Five Ways to Begin the School Year with Mindfulness and Compassion

For every teacher I know, the end of summer vacation means rising nervous energy, anxiety and excitement. It means getting ready to begin a new experience, with new students and sometimes a new curriculum.

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

  1. Meet Each Moment Mindfully

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. Start with understanding what beginning the school year means to you and what you need. Then you can better understand what your students need.

Many of us plan our classes so tightly that the realm of what is possible is reduced to what is safe and already known. It’s not truly a beginning if you emotionally make believe that you’ve already done it.

Take time daily to strengthen your awareness of your own mental and emotional state.

If you arrive at school energized but anxious, get out of your car, stop, look at the building and trees around you, and take a few breaths. Then you’ll be in your body, present in the moment—not caught up in your thoughts. After greeting yourself, you’ll be 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 the whole post, go to MindfulTeachers.org.

 

A somewhat different blog for a general audience on the same subject was published last August by The Good Men Project.

Renewing Your Love for Teaching: The Moment That Is Summer

Did you grow up with a longing for summer? Summer can remind us what it was like to be a child ⎼celebrating the end of the school year, of warm weather, and vacations. And if we don’t teach summer school or don’t have to work a second job (or maybe even if we do), we 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 was 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 can actually hear my own life speaking to me.

Techniques for Renewal and Re-energizing

When I was teaching, summer was a time not only to relax but to challenge myself in new ways. I would:

*Visit beautiful places ⎼to see an ocean, a mountain, or forest.

*Practice mindfulness every day.

*Take a class and 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 wantedto learn something meaningful and feel like a kid again, and a student—open, fresh, playful.

We all need this, so we can renew our abilitytosee beauty even in winter; so even when there is too much to door the world feels too dark to face, we know moments of freshness and quiet exist. Not just as memories but reminders that renewal can happen at any time. You can let go. Time can dissolve into silence. Change happens all the time.

 

To read the whole piece, please go to MindfulTeachers.org.

Listen for the Earth Breathing: How About A Moment of Calm and Clarity?

In these times of great fear and anger over the inhumanity and chaos in our political system, we need to find some sort of calm and clarity inside ourselves or we’d want to turn away from the news or go nuts. If we don’t find some sort of clarity, how could we have any idea of what political or social actions to take? How could we help anyone else in need if we can’t help ourselves? So one thing I do is meditate, and treat myself and others as kindly as I can. If I can do nothing else, at least I can do that.

 

Close your eyes, take a comfortable breath, and simply listen. Many of us do this too infrequently. We don’t give ourselves a break to listen deeply to other people, to our own inner voice, or to the earth breathing. So give yourself a break. Give yourself this one moment. And listen for the earth breathing. Can you hear it?

 

Maybe it’s summer and a cool wind breathes in and out, cooling the day. Sometimes, it is a deep breath. Sometimes it’s very shallow. Sometimes, you can’t hear or feel it and you wonder if the earth is alive at all.

 

Then you hear bird calls, especially in the morning and at dusk. And bees and maybe other flying creatures…..

 

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

How Do We Better Understand the Monkey Mind? ⎼ Thoughts of Mysterious Dogs, Garage Bands, and Arguing Cooks

Last week, I signed up to take a class in a subject that greatly interested me. But today, as the day of the class drew near, the thought went through my mind, “Why did you sign up for this?” The class would demand considerable attention and necessitate driving to a near-by city. I chose to take this class; there was no force or compulsion involved, just a desire to learn. Yet, suddenly, I was “at two minds” about it.

 

Our minds can be so bizarre. Sometimes, thoughts, images, or feelings that seem to have nothing to do with me can appear in my mind and dance around inside me, act out some drama, and then disappear.

 

Some thoughts I can understand, like thinking about a project I am working on or a past event that concerned me or trying to understand a painful sensation in my body. But I’ve also had images of mysterious dogs walk through my mind. I’ve walked in space, seen stones levitate, watched people I don’t know argue about what to cook for dessert ⎼ all produced by my imagination in the theatre of my mind. This morning as I woke up, an image of a garage band popped into mind, and I don’t have either a garage or any inclination to play music.

 

Buddhists talk about “monkey mind” or how the mind leaps about like a monkey in the trees. This monkey or where he comes from is a mystery we all partake in.

 

We could enjoy all this creative drama except sometimes thoughts hurt or confuse us. We feel hurt by thoughts about people disliking us or we imagine others condemning us for not saying hello or missing a friend’s birthday. Or we condemn ourselves for not being brave enough to take a political action or falling asleep while meditating.

 

It would be great if we could just ignore such thoughts, (and sometimes we need to do so) but it’s not so easy. And a thought ignored can grow in size and fearsomeness by the energy of denial. Just like when we are confronted with a monster in our dreams, if we run away the monster grows in size and chases us. But if we look straight at it and hold our ground, the monster changes into something smaller in size, more familiar, and it slinks away.

 

And there are times that the actors in these wandering side shows in our mind actually have important truths to share with us, if we can take the time to listen clearly.

 

So, how do we understand and deal with thoughts that just pop into our heads?

 

Knowing Ourselves Directly with Mindfulness

 

Mindfulness is one such method for dealing with our thoughts. It is a moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, sensations, and the world around us. We develop it through different daily practices. Such practices provide a methodology and curriculum for educating ourselves about the workings of our own mind and of how we relate to the world.

 

For example, sit up comfortably, close your eyes partly or fully, and turn your awareness to your breath or your hands resting in your lap. Gently notice how your body or your hands feel as you breathe in and then breathe out. If any thoughts arise, notice them, then let them go as you return attention to the breath.

 

Only by calming our mind and hearing our thoughts or seeing the imagery coursing through our mind can we exercise some choice about what we do with them. We can then make the best out of our experiences and are more likely to be helpful to others and less likely to cause pain. And this also works in reverse ⎼ the more pain we cause others, the noisier our mind tends to be.

 

Our Theories and Beliefs About Ourselves Affect How Much of the World We Perceive

 

Our thoughts are part of the process of using language and imagination to integrate, organize and make sense of our experiences. We can learn more about this process by researching cognitive behavioral therapy, thought distortions, and common ways our brains bias perceptionand thinking. We can study Jungian psychology, particularly the shadow⎼ that part of ourselves that we hide away, reject, and instead of owning we project onto other people.

 

We can study the role the human brain played in our evolution, enabling us to survive even when confronted with other bigger and stronger species. Our thoughts and imagination give us the amazing power to see in our mind what doesn’t yet exist and hear symphonies not yet written.

 

Yet this amazing mental ability to imagine works of art and technology that don’t yet exist also allows us to imagine threats that don’t exist.  When our thoughts and images are misunderstood, they can take us in harmful directions. Psychologists talk about a negativity bias; we are too ready think of the world in negative terms and we do so in order to prepare ourselves to face any tough situation that might arise.

 

Another common bias that can make it difficult to perceive the harm that we do to ourselves and others is a confirmation bias. If we believe human beings are by nature untrustworthy, we are more likely to see evidence that confirms that bias and to ignore what might contradict it….

 

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

Feeling Stressed and Out of Time: Ending A School Year ⎼ Or Anything

For many years, when I was a teacher and the month of 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 only a few weeks long. Earlier in the year, I had to plan extensively to fill each class period. Now, there was too much to do and not enough time to do it. 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.

 

Understanding the passage of time and ending anything, whether it be the school or a calendar year, a project, a vacation, or a job can be difficult, painful ⎼or exciting. Just saying the word ‘ending’ can sound dramatic and consequential.

 

We might like what we are doing and not want to let it go.  We might resist what is new because it is threatening or scary or maybe something from the past is still calling us. Or it might be difficult to accept the end because we never fully grasped or embraced the beginning. To begin something new we need to let go of something old.

 

 

Compassion Can Transform the Energy of Stress into Helpful Action 

 

A school year or a work project is never just about the work. Relationships are formed. A community, maybe a family, is created. When the work is completed, the community ceases. This must be recognized, reflected upon, celebrated. The other people must be honored. After all, you came together, learned together, struggled through time and tasks together, and hopefully cared for each other. You pay a price if you forget this basic fact.

 

The fact of this community ending is part of the stress you feel. Some years, I created interactive final demonstrations for certain classes. For example, students had to discuss, in a small group, pre-selected essential questions related to the class subject matter and then answer follow-up questions posed by other teachers and university professors.  We did this at my home or at night at the school, so we did the work and then shared a meal. Years afterwards, former students have told me they remembered the event and had found it meaningful….

 

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

Tomorrow: Getting Ready to Act

On Thursday morning, Attorney General William Barr will release a redacted version or the Barr version of the Mueller Report. We know Barr is a T crony, so none of his statements or justifications for redactions can be taken as truthful or as meant to serve the overall interests of this nation. He is the general attorney for T, not the Attorney General for the American people.

 

This is illustrated by Barr’s first summary of the Mueller Report and his efforts to punish those who have opposed the President or have given evidence to Mueller.* For example, Barr has labeled the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of Carter Page’s contacts with Russians as “spying” and he is now investigating the Mueller investigation, particularly the FBI counterintelligence investigation that was at the genesis of the Russia probe.

 

In the meantime, T continues to act to undermine the rule of law. T even told Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan that if he violated the law by blocking asylum seekers from entering the US and was arrested, he, T, would pardon him. T recently repeated his old lies about Democrats being responsible for bad immigration laws and Obama being responsible for separating children from their parents at the border. He also threatened to release imprisoned immigrants into sanctuary cities in order to get back at Democrats.

 

He has also continued to act in the interest of Putin, and not the interest of our democracy, so much so that many think of him as a Russian agent. T has acted in Putin’s interests in so many ways, for example by not acting to secure our own electoral integrity after Russia hacked and shared Hillary’s emails and manipulated social media during the 2016 election. He has driven wedges between the US and our NATO allies. He has provided sanctions relief to Russian oligarchs, lowered the standing of the US in international affairs, failed to adequately staff and support the state department and other non-military agencies meant to protect our national security, etc.

 

So whether or not it can be proven in a courtroom that T has knowingly colluded or conspired with Putin to undermine our democracy, the effect is the same. Our democracy is being undermined, daily, by T. The interests of Putin, oligarchs, despots and the ultra-rich are being served, not the interests of the great majority of people. And whether or not T’s obstruction of justice could be proven in a court of law, he obstructs justice, publicly and repeatedly.

 

So what will we do? What will you do? The situation in this country is so frightening that many of us feel our level of anxiety continuing to rise. We feel afraid to hear the news but know we can’t let this new normal lead us to sit on the sidelines while our rights, freedoms and sense of shared humanity are destroyed.

 

Many of us feel we need a break, and we should take breaks, frequently, as this battle will continue until we elect a new President or this one is arrested and escorted out of office. We need to take walks in the woods, read books, exercise, meditate, and hang out with friends and family. But on Thursday, we must be ready to speak out and take action. Maybe the redacted report will provide some relevant information that we need to hear. Maybe. But even though Congress will not be in session, we can let our anger and disapproval of T’s actions be known.

 

*Update:

Just to confirm that Barr is acting in the role of Mr. T’s protector, or as T’s attorney, not the Attorney for the people of the US, it was announced just a few hours ago that:

*Barr will hold a news conference tomorrow at 9;30 am.

*According to The New York Times, the President or his attorneys have seen the report already and discussed it, repeatedly, with Barr, but Congress won’t see it until around 11:00 am or so, after the news conference. Mr. Barr can once again place himself between the report and the people, Congress, and the news media.

*This gives the President, as the person under investigation, the chance to rebut, minimize, distort, or bury the report before any of us can see it. This undermines the rule of law and destroys any confidence in the independence of the justice department.

*And this is happening right before Passover and the Easter weekend.

 

 

The Path to Meaning Runs Through Silence and Sincerity: The Quiet That Runs Deeper Than Any Story

I was getting ready for bed last night and suddenly the whole world became quiet. It was like someone suddenly turned off all the noise. I could still hear, but whatever I heard only reinforced the quiet inside me. I felt there was nothing else I had to do, no place other than here I had to be. This was it.

 

The quiet was so deep, whatever I looked at was endowed with tremendous meaning and feeling. Looking at Milo, the cat sleeping on the bed, and I noticed an inexplicable sense in myself of both vulnerability and joy.

 

We might read myths of beings with supernatural powers or places of archetypal beauty. We might read literature to learn how others live and to feel what life has to give us. But right here and now was a clear lesson for me in what life has to give.

 

Sometimes, I feel a barrier has been placed over my mind or body, like a glove. Or I try to speak to someone or read a book and the words I speak or read echo in my mind. Another me seems to be doing the hearing and I hear only second hand.

 

But other times, there is no barrier. The Buddha, in the Bahiya Sutta, spoke about mindfulness as being: “In the seen there is only the seen, in the heard, there is only the heard…” This is it, I think. What is heard is not separate from the hearer. Only afterwards do words come to mind, words to describe it all, about beauty, pain, joy or sincerity. Words can hint at or point the way, but the truth is the experience, not the words.

 

In college, I took a wonderful class taught by a philosopher named Frithjof Bergmann. He was German and, at one point in his life, an actor, and he often made his lectures dramatic events. One day he asked us what makes life meaningful. For the philosopher Nietzsche, he said, life gains meaning by giving it necessity, achievement or a personal goal. When the events of one’s life are organized like a work of art, to serve a purpose, life feels meaningful….

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

Getting Out of Your Story to Tell Your Story and Live Your Life

It’s Not What You Write or Say That’s Perfect. It’s the Whole Moment That Can Be Perfect

 

How often do you write something, think it is perfect, and then two minutes or two days later, you find all these points you missed or words with meanings you never noticed before? Or you do something and later regret it or realize you could have done it better? And you imagine other people noticing the same deficiencies you noticed, and because of what they notice they think of you as lacking in insight or vision or whatever. It is so difficult to see ourselves or our actions clearly. It is impossible to know all that we might wish we knew.

 

Writing is never done. There is an illusion or maybe a delusion that you can do something, create something, and if you feel it is perfect now then it will be perfect forever. How you perceive or think about it now will be how you will perceive it later. You think of the piece you just completed as having a character totally divorced from your character, as the reader.

 

I was recently listening to the NPR Ted Radio Hour and Daniel Gilbert, author and a professor of psychology at Harvard, talked about the “illusion of stasis.” You can reach a point in your life where you think you have arrived at the “end of history.” Most of the changes you will go through will have already happened. What you think now will largely be what you will think later.

 

But nothing is static or complete by itself, or perfect, except “in the eyes of the beholder.” You might feel that something you create is wonderful, especially if you did the best you could, at that particular moment in that particular place and maybe with those particular people. And it might be wonderful. But what is wonderful or perfect is the whole situation, not any one part of it.

 

When you write, if you focus just on the writing and forget the entire universe that contributed to that piece, you might get lost in what you are thinking about. You might get lost in the story you are telling. And later, when you realize what you had missed or how your view had changed, you might berate yourself for your shortsightedness. Let go of this judgmental thought and be kinder to yourself.

 

But if, for that moment, you have done your best. If, for that moment, you have lived, thought, loved, and been sincere ⎼If you have been real to yourself and not left thoughts unrecognized or important words unsaid, you will arrive, as fully as possible, in a new moment. You will recognize that because you did what you did in the past, you can now see even more, imagine even more, feel even more….

 

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

How Can We Determine What to do with Our Lives?

We just don’t know. We live surrounded by so many unknowns that if we think about it, we might never do anything. When we’re in high school or college, for example, we might not know what we’ll do after we graduate, or if we’ll get a good job. We might not even know what we want to happen. But in reality, that is the lesson. We don’t know. Yet we have to act nevertheless.

 

Some deal with this by selecting a theory, belief or desire for what will happen and treat it as a fact. We tell ourselves and anyone who will listen how we will do on the next exam or who will win the next election or baseball game. Facing something or someone you know is usually easier to do than facing the unknown, (think about driving your car in some place you don’t know without GPS or google maps) especially if the known is shaped in our favor. Thinking positively is helpful. It makes us feel stronger. If we are taking a test or going on a job interview, we are more likely to succeed if we feel we can succeed.

 

Some of us perpetually do the reverse. We fear failure so much we don’t even try to succeed. Or we try to win by labeling ourselves as losers before anyone else can do so.

 

But if we delude ourselves into thinking we know what we don’t, we close our mind. This might serve as a temporary comfort or rest from something that frightens or stresses us, which can be helpful. But if we pretend we are finished learning when we’re just beginning, then we stop learning.

 

After I graduated from college, I went into the Peace Corps. When I returned, I was a bit lost. I tried traveling, writing, acting, psychology, teaching and decided to get a MAT in teaching English. After graduate school and a few years in education, I got lost once again, and tried out a few more areas of interest, like the martial arts and meditation.

 

At that time in my life, it was difficult to separate fantasy and desire from legitimate paths to a career. It was difficult to face a fear of failure and fully commit to any possible job. For example, I made a far-out proposal to a university that they introduce a new class in their education program.  The class would teach theatre improvisation techniques to teachers, both to improve their skills and to use with students to teach course material. However, I never expected a reply to my proposal. But I got one. A Professor wrote to me. There was no job opening at the moment, but he would like to talk with me about my idea. Because he said there was no job opening, I never went to speak with him. Later, I realized that was a legitimate opportunity lost.

 

But emerging from each moment of being lost was a clarity about one thing: I wanted to do something meaningful, steady, and creative….

 

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

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.