Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Under the stark florescent lights of the classroom found amongst the labs and library of the science building at the university, I stood in front of my evening class conducting the increasing ebb and flow of the discussion on motivation. Tentative at first, no one wanted to initiate..... to offer their opinions on the questions I had lobbed out as thinking calisthenics.

Who inspires you?
Where does motivation come from?

Most of them remained quiet.... but I could see their ticking brains working. I could feel a change in the classroom. To generate a sense of safety, I shared a few of my own stories ... quick sketches of one or two people who inspire me. I chose carefully as I tried to open up the way to sharing.

Who do you motivate? Who do you inspire?
Where does motivation come from?

Energy was being stirred under those artificial lights. This was new to them.... to be asked such questions .... to be asked their opinions in a classroom on something personal.... to step out a bit into a place of vulnerable openness. In all the years they have been attending university, rarely have they been asked to move the desks to form an open circle forum as a full class to share their personal feeling stories. No one has prompted them to reveal this stuff. They have told me so.

I stretch the silence past the comfort zone to offer them room to grow.  Room to generate their thoughts and perhaps find a story from the pictures in their personal memories.

Pause......... a question ............ pause ........... room to grow.

Who in your life motivates you? How does it make you feel?
 What if there is no one in the whole world to pump you up..... to fill you with hope, what then? 
Where does the drive come from? 
When you are at your lowest ebb, where does the incentive to rise up come from?

More silence..........a smiling kind.  I wait for this very quiet class to find a voice, and wonder if they will ever offer up something for the story collection plate.  

Is motivation more important if it is intrinsic or extrinsic?
Inside or from the outside?

I knock it up a notch by introducing them to Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, who wrote a terrifyingly powerful autobiographical book entitled Night. It was a descriptive account of unrelenting suffering while trying to survive living in a Concentration camp. I described how he and others, including his father were forced to walk many kilometers in a snowstorm at night after days without any food, after months and months of being worn down physically, spiritually, emotionally, dressed in threadbare clothes, stripped of humanness.

Elie Wiesel and his father kept moving foward, one painful step at a time, not knowing where they were going, not knowing if they could find the stamina to continue, fearful that if they slowed down, they would be trampled by the moving herd of humanity. Men dropped dead all around them, left in the accumulating snow. Somehow he and his father kept breathing .... kept alive under the most horrendous circumstances.

What can we learn from the stories of human beings who have faced adversity beyond our comprehension? How did this man at age 16 find the fortitude to keep alive, I asked? Where does motivation come from? Why is it important to read stories about real people and real events even if they are jarringly disturbing? Or should I say ..... ESPECIALLY if they are jarringly disturbing??

I shared my thoughts with the class as a way to guide them into looking inside. This man's story stirred my feelings, filling the air with purposeful feeling words...... as a way to guide them into looking inside themselves. What was reflected back to me from their looks, faces....? Rapt attention. I could feel the energy behind the silence. Churning thoughts, touched upon feelings.

"Where did this man's motivation come from?"  I asked, not really knowing the answer.  I shared a Jean Vanier quote and told them about his work with L'Arche.  "When we tell stories, we touch hearts. If we talk about theories and speak about ideas, the mind may assimilate them but the heart remains untouched. It is the story of a specific person that is the way to the heart."  Jean Vanier's values and proactive being motivates me daily, I told them. 

Thoughts, opinions and most importantly, stories came pouring out... they let go of their self-conscious protection. Their doubts about sounding stupid were replaced by sharing opinions, feelings, and a few personal stories. Comfort in the cocooning feeling of belonging began to happen at that moment..... under the stark florescent lights. 

Motivated to share.  Motivated to listen to one another's offerings.......they transformed an institutional classroom into a place where hearts were being touched.  It was magical. Comfort can happen anywhere if people are engaged.  Comfort to feel discomfort..... to learn and to grow.

As I drove home that night, my head full of thoughts and feelings on what had been shared, I was lifted to a place of inspiration where everything seems possible. It seems to happen every Tuesday night this fall.  I love teaching.


Gilly said...

Does motivation come from those around us, or from something within us? Faith? Stubbornness? Hope for better things?

I don't know. I wonder why I keep going in the face of difficulties. But I do! So something, somewhere, is keeping me going. What it is I don't know. Wish I did!

Awareness said...

Gilly...it is a mystery most of the time isn't it? This is what we ended up talking about. There are people/events/stories/values which we ingest as food for our personal motivation, but there is also an intrinsic component to it that seems inherent and deep within us. I think its tied to the very marrow of our survival instinct.

Wiesel tried to encapsulated what it was that allowed him to continue through that long night of suffering and was never able to pinpoint it.
We do have it in us.... and if it feels weak at times, may we always have the small amount of drive to seek out the external "food" to fill our cups again.

Craftsman of light said...

Hello Awareness,
Thankyou for dropping by....how wonderful to link with someone who is uplifted by love,....i m glad you came to pick me up....so much of wealth in here, all the sweetness of your wisdom!

i have to come back and read quietly the beauty of your soul!


Kay said...

and you sound good at it! I can't help but wonder, how many minds in that room were thinking, "YOU inspire me"???? The questions posed; however, do require visiting. excellent.

Awareness said...

COL....well, you sure know how to make a girl smile. :) Welcome and come back again soon.

Kay.... thanks! Teaching is something that courses through my blood. I'm a ham at heart.
My goal teaching this course is to bring the real world into the classroom of academia. It is a counselling course with a lot of role playing and application of techniques etc. It also requires the ability to assess and to critically think on your feet.....skills needed in any counselling situation. SO.... I try to get them engaged and interacting right away. This is new to most of them as they are used to lectures. I'm sure some of them think I'm a bit loopy up there, but I don't embarrass that easily. If I inspire them, I am pleased. One thing I do know, is that I always leave feeling inspired by them.

As for the topic..... I think Dr. Phil asks them frequently too. lol!

Brother David said...

Love it - live it; on a daily basis. Like turning on a tap, opening the flood gates; let it out and feel good. Motivation fills my world and I yern to see it in the youth. This is real teaching.

Gypsy said...

I could just picture the students all sitting there, just dying to share but not wanting to be the first. When that moment is broken and the dam has burst, it's a beautiful thing.

I did a women's education course at a college once and it was wonderful. I had been isolated for such a long time both physically and emotionally. I sat in the classroom every week in a situation very much as you described....chairs in a circle and everyone listening with rapt attention and I felt myself coming alive again.

Thankyou for helping me to relive those moments in time.

Awareness said...

David....love it when the tap is turned on and feel a part of it. Our yearnings are the same, and I think our approaches are very similar too. :)

Gypsy...Its such feeling of belonging as well as a nurturing of learning that makes it so special eh? You know I think thats why book clubs and such are so popular. People want to feel that connection.