From Intentions

Q and A from Hilliard U: Slowing Down and Mindful Moments

This Q and A from Hilliard U is all about slowing down and being mindful in the moment.  Enjoy!

How can I help my students to be more mindful?  

I always suggest to start with yourself.  When you are more clam and present, the students will benefit from this.  In addition, if you are teaching mindfulness and the modeling behaviors that counteract what you are teaching, it creates lack of buy-in and cognitive dissonance for students.  Like all people, our kiddos respond to authenticity.

I make some additional comments on how to best implement mindfulness practice in schools and classrooms in this post on Mindful Teachers.

Here is a quick gist from that post, “Unlike many other ‘strategies,’ the process of classroom [mindfulness] implementation is very much about teaching with your being. This is not a quick fix. When the adult in the room is transformed, the classroom climate changes, too. This is the ultimate goal: not to introduce mindfulness as a strategy-based intervention, but instead to change the overall climate, tone, and quality of interaction so that it is more conducive to the health and wholeness of teacher and student.”

I also provide a wealth of research on the benefits of mindfulness practice for teachers, schools and students in this article that can be shared with others as you advocate for this work.

Are there strategies I can use in the moment of stress to calm down in the classroom?

A New York Times article from November called “Breath. Exhale. Repeat: The Benefits of Controlled Breathing” espouses the many benefits of coherent breathing- a tool helpful for both student and teacher.  Deep, slow breaths can regulate both the body’s autonomic nervous system (which is the unconscious system that regulates digestion, heart beat etc.) which in turn affects the body’s and parasympathetic nervous system.

As quoted by Dr. Richard Brown, Columbia University professor and clinical psychiatrist, when our breathing changes,

“a signal [is sent] to the brain to adjust the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system, which can slow heart rate and digestion and promote feelings of calm as well as the sympathetic system, which controls the release of stress hormones like cortisol…  When you take slow, steady breaths, your brain gets the message that all is well and activates the parasympathetic response.  When you take shallow rapid breaths or hold your breath, the sympathetic response is activated.“

Heart-focused breathing is one version of this.  For instructions on this practice (and an adorable video from The Little Prince) click here.  You can combine heart-focused breathing with the “Coherent Breathing” practice from the New York Times article to make sure your breaths are really slowing down.  Maybe something like this:

  1.  Place your hands over your heart and take three slows deep breaths, counting from one to six as you breath in, then pausing before counting one to six as you breath out.
  2. Switch hands and repeat the process, counting from one to six as you breath in, then pausing before counting one to six as you breath out.

Each set of six breaths you complete is one minute.  This makes it very possible to do a one to two minute practice that can help you relieve stress.  If it is too hard to go for six seconds, maybe shorten it to four and see if that is better.

(This answer originally appeared in Mindfulness Practices for Managing Testing Season.)

How can I find time to practice mindfulness?  

We all live in the cultural framework of “time scarcity thinking.”  You can learn more about the negative effects of scarcity thinking in this five-minute sound recording from Hidden Brain.  In essence, feeling we have less of something than we need impairs our decision making in favor of short-term benefits over long-term gains.  Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan states, “That’s at the heart of the scarcity trap. You are so focused on the urgent that the important gets waylaid. But because the important gets waylaid, you’re experiencing even more scarcity tomorrow.”

Mindfulness is important to mental and physical health, to doing the work we want to do to the best of our abilities.  The time to do this practice will not be “found,” however; it will always be created.

Can we carve out 10 minutes of time every day?  The answer is yes, even if our adrenaline-soaked and addled brains tries to tell us otherwise.

Try creating a one-sentence plan and write an “I” statement committing to it.  For example,

“I will engage in a formal mindfulness practice for ten minutes at 9:30 p.m. every weekday.”  

“I will take a twenty minute walk, with no cell phone, on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4:30 p.m.” 

Read this statement aloud to someone else.  Tell your family, or any others with whom you share your home. Ask them to help you stick with the commitment.  You may also want to make a list of obstacles you may encounter and create a plan for how you will address these obstacles.  I created Intentions Worksheet that may be helpful in the process.  You might notice that my example intention refers to the “Hilliard Incident” which will forever be an example I use on what happens when I don’t slow down!

(This answer originally appeared in Q and A: Mindfulness Session at Grandview Heights Ed Camp.)

What are your favorite resources for building a mindfulness practice?  

Here are some online recordings you can use:

Cultivating Conscious Leaders short and long sitting meditations and Mayo Clinic’s Breathing Meditations are sound recordings I started using in my classes until I was comfortable guiding groups on my own; these are a great starting place!

Here are a few apps I would recommend:

Head Space – This app claims “meditation made easy.”  My husband started using it recently and really liked it. He found it approachable and accessible as a newbie.  It is a pay service; if you sign up for a year, it’s $7.99 a month.  You can also start with a ten-day free trial.  Headspace also has some great videos on their Youtube channel that can be used when getting started.

Insight Timer – This is the app that I use.  It’s free and has a wide variety of different practices and a simple timer to use.  When beginning a practice, I would recommend Tara Brach’s Basic meditation and Jack Kornfield’s Breathing Meditation.  Both are listed in the “Top Twenty” menu.

Simply Being – This app uses what’s called an “open monitoring” practice.  This means that all stimulus are given equal attention, which has been shown to increase creativity but doesn’t have the same “focus-based” benefits of the focused attention, breath-based practice.  I use it for relaxation.

▪On the Verge – This is Cara Brach’s app that was released in conjunction with her last book.  It has some videos that are helpful.  I use her “Moving Meditation” in longer sessions to give people breaks, and I have been told it is helpful to start with this and settle in before starting a formal sitting mindfulness practice.  (I couldn’t find a link for this one- sorry!)

Other resources I would recommend include:

Gaia – This is an online resource I subscribe to for $10.00 a month for my at-home yoga practice, but it also has many meditation videos.

Tara Brach’s Podcast – Brach’s podcast has hour-long talks that include some mindfulness practice.

Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-day Program – This book by Sharon Salzberg is how I got started with my own mindfulness practice.

(This answer originally appeared in Mindfulness: A Super Power: Q and A with Grandview Heights)

How can I slow down when everyone else moves so fast?  

Someone told me recently that I can learn to say no to some things so that I can say yes to other more important things.  What this means to me is that I make decisions based upon my values as opposed to what others tell me is important.  Maybe I say no to an opportunity to network with people who might help me in the evenings because I value family.  Perhaps I say no to an opportunity to  speak about a topic on which I am less passionate because I am saying yes to advocating for self-care for educators and those in helping professions.  I can make these decisions, even as others might pressure me to fill my schedule with items that meet their values instead of my own.

Annie Dillard states, “the way we spend our days is, of course, the way we spend our lives.”  A seemingly obvious statement but one that cuts to the quick.  We live our days sometimes without the knowledge that we are actually alive, and that our lives will someday end.  How do we want to live our one life?  The decisions we make moment-to-moment determines this.

So my my suggestions for slowing down are as follows: remember to breath, take time for solitude, know your own values, make decisions based upon what matters to you- not others.  These things are not easy, but I promise you they are worth it.

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Hope to see you all at The Big Think this summer!  Please reach out if you have questions or are interested in learning more about how to bring mindfulness to your building!

Stop, Look, Go: A Mindful Gratitude Practice from David Steindl-Rast

As I reflect upon my own mindful gratitude practice and gather resources to reboot my Mindful Gratitude workshop, I am continuing to explore the work of Brother David Steindl-Rast.  The “Stop. Look. Go.” practice is one of the new tools I found and wanted to share.  It is an informal practice that happens in the comings and goings of daily life and takes only a few minutes and some reflection.  Here are the three parts:

1.) Stop.  This alone is a quite valuable practice.  We live in a culture that is all productivity, rush and noise. Can we take a moment and be still? What benefits might we experience if we do?  In Steindl-Rast’s words, we need to create “stop signs” in our lives that create a pause and be still.

Take a moment and reflect: where might you create a stop sign in your own life?  What cue will you use as a reminder?

2.) Look.   Be curious about your own experience in this moment.  What do you see? Hear? Feel? For what can you experience a sense of gratitude? You don’t need to manufacture anything, and if something quite difficult is happening, there is no reason to try and change it. Perhaps you just remember that you are alive. That you are breathing. That there is no moment exactly like this moment.

3.) Go. What seed for action is this moment offering you? Living is an art that you create as you go. How can you make it beautiful for yourself? For others?  Ask yourself these questions and wait patiently for an answer. When you get one, do it, act on the insight that comes from your own intuition and reflection.

Need inspiration to start this practice?  Here is a beautiful video from gratefulness.org’s website.

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   Did happened when you took a moment to stop, look, go?  What did you find?  Please share your thoughts below.

Light a Candle: A Mindful Gratitude Practice from David Steindl-Rast

In reflective conversation and in the surveys I send out to participants after working with me, I find that gratitude practice is consistently the most impactful in daily life.  Many months later, even people who are not doing formal mindfulness meditation are still using the Beautiful Moments practice and experiencing gratitude as a part of daily life.

I am doing a gratitude workshop with two amazing administrators on Monday who are trying to implement mindfulness practices into their whole building. We are going to explore gratitude together, and I am happy to have this opportunity to find some new resources and revisit some old ones.

While reconnecting with the work of David Steadl Rast, whose TEDTalk is below, I once again came across Gratefulness.org.

I took the opportunity to engage with the “light a candle” practice they provide through their site.  I used the moment of pause to be grateful to all those people who support my work in the world and are willing to engage in the process of growing with me. Then I made this dedication:

“This candle is dedicated to my grandma Rose.  She taught me everything I need to know in order to live in the world as a whole person.  I love you, Grandma Rose, and your spirit is always with me.”  
gratitude-candle

After making a dedication, the candle burns for 48 hours, and there is a link to click and be provided with a mini-candle for your laptop during that time.

Mine is burning right now, and every time I see the flame, I am mindful of the love it represents.

For what can you be grateful today? Please leave your thoughts below. 

Q and A from Relationships First at the Educational Service Center

The following post is a Q and A from the refections submitted to me after a workshop I hosted at the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio.  We did some really deep work on building relationships, mindful listening and implicit bias.  This is all hard work, and the questions submitted reflected the depth and thoughtfulness of participants.

How does focusing on our past help us with mindfulness?  Why is our own story important when trying to connect with others mindfully?  

Being honest about our past actions and mindsets can help to establish a baseline from which we can move forward with purpose and intention.  We ALL have habitual patterns of behavior.  Some of these behavioral patterns are healthy and life-giving for us.  Others are not.

I used two examples in the workshop.  One is the habitual pattern that I have of responding in anger when my children are reluctant to follow through on their responsibilities in the household, how in these moments I tell a “story” of how they are irresponsible or even ungrateful.  Choosing to act out of this “story” creates escalation in the situation and negativity in my relationships with them.  Without refection, I would be unaware that this pattern exists and I wouldn’t be motivated to change it.

We also all live out of implicit beliefs and biases about others.  Some of these may be based upon our past life experiences.  Some on a lack of experience.  Others may be based upon cultural messaging that operates below our conscious awareness but affects us none the less.

Another example of habitual patterns I gave in the workshop was the moment when I realized that almost all of my close relationships were with people who were very similar to myself in background, education, belief system, socioeconomic status etc.

In the workshop, we did an activity where we were asked to explore how our stories can be either a wall or a bridge connecting us to others.  My own story was a “wall” in that I hadn’t yet experienced deep, abiding relationships with many types of people.  When I realized this, I became aware of my own conditioning, in place for a variety of reasons.  In addition, I could set the intention to change my conditioning toward new, different behaviors.

Both of these examples show how reflection on our past can facilitate more mindful choices in the future.  Mindfulness, awareness and acceptance of the moment, is more than a tool to “feel better.”  It is also a tool to make new, life-giving choices for ourselves and others.

How can these activities help us when working with young children?  

Mindful listening, creating space to be reflective before speaking, and being aware of our own walls when connecting with others are all tools that transfer to working with young people.

To give an example, I recently had a situation with my six-year-old son where I had a lack mindful listening.  When I picked him up from school, his after-care teacher shared a story with me about how he didn’t get his homework done, along with the reflection that his teacher perceived him as not “wanting to do it.”  I had had a difficult day, which was followed by a puppy disaster on the way home and didn’t do a good job of hearing his side of the story.  Instead, I misheard his message to me and responded with a reprimand.  When my husband came home, he sat down with my son calmly and was able to figure out that the message I received from the after-care teacher was a misunderstanding.  Later, my son, very sweetly, asked me to sit next to him at dinner, and I, of course, apologized to him for not listening.  I felt really bad about the whole thing, and I recognized it immediately as a lack of listening because my own emotions got in the way, creating a wall.

Reflecting upon this, I realized that if I would have taken the time to practice mindful listening with him, I would have realized these things on my own and my son could have felt heard.  Conversely, I could have saved myself a lot of guilt.

This happens to all of us.  Children, with their own ways of speaking and the natural power differential that occurs between the very young and adults are actually exceptionally prone to not being heard.

Sometimes, as the adult in our children’s lives we may be the only person who does a good job of hearing them.  This is a gift equally to the young and the old.

How can I become a more trauma-sensitive tutor?  

We cannot know which students may have experienced trauma.  However, statistically, it is safe to assume that we may work with students who have faced traumatic situations.  In our session, we talked about not mirroring behaviors when children are upset and remaining calm in tense situations.  We also talked about giving space and waiting to process with a student until after tension has passed.  Lastly, we talked about the importance of self care so that we can handle stressful situations with the calm required.

In addition to these tools, there are MANY resources you can begin to explore.  Here is a link to a resource from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.  See page five for tips for educators seeking to create trauma sensitive environments.

In addition, Susan E. Craig states in her article “The Trauma Sensitive Teacher” that, “Observing their own internal landscape helps students to discover two important aspects of attention: their internal world is full of sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts competing for attention; and they can choose what to focus on.”  In this way, taking a few moments at the beginning of the session to do an internal check, take a few breaths, and then move focus to the task at hand may be helpful given the short amount of time with which you will be working with students.

Where did the research about boys come from?  

There were two articles that I used in our work together from the Educational Leadership Relationships First issue, “Unlocking Boys’ Potential” and “Helping Black and Latino Men Succeed.”

From these resources, I pulled the following quotes for discussion:

“The hidden curriculum of school “convey that ‘real boys’ are tough and emotionally stoic, independent and autonomous, keen to compete, and eager to prove themselves in feats of risk-taking and aggression.  In every school I have visited, social competition and hierarchy, bullying and maltreatment, peer policing, and the marginalization of less preferred types of boys  characterize cultures that even wonderfully committed faculty and staff cannot control.”

  • Michael C. Reichert, “Unlocking Boys Potential”

Boys dependence on a relational connection to engage learning was the inescapable conclusion from our survey.  As we wrote, ‘Relationship is the very medium through which successful teaching and learning is performed with boys.’…  Even my research partner and I, veterans of boys education, were surprised… All of us who work in schools, steeped in cultural stereotypes of boys as what we might call ‘arelational’- not interested in relaitonships- had trouble knowing what we really should know.”

  • Michael C. Reichert, “Unlocking Boys Potential”

[Boys] are vulnerable to relationship ruptures, but boys are also unwilling or unable to initiate relationship repairs.”

  • Michael C. Reichert, “Unlocking Boys Potential”

Why was it important to do so many group-based activities?  

Because relationship happens in community, we have to practice it in community.  Our communications with others are the roots of our relationships.  Whenever you are focusing on changing conditioning, it is important to practice a skill over and over through active engagement.

How can we encourage mindfulness in children?  

Children are often more open to mindfulness practice than adults because they aren’t yet as inhibited and self-conscious.  However, the language that we use may be different.  Many of the elementary school teachers with whom I work use videos catering to children in order to engage in mindfulness practice.  Here is a four-minute video featuring children created by Julie and Josh Salzman about using the breathe when emotion becomes overwhelming.

In addition, there are a number of good children’s books that might be helpful.  Here is a link to more on books that are developmentally appropriate for kids.  Lastly, here are some fun practices from Mind Body Green for teaching kids mindfulness.

Craig states, “Observing their own internal landscape helps students to discover two important aspects of attention: their internal world is full of sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts competing for attention; and they can choose what to focus on.”   What are the internal components on which we should focus?  Is this decision personal or social?  

As a first step, cultivating the general awareness that we have rich inner worlds that affect us profoundly every moment of our day is s step toward becoming more mindful of where our attention goes.  From there, the practice of cultivating the ability to harness our attention toward a specific stimuli (in the inner or outer world) is incredibly situation dependent.

In the context of education, we want children to be focusing on learning.  This is sometimes possible and sometimes not.  Being aware of this as a teacher is important, but we can also empower our kids to know that they have power to focus their awareness on the things that are important to them.  Our goal as teachers is to make sure that the learning the kids are doing is important to them, and to also give them the tools and awareness to see that they have the ability to focus on that which is important.

On a personal practice level, in some mindfulness practice, such as focused attention, the goal is to come back to the breath over and over in order to cultivate the ability to have a singular focus and let other stimuli float through.  In other mindfulness practice, such as open-monitoring, the goal is to give all stimuli, good and bad, equal attention and simply be present with all of it.

That being said, in daily life, the question “what is called for right now, in this moment?”  Can be a guiding force to make decisions about where our awareness should be focused.  This takes practice.  Mindfulness can help create the “space” to make these decisions more fruitful.

How can I teach resiliency?

One powerful tool we discussed in our session was “not yet.”  For example, “You can’t read this word yet, but let’s keep trying.”

You might add something like, “I remember when you struggled with _________.  How did you get better then?”

After listening you might add, “Can we use some of those same strategies in this situation?  What might that look like?”

Both of my children have had difficulty maintaining focus and have struggled as beginning readers and writers.  The approach I take with my youngest is much different than the approach I took with my now sixteen-year-old because of what I know about resilience and grit.

As an example, I just sat down with my six-year-old to do homework the other night.  It began with him crying because he wanted to be out playing (who can blame him?).

He started his work, but it was very sloppy.  A strategy I used with him was that we both picked out the “best” letter on the page.  I asked him what he did to make it so much better than the others.  After we talk about it and identified specific strategies, then I encouraged him to use those same strategies as he continued writing.  I praised him whenever he used the skills we talked about.  After each letter, he looked at me proudly, and then even began erasing the ones that didn’t look the way he wanted.  When he was finished, I had him take his paper to his father and tell him about the strategies he used and show him the ones at the beginning and the ones at the end so that he could reflect on how much he improved with effort.

Are there counselor you would recommend to continue doing some of this work?  

In the Columbus area, I would recommend Michael O’Malley, Janice George and Michelle Risser.

How do I remember to use what I have learned?  

Setting intentions and reflecting upon intentions are very powerful.  Determine goals for yourself, write them down as commitments, and at the end of each day, reflect on your successes and areas for growth, trying to build on each as you go.

Having someone to hold you accountable can be helpful as well.  Share with someone else that you have these goals.  Ask them to do a “check in” with you in the future to see how things are going.

Also, keep in mind that habit is more powerful than motivation.  Make the thing you want to accomplish a habit by making a little space for it in your life daily.  Eventually, it just becomes part of what you do, and then you don’t need to become motivated.

How can I get others interested in these topics?  

Incorporate the topic in your own life.  Your changes in attitude, action and behavior will facilitate a self-understanding and also create a platform from which you can speak on a personal level to others who are curious.

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Questions?  Comments? Reflections?  Please feel free to participate on the blog or email me directly from the “Connect with me” tab.

Life as Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage: A journey into the unknown undertaken for the purpose of uncovering deeper meaning and connection*

*defintion by me but inspired by others more quote worthy : )

I am at a transition point in my life, a pilgrimage of sorts.  Like all pilgrimage, it requires me to let go of the creature comforts to which I have become accustomed.  This means releasing the security of operating my business as a “side endeavor” so that I can remain less attached from its success or failure.  It also means leaving a community I love, once again, to take a step into a future that looks more solitary for awhile.

In plain terms, I have been running my business while also being a full-time student.  I am leaving school in order to try this thing for real.  Am I scared?  Yes.  Yes I am.

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Sky Lanterns: The Ritual of Honoring and Welcoming (That Ended in Disaster)

In honor of my Grandma Rose’s passing, Mel agreed to participate in a ritual of honoring and releasing with me where we set free sky lanterns again.  The last time we did this, it was an absolutely beautiful release of our wishes into the world, so I couldn’t think of a better way to memorialize the one-year anniversary of her death.

For the ceremony, we decided to each create a sky lantern where one side would be an honoring of present and passing lives and the other side would be a welcoming of new gifts.

Immediately, this time was different from the last in that Mel’s adorable little children were not quite ready for bedtime. In the pictures below, what you don’t see are the tiny hands, feet and voices in the background and Mel trying to coerce her little people back into their beds.

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Fasting Day: Cultivating Hunger Awareness as Thanksgiving

Pamuk Quote

It is 3:53 am on Thanksgiving day. I have been up since 3:30, but I also shut off my bedroom light at around 8:15, so I guess I have had a solid night’s sleep- not that I have been doing any clock watching.

It has been 32 hours since I have had anything but water and hot tea.  I am mostly over the hump now. Around 5:00 yesterday I started getting a headache, followed by body pain and general lethargy, but now I feel fine.

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