Mindfulness in the Car, the Gym and Anywhere Else: A Great Gift to Yourself and Anyone You Interact With

Several years ago, I was in three automobile accidents, and was not the driver in any of them. On two of the occasions, I was sitting in the passenger seat. One of the accidents was particularly frightening. I was in a van driving on a smaller road during a harsh snow storm in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. The driver took a turn too quickly and slid towards a cliff but managed to stop before going over the edge.

 

After the third accident, I felt tense whenever I had to drive anywhere. A friend recommended I pause before getting in the car and try to calm myself. He wasn’t a mindfulness practitioner, just a friend concerned for my safety. So before starting the car, I would sit in the driver’s seat, close my eyes, and simply feel what I was feeling. For maybe two minutes or so, I would notice any sensations that arose, where or if I felt tense, and if my breathing was fast or slow. Then I’d review in my mind the route to where I was going.

 

This practice stopped the chatter in my mind and the tension in my breathing. It allowed me to drive with more awareness and with a sense of freshness, as if driving was a relatively new and enjoyable experience.

 

Before going to work was another good time to take a pause in what I was doing. I was a teacher for almost thirty years, and would get to school, step out of the car, and just look at the school, the trees, and the hills. The school was up on a hill, and I could see the city spread out below. I’d take in the view and appreciate it. Taking a moment to breathe in and appreciate what was around me allowed me to then enter the classroom with more clarity. When the students saw me as comfortable and open with them, they were more comfortable, appreciative and open with me.

 

Practicing mindfulness in your house, at a pre-selected time, and isolated from distractions is one way to practice. It trains your mind and body to monitor feelings, sensations and thoughts and be more aware, present, and comfortable in your life. But little momentary practices throughout the day, reminders, pauses, helps spreads mindful attention throughout your life….

 

To read the whole post, go to The Good Men Project.

Exploring Our Humanity with Mindfulness: What Our Bodies Can Teach us

How can we, as teachers, use mindfulness, visualization and inquiry practices to study history and what it means to be human? One way is to look clearly at our own body and the way our mind works. We often overlook the obvious. We are our own most direct example of what it means to be human. And what could be more important in this time of high anxiety and threat than a better understanding of our shared humanity and ourselves?

 

Ask students: Did you ever consider that inside yourself might lie answers to some of the deepest questions about human history and what it means to be a human being?

 

Standing Practice:

 

Ask students to stand up from their chairs and stretch. Raise their hands over their heads, rise up on their toes and reach up to the sky. Then drop their heels and stretch to one side and the other without getting too close to their neighbor.

 

Say to them: Now stand with your feet about shoulder width apart, hands resting comfortably at your sides, eyes partly or fully closed. Put your focus on your breath. Feel how your body breathes in, and then out.

 

Put your attention on the area around your eyes and feel what happens there as you breathe in. Do you feel a slight expansion in the area as you breathe in? Then breathe out, and feel how that area breathes out. You might feel a release of tension, a settling down. You can feel the same in your jaw as you inhale, and exhale.

 

Then put your attention on your shoulders as you breathe in. Do you feel your shoulders expand as you breathe in? And as you exhale, feel how they contract, pushes air up and out.

 

Then put your attention on your hands. They, too, breathe. As you breathe in, feel your hands expand with the in breath—and let go, settle down with the outbreath.

 

As you breathe in, feel the air with your whole body. Feel the space around you, in front, behind, at your sides. And as you breathe out, just allow your attention to take in how it feels to stand there, strong, relaxed, and attentive.

 

What does standing upright like this enable you to do? Dogs or cats are amazing beings. They can leap, twist, and run for a short distance faster that you. They can smell and hear better than you. But not see better, not see over the grass or tables as well as you. A dog or cat uses their paws to run. But by standing upright, you can walk for long distances and free your hands for other activities. What else does standing enable you to do? What are the limitations of standing?

 

Now slowly breathe in. And as you exhale, open your eyes and come back to the room, noticing how you feel.

 

Sitting Mindfulness, Visualization and Other Inquiry Practices:

 

Choose and combine practices from those that follow, which fit your course material, age and interests of students. Have students sit up comfortably, breathe calmly, and close their eyes partly or fully. Then ask them to:

 

*Rest your hands comfortably on your lap or desk in front of you. Feel how your hands feel resting where they are. Move your fingers and feel their dexterity and strength. How many species are there that can do that? How are your hands different than a paw, your fingers different from a claw?…

 

To read the whole post, go to MindfulTeachers.org.

 

Being Patient Even With Impatience: Developing Patience and Personal Strength

I remember a conversation I had with a student when I was teaching high school. I think I said something like “you have to be more patient.” And the student responded, “Why should I be patient? I want what I want now.” I probably had the same thought when I was a teenager.

 

Why be patient? With political and social issues, what does patience even mean? This is an important question today, as there is so much that needs to be challenged and changed. Does patience mean you should let racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, greed, etc. continue as it is? If so, I think patience is misunderstood. How is patience helpful when you can’t get what you think you need or can’t understand a situation, another person, or yourself?

 

The root of patience is the Latin ‘pati’ meaning ‘suffering.’ Patience is the ability to endure adversity, discomfort, stress and even pain. In any life, if you want to do something challenging, you will face stress and adversity. If you can’t face this, how deep a life can you have?

 

Here is a practice of mindful inquiry into what patience means to you:

 

Take a moment to close your eyes partly or fully. And just hear whatever arises in your mind, or feel whatever feelings or sensations come to you. Then say the word ‘patience’ to yourself. Say it again. What feelings, thoughts, and memories come to you? Just notice them. You need do nothing else but notice.

 

What does the word mean to you? What purposes does patience serve? And how often do you feel it? When don’t you feel it?

 

Do you get impatient when something is happening that gets in the way of what you want to happen? Or gets in the way of your image of how things should be?

 

Simply sit for a moment with the feeling of patience, that you can face what you need to face.

 

Then take a deep breath and return your attention to where you are seated.

 

What goes on in you when you’re impatient? When you’re impatient, you might feel you can’t wait for something to happen or something to end. You feel a contradiction between what you are looking at and what you want or imagine should be true. You are uncomfortable or dissatisfied with the now. But the impatience is not just about the contradiction. It is about feeling that if it isn’t true now, it might never be true. …

 

To read the whole post, click on this link to The Good Men Project.

Celebrating the Differences

On this day celebrating Martin Luther King Jr., it is important to remember not only the need to fight those who teach hate but to support those who model love. Remembering that we have had powerful leaders in the past who worked successfully to make the world a better place for all of us gives me hope that there will be such leaders again in the near future, and in fact are here, now.

 

One of my favorite quotes of King’s was one that echoes the Buddha and Gandhi, among others: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

 

King was not a perfect person. But there are no “perfect” people. We might feel the pressure, both from ourselves and others, to think we should be perfect. Or that if we aren’t perfect, how could we demand ethical behavior, clarity of thinking, or compassion from politicians? But what King fought for and the fact that he fought is inspirational.

 

“The time is always right to do what is right.”

 

We might think that those who are already social and political leaders must be either absolute saints or absolute sinners. We often want myths, not reality. It can be difficult to admire someone without mythologizing them.

 

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.”

 

For example, some people of faith think the rich and powerful are favored by God, and so truth is what erupts from their leader’s mouth. However, when we think of our leaders as greater than us, greater than life, it’s too easy to ignore who they are or what they aim to do. The more real, the more human a leader is, the more we can learn from them. Instead of making a leader greater than us, we need to make ourselves into leaders, or at least informed citizens. We need to learn to examine the implications of policy proposals to determine as best we can what kind of world any leader would create.

 

“When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”

 

Do we want to “make America great again?” What does ‘great’ mean to T or his followers? From a study of T’s actions, we can see that he is trying to undermine democracy. His aim is to bring our nation back to a time before the Bill of Rights, before the constitution, maybe before the revolution. He wants a nation without a free press, without voting or civil rights, without a balance of powers between different branches of government, and with one-man rule. Or maybe he’s trying for something even worse, a white nationalist kleptocracy in which the rich are not controlled by laws but assume total power over the laws ⎼ something that didn’t even exist here 300 years ago.

 

“Every man must decide if he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the utter darkness of destructive selfishness.”

 

In 1947, in the Morehouse College student newspaper, Martin Luther King wrote: “If we are not careful, our colleagues will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists, consumed with immoral acts.” And this is what the Presidency is now teaching. T, along with his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is trying to replace education with propaganda,  public schools with private, a commitment to improving equity and protecting student’s rights and safety with a focus on producing workers desperate for income, open inquiry with religious centered mind-control.

 

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

 

We must not say: “This is awful but does not affect me directly. This is an assault on democracy and this is unjust, but I can live with it.”

 

Instead, we must be aware that: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

 

This is what, and whom, we celebrate today.

 

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

 

 

 

*The photo of is of a wall painting of Martin Luther King Jr., in Lake Worth, Florida.

My Call Home

I celebrated my 19thbirthday in London. It was May 1966, the end of my freshman year at the University of Michigan. The end of the first year I had lived on my own, away from my family, friends and the lifestyle I had grown up with.

 

But I needed to go even further away. I bought a ticket on a flight chartered by the university, which left on May 15th, the day before my birthday. I didn’t have much money and had almost nothing planned, just a general idea of a route to follow, from London to Amsterdam, north to Denmark and Sweden. Then a flight south to Italy, hitchhike through southern France to Spain, and then back to France for a return flight from Paris. Almost four months of traveling with no travel partner, not even a room reserved to stay in while in London.

 

The world was different back then. Despite the assassination of President Kennedy almost three years earlier, the war in Vietnam and the burgeoning opposition to it, the civil rights and other movements, the culture and U. S. government seemed a little more stable then than it does now. The sense that something was off, or wrong, that big changes were needed both nationally and personally, was growing in so many of us, but we hadn’t yet realized what the growing pains meant.

 

All I knew was that my life felt set, predetermined by family and culture. It was a clear and linear progression from public school, to university, career and family, then old age and death. Death and vulnerability were walled away in time. Maybe today, in 2018, many students would be happy to feel their lives secure in such a progression, but all I wanted to do was break it. I wanted to feel free and to see the world outside the little space I already knew….

 

To read the whole story, please click on this link to Heart and Humanity magazine.

**The photo is of me with my brother and mother, in Ann Arbor, at the end of August, 1966, after returning from this trip. I didn’t hitch-hike with the duffel bag.

 

The President of Lies and Corruption Strikes Again

Did you listen to the President of lies and corruption last night? I couldn’t listen to him for even five minutes in a row. It just made me too angry. I heard the bulk of the speech this morning.

As Lawrence O’Donnell reported, this was a fundraiser for his re-election funded by the tv networks. Both before and after the speech, T sent out requests to his base for contributions to raise $500,000 in one day for a fund to secure the border. However, the checks were to be sent to T’s re-election campaign, to the Make America Great Again site. O’Donnell called it T’s first re-election speech. T says these funds will go to build a wall, when they have apparently been earmarked to pay for his re-election campaign.

As for other lies and deceptions: T called the border a humanitarian and security crisis. The humanitarian crisis is one created or worsened by T’s policies and those of other nations south of the border. As for security, he said “every week, 300 citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90% of it floods across the southern border.” As the New York Times fact-checked, most heroin comes through legal points of entry so a wall would do nothing to stop it.

As for the opioid crisis, this has little to do with Mexico, as most of the opioids come from China. And the crisis was not created by immigrants. It was created by policies internal to the US, by doctors over-prescription and such.

According to the Washington Post, apprehensions of people at the southern border peaked in the year 2000 at 1.6 million and have been in decline ever since. In 2017, Customs and Border Protection reported 303,916 apprehensions. There is no crisis except in who we have as president.

One of his biggest claims regarding security was that US officials have blocked nearly 4000 known or suspected terrorists from entering the country through the southern border. This, too, is false. T’s own government statistics show that almost all terrorists known to have entered the US recently did so through air flights. There can be no wall through the airwaves. There is no credible evidence of terrorists coming across this land border.

During the 2016 campaign, T said Mexico would pay for the wall. Now he says the US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement will pay for it. This, too, is deceptive. The trade agreement has not been ratified by Congress. Although T said he has already started building the wall, in fact only bollard fencing has been built, and this is from a bill passed in 2009.

So, this speech of T’s is more of the same thing. More statements lacking evidence, more racism, more corruption, more lack of respect for the rule of law, more putting himself before the well-being of most Americans. Please make calls, write letters, read the NYT and Washington Post fact-checks or watch the MSNBC, BBC or other reliable reports. T is, as many have said, holding us hostage, shutting down part of the government, trying to waste our tax money in order to save face with his base. We must do what we can to stop him.

For the New Year, Can We Have A Little More Fairness, Please! “Vice” and Speaking Out for the Fairness Doctrine

Last night, I went with my wife and two friends to see the movie Vice. The movie was about a Vice President, Dick Cheney, and also about one of the most destructive of vices, the lust for power.

The film was advertised as a comedy. And I did laugh, once. I snickered even more. And for most of the second half of the film, I wanted to rip apart the movie screen. It didn’t feel like a comedy.

The movie exposed many of the roots of our present political crisis in the Nixon, Reagan, and Cheney administrations. A few months ago, I wrote a blog exposing the economic underwear of the Trumpf GOP. I spoke about how wealth has been, since the 1980s, concentrated more and more into fewer and fewer hands, and how the role of the tax system in moderating the control by the rich of this nation was undermined.For example, in 2017, the top 1% owned 42.8% of the nation’s wealth. It has been increasing by 6% annually since the mid-2000s. America’s wealthiest 20 people now own more than the bottom half the population, own more than 152,000,000 people combined.

In that post, I also spoke about how Reagan, in 1987, ended the Fairness Doctrine. How many people today even remember that doctrine, which directed the behavior of broadcast media in this country for about 40 years? It was first spelled out by the FCC in 1949, during the Truman presidency. According to economist George Tyler in his book the Billionaire Democracy: The Hijacking of the American Political System,this doctrine obliged broadcasters to give equal and factual coverage to all sides of an issue and all candidates for office. It included a requirement that anyone victimized by an online attack be given equal time for a prompt response. It was ended by claims by the Reagan FCC that the Fairness Doctrine “restricts the journalistic freedom of broadcasters.” As if asking journalists to be honest and base their reporting on reliable and verifiable sources of information is an infringement of their freedom.

The book and movie described how, by ending the Fairness Doctrine, not only was Fox News created as the propaganda organ of the right wing rich, but the concentrated assault on truth that we now see daily was begun. …

To read the whole post, please go to The Good Men Project, which published it.

Relieving Student Apathy: Apathy Is A Symptom of Greater Societal Problems

Recently, I read a discussion on a FB page for educators and social action (the Bad Ass Teachers) that hit home for me. The discussion was about the omnipresence of student apathy and the expectation that teachers were responsible for entertaining and freeing students from this curse. I remembered this exact feeling from 20-30 years ago. Not only did I have to shape lessons to fit a wide variety of student ability levels and interests. I felt I had to be as clever and exciting as the tv or movies they were used to watching. (There were no or few cell phones then.)

The situation has become even worse today. One teacher-author, who had written a post about the situation, spoke about teachers being expected to “be all things to all people” and students have become “consumer learners.” She described a workshop where she was encouraged to design her teaching to be like a video game. How else could she expect to hold student attention? She questioned if a video game is the best model for how to shape a lesson. 

Teachers face a long list of problems every day the corporate and media attacks on public education, the detrimental effects of standardized testing, the tremendous inequality in school resources and funding, the poverty, homelessness and increasing anxiety and depressionexperienced both by young people and adults, etc..  And, of course, let’s add the addiction to drugs or digital devices. But should we also add apathy to this list?

Student apathy is not the main problem. It is but a symptom of all the problems listed above all of which can reach deeply into a child’s psyche. Many students can’t find the motivation to engage in their own education because they can’t find themselves. They don’t see themselves in their own lives or are afraid, or too traumatized, to do so.

They have been taught to think their emotions come from someone or somewhere else, not themselves. When they feel anger, they think the object of the anger is the cause of it. Or they experience love or jealousy and feel the object of their love is in control, not them. When they get bored, they think someone other than themselves is responsible. They do not understand how their emotions arise

Students feel apathy and boredom when a wall has been constructed between what they feel, think, or yearn to engage with and what is presented to them as the possibilities of their life and education. They have been conditioned to not let anything too real get too close¾or their lives have been too real and frightening, and they can’t or don’t know how to face it. This might help explain why one of the biggest concerns for young people in this nation today is safety….

To read the whole blog, click on this link to the Good Men Project.

Are We Undermining Our Children’s Education? A Mindful Use of Digital Media in the Home and Classroom





How difficult is it nowadays to engage the whole family in a talk? Or if you’re a teacher, how difficult is it to engage a class of students?

 

There has been much debate in the last few years about the role cell phones and other digital media has played in making face-to-face discussions at home and in school more difficult. A teacher and former colleague recently told me that students even use their phones to order food to be delivered to the classroom. When I asked why she put up with it, she said she couldn’t do anything about it. It was too engrained in the school (and national) culture.

 

I find this frightening. How can anyone learn well, or engage with others in meaningful discussions, when their attention is tuned to the expectation of a text? To say, “nothing can be done about this situation” reminds me of the discussion of bullying 20-30 years ago, when people said, “It’s just the time of life when children bully.”

 

Self-Reflective Questions for Parents and Teachers About Media Use

 

Teachers and other adults can be as addicted to their devices as children. We can all benefit by increasing our self-awareness and asking ourselves:

How much time do you spend on your phone, computer, and social media?

How do you feel when you see your children on their phones when you are trying to talk with them? How do you think they feel when you are on the phone when they are trying to talk with you? Who do you prioritize: the person standing before you, or the one on the phone?

Did you want to stop reading this post as soon as you realized what it was about? ….

 

To read the whole post, please click on this link to Spirit of Change Magazine, which just published the piece.

Happy Holidays! A Time to Remember That What We Need Can Be Fought For and Won





As many people do, I have almost always looked forward to the holidays. When I was a child, I looked forward to gifts. As a student and teacher, I looked forward to a vacation from school. For most of my life, I looked forward to getting together with family and friends. However, there were years in college and as a teenager that I dreaded the holidays, especially the New Year, if I didn’t have a party to go to or a date.

 

The holidays have become so commercial that many now dread them. This commercialization is characteristic of our contemporary culture and it buries the deeper meaning of such moments in time. My wife and I ignore gift-giving for ourselves. The only gift we give each other is our presence.But for the children we know and charities⎼ that is a different story.

 

The holidays could be so rich. Hanukah is a festival of light and freedom. Kwanzaa of family, community, and culture. Christmas of joy in the birth of Jesus. So many holidays.

 

Humans have celebrated the winter holidays possibly forever. The time is obviously near the solstice and the longest reign of night, at least in the Northern hemisphere where I live. For us northerners, it is the darkest and coldest time. It is traditionally a time to engage in rituals to assure that the sun will come again, that spring will follow winter, renewal follow hibernation, warmth follow cold.

 

Many holidays have this sacred dimension or shadow that connects us to a depth of history. This history is not just about days of religious significance. These holidays provide workers a break from intense labor. They signify a recognition of shared humanity, however dim that recognition often was in the past and might be so again today.

 

Every one of us needs time to rest and connect with others. Every one of us needs time to step back and contemplate why we are here on this earth, to renew our selves, our relationships with fellow humans and the earth that sustains us. The fact that we have days of rest is beyond a right; it is a sacred necessity.

 

Americans, as well as people from most nations, fought in the past for a five-day workweek. They fought against those who would oppress them and were successful. But today, the GOP are giving to the rich and taking from most of us, so we need to fight this same battle once again.

 

This year, everything is both normal, like always, and yet totally different from any other time. Never have Americans had a President who has threatened so many of our values and institutions, and who brings with him the possibility of a truly frightening future. Yet, day follows night. We wake from sleep. Many things continue as they have.

 

Much is changing; much is staying relatively the same. It is time to determine exactly what, on the level of our daily lives, might benefit from a change. For many of us, it might be finding ways, each day, we can integrate opposing the President and his cabinet and working for justice and democracy. Or there might be local issues that drive us. We might dedicate ourselves to improving our understanding of history and ourselves.

 

This time of ritually facing the darkest time of year might remind us that in some ways, this is what nature calls to us to do, to face the darkness so the light will come again.

 

Have a great holiday season and New Year. Renew, enjoy, and celebrate with friends and family. It is something we all need, deserve, and share. It is a reminder that we do share so much, and that what we need can be fought for and won.