Discovering A Depth in Ourselves Often Forgotten in this Crisis

Change can happen so quickly. Just a few days ago, we had snow and sleet⎼ in May! Spring flowers were covered by snow, broken by sleet, and blossoms were blown from the branches of cherry trees. Yet right now, it’s sunny and warm. All the snow is just a memory.

 

And even though it took a few months, it feels like it was just a few days before the pandemic changed everything. It is a storm that rages through our lives, but instead of ending in a day or two it continues on. And it is two storm fronts combined, COVID-19 ⎼ the fear of illness as well as the news of infections, deaths, jobs lost, schools closed⎼ as well as the DT administration and all the ills it brings us each day. But both of these, too, will end.

 

As a teenager, I remember many of us thinking being at school was preparing for life, not living it. We wanted “real life” to begin. Well, if real life hadn’t already begun for us, it is here now. This is it. Whatever we learned or studied, we have to use it now to help ourselves and others through this crisis.

 

Meditation or mindfulness has become the core structure of my day, along with greeting my wife and cats. I am so grateful to my teachers for showing me these practices. Each morning, I stretch, exercise, and meditate. When either fear or worry show up, I know I can let it go, or at least diminish it. Best of all, meditation provides a means to get quiet inside and study whatever occurs, so whatever occurs can teach me how to perceive with less projection or distortion, think more clearly, and grow stronger.

 

Due to the pandemic. I can’t go to the gym, so I’ve brought my workout home. I work out here more than ever, take more walks, do more breathing exercises and martial arts training.  And it’s not just more, it’s better. I have no other place to be, so I am here more thoroughly.

 

Writing stories, personal or persuasive essays or blogs, has been another way to learn about myself and feel more positive emotionally. It requires a combination of creativity, critical thinking, mystery-solving, and meditation. My first drafts are often journal entries or responses to an article or poem I read, a news program or podcast I listened to. I record an insight or something that intrigued me. Or I just write what I see around me or feel. And then I follow it up, do research, dive into the puzzle of my mind and write a full draft. And then take a breath. Sleep on it. Let it sit and percolate in my body and dreams….

 

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

When the World Speaks, Listen: When We Speak, Who Do We Imagine is Listening?

It’s the day after Earth Day. Snow ⎼ big, slow moving white flakes are falling onto red-winged black birds, blue jays, gold finches, robins and cardinals. And the snow weighs down the flowers in the yard breaking some of the stalks ⎼ yellow daffodils, blue squill, lavender crocus, hellebores ⎼ and it buries the new grass.

 

The bird calls grow stronger. Are they telling each other the location of seeds, warning of other birds or animals, or calling for a mate? Or maybe proclaiming “this branch is mine,” or the joy of eating and flying between snowflakes? They probably don’t yearn for any moment other than this one.

 

The trees, apple, cherry, and oak, seem unmoved, unbent by the cold or the snow load or even by the wind.

 

My wife and two of our cats sit with me on the bed inside the second-floor bedroom. The cats, not my wife and I, clean each other. Then they sleep. They wrap themselves so softly around each other, one’s head resting on the other’s belly, you could hardly tell where one ends and the other begins. Even after almost twelve years, I feel amazed by how these semi-wild creatures are so comfortable with each other and want to be with me.

 

And I am amazed, no, in awe maybe, joyous, that my wife is here with me. Despite all the craziness in much of the human world these days, we can create moments like this one. In between caring for our families, concern for the future or for our health, or shortages of supplies, we can sit with our cats, watch the snow fall, and listen for bird calls. We can cuddle, even without physically touching, just by giving to each other what the other most needs, giving support, acceptance, and warmth. It’s clear that she feels this moment strongly, like I do, but in her own unique way. She does a puzzle; I puzzle with these words.

 

In her book Evidence, Mary Oliver says:

 

   This world is not just a little thrill for the eyes.

 

   …It’s giving until the giving feels like receiving

 

Maybe that’s the key. To see that the world is not just something we observe at a distance but is as close as our own pulse. It includes so much more than the pandemic and political chaos. It includes not only the birds and flowers, cats and all of us people, not just the snow and the cold, but more than we know and all that we imagine. It shows us that giving deeply can be the most meaningful gift we give ourselves….

 

To read the whole piece, 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.

The Question We Ask Each Morning

The poet, Mary Oliver, wrote:

“Every morning

The world is created…

 

The heaped

ashes of the night

turn into leaves again

 

and fasten themselves to the high branches…”

 

It’s night and the world outside my window is so dark. There is no moon that I can see, and my house is surrounded by woods with no streetlights. But inside, I am lucky. There is another sort of light. My three cats sleep on the bed with me. Two are siblings. Tara, the female, sleeps with her head tucked in her brother’s belly. My wife is changing into sleep clothes.

 

Such trust is here, such vulnerability to each other, that I almost can’t believe it. We do more than keep each other company. We provide the most meaningful light. Together, we release the day and all tensions and questions. We let go of everything except for this moment that we share together. And with great extravagance, we will hopefully let go and sleep.

 

And in the morning… Even though it is still winter, and snow covers the ground, I am awakened early by bird calls. So many species of birds are calling at different volumes and qualities of sound that I feel the earth itself is speaking. Blue jays and crows cry the loudest. But there are also chickadees, woodpeckers, mourning doves, and cardinals. My wife is dressed. One cat is still sleeping. The other two are sitting by the picture window looking out. The light shines so brightly it almost hurts my eyes, until clouds pass overhead and dull it.

 

Each morning asks us the same question, whether we listen or not: what kind of world will we create today?…

 

To read the whole post, go to 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.

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.

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.

Befriending Yourself And Creating A Mindful Learning Community

One of the most valuable lessons a teacher can teach is how to be a friend to yourself and to others. You teach this when your classroom functions as a mindful learning community and when students cooperate in their own education. It needs to be taught both through modeling by the teacher as well as through designed lessons.

 

Before giving these practices to students, practice them yourself. They must be real to you in order for you to make them real to others. And then close your eyes and hold in your mind and heart an image of your students doing the exercise. Notice if you feel comfortable leading the students. If you feel discomfort, is it because you are not yet ready, or the students?

 

For too many of our children, unconditional love, and a sense of security and safety, are more of a yearning than a reality. They need to learn how to be kind, compassionate and non-judgmental to themselves so they can more easily show it to others, and the classroom provides a golden opportunity to practice this.

 

A Classroom Practice of Mindful Questioning and Inquiry

 

After you enter the classroom and greet students, you might ask:

 

What do you want from a friend? What does the word ‘friend’ mean to you? 

 

Then ask students if they would like to go deeper with this question. If they answer affirmatively, ask them to sit up comfortably and close their eyes partly or fully. Then:

 

Gently, place your attention on your breath. Breathe in, letting your body expand, be nourished by the air. Then breathe out, noticing what it’s like to let go of the air, tension, and settle down. Do that for another breath or two.

 

Then think of the word ‘Friend.’ What words describe for you what being a friend means or what marks a person as a true friend? What thoughts, images, feelings? Simply notice what arises and move on to the next word or breath.

 

Think of any books you’ve read or movies you’ve seen that describe a good friendship.What characters come to mind? What makes him or her a friend? How does one friend treat another?

 

Take one more breath and then return your attention to the classroom.

 

Write down what you heard or saw in your mind.

 

With the whole class, or in small groups, let students share what they feel comfortable sharing about the experience. List on the chalkboard the words that students say they associate with being a friend.

 

What marks someone as a friend? Did honesty come to you? Care? Stimulating conversation? Loyalty?

 

Loyalty can be a mixed bag. You don’t want yes-men or women. You don’t want fakes. Do you do want someone who values who you are, not who they want you to be? Do you want someone who will think of your well-being as being as important as their own?….

 

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