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.

 

#Me-Too Can Awaken Us to the Humanity of Others

We need a better education, in this country, in how to face our own inner reality, to know ourselves with honesty, and to know the role other people and our world play in knowing ourselves.  For example, we might grow up thinking our happiness lies primarily with what we own or how much money we have, so we are never satisfied with what we have. Or we think true power results from control over others, so we never feel in control of ourselves. We look externally to satisfy what requires us to look internally.

 

I hope I’m not simply projecting, but I think #Me-Too is now being taken by more men I know not as an attack on them, but as a way of waking us up to the reality of the women we relate to. By awakening to the reality of others, we wake to the reality of ourselves. As long as we men see women primarily in terms of our own needs and projections, we will always be dissatisfied with our relationships with women. As long as we try to feel strong, or create a secure, satisfying relationship by controlling our partner, whomever she or he is, we will never feel strong, secure or satisfied.

 

As long as we think of those we love, instead of our own inner emotional nature, is the source of our love and excitement, we will always feel somewhat controlled by the other, and powerless. And some kind of dissatisfaction, even resentment or anger, will develop and undermine our loving….

 

We might think that by destroying the power of others we increase our own power. But by doing so we develop an addiction. We think we are so weak that we can only feel powerful when others are powerless. We grow dependent on weakness. So we need stronger and stronger hits of the drug of weakness and delusion. We grow more and more incapable of looking at the world directly or clearly….

 

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

Kindness Allows Us to Breathe in Life More Deeply: A Meditation on Kindness

Imagine kindness spreading across a room, a stadium or a city. One person influencing those around him or her until everyone joins in.

 

So often in our lives, we are pressured to blindly follow what others do. I usually try to resist just going along with how others go along or being swept up by other people’s emotions or ideas. But I would gladly join a bandwagon of kindness. Kindness is actually a cure for blindness. It wakes us up, so we actually see who we’re standing with and what we’re doing. This is the essence of kindness.

 

Kindness is the brother of joy, the sister of compassion, the father of insight, and the mother of transformation.

 

Acting with kindness can be one of the simplest of things to do. It can be like breathing. We breathe every moment. In fact, breathing is one aspect of ourselves that we can never do without. But being aware of our breath can take practice.

 

Many of us don’t breathe fully and deeply. We don’t realize that when our breath is calm, it is a friend who teaches us to be open and friendly. Or when it gets too rapid, it can dim our vision so we see others as enemies.

 

Likewise, when we act without kindness, we pay an unbelievable price. Just take a moment to remember what it feels like when we act out of fear, anger, hate, or greed. Or what thoughts or images rage in our mind. Our breath becomes tense and rushed. We erect a wall around ourselves built out of suspicion and muscular tension…

 

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.

Exploring Our Humanity with Mindfulness: What Our Bodies Can Teach us

How can we, as teachers, use mindfulness, visualization and inquiry practices to study history and what it means to be human? One way is to look clearly at our own body and the way our mind works. We often overlook the obvious. We are our own most direct example of what it means to be human. And what could be more important in this time of high anxiety and threat than a better understanding of our shared humanity and ourselves?

 

Ask students: Did you ever consider that inside yourself might lie answers to some of the deepest questions about human history and what it means to be a human being?

 

Standing Practice:

 

Ask students to stand up from their chairs and stretch. Raise their hands over their heads, rise up on their toes and reach up to the sky. Then drop their heels and stretch to one side and the other without getting too close to their neighbor.

 

Say to them: Now stand with your feet about shoulder width apart, hands resting comfortably at your sides, eyes partly or fully closed. Put your focus on your breath. Feel how your body breathes in, and then out.

 

Put your attention on the area around your eyes and feel what happens there as you breathe in. Do you feel a slight expansion in the area as you breathe in? Then breathe out, and feel how that area breathes out. You might feel a release of tension, a settling down. You can feel the same in your jaw as you inhale, and exhale.

 

Then put your attention on your shoulders as you breathe in. Do you feel your shoulders expand as you breathe in? And as you exhale, feel how they contract, pushes air up and out.

 

Then put your attention on your hands. They, too, breathe. As you breathe in, feel your hands expand with the in breath—and let go, settle down with the outbreath.

 

As you breathe in, feel the air with your whole body. Feel the space around you, in front, behind, at your sides. And as you breathe out, just allow your attention to take in how it feels to stand there, strong, relaxed, and attentive.

 

What does standing upright like this enable you to do? Dogs or cats are amazing beings. They can leap, twist, and run for a short distance faster that you. They can smell and hear better than you. But not see better, not see over the grass or tables as well as you. A dog or cat uses their paws to run. But by standing upright, you can walk for long distances and free your hands for other activities. What else does standing enable you to do? What are the limitations of standing?

 

Now slowly breathe in. And as you exhale, open your eyes and come back to the room, noticing how you feel.

 

Sitting Mindfulness, Visualization and Other Inquiry Practices:

 

Choose and combine practices from those that follow, which fit your course material, age and interests of students. Have students sit up comfortably, breathe calmly, and close their eyes partly or fully. Then ask them to:

 

*Rest your hands comfortably on your lap or desk in front of you. Feel how your hands feel resting where they are. Move your fingers and feel their dexterity and strength. How many species are there that can do that? How are your hands different than a paw, your fingers different from a claw?…

 

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

 

Being Patient Even With Impatience: Developing Patience and Personal Strength

I remember a conversation I had with a student when I was teaching high school. I think I said something like “you have to be more patient.” And the student responded, “Why should I be patient? I want what I want now.” I probably had the same thought when I was a teenager.

 

Why be patient? With political and social issues, what does patience even mean? This is an important question today, as there is so much that needs to be challenged and changed. Does patience mean you should let racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, greed, etc. continue as it is? If so, I think patience is misunderstood. How is patience helpful when you can’t get what you think you need or can’t understand a situation, another person, or yourself?

 

The root of patience is the Latin ‘pati’ meaning ‘suffering.’ Patience is the ability to endure adversity, discomfort, stress and even pain. In any life, if you want to do something challenging, you will face stress and adversity. If you can’t face this, how deep a life can you have?

 

Here is a practice of mindful inquiry into what patience means to you:

 

Take a moment to close your eyes partly or fully. And just hear whatever arises in your mind, or feel whatever feelings or sensations come to you. Then say the word ‘patience’ to yourself. Say it again. What feelings, thoughts, and memories come to you? Just notice them. You need do nothing else but notice.

 

What does the word mean to you? What purposes does patience serve? And how often do you feel it? When don’t you feel it?

 

Do you get impatient when something is happening that gets in the way of what you want to happen? Or gets in the way of your image of how things should be?

 

Simply sit for a moment with the feeling of patience, that you can face what you need to face.

 

Then take a deep breath and return your attention to where you are seated.

 

What goes on in you when you’re impatient? When you’re impatient, you might feel you can’t wait for something to happen or something to end. You feel a contradiction between what you are looking at and what you want or imagine should be true. You are uncomfortable or dissatisfied with the now. But the impatience is not just about the contradiction. It is about feeling that if it isn’t true now, it might never be true. …

 

To read the whole post, click on this link to The Good Men Project.

My Call Home

I celebrated my 19thbirthday in London. It was May 1966, the end of my freshman year at the University of Michigan. The end of the first year I had lived on my own, away from my family, friends and the lifestyle I had grown up with.

 

But I needed to go even further away. I bought a ticket on a flight chartered by the university, which left on May 15th, the day before my birthday. I didn’t have much money and had almost nothing planned, just a general idea of a route to follow, from London to Amsterdam, north to Denmark and Sweden. Then a flight south to Italy, hitchhike through southern France to Spain, and then back to France for a return flight from Paris. Almost four months of traveling with no travel partner, not even a room reserved to stay in while in London.

 

The world was different back then. Despite the assassination of President Kennedy almost three years earlier, the war in Vietnam and the burgeoning opposition to it, the civil rights and other movements, the culture and U. S. government seemed a little more stable then than it does now. The sense that something was off, or wrong, that big changes were needed both nationally and personally, was growing in so many of us, but we hadn’t yet realized what the growing pains meant.

 

All I knew was that my life felt set, predetermined by family and culture. It was a clear and linear progression from public school, to university, career and family, then old age and death. Death and vulnerability were walled away in time. Maybe today, in 2018, many students would be happy to feel their lives secure in such a progression, but all I wanted to do was break it. I wanted to feel free and to see the world outside the little space I already knew….

 

To read the whole story, please click on this link to Heart and Humanity magazine.

**The photo is of me with my brother and mother, in Ann Arbor, at the end of August, 1966, after returning from this trip. I didn’t hitch-hike with the duffel bag.

 

Relieving Student Apathy: Apathy Is A Symptom of Greater Societal Problems

Recently, I read a discussion on a FB page for educators and social action (the Bad Ass Teachers) that hit home for me. The discussion was about the omnipresence of student apathy and the expectation that teachers were responsible for entertaining and freeing students from this curse. I remembered this exact feeling from 20-30 years ago. Not only did I have to shape lessons to fit a wide variety of student ability levels and interests. I felt I had to be as clever and exciting as the tv or movies they were used to watching. (There were no or few cell phones then.)

The situation has become even worse today. One teacher-author, who had written a post about the situation, spoke about teachers being expected to “be all things to all people” and students have become “consumer learners.” She described a workshop where she was encouraged to design her teaching to be like a video game. How else could she expect to hold student attention? She questioned if a video game is the best model for how to shape a lesson. 

Teachers face a long list of problems every day the corporate and media attacks on public education, the detrimental effects of standardized testing, the tremendous inequality in school resources and funding, the poverty, homelessness and increasing anxiety and depressionexperienced both by young people and adults, etc..  And, of course, let’s add the addiction to drugs or digital devices. But should we also add apathy to this list?

Student apathy is not the main problem. It is but a symptom of all the problems listed above all of which can reach deeply into a child’s psyche. Many students can’t find the motivation to engage in their own education because they can’t find themselves. They don’t see themselves in their own lives or are afraid, or too traumatized, to do so.

They have been taught to think their emotions come from someone or somewhere else, not themselves. When they feel anger, they think the object of the anger is the cause of it. Or they experience love or jealousy and feel the object of their love is in control, not them. When they get bored, they think someone other than themselves is responsible. They do not understand how their emotions arise

Students feel apathy and boredom when a wall has been constructed between what they feel, think, or yearn to engage with and what is presented to them as the possibilities of their life and education. They have been conditioned to not let anything too real get too close¾or their lives have been too real and frightening, and they can’t or don’t know how to face it. This might help explain why one of the biggest concerns for young people in this nation today is safety….

To read the whole blog, click on this link to the Good Men Project.

Are We Undermining Our Children’s Education? A Mindful Use of Digital Media in the Home and Classroom





How difficult is it nowadays to engage the whole family in a talk? Or if you’re a teacher, how difficult is it to engage a class of students?

 

There has been much debate in the last few years about the role cell phones and other digital media has played in making face-to-face discussions at home and in school more difficult. A teacher and former colleague recently told me that students even use their phones to order food to be delivered to the classroom. When I asked why she put up with it, she said she couldn’t do anything about it. It was too engrained in the school (and national) culture.

 

I find this frightening. How can anyone learn well, or engage with others in meaningful discussions, when their attention is tuned to the expectation of a text? To say, “nothing can be done about this situation” reminds me of the discussion of bullying 20-30 years ago, when people said, “It’s just the time of life when children bully.”

 

Self-Reflective Questions for Parents and Teachers About Media Use

 

Teachers and other adults can be as addicted to their devices as children. We can all benefit by increasing our self-awareness and asking ourselves:

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

How do you feel when you see your children on their phones when you are trying to talk with them? How do you think they feel when you are on the phone when they are trying to talk with you? Who do you prioritize: the person standing before you, or the one on the phone?

Did you want to stop reading this post as soon as you realized what it was about? ….

 

To read the whole post, please click on this link to Spirit of Change Magazine, which just published the piece.