Why Is Nature Capable of Being So Comforting? We Can’t Escape the Earth or the Universe Because We Are It

Why does nature have this effect on us?

 

I take a walk in the woods and thoughts fly off like birds⎼ swallows, crows or chickadees, to be replaced by insights or a beautiful sense of quiet. Or I sit on the beach, by the ocean, and my attention goes to the seemingly infinite space over the water. My whole body seems to move rhythmically with the sound of the waves. Before I was tense, my mind and body racing. Now, as I’m sitting with the ocean, I am comforted. Relaxed.

 

Why is this?

 

I’ve used the rain, the sky, the sound of birds and peepers, crickets, and cicadas, the feel of my breath or the air on my face, the seasons, the glow of the moon in the middle of the night or the wind in the middle of the day as doors to meditation, or to calm and slow down enough so I can feel or perceive the world and myself more clearly.

 

Even an ice storm can evoke a sense of beauty; and the dark clouds of a hurricane can reveal a sense of awe⎼ right alongside the fright.

 

Being outside in nature or viewing it helps us stay healthy, happier, and recover more easily from illness. We experience less stress and pain and heal quicker in a hospital if our room has windows facing trees, streams, or mountains or there are murals of such scenes painted on the walls.

 

Something like 170,000 years ago, evolutionary changes like a loss of body hair and a subsequent need for protection from the elements led early humans to clothe themselves. Or maybe it was also for artistic reasons. Maybe as long ago as 400,000 years ago, certainly by the Neolithic Revolution of 12,000 years ago, we began to build homes, shelters from the storm, or from dangerous animals. Later, we began to build walls to protect us from our own species. We then tried to control nature or wall it away, but we couldn’t, so we walled ourselves from nature, or tried to do so.

 

Likewise, in our personal evolution, so many of us had to wall away traumas that were too much to face at the time or aspects of ourselves we didn’t know how to integrate or accept.

 

And because of this effort, of walling ourselves from nature or ourselves, the question arose: why is nature⎼ why is what we are walling away so often healing to us, despite the storms, the ice, the fires, and the bears?

 

Because nature ultimately includes everything. It’s not just trees, beaches, streams, and sky that can comfort us. Almost any aspect of nature can be used as an object for meditation and for calming ourselves, but so can almost anything we perceive. A poem, a work of visual art, a person, pet, park bench, building, a piece of paper, a question. We can use the mere act of looking to help us see more clearly, or a moment of fear to study how we construct emotions. The key is to find what comforts us….

 

 

**If you’d like more information on any of the practices referred to in this piece, click on any of the links provided, and, if possible, find a reliable and experienced teacher, therapist, mentor to be a guide.

***To read the whole blog, please click on the link to The Good Men Project.

Collective Trauma Will Only Be Solved by a New Dawn of Compassionate Action

 

President Biden is sometimes criticized for not helping Ukraine get fighter jets from Poland, or for not pushing NATO to establish a no-fly zone over the country so Russian jets can’t bomb and strafe the Ukrainian people. Biden says he can’t risk escalating the conflict and starting a World War, but critics maintain we’re already at war and so should go further in supporting Ukraine.

 

But the strategies endorsed by some critics would mean NATO pilots either flying jets to Ukraine or flying over the country and could result in NATO, including Americans, shooting it out with Russians. Maybe, they think, we should just bomb Russian troop convoys and artillery.

 

Where is the line between helping an invaded nation and going to war alongside it? Or where should it be? What constitutes enough of a motivation to risk World War? To risk nuclear war? Does anything warrant that risk? Talk about an environmental crisis.

 

The President is expertly weaving a very fine line here. He has moved that line as he has led NATO to come together like it hasn’t before.

 

The World is not at war. Ukraine is at war with Russia, or with Putin. Ukraine is being attacked. The Ukrainians are dying. The Russians are losing not only in world opinion but often in the ground war and so are purposely targeting the civilian population. Ukraine’s cities are being destroyed. Their democracy as well as their homes, bombed. The rest of Europe, the U. S., most of the world is not.

 

Yes, Russia, especially, has facilitated cyber-attacks against us, against our elections and businesses. But so has China, North Korea, other autocrats. Yes, our sense of humanity is at war and our nation is divided against itself. Yet, we are, or most of us are, relatively safe.

 

Yes, we are paying higher gas prices. We face shortages. We face rising anxiety and fear. We face a constant news assault on our sense of shared humanity. On our future. But we are not facing bombs. Disinformation bombs. Yes. New strains of COVID. Yes. Organized hate and 5 years of assaults on our rights. Yes. On our education systems. We are facing a climate emergency. And now, this war against a people, a nation, against democracy.

 

That is where we need to put our effort. Into strengthening our humanitarian work, into helping Ukraine defend itself and into stopping autocracy here as well as Ukraine.

 

If we think we are at war, now, in most of Europe and the US, as many say we are; if we stop maintaining a conceptual as well as physical line between supporting the Ukrainian war effort and refugees and actively, militarily fighting Putin, then we are lost. We must find other ways to oppose autocracy and stop the killing.

 

Putin’s War can show us what we might face if we don’t do whatever we need to do, not only to stop Putin, but stop autocrats in this country, too. If we say we are militarily at war with Russia now we might create the false impression that we can go on with a relatively normal life while autocrats are attacking us⎼ or if Putin and those who support him, like DJT and other GOP, continue their attacks. That is a dangerous idea.

 

Every time we see it in the news, we might imagine ourselves being bombed. And this empathy might actually help us take appropriate action⎼ as long as we can also let it go. We also need to be able to find moments of peace in ourselves. When we respond to a crisis with inertia, we seed anxiety. When we respond with compassion and action, we seed a sense of agency. Strength. We respond more fully, think more clearly, and feel more alive. Feel more powerful.

 

We need a new dawn of caring. Of compassionate leaders. Of listening and collective action. This is what will, hopefully, save us all. We can diminish the collective trauma here by using mindfulness and studying ourselves, psychology, philosophy, history to uncover and dissolve the hidden pain, hooks, biases, and expectations that autocrats use to seize our attention, manipulate, and hurt us even more. We can send resources to Ukraine and help get out the vote here. And we can find our own ways to care for our families and neighbors, be creative, join hands with others, and stand up together to end this war.

 

 

*This post was syndicated by The Good Men Project.

 

The Power that Liberates vs the Power that Corrupts: The Skills Needed to Obtain Power and Lead Effectively are the Ones Most Likely to Deteriorate Once We Have Power

What is the root of real power, power that is consistent with having a satisfying life? That inspires others? That makes us effective leaders?

The people of Ukraine especially, but really the whole world, have been suffering due to political leaders like Putin and DJT politicians whose idea of leadership is to center power on themselves alone. Too many people have this maladaptive idea that only by being selfish and ruthless can we be an effective ruler. Some even think that only by being ruthless can we succeed in making the world a better place.

I was just re-reading two articles from the May/June, 2017, Scientific American Mind that clearly show research on power proves the opposite to be true. The first is about the psychological effects of power on the powerful, and that one of many reasons the common idea of power is maladaptive is because it can undermine the motivation by ethical and empathic people to want to take political action. The second article is on self-compassion.

The British politician and historian, Lord John Acton, has often been quoted as saying: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power to corrupt absolutely.” He was mostly speaking of Popes, Roman Emperors, and absolute monarchs, but he could be speaking of Presidents.

In an article called Power Moves: Success Changes How People Think and Act—Often, But Not Always, For the Worse, psychologist and science writer Theodor Schaarschmidt asks if the corrupting influences of power are real and attributable to the mere fact of having power? Or is it that ruthless people are the ones most likely to search for power to begin with? The article discusses psychologist Susan Fiske’s research—as people gain influence, they change. They act with less empathy and with a reduced concern for details.

In general, those in powerful positions tend to overestimate their skills, take greater risks, think in terms of stereotypes, and ignore outside viewpoints. The more power they get, the fewer social norms they tend to follow. They can become “Machiavellian” and disregard moral or even legal limits and feel free to use others in the pursuit of their own status and advantage. Schaarschmidt cites research by psychologist Kibeom Lee showing that when Machiavellian traits combine with narcissism and psychopathy, people act with less honesty and humility.

At first glance, it might seem from this research that empathy is somehow in opposition to the sense of agency and motivation to assume power. However, in his book The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence, psychologist Dacher Keltner says it is social intelligence, or the power to understand, value and advance the goals of others, that yields true power; and it is involved in every relationship and interaction. Without this social intelligence we tend to act like patients who have damaged their brain’s orbitofrontal lobes (the parts of the brain critical to empathy and socially appropriate behavior)….

 

*To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

 

**This article is an update and re-write of an earlier piece I wrote, https://irarabois.com/power-liberates-vs-power-corrupts/

https://archetypeinaction.com/index.php/en/more-tools-to-change-society/162-politics-a-rhetoric2/political-psychology/4770-the-power-that-liberates-vs-the-power-that-corrupts

Embracing the Whirlwind, Finding Depths in Ourselves We Didn’t Know Existed

The next 2 or 3 days might be a whirlwind, a hurricane of historic proportions. Who knows what will go on. Hopefully, on Wednesday or Thursday, we as individuals as well as we the people of this nation, will still have a mind and a voice left, after watching and listening to the news storm through our hearts. Hopefully, the physical world will still be intact. COVID might still be raging in our communities but the rage that DT embodies, his emptiness of care for others, his lies and hate will have been exposed and, at least politically, for now, defeated. Our efforts to form a “more perfect union” advanced. But if not, if even more is needed, we will continue the fight. We can discover depths we didn’t know existed in us. We will be the people we want to see in the world, the friends and neighbors, creating the world we need and dream about.

 

So, be alert and safe. I will be, in mind and body, air hugging all those I love and care about. Hoping everyone I know has or will vote. If you see me wandering around with my arms out, don’t be alarmed. It is just hope and love trying to embrace the world, wishing for myself and all of us that we soon have something wonderful to celebrate.

The Walk That Reveals Dragons: Walking So Our Capacity for Compassion Is Strengthened Along with Our Legs

Walking has taken on new significance and importance today, due to the coronavirus. Gyms are closed, so the outdoors have become a gym we all share. Or we have always shared this gym, but maybe we now do it more deliberately. Almost everyone I know says they take walks. Where we each go⎼ that is not so shared. Some have the privilege of deep forests, beaches, or river sides, others city streets, parks, or parking lots.

 

I took a walk a few days ago that could have gone on forever. Our home is in a rural area, on a steep hill, and I only stopped when my legs tired. I was also experimenting with how to walk as more a meditation⎼ how to lose myself for at least a few moments. And how, when my mind wandered, to kindly return attention to the basics⎼ breathing, looking, listening, and feeling.

 

When I first started my corona-walks, I distracted myself from each step so the weight of steps wouldn’t drag me down. The walk up our hill is challenging. I would set a goal to exercise for maybe 30 minutes or an hour. But if I began each walk thinking about how many minutes I had left to finish, each step would become a burden. So I either counted steps or thought about interesting ideas or people or projects I could take on. Or I played this game with myself. I pretended I would only walk to the big house up the road. And when I arrived there, I’d tell myself to walk just a bit more, to the maple tree where I saw the turkeys last week. And when I reached the maple tree I’d continue to the next memory or turkey siting.

 

But not this time.

 

In an online birding class I took recently, the teachers spoke about how we honor the birds we live with by knowing their names and their songs. This was a new and beautiful idea for me. But as I walked, I just wanted to listen. To name the birds would be another distraction from the song itself. It would mean me, here, and it, there. But to stop walking and just listen, the sound grew closer and clearer. And when the song ended, the trees and insects and stones and cars on the road were waiting for me even more distinctly.

 

In the past, I often thought about what it meant to feel at home someplace. This is the answer. That the gullies, streams, and trees, the wind, heat, and the house I owned would live inside me, not just me inside it. That I’d be open to all of it. That it would be a place to love and think.

 

There are so many ways to think. We can think rationally and critically, use words, concepts, examine theories, research and organize facts. Or we can let our minds wander through imaginative realms, memories of the past or ideas of the future⎼ through our pictures of ourselves or how others picture us. Or we quiet the mind, by focusing on a singular chosen point of focus⎼ the breath, sensations, the maple tree, and especially feeling⎼ or awareness of whatever arises in the immediate moment, including awareness itself….

 

**To read the whole piece, go to the Good Men Project.

 

*For information on walking safely when you might meet up with other people, in this time of the coronavirus, please refer to this NPR program, Masks and the Outdoor Exerciser.

The Fruits of Our Actions: Transforming Self and World

Wouldn’t it be nice if people who seem awful to us got their “just” rewards? If bullies and thieves were stopped and punished and we got to see the punishment? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if narcissistic rulers who ripped off their nation and committed acts of inhumanity were taken from the White House to the jail house? Oh, if only. But it’s obvious that it doesn’t always work that way, at least not in our personal timeline ⎼ except maybe in the section of our imagination reserved for wishes and dreams. …..

 

A Meditation on Taking Action

 

And when the rage and the fear and the tears about the state of the world breaks through, or when the despair threatens to overcome us, when we feel isolated (because fear is isolating), or want to run to a different universe, then we need to take a breath and step back from the emotion. Instead of hiding it away, we can notice it. Make it something to observe and learn from. Such fear is not a message to run away but to open up.

 

Close your eyes and notice how you are breathing. If you feel powerless, it is not a message about giving up but that you need to act. If you feel lacking in courage or you can’t imagine what to do, then imagine someone you know or have read about or wish to know who acted with courage. Someone compassionate and driven to act, or someone informed who knew and did what needed to be done. Maybe someone creative who thought of something no one else thought of.

 

Who was this person? Imagine her or him. Imagine what she looks like. What was it this person did? What do you think she felt when she did it? Or felt before she did it? Imagine the fear or self-doubt he might have felt? How did he act despite the fear? Imagine her feeling fear yet acting anyway.

 

How is this person just like you? Is her fear any different from yours?

 

Imagine him feeling he had to act. What have you done in your life that was helpful to someone else or creative?

 

You and this person are not so different. You both feel fear. You both breathe in and out. You both notice what is happening.

 

So now let come to mind some situation you want to change, and you feel needs addressing. Let come to mind something you can do. And imagine doing it. Where do you start? Who can you talk to about it? Who would share your concern?

 

And what do you need to know? Where could you find that information? And what would the change look like?

 

What would it feel like to have taken these actions?

 

Take a breath in and out. How do you feel now?

 

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

Kindness Allows Us to Breathe in Life More Deeply: A Meditation on Kindness

Imagine kindness spreading across a room, a stadium or a city. One person influencing those around him or her until everyone joins in.

 

So often in our lives, we are pressured to blindly follow what others do. I usually try to resist just going along with how others go along or being swept up by other people’s emotions or ideas. But I would gladly join a bandwagon of kindness. Kindness is actually a cure for blindness. It wakes us up, so we actually see who we’re standing with and what we’re doing. This is the essence of kindness.

 

Kindness is the brother of joy, the sister of compassion, the father of insight, and the mother of transformation.

 

Acting with kindness can be one of the simplest of things to do. It can be like breathing. We breathe every moment. In fact, breathing is one aspect of ourselves that we can never do without. But being aware of our breath can take practice.

 

Many of us don’t breathe fully and deeply. We don’t realize that when our breath is calm, it is a friend who teaches us to be open and friendly. Or when it gets too rapid, it can dim our vision so we see others as enemies.

 

Likewise, when we act without kindness, we pay an unbelievable price. Just take a moment to remember what it feels like when we act out of fear, anger, hate, or greed. Or what thoughts or images rage in our mind. Our breath becomes tense and rushed. We erect a wall around ourselves built out of suspicion and muscular tension…

 

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

An Analysis of the News, Thoughts On A Gloomy Administration, and A Review of My Book

Three different pieces for you:

The first piece is a review of an article giving a detailed history of how a manufactured crisis in education and the undermining of American literacy might have led to the Republican administration. The second is an announcement of one of my blogs being published by the Good Men Project. The third is a link to a review of my book by Dr. Dave Lehman.

 

*Many people have said to me “I don’t understand the avid supporters of this President and his administration and can’t talk with them.” These Republican supporters “do not listen to facts,” and seem to be condoning the undermining of their own freedom, rights, and economic position. Many theories have been brought forth to explain this behavior: the fact of a tribalization of the news, so each group only listens to its own brand of news. The racism, anti-semitism, and misogyny inherent in our culture. Blaming the leftists and liberals for not listening to these people (and daring to have a different perspective). Not speaking the language and mythology of the right wing.

However, there is another interesting viewpoint: Did a long history of politically and economically manufactured crises, both in education and throughout our culture, cause increasing insecurity and illiteracy, and decreasing critical thinking, and thus lead to the new Republican administration?

An article in Salon.com by Henry Giroux raises this issue very cogently. It is called: Manufactured illiteracy and miseducation: A long process of decline led to President Donald Trump. At first, I thought the article was another attack on public education, blaming schools and teachers for the US political crisis. Not so.

Diane Ravitch, in her book Reign of Error, and Naomi Klein, in The Shock Doctrine, first provided me with this analysis. Starting with the Reagan years, public schools have been under attack, sometimes by the Federal government itself, often by private economic interests and the politicians who supported them, certainly in many media. For example, A Nation At Risk, a report issued by the Reagan administration in 1983, claimed public education and teachers were responsible for everything from a declining college graduation rate to the loss of manufacturing jobs. It said, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” It said graduation rates, SAT scores, etc. were decreasing—all of this was later proved untrue. Academic achievement from 1975 to 1988 was actually improving, and not only for middle class white Americans. The divide in academic achievement between rich and poor was diminishing. But the A Nation At Risk report was just the beginning of the attack.

Giroux points out how the supposed reform movement led by elements of both major political parties called for “teaching to the test,” increased “accountability” (or decreased flexibility, creativity, and freedom for teachers to meet the individual needs of students), national standardization, corporate-produced tests and lesson plans, and the weakening of unions—all leading to “a frontal assault on the imagination of students” and the attempt to create corporate “pedagogies of repression.” Even in universities, knowledge has been increasingly viewed as a commodity, where the “culture of business” has become “the business of education.” Of course, many teachers are doing their best to fight this deformation of education.

The Republican administration, says Giroux, is now engaged in a frontal attack on thoughtfulness and compassion. Everyone and everything is valued mainly as a commodity and a source of profit. At the same time, Republicans provide their oppressed supporters with the illusion that those who impose “misery and suffering on their lives” are actually their liberators. What blinds them to the reality of their situation is what binds them together. (Newspeak, “consciously to induce unconsciousness,” 1984?)

You might want to read the whole article.

 

*In the gym yesterday, one of the younger men, in his late twenties, turned off CNN on the tv monitors above the elliptical machines and stationary bikes. He said, “I am sick of watching politics.” I understand how the news has become too disturbing for many to watch. But for this man, the news itself was political; facts were opinions or political statements, not statements about what was real…

This blog post was originally published here five weeks ago and was just re-published, in an edited form, by the Good Men Project. Here is a link you can use to read the rest of the piece.

 

*Dr. Dave Lehman, the founding principal of the Lehman Alternative Community School, in Ithaca, N. Y., where I taught for 27 wonderful years, wrote a review of my book, Compassionate Critical Thinking: How Mindfulness, Creativity, Empathy, and Socratic Questioning Can Transform Teaching. The review was published in the National School Reform Faculty, Connections. Here is a link. (Thank you Dr. Dave.)

 

*Photo by Kathy Morris

**Thank you to Jill Swenson who sent me the Salon.com article.

 

 

Crossing the Divides

Our country is divided not only in terms of which presidential candidate we supported or which policies we support, but on a much more fundamental level. We differ on what it means to be a human being. We differ in our root beliefs, our understanding of the human mind, the self, and reality. It is a difference in the way of thinking and speaking with others, in activities we engage in, in our view of what a democracy is. It is not simply a matter of income, class or color, although I think income inequity and racism are central causes and indications of division. It is spiritual, intellectual and emotional. It is not a divide between one religion and another, or religious versus secular, but runs right through all such groupings. The differing sides all feel that the other, or one of the others, threatens the world itself. This makes extreme actions appear possible or even necessary.

 

Karen Armstrong, author, religious scholar, and former nun, provides an important perspective on one issue dividing our land. In 2005, talking about the rise of fundamentalism and terrorism, she said it is wrong to even speak of conducting a war on terrorism, because it is really a religious war, one form of fundamentalism versus another. Fundamentalism is a desire to return to the fundamental values, the original state of a religion. It interprets religious doctrine literally and calls for strict adherence to such doctrine. Truth is solid, fixed, and absolute and tolerance of the “other” can be considered sin. In our world today, there is a “mushrooming worldwide religious fundamentalist revolt against modernity and secularism.” She said, “We are creatures who seek transcendence… We’re meaning-seeking creatures, we fall easily into despair.” Thus, religion has always had a place in human affairs and even the appearance of assaulting religion can have dire consequences.

 

But, she says, there is “good” religion and “bad.” “Bad” suffocates the sacred and the search for meaning and truth in dogma and rules. “Good” religion is compassion and the experience of dethroning the ego at the center of your world and finding another person or something bigger than your self there. This good religion is not anti-intellectual; it recognizes that understanding deep truths is a matter of feeling, imagination, as well as rationality. For example, some religions consider experience, rational analysis, and wisdom essential to religion. The Dalai Lama, for example, said “If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.”

 

Religion is not usually a consciously chosen belief. It can be foundational to one’s sense of self, culture and reality. To threaten religion is to threaten the world itself. Bad religion considers any statement, factual or otherwise, that is contrary to their religious position not only an untruth or lie, but dangerous. This can include science. Armstrong also argues that especially in nations like the US, where there is so much violent imagery in the media and entertainment, the reaction against secularism can be violent. “Whenever religion is allowed to enter political debate, positions become more rigid and absolute.” And when religion is threatened, fundamentalist membership and action increases and bad religion replaces good.

 

George Lakoff, in his wonderful book, The All New Don’t Think of An Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, provides another way to frame the divide in our nation. In America, we often use the metaphor of the nation as a family. Yet, Republicans and Democrats have a very different notion of the nature of that family, or what should be that nature. The Republicans think of the nation as needing to conform to a “strict father” model. The Democrats think of needing a “nurturant parent” model. This is, of course, a simplification of both the reality and Lakoff’s analysis, but it provides a general overview of the theory.

 

The strict father family thinks of the world “as a dangerous place…because there is evil out there in the world.” It is competitive, there is absolute right and wrong, and children, when “bad,” are born bad. So a strict father is needed to protect and teach the children. Children need to be obedient and learn discipline, and be punished when disobedient. Without discipline, the world would go to hell. If you are wealthy, it means you are disciplined. Reality dictates that if you work for your own selfish motives and success, everyone will benefit. If you try to help someone else, be compassionate, and try to nurture others, you interfere with his or her own self-discipline, and undermine self-interest. According to this reasoning, the rich are good, the poor are bad. These metaphors and beliefs translate into domestic and foreign policies that maximize the value of the rich pursuing their self-interest.

 

Democrats and progressives are likely to believe in a more gender-neutral parent model. Any gender is equally responsible for, and capable of, raising children. Children are born basically “good” or full of potential and can be nurtured to be better. You need empathy, so you can know better what your child needs. You need to take care of yourself so you can take care of your child. You need a sense of responsibility and commitment, not only for your family but your community, country, and world. You want your child to be fulfilled in life, happy. You value freedom, fairness, service, cooperation, and trust.

 

To speak across this great divide, you must use language that reflects the values others hold dear and does not threaten their religion. To tell another person they are just wrong or their ideas are evil, you strengthen the idea you oppose in the mind of the person you are talking to.

 

These are just two different perspectives out of many. We’re multidimensional and complex beings. Progressives can be closeted conservatives and conservatives can be closeted progressives. So instead of just attacking those who disagree with you, use the language and metaphors that they value in order to expose the implications or perspective they hadn’t considered. According to Lakoff, the Republican and conservative message is that Democrats, liberals and progressives are weak, angry, and softhearted, so be sincere, respectful, calm, and hold your ground. Re-frame any story anyone tries to use against you in order to illustrate that your point of view and your values show you, too, love your country. You, too, want security, opportunity, and freedom, just as they do. You agree more than you disagree. The road to the freedom and stability that conservatives’ value highly must merge with the road to equity and compassion you value highly.

 

*You might find this recent post on the election by George Lakoff extremely useful.

Compassionate Critical Thinking

My book, Compassionate Critical Thinking: How Mindfulness, Creativity, Empathy and Socratic Questioning Can Transform Teaching, will be published by Rowman and Littlefield in September or October, 2016. My intention is to bring teachers and other readers inside a classroom to witness instructional effectiveness with increased student participation and decreased classroom stress. The act of teaching is turned into a transformational practice. Teachers can’t add more minutes to a school day, but with mindfulness they can add depth to the moments they do have with students in the classroom. I introduce core concepts and simple practices of mindfulness.

 

When students feel a lack of meaning and purpose in their lives, particularly in school, they resist learning. They fight back against meaninglessness and anything they deem a threat to their dreams. Using mindfulness and a Socratic style of inquiry changes the classroom dynamic. Self-reflection, insight, empathy, and compassion are used to teach subject material. Vignettes capture dialogue between teacher and students to illustrate how mindfulness practices elicit essential questions which stimulate inquiry and direct discovery. What bigger mystery is there—what more interesting and relevant story—than the story of one’s own mind and heart and how they relate us to the world?

 

My purpose in writing this book is to show teachers how to turn their intentions and goals into a classroom culture of compassionate critical thinking. Many books teach mindfulness, but few provide a model for integrating it into the classroom to teach critical thinking across the curriculum. I hope this book does justice to the courage, brilliance, joy and struggles of the students who inspired it and the Lehman Alternative Community School which gave me both the opportunity to find a sense of purpose in my life and to contribute positively to the lives of others.

 

To learn more about compassionate critical thinking, please subscribe to my weekly blog. And to learn more about the book and its release, please sign up for my (infrequent) newsletter.