How to Stay Sane Together: When You Can’t Leave Home, Make Home A Place You Want to Be

When you see a spouse, friend, sibling, or child every day, how do you maintain and even deepen the relationship? When many of the usual distractions and schedule are interrupted and you are isolated together due to a crisis, how do you stay sane together? It is easy to think each day is the same or you feel cooped up ⎼ or all you think about is what you can’t do and not what you can.

 

In such a situation, it is even more important than usual to increase your moment by moment awareness and realize what you often miss out on, due to your schedule or way of thinking about the world. Do you usually rush through life, from one place to another? Do you often get lost in thoughts or worries? How regularly do you check in on your thoughts, feelings, level of focus or object of awareness? How do you feel right now?

 

Right now you can strengthen your ability to look more clearly and listen more deeply. Look around at the room you are in now. What is something right here that you don’t usually notice or didn’t notice until now? Look at the ceiling, bookshelves, feel the surface of the seat you are sitting on, your belly as you breathe in. Or go outside your house, look up and down the street. What is there that you never noticed before? Or imagine someone who never visited you before was walking towards you. What would she or he see, hear, smell?

 

Notice the quality of light outside. Is it dim or sharp? Is it different from yesterday? How? Or different now than a few minutes ago? How is the light different at 8:00 am versus 4:00 or 5 pm?

 

Look up at the sky. We usually look around us but not up. It is so vast up there, isn’t it? Are there clouds? How fast are they moving or are they so thick they don’t seem to move at all? Just take it in….

 

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

Mindful Practices to Use Throughout the Day, To Help Us Face the Coronavirus Crisis

We are, all of us, in a situation few of us, maybe none of us, have ever faced before. It is frightening, because of that newness and because it poses a threat to our health, the health of people we know and care about, and the schools and society that we know and care about.

But how we respond to it is extremely important. We can’t control the situation. But we can control how we respond.

If we take control, plan our days and our time and our actions, then we can feel more powerful. We can do something. We grow stronger.

And as teachers, we have a unique opportunity and responsibility not only to stay healthy, develop our own practice and maintain as clear a mind as we can, but help our students and their families do the same.

Due to the school closings throughout our nation and world, we may have more time on our hands and have to decide how we’ll use that time. Or we may be expected to continue ‘business as usual’ by suddenly coming up with ways to teach online.

When we wake up every morning, although we aren’t usually aware of it, we have a choice. Every morning we can choose how to greet the day.

We can decide what we must do or could do and the best time to do it. We can tie activities that are more unusual or difficult with things we already do, like waking up, going to sleep, and hopefully, eating meals. We can use the activities we do daily already as the basic structure to add the new to the old.

[Teachers, please note: As with any guided meditation or visualization, please try these practices yourself before sharing them with your students. Imagine how your students might respond and make adjustments to fit their needs and history.]

If You Want to Practice in the Morning

When you wake up, you might feel fresh and ready to go, or feel tired, lethargic, or stiff. In any case, your mind is probably clearer in the morning than later in the day. Your body also needs gentle stimulation and stretching. So, it’s one of the best times to do a little exercise and then a mindfulness practice.

 

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

We Are in the Fight of Our Lives: Reducing Anxiety with Political Action

I was reading Mark Salzman’s novel, The Laughing Sutra, and had an epiphany. Salzman is a martial artist and writer, best known for his memoir Iron and Silk, which was made into a major motion picture.

 

The novel is a comic fantasy-adventure, about the life of a young monk who decides to travel from rural China to the U. S. to recover a Buddhist sutra. His traveling companion is Colonel Sun, a modernized version of a figure from Chinese mythology, the rebellious monkey king and slayer of demons. At one point, Sun tells the monk a traditional story of martial arts strategy. A General named Tso was camped in a walled city with only a few men, waiting for reinforcements. His enemies surrounded the city and prepared a surprise attack. Tso, instead of running, opened wide the doors and sat there, enjoying himself having tea. When his enemies got to the gate, Tso invited them to enter and join him. Instead, fearing a trap, they ran.

 

We, those of us who value democracy, value neighbors caring for neighbors, who value public education, equality under the law, and freedom, are now surrounded by an army led by a General who finds all those values a threat. I have in the past resisted thinking of the situation as a war, with DT and his followers as an opposing army of hate, but I am questioning that resistance. How do we open wide the gates and make them run?

 

My reluctance to use the imagery of a war is partly due to the fact that I grew up in a loving family, in a world of privilege, white and middle class. Yet what is being revealed to me now is a world I didn’t think about before and refused to consider. It is too ugly. And if I think of his followers as enemy soldiers, I might dehumanize them, as they are being taught to do to me. To dehumanize them, I do the same to myself. So how can we win such a war without losing our humanity?

 

DT’s followers have been called a cult, but it is worse than that. His rallies are choreographed rituals designed to stimulate resentment, hate, and violence and to direct that hate so they would do his bidding, attack his enemies, and wipe out anyone or anything that diminishes his control. The rallies are not about saving Christianity, or the right to follow a religion, as much as being religious. They are meant to build not just any army but a religious one, one of unquestioning belief with DT as their savior. Thus, his followers do things like jam phone lines during the impeachment trial and the Iowa caucuses or threaten to shoot Democrats like Adam Schiff. Or they attack immigrants, Jews, Muslims, LGBTQ, or people of color. Or they might try to prevent his constitutional removal from office after a four (or eight) year reign….

 

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

My House is My Teacher: When We Feel A Deep Sense of Presence in A Moment of Our Life, Happiness Arises

For several years, my wife and I lived in our house and did little work on it aside from cleaning and basic maintenance. It seemed to go on almost by itself, keeping us warm and comfortable. Then, something major went wrong. We needed a new heating system and to fix the roof.

 

My wife started watching HGTV, the home building channel, and I joined her. We saw houses changed from rat traps to beautiful mansions in a few months and at relatively affordable prices. Once we watched such programs, everything in our house seemed in need of improvement.

 

We didn’t realize at first that these programs were basically long commercials created to make viewers dissatisfied with their homes, so they’d invest in new ones or renovations. All of a sudden, we were noticing things that “needed” to be fixed or updated. The ceiling was cracking, the kitchen didn’t have enough counter space, the deck was moldy, the living room was too dark, and the bathroom too small.

 

Before watching HGTV, the idea of an out-of-date kitchen or bathroom had never occurred to us. One minute, we thought of the house we lived in as a home, complete and satisfying. The next, it was deficient and lacking. Once we began to look through the lens of some image of perfection and think of our home or the world as needing to be fixed⎼ or we expected things to remain as they once were, new looking, young looking⎼ everything began to look old.

 

Then we actually undertook the needed major renovations, and we realized the prices on tv were shockingly low and timelines unbelievably short. The images of perfection were deceptive.

 

This experience pointed out that I could do the same thing with my life as a whole, or with myself, that we did with the house. Suddenly, I felt out of date. If I started thinking of my life in terms of characters in movies or tv, or myself in terms of how others appeared to live, I could get lost or feel lacking in some way. If at the gym I compared how many lifts I did to some of the bigger, younger men, or how long I did aerobics in comparison to other people, I would lose a sense of what my body was able to do and needed to do in that moment….

 

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

Lucid Dreaming and Breathing, to Reduce Pain and Clear the Mind

Last night around 3 am, I woke up due to pain in my upper chest. The pain was a weight pressing down on me. I didn’t know what was causing it, so there was also a little panic. I was sweating and my heart started beating faster. I thought about trying to just go back to sleep but realized the pain was too strong and my worry too present. I got out of bed, put on warmer clothing, grabbed a book, and went downstairs to sit in the recliner in the living room.

 

But I didn’t feel like turning on the light. I was too tired. So I just focused on breathing into my chest. I felt my body expand as I inhaled, and relax, settle down, as I exhaled. I focused on the sensations and let go of the thoughts.

 

And when I breathed in, the expansion of the chest decreased the pain. The pain was no longer one solid block. And I noticed it was not as continuous as I first thought it was; there were gaps. Sometimes, my hand would hurt instead. Or I could feel my back pressing comfortably against the chair, or my stomach expand and contract. My breathing got slower and calmer.

 

I went deeper into the pain and remembered similar ones from the past. I realized I could feel a restriction in my esophagus. It was not a heart attack causing the pain but probably acid reflux.

 

And then I fell asleep. But the sleep was unusual, and in spurts. I would wake up mentally, check in on myself, while my body was largely frozen and asleep. I couldn’t move my arms or legs. At first, I felt very vulnerable and scared, but then realized this inability to move was normal. Normal sleep is called paradoxical because you are unable to move your larger muscles, yet your mind, especially while dreaming, can be very active.

 

What was not normal was that I was mentally awake while being asleep. I could see one of our cats sleeping under the nightlight in front of me. Another one jumped off the couch and went to eat from his bowl. I could hear him but couldn’t move my head to see him. This state is called lucid dreaming. In some cultures and traditions, it is taught as part of meditation or healing. I entered this state rarely⎼ usually to change or escape from a dream I didn’t like. I decided I could wake up if I needed to do so.

 

And then I relaxed and fell asleep again, only to awaken a little later. And then I fell asleep for about three hours.

 

It might seem counter-intuitive to mentally go toward a pain instead of trying to immediately cut off all feeling. Certainly, pain can set the mind to screaming, so this is sometimes impossible to do. But to actually go toward the pain can signal to yourself you can relax, you can face the situation, and this can often decrease it and stop the mind from imagining threats that aren’t there.

 

Calming your mind can also allow you to feel and think clearly enough to gather the information the pain is sending you. You can then close your eyes and imagine taking a certain medication and discern if the feel of that pill would be helpful, or if drinking a certain tea or walking around or eating would increase or decrease it. Or whether you should call an ambulance or ask your partner or roommate to wake up and drive you to the emergency room. You could feel out different courses of action with more clarity.

 

However, the time to practice how to be calm in emergencies is now, when you are not experiencing one. Practicing closing your eyes partly or fully and taking 3 slower, deeper breaths when you notice you are angry or feel threatened is a good way to start. Or practicing mindfulness each day.

 

Of course, sometimes you immediately need that pill or ambulance. But how you respond to pain can either increase or decrease it. Simply allowing yourself to be aware and to be calm can not only reduce the pain, but clear the mind so you know better how to act.

 

This blog post was syndicated by the Good Men Project.

Teaching Mindfulness and Compassion Through Seasonal Moments

To understand the season, winter, spring, summer or fall, what must we do? What is a season? Understanding the seasons is not just a matter of looking at a calendar or being aware of what the weather was yesterday, and the week or month before that, or today.

 

It is not simply exploring the basic science: The earth rotates, causing day and night. And it is tilted on an axis, so it follows a path around the sun. In summer one half of the earth faces the sun more directly so it gets the light from the sun more intensely and for a longer period of the day. The other half experiences winter, as it is turned away from the sun.

 

To understand what the seasons mean to us, we utilize memories of past years, and past moments. We become aware of how everything is constantly changing. That life itself is change. One minute is different than the last.

 

And we must be aware how we, also, change. Not just our moods, sensations and thoughts, but how we feel as the earth changes.  We and the earth change together, although maybe not in the same way or at the same pace. Because the earth moves around the sun and is tilted at a certain angle, we experience sensations of cold or warmth. We become aware of what it feels like to be alive on this earth in this particular moment.* We become aware that to understand the seasons we must understand the being who is doing the studying, namely ourselves.

 

And one way to generate compassion for other humans is to imagine how people throughout history have tried to live a seasonal moment similar to this one. Here are two seasonal mindfulness practices. As with any guided meditation or visualization, please try these practices yourself before sharing them with your students. Make adjustments to fit their needs and history.

 

Winter

 

You might ask students: What purposes, ecologically and psychologically, might the seasons serve?  In the fall, when you see the first snowfall, what do you feel?

In November, when we set the clocks back, what do you feel?

 

I know some people love the snow and look forward to winter. When I was still working as a teacher, I remember the joy that filled the school with the first snowfall. Students could barely focus on the academic lesson when Mother Nature had a deeper lesson in store for us. They would rush to the window and look out with wonder. Each snow was the only snow they had seen, ever, so beautiful and exciting.

 

Yet, for others, winter is a turning in. We cuddle within an extra blanket of clothing to find something kinder than the chill we get from fear and doubt. We wonder if the warmth will ever return. Will the earth ever bear fruit again? Will the dark continue to dominate the light?…

 

*The Dharma of Dragons and Daemons, by David Loy, can be extremely helpful for developing lessons using modern fantasy literature and films to teach lessons about time, nonviolence, and engaging in the world.

 

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

 

Embracing Winter: And the Dread that Spring Will Never Return

I am looking out my second story bedroom window into the old orchard that surrounds the house and is being covered in snow. The snow makes the wind visible in constantly shifting currents. One minute, the whole earth seems to pause as if it was taking a breath in. The frozen wind disappears. And then, it breathes out and the frozen fury appears.

 

In November, when we set the clocks back, I felt a sense of trepidation, a fear of the approaching winter and of what it might bring with it. This year might bring more fear than most, due to the unstable political climate. Now, it’s almost the solstice and the holidays. Winter is clearly here, despite the calendar date. Snow covers the ground. It’s cold and the nights are longer and the daylight disappears faster each day.

 

I know some people love the snow and look forward to winter. When I was still working as a teacher, I remember the joy that filled the school with the first snowfall. Students could barely focus on the academic lesson when Mother Nature had a deeper lesson in store for us. They would rush to the window and look out with wonder. Each snow was the only snow they had seen, ever. The first snow, beautiful and exciting.

 

Yet, for others, winter is a turning in. We cuddle within a new skin or shell, not only of warm clothing, but of doubt. We wonder if the warmth will ever return. Will the earth ever bear fruit again? Will the dark continue to dominate the light?

 

And probably ever since there have been human beings, ever since there has been life on this planet, this dread has been experienced. Not only due to snow⎼ or ice-covered orchards and roads ⎼ but the earth itself turning within.

 

Somehow, we need to embrace rather than turn away from this challenging time, and appreciate this snow fall, the light reflected off snow drops, even the feel of being cuddled by warm clothing. The felt need to get to work, school or wherever can create a conflict within, set us at war with ourselves, and make it difficult to embrace this time. So, we need to be aware of our own warmth. …

 

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

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.