How We Look Is Not Separate from What We See: Giving Form to What’s Most Intimately Ourselves

Sometimes, we surprise ourselves with what we can do, with what we know and don’t know.

 

I retired from teaching secondary school ten years ago. But last night, in my dreams I was once again teaching. In many classes, ten, twenty, thirty students or more showed up. In others, only one or two.  Maybe students had begun to assume that I would always be there and took me for granted. Or maybe they were too distracted by their personal lives, or I was getting too tired. Whatever it was, my dream-self decided it was time to retire.

 

In one room, a large group of students came to hear and join me in saying goodbye. It was surprising how full of feeling the situation was. We accepted each other so deeply. And I had nothing planned. It was all spontaneous. What I said emerged extemporaneously, as if from all of us together, and included nothing about goodbyes.

 

The way a moment forms has so much to teach us and is teaching us so much as it forms. There is so much there if we can see it and feel it. It’s the ultimate teacher. In fact, we are this forming of a moment. But will we look? Feel?

 

And I woke up. Sort of. The light outside was a gray mist emerging from the dark night, a dawn just beginning to gray. Outside the window, almost no discernible objects emerged from the mist, no trees, or bushes. But in the mostly dark inside, I could discern the placement but not the details of the bed, dresser, and other furniture. And as I wrote down the dream on a pad of paper by my bed, I wondered if anyone in the dream, any student had understood what I was saying.

 

Then I realized the answer in the dream was also a question. Do I understand my own answer?

 

Research and theories by psychologists and neuroscientists speculate one purpose of dreaming is to integrate emotional, and other material from our daily lives. Was the dream an example of that integration process? Was it telling me what my conscious mind couldn’t figure out or was it merely putting into words what I had already concluded? We often underestimate the role the unconscious and the resting mind plays in conscious and critical thinking. Our conscious understanding never gets it all. But if we humbly accept that, sometimes what we find surprises us with its depth and value…..

 

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

What Do We Do When Faced with Someone Who Proclaims the Coronavirus a Hoax?

The Coronavirus, and DT’s mismanagement and exacerbation of it, has put many of us in a state of stress, grief, anxiety and trauma⎼ and that doesn’t count the feelings of those who have been sick or have lost a loved one. So what do you do when faced with someone who believes the coronavirus is a hoax and refuses to wear a mask? How do you talk to such people without losing it in anger or dehumanizing them as they might be dehumanizing you?

 

This is becoming too familiar a situation. Political discussions are notoriously difficult to have, and the coronavirus has become severely politicized. We have the example of DT refusing to wear a mask. In Georgia, where the coronavirus is spiking, where 50 people died yesterday (7/15) and 3,441 new cases were reported, the Governor sued the Mayor of Atlanta for issuing a mask ordinance. The lawsuit comes one day after the Governor issued an executive order suspending such mandates. He did not sue any of the other cities with mask ordinances.

 

There have even been instances where store clerks have politely confronted customers, or one person on the street confronted another, and the response was violent and in a few instances, deadly.

 

But let’s say we know the person, they are not prone to violence, and we are facing them, maskless, on the street or in a store. It might help to be prepared.

 

In all the cases I know of, the maskless person was white, often but not always, male, so just imagine a white male. What might be going on in his mind? It would be helpful to hear his response and not make assumptions.

 

So I imagine asking him, directly, “Why aren’t you wearing a mask?” Of course, his actions put the health of other people at risk. But in his mind, there might be no risk, because the threat is unreal. A lie even.

 

Maybe he is only listening to GOP politicians and right-wing propaganda sources and hasn’t questioned what he heard. To him, Dr. Fauci is the threat. News outlets that check the reliability of their sources, like the NY Times or the Washington Post or NPR, are the threat. Simply presenting facts as we know them won’t work.

 

Maybe deep down he feels powerless and his belief covers that up, replaces it with the potent sense that he is one of the select few with the inside information. To him, I am a dupe, blinded by the “media” or whomever, either lacking information or the thinking capacity to see through the deception. And what a deception it must be. Just think about all the people in the media, politics, police and medical profession that must be conspiring together to create the hoax.

 

And he must not know anyone who has gotten sick or died. He must not know anyone who has cared for or treated or is the friend or loved one of one of the sick and the dying. He might not know that according to a recently released report by the CDC, people of color are 3 times as likely to become infected with the virus as white people. Or maybe he doesn’t care. Maybe racism is involved, and another sort of conversation is needed here….

 

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

The Walk That Reveals Dragons: Walking So Our Capacity for Compassion Is Strengthened Along with Our Legs

Walking has taken on new significance and importance today, due to the coronavirus. Gyms are closed, so the outdoors have become a gym we all share. Or we have always shared this gym, but maybe we now do it more deliberately. Almost everyone I know says they take walks. Where we each go⎼ that is not so shared. Some have the privilege of deep forests, beaches, or river sides, others city streets, parks, or parking lots.

 

I took a walk a few days ago that could have gone on forever. Our home is in a rural area, on a steep hill, and I only stopped when my legs tired. I was also experimenting with how to walk as more a meditation⎼ how to lose myself for at least a few moments. And how, when my mind wandered, to kindly return attention to the basics⎼ breathing, looking, listening, and feeling.

 

When I first started my corona-walks, I distracted myself from each step so the weight of steps wouldn’t drag me down. The walk up our hill is challenging. I would set a goal to exercise for maybe 30 minutes or an hour. But if I began each walk thinking about how many minutes I had left to finish, each step would become a burden. So I either counted steps or thought about interesting ideas or people or projects I could take on. Or I played this game with myself. I pretended I would only walk to the big house up the road. And when I arrived there, I’d tell myself to walk just a bit more, to the maple tree where I saw the turkeys last week. And when I reached the maple tree I’d continue to the next memory or turkey siting.

 

But not this time.

 

In an online birding class I took recently, the teachers spoke about how we honor the birds we live with by knowing their names and their songs. This was a new and beautiful idea for me. But as I walked, I just wanted to listen. To name the birds would be another distraction from the song itself. It would mean me, here, and it, there. But to stop walking and just listen, the sound grew closer and clearer. And when the song ended, the trees and insects and stones and cars on the road were waiting for me even more distinctly.

 

In the past, I often thought about what it meant to feel at home someplace. This is the answer. That the gullies, streams, and trees, the wind, heat, and the house I owned would live inside me, not just me inside it. That I’d be open to all of it. That it would be a place to love and think.

 

There are so many ways to think. We can think rationally and critically, use words, concepts, examine theories, research and organize facts. Or we can let our minds wander through imaginative realms, memories of the past or ideas of the future⎼ through our pictures of ourselves or how others picture us. Or we quiet the mind, by focusing on a singular chosen point of focus⎼ the breath, sensations, the maple tree, and especially feeling⎼ or awareness of whatever arises in the immediate moment, including awareness itself….

 

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

 

*For information on walking safely when you might meet up with other people, in this time of the coronavirus, please refer to this NPR program, Masks and the Outdoor Exerciser.

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.

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.

Using Mindful Questioning to Enhance Academic Learning (An Interview)

Mindfulteachers.org published an interview of me written by Catharine Hannay. Here is the beginning. Please go to their website for the entire interview.

What does ‘mindful teaching’ mean to you?

First, what does mindfulness mean? Mindfulness is a study of mind and heart from “the inside.” It is a moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, and sensations illuminating how interdependent you are with other people and your world.

 

Without being judgmental, it notices whatever arises as a potential learning event. It is both a practice, as in meditation, and is also a quality of awareness or of being in the world.

 

When I first started teaching, like most educators, I made a number of mistakes. When you make a mistake, it is easy to get down on yourself, and then you don’t learn all that you could.

 

The more mindful I became, the more I could take in, the less judgmental I was, and the more I thought of my students as my teachers.

Mindfulness can be practiced either at a set time every day, or whenever you can do it. You might practice mindfulness because it reduces stress and strengthens your ability to focus and learn.

 

But if you practice mindfulness just for what you can get from it, you concentrate on your idea of who you will become in some future time and miss the whole moment you are doing it.

A New Review of My Book “Compassionate Critical Thinking”

The organization, mindfulteachers.org, a wonderful organization, just published a review of my book, Compassionate Critical Thinking: How Mindfulness, Creativity, Empathy, and Socratic Questioning Can Transform Teaching. The book was published by Rowman & Littlefield. It is a book that, I hope not only will help teachers, students, and parents in this time of anxiety and threats, but maybe help anyone trying to understand him or herself and what is happening in our world.

The review begins:

“Often, you have little choice in what material you teach; the only choice you have is how the material is taught… When a teacher enters the classroom with awareness and genuine caring, students are more likely to do the same.”


Compassionate Critical Thinking: How Mindfulness, Creativity, Empathy, and Socratic Questioning Can Transform Teaching is based on Ira Rabois’ thirty-year career teaching English, philosophy, history, and psychology to high school students. 

Rabois includes six types of practices in his teaching:

 

To read the whole review, go to the website. Enjoy.

Compassionate Critical Thinking and the Teaching And Living Using Spirituality Blogspot

This week, I was invited to write a blog on my book for the Teaching and Living Using Spirituality blogspot.

 

When I first discussed my book with friends, many said that compassion and critical thinking seemed contradictory to them. They thought ‘compassion’ necessitated taking in or opening to people, and ‘critical’ meant being judgmental, questioning or pushing them away. I then asked What happens inside a person when they’re compassionate? And then, after listening to their responses, What does critical thinking mean to you? If compassion leads to openness, taking in information, improved perception and understanding; and if critical thinking requires understanding a person or situation better, then wouldn’t compassion aid such thinking? …

 

To read the whole piece, please use this link. Thank you to Owen Griffith, author of Gratitude: A Way of Teaching, for engineering this guest blog and creating his website.

Compassionate Critical Thinking, A Book Worth Owning and Sharing

Here’s a review of my book that cheered me up a little during a tough week.

I sat down with this book, very excited to finally have a copy in my hands to read. I was looking forward to feeling inspired by it as I read it quickly over the weekend, and to feel appreciation for the teacher who decided to share his work.

Two weeks later, I am still very excited to have it, but it is not a book I want to skim through for vague inspiration. Rather, I am awed by what an amazing treasure of detailed information this is! I wonder what the world would be like if these lessons could be offered to every school child. I went to a Quaker high school where every day started with a short period of silence for the whole school. This book takes that kernel of an idea and brings it into the rest of the school day.

I will go further and say this is a wonderful handbook for an ongoing mindfulness or meditation discussion group for adults. The wisdom Ira Rabois writes about is not superficial or difficult to understand, but instead the book offers topics, questions and reference reading on being a human being in this world. His students were so lucky to have a teacher who was able to approach their education with this respect and sensitivity, and the publication of this book brings this opportunity to the rest of us as well.

While it is clear that Rabois has a strong background in Buddhist teachings, what he is able to get across in this book is not limited by a particular philosophy or religion. Rather, he offers a detailed plan to study the human mind in all its fullness and frailty, all its potential and confusion. This book has found a permanent place on my nightstand with a couple other books (such as a book on Lojong) that I refer to again and again for guidance as problems come up.

If high school teachers are interested in helping students develop compassionate critical thinking, they would probably be most successful reading this book first, applying its questions and ideas to their own lives, allowing a first-person understanding of this information to be the basis of their teaching style. If a school has staff development days, even a small amount of time shared reading and discussing this book would be of great benefit to teachers and students alike.

I only wish that the table of contents had listed the Lesson Plans. The vast amount of information presented is not just a single line of knowledge, but rather is also a reference guide for approaching specific concerns as they arise in a classroom, or in one’s own life. For example, It would be helpful to be able to easily find out that “Anger” is discussed in Lesson 14, or that a lesson plan to study the “Geography of the Brain” is Lesson 8.

Definitely a book worth owning and sharing with others. Thank you Ira for being able to articulate and gather together so much wisdom in this form! I am deeply grateful to have it in my life.

Compassionate Critical Thinking and the Adventure of Teaching

For most of my childhood, my family lived in a house in Queens, New York, which is a suburb of NYC on Long Island. There was still a feel, where I lived, not just of suburbs but of the declining remains of a rural area. There were many trees. We were one block away from a huge golf course, with a lake and hills, where I ran with my dog, played football with my friends, and went sledding in the snow. It was quite a privileged and protected life.

 

I used to write all sorts of stories for myself. One fall, at the age of 6 or 7, I borrowed a little wagon from a neighbor. I invited 2 or 3 friends or relatives to hop on the wagon and took them on a guided adventure through my backyard. The adventure was partly a story I invented and narrated, partly theatre, partly a miniature midway ride. I had such a good time, I repeated it until there were no more customers and winter closed down the midway.

 

While my love of writing started in my early childhood, until recently, I thought of it only in terms of fiction. As I got older, I realized the motivation behind my writing was not just to entertain, but also to feel inspired. I loved the heady joy of pulling ideas, images, and feelings together. It was so alive. I felt that I had something worthwhile and meaningful to say and to give. In other words, creative writing had the power to teach. The only thing I was unsure of was whether teaching had the power of creation.

 

And I discovered that it did.  After college, I joined the Peace Corps, in Sierra Leone. As a teacher, I felt respect from my students. What I was doing mattered to them. So I wanted to do it even more when I returned to this country. I found this again in other teaching jobs, most notably at the Lehman Alternative Community School in Ithaca, NY. Part of my childhood desire was met. Now that my book, Compassionate Critical Thinking: How Mindfulness, Creativity, Empathy and Socratic Questioning Can Transform Teaching, is being published by Rowman & Littlefield, the other half of my yearning is about to come true. It is not a novel, but certainly describes a creative approach to teaching.

 

When you teach, you hold the hearts and minds of students in your hands. You have this amazing opportunity that you just can’t ignore and dread disappointing. You can take students on the greatest adventure imaginable—into the depths of their own minds and hearts. You can show them that there are these depths unrecognized in many schools, or maybe unrecognized since they were small and inspired children. You can show them how valuable and important they are. Show them the joy of play in PE, the miracles of nature in science, the creative spirit in literature, and in social studies classes, show the great diversity of possible ways of living and the importance of relationships, .

 

My book describes and illustrates methods to use in teaching as well as an overall conceptual framework for understanding the way the mind and heart can work together— to take in more of what’s around you and think more clearly and critically. Critical thinking is fueled by caring and feeling, and guided by mindful awareness to focus attention, and notice, formulate, and ask questions. Compassion and imagination help you understand and explore diverse perspectives and let go of distorting judgments.

 

When you quiet the mind by accepting, caring for and valuing it, you hear the world more distinctly. You hear what your own body is saying and how to befriend your emotions. The world is not at a distance but at your fingertips, or is your fingertips. What you think is right to do is evaluated more clearly. You feel more joyful, your life more meaningful, your relationships with others more conscious and honest. Now that is a worthwhile adventure to undertake—that is a way of teaching.

 

*The release date for my book was delayed a few days, but the book launch in Ithaca, at LACS, on Thursday, October 13, at 7:00, will go on as planned–I hope. There will also be a book talk on Saturday, October 22, at Buffalo Street Books, at 3:00 pm. I hope you can come.