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.

Books, Bookstores and Histories

I like bookstores, especially when I feel like browsing or am not sure exactly what I want to read. There is a sense of mystery in browsing. As I look, I discover my own heart and mind. I discover what grabs my attention. When I am really awake, I walk into a bookstore and there, on the display table, is a book that answers some question that has been nagging me or fulfills some desire for adventure.

 

But bookstores are disappearing. The light they represent is winking out. Some evil force is stealing their light. Some might say this is a good thing. Another form of consumerism is gone. Another reason for cutting down trees is ended. I love trees and breathing, so I certainly would like to limit tree cutting.

 

But the loss of bookstores can lead to several negative results. An article in the New York Times called Our (Bare) Shelves, Our Selves, by Teddy Wayne, recently spoke to the negative consequences of this disappearance. Not only bookstores are disappearing, but books, records, CDs are disappearing in homes. Children today no longer get to see the musical or literary history of their parents displayed on their shelves or in their collections. Teddy Wayne cites research that supports the view that children who grow up without books in their homes are likely to not do as well in school—adjusting for economic and other factors (I presume).

 

There are still school and public libraries, outposts of adventure and wonder. Yet, they too are going more and more digital. Without a library of displayed choices to wander through that you can hold in your hand and explore, is it more difficult to know what is available and what is possible? I hope the new ebooks are as satisfying for other people as the paper ones are for me. Online the number of choices of what to read is so vast it can make it too easy to decide to simply read what’s popular and what your friends read. This can result in feeling the universe of choices narrowed to what is in vogue now. You easily feel alienated if what’s popular does not fit with who you think you are.

 

When school standards emphasize STEM subjects (math and science) and diminish literature and history, or emphasize nonfiction in English classes and reduce the reading of fiction, the same narrowing of focus in time and possibility can occur. Literature is not just a good story, not just a sideline to a good education. It is vitally important. It is an entrance into the lives, viewpoints, and possibilities exhibited by other people of distant time periods and cultures that could not be accessed as well any other way. History is not just a descriptive list of what happened in other places and times. It is a narration of the human mind and heart extended over vast periods of time. It reveals the roots of the present so the range of possible actions now and in the future are expanded. It also reveals how actions in the present create future situations and how what you think is possible shapes the range of political and social power you exercise. Without a sense of history, you can feel the problems of today have always been there, so why bother to act to change anything.

 

I was lucky. I grew up in a home filled with books and live now surrounded by them. I also grew up with a sense that each person has some responsibility for shaping the world we live in. I hope we don’t make the mistake of depriving our children of these opportunities and depriving them of a sense of empowerment and responsibility.