracing. So, we had a quick bit to eat, and then headed back down.
Each time I come to Scotland, I am astonished and inspired by her beauty, especially on the Isle of Skye. As I look out the mullioned window at Columba, the sun is shining brightly, there is a dusting of snow on the ground, and small white plastered homes with smoke rising lazily from their chimneys dot the countryside. It is cold outside, of course, but the people I meet seem invariably happy, content with what they are doing with their lives. They seem to have an inner solidity, a substance, strength, density of spirit and being, and a peace about them that I appreciate.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Staffin, Isle of Skye, Scotland

After a quick breakfast at the Ramada, I set out for a daylight tour of the riverwalk. I really enjoyed it, and that I was alone added to the experience for me. I truly enjoy solitary walks, though I also enjoy the companionship of my wife or children -- they are two different experiences for me, equally valuable. The sights only added to the experience.

The Tollbooth Steeple
Inverness Castle
The view from the front of Inverness Castle
Another view from the Castle hill
The River Ness
Inverness Castle from the other side of the river
Row homes along the river
The Cathedral
Another view of the Cathedral
My walk along the river was only about a mile one way, mostly because I took my time and enjoyed the views. Along the way, to my surprised delight, I found a home of my own...a local branch, maybe a ward, of the LDS church! Not what I expected to see, but welcome nonetheless. There were a few cars in the small parking lot, so I found an open door and went inside to see if there was anyone to talk to. Didn't see anyone, so I went on my way. At least now I know where I can go in future if I happen to be in Inverness on a Sunday.
It was a pretty little chapel on a pretty little piece of property. Much smaller than what I usually see, but beautiful. It felt good to be in a place where I could find brothers and sisters in the gospel! Some day I'd love to meet some of the Scottish saints.
The walk back was equally delightful, and until I neared the bridge back to town, it almost felt (and looked) like I was in the country. What a beautiful part of the world!
I returned at about 12:30 to board the bus for the Isle of Skye. Several of the group were gathered in the hotel collecting luggage and waiting for time to board.
Finally we set out. I was actually looking forward to the bus ride. It is quite comfortable (much more than an airplane seat) and I like having the uninterrupted time to read and think...I don't get that very often. The weather is cold and wet, but not so bad as last year. No snow or ice on the roads, though there was some on the trees and grass.

Since we had plenty of time, we stopped twice along the way to see a couple of castles. Eilean Donan Castle is built on a small island in Loch Duich, a sea loch on the coast of the western Highlands, close to the main A87 road to Kyle of Lochalsh and the Isle of Skye. The castle's name is derived from the the Gaelic word for "island" (Eilean) and St Donan, a martyred Celtic saint. A 13th century wall surrounds a courtyard and in a corner is a strong, 14th century keep (tower) rising to three storeys and a garret. The original castle was built in 1220 for King Alexander II as a defence against the Vikings. After lying in ruins for 200 years, it's restoration was completed in 1932. 
While crossing the bridge to head back to the bus, this scene caught my beautiful, with an almost mysterious feel to it.

Four and  a half hours after leaving Inverness we arrived at Staffin on the Isle of Skye, home of Columba 1400. We received the warm welcome that we have every year. What a joy to see an old  friend, Guy Matthews. Lots of new members of the staff, but I'm sure they will be as committed and caring as those we have known in the past. Gary Daniell is the new Director of Program Development -- he's been at Columba for about six months. New facilitators include Kevin, Callum, Sue, and Kim, but Guy and Gary will be the most involved this week.
Dinner was delightful -- roast chicken, new potatoes, and apple crumble for dessert -- yummmm! After dinner, introductions, a review of the coming week, and finally the traditional passing of the "talking stick."
This old Native American tradition is one I enjoy, and allows for everyone to speak their mind without interruption or disrespect. The talking stick was used by some Native American tribes as a way to ensure a respectful hearing of all views. When important issues were under discussion in the council, the medicine man, the chief, or a respected elder would take the talking stick and say his piece. Then he would pass it to the next member of the tribe who wished to contribute to the discussion, and so forth. Thus the talking stick was passed from one to another until everyone who wanted to talk had done so. At the conclusion of the discussion, the stick was given back to the leader until the next time it was needed. For us, it worked much the same way, allowing each of us the opportunity to say whatever we wanted. That will be our concluding activity each night of the week.