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, 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.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Spirituality Isn't Just Found on a Mountain Top...You Can Find it at Loews

There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness. ~ Dalai Lama

Last week, while shopping at Soul Scape Gift & Bookstore in Encinitas, CA, I bought a stone slab with the above quote etched into it. It is now hanging on a wall in my livingroom.

My understanding of Buddhism is that God - a Higher Power, the Universe, the Divine - exists in the this moment. The Quakers say that the God in me sees the God in you. And Michael Levin who authored The Complete Idiot's Guide to Jewish Spirituality & Mysticism explains that spirituality is really all about striving to be the best person one can be. Compassion for self and all living beings, authentic connection with all sentient beings, ecology and the environment, feeling true joy and true sorrow and everything in between are all part of what it means to be spiritual.

After attending 12-Step programs for many a year, completing a two-year Masters program at Naropa University this past June, in the midst of taking Shambhala Training (I take my Level Three training next month), and most recently attended a five-day retreat at Deerpark Monastery, I am realizing more and more how each moment offers an opportunity for spiritual growth. How each moment offers me the chance to wake up.

I have studied acting for a major part of my life. Six very important components of acting are: 1) To stay present, 2) To connect to your breath, 3) To be aware - of self, others, space, and the world, 4) To develop compassion for self, others (including your the character you're playing), and the greater world, and 5) To be of service to the playwright, the director, one's fellow actors, and to the audience, 6) To cultivate joyful discipline of one's craft and whatever supports that.

These are the lessons I have found, too, in 12-Step programs, at Naropa, and in all that I have learned so far about Buddhism. Funny that I have to keep learning these lessons over and over. That I need constant reminders (little Mindfulness Bells going off daily). That when the student really is ready the teacher/teachings appear.

While at the retreat at Deerpark, I met a woman who had attended the retreat the previous year when Thich Nhat Hahn was at the Monastery. On our second-to-last day I asked her if she was enjoying the retreat this year as much as last. She replied, "No." Oh, I thought. Wow. "Can you describe why," I asked. She said, "It's just not as spiritual this year. It's fun and everything, but It's just not very spiritual."

Not spiritual?!

I thought everything about the retreat was spiritual. The land, the sky. The silence. The smiles and laughter. The meditation. The monks and nuns. The dharma talks and discussions. Mindful everything. The connections with others.

Hmm...I thought.

That evening, as we gathered for "Family Dinner" (eating just with our dharma discussion /service groups), the woman I had talked to didn't show up. I later heard from someone that she had eaten dinner with someone else. She also didn't attend the "Be In" (a celebration of performances) that evening, our final night at the retreat.

At first I judged her (I suppose, to be honest, I still do). I thought., "She's obviously missed the point. If she thinks spirituality can only be found in a Master Teacher, and can't feel/see that spirituality is right here. It's about being present and showing up." Hmph! (said, self-righteous little ol' me).

Upon a bit more reflection, I thought, "Well, this is that woman's path. She is probably right where she is supposed to be. It's not right of me to judge her on what she says and what she thinks. We don't have to share the same point of view. We had that discussion for a reason. Perhaps more will be revealed to me and to her."

Good thoughts. Though I didn't really buy into them. "Fake it 'til you make it," though (so I've been taught).

I remember when I first started going to 12-Step meetings. I was pretty much agnostic, had never really thought that much about God one way or another (except when I was about ten and read Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret and the main character said her parents had said, "God is a nice idea."). I was told that I needed to find a Higher Power - a power greater than myself.

First, under the guidance of my first sponsor, I used the group as a power greater than myself. Somewhere in my first year I felt the need to believe in "God," so I conjured up some old biblical idea of the man with the long white beard and the staff - a sort of Sistine Chapel-esque type of God. That kinda worked, but after awhile it seemed like a very narrow view of the Divine.

Over the years, my idea of God changed. I don't even know what God is anymore...the Universe? A Divine Force? Anything and everything? A feeling? A sense? God is a three-letter word and it easily rolls of my tongue, but I don't know what God really is. However, the idea of being present, open and alive in every moment makes sense to me. Being kind and compassionate makes sense to me. Having a sense, of curiosity, wonder and awe makes sense to me. Feeling every emotion fully makes sense to me. That is spirituality to me.

But it took me many years to fully come to this. And, so, who am I to judge the woman at the retreat and her path?

Yesterday I went to Loews to purchase some cinder blocks for some bookshelves I was constructing for my apartment. I got one of those big dollys and bought 12 cinder blocks. Though it really took a lot of upper-body strength for me to push that dolly, when the cashier asked me if I needed help, I declined. It actually felt really good to "joyfully exert" myself physically.

However, when I got to my car, an elderly gentleman in a pick-up truck made a U-turn and parked himself right next to my car. His window was open and he said, "I'm going to help you with that."

"Oh, no. That's okay. Thank you," I said.

"No, no," said the man getting out of his truck. "I'm going to do that."

I watched as this man carefully arranged each cinder block into my trunk.

"What's your name?," I asked.


"Hi, Paul," I extended my hand. "I'm Nicky."

"Nice to meet you," he said.

"Nice to meet you," I said. "Thank you so much for your help. That was really great."

"You're welcome," he told me. "Have a nice life."

"You too," I said.

I watched him drive off in his truck. A simple encounter. An act of kindness. That man and I will probably never meet again. But for a few minutes we had a connection. Paul's act of kindness set the stage for the rest of my day. Reminding me to be kind, to smile, to be of help if needed.

No mountain top or Master Teacher required. Kindness - spirituality - can be found in the parking lot of your neighborhood Loews.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Breathing and Smiling

After a five-day retreat at Deerpark Monastery ( I am enjoying some Buddha-spaciousness. I am grateful for my time at the Monastery, to all the monks, nuns, and the entire community at the retreat. I am breathing. I am smiling. I am enjoying the moment and looking forward to what is yet to come.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Jump Start

Tradition simply means that we need to end what began well and continue what is worth continuing. ~ Jose Bergamin

Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence. ~ Henry David Thoreau

Understand that the right to choose your own path is a sacred privilege. Use it. Dwell in possibility. ~ Oprah Winfrey

Here I go...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Thesis written and edited. Written some more and edited some more. Page numbers inserted (after hitting my head against the wall for an hour and a half) as best as I possibly could insert them. The Thesis, in its entirety, emailed to Thesis Instructor and Thesis Advisor by 10:00 A.M. on the due date of June 1, 2010.

Let all that be noted.

For posterity or for whatever. Just let it be noted.

What does one do after one is done with such an endeavor. I feel spent and empty all at the same time.

I have much to do to prepare for my Thesis Presentation on June 25. I also have much to do to finish up my teaching school year (enter grades, break down a set, clean out my classroom and office space, and start planning for fall). Yet, it all pales compared to what I just the moment.

And yet, what I completed doesn't even feel complete. There was so much I had to leave out - so much research, so many ideas...

Lee Worley always instructs her students to be aware of intensification and Space - to feel both fully. And to make Space our friend. Lee encourages, "notice what you notice." I am noticing it all, I am feeling it all. It's a bit overwhelming at the moment. It's all good. It's all good because I'm present and showing up for it all. I do, however, want to get back in bed and stay there for awhile, covers up. But I can't today. Or tomorrow. But I just might do that next week when I have some time. But by then, I may not want to. So I'll have to see how I'm feeling then.

But for now, I'm done.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Journey, the Wait, and the Weight Lifted

It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters in the end.
- Ursula K. LeGuin

I completed my thesis. I wrote the last sentence to the last chapter on Thursday evening, May 13 at 9:25 PM.

And though I completed my thesis, it isn't exactly complete. I am awaiting comments from my Thesis Advisor and red marks from my Thesis Reader. I still have to clean up my citations and write my Gratitudes. But, nonetheless, I finished my thesis!


When I told my mother Friday night, she said she was so happy to hear it because she thought I was, literally, having a nervous breakdown and wouldn't graduate (ahh- she of little faith! - I am joking, of course, as both my mother and father have been my biggest supporters throughout this entire process). However, I was beginning to feel like I was going to have a nervous breakdown and not finish my thesis either! The last few weeks have been grueling.

It's been almost a month since I last posted on this blog. Between teaching and writing this "tome" - and that's what it feels like printed out, holding it in my hands - I haven't had the time or even the desire to write anything more than I have to.

I still have a ton to do: the school year is coming to a close and I have two drama productions to prep for, tests to write, finals to put together, a stack of grading left to do, not to mention doing the re-writes for my thesis when I get my comments back from my Advisor and Reader, and prepping for my Presentation on June 25. At the same time, I truly feel like I can do ANYTHING! Send it my way: I can deal with it!

So, while I am awaiting feedback, a humongous weight has been lifted off my shoulders, my chest, my mind - heck: my whole being!

Thank you to all of my friends, co-workers, and family members who have gone on this journey with me - listened to me bitch, supported me through and through, and who cried tears of joy with me the past few days. This has certainly been one of the most challenging things - and one of the greatest things - I have ever done...and I'm still doing it. But it's wonderful and exhilarating to have hit a milestone along the way.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Analysis and Charting and Organizing - Oh, My!

Data, that is. Here is my work from this weekend, thus far. My Thesis Advisor helped me devise a plan of breaking down my data for my "Findings" chapter. Charting the data and putting it up on my wall so I could see it all - really get a good visual about the information I collected. I ended up charting my data in somewhat similar, but different ways - depending on what seemed like the best way to go. For example, the data I charted about "Other Teacher Practices" - for their in-class practices, I cut and pasted my already-typed up information. Then I made a column for the commonalities I found. When charting my students' responses, I used general themes that were expressed about each ritual practice. At any rate - I got something done. Something I can work with to begin writing up my data/analysis.

Above: Other teacher data (top: classroom practices; below: personal practices)

Above: Top - In-class rituals charted by how often they are used as well as which "Need" they feed. Bottom - Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs" pyramid and key.

Above: Top - In-class rituals (in my classroom), with overall/major responses by students to each ritual practice, as well as their imnplications *(referenced also are Maslow's "Needs" and what categories each ritual fulfills: community, connection, and/or compassion). Below - My personal ritual practices outside of the classroom: how often I practice them, the Maslow and "Three C's" connections, and the benefits/impact on teaching these rituals provide.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Space and Abstract

Having given myself alomost a week off from posting on this here blog, I am reaping the benefits of a little bit more room to explore and write my thesis. While the past week was extraordinarily busy, I managed to get my thesis abstract written, made some headway organizing my data, and had a terrific meeting with my Thesis Advisor this evening, who helped me create a structure for my "Findings" chapter.

I feel a bit more centered with the direction my thesis is moving in. There is definitely more clarity. I tweaked the title a bit - and that helped, and I'm putting more empasis on the connection between Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs than I had before. It is helping everything else fall into place.

Below is a copy of my Thesis Abstract:

Ritual Practices: Pathways to Cultivating Community, Connection, and Compassion (in and out of the classroom)

This thesis explores ritual practices as they are used by the author outside of her classroom and with her students in the classroom. Studies have shown that a sense of safety, well-being, and belonging are essential for learning. To learn deeply, one must take risks, develop a sense of wonder and curiosity, plunge inward and practice self-examination. This paper will examine how ritual practices can serve as pathways to cultivating community, connection, and compassion within teachers and students, fulfilling the basic essential needs of every human being, and subsequently leading to deeper learning and connections between self, others, the environment, and the greater world at large.

It feels good to post tonight. I have to admit I've been jones-ing a bit to write, but I committed to staying focused on the Big Kahuna (a.k.a. the Thesis itself), and that is where my energy belongs.

Whomever reads this: thank you. Thank you for helping me stay accountable to writing. There is a lot on this blog that doesn't have to do with my thesis. However, there is a lot that does, and some of those pieces are part of my data. I am so grateful that I chose this type of journal format. It has been a blessing throughout this process.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Making Room for Buddha

My thesis advisor told me tonight that she dreamed about me in my green car this past week.

I don't think I've mentioned the green car yet. The color green is representative of Karma energy - wind energy. Karma is action. It is moving, doing. I drive a green car. A green Prius, to be exact. Oh, no - not in the relative world...I drive my little green Prius in my very-full, subjective mind.

My green car transports me and all that I do: all my inner methods that are supposed to help me, like meditating, blogging, Morning Pages, Enso practice, Awareness Walks. Last week, my thesis advisor, Mary, encouraged me to welcome more Buddha energy into my world and into my thesis process. Buddha energy: white. Space.

Tonight Mary asked me if I could drop some of these inner methods off for awhile. She said they could go somehwere fun, like Disneyland. She said if I dropped some of these guys off, I would have room for Buddha in my car. And then my green car would be less green and become a bit more white. She said I didn't have to completely drop these methods...just let 'em go play somewhere else for awhile. She said, I needed to make more I could write my thesis.


Who am I without these methods? I've already cut back on my Enso practice and my Morning Pages. If I cut back more, am I doing enough? Will I be lazy? Will my thesis still be "good enough?"

But then I visualized Buddha energy in my car. I could see it. I could feel it. And it made sense. I am overwhelmed between my thesis work and the work I do for my teaching job. I overwhelm myself more by cramming up my little green car with inner methods. What if the inner methods are taking away from the process rather than benefitting it at this point? And what if I let them go - let them out of the car and dropped them off (somewhere safe) - for awhile?


Okay. Okay...yeah...yes...I can do that. I think. I can let go of some of my inner methods. I've basically let go of Enso and Morning writing already, so, yeah: I can give those up. For now. Awareness Walks? Well, I have to walk my dog anyway...but sometimes I could walk Love in the mornings without being hyper-vigilant about being "aware." Okay. Sometimes I'll take Awareness Walks and sometimes I won't. Meditation? Well - no. I can't give that up. It's uber-grounding and helps me in so many ways - and it's part of my program. So shamatha stays in the car. But what about the blog? Must I blog every day? Right now? In the last six-seven weeks of my thesis, when I will be writing and writing and writing? Oh - oh...o..k..aa...y. I can give up blogging...every day...but I will still blog once or twice a week! Phew!

So, where will all these inner methods go - for awhile? Hmmm...Somewhere fun, Mary encouraged. And you can pick them up in the not-too-distant future, she promised. Well, then...Oh, I know: the Hotel Sofitel in downtown Chicago! 800 thread-count Egyptian sheets, with fluffy white comforters and pillows. My inner methods can jump on the bed, snuggle under the covers, order room service, sleep, watch cable, sleep some more, read any books they want, sleep some more.

Okay. This is starting to feel do-able.

As I hunker down (with a rough draft of Chapters four and five of my thesis due Thursday, April 22, and a full rough draft due May 1), it makes sense to let go a bit, drop off some of those inner methods at the Sofitel, and open up some space in that little green car o'mine.

So I won't be posting tomorrow. That seems odd. Mary said it's like when you're going through a break up. It's really uncomfortable in the beginning. Well, I've been uncomfortable before. Many times. I've lived through it. And, ultimately, the discomfort always changed...always turned into a new kind of comfort. So, here I go...

Space, space, space, space, space...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Quest

To be on a quest is nothing more or less than to become an asker of questions.
- Sam Keen

Even if I walk away from my thesis for a whole day, it stays with me. It is always in the back of mind from morniong 'til night. Even during the school day, when I am focused on my students and what we are doing in the moment, my thesis is always looming, asking the questions throughout the day, in that tiney, quiet thesis voice in the back of my mind.

This morning during drama rehearsal, the girls and I choreographed movements for a song in the play called Jackmaker (sung to the tune of Matchmaker from Fiddler on the Roof). I gave them direction, and then they came up with a few better moves. It was a collaborative process, and it was a really nice interchange of give and take.

As we were going back to our classroom (we rehearse outside where we have more space), some of the students were singing the Jackmaker song and a few of the kids were singing another song from the show. It wasn't anything monumental - it was just really nice to see/hear the students enjoying the song and the comraderie that comes with working on a production.

In Language Arts, our discussion turned to peer pressure and conformity - as the theme of individuality v. conformity runs through the book we are currently reading, A Wrinkle in Time. I asked questions, the students asked questions and we had a really thoughtful discussion.

Later in the day, during Social Studies, my students had the option sof working individually, in pairs or small groups to read a packet on ancient Rome and answer specific questions (on paper). I walked around (some were outside, some were in the classroom) and spent some time chatting and asking questions regarding the reading with some of the students. At the end of the period, we all met back in classroom and had an all-class discussion to wind up the reading. The students all had thoughts and feelings to share about the reading, and we also began (we ran out of time) to make comparisons to the book we ae currently reading as our read-aloud book, The Giver.

Throughout the day, my students and I engaged in play, in study, and in discussion. We shared ideas, thoughts, and experiences. We connected in different ways, on different levels.

As I said: this isn't monumental. It is just part of our day to day. And yet I wonder if we are able to have the conversations/discussions we do because of who we are, or because of the atmosphere we have created. Through ritual. And I wonder, if what I am seeing/feeling is seen/felt by my students - which, I think it is, from what they've told me.

Tonight, I typed up answers to questions from the "non-contemplative" questionnaires I received back from some of my fellow colleagues. I also cut/pasted answers from an online survey I conducted with three Naropa graduates. This will be part of my "Findings" chapter in my thesis. I thought about (and asked questions) about the answers I received, how I conducted the surveys, the questions I asked,,,Did I ask enough? Did I use enough teachers? What does this data offer me? What are its implications - if any?

In the musical, Man of La Mancha, Don Quixote tells Aldonza, "Whether I win or lose does not matter." She then asks, "What does?" Don Quixote replies, "Only that I follow the quest."

So every day, I do my best to remain open and aware. I continue to "notice what I notice" (per Lee Worley), and I continue to ask quest. I just can't seem to not do that.

Don Quixote sings:

And I know, if I'll only be true
To this glorious Quest,
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest.

And I will be peaceful - I hope - when I am done with my thesis.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Data Collection: The Latest Technology

I'm thinking about all the information I need to write up in my computer. Some of it is on paper, awaiting to be transferred into my computer. But much is in my head.

When are the Microsoft, IBM, or Apple people gonna invent a port-in-the-head? At this point, shouldn't there be some kind of port in our head so that one could simply stick a flash drive in, gather and transfer the data, and then just stick the flash drive into the computer, and, voila - the data is all on the computer, ready to be copied and pasted into a document?!

I think that this would be an invaluable invention.

And while "they're" at it, don't you think at this point plastic surgery should be advanced enough that no surgery would be required? For example: couldn't "they" just simply invent a contraption that could push belly fat into the butt area (or vice-versa)?! It would be non-invasive, more people would be want to invest in the procedure, and I - well - I would be very happy.

Fat removed. Check.
Thesis done. Check.

Ahh...if it could all be just that simple!

Monday, April 5, 2010

PLAYing Around

It's late. I can't think of a thing to post this evening that is thesis-oriented nor really awareness-oriented, or even political...except: Grrr...well, don't get me started.

Legislation was approved regarding a bill in Arizona that would require eighth graders to MEMORIZE questions from the U.S. citizenship exam, in order to pass eighth grade. The information wouldn't be taught in class. The questions and answers would be posted on school's websites so that students could MEMORIZE them. Hmmm...Lots of learning and understanding happening there. Here's the website, should you care to see how much farther downhill Arizona can go in terms of education:

Anyway - I am about to go to bed and I don't want to go there angry and have icky dreams.

I spent the past few hours working on revising two plays that my students are currently working on in drama. I wrote both plays quite awhile back for my fourth grade students when I taught in a private school just North of Chicago. Currently, I am revising them and adding eight more characters to one of the plays and ten more to the other, so that my students can rehearse them and perform them them as their Drama final in May.

The article above regarding the new education legislation has me angry. I don't want my students - any students - to simply memorize facts, or even lines for a play, simply to memorize them and then forget them. Learning by rote is just fine, if one is using that as a tool to get to the heart of something. For example: it's often quite good to learn your lines by rote, so that when you are in rehearsals, you aren't intoning the line with false emotion. It is so important to make character discoveries and relationship discoveries in the moment, during rehearsals (and, in live theatre - even during performance, albeit in much more subtle ways).

I am not against learning certain facts by rote either. But after the initial memorization, one must go deeper to understand exactly what one learned. What is the significance/meaning of what was memorized. How doe s this information connect with other information? Where does it fall into a bigger picture? If information is simply memorized with no real content behind it, as soon as the information is "spit" back out, it doesn't typically remain in the brain, in the psyche, or in the body. Poof - it goes away.

Though my students are asked to memorize their lines a week after they receive a section (I am giving my students the plays in piecemeal), they are encouraged to get their heads out of their scripts and relate to one another. They need to know what they are actually saying, not simply saying lines because they're there on the page. They need to know what their character's objective is (what the character wants) and stay focused on that. They need to be aware of their bodies on stage.

While I've been "play"ing around this evening, I don't find this new Bill to be anything near funny, and I think it has some very serious implications for Arizona's children and their education.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Awareness Times Two

My father took a road trip to New Mexico this weekend. On his way, he stopped in Tempe and left me to babysit his dog over the weekend.

Bandit is also a Border Collie. Male. He and Love have spent a great deal of time together both at my home, and mostly at my dad's. Upon their first meeting, it was a bit tentative, especially because Love is so gosh-darn territorial and jealous. Their relationship is a little bit edgy, here and there, but they get along fairly well now. They kiss when they greet each other and, at times, they play together as well.

Walking them is always an interesting excursion - particularly so when only one person is walking them together.

First of all, they are both black and white. Though they have completely different body types, and completely different types of fur and markings, the fact that they share the same color scheme, makes them a very cute match. Second, they have completely different ways of "being" in their worlds: the way they move, how they sniff out certain areas, and even how they take their poos and pees (Bandit, leg up over a bush or tree to pee; Love, squatting daintily...Bandit runs back and forth and back and forth over and over, covering a small track of land in order to ready himself for a poo; Love simply squats as if she is giving birth to a watermelon).

Despite their differences, there are times when they sync up and walk side by side, at a similar pace, and times when they go nose-to-nose to sniff a specific scent. They also seem quite respectful of one another when one wants to stop and sniff out a particular area, and the other seems to care less. One will always wait for the other to finish his or her time with a specific smell, or a scratch against a bush, or piece of lawn, or when each of them does their "business."

Both dogs get super-sonic-excited when they know they are going to go for a walk. Love hops, bounds, and bounces all over the place and Bandit bays and whines - as if they are both going to Doggy Disneyland with handfuls of "E" tickets for the best doggy-rides EVER! I am not kidding. To be a dog: to get that excited about going for a walk, every single time, no matter how many times they've gone out in one day. That's the way to live!

Walking the two at the same time has its complications. They twist up, their leashes get tangled, they walk on opposite sides of poles and pillars. In order to stay vertical, I have to be completely present and aware of my surroundings and what both dogs are doing. It becomes a dance of sorts, and the three of us perform a very intricate pas de trois that can be quite humorous - especially when I take my eyes off of one or the other or the both of them.

Even when my dad and I are together with them, we have to make sure we are giving both dogs equal attention, as they vie for both of ours. Alone, I have to be at the top of my game, making sure that they both get equal treats, equal affection, and equal play time. Just like my students: there is no room for favorites when I am acting "mommy" to both dogs. It's a good lesson on awareness, mindfulness, and being as loving and fair as possible.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

When the Student is Ready the Teacher Appears...

...often in the form of a student. Actually, VERY often in the form of a student - in big ways and small ways, and in reminding ways.

On a posting from January 24, I wrote about the Muse Marge, and channeling my "inner brat." I was feeling like I needed a push, and really didn't want to do my thesis work. Tonight, I have been trying to get through grading papers and prepping some vocabulary for Monday. I have much to do tomorrow on my thesis and have two plays I must work on for my students' drama classes on Monday, as well.


However, I received an email this evening from one of my students who told me she's stressed out and tiredand did I have any suggestions about how she could deal with these feelings in terms of her Rome project (which is due on Thursday, that she has had a month to do). I explained to this student that I could completely relate, and that the only suggestion I could give her at this point was to summon her "inner brat" and say, "So what - I'm gonna do it anyway."

We can pout all we want. We can procrastinate. Dig our heels in, and say "no, no, no!" But the fact is, when it comes down to it: the work has to get done. And it's a "me" job - only I can do my own work, and so I better get bratty and get out there.

And here's the thing: sometimes the only thing you can do is simply do it. And here's the other thing: the only way I can expect my students to get this stuff, is if I get this stuff. So I'm getting it.

Darn it.

And, so what!

Friday, April 2, 2010

It's Good that it's Friday

And it's really good that I am off work.

Good Friday, the day that Jesus died on the cross, is acknowledged all around the globe by Christians, and for some - mostly Catholics - celebrated in ritual church services, and by abstaining from eating meat. Other sects of Christianity observe in other ways.

Whenever Good Friday rolls around, I can't help but think about the Judas character in the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar belting out:

Did you mean to die like that? Was that a mistake, or
Did you know your messy death would be a record breaker?

I am always intrigued that Jesus' life and death changed the world. I am always amazed that - at least as far as I know - the teachings of Jesus taught love, respect, and care for one's fellow man. That he was the guy who said, "live and let live," and "love your neighbor as yourself," and yet so many people who claim to be "Christians" don't choose to follow those teachings. I am amazed in the same way that I am astounded that there are bigoted Jews, and Jews who treat their neighbors with disrespect and condemnation.

Not that I have a clue of what to do with all that I wrote above. Just thinking "out ;oud" here. Between Today and Passover it's been quite a week of contemplation for me. At any rate, it has been really nice to have a day off from the regular rigamoral, to have an opportunity to think and not just do. It's been good. This Friday.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Taking attendance can feel like drudgery, or it can provide a structure that prompts direct recognition between your students and you. This means you acknowledge each other - as you are in that moment – by making a visible and verbal connection. As a result, taking roll leads to two related positive outcomes: you’ll know which students are physically present in your class, and also know who is “really there” – in body and in mind (Schoeberlein, 2009, p. 54).

Being that today is April Fool's Day, and also being that today was the day prior to a three-day weekend, my students were quite giddy and mirthful the whole day through.

At our school, we are required to take attendance twice a day: once, first thing in the morning, and again directly after lunch. Today, I was a couple of minutes late returning from lunch. When I arrived in my classroom, all of my students were standing, quietly, at their desks, ready to take attendance, as is customary...But, wait! - Not one student was standing at his or her correct desk. At first I thought that maybe Tania (Mrs. Hipple) - their math teacher - has rearranged their seats. But then I realized, they had all switched their spots as an April Fool's prank.

"Good one," I quipped. "Now you can all take attendance as if you were the person whose desk you are standing at" (I said this with a laugh and a twinkle - not as a reprimand).

I think I've explained this before - but if you missed it: my students all take attendance with one another. I don't call out all their names, I just call out the first student's name on the list, and he calls off the next, and so on. In this way, everyone is accountable for everyone else. Because this ritual practice is done as a community, taking attendance in this way invokes community and connection.

Because all the students here all the names called out in order two times every day, everyone knows the order "by heart." I wasn't surprised that they were able to run down the attendance list so easily today - however, I was surprised that they were so confident reciting the roll, as the "role" they were playing. Attendance sounded just like it always sounds - but with some "odd" sounding voices in place of the regular ones.

A dash of fun and play was just the kind of thing our ritual called for today.

Here, here!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

P.P.S. (Post-Passover Seders)

Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to your body, the body active and alive...
Edward Abbey

Interestingly, life always seems to take me where I had no idea I wanted to go. Sometimes to uncomfortable places - even scary places - so I can learn something I needed to learn in a way I wouldn't have otherwise. Sometimes to places of incredible grace and joy - a place where I grow and stretch, play and celebrate. And sometimes I am taken to a place of relaxtion and contemplation - joyous in its own way, bittersweet in another, and, most definitely filled with "aha's," and "oh, yeses," and questions.

The last place is where I was the past two evenings: at Passover seders. I am blessed with the good fortune of having met and befriended thoughtful, loving, mirthful friends since I moved to Arizona almost two years ago. I am grateful that a few of them have been Jews, with whom I can share a seder table with.

I am not a religious Jew, but Passover has always been my favorite of the holidays. Perhaps it is because it holds such universal meaning and, within that, an underlying sense of gratitude and hope for a better life for all. Maybe it's also because of the tradition and ritual involved with the seder (which means "order" or "sequence") and the retelling of story that makes me feel connected to my Jewish ancestors and entrusted with a sense of "tikkun olam" - a responsibility to do my part in healing the world. And it also may be that I like this holiday so much because it asks that we ask - that we seek, that we wonder, that we dig a little bit deeper...into our selves and who we are in this world: what our purpose is, and why this night - this Passover night - is different from any other night. it what you will - but I find it fascinating that I spent two evenings practicing a time-honored ritual that I have partaken in since childhood, whilst in the middle of my thesis...about ritual! That I took time out from my crazy schedule to just sit, just be, and be a part of something bigger than me, and yet something that connects my past and present, connects me to others, and connects me to the greater world.

I wrote about the "Passover questions" in my paper last week, in trying to get at the essence of what makes something a ritual, "How is this activity different from any other activity? Why is it different and set apart? What is it this activity does that no other activity can do?" The problem was, my thesis advisor said this evening, is I haven't answered them. Aha! And that's why we have thesis advisors: to point us in the direction of asking ourselves more questions...and attempting to answer them...or at least, to go forth and seek the answers...and probably run into some more questions.

Funny, too, that I was thinking this afternoon how nice it was to take time out from my schedule to be fully present at these two special dinners - and my thesis advisor pointed out that what I need in my thesis is a bit more Buddha energy - more space energy - within the paper itself. Like my life, my thesis is cluttered. Lots of good thoughts and ideas, my advisor said, just so many that the essence of the sacred is lost in the busy-ness.

Another co-inky-dink: Before my morning meditation on Sunday, I read the following Zen parable:

A man walking across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger chasing after him. Coming to a cliff, he caught hold of a wild vine and swung himself over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Terrified, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger had come, waiting to eat him. Two mice, one white, one black, little by little began to gnaw away at the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!

This story is about letting go of attachment and being present for everything; acknowledging that the sweetness comes with the challenges and difficulties. That all of life is in just one moment.

I read the parable in Pema Chodron's book, Uncomfortable with Uncertainty. My friend, Miles, who created his own Haggadah (special book we read at the Passover dinner), put that very same parable in the book on Sunday for Monday's seder.

That is one big Dayenu ("it would have been enough") right there!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Why is This Night Different From Last Night?

This would be my "fifth" Passover question...if there was such a thing!

For those of you unfamiliar with the Passover holiday, one of the things I appreciate about the seder is the idea that we are asked to question - to dig deeper.

The thing is, that tonight - not quite so different from last night - I am extremely tired, full, AND must attend to prepping some work for tomorrow. So, once again, I am only "checking in," simply to say that I was, again, delighted with tonight's dinner - with the Passover seder - and am very grateful to have the opportunity to remember why we celebrate this holiday, to be encouraged to question and to think, and to have the chance to spend another night amongst people who are so caring, generous, and thoughtful.

Dayenu ("It would have been enough")!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Don't Want to Pass Over this Night...

...but I am going to postpone this evening's post.

Tonight marks the beginning of Passover and I have just returned home from a seder - overstuffed (with really great food) and exhausted. I am far too tired to think about posting, and I really want to give this holiday its due: it's history, meaning, and the implication of the seder as a traditional and timeless ritual.

I will be attending a second seder tomorrw night and, I have no doubt, it will give me more food for fodder.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Rhyme & Reason

Perhaps it is because of my studies through Naropa that I have taken to seeing things with a new eye. Or perhaps it is because I am reading books with my students that I first read as a child, and I have a whole new perspective on the words and the story as I am re-reading the books as an adult. Or, perhaps, it is because I keep searching for the connections between literature and life that I keep finding priceless lessons within the pages. Whatever it is, it is exciting and wonderous, and I am always so thrilled when my students "get it" too (sometimes I point it out, but often they see beyond the black ink as well).

We just finished reading Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth this week, as our read-aloud book during homeroom. In the story, Milo, a boy who finds his life to be a complete bore, happens upon a car and a tollbooth in his bedroom one afternoon, and is whisked away on a grand adventure. With a Humbug and a "Watch" dog as companions, Milo is determined to rescue two captive princesses, Rhyme and Reason, and restore them to their thrones. Along the way, Milo becomes "curiouser and curiouser." After finding the princesses, Milo returns to his bedroom realizing that life isn't boring at all - that it's actually, a wonderous journey where there is much to experience along the way.

Here is an excerpt:

“You may not see it now,” said the Princess of Pure Reason..."but whatever we learn has a purpose and whatever we do affects everything and everyone else, if even in the tiniest way. Why, when a housefly flaps his wings, a breeze goes round the world; when a speck of dust falls to the ground, the entire planet weighs a little more; and when you stamp your foot, the earth moves slightly off its course. Whenever you laugh, gladness spreads like the ripples in a pond; and whenever you’re sad, no one anywhere can be really happy. And it’s much the same thing with knowledge, for whenever you learn something new, the whole world becomes that much richer.”

“And remember, also,” added the Princess of Sweet Rhyme, “that many places you would like to see are just off the map and many things you want to know are just out of sight or a little beyond your reach. But someday you’ll reach them all, for what you learn today, for no reason at all, will help you discover all the wonderful secrets of tomorrow.”

- From The Phantom Tollbooth, p. 233-234

A good reminder, I'd say, about trust, staying present, gratitude and perspective.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Is Procrastination a Ritual? (Revisited)

Back on January 7, I wrote a very short post in response to this entry title. I stated that I wasn't sure. That I was "waiting to find out."

In order to come to a conclusive answer to this title question, I had to do some experiential research. For almost three months now, I have observed myself procrastinating, and here are my results:

First of all, let me be clear: choosing to go to dinner or a movie or anything recreational isn't what I would deem "procrastinating." It is a conscious choice to do something other than what I really should be doing. Procrastination isn't truly conscious. However, it is a necessity. Let me explain:

I discovered that I practice three different means of procrastination. The first type I have named "productive procrastination." When I practice "productive procrastination," I am definitely procrastinating, but at the same time, I am attending to specific tasks that need to be accomplished at some point. These tasks range from household chores, such as washing the dishes, dusting, vacuuming, and folding laundry to focusing on work-related tasks, such as prepping for classes or grading. While these are worthwhile "to-do's," they are also a means of avoiding what I should be working on: namely, my thesis.

The second type of procrastination in which I engage is of the "couch potato" variety. This is procrastination by way of television, books, magazines, crossword puzzles, or suduko. My brain is "engaged," but I am by no means attending to the work I am supposed to be attending to: namely, my thesis.

The third type of procrastination I have explored is what I have dubbed "white fuzz" procrastination. This is where I completely zone out. I may not even be aware that I am avoiding my work, or not attending to it. I go into the "fuzz." This is where I sit, sometimes for ten minutes, sometimes for an hour, and literally do nothing. I mean nothing. I am not even aware that I am doing nothing. It's a time warp. It is almost as if I am biologically procrastinating. My brain shuts down and sends an all-points bulletin to the rest of my body to stop. Completely. But not to sleep. To "fuzz."

I realize that it seems like the three types of procrastination I mentioned above could be choices, However, in my process, they are not. They are a necessity. They are a part of how I do my work. My brain needs to gear up. It needs a "running start" - even if that running start is "white fuzz." I need a respit built into my work bit.

Some people may not need such a thing. Other people might be conscientiously, consciously focused - able to see a task at hand and go at it. Others might say, "play time," like going to dinner or the movies is their "down time," and when they're done with that, they can get on with their work. However, that just isn't the case with me.

I need to procrastinate. I can't quite "pencil it in," or schedule it. My psyche doesn't work that way. But I do have to account for it. Maybe because when I know I need to go to it and focus, I need the urgency factor: the now-or-never kick to get on it...because I have procrastinated.

It used to be that I was embarrassed to admit that I procrastinate. But I am not embarrassed any longer. I am a procrastinator. See? I said it. "Hi, my name is Nicky, and I am a procrastinator." Admittance is the first step to dealing with this fact. And the fact is, that's who I am. That's what I do. But now - now that I have admitted that it's simply a part of my process, it's simply that: part of my process. And I can say that, shame-free.

And, yes: yes it is a ritual...of sorts. A preliminary ritual. Because it has meaning and value to me. It is how I begin. It is a necessary element of my process.

So if there are any other procrastinators out there who are feeling badly about being one: You are not alone. There is hope. Admit who you are and what you do. Turn your mind around to the idea that there is another way to look at it. Accept that procrastination is simply a part of your process, and go on from there.

Here I go...

Friday, March 26, 2010

Dog Depth Morning

We all know the phrase "keep your nose to the grindstone," but my dog thinks she needs to keep her nose to the sidewalk.

This morning, during our walk, I watched as Love kept her sense of smell completely focused on the pavement. She was like a hound on the hunt. A scientist on the verge of a great discovery. A detective who had a clue that could lead her to solving the big case she was on. Love moved forward with great purpose, intent on following whatever scent her nose picked up.

I was taken with Love's one-track focus, with her intent, with her ability to stay on task. "I want that kind of focus," I thought. I need that kind of focus.

I have so much to do on my thesis this week, and my focus and my energy are waning. I'm tired. I'm antsy. I'm in that I-just-don't-wanna-do-it-Calgon-take-me-away stage. I want what Love's got. I want that focus. I want that "nose-to-the-sidewalk" mentality.

I'm going to do my best this evening, dog-gone-it, as I attempt to complete the third chapter of my thesis. Who knows? - maybe I'll get a new leash on life tonight!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

This is a Test of the Emergency Thesis System

For the next 24 hours this blog will be under a test.

If this were an actual emergency, I wouldn't be posting this here. I wouldn't instruct you where to go and I wouldn't instruct you what to do.

So relax, because this is only a test.

The blog will be up tomorrow with it's regularly scheduled post of whatever is on the mind (or fingertips) of its blogger.

Over and out.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How Do I Love Them? Let Me Count the Ways...

Today, I took some time during the school day to simply marvel at my students...simply because they are marvel-ous!

1. They "get" it.

This morning we took our bow, and then called off attendance. The student who has the "attendance" job on our Rota list, rolled his eyes and grunted this morning when it was his turn to take the attendance to the office. I took the opportunity to remind him - and the class - what Rota is about: being part of our community. Rota is about stepping up to the plate and being of service to our classroom and to one another. It's a duty, but it's a privilege. I explained that it's like exercising our opportunity to vote in elections or serving on jury duty. The student who had attendance duty smiled shyly and said, "I understand." When we took attendance again after he lunch, he took the attendance sheet to the office without a peep.

Later today some gossip was flying around. One of the students admitted to the class that she had "assumed" something and shared it with several others. She apologized publicly to the student whom she had wrongly named. Her apology was accepted. We then talked about how harmful even small gossip can be. Lots of heads were nodding and everyone agreed that we need to remember that we are in this together, that we are a "family."

2. They take risks...with enthusiasm!

Both my homeroom and my other sixth grade section have grown in leaps and bounds in drama since August. It is a joy to watch them. It's wonderful to be able to give them direction now too and have them "get" that it's direction, not a "blow" to their character or to their work. My students are in the midst of "auditions" for their final productions in May. They are taking it seriously and having fun at the same time. They are supporting each other's work and one another's courage. Way cool!

3. They take part in rich discussions, and practice depth of inquiry.

I am often floored with what my students bring forth and bring out of one another. And they love it! And I love it. We have discussions sometimes where I have to stop them because we run out of time - and they plead with me to keep going! Today wasn't a "pleading" day, but we had a really good discussion - in both my Language Arts sections, actually, and I just felt so proud of my students and so awed by their thoughtfulness.

4. They make me laugh every single day.

Seriously: I laugh my patooty off with my students! They are hilarious. They are silly. They are so smart and quick at times, they completely take me by surprise. I chuckle, I guffaw, I belly laugh, and I have busted a gut laughing so hard I have cried - and on several occasions.

5. They make me remember my humanity. They humble me.

There is nothing I can get away with with my students. They catch everything. And the things they don't say they see, I catch: when I'm dismissive of what someone has to say because I'm "in a bad mood," or "in a hurry." When I "lose it" because I am being impatient, because my expectations aren't met. When I can see in one of my student's faces that I have hurt their feelings or shamed them - even if I hadn't meant to...because I wasn't mindful enough, not aware enough - when I've put me before them. Oh, those moments feel terrible. But I am so grateful for them because they remind me what I need to be doing. They remind me of my purpose.

There are times when my students practice such care and compassion. Someone does something thoughtful - practices a gesture of kindness - and I get to witness it and be reminded of the fact that it's really that simple, that easy: that it's the small things that often mean the most, that make the biggest impact.

For their Language Arts homework this evening the students are writing a reflection based on a line from Madeleine L'Engle's book A Wrinkle in Time. "Don't you know you're the nicest thing that's happened to me in a long time?" (p. 60-61). They were asked to think about what it would feel like if someone told them that. They were also asked to think about how their behavior would warrant someone telling them that - and to look at their current behavior: would it compel someone to tell them that they are "the nicest thing that's happened to me in a long time?"

When I first re-read that line aloud to my students, I heard a lot of "ohh's" and saw sweet smiles. The room got fairly quiet when I asked, "Can you imagine if someone told you that?" I could tell that most all of them understood the responsibility and the connection that comes with such a compliment.

I suppose I just gave you five reasons why I love my students. I didn't actually give you any "ways" that I love them. But I do. I love them all in so many ways. I imagine if you want to know how I love them, you'll have to ask them yourself! I'm still counting...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Would a Conservative Consider Contemplation...

...or simply rush to crush-'em-where-it-counts castration?

I realize that I am not sticking to my thesis. I realize this isn't a political blog. However, I just heard a snippet of a speech Sen. (R) John McCain made on NPR this afternoon, that would have made me laugh, had it not been so ridiculous, bordering on sad, to do so. I also need to get this "stuff" out of my head so I can focus on my thesis.

Pardon my paraphrasing, but first McCain said that the people of his great state of Arizona didn't want this health care bill (signed into law, today, March 23). Really? Senator, I don't believe we've met. I live in your "great state," and I DO want the bill. Further more, regardless if you are a Republican Senator, and regardless if Arizona is basically a RED state, you also represent its BLUE and PURPLE constituents. DID YOU KNOW THAT?!?

Then - and here's the part that really got my goat (where in the world does that expression come from anyway? Is the etymology of that saying old shepard-ese? Back in the day when farmers bartered their animals rather than sold them at auction? But I digress...):
McCain said because the Dems passed this bill, he (and the Republicans) aren't going to budge an inch on anything else this year (especially because they gave yards in this past one, right?).

Well, Senator - good for you! You show those Blue Meanies! You show 'em ...just how great it is that you can act like a five year-old who just got his pail and shovel ripped out of his hands in the sand box. You show 'em how much you really care about America and its people, because - God knows - "showing them" and being "RIGHT" (pun most definitely intended) is way more important than having a thoughtful dialogue and working together to do what's best for as many people as possible.

Oh, and by the way: you're setting a really great example for our children.

I think that's what really got me.

I spend a lot of time talking with my students about the importance of dialogue - of being open-minded to different ideas, opinions, and beliefs. I am constantly encouraging my students to hear all sides of an issue, and once they have enough information (from all sides), make their own opinions, their own choices. And then, I ask them to still remain respectful of other people's decisions, of their choices.

Am I happy the Health Care Bill passed? You betcha! Can I understand some people not being happy with it? Most certainly. Do I believe that there is room for future dialogue on this issue? Absolutely. However, I don't believe there is room for hate. I don't believe there is room to say things that cut off thoughtful discussion. And I most certainly believe that it's important that we realize that we all have to share the sandbox. Oh - and that the big kids have a responsibility to show the little kids how to play fair.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Greetings and Salutations!

I love the first day back after a school break. It's not that I necessarily want to be back (in fact, another week off would have been great), but I truly love my students this year, and our first day back (even after a long weekend) always feels like...coming home!

This morning three of my homeroom students came to see me at the faculty house, full of hugs and excitement just to be back together and to see me. That is one gosh darn good feeling, I must say. They make me smile and laugh, right off the bat, and remind me why I love my job and how blessed I am to have a job to come back to.

Thankfully, I had done a great deal of planning over the weekend, and was so well-prepared that despite my exhaustion today (and I was exhausted: stayed up far too late, and overslept this morning), things moved along pretty swimmingly.

The weather is perfect right now (though the weather report calls for showers tomorrow), and I feel like we have to take advantage of every minute of it when we can (because - God knows - it's going to be too bloody hot soon to be outdoors). So I planned my whole Language Arts class to be done outside: small groups sitting on plastic table cloths (the students used clipboards as their writing "tables").

I was spent by the end of the day and completely married my couch when I got home, far longer than I planned. Have much to prep for two plays both my drama classes are doing, so I am putting the thesis aside for this evening.

Not much of a thesis post tonight, but I'm happy to get a post in and express some gratitude for the job that has given me so much for my thesis.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Appreciation for the Mundane: Enjoying the Ordinary in an Extraordinary Way

I am extraordinary, if you'd ever get to know me
I am extraordinary, I am just your ordinary
Average every day sane psycho
Average every day sane psycho .

- Liz Phair

This morning as I took some laundry out of the dryer and put another load in, I realized how much I actually enjoy doing laundry.

I like the ordinariness of the task.
I appreciate the time and care of simply folding items - wrapping a pair of socks together, folding a pair of jeans once, then twice, preparing them to be hung on a hanger in my closet when I finish folding the rest of the items.
I have come to relish doing this household chore, as well as many others, simply because it is simple. It is repetitiously simple. And in so doing, I feel sense of accomplishment and a feeling that I am taking care - of my environment, my belongings, and myself.

Don't get me wrong - I have always liked a clean house, clean clothes, and, of course, a clean body. However, I would happily put chores (though not showers) aside to do something more fun or more interesting.

Then. "B.T." (Before Thesis).

Now, "D.T." (During Thesis), I have come to appreciate the simplicity of attending to ordinary chores. They have become a pleasure. Even an outlet. They are measurably do-able. They don't require "thought," but I enjoy being mindful of how I am doing them: the folding of the clothing, the warmth of the water as I am washing the dishes, the back and forth motion of the vacuum.

I remember last year when we were studying the paramitas in the "Compassionate Teaching" teaching class, Richard Brown, instructor. Every time we were focusing on a particular paramita, i.e. patience, I found myself going to the extreme of non-patience (completely irritated and annoyed). When we practiced generosity my mind and heart would turn to gluttonous, miserly thoughts and feelings. It felt awful in the midst of it, but it always brought me back to balance and, seemingly, to the essence of each paramita.

Working on my thesis, I often feel the sense of urgency. I must do, I must do, I must do. My head spins in hundreds of different directions, filled with millions of mega-bytes of information, thoughts, and ideas. Even when I finish one thing, it feels like I have not accomplished what I should have accomplished. I carry a sense of the incomplete, the unfinished.

Now, please don't get me wrong: I truly get that this thesis is a process. And, I actually, really like the process. But there is the neurosis that comes with it. And I need that extreme, in my process, in order to do my thesis.

But like while practicing the paramitas, I need the flip-side of my thesis: the mundane. The ordinary. That has become so extraordinary. The laundry, the dishes, the vacuuming, the dusting. The balance.

What I hope to keep, upon completing my thesis, is the glorious thrill of the simple. The ordinary. And how extraordinary it truly is.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Re-Reading: It's Good to Go Back

Last week I cut and pasted this blog into a Word Document and printed it out. I put the hard copy in a notebook. Today I printed out the five posts since. This evening I started re-reading my posts from the beginning.

Maybe it's because I post daily - because I post what's immediate and right there - I don't remember what I wrote. Once I put it out there, the experience(s) that seemed so important, all those thoughts, or the ideas I had that seemed so "aha!" just seem to dissapate once they are communicated by my fingers on a keyboard into cyberspace.

Upon re-visiting the past experiences, thoughts, and ideas I wrote about, I am struck by the immediacy of many of them. I am struck by the joy, the pain, the exhaustion, the wonder. I am grateful I chose to use blogging as one of my inner methods on this thesis journey. I never would have remembered all of the things I had written, nor had some really rich material to pluck from when the time was right. I also don't think I would have had the energy to go back through and re-type what I had hand-written in my private journal. The beauty of technology: cut and paste.

I have been writing for days now. Feeling like I'm getting nowhere fast, and somewhere slowly. But I am moving. I am writing. I am write where I am supposed to be. And so, off I go, to write on!

Friday, March 19, 2010

"Time, Time..."

...Time, see what's become of me
While I looked around for my possibilities...
Hang onto your hopes, my friend...

That's an easy thing to say, but if your hopes should pass away
Simply pretend
You can build them again

Look around
The grass is high
The fields are ripe
It's the springtime of my life.

- Paul Simon

I feel anxious today. I am on overwhelm. I feel like I have little time.
I have thesis writing, grades to enter, and much work to prep for school next week.
I journaled about all of that this morning before I sat down to meditate.
Of course, when I do the next right thing, the Universe provides.

I sat down on my cushion, lit my incense and candles, and opened to the next bookmarked page in Pema Chodron's book, Comfortable with Uncertainty. Teaching 55: "Start Where You Are (Again and Again)."
Start where you are. This is very important. Tonglen practice (and all meditation practice) is not about later, when you get it all together and you're this person you really respect. You may be the most violent person in the world - that's a fine place to start. That's a very rich place to start - juicy, smelly. You might be the most depressed person in the world, the most addicted person in the world, the most jealous person in the world. You might think that there are no others on the planet who hate themselves as much as you do. All of that is a good place to start. Just where you are - that's the place to start.
What you do for yourself, any gesture of kindness, any gesture of gentleness, any gesture og honesty and clear seeing toward yourself, will affect how you experience your world. What you do for yourself, you're doing for others, and what you do for others, you're doing for yourself. When you exchange yourself for others in the practice of tonglen, it becomes increasingly uncertain what is out there and what is in here (Chodron, 2002, p. 110-111).

Shamatha meditation and lovingkindness practice are gestures of kindness - for myself, and therefore, for others. So I did them both.

Following meditation, I sat down and did an enso practice. Choosing yellow paint, I drew my circle. I used yellow to symbolize Ratna - Earth energy, in the Buddha family. Ratna is grounding. Ratna provides: it is abundant and generous when it is filled with "sane possibilities" (Irini Rockwell). Today is a day when I could use some solid Ratna in my life.

Today, I will trust that I have everything I need to do what I need to do. I will trust the earth beneath my feet and continue to move purposefully forward, doing the next right thing.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Did I Really Need to Write All That?

I spent I don't know how long writing the following. Perhaps it's in reaction to the media blitz this week on the new government "reforms," which I unlovingly refer to as band-aids - or another way to explain why my thesis is important. However, I'd already written something along these lines, and far-less preachy, awhile back, so I think I'll nix this out of my paper. However, since I have been writing all day long, I figured I'd post it here, and use it - or parts of it - later on, should the need arise.

A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
- Margaret Mead

Though “raising standards,” “rewarding excellence and growth,” and “closing achievement gaps” are on the American government’s current education agenda, there is little discussion about how these check list items will truly benefit our children, their teachers, and the world in which they live. Mainstream, public education has ceased to do its job. Budget cuts, coupled with the “No Child Left Behind” Act and the mindset of “teach to the test,” have failed miserably, allowing students to fall through the cracks and teachers to simply crack up.

While math and science seem to be the main thrust of academic focus these days, language arts and history are given a little more than a nod, while the arts and physical education are being cut right and left. Students’ minds are cut off from their bodies and hearts. Critical thinking, depth of inquiry, and a sense of wonder have been strewn by the wayside, in lieu of rote learning, soon to be forgotten once spewed out on a standardized test form.

“Character building” has become a catch phrase, which seems to simply imply, “don’t be a bully,” but still be the biggest, fastest, and strongest kid on the block. “Think for yourself,” has seemed to take on a more “think of yourself” quality – more me and less them, and doing your “personal best” has given way to a “better than” mentality that leads to unfriendly individualized competition, rather than community support.

While alternative education, such as holistic, integrated, and contemplative philosophies and practices are on the rise, the American government and the public at large, have not caught on to, nor have yet embraced these approaches. Fortunately, some teachers do have autonomy and are able to implement different ways of teaching and learning. Even some teachers who are mandated to teach in a cookie-cutter format are able to bring some more out-of-the-box ideas into their classrooms.

There is no one “right way” to learn. There are no perfect pathways to creating cohesion and community. There are no sure-fire tools that work for each and every person that help them gain a full understanding of self, others, the environment, and the greater world. There is no empathy button that one can push to make one more caring and compassionate. And there is certainly no “one kind of teacher,” nor is there just “one kind of student.” Each teacher must search her soul for what path works best for her; be willing to summon the courage to look within and without and know who she is and how she can be of utmost service to herself, others, and the world; and create the best teaching and learning environment that she can.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

To Life!

To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.
- Emily Dickinson

I just received a new book from Amazon in the mail yesterday (I know, I know - I need another book like I need a hole in my head): Educating for Wisdom and Compassion: Creating Conditions for Timeless Learning by John (Jack) Miller. I am totally thrilled about it for several reasons. First, because it is so spot on. Second, because it is hands-on useful. Third, because it has some of the most beautifully perfect information to help back up my thesis!

Thank you, thank you, to my dear friend, Debbie, for turning me onto it!!!

Here's a quip:

When it comes to defining time, only the oceanic need apply - the Montaignes or Joyces, Shakespeares or Rousseaus, eastern philosophers or children. They know their now, they know the really wild vibe of the present is this: now is the only time when the moment can meet the eternal - and they know that moment is momentous (Griffiths, 1999, p. 36) (Miller, 2006, p. 4).

The "momentous" can simply be an ordinary moment made extraordinary by perspective, by just being truly present in that moment.

At the beginning of the school year, I give all of my students a brown paper "Welcome Bag" filled with all kinds of things, i.e. candy, play-doh, etc. that serve as symbols - reminders - as to what I'd like them to keep in mind throughout the school year. With the bag, I give them a "key" that explains what each item represents. One of the items in the bag is a highlighter marker. This is to remind my students to see the extraordinary in the ordinary - to note the highlights, regardless if they are big or small, wild and wonderful or plain and simple.

A classroom adage I use with my students is "Look down at your feet." Whenever a student starts asking about something that we might be doing, or might take place in the future (even if the future is that afternoon), and it has nothing to do with what we are doing or what we are talking about, I ask him/her to look down at his/her feet. This is a reminder to "be here now," to stay present for this moment.

Miller says, "In the timeless learning our experience becomes much more immediate. We are not thinking of the past or the future" (Miller, 2006, p. 4).

So when Dickinson wrote "To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else," I believe she meant that if we are truly awake to the moment, all we can do is be in that moment - live that moment, and that moment only. There's no room - no time - for the moment before or for the next moment, because the present moment takes all of our time, all of our attention.

And how do we get that? How do we live? From moment to moment. From practice to practice. By using ritual as a pathway.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

When Does Ritual Cease Being Ritual? And Other Thoughts for Today...

When does ritual cease being ritual?

Thought #1:
When it merely becomes routine or - worse - rut.
If the meaning and purpose dwindle, ritual is no longer ritual.
Just like romance, how does one keep the flame burning when it comes to ritual?

Or, Thought #2:

If greater good comes from simply participating in ritual, then is the ritual simply routine (or rut) or is it a service (which indeed has purpose and meaning)?

Mother Teresa lost her faith for fifty years and still kept "acting as if," and her life, and the lives she affected, was full of purpose, care, and meaning - in the name of faith, in the name of service.

This question just popped up for me this morning. I would like to explore it further, but I am going to let it sit for awhile and brew.

Another thought that popped into my head was Tevye's line from Fiddler on the Roof (music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, book by Joseph Stein), where he says after the opening song. Tradition, "Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as - as a fiddler on the roof!" I was thinking the same could be said for personal and community rituals.

"On the other hand," (as Tevye would say) are rituals really necessary for stability and groundedness ("centering" and balance)? What about the people who don't practice rituals? Are their lives out of whack? Disconnected? Lacking community and compassion?

On the other hand, rituals can help, and do create a sense of connection. They can and do foster compassion. They can and do bond community unity.

More for me to ponder.

This morning, I printed out all of the blog posts I had written thus far. There's a lot of good "stuff," and then, of course there's a lot of not-so-great "stuff." However, as a ritual - one I have attended to almost daily since January 9 - it has been immensely purposeful, meaningful, and practical for my inner work and helping me get clarity in working on my thesis.

I remember hearing Frank M. say at an AA meeting once, "Faith is practical." I think that's true. And I would also say, structure is practical. The structure of this blog has kept me accountable (and, to be sure, so has my ego: "What will they think i f I miss a post?"...My ego being "my readers," the other ego being that I think I have readers who are reading this daily). Accountable, to myself and to my thesis work.

Blogging has also kept me connected: connected to my thesis (especially on days and even weeks when I haven't been able to read, write, or organize much), connected to my thoughts, ideas, and feelings, and connected to community of people who actually do read this thing. Mary Pipher says in her book, Writing to Change the World, "[Blogs] are tangible manifestations of the central fact of the universe: Everything is connected" (p. 221).

Blogging has reminded me to be compassionate, particularly towards myself: when I am tired or under the weather, when I've had a day where I've "tripped up," writing about it allows me to see these things for what they are, and let them go. If I write that I'm tired, bordering on exhausted - I put it down on virtual paper and go get rest. If I'm out of ideas, I write that I'm tapped, or turn my post over to something else (i.e. my min-tribute to George Harrison).

I also have a classroom blog that I use as a communication tool between my parents and students. This blog definitely serves my classroom community and keeps us connected. Daily, I post homwework; Weekly, I post a narrative of what's been going on in our classroom; Whenever I can, I post photos of my students and some of their work (poems, journal entries, art pieces); Whenever necessary, I post announcements. It is through the blog that my parents can always check in to see what is going on in Room 503 (my classroom), my students log on to enjoy photos and check any assignments they may have forgotten to write down, and it is a forum for me to articulate what we have been doing, reflect on what has been going on during the week, and communicate daily with my students' parents. "With blogs, we can build I-thou relationships...Over time, blogs will continue to connect us, teach us empathy, and perhaps even save us from ourselves" (Pipher, 2006, p. 221).

Th-th-that's all for now, folks!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Mission: Hurry Up and Get There!

That is the title of my Awareness Walk this morning with Love.

What's with the pull? What's up with the forward-focused-can't-stop-for-nothing-no-way-no-how-no-one's-gonna-stop-me-from-getting-where-I'm-going pace, leash, seemingly, at breaking point? And, then, what's up with the I-wasn't-really-going-anywhere-in-particular slow down, allowing the leash to simply swish and sway instead of being pulled taut and tight?

Could this be what I look like, how I think, how I behave? I'm in such a hurry: always trying to get something done. I'm on a mission, a quest. It all seems so important for some reason, and then, some time goes by, and it just really isn't so important any more. It loosens, dissolves, peters out.

What was really nice for me today, was that I didn't have to hurry up and get anywhere. It's my first morning of spring break. I got to walk my dog at 9:00 AM instead of 6:00 AM. The weather is amazingly perfect: warm, with a slight breeze, blue skies, and sunshine. I get to come home and write down my observations and thoughts without trying to remember them and write about them later.

This morning I was able to sit quietly in bed, with my cup of coffee, writing out my Morning Pages. I get to meditate at 10:45 in the morning instead of fitting it in between a walk and a shower and the scramble to get out of the house on time for work. I have the opportunity to sit back and be grateful for time: time to be, to do, to enjoy.

I don't have to hurry today. I'm already there.