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.

 

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.

Using Mindfulness and Empathic Imagination in Teaching the Story From Day One





I’d like to share with you what I learned from teaching a middle school class called “The Story From Day One,” which integrated mindfulness and visualization exercises with the language arts curriculum.

We often teach myths as merely literature, divorced from the cultural, spiritual, and historical context. But we pay a price for this approach. It limits the depth of meaning students can derive from their study.

Combine this with the narrow focus on the now that social media can foster, and students easily feel isolated on an island of self, cut off not only from their contemporaries, but from a sense of the continuity of life. They have little grasp of how their lives today emerge from yesterday.

 

Suggested Myths to Teach in Your Class

 

In my Story From Day One course, we read several myths from around the world, of creation, of tricksters and of heroes, including:

 

Integrating Mindfulness with Academic Content 

Start lessons with a mindfulness exercise so students can calm and clear their minds, better understand how their inner lives affect their outer ones, and notice how they respond to words, stories, and other people.

After mindfulness practice, ask questions that challenge assumptions and reveal what was hidden, so each lesson becomes the solving of a mystery. For example, before teaching a class on language or vocabulary, ask:

 

How can words (mere sounds or collections of marks on a page or device) mean anything?

Do words have meanings, or do people give words meanings?

Imagine a time when words were almost magical, when to give your word was deeper than a legal contract today. If you felt your words were like magic, how would that change how you spoke? (Share this old Eskimo poem.)

 

To read the whole post, please go to Mindfulteachers.org.

A Mindful Use of Digital Media





How difficult is it nowadays to engage students in a deep discussion? Or if you’re a parent, how difficult is it to engage the whole family in a talk?

 

There has been much debate about the role cell phones and other digital media has played in making face-to-face in-school discussions more difficult in the last few years. 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. She said parents added to the problem by wanting 24/7 access to their children.

 

I was as frightened by this situation as my former colleagues were. How can anyone learn well, and engage with others in meaningful discussions, when their attention is tuned to the expectation of a text?

 

In our world today, we are all bombarded with messages to keep up with the latest technology. The ping of the cell phone is an affirmation that we are valued and important. So, especially for young people who grow up with digital media, being disconnected means being less valuable. They fear what they might miss (FOMO), even to the extent of keeping their phones with them at night, which can interfere with sleep and contribute to anxiety, depression and possibly narcissism.This serves the interest of big corporations whose primary interest is in turning children into malleable consumers; it does not serve the interests of educators and parents interested in their children becoming clear thinking adults.

 

Self-Reflective Questions For Teachers

 

Adults can be as addicted to their devices as children. Ask yourself:

 

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

Who do you prioritize: the person standing before you, or the one on the phone?

 

To read the whole post, click on this link to mindful teachers.org.

Beginning The School Year —or Anything—With Mindfulness and Compassion





There is nothing like a beginning. Imagine a beginning from your past. First meeting someone. Building your own home. Starting on a vacation. Doing something new, unknown, exciting, scary yet filled with promise.

To start the school year, or anything, it is obvious that we must make plans. We need to determine where we want to go, what we want to accomplish, in order to fulfill those objectives. But we often ignore the emotional side of getting ourselves ready.

No matter what you are beginning, take a moment to feel what you feel and notice your thoughts. Only if you notice your thoughts and feelings can you choose how and whether to act on them. If you’re a teacher, start with understanding what beginning the school year means to you and what you need. Then you can better understand what students need.

Many of us plan our classes or other activities so tightly that the realm of what is possible is reduced to what is safe and already known. It’s not a beginning if you emotionally pretend that you’ve already done it. Take time daily to strengthen your awareness of your own mental and emotional state.

Starting the morning

When I arrive at school energized but anxious, I get out of my car, stop, look at the building and trees around me, and take a few breaths. Then I am in my body, present—not driven by thoughts. After greeting myself, I am more prepared to greet students.

Practice SBC: Stop, Breathe, Notice.  Periodically stop what you’re doing, close your eyes, take 3 breaths and notice your thoughts and feelings. Notice how it feels after such a break.

You can do this with students to begin each lesson, or in the middle of a heated discussion….

 

To read my full post, click on this link to The Good Men Project.

Mindful Teachers: Mindful Listening In A Noisy World





What happens to your thinking when you feel surrounded by noise? This is a particularly relevant question in schools today. The noise can be external—car horns, fire engines, people screaming in the halls outside your classroom. It can be your own internal voices, dictating what to do, or passing judgment on your character. It can be a combination of the two, as when you spend hours on social media or listening to news where there’s more yelling and attacking going on than listening and understanding.

 

When you hear noise, you are not just hearing a sound you find unpleasant. You are hearing a sound with baggage. You are hearing dislike, resistance, or a threat. It’s difficult to think when there’s noise because noise is a signal that your thinking is impeded or you feel under attack. And what’s attacking you is not necessarily someone external to you, but internal. Something is demanding attention, but it’s not simply the sound….

 

To read the rest of this post, go to Mindful Teachers.

 

The Moment That Is Summer





Did you grow up with a longing for summer? Even if you have no connection, as an adult, to the education system, summer can remind you what it was like to be a child, the celebration of the end of the school year, warm weather, and vacations. And if you’re a teacher and don’t teach summer school or don’t have to work a second job (or maybe even if you do), or you’re a student, you can have free time once again.

 The longing for summer is, for me, a longing for renewal. This morning, I woke up early and went outside. Our home is in a small clearing surrounded by trees, flowering bushes and flowers. Two crows were screaming as they flew past. The shade from the trees was vibrant, cool and fresh, the colors sharp and clear. The light so alive it wrapped the moment in a mysterious intensity. Time slowed so deeply that once the crows quieted, the songs of the other birds and the sounds of the breeze just added to the silence.

 This is what I look forward to. Even now that I’m retired, I so enjoy summer. It doesn’t matter to me if it gets too hot and humid or if it rains (or if it doesn’t rain). This is it. I actually hear my own life speaking to me.

When I was teaching, summer was a time to fill up with life outside my classroom. A big desire was to visit beautiful places, to see an ocean, a mountain, or forest. I meditated every day. I also took classes or read books about whatever interested me, or whatever would reveal something new about the world that my students and I faced, whether it was politics, quantum physics, writing, mindfulness, neuroscience, philosophy, history, or the martial arts. I wanted to learn something meaningful and feel like a child again, and a student—open, fresh, playful. We all need this, so we can renew our ability to see beauty even in winter; so even when there is too much to door the world feels too dark to face, we can know moments of freshness and quiet exist. Not just as memories but reminders. Renewal can happen at any time. You can let go. Time can dissolve into silence. …

 

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

The Aim of T and the GOP Is Not To Win An Election, But End Elections; Not To Foster Democracy, But End It.





A democracy is a government where the ultimate power belongs to the people of the nation (demos is Greek for people). It is the will of the people that should guide decisions. The views and lives of the great majority of people, their education, livelihood, health and security must be valued. Since the will of the people is paramount and must guide decision-making, relationships amongst the people must be carefully fostered. Compassion must be fostered.

 

Yet, what is the reality of T’s GOP? Kevin Baker, in a recent article in the New Republic, describes what almost everyone who pays attention has observed: our politics has become open warfare, with the aim being not to serve the people but to make sure the other party never again comes to power. It is to seize power and keep it, by any means. That includes lying and distorting the truth, attacking the institutions that keep us safe, undermining voting, civil and legal rights, enormous corruption, and even colluding with the dictator of a foreign and hostile government.

 

Our government was deliberately structured to prevent a return to power of a monarchy or one-man rule. Three branches of government were established by the constitution in order to have checks on power. Today, we have a one party government; one party controls all three branches of the government. Since the party is led and controlled by one individual, we have a government controlled largely by one individual.

 

A government of a small group is an oligarchy. A government by a class is an aristocracy. A government by one legally prescribed hereditary ruler is a monarchy. A government wherein one person takes power and/or eliminates his or her opposition is a tyranny. A kleptocracy is a government of corrupt rulers who use their power to exploit the people and the nation’s resources in order to extend and keep their own personal wealth and power. Which kind of government do we have now?

 

A democracy requires that laws rule and must protect the people as a whole, not serve the interests of any one person or small group of persons. Yet, T asks the department of justice to protect and serve him, not the law. He tries to undermine investigations by his own DOJ and attacks the FBI.

 

According to a great body of evidence, T and several people from his campaign and administration, including his own son, son-in-law, campaign manager, etc. colluded with a foreign dictator to undermine US elections. And he has largely refused to protect our own election infrastructure.

 

A democracy needs the participation of the people. Yet the GOP undermines voting rights. T encourages hate instead of compassion, calls immigrants whores, criminals, and animals. He rips children from their parents as a deterrent for immigration. He divides the nation and whips up hatred against these fellow humans, despite the fact that immigrants, even undocumented immigrants, are less likely to commit a crime than those citizens born in this country.

 

He not only whips up hatred against immigrants, but against anyone who opposes him, even from his own party. He viciously attacked, in the past and even just recently, John McCain. He insulted and/or or threatened Senator Lisa Murkowski, Jeff Flake, and others for going against his wishes. Certainly, he attacks Democrats and the press almost daily.

 

To make political decisions that actually solve problems and improve the well-being of the people, a democracy needs educated people. It needs to support and promote the dissemination of scientific discoveries and information. This administration attacks education, both in public K-12 schools and universities, and has blocked access to scientific data.

 

This administration shows a profound disregard, even contempt, for health care for a great number of citizens, and has consistently advanced policies that most Americans oppose, creating pressures that cause insurance rates to rise and undermining protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

 

It has attacked supports for the poor, like Medicaid, and programs that all Americans contribute to as insurance for when they are older or retired, like Medicare and Social Security—and they do this in order to protect tax cuts to the super rich who don’t need more wealth.

 

When a very small group of people get a large percentage of the nation’s wealth and income, a democracy of, by and for the people becomes impossible. According to the Congressional Budget Office, between 1979 and 2007, the income for the top 1% in the US has grown by 275%. Since last year’s GOP tax cut, income inequality is growing even more. Instead of one person one vote, and freedom of speech for all, we have one person’s voice drowning out millions of other voices.

 

Hate destabilizes a nation. When we hate, we feel hated in return. We then strike out. Anger boils up with the least provocation. Increasing numbers of us experience a deep sense of dread or anxiety. The number of children suffering from anxiety has been greatly increasing. Increasing numbers of people can’t tolerate hearing the news.

 

We have to be careful not to become what we oppose. One of the worst results of this administration is that too many have begun to doubt the efficacy and strength of kindness. There is so much to be angry about that we can forget the deleterious effects of anger. We mistake actually listening to others for weakness.

 

The aim of this administration might be to end democracy, but they haven’t succeeded, yet. And we can’t let them. Anyone who wants a real democracy, who has compassion for other humans and believes in the rule of laws, not rule by a few powerful individuals, must do what we can to make opposing the policies of this administration a normal part of our day. Must make activities to keep us sane and compassionate part of our day. This is our only viable option if we wish to uphold our humanity.

When You’re Feeling Stressed and Out of Time





At the end of anything, whether it be the school year, a vacation, a meditation, a relationship, we need to do the best we can to let it end. Part of the reason accepting the end is so hard is that we never fully begin. There are still things we feel not done. The end can arrive mysteriously because we never fully grasped or embraced the beginning.

 

For many years, when I was a teacher and May rolled around, the end of the school year would feel like a surprise. What once seemed like a tremendous length of time was now almost gone. Earlier in the year, I had to think carefully about what to do to fill each class period. Now, there was too much to do and not enough time to do it all. Maybe part of me just did not want to let go. The once lengthy year was over too quickly.

 

I remember vacations I did not want to ever end, or conversations, concerts, a sunset over the Caldera in Santorini, Greece.  I felt this moment might never come again and I wanted to hold on tightly. Or I felt I had missed something or I preferred where I was to where I was going next. I thought of the place or action or person as responsible for my state of mind and so to let go of it was to lose part of who I was.

 

When you feel the crunch of time or the weight of responsibility, take it as an opportunity to learn how to face a challenge and assert your ability.The calmer you are and the clearer your thinking, the more you can do.

 

If you’re a teacher, realize students are feeling every bit as strapped for time, stressed, maybe anxious, as you. If you’re a student, realize teachers, although more experienced, might feel a stress similar to your own. When you open up to others, you open to yourself.

 

It is so easy to get lost in worries. Worry, stress, anxiety are forms of feeling threatened. The end of the year can give all the thoughts and concerns that you didn’t deal with over the year or didn’t deal with as well as you hoped, the stimulus they need to burst into the open and be revived.

 

To reduce the stressful feeling, if you’re a teacher, besides being very clear with students about what is due when, and helping them figure out how long different assignments might take to complete, talk about stress levels and anxiety. Talk about planning and how taking action is one way to lessen anxiety.

 

It is not just deadlines that cause stress, but how you think about them. You knew for months about most of the work you now face. The end of the year brings up the end of anything, or everything. You feel judgment day is almost upon you and the power of judgment is in someone else’s hands, not your own. You feel threatened or you feel the image you have of yourself is threatened.

 

You might feel not only less capable but more constricted, and so no longer do the things that normally allow you to let go of tension. You feel anxious because you have lost touch with your own depth and want it back. You have narrowed your sense of who you are to who you fear you are, or to how you fear others might see you.

 

But take a moment to breathe in and think about this. To know an image is not right, you must have a notion of what is right. Without a deep sense that there is so much more to you, you can’t recognize how this feared image is a diminished one. So, instead of believing judgmental thoughts, question them. Teachers, remind students, and students, remind yourselves, of your own depths.

 

To counter feeling time-poor, slow down. Give yourself a few moments each day to close your eyes and breathe calmly, mindfully, or look at something beautiful, or exercise with intensity. By giving yourself time, you feel time-rich, that you have time to give. You feel more in control.

 

Practice noticing stressful sensations as soon as they arise. Close your eyes partly or fully and take a breath in; then let the breath out. When you inhale, notice what you feel. Where do you feel stress? Anxiety? Just notice it.Then exhale and feel your body relaxing, letting go of the breath, letting go of any tension.

 

Noticing the stressful sensations as soon as they arise, and switching your attention from the story you tell yourself about stress to your physical act of breathing, can interrupt the stress response and interrupt fear. You feel your life is more your own. You feel more capable and alive.You feel present. You begin each moment fully so you end fully.