There is Life After the Thesis

After chronicling my thoughts, feelings, ideas, and experiences throughout the thesis process on this blog (formerly entitled Rites of a Thesis), it seemed odd to me to simply let the blog go just because I had turned in my thesis and graduated. I don't want to merely "shelve" my thesis nor do I want all that I got from my time at Naropa to lie dormant. I want my thesis to continue to live and breathe and become, and I would like all the teachings and experiences I had during my time at Naropa to do the same. So I am keeping the blog (changing the title), and am commiting to myself to (w)rite on as I journey forward.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

I'd Like to Think I am Choosing the Road Less Taken

There are only two things you"have to" do in life. You "have to" die and you "have to" live until you die. You make up the rest.

~ Marilyn Grey

Last week I bought a new bike. I hadn't had a bike for the past few years and hadn't missed the activity too much until recently. A couple of my friends from work got bikes this past year and a guy I've been dating has one, and they all seemed really happy to be riding, and it started to inspire me to think about getting one too.

But what kind of bike should I get? New or used? A mountain bike? A cruiser? 10-Speed? Three-speed? No-speed? Foot brakes? Hand brakes? Lots of options.

So last week I got a bug up my butt to buy a bike. A new bike. Decision number one. Tempe Bicycles was advertising a sale so I decided to go there (decision number two). I had a mountain bike last time around - a Trek - which I loved! I bought it when I was living in Chicago, and when you are riding on Chicago roads you might as well be riding on mountain terrain...not because it's hilly, by any means, but because the streets are definitely craggy enough to simulate mountain trails. Hence: thicker, stronger tires are a good thing.

So there I was at Tempe Bicycles looking at all kinds of bikes - mountain bikes, racing bikes, cool-looking-I-don't-know-what kind of bikes, and cruisers. There were so many styles and so many colors and all of the bikes were so crammed together. But I had had a cruiser in mind when I first thought of getting a new bike (my girlfriends at work both have cruisers and I thought them super cute) and I think that idea was sticking with me. So I bee-lined right to the cruisers with all their different colors and styles.

Foot brakes or hand brakes? Three-speeds or no-speeds became my next criteria. I decided on foot brakes (I am not sure why, excatly, because I haven't had a foot-brake bike since I was in elementary school) and a three-speed (it seemed like a good idea with any kind of hill or graded road). Decisions numbers three and four were made.

Onto style and color...So many options! But it wasn't really hard, because once I saw it, I knew the exact bike I wanted: Robin's egg blue body (with a heart design on the bars), lime green inside the tires, and white fenders with a branch/leaf motif with Red Robins perched on it. A total girl bike! The fifth decision made.

Of course, I had to test ride the bike to see if it fit comfortably and rode well, which it did on both counts. And then, well - I had to accessorize! Wicker basket, helmet (which I loathe wearing, but know I'll have to when I take a long ride and have to ride in traffic), Kryptonite lock (and had the bike shop people put an extra safety chain on the seat to ward off potential bike seat thieves).

I love this bike! Just looking at it makes me happy. Riding it makes me happier. I've not had the chance to take it for a long ride yet, but I've taken some good short ones almost every day since I got it and it's such fun. It feels good to let the breeze blow on my face and through my hair. I love the feel of having to hunker down and pedal whenever there's a grade in the road or a small hill in the park, and then there's the joy of just coasting as the road dips or when I descend the hilly path.

I've had the opportunity to explore streets that I have never driven down or walked down before. I rode through areas of Papago Park where I hadn't yet been. And it dawned on me that having this bike has given me a new freedom and more options. It has provided me with a new mode of transportation, another activity to partake in, and has given me an alternative form of exercise. It has also offered me a new way to see places I haven't experienced and to make choices about where I want to go, what I want to do. Shall I turn down this road or that one? Do I want to cruise slowly or ride fast?

I'm sure that in reading all of this, and that in noting the title and reading the opening quote, you are getting that this post isn't really just about my new bike. The bike is super cool and I'm happy to talk it up but what I really wanted to take a closer look at was decisions: choices and options, and to remind myself that I have them, readily, at my disposal. I can make a choice and make another choice and, still again, make another choice. I am not stuck. And, though I know this, I forget this, because I get stuck on seeing things one way. My path seems to narrow and I lose my peripheral vision, and before I know it I forget I have "turning" capabilities.

Thank goodness for friends, for books, for meditation - for the willingness to realize that I have made my vision very small and can re-open to space - to bring me back to reality. To the reality that I have choices about what actions I am going to take and what kind of responses I want to make.

A friend of mine reminded me the other day that "ignorance is bliss," and that that's why being smart and being creative can sometimes feel very overwhelming and difficult. And I remember my professor Richard Brown explaining that "Fantasy is nice, but reality is so much richer." Most people remain ignorant, it's easier. And most all of us, at one time or another, turn to fantasy as an escape (and sometimes, we all have to take a breather and dream). So the question is do I want to live in a fantasy world of what I think I want or live in the real world and work with what I'm given? Do I want to play this game of life passively and play the victim or do I want to meet life on life's terms and make decisions about what I do with what I get? Do I want to be ignorant or do I want to be awake? While it can be challenging, even painful, and though it requires a lot more courage, I'm choosing reality. It may mean pedaling uphill at times, but I can adjust my three-speed accordingly.
By the way, my new bike came with a really cool bell (see above photo). So, look out world: you (and I) never know what street I might turn down Make way! Ring, ring!!

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
Took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

~ Robert Frost

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing

There was a 1973 film directed by Alan Pakula by the same title that I have "borrowed" for this post. My post has nothing to do with the movie, but the title seems appropriate. In the past two weeks I have experienced the gamut of joy and sorrow, ups and downs, love and pain, and everything in between - and that's just with and amongst my students and the school community where I teach. This morning, as I lay in bed, I was struck by the amount of gratitude I had for all of life - for each moment, for all that I have experienced - for all the gifts that come with happy exuberance, deep grief, or simple contentment. Two weeks ago I attended one of my students' (from last year) Bat Mitzvah - a right of passage for Jewish thirteen year-old girls as they take responsibilty for their personal practice of Judaism and the upholding of Jewish traditions. Though there is a solemnity to this rite of passage, it is thought of as a true celebration and, typically (as with Jamie's) there is a party that follows the ceremony at the synogogue with singing, dancing, mirth and merriment. Yesterday, I participated in another rite of passage: a memorial service. This was for another student of mine, who died last Wednesday. A seventeen year-old girl who died after spending half of her life dealing with Valley Fever and an immune deficiency that made it difficult for her body to fight the fungal infection. I only had a brief opportunity to get to know Rachel, as I have only had her class (11th grade) this semester and Rachel has been out of school for most of it. However, I knew her enough to know that she was a fighter. That she had a thirst for learning and doing her best. And that she was kind. Through her classmates I learned that she was funny, sarcastic, talented, and a true, loyal friend, with an amzing spirit. At the service yesterday, which was held at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I sat bewteen a parent of one of my 12th grade students and one of my senior students. The parent, who sat on my right, has a younger daughter who has severe cerebral palsy, and daily this mother has to deal with not only "what if" but "when" her daughter is going to die. The student, who sat to my left, just started attending AA meetings last week, and has been dealing with depression and calling out for help for quite some time. He had recently experienced the death of one of his cousins, which had hit him extremely hard. Sitting between this student and parent, I realized how much sorrow there is - how much pain each one of us goes through in different ways. And yet there is so much joy there too. A parent who cherishes every moment she has with her daughter and finds bright spots within that and in the knowledge that she also has a wonderful and healthy son. A young man who struggles with drug addiction and depression, and yet is excited to have "made it" through six days clean and sober, with a 24-hour chip in his pocket, a "home group," and an AA sponsor. Hope, faith, connection. I held both their hands at different points in the service. I felt blessed. I felt alive. There was a lot of love in both ceremonies I attended. There was also joy in each of them as well. Though the memorial service was incredibly sad and there was much grief in the room, there were also moments of joy. Joy in the life that had been lived, the lives that had been touched, and the spirit of a young woman who will live on as an inspiration to so many. In my classroom, we begin each class period with a ringing of a mindfulness bell and a bow. I call out the name of the first student on the attendance roster and that student then calls the next, and so on until the last student calls out, "Here!" Thursday's roll call in Rachel's section was incredibly difficult. On Friday I asked the students what they would like to do for the remainder of the semester: take Rachel's name off the list or continue to include her in our attendance ritual. Unanimously, the students said that they wanted to continue to include Rachel. So we will. On Friday, each of the 11th grade sections devoted their drama periods to designing prayer flags for Rachel and her family. I had pre-cut card stock and punched holes in the top and the students used pens and markers and wrote prayers, bible verses, quotes, letters, and some drew pictures to Rachel. We strung yarn through the holes of the cards and hung them on the trees in the courtyard. I was introduced to prayer flags at Naropa University a few years ago. Traditionally, prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. The flags do not carry prayers to gods, a common misconception; rather, the Tibetans believe the prayers and mantras will be blown by the wind to spread the good will and compassion into all pervading space. Therefore, prayer flags are thought to bring benefit to all. (Wikipedia) I tweaked the idea of the prayer flags a bit for our purposes. It was my hope that the students could cultivate a bit of healing for themselves, for the school community, for Rachel and her family by creating the flags and then sending their messages out into the "wind" - and into the rain as was the case on Friday night and all day Saturday. Rain is cleansing and clearing and I learned that Rachel loved the rain. It was appropriate then that it rained on the afternoon of her passing and, again, on the day of her memorial. It seemed right that the rain should fall on the prayer flags as well(I took a photo - below - of them today, Sunday, post rain).

This morning, as I sat in bed with my cup of coffee and my journal, I wrote a gratitude list - which I try to do every day any way, but today, it felt different. I was struck by the fact that I can so easily forget what is important (even though I practice focusing on that daily). That I can so easily take for granted each moment. I thought about how lucky I am to have had the opportunity to teach - and learn from - both Jamie and Rachel and all my other students. I thought how fortunate I am to lie in bed for just awhile longer on this Sunday morning, and stretch my body under warm covers and see the sunshine streaming through my window. How grateful I am for my family, my friends, my beautiful dog, for my health, for laughter and a sense of a humor, for my life. Dan Millman, athlete, coach, and professor said, "There are no ordinary moments." And Einstein explained, "There are two ways to live your life - one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle." Today, I chose to look at everything as extraordinary, as a miracle. Once out of bed I ate breakfast mindfully (I adapted this from my experience at Deerpark Monastery last summer, and while I had planned on eating a mindful meal once a week upon my return, I honestly, only do so about once a month). I read a mindful eating meditation and then proceeded to chew my food slowly, tasting every bite, noticing each flavor and texture, and thinking about how this food actually came to be and then came to be on my plate. Then I took my dog, Love, for a long walk. It was a beautiful day: sunny, with blue sky, and a slight breezy chill in the air. While I was writing my thesis I always took an "Awareness Walk" with Love in the mornings - making sure to notice as much as I could and doing my best to observe Love and how she "noticed" the world, doing my best to stay completely present. Leaving my phone at home, I set out to enjoy an Awareness Walk this morning. It was wonderful! Again, I felt blessed to get to see and enjoy the little yellow flowers on a tree, to inhale the air, to feel the wind on my cheeks, to hear the click-clack of Love's nails on the pavement, and to take interest in whatever Love seemed so incredibly curious about under this tree or that rock. To not be anywhere but where I was at that moment. I cried today too. I cried over loss, over fears, over a quote I read. I also laughed. I laughed really hard when I couldn't catch an onion I had taken off the shelf before it landed smack-dab into my coffee cup (probably doesn't sound funny, but in the moment it was pretty hilarious). Each of those moments passed. But I had them. I noticed them. I felt them. Laughter, tears, contentment - Love and pain and the whole damn thing. For all of it, I am grateful.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Mindfulness: Understanding and Acceptance

That nothing is static or fixed, that all is fleeting and impermanent, is the first mark of existence. It is the ordinary state of affairs. Everything is in process. Everything—every tree, every blade of grass, all the animals, insects, human beings, buildings, the animate and the inanimate—is always changing, moment to moment.
~ Pema Chödrön
Last night I attended a performance at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts: The Mystical Arts of Tibet: Sacred Music and Sacred Dance for World Healing. The performance was given by a group of monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery (currently in exile in Karnataka State, in south India).
The monks who performed have been in residence in Scottsdale all week. They created a sand mandala (below) over the course of five days as a way to transmit positive energy to the environment and healing for the world. Today, the monks will perform a ceremony to disassemble the mandala and sweep the millions of grains of sand into flowing water so that the healing blessings of the mandala can continue into the greater world.

The mandala ceremonies also represent impermanence, and how we can honor that in ourselves and in the world.

I am currently taking a class online entitled Awakening Joy, led by James Baraz (one of the founders of Spirit Rock meditation center in Northern California). The class is a ten-month course with another month of wrap-up and follows Baraz's book of the same title. This month's focus is Mindfulness. In his letter of the month, Baraz explains that one of the four properties of Mindfulness is that "as we pay attention, we begin to see for ourselves that the present moment is constantly changing...we can learn to enjoy the roller coaster ride of life, rather than think we will arrive at some fixed destination."

I always find it auspicious when the Universe places people, words, ideas, and such together for me to see (and hopefully, understand) which direction I would most benefit from placing my focus.

Letting go of expectations - of myself, other people, places and things - is another way of practicing Mindfulness, and accepting impermanence. This morning I was scheduled to attend my sangha meditation group. It only meets once a month on Sunday mornings for three hours. It is not a big commitment, yet I have been so over-committed, that when I got up late this morning and after walking my dog, I just didn't have the energy to go. I want to have the energy. I want to be Super Woman. I think I used to be. But I just can't do it any more.

The expectations I place on myself to do everything are too high. Where I used to be able to say "yes" to everything and jump to, I am no longer able, and maybe, I really don't want to. I am realizing with my packed schedule that I need to have a day where I don't do, I simply be. As I sat in bed this morning practicing an Appreciation-in-the-Moment exercise from my online class, I realized that I need to accept what is about myself. Though I feel guilty for not attending the sangha meeting this morning (as attending is not just for my benefit but for others), I came to the conclusion that I need to accept who I am and where I am, and that that means I need to re-think how I do. I decided next month, I will not schedule anything for the Saturday evening prior to my sangha meeting. That way, I can wake up without feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.

As the serenity prayer says (and as Baraz reminded in his letter): "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

*The photo of the sand mandala above was taken last night at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. If you would like more information on Tibetan Healing Mandalas please go to:

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Run, Walk, Hiccough - Just Move (or Twitch): It's the Mudivator!

Universe, forgive me, for I have no wind...It has been 75 days since my last blog post...

Do you see this photo? That's me, being eaten alive by the Mudivator.

Have you heard of the Mudivator? The Mudivator is the antithesis of the Motivator. It doesn't propel or encourage you, it eats you alive, sucking away any desire you have to support your own creativity. It's a slimy, sludgy thing. It does things like cause you to sit on the couch and watch five straight hours of repeats of the first season of Sister Wives, all the while eating Twizzlers and Junior Mints - candy that you don't even like. But it's there! And you must indulge - in both the t.v. and the confections. And do you know why? Because the Mudivator has you in its grasp, the dirty scoundrel! It wants to keep you from doing anything that might be healthy for your body, mind, or soul.
You might be thinking thoughts like, "It's New Year's day. I'm going to start fresh: eat right, meditate, indulge my creativity." But it doesn't matter once the Mudivator pulls you down and pulls you in. Even if you had a great first half of the day - you walked, you had time with friends, you ate relatively healthy, read an article on spirituality - you are not immune.
The first step is the hardest: admit you are powerless over the Mudivator. Once it touches you, you're gone, sistah!
You have to believe there is a power greater than yourself who can restore you to creativity. It might be a simple phone call with a friend who casually says, "I see you haven't written on your blog in awhile."
Next, you have to become willing to sit down at your computer and just write...ANYTHING! No editing. Uh, uh. Just type!
So here I am. Just typing.
Now, my dear friend Jill Badonsky created a muse called Lull. Lull is a muse who is there to help inspire by letting us rest and relax. She is not a big "do-er" - and we all know, us creative go-go-go'ers need down time to rev up and to rejuice. And I have definitely needed some Lull. But the thing is, I have been creating the past few months for others. Well, for me too - yes. But I haven't taken the time to tap into my own creative well, just for me. I need a Lull from creating for others, but I need a Marge (another muse - the "Okidokee, let's get started then" muse) to help me create for me.
I use the excuse of "comfort" - but when it's an excuse, that is when my vulnerability factor (a.k.a. laziness, which is different than Lull) sets in and I make room for the MUDIVATOR! So I find myself languishing on a couch, unmotivated and UNcomfortable.
Thanks to the phone call and the willingness to JUST WRITE! I am starting to feel motivated and, in the process, feeling the freedom of the Mudivator's grasp.
"I'm gonna wash that Mud right out of my hair..." - I'm feeeling more creative already!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Stopping to Smell the Oatmeal

This food is a gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings and much hard work.
May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive it.

May we recognize and transform our unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed, and learn to eat with moderation.
May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that we reduce the suffering of living beings, preserve our planet and reverse the process of global warming.
We accept this food so that we may nurture our brotherhood and sisterhood, strengthen our sangha and nourish our ideal of serving all beings.

~ Eating Meditation, Deerpark Monastery

This morning I made a bowl of oatmeal. I added banana and apple slices, a few almonds and walnuts as well as a few dried cranberries. I lit some candles, took out a cloth napkin, and read aloud the Eating Meditation above. Slowly and deliberately I ate my breakfast in silence.

I tasted the sweetness of the oatmeal and banana. My teeth and tongue felt the softness of the banana and cereal, as well as the crunchiness of the apple, the nuttiness of the walnuts and almonds, and the chewiness of the cranberries.

It took me twenty minutes to eat the whole bowl. Nothing to do. Nowhere to go. Except to be be present and mindful of my meal.

Breakfast was delicious and filling.

I attempted to eat at least one mindful meal a week when I returned from Deerpark Monastery this summer. However, I slacked off after two weeks and have only eaten mindfully maybe two or three times since. It was nice to take the time and engage in a mindful meal this morning.

I started thinking about how any mindful practice automatically seems to induce me to be more mindful in all areas. Following breakfast, I removed a big load of laundry from the dryer. I have been listening to Jack Kornfield's book After the Ecstasy, the Laundry on CD in my car (thanks to my friend, Joan, for passing that along to me). Having just returned from a trip to California which included the opportunity to hear HH the Dalai Lama, enjoy time with some of my oldest and dearest friends, as well as time off work, I would say it was a fairly "ecstatic" trip. Easy to be present, easy to tap into all that is good. At home, life resumes in regularity. Ordinariness.

As I folded my warm, clean clothes this morning, I realized how much I enjoy this simple, ordinary, "regular" chore....well, I enjoy it when I have time and choose not to think about it as a "chore."

As I folded my clothes, I thought about how nice it was to fold them, to take care of these things that are important to my daily life. How grateful I am to have clothes of my choosing, that I can afford, and that I have a washer and dryer in my home to help me keep them clean. I noticed the different patterns in my socks and my underwear (and thought what a funny breed we are to make such "necessities" such fun), I felt the contrast in the differing materials - jeans, T-shirts, bras.

The extraordinary in the ordinary. The beauty in the mundane.

And then my thoughts turned to my students.

Parent-Teacher Conferences begin tomorrow. Every student is different. Each have different needs, motivations, ideas, ways of learning and taking in information. Each come from different families, backgrounds, ways of looking at the world. So do their parents.

Sometimes I forget how extraordinary each of these people are. It's not that I don't see my students as individuals (or their parents), it's just that sometimes I get wrapped up in my needs and my ideas in the course of the day: Am I providing the best information? The right information? Am I teaching the class well? If so-and-so isn't paying attention, what happens to the class as a whole? Not that these are "bad" thoughts to have, it's just that I sometimes forget that each and every student has their own agenda, their own needs, their own own-ness (I am not sure what "own-ness" actually is, but I can't think of a better word right now).

Each student is an extraordinary being. So are each student's parents. In the course of an ordinary day, if I am not paying attention, I can miss that truth.

May I be present for each of my students and their parents. May I listen to each of them deeply. May I speak with only right speech; with attention, care, and compassion. May I share only that which is necessary, helpful, kind, and truthful.

May I stop and TRULY smell the oatmeal!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Becoming Comfortable with Impermanence (Kinda, Sort-of, More-So-Than-I-Used-To-Be)

One must accept the serenity of the winged life, of ebb and flow, of intermittency.
~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Buddhism acknowledges impermanence as a way of life. Old time members of Alcoholics Anonymous tout (and rely on) the slogan, "this, too, shall pass." Though I have intellectually understood the idea of change - and, of course, have experienced it for over 46 years - emotionally, at times, I have often fought against this idea with a vengeance: holding on to what I [think I] want, how I would like things to be - often leaving deeply embedded nail marks on people, places, things, and situations, as I have, to no avail, refused to let go.

Over the past couple of years, I have started to release my tight grasp, have begun to let go (or, at least, let be), of what I want or how I think things should be and have started to accept people, places, things, and situations as they are right now. Not always. Not in every moment and not in every situation. But definitely much more often.

This past summer and this new school year have given me the opportunity to practice flowing with impermanence on a very conscious level. First, I graduated in June, and while it has been a luxury to have some extra time and to have the pressure of assignments, papers, and deadlines removed, the loss of the intensity, the intellectual, emotional and spiritual challenges, and the loss (albeit, not completely, just daily) of a close community of people who share a common language and goals has left me feeling a bit hollowed.

I also let go of a relationship that I had been hanging onto two years too long. While I am aware that this is actually a positive change, it has been an adjustment.

This current school year has given me the chance to switch teaching hats. I moved from a full-time 6th grade teacher into the role of Drama teacher, where I spend my days teaching both sixth and twelfth grade students. I have missed having a contained classroom, and have struggled with the transition of teaching older students, who are in many instances, "set in their ways."

However, there have been some lovely moments through all of these changes as well. There is a kind of serenity within that I don't recall having before. I am more want to notice what I am feeling, as well as my responses to different people and situations, with an "Isn't that interesting?" perspective rather than a reactive one. I believe that all my years in AA coupled predominantly with my Naropa education and continuing journey in Buddhist practices are helping me to become much more mindful of who I am and what I am doing in the here and now.
Psychotherapist, writer, teacher and co-founding member of Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Sylvia Boorstein says:

Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience.
It isn't more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.

Maintaining my personal ritual practices (i.e. daily meditation, awareness walks with my dog, Love - albeit only about once a week now) since graduation has helped immensely to be sure. Shamatha, in particular, has been a very important component - I believe - in my ability to ebb and flow with daily impermanence, as well as with the "bigger" changes that have come my way.
Also, deepening my practice through the time I spent at Deerpark Monastery, continuing my Shambhala Training (I completed my Level 3 Training a few weeks ago and will be taking my Level 4 Training in November), and also beginning to meet with a monthly sangha meditation group have also helped to keep me balanced when life's winds seem to kick up and throw me a bit off course. I "take comfort" in my continuing practice.

My friend, Debbie, snapped the above photo outside a Starbucks store recently and sent it to my cell phone. It made me smile, as I received it while I was at work and the timing could not have been better. I had been ruminating about my classroom rituals. Last year they were such a meaningful part of my class work. This year, they seem to be practiced more along the lines of routine. I have been wondering if it was the way I introduced them....or if it is the way my students have seemed to only semi-embrace them...or perhaps there is something else that has led me to feeling that the rituals we are practicing don't feel sacred like they did in the past.

However, by simply continuing to practice them, I do take comfort in the rituals themselves. It reminds me of Mother Teresa and how she wrote in her diary and confided in her spiritual counselors that she had experienced the loss of her faith and yet she continued to perform service work and prayer. I am also reminded of my acting training where I was encouraged to be present and to "come from where you are" and at the same time, knowing when it is important to rely on technique.

And yet, I know - I really do know - that this, too, shall pass. My classroom rituals will have meaning again. Or perhaps I will let go of some and add anew. And maybe in being present for the fact that my classroom ritual practices feel a bit meaning-less, I can begin to understand what they might mean on a deeper level. I trust "that nothing is static or fixed," as Pema Chödrön reminds us:

Everything is in process. Everything—every tree, every blade of grass, all the animals, insects, human beings, buildings, the animate and the inanimate—is always changing, moment to moment.

And so it is.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Coming From Where I Am, Meeting People Where They Are

A dandelion never apologizes for itself. ~ Alexandra Shenpen

It's been a few weeks since I last wrote. My plan was to post consistently on this blog - at least once a week - to be delightfully disciplined in chronicling my thoughts, feelings, and experiences, post-thesis. However, as I currently sit at my computer I am thinking of the gentle 12-Step reminder to "plan the plans, not the outcome." And, per usual, the way most things happen in my life are not due to my arrangement of plans, but how I flow with the experiences.

Am I in "flow" now? Hmmm...somewhat. In some ways, I believe I am allowing myself to be and welcoming whatever is yet to come (this is actually an aspiration I created for myself just over a year ago when I left my second summer intensive at Naropa). I would chalk that up to my daily sitting practice, daily readings of all kinds of spiritual materials (books, articles, affirmations), and my willingness - more times than not - to pause and breathe before I allow myself to impulsively react.

That being said, the other "somewhat" here is that so often I feel exhausted. I am not sure if this is simply a part of my "coming down" process from the whole experience of going, going for two straight years: creating a new curriculum, teaching full-time +, attending to my own Masters studies and writing a thesis, or if there is something else going on, such as 105-113 degree days on end while adjusting to a new schedule/new mind-set at work (I am teaching two sections of sixth graders and three sections of twelfth graders drama, as opposed to teaching in a - mostly self-contained sixth grade classroom) this year. Or, perhaps, it's a combination of these things...or even something else (what that would be, I do not know).

So what I am saying is I don't feel quite like I am "joyfully exerting" myself. On the other hand, I am also enjoying my work and my students. I am experiencing paradox. I am hoping for a Parker Palmer insight to install itself into this paragraph. And I am also thinking that a little Pema-ism (as in, Chödrön) is in order here (i.e. "Start where you are.").

So here I am: feeling generous of spirit, wanting to joyfully exert myself, being more patient than usual (but still wanting it all "now" and "my way," don'tcha know), being semi-disciplined (sitting meditation, yes, everything else: here and there), and yet feeling lethargic, numb, and worn out.

I am also noticing my reactions in different situations. I read an article by Noah Levine (founding teacher of the Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society) in the September issue of Shambhala Sun where he uses the term "response-ability." That struck a chord in me. When I breathe, pause, and truly listen - to myself (my gut, my heart), and to others - my ability to respond comes from a place of compassion, from a wiser place than "my thinking is right" mind. I have noticed my internal response is reaction: defense sprung from fear. I have noticed when I wait, when I pause, when I remain truly present to the experience of self and others, my ability to respond with an open mind and heart is a much better - and even more practical - way to acknowledge and behave.

I gave my Department Head, Ed, at school two ten-minute plays that I was thinking about using with my Senior students for their semester performances. A few mornings ago Ed said to me in a very serious tone, "Nicky, I'd like to make some time to talk to you about those plays you are considering." Immediately I felt my defenses go up. "What's wrong with the plays?" I thought. "He thinks I make bad choices. He's sorry he thought I'd be a good choice for drama teacher." I walked around feeling agitated all day with these thoughts and feelings.

After school that day, I met with Ed. He told me he really enjoyed the pieces I gave him (though he said, I should cut the expletives and the reference to masturbation - which I was planning to do anyway). He said he just felt like it was his responsibility to let me know that we work in a very, very conservative community and he wanted to be my advocate and make sure I made choices (he said he would never tell me what I should and shouldn't do) that wouldn't cause me to have to deal with negative backlash.


Thank you, Ed. And thank you, Universe, for another lesson learned. Pause. Listen.

I was so grateful for that dialogue. The next day I brought in one of the pieces for my students to read. One section had a completely negative response to the piece. One section was split, and the third found it humorous though they didn't quite get all the cultural/theatrical references. I decided to nix that piece. Though I want to challenge my students, I also want to meet them on their terms - where they are.

I have heard from several people who graduated the Naropa program the year before I did, that their year teaching post-graduation was a really difficult one...for a few different reasons. My friend, Joan, theorized that the difficulty may come from something that is actually a "good" thing: we are über-aware, and therefore, our sensitivity to everything is heightened. I have a feeling that I may have a somewhat-difficult year just from all that I noted at the beginning of this post. However, knowing that I can practice the paramitas of patience, generosity, discipline, meditation, joyful exertion, and prajna in order to ride the year with some grace (hopefully) and ease, allows me to believe that this year will unfold as it should and all will be well even with bumps along the way.

Do not fear the winds of adversity. Remember: A kite rises against the wind rather than with it.
~ Author Unknown

Each difficult moment has the potential to open my eyes and open my heart.
~ Myla Kabat-Zinn

I ask not for a lighter burden, but for broader shoulders.
~ Jewish Proverb

This is where I am. Today.

Happy to be here.