What You Model, You Teach: The World Is A Miraculous Place, If Only We Can Imagine and Act to Make It So

One of the most important lessons a good teacher teaches, beyond the subject matter, is how to live a moment or a year of moments. On the first day of classes, you teach how to meet new people, how to start an endeavor, how to imagine what might be and yet be open to whatever comes. On the last day of classes, you model how to end something and how to say goodbye.

You model how to face freaky spring weather in winter and winter weather in the spring. How to face a test, sickness or other challenges. To share insights, listen to the insights of others, think deeply about questions raised, and fears and joys expressed. How to face evil with insight and violence with clarity.

In this way you create a community and you model the most important lessons one person can give to another. You model with your very life that a loving, caring community is possible and, thusly, create the seeds for a more loving and sustainable future.  Without such a model, it is nearly impossible for a young person to imagine that such a community, or relationship, is possible.

You think of teaching not as a job, not even an avocation, but just what you are doing, now, with your life. You think of each moment as an opportunity to learn, to expand your sense of self, to see others in you and you in others. All of us, in this world that we share, need this sort of gift daily.

Starting the School Day

So, before you enter the classroom, or maybe before you enter the school building, stop in a safe location, maybe near a tree or a place with a pleasing view, close your eyes, and take 2 deep breaths. You might then pick one area of your body to focus on ⎼ the area around your eyes or mouth, your shoulders or belly ⎼ and simply feel how the area expands as you breathe in, and relaxes, settles down as you breathe out.

You might imagine yourself in the classroom ⎼ calm, ready to listen to your students, emotionally strong. Then bring to mind your students. Imagine how they walk, stand, enter the classroom. If you feel tension with anyone, bring him or her to mind. Imagine how they might feel, and that they feel and think, in a manner similar to, yet different from, your own. Hold them in your heart for a moment.

Then take another breath in and out. Open your eyes and look around you, noticing how you feel….

 

To read the whole post, please go to Education That Inspires.

5 Improvisational Mindfulness Activities for Academic Classes

One way to increase student engagement and decrease anxiety in the classroom is to combine mindfulness and improvisation theatre exercises to teach subject matter. Improvisation develops a sense of trust in self and others, as well as whole body thinking and awareness. It is also fun.

 

Improvisational mindfulness activities can be used in most academic subjects. Personally, I have used them in English, Social Studies and Social Science classes. My colleagues have used them to teach foreign languages. They can also be used by teachers trainers to show how to present material in a lively way, relate compassionately with students, and face challenging situations with empathy and clarity.

 

For example, In English classes, improvisation can be used to examine a character in a novel, develop a plot for a short story, or explore the meaning of an essay. In history or social studies classes, it can be used to develop empathy and in-depth understanding of an event in history or explore the meaning of concepts like freedom, compassion, nationalism or the need for equal rights for all. In any class, it can be used to encourage class participation or to assess student understanding. For example, in a class on psychological literature, I asked students to take turns playing the main 3 characters in the novel Ordinary People in an imagined family therapy session. The school counselor played the therapist, and I observed the session and took notes on how the students’ words and gestures showed how well they understood and embodied their character.

 

A Few Games and Exercises: Before you introduce any of these activities to your students, practice the technique yourself several times and imagine how each of your students will respond. You may need to modify in order to better suit your students and your context.

 

  1. Mirroring: Mirroring can be a wonderful way for students to develop a subliminal understanding of and ability to harmonize with others as well as a way to pick up on body messaging. (See my book, Compassionate Critical Thinking, page 63.)
    1. If you have space or can move tables out of the way, ask students to stand up and pick a partner or assign partners.
    2. Have the pairs stand with feet shoulder width apart, facing each other, hands up and open, slightly in front, with hands facing those of their partner.
    3. Imagine that the surface of the mirror is halfway between you. Pick one of you to be the leader, the other mirrors. Move slowly, without breaking eye contact or breaking the mirror. An example of breaking the mirror would be if the leader’s right hand goes outward, toward her partner and past the partner’s left hand.
    4. After a few minutes, have them switch who leads. After a minute or two, before they tire, switch again⎼ and then again. After switching two or three times, of shorter and shorter intervals, tell them to move with no leader.
    5. After a minute or so with no leader, ask them to stop and close their eyes. Lead them in a body scan or an exercise in mindfulness of feeling and sensation .
    6. Have them thank and share their reactions with their partner.
    7. Ask the whole class how difficult it was to follow their partner without losing eye contact and if they were able to move freely without a leader.  Discuss the importance of being able to move with awareness in tune with others.
  2. Exploring images: Show the class a photograph of a group of people in a social situation (or in a social studies class, a historical event) who are discussing, arguing, celebrating, or having some other type of interaction. Then ask the class to intuit what is going on and why. …

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

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.