Day 73: The Tree in the Forest

Photo by  Peng Chen  on  Unsplash

Photo by Peng Chen on Unsplash

Sometimes, when I consider my students en masse, they overwhelm me. I worry about the chaos that might erupt from the sheer number of them. I become wary.

This morning, I looked around the room at each individual. I teased them apart from their classmates for just a moment, recognizing their own innate goodness. And I couldn’t help but feel such love for them. Each one with their individual quirks and delightful traits. For each one of them I had interactions squirreled away that felt positive and meaningful. Even the ones that also challenged me.

Tomorrow, as you stand/sit before your class, try this: look not at the group, but at each individual. Allow any goodwill or appreciation you might have for each student wash over you. It’s not as overwhelming to notice the trees in the forest.

Day 72: Eye Roll

beherenow.jpg

“Be mindful.”

“Take a breath.”

“Be present.”

What is your reaction to these phrases? I have to say, they’ve lost their luster on me, fit only for memes and beach t-shirts. The problem with language is that it gets tired. Especially from repeated use. Especially in our highly-commercialized society.

So how do we keep mindfulness alive for ourselves? For one, a reminder that the description of mindfulness is not mindfulness. To paraphrase Jon Kabat-Zinn says, let’s not try to eat the menu, people. The sustenance, the richness, the nutrients from mindfulness come from the actually doing of it, not the talking about it.

What would it actually mean to bring your full attention to this moment? To feel your body against the chair or ground you sit on? What would it actually be like to follow a complete breath from start to finish? You won’t find the answer in a description of mindfulness.

(To be clear, I like a good meme as much as the next lady. Also, they can remind us to do the thing. Just don’t let it replace the thing.)

Day 71: Find the Middle

Photo by  Joshua Ness  on  Unsplash

Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash

I had to pull out one of my favorite mindful moves the other day for when the room gets away from me and I feel like I’m going to pull my hair out:

Find the middle of the room. Walk there. Take a breath. Observe what is happening out loud. Then ask for what you need.

I hate raising my voice over kids, so I find I have to do something attention-grabbing to reign them in. Moving my body into a different place in the room weirds them out just enough to track me. Naming what is happening, without judgement, lets them tune into what is not working without me having to freak out. (Hey, your classmates are talking and when you talk over them, they can’t be heard by me or you.) Asking for what I need helps reset the room back to a state of relative normalcy. (I’d like us all to be listening to one another so everyone has a chance to share and be heard.) You know, as close as you can get in a room full of teenagers.

Day 70: What's Up?

Photo by  Olya Kuzovkina  on  Unsplash

Photo by Olya Kuzovkina on Unsplash

As my students were assembling to play a game at the field today, one student walked away and did not respond to my calls to bring him back. After the initial jolt of, “OMG HE’S NOT LISTENING TO ME!” wore off, and I watched him settle onto a nearby bench, I got my group situated and went to chat with him.

While my instincts are to immediately berate a student for defiant behavior, I am working on leading with a different approach. In Mindfulness for Teachers, Patricia Jennings writes about how we all have “scripts,” or stories about why our kids act the way to do they and how they will respond. If our script is something like, “That kid is being a pain in my butt, and he needs to do what I say!” we respond in a way that often damages the relationship and may bring about compliance, but not necessary learning. If we notice that script, and then reframe it as a question, “I wonder why that kid is acting that way?” we bring ourselves to a place where we can problem solve.

Sitting next to him on the bench, I leaned over, “So, what’s going on? Why did you walk away from the group?”

“Oh, I hate games like that.”

My knee-jerk reaction, “So what? we don’t always get to do what we like, but that doesn’t give us the right to walk away.” What came out of my mouth was, “So, you left because you didn’t want to play the game?”

He responded, “Yeah, and I’m getting really stressed about this upcoming trip to China…. and later… my family might be getting kicked out of our house soon because the stove isn’t up to code.”

We brainstormed ways he could manage his stress around things outside of his control. And then we rejoined the group to walk back to the school.

He didn’t do what he was “supposed to.” But I’m glad I led with, “What’s up?”

The next time you notice your script playing out, instead of assuming you are correct, try asking, “What’s up?” or “What do you need right now?” Then we get to teach instead of force compliance.

Day 69: Good Enough

Photo by  Alexander Andrews  on  Unsplash

It took me awhile to overcome the superhuman teacher myth. It is this idea that we all should be going 100 miles an hour every day of our lives or our students simply will not learn. They cannot not learn. They cannot be successful unless we give every ounce of our being. And we should. We HAVE TO. WE MUST. There is not a day to be off or a moment to lose.

Erin Gruwell,—the famed Freedom Writer’s teacher who wrote a book and had a movie about her and has been lauded as what all teachers should be— lasted… 4 years.

I am in no way knocking Erin Gruwell and her remarkable achievements. I’m just saying that sometimes shooting stars, going hundreds of thousands of miles an hour, burn out.

For those of us in it for the long game, and at nine years I can hardly qualify myself as one of those people, sometimes we have to accept good enough.

Today was a good enough day. As far as I can tell, I didn’t blow anyone’s mind. But I went in and I shared my lessons about public service campaigns, the lifecycle of a Hershey’s kiss, and transitions between yoga postures. My wellness class got a little too rowdy. My yoga class was very sleepy. I had a few pleasant exchanges with kids. I had a few difficult exchanges with others. And then I went home. And I’m getting ready to do it again tomorrow.

Sometimes we are just good enough. And it’s okay. And we will wake up and try again tomorrow. But for today, it’s good enough.

Day 68: Interconnectedness

Photo by  Holger Link  on  Unsplash

Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash

The depth at which we are interconnected is astounding. We are not isolated beings, though we so often feel that way, but are intricately and inextricably linked into a wider system. The very foundation of our being, of all of life, is “star stuff,” as stated by Kepler Research Scientist Dr. Natalie Batalha in We’re All Made of Stardust. Here’s How . My yoga and mindfulness students watched this video, along with What percent of your DNA is banana?, to explore the scientific grounding of this idea that we are foundationally connected.

After class, one of my students shared, “I heard once that we are just ‘borrowed atoms,’ in this form until we become the next thing.” Love it.

So we can know that, but what does it mean to actually experience that viscerally? That deep sense of being of the earth?

Lay down. Relax the body into the ground. Have a sense of the body at the cellular level….at the molecular level…at the atomic level, subtly vibrating. Allow yourself to connect with the even subtler vibrations of the ground beneath you, moving even in it’s solidity. Feel the air around the body, and note the exchange through the exhale and inhale. The taking in of the world. The releasing of parts of self. It is all much more fluid than we think.

Notice how that awareness of that fluidity, of that connection, shifts how you experience your moment.

Day 67: Relationship Repair

Photo by  Toa Heftiba  on  Unsplash

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

I recorded an interview for National Women’s Health Week (coming up after Mother’s Day), and we were discussing mindfulness and parenting. “How does mindfulness support our parenting?” my interviewer asked me. Many ways, of course, but one of the things we discussed is how it allows us to observe, with humility, when we have made a mistake. Because we are not as defensive or ego-constrained, and are open to the possibility that our mistakes are not reflective of our innate worth, we can own them in the spirit of relationship repair.

This, of course, is true in the context of our teaching, where we are bound to make mistakes. I make them all the time. But I remember reading a long time ago that it is far more valuable to a relationship with our children and students (or anyone, for that matter) to make mistakes and repair them than to never have a conflict. When we repair those relationships, we assure the young people in our lives that we can withstand conflict and difficulty, and that the bond is stronger than a disagreement. We model humility, how to apologize, and repairing mistakes. We show them how to be confident in who we are by owning our mistakes.

Day 66: Re-establish perspective

Photo by  Joel Fulgencio  on  Unsplash

Photo by Joel Fulgencio on Unsplash

And we are back.

As I have shared before, I find coming back after a long break disorienting. The switching gears back into school mode requires me to find where I was with my lesson plans, remember the few students whose work I haven’t graded yet and who will need special attention, and reconnect with my routines that have fallen to the wayside during my sweet disconnect.

When I was sorting through some of the backlog of grading on Sunday, I came across this reflection from one of my students:

Consistent yoga practice has allowed me space to re-establish perspective. Some days I'm so caught up in all the things I know I need to be doing I feel I don't have time to breath... lately when I set up my mat and begin moving I'm able to focus on what is at hand and often re-evaluate what honestly should be my top priority - calming down in order to focus and plan those tasks that seem to be out of control. Guided physical movement that forces me to focus my attention - working my brain and body in such a different way than I normally do - has allowed me to be more aware, calm, and ultimately more happy.

These sweet words have served as a reminder to prioritize the things that are most important to me, even as I struggle to begin again. In what way do I want to show up for my students? What perspective and I attempting to re-establish as I reenter the classroom? What can I do to embody the presence, calm, and strength that will help my students continue to grow?

Just asking the question helps me re-establish perspective and feel more ready to dive back in.

Day 65: The Last Day Before Break

For those of you teaching in New England, you are likely in the precipice of spring break. Despite the stretch from February to April not being that many weeks, it is notorious for being one of the toughest times of the school year. That makes spring break all the much sweeter when it finally arrives. You can almost hear the collective exhale across the country as teachers shepherd their children out the door at the final bell and collapse on the ground in a puddle of exhausted elation, or elated exhaustion, or some combination thereof.

There can be such a sense of ease and expansiveness to be found at the end of a tough period of time. Don’t hurry from one thing to the next, but pause to really notice and savor that moment when your responsibilities have been, even momentarily, eased. Then put on your vacation message and your jammies and get your relaxation on. We did it!

(A note for my non-teacher/non-spring breaking friends- this same idea can be applied to mini moments of ease… when you wrap up the work day, or put the kids to bed, or simply have a moment to pause. Enjoy the invitation of natural pauses already built in.)

Day 64: Be A Student

Photo by  Rima Kruciene  on  Unsplash

Photo by Rima Kruciene on Unsplash

Today, i went to the first yoga class I had been to in awhile, and my mind immediately started analyzing the experiences I was having to bring back to my yoga class. Oh, I liked that move! I haven’t done that with them before. Could they do that one? Rather than having the experience for myself, I was making meaning of the experience to bring it back to my students. I had to continually redirect myself back into my body, and my experience. One of the dangers of teaching yoga and mindfulness is the temptation to process every experience we have as teaching material.

I had a mindfulness teacher once share that when he was in meditation, he was always tempted to scribble down insights he had while practicing. He wanted to keep a notebook at his side so he could remember all of his brilliant ideas. With time, he told us, he learned to just be with the experience and trust that anything important would stay with him.

If we start turning all of our experiences with mindfulness and yoga into fodder for our classes (or blogs), we endanger our ability to be fully present for those moments. We skip right to the analytical mind, rather than an embodied presence (I am all too familiar with this tendency.) I invite you to engage in your contemplative practice without needing it to be anything more than what it is. It does not have to be profound of insightful. And it can be just for you.

Day 63: Relax first

As one of my teachers shared last night, we often think of mindfulness as a pathway to become more relaxed. But, if we are to see clearly, to fully embrace reality, in some sense relaxation is a precondition to mindfulness. It is hard to see clearly, to embrace reality, when we are overwhelmed, tense, or running at a million miles per hour. We must invite in a state of letting go and release first.

There are lots of ways to invite this one. Sometimes it is as simple as pausing in your day. Coming to a seat or onto your back.

Other times progressive muscle relaxation can be helpful to unwind the mind.

So sit back…

…relax the forehead

…relax the jaw

…relax the shoulders down

…relax the arms and hands

…the chest and belly

…the legs and feet.

See how intentional relaxation may give you more freedom in the mind. More presence. Just be careful not to then fall asleep. Or do, and enjoy the slumber. ;)

Day 62: Community Support

Photo by  Perry Grone  on  Unsplash

Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

At 5:30 on Monday nights I join a group of 20-60 people, depending on the week, to sit together in silence for 1/2 hour and engage in a discussion about practice afterwards. While the rest of the week my practice is somewhat determined by my daughter's schedule, this is a time that is for me. I garner wisdom from the experience of others to make sense of the things I experience. As much as I can, I try to protect it as a time to sink into my own practice, not to think about how I teach mindfulness (though often it is through self knowledge that I find I can best talk about mindfulness with others).

There is no better way to assure practice than to find people to practice alongside. So find a group of people you can commit to and learn from. It will make all the difference.

Day 61: The Sweet Relief of Having the Difficult Conversation

Photo by  Harli Marten  on  Unsplash

A few days ago, I had a conversation with a colleague that didn’t go well, and I left feeling unheard and unvalued. Instead of sending the email I spoke of in my last post, I spent some time processing with a few friends to figure out what I was really upset about. It was not the content of the conversation, but the subtext, that upset me.

Being mindful during conversations is incredibly difficult. There is so much to attend to, from what the other person is saying, our initial reactions to what they are saying, how we formulate words that capture our thoughts and feelings in a way that can be heard, checking if we have been heard, checking if we understand what is being said, etc. etc. etc. When you tease it apart, it can be incredibly overwhelming.

When I called my colleague to revisit our earlier conversation, it was so relieving to be able to tell her how I felt and why. It also opened a space for her to be able to clarify her earlier statements. And, as far as I could tell, both of us got off the phone feeling better for having talked again. In this case, there was a baseline understanding that we were both consciously focused on communicating well (not always the case).

We can’t control what the other person says or does, or even hears, but being able to speak our honest truth can be so powerful. To tell someone, “I was hurt by this,” instead of having that conversation in your head a million times, or fuming at them, or wishing them away, is freeing. Turning into the difficult conversations requires vulnerability and can provide such sweet relief.

Day 60: Don't Hit Send Just Yet.

Part of the beauty and complication of modern technology is the rapidity and ease with which we can communicate with one another. If a parent or colleague sends us an email that requires our immediate attention, we can respond right away. If a parent or colleague sends us an email that doesn’t land well, we may be tempted to respond immediately.

A gift from my father was a fiery temper, which I have largely learned to accept and find healthy ways of being with that do not harm others. Email can become an evil temptress for this part of self, where I may start typing out my anger on the keyboard before I even realize it. But as long as I don’t hit send, it’s okay. Even useful.

I have adopted these firebrand draft emails as part of my practice, allowing whatever is true for me to pour forth, uncensored, onto the page. I don’t try to craft it so someone else can hear it, or to make me look good and calm. I just write it out. And then I let it sit in my email draft box. And then I delete it. (It’s best not to put the person’s name in the inbox to avoid accidents, and enable the “undo” function on your email as an extra precaution.)

I find anger to be one of the most difficult emotions to sit with. It asks for reaction and release. Finding a way to hit the release valve first can help us get more clear on what’s really going on. What are we hurt about? What are we trying to protect? What do we really need to ask for/communicate to this other person? Having that initial release allows me to sift through and respond more skillfully. When I am ready.

Day 59: Just Like Me

Photo by  Ben White  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

There is a student in one of my classes right now who triggers frustration and annoyance in me. He is outgoing and gregarious, and regularly does not follow simple directions. “Please take your ear buds out….please get back to work…please stop talking with your neighbor…please don’t respond, “what?"; when I redirect you…please stop jumping on that kid’s back and fake punching him in the stomach, etc, etc, etc. I believe there are reasons he is exhibiting these behaviors that have nothing to do with annoying me, and I know he will require a particular kind of support to be successful. But geez….

To even be able to begin to provide that support he needs, I need to let go of some of my own annoyance.

One of my favorite exercises to practice for students like this is a, “Just Like Me” exercise from Daniel Rechtschaffen’s The Mindful Education Workbook:

Close your eyes and and take a few deep, grounding breaths. Call to mind the student, colleague, or parent who is difficult for you and imagine them happy and content.

Repeat the following phrases silently,

Just like me, they want to be happy.

Just like me, they want to be successful.

Just like me, they want to feel valued.

(Feel free to add any other phrases that feel useful).

And then…

May you be happy.

May you be successful.

May you feel valued.

Sometimes, just reminding ourselves of our common humanity can help us soften.

Day 58: The Beauty of Diversity

Photo by  Peter Hershey  on  Unsplash

I have a student I worked with last semester who, whenever I see her, spouts out, “Why can’t YOU teach my class this semester?” I always respond, “I miss you too!” She is a kid who makes a point of fronting a prickly exterior, so I take particular delight in this exchange. From the same class, I had a student who informed me he didn’t like my teaching style, and preferred to be in another teacher’s class. To both of them, I have shared that people resonate with different styles of teaching, and it is good to go to school with a mix of educators who both compliment your style and challenge it.

As I was looking around the staff lounge today, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of awe at my colleagues and I working together on behalf of these students. We operate in such different ways with different beliefs and interests that it really takes our entire village to serve our students. I know I will never go to a video gaming convention, but I am glad some of our teachers do. We represent a diversity of sexual orientations and religious backgrounds. I appreciate that some of educators are strict, others gentle, and still others somewhere in between. What holds us all together is our intention to best serve our students as we know how. We don’t do it the same way, though we are united in purpose.

I never tire of quoting Parker Palmer, who writes:

If good teaching cannot be reduced to a technique, I no longer need suffer the pain of having my peculiar gift as a teacher crammed into the Procrustean bed of someone else’s method and the standards prescribed by it.

May we all reflect on our particular gifts as educators, and take a moment to appreciate those gifts and qualities that others possess.

Day 57: We are Doing the Best We Can.

Photo by  mauro mora  on  Unsplash

Photo by mauro mora on Unsplash

Over the winter, I ran a short course with a group of alternative education teens at a local high school. It was a guarded crowd, and they had lots of different ideas about how they would like our time together to look. When it was over, I anonymously asked them what they thought of it. Four said it wasn’t for them. Seven said they liked it and/or they thought it was useful (not always both). There were a number of others who never attended. The teachers decided not to move forward with another round, as they felt it was not serving all of their students.

I have been reflecting on that feedback, and my reaction to that decision. I have wondered if there was something I could have done to make it more accessible, or if it could have made sense to serve those students who saw the value. Either could be true, and it is worth reflecting on for my next program. But when I catch myself stuck in a cycle of unproductive thinking, I come back to this:

All I can do is offer what I know to the best of my ability. All I can do is get the best training I possibly can, go in with the right intentions, and be reflective of my practice. I truly couldn’t have done better knowing what I knew, being who I was, in those circumstances. This is not a defensive stance, but a statement of what is true.

What might it be like to believe that we do the best we can given the circumstances of any given moment? Might we have more space to forgive ourselves? To grow rather than shrink? To learn?

BONUS: What if we also believed that of those around us?

Day 56: Begin Again

Photo by  Aaron Burden  on  Unsplash

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

One of the things I’ve observed about my mindfulness practice is that it waxes and wanes over time. At one point, that was worrisome to me. Like if I wasn’t getting in my full sit every day, I wasn’t “doing it right” and it “wasn’t enough.”

When I work with teachers, at the end of the course there’s often someone who guiltily names that they haven’t been able to incorporate meditation into their daily routine. What I shared with my educator group today, as we came to a close, was that one thing I have developed is trust in the foundation of my mindfulness practice. Trust that I will return to it. Trust that I can begin again at any moment, not by bullying myself into it, but by believing that each moment is when I can start anew. This trust is predicated on years of leaving and coming back to deepening my practice, and the belief that it is this moment that matters, not all the moments when I didn’t make it to my cushion.

We can always begin again.

Day 55: What story are you telling?

(Thank you for your patience with a few missing posts lately. Squarespace has been having some technical issues, but we should be back on track!)

Photo by  Patrick Fore  on  Unsplash

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

I’ve had a particularly busy month with a lot of extra engagements on top of my usual course load. When I woke up this morning, I noticed a sense of heaviness and dragging. “Ugh, I’m sooooo tired. I just have to get through this morning,” I promised myself as I trudged downstairs to get the water on. I found myself repeating like Thomas the Tank, “Just get through it, just get through it.”

At some point, I recognized this narrative looping in my head. And I wondered, “Is this serving me? What would it be like to shift the story? What if, instead, I approach the day with the intention of enjoying the company of my students as we explore learning together?” Even dropping these questions in helped me to feel a little lighter and a more ready.

Our thoughts are tremendously powerful, and when they just run amok without our awareness, we can sink energetically and emotionally.

I am not the kind of person who can go from internal darkness to blinding light with a switch. Pretending, “Today is going to be great! I’m so excited!” would not necessarily feel authentic or accessible to me. But just noticing my story and asking myself what it might be like to try something else helps free me up.

Day 54: Get in Your Body

I have been working in front of my computer for at least three hours now. This is not uncommon in the afternoon while I work on lesson plans, answer emails, and build workshops. After awhile, I caught myself flipping back and forth between these tasks and Facebook, these tasks and an interesting article I had pulled up from Facebook, these tasks and a funny video from Facebook. This was my cue.

It was time to get back in my body. I took myself upstairs and started sorting the pile of books, activity cards, and various other conference paraphernalia that I had left out from my conference yesterday. I needed to touch real things in three dimensions, feel the weight and softness of breathing buddies as I put them back in their bag and smell some of the essential oils that were lined up on my shelf.

Taking this break not only allowed my mind and eyes a moment to rest, but also allowed me to reengage with the tangible world. This strategy of reentering my body sometimes takes me to the kitchen to cook, outside to walk, or around the house to putter and clean, but in all cases, I find my way back to the moment through this movement and sensory awareness.

The next time you feel your energy flagging, or your focus waning, try shifting back into the body through movement and awareness of your senses.