Day 11: Love the sh** out of yourself

Photo by  Steve Halama  on  Unsplash

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

The oft forgotten and neglected partner of mindfulness meditation is compassion practice. Mindfulness and compassion, by those in the know, are described as two wings of the same bird. But for whatever reason, it isn’t as sexy as mindfulness. It hasn’t enjoyed the same riptide out into popular culture. And so, compassion practice has been left humbly on the shore.

During professional development today for a group of local teachers, I retold the story about how my meditation teacher prescribed that I, “get on the cushion and love the sh** out of yourself," in response to my report that I was finding fellow silent retreat participants annoying. What we can find inside of ourselves can be hard to see, and if we haven’t spent the time cultivating love, we may not be able to handle it. I really have had to jack up my loving awareness to look clearly at my critical mind without turning away in shame.

Today, practice some self compassion. One way we can do this is by intentionally thinking of what we would like to offer ourselves. For me, May I be at ease. May I be open to wisdom. May I love. For you, May I be….(fill in the blank with your own personal wishes).

If you find it difficult to offer that self love, it can be helpful to start by thinking about someone who is easy for you to generate that for, like a child, partner, or even pet. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be peaceful. Then, once you’ve generated that feeling of love, redirect it inwards.

Day 10: Don't Go it Alone

Photo by  Helena Lopes  on  Unsplash

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

I met with two women over tea today, where we discussed our hopes and dreams for sharing mindfulness. I left renewed, excited to continue on this journey of self exploration, as well as introducing this practice to others.

I need to explore alongside others to continue onward. I frequently participate in online discussions about practice. I attend a weekly sit, where we practice together and reflect on life. I do this because I want to keep my practice alive, fresh, and invigorated. I need accountability, support, and love.

This inner exploration stuff can be tricky business. It is hard to commit to a daily practice. It is hard to remember to come back to the present. Sometimes what we notice can be uncomfortable, or confusing, or difficult. We need support to explore what can come up. Mindfulness was meant to be practiced in community.

So don’t go it alone. Find people with whom you can practice, explore the trappings of the mind, and celebrate the good.

Day 9: Walking the Mindful Walk

Photo by  Jon Tyson  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

As a wellness educator, today my job involved a brisk walk in the 17 degree weather to keep an eye on my students (this was the activity they picked, for the record, not one I required.) I found myself naturally turning my attention to my footfall as my boots struck the brick, especially through the areas that were iced over. I was struck by how good it felt for each sole to make contact with the ground beneath me as I breathed in the sharp air and snuggled into my puffy coat.

When I learned mindful walking, it was done very slowly, back and forth for 10-15 paces, with full presence brought to each step. As a result of repeated practice and intention, many of my walks have transformed into mindful walking, just in shifting my attention from my thoughts to the feeling of my body in motion and sensations of my feet on the ground.

Today, see if you can bring awareness to your feet as you move throughout your day. It can be when out on a walk, but also just as you go from your car into work or pass between classes. Sink into the soles of the feet and notice as one foot presses against the ground and lifts again, and then the other. Allow the mind to stay present with the motion of the body.

Day 8: The Stormcloud

This weekend, a storm cloud started building in the periphery of my mood, so that when I wasn’t actively engaged with my day, I slipped into a sense heavy sense of foreboding about the week ahead. I had some work to do that I was anticipating would be overwhelming and difficult, and the closer I got to having the chance to do that work as the weekend came to a close, the more anxious I became.

When I first started practicing mindfulness, I thought I could get to the point where I wouldn’t feel anxious anymore. Alas, while it would be so nice for it to be a magic fix, that’s just not how it works. The tightening of the throat and general sense of unease throughout my body are still very much a part of my experience. The only thing that has shifted, which is subtle, yet profound, is how I (sometimes) am able to meet that experience.

Instead of escalating into a full blown panic attack, or pushing it away only to find it explode up at another point in the day, each time it arises, I note: Ah, anxiety. Something is wrong, my friend? What is it? Sometimes, there is a clear answer, and sometimes not. In either case, I invite in a deeper breath to wash over my nervous system, especially in those areas of the body where the tension is high, inviting some of the clenching to ease. In that way, I am meeting it as it arises, and allowing it to dissipate as it is ready, without whipping it up or struggling against.

There are lots of variation on breath work that I find helpful, but two that I currently use are as follows:

1) Stress Ball: Take in a deep inhale to the belly, imagine all of the stress of the body being pulled deep into the belly. Hold the breath for a beat or two, allowing the tension to compact. Then, exhale strongly, and imagine the ball of tension leaving the body.

2) Ocean breath: Take a deep inhale into the belly, imagining water rushing over your system, then as you exhale, imagine the tide turning and taking with it the tension from your body.

Even after a minute of theses breaths, I find more space and relaxation in my body so that I can more clearly see what my next steps may be.

Today, I invite you to notice when the storm clouds are pushing into your consciousness, acknowledge they are there, and invite in some deep breaths to help sooth the system. May you find some ease and space.

Day 7: Today was a Very Good Day

Photo by  Taylor Ann Wright  on  Unsplash

Today was a very good day. My students weren’t particularly different than they usually are, mostly sweet, though sometimes goofy and in need of redirection. I was just ready for it. It is not always clear to me what conditions allow me to effortlessly show up, but I suspect it is some combination of getting enough sleep, exercise, companionship, meditation/relaxation, and good planning. Whatever it was, I didn’t have to work to find the joy today. It was just there.

In order to fully experience that joy, I had to protect it. My mind tends to be eager to look ahead for the next problem to tackle, the next potential issue to solve. Yes, things are good at the moment, but, what about next week when….[insert crisis here]? I had colleagues who were having different kinds of days, and it could be easy to descend with them into their struggles.

But no, dang it. Not today. Today I will be happy.

The next day, or hour, or perhaps even just a moment, when things are just feeling good, flowing easily, get in it. Splash around in it. Enjoy knowing that this moment, too, shall pass, so we might as well soak it in while it’s here.

Day 6: Daily Commute

Photo by  Element5 Digital  on  Unsplash

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

I used to hate driving. It seemed like an annoying inconvenience that took away from my day when I couldn’t do anything else. It has evolved into a golden moment exactly because I can’t do anything else. I turn off the radio, sink back in my seat, and savor the sweet silence during which no one can ask anything of me. It is a moment of freedom when I can call my full attention to the present.

While walking, biking, or driving to work in the morning, bring your full awareness to your senses. Take a moment to look up to the sky and take note of the patterns there, and the colors of the plants as you pass them by. If you are traveling the same route, notice the daily changes that come with the weather. Listen to the sounds of the cars around you. Feel the weight of your body in the seat and hands on the steering wheel, handlebars, or moving at your sides. Whenever the mind wanders to your To Do List, remind yourself, "Just for this drive, I will be present," and come back to the observing sensations. 

Day 5: Can We Be the Sun?

Photo by  Daoudi Aissa  on  Unsplash

“Even
After
All this time
The Sun never says to the Earth

'You owe me.'

Look
What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.”

Hafiz

A few days ago, I received a pile of letters from some second graders I worked with last semester. More than one of them wrote, “I love you.” For them, I believe, the word is pure of intention, not so convoluted, complicated, and vulnerable as it can feel as we get older. In this statement, I hear appreciation and care.

I believe there is a place for love in the classroom. If nothing else, I aim for my students to feel support, validation, and even love, from me. I think even when we enforce expectations, we can do so in a way that communicates care. Do I have a hard time exuding this when I am tired/annoyed/exasperated? Definitely. But I keep coming back to that intention as a way of framing all else.

Jon Kabat-Zinn references the Chinese character for mindfulness as composed of the ideogram for“presence” over “heart.” So to truly practice mindfulness, we bring not just awareness, but loving awareness.

Inspired by these second graders, I ended my first period high school class yesterday by telling them explicitly how grateful I was for them. How appreciative I was that they showed up each day engaging to the best of their ability, and how much joy they brought me just in showing up.

Today, I invite you to practice mindfulness by being the sun, bringing the love in whatever form that takes for you, and basking in the light you create.

Day 4: Humble Pie

Photo by  Brooke Lark  on  Unsplash

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Today, I had to eat a huge slice of humble pie. Even though I’m in my ninth year of teaching, through a series of oversights, I ended up with a classroom full of high schoolers who had gotten quite unruly as a collective.

Before break, I reached out for help. And I happen to be lucky enough to work in a school where that call for support is respected and responded to. While the dean of students led a restorative circle with my class, I vacillated between feeling relieved, embarrassed, supported, and guilty. This is the stuff I’m supposed to be good at! I had worked hard on the individual relationships with students, but it just wasn’t enough to overcome the container for the group that had degraded overtime.

One of the things mindfulness asks us to do is stop identifying so deeply with our mistakes. When we make our “failures” a commentary on our goodness as people or educators (which is one of my favorite pastimes), we contract from the world and try to hide so no one can see that embarrassing thing we did. In the past, I have not even wanted to look at an error I made myself, let alone show it to others, in a desperate effort to preserve some facade of competency.

Instead, because of a lot of gentle awareness practice, in this case I was able to shine a light on the problem and show it to my administrator and my students in order to solve it.

If you are prone to defensiveness like I am, I invite you to just start noticing when that comes up for you. Can you be gentle with it, and reassure yourself that who you are and the mistakes you make are not one in the same? Maybe ask yourself who or what you are trying to protect. Then, ask yourself what it might feel like to drop the defenses a little (even just for yourself, if not others), to look clearly at the problem, and move forward from there.

Humble pie, it turns out, can be surprisingly delicious.

Day 3: Morning Routine

Photo by  Sanah Suvarna  on  Unsplash

A few months ago, when a colleague asked me about my morning routine, supposing I would have one as “someone who is intentional about life,” I admitted (some abashedly) that there was no self care routine in place at that moment. I had fallen into a pattern of waking up to the cries of my toddler, hustling simply to get her ready for daycare (how are they simultaneously so dang squirmy and clingy??), and occasionally even getting breakfast together for myself.

Upon reflection, this was a missed opportunity. Setting an alarm, at first, was almost too much to bear. I had to promise myself a morning routine that would feel so good, I would want to get up a half hour earlier than the babe usually wakes to get it in.

For me, this looks like a very quick scribble in the journal while my coffee water boils. It means starting my 30 minute meditation timer as it steeps, getting up 5 minutes in to pour myself a cup (don’t judge, girl needs her coffee), and then sitting quietly for however much more time the baby grants me. Sometimes I get a full 30 minutes of quiet. Sometimes I get one minute. But its what I do now, and somehow it makes getting out of bed easier. It is a soft landing into my day rather than a jolting awakening.

My invitation is to consider what morning routine you’re willing to get up for. Make it something luxurious, like a hot candle-lit shower, five minutes of delicious stretching, or a guided meditation. Carve out a time, however brief, to not simply focused on preparing yourself for what is ahead, but resting in what is now.

Let us know what you land on and how it goes!

Day 2: Slow it Down

Photo by  Kumoma Lab  on  Unsplash

Photo by Kumoma Lab on Unsplash

(NOTE: In the interest of full disclosure, because I work at a charter school that draws from a large population in Maine, we end up with a lot of snow days. In the spirit of posting each day, some days will be more reflective than real time. Here is one of those snow day reflections)

Whenever I’ve been away for awhile, I often find myself disoriented upon my return. I get out of my rhythm. I chat too long with colleagues in the hallway, and suddenly the kids are rushing in, I’ve got only half my papers photocopied, the date on the board is at least a week old, and I am furiously scrawling directions in illegible white board ink.

It can be hard to get my mind back in the game. This has been the point, in the past, at which I start panicking.

Unless I pause. I intentionally slow down my movements, even just a hair. When we are busy, we often start to move more quickly. We rush, and this rushing can exacerbate an already tense nervous system, leading us to feel more frazzled. Half the time when we end up in this state, we lose time by dropping our papers everywhere, spilling our coffee down the front, or forgetting some quintessential item that we have to head back for.

See what happens when you intentionally slow down your walking, even the slightest bit. Bring your attention to the feeling of the body moving, the feet hitting the floor. Notice how it cues your body that you’re okay. It’s going to be okay.

Day 1: To Begin Again, Set an Intention

It’s not just getting to stay in my PJs all day that I value about winter break (though that’s high up there on the list). It’s the opportunity to begin again. It’s the chance for me to reset, to reprioritize, to remember what it is that is important to me when I enter the classroom.

My meditation teachers recently offered us the suggestion that perhaps we could try setting intentions instead of resolutions for the new year. Instead of coming up with some concrete unlikely to obtain SMART goals (ex- I will get all my grading done within two days of an assignment due date. HAHAHAHAHA! Ahahaha. Ha. Sniff), what if we dug a little deeper and used this time to remember how we want to show up in the classroom each day, regardless of what is in front of us?

So think about what qualities you’d like to embody as you enter your classroom this year. What do you aspire to each day, not as an aim to self flagellate when we fall short (which will will), but as a gentle guiding reminder of how you would like to be?

Incline the mind towards the quality, and note the ways you might shift your thoughts and actions to be more in alignment with that intention.

Savoring Appreciation

Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

There is such a sweetness in the way that kids show their affection. Before leaving on break, I received an index card with a heartfelt thank you, a paper candle holder with a battery-powered candle, and a set of origami hearts affixed to a class note. I notice the warmth this generates deep inside my grinchly heart, and melt at the time and care they have taken to show their appreciation. It’s almost enough to make me forget the shoe someone tried to microwave. (Almost).

The day before break, if even a single child offers you a thank you, have a good break, or a small token of appreciation, see if you can let that sink into your soul.

Have a beautiful break, one and all.

The Blame Game

elfonshelf.jpeg

I don’t know about you, but when my students start acting nutty, I like to start blaming people. First and most obvious, my students, for being totally bonkers and making my life miserable. Secondly, their parents, for not bringing their elves on the shelves to school to keep them in line. And finally, myself, for clearly not creating the boundaries they need to be successful. “If I had done this or that back in September, we wouldn’t be here right now!” I like to admonish.

All of this finger-pointing is to simply escape the discomfort of the reality of what the last week before winter break is. As Brene Brown says, ““blame is simply the discharging of discomfort and pain.”

So what might it look like to notice when we are on the Blame Train and slow down. Be aware of the difficulty of the moment without trying to judge it out of existence (hint: it won’t work). Take a breath and see what can be done, instead of what “should” have been done. It’s too late for that anyway.

(For the record, I actually am not so into the extrinsic motivation inspired by the Elf on a Shelf, and do not want one in my classroom, thank you.)

Find the Joy

Sometimes, I find I really need to challenge myself to find the good.

So this morning, I started the day by prompting, "How can I enjoy today?" 

Just dropping that question in meant that I was looking for ways to enjoy the day rather than steeping in my own angst. I enjoyed a really rich discussion about anticipation in the lives of my students. I relished the pumpkin chocolate chip cookies someone had baked and left in the teacher’s lounge. I took heart in the high fives and knowing glances all of us staff exchanged through the days. Instead of solely focusing on that student who thought it was a good prank to put another student’s shoe in the microwave, I could fully enjoy all the other enjoyable moments that came too.

Break it Down.

Photo by  Clay Banks  on  Unsplash

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

When I think about a whole week before break, I go bananas.

But when I focus on the school day in front of me, the class in front of me, the specific moment I am in with a class, it suddenly seems much less daunting. In my classes where things are going well, I get to fully enjoy engaging with them. In my classes where they are tough, I can concentrate on the toughness without the added stress of needing it to end.

Because it won't until it does. My needing it to be different doesn't help. So when I catch my mind going there, I visualize the week ahead, breaking down into my day, breaking down into the moment I'm in, as a way of reconnecting and reorienting.

Today, watch the mind’s tendency to try and hold the whole week in your mind. Instruct it to zoom in, closer…closer…closer, until all that is in front fo you is that exact moment in time. See how that can provide relief from what can feel daunting.

Non-judgemental Awareness of Wanting my Egg Nog.

One of my high school students came into class today talking about how he just couldn't wait for break, and how the next few days were going to feel so hard. Dude, I hear you.

In fact, as I scroll through social media these days, all of my teacher friends are posting memes and photos reflecting this deep desire to just be done with it. To get to through this week and to those days of sweet freedom. To end this particularly challenging week of giddy children vibrating with the excitement and/or terror of spending so much time away from school and with their families. 

But that fervent anticipation, that needing it to be over, only compounds the difficulties that often come with the week before break. This is not for us to fight, or tell ourselves we “shouldn’t” feel this way. This is an opportunity to acknowledge exactly what is, without judgment.

The first practice I find most helpful is just to notice my mind is going there. As Dan Siegel says, "Name it to tame it," so I observe, "I am really wanting to be done. I am really wanting to be drinking egg nog at my mom's house in front of the tree." Just saying it out loud helps take some of the intensity our of my feelings and gives them some space to breathe.

So today, if it is true for you, try to acknowledging in yourself that desire for it to be over, and see if that gives you any freedom from the want. It is the want that needs to be heard to continue on.