Playful Prose Positing Purposely Profound Pedagogy -- The Meaning of Life Based Upon the Letter "P"

Written by Ken Leinbach
    Wednesday, 24 July 2013
Playful Prose Positing Purposely Profound Pedagogy -- The Meaning of Life Based Upon the Letter "P"

I biked in to work in an absolutely fabulous mood. No particular reason, just enjoying life. So I'm riding along lost in my thoughts, meditating in a stream-of-consciousness kind of way on a friend who is depressed.

If he could just find his passion, I thought, or a new passion then maybe it would bring purpose to his life. There seems to be a definite connection between purpose and passion. Perhaps the meaning of life is to find one's purpose and that one finds purpose through exploring one's passions ... Hmmm. Suddenly another "P" word came to mind, presence.


This "From the Archive" post first appeared in our September/October 2005 issue of our newsletter. Please enjoy this look back at our past and, in this case, the beginning core of the Center's philosophy.


Being present in the moment, in my opinion, is the key to being whole. If one is fully present, one's passions become easier to discern, which in turn provides purpose. Abruptly a fourth "P" floats through the synapse of my brain, place! "What the heck does this one mean," I wonder, knowing intuitively that it has importance.

I arrived at work and put the meditation briefly on hold. Dan Gray, an old friend of the Center, greets me at the bike rack. We call him our sage, as he has either a wise word or a wise crack for every situation. I share with him this new found theory for the meaning of life based upon the letter P. He gets it immediately and adds playful to the mix. It's Perfect! Being attuned to the playful in life is almost as important as all the other Ps. When one is passionate, has purpose, and is present, a freedom to be naturally playful is the result. I like it!

Hmmm. I'm still stuck on place. Now the phones begin to ring and I don't have time to Ponder. I check my mail and Pow! There is the answer in a note from a friend. "Joseph Campbell believed that myths served as organizing principles for individuals, tribes, cultures and civilizations. Knowing one's myth was as important in his mind as knowing one's name, ancestry or blood type; it gave one a context in a world that often left one feeling place-less." Bingo! It ultimately is all about feeling one's place.

Place is similar to purpose, yet it is of a slightly different flavor. Feeling one's place is about feeling right with the world. In order to feel right with the world one must have a purpose derived from one's passion which is obtained through being present. This is POWERFUL stuff. Playfulness is a welcome outcome to feeling one's place, or it may be that feeling one's place is the outcome of a playful attitude. A bit of a Paradox, don't you think?

Phew! Way too Profound. Time to stop thinking and get some Popcorn, Pretzels and Peanuts!

So what does all this have to do with the Urban Ecology Center? The Center represents the collective passion of many in our community. Our mission or purpose is derived from this passion and is grounded in a place, first Riverside Park then Washington Park and the Menomonee Valley. In the Center you can't miss our focus on place, from the recycled gym floor that three generations of neighbors played on at the old Bartlett School, to the local map painted on the main hall's floor, to the animal room representing our park's residents.

The Center's educational Philosophy in this place is one based upon mentoring youth in our community to an environmental ethic. The foundation of being an effective mentor has to do with being 100% present to the Pupil. A playful approach is the key to our success. While environmental Problems in this world are severe and the issues surrounding them contentious, the heart of a child's existence should be play and wonder. As Michael Weilbacher once wrote,

"Eight year olds should not be asked to become warriors or worriers. Children have much more important work to do: Watch ants. Grow flowers. Dance between the raindrops. This is sacred work, and childhood needs to be preserved just as much as rain forests and wetlands."

Ken's top ten P words in no particular order:

Presence, Purpose, Passion, Practice (prayer), Partner, Place, Play, Power (peace), Poise , Paradox

Ken Leinbach

Ken Leinbach

Ken Leinbach is a nationally recognized science educator and leader in community-based environmental education. From a trailer in a high-crime city park, Ken has had fun facilitating the grassroots effort to create and grow the Urban Ecology Center which is the topic of his first book.

Striving to live with as little environmental impact as possible, Ken lives in the community in which he works and, not owning a car, commutes by bike, unicycle, roller blades, and occasionally even by kayak on the Milwaukee River.


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