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, February 28, 2010

A Book on a Shelf is Like a Pearl in an Oyster... just needs someone to crack it open, or someone to take it off its shelf (or someone who points the way to the right book on the shelf...or a quote from a book that you've had on your shelf that you actually put in your bibliography already but didn't realize it had another woppin' big pearl of wisdom in it that you would definitely want)! - Whew!


What I really mean to say (in a much more straight-forward way) is: One of my classmates sent me a wonderful - a perfectly wonderful - quote that is in a book that I have had (and am already using something from in my thesis) and had no idea that that quote was there...hadn't even read the chapter from which the quote was taken, in years!

Here's the quote:

One of the things we know about rituals is that they carve a pathway into a particular state of mind and body. If they are meaningful to those who do them, ritual actions can create a sacred container, a space that is set apart from the everyday chores and logistical concerns that sometimes threaten to consume us.

~ Oriah Mountain Dreamer, What We Ache For: Creativity and the Unfolding of Your Soul

I re-read the whole chapter from which that quote is extracted: Chapter Six, Developing a Creative Practice. It was exactly what I needed to read today! And the quote is absolutely perfect!

I have been doing a lot of thinking about how ritual is different from habit, from routine, and from practice. But that there are days/times when the actual "feeling" - the connection - is sometimes missing. Does the ritual then become simply a practice? I don't think so. It may not be embued with the emotion or the feeling or the spiritual connect that we would like it to be every time we engage in it, yet it is still a structure - a way of doing and being - that serves as an important part of the continuum, the discipline, and the overall connectedness of what the ritual means. "We can't make it happen," says Dreamer, "but we can increase the odds considerably by doing our part and showing up" (Dreamer, 2005, p. 99).

So thanks for connecting up with me, Monica. And thanks for connecting me to that quote, and helping me find my way back to What We Ache For. I believe I just caught me a little pearl of wisdom today. ; )

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Survey says...

Yesterday I had my second lunch meeting with seven of last year's sixth grade students. I had given them a questionnaire to fill out prior to coming for lunch and today I read through them.

The lunch, itself, was just another means of thanking the students for helping me and to give us an opportunity to talk casually about our experiences last year. I think what I got out of it most, is that my students feel a bond having spent a year together (prior to the new seventh graders that have joined them this year), and have an assortment of collected memories that bring them joy.

The group I met with yesterday consisted of six boys and one girl (last year our classroom was made up of 15 boys and one girl). I attempted to probe a bit deeper on the questions I asked on paper, but it was the students' lunch time and it was obvious they needed a break. Allowing them to just toss memories back and forth seemed to be the right thing to do.

I began thinking that, perhaps, we needed a new ritual - an "reunion" of all of the sixth grade students from the inception of its first year at TPJA (Tempe Preparatory Junior Academy). It would be fun to exchange memories of that first year and chart their growth. Last year, at the end of the year, I had put together a photo albumn of our year together. It might be fun to add to that year, after year.

This year, all twenty of last year's sixth graders stayed. I heard one may be leaving this year because her family has moved to North Scottsdale and the commute is tough for her folks. It makes me wonder how many of this year's sixth grade students will remain at TPJA next year.

At any rate, I would have to say that the questionnaires I gave last year's sixth grade students were revealing only to the point that it was evident they didn't take a lot of time "digging deeper" - a phrase that we used again and again last year (I even have a shovel in my classroom that says as much). However, I did get some decent feedback on the rituals we incorporated into our classroom - enough to make me think that ritual can and does lead to deeper learning and connections.

I also feel like each time I gather a new piece of information, I am moving one step forward in my thesis project.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

And, We'll Have Fun, Fun, Fun... said the Beach Boys way back when. And so says I when the going gets tough.

It was a long week this week. I don't know if I was simply extremely tired, or if having a regular five-day work week after coming off a four day work week just felt all the longer...Whatever the case, it's been difficult. I have felt as if I were wading through a swampy bog instead of tip-toe-ing through the tulips (or at least walking my typical walk on pavement).

Last night I simply felt as if today should call for some "lightness." So I planned a day that included all we needed to do - but with a wisp of whimsy and a looser grip than I had - obviously - been holding all week. And, you know what? I had a really good day. And I think my students did too.

Puppet-making in drama - our classroom was a-buzz with creativity, right off the bat. A tribute to George Harrison in Language Arts (gave the students copies of the Here Comes the Sun lyrics and played the song on my CD player), where the students wrote poems and creative stories prompted by either the line"Here comes the sun," or "Sun, sun, we come," stirred up even more creative juices.
I gave my students a choice in homeroom to listen to our current read-aloud book, The Phantom Tollbooth, or to listen to music and have a quiet time (they chose music, I had a nice respite).

Our last period, Social Studies, the students worked in small groups and had the choice to work outside, if they wished. It was a beautiful day and there's nothing like an afternoon when the sun seems to be shining down warm, and the breeze seems to be just light enough to keep the air a tad cool enough.

Upon returning home, I opened up my school email and found the above picture made of me by one of my students on her iPod. It made me giggle. There's nothin' like a little levity to lighten my self-made brevity!

It may not be ritual. But being present for it surely stems from my ability to be aware. And, as my friend, Brandy, pointed out in our online Thesis Seminar class: "What we study becomes what we live. "

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

In Honor of George Harrison's Birthday Tomorrow...

*(Forgive the discursiveness of tonight's post, but I have no specific thoughts to share, and I would like to take up the space expressing some sentimentality and extreme gratitude for this special artist.)

Born in 1943, George was always my favorite Beatle. I am grateful for his music and his beautiful soul.

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
and I say it's all right...

As far as I'm concerned, "Here Comes the Sun," simply makes life better. I can't help but smile even when I feel like poo.

Sun, sun, sun, here we come...

All I got to do is to love you
All I got to be is, be happy
All it's got to take is some warmth to make it
Blow Away, Blow Away, Blow Away.

When "Blow Away" came out, my friend Julie Airale and I spent an entire three hours one night, hanging out in her den, lying on the floor, taking turns getting up to replace the needle on the album groove and replaying this song over, and over, and over...I can still hear George's voice: like butter wind in my ears.

Give me love, give me peace on earth, give me light, give me life, keep me free from birth, give me hope, help me cope, with this heavy load, trying to, touch and reach you with, heart and soul.

Those lyrics are one of the most beautiful prayers I know.

Love one another

Those were Harrison's last words.

Good advice.

Thank you, George.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

First Questionnaire Received!

Today I recieved my first "non-contemplative" teacher interview/questionnaire - filled out with some really good information. I was excited to see that Teacher "A" (as I will refer to her here), has her own Inner Methods that she uses before coming to work in the morning, and that she is very clear about the differences between habit and ritual and routine.

What she said:

A habit is something you do on a regular basis. A ritual is something you do that has a greater purpose or meaning behind it. Rituals are done to broaden your purpose in life or tie you to a greater presence in this world. Habits can be done on purpose or done without realizing it.

A routine is something you do on a regular basis, similar to a habit. A routine provides consistency and discipline. Rituals take what on the outside looks like a routine, but to the individual ties them to a greater purpose or time.

Teacher "A" also said that would be interested ("to some extent") in learning about and /or incorporating new ritual methods into her personal life and/or her classroom as a means of helping her students and herself make greater connections and as a means of deeper learning.

She also stated:

I am not sure how or what rituals for a math classcan be done to connect students with something greater in this world. So, finding some ideas would be interesting to me.

Teacher "A" wrote quite a bit ion response to all my questions and I am looking forward to receiving the other two teachers' answers. The four of us will be meeting in the next week and a half to discuss the questionnaire and have a "live" interview.

Pretty cool.

Monday, February 22, 2010

If at First You Don't Succeed...Stick with Coffee

This morning, things didn't go per my plan last night.

Exhausted, I quasi-slept through three snooze hits on my alarm (one half-hour). Unable to even think about meditation before a cup of coffee, I grabbed one and sip-gulped it down so that at least I could get out with Love for our Awareness Walk. Both the coffee and the walk helped, and I was then able to slide onto my meditation cushion.

However, I was late after that, and there wasn't time to do an enso or set down for three long-hand pages of writing.

Perhaps Michael is right: maybe I am trying to fit too much into my morning. But upon coming home this late afternoon, I found myself exhausted and there's still so much to do. I wrote (which takes me about one half hour). I am also wondering: If I do Morning Pages in the afternoon, are they still Morning Pages or should I call them "Afternoon" or "Evening" Pages? Will the Julia Cameron police come after me for not doing them first thing?

So, what I found today is that I need to be a bit more flexible with myself. Michael also offered the suggestion of doing some kind of meditation/walking or writing while at work. The thing is, I don't have a planning period, and the half hour I do have for lunch is for...well, lunch. And sometimes getting things prepped for the afternoon, if I haven't already.

Bottom line, is I have a fairly grueling schedule. There is more space when I allow for more spaciousness. Meditation seems to work best for me in the morning, so I will just have to let other things move to later times if and when I need to. Major bottom line: coffee is a must! I don't care if I sound like a whacked-out caffeine addict. That's what I need in the morning, and it's the one thing I am just not willing to part with - especially while in the midst of all that I am in the midst with.

Richard Brown once said, "Reality is always richer than having a good time." Well, I am all for reality - definitely. I'm there every day. But my friend and creativity mentor, Jill Badonsky titled her one-woman show, "I Can’t Always Handle Reality, But It’s Really the Only Place to Get a Good Cup of Coffee." And, that about sums it up: the reality is, I need a good cup of coffee to help me jump start my day. It may be one of my best inner methods.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

New Beginnings (to My Day)

I emailed my Meditation Instructor a copy of yesterday's blog post. He offered a few good suggestions.

He asked why I did my Morning Pages first. He also asked if it helped, or possibly hindered, my meditation practice. I do my Morning Pages first, in part, because I (think) that's what Julia Cameron suggested, and second: I get to drink my first cup of coffee while doing so.

It was seeming, too, that the writing was helping me get more chatter out of my head prior to sitting. However, last Wednesday good ol' Sarah P. settled herself in pretty well during my sitting practice, but she did not appear on one sheet of my Morning Pages.

Tomorrow morning I'm going to try something different. Tomorrow I am going to walk my dog first, drink my coffee (I definitely need to drink my coffee), meditate and then write. Just to see what happens.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Telling (on Myself)

It is a painful thing to look at your own trouble and know that you yourself and no one else has made it. ~ Sophocles

Okay: I've gotta fess up. I missed my morning meditation on both Thursday and Friday morning (and didn't sit later on either day), and on Wednesday, I allowed dumb ol' Sarah Palin to entertain my thoughts for about a good 80 % of my sitting time.

Wanna know what? It affected me big time. Not meditating (and not getting enough z's) made me feel irritable and unreasonable. You wanna know what else? My students noticed it too. I made amends to them Friday for being such a crankster and they all nodded their heads and said, "Yeah, you have been." Reality check. Can't dodge my behavior around sixth graders. I'm lucky they love me anyway (several of them lingered in the classroom and just shot the shimmy with me after school that day).

I also missed my enso practice on Thursday and Friday. My mornings were jumbled from waking up late and not having enough time to squeeze everything in [Note to self: "Squeezing in" spiritual practices sounds a bit oxymoronic...that's just about on par with "I need to hurry up and slow down."].

So, what can I do different? Well, for one, maybe I can write just one long-hand page instead of three when I wake up late, so that I can fit my meditation in (I always write first thing now, so I may have to sacrafice a bit). I imagine being more disciplined during the week and going to bed early enough so that waking up isn't problematic would be most helpful. But is that realistic? Not always.

I'm thinking I took on a lot deciding to do enso daily. Maybe shooting for three or four times during the week might be a more managable amount of time to devote to that practice right now.

I am such an extremist-type person, it's very easy for me to get into that all-or-nothing mentality. I remember complaining to an old sponsor of mine years ago about not having time to work out. She said to me, "Why don't you just go the gym for 10 or 15 minutes?" I responded, "Because that sounds ridiculous." She countered with, "Well, it would be 10 or 15 more minutes than you are doing right now." And she was right. Any little bit does help.

So I am going back to the basics. I am going to take smaller steps. My inner methods are to help me, not to hurt me or punish me. I can reassess. I am doing these things for me, to help me on my journey, and in turn help others. So the question is, how can I be of best possible use to myself? How can I best nourish me, so I can go out and meet my thesis (and my students and all others I come in contact with) at my best?

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day. ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Friday, February 19, 2010

And the Beat Goes On...

I just got home from one of the most amazing, awe-inspiring performances I have ever seen!

Tonight I went to a performance of TAO, a Japanese Taiko drumming group, who have"worked to free the Taiko from its confines of being the 'successor of Japan's traditional culture' and develop a totally new genre of entertainment" (from the Mesa Arts Center program, 2010).

Pictures and video cannot do this art justice (though you can certainly sneak a peek here: ) "It has to be experienced live," touts the voiceover on TAO's website. And it's true. The TAO performers are exquisite in form, balanced, buoyed, and disciplined by a spiritual connection to their art, their instruments, their environment and one another. I left the theatre feeling like a better human being.

Though the energy, vitality, and sheer physical movement and drumming were completely different, the performance brought back memories of our Naropa visit last summer to the Kyudo Dojo in Boulder. The Taiko performers seemed to have complete awareness of both their front and back heart. While their front and back both appeared strong, it was also clear that both front and back sides were soft and open, as well.

It was also evident that the performance left no room for ego, and that though the performance was beyond compare, it was the preparation that was what mattered the most. Watching each drummer prior to them meeting sticks to drum, reminded me of Caroline (the Sensei's wife) engaging in the preparatory ritual before marrying ya (arrow) to yumi (bow).

What was also incredible to witness was how each individual drummer was completely intent on his/her drum and/or choreography, while at the same time, was able to take in the space and the other performers. Each member of the group seemed to have an intuitive sense of who was where on the stage and when, so precise was their internalization of the movement and sound.

In her book, The Sound of Paper, Julia Cameron encourages "artist dates." Though she suggests they be done solo, I think getting out and partaking in any cultural and/or nature-based activity whether solo or partnered i s a wonderful thing. "The Artist Date is a serious tool fo that it was on an Artist Date that they felt concious contact with the Great Creator. An Artist Date is sacred time" (Cameron, p. 3). Witnessing TAO defintely felt sacred.

Divine inspiration at its best.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

It's Nice to Have Parents Who Have a Genuine Interest

...Like MINE!

Both of my parents have taken a genuine interest in both my teaching and in my Masters work. My dad reads this blog every day (and he read the first draft of my thesis proposal). Today he said to me over the phone, "I would like to know more about the bow." Isn't that cool?

I think, at first, I didn't know how to talk with my parents about Naropa and what I've been doing there in the summers and in our online classes. On one hand, it feels amazingly intimate, and on another, it often sounds totally ludicrous ("uh...well, we spend 15 minutes meditating and then go into an all yellow room and lie down on the floor in this specific position for 45 minutes and then we do 15 minutes of aimless wandering."). However, last fall, beginning my thesis work, something shifted for me, and in the process, my parents have been inquisitive, supportive, and - like I've said - genuinely interested.

Both my mom and dad will be coming to Boulder this summer for my thesis presentation and graduation. I am excited for them to see Boulder and be part of our Naropa experience. When I first thought about them coming to graduation a year and a half ago, I thought: "Oh, no. Probably not necessary to invite them. It's too...odd. They won't get it." But I don't believe that any more. They'll get it. They'll definitely get it.

I feel so fortunate that I am able to share some of this journey of mine with them.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"Aren't we bowing?"

This was a question one of my students asked me last Friday afternoon.

We had just returned, semi-en masse as an entire school population from the park down the street. Friday morning was "Athletic Field Day" - an all-school event where our entire student body rotated through 12 different sporting activities in groups of students ranging from 6th-12th grades. Gratefully, it is a once-a-year morning-only event (school let out at 12:25 PM). It's a pretty fun day, but seriously exhausting.

At any rate, all of my students had met in our classroom Friday morning at our regular opening time, 8:25 A.M. We bowed in and took attendance as we do daily. Then we made our way down the street - about a block and a half away - to the park for the event.

When the morning activities were finished up at the park, some of the students left/were picked up from the park, while others trailed back to school for pick up, with faculty scattered here and there to keep watch.

Making my way back to my classroom - some of my students had left their things in there - one of my students ran up to me and asked, in an actually fairly-concerned voice: "Aren't we bowing?" I explained that just for today we weren't, as we didn't come back to school as a class and most of our students had already left the campus for the day. "Oh. Okay," she said. As she turned to go, I couldn't help but smile. Bowing has become so much a part of "what we do," that to miss doing it feels odd.

I noticed this afternoon as we took our places to bow out, that this week's Peer Leader waited a bit longer than usual to lead us off. I so appreciated those moments. Every one of my students stood still and quiet. Everyone of them waited until the Peer Leader began leaning over to take her bow to begin theirs. I felt a ripple of pride. I don't want to be prideful, but theer are moments that I feel such awe of my students - how respectful and caring they much of a real community we have become.

I am grateful that my experiences with the bow at Naropa have transferred so beautifully into my experiences in my classroom. I am grateful that my students respond to it so well, and that my administration and my students' parents accept it without question. I am blessed.

Bowing out, respectfully.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Is That a Voice in my Book Bag?

I jotted today's entry title down the other day as ,"note to self," and then forgot about it...until this morning.

As I was walking into the Faculty Courtyard at work today, a familiar voice started speaking. The voice was coming from inside my book bag. I don't know why this continues to surprise me almost daily. I remind myself of a young child whose face scrunches up in surprise, and then begins to clap with gleee, when - for the 97th-million time - a Jack-in-the-Box pops out of the tin container, after it's been wound to do so (and the child knows the lid is going to boing open and the clown is going to pop up).

Oh - I should fill you in: I've been carrying around a hand-held tape recorder so that whenever I get an idea for my thesis and don't have pen/paper around, or am in a position where I cannot write (when I'm driving, for example), I simply record my thoughts and ideas. I keep the recorder in a pocket inside my book bag. The thing is, whenever the recorder knocks into something, it turns on.

The first time the recorder went off in my bag, it threw me completely off guard. "Where is that voice coming from?...Hey - that's me! Whaaa...?!...Ohhhh! My tape recorder!" Silly me. And then, silly me again a whole bunch of times because I have a totally kick-butt forgetter, and it always takes me a moment when that recorder goes off, to figure out what exactly is going on.

Which brings me to two points...well, three: First, I give myself kudos for buying this handy little device, because though I don't use it a lot, I certainly use it enough that it helps me take some notes that I would plum foget about it if I didn't have it. Second, I really need to make time to begin transcribing my notes onto the computer (or it's going to be a royal pain in her Majesty's arse if I have to do a whole slew at once), and third: though it's a bit of a nuisance when that voice starts talking straight from my bag, I really appreciate the reminder. It's like having an awareness bell that drills me when I least expect it - "Are you thinking about your thesis, sweetie?" it chimes like a faithful clock tower (that doesn't clang at any particular set time).

So, to the voice in my book bag: thank you.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Circle Game: Enso as a New Inner Method

We can't return, we can only look, behind from where we came ~ and go round and round and round in the circle game ~ Joni Mitchell

I am so often caught up in what was or what will be, that remaining present, and simply being in the moment is a constant practice for me. I revel in the times that I am in the here and now without even thinking about it, but more often than not, it is with vigilant attention that I am able to be open to any present moment.

In this process of "The Thesis," it is easy for me to think about what I should have done, or what I need to be doing, or what I'm going to do when...I am much more at peace, much more centered when I am able to see the goal (as my thesis advisor encouraged: "picture yourself in June, in Boulder, presenting your thesis") and yet remain present to do the step-by-step work that is in front of me today.

Last summer I purchased Audrey Yoshiko Seo's book, Enso: Zen Circles of Enlightenment, as well as two special brushes and some paint. My intent: to incorporate enso practice into my daily life. Yesterday, Sunday, February 14, I still had not picked up book or brush. Inspired to "center" myself and refocus my attention after an amazingly busy week, as well as with the incentive of this week's Thesis Seminar discussion topic, I picked up my "tools" and made a beginning.

I re-read the Forward in Seo's book. I set up my art pad, paint, and brush. I pulled out my Enso hand-out from Alexandra's Aesthetics class, and took my position on the floor. I spent three minutes in meditation prior to lifting my brush. I then brought my awareness to the brush itself: feeling first the bristles, and then the wooden handle. I then dipped the brush in my black paint-water mixture and carefully smoothed the paint on the bristles into a tip.

Placing my left hand, palm flat on my art pad, I inhaled as I lifted my right hand above the paper, brush held between my thumb and fingers. As I set the brush down on paper, I allowed it to linger for a moment, before exhaling and sweeping my brush clock-wise from the lower left corner and around, and finally off the paper.

I allowed my breath to move in and out of my body as I sat quietly with my brush in hand. After a few moments, I returned the brush to its resting spot on a paper towel to the right of my art pad. I sat quietly, attending to my breath as my eyes took in the circle I had just made. No judgement. It was simply a circle, created moments prior.

"[Enso] is a direct expression of thusness or is believed that the character of the artist is fully exposed in how she or he draws an enso...Some artists practice drawing an enso daily as a spiritual exercise" (John Daido Loori, in the Foreward to Seo's book, 2006).

I have posted a photo of my first enso above. The text reads: "To start in the middle is to have beginner's mind." My prayer for the day: to remain open, to begin anew, and as Pema Chodron says, "To start where you are."

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Greek Fest: A Community of Learners

I went back this morning and re-read Roshi Joan Halifax's essay, Learning as Initiation: Not-knowing, Bearing Witness, and Healing. This essay was the impetus for my thesis. Though I've read it over many times, I always seem to find new pieces of it that I hadn't read the way I had before.

I specifically picked up the essay this morning because the other day during our Greek Fest at school, I had a couple of moments where I felt like my students and I experienced "bearing witness."

Halifax explains (per the second phase of Roshi Bernie Glassman's "Peacemaker Order") that "...'bearing witness'...emphasizes being fully present to the suffering and joy in oneself and the world." Later in her essay she says, "we realize that the relative and the absolute are interdependent. Samsara and nirvana are one. We also realize that intellectual or emotional reactions are not an absolute...that this present moment will pass..."

On Thursday morning, each of my students presented an oral, memorized mythology story where the character they had researched was the "star" of the story. Some of my students did an incredible job of really bringing the story to life, using costumes, props, "coloring their words," bringing characters to life, and connecting with their audience (the rest of the class). Other students did a fairly good job, while other students struggled. However, all of the students shared a story and, therefore, we were all able to support one another in a shared endeavor. We also had the opportunity to hear the interconnectedness of the ancient Greek myths, and therefore, make connections amongst ourselves.

One of my students attempted to start his story twice, but by the time he got to the third line, he "went up" on his lines (forgot the words). This particular student has a tendency to get frustrated with himself when he doesn't do something "right," or "well enough." We (his classmates and I) all watched as he balled his fists tightly by his sides, tightly closed his eyes (to keep from crying) and looked up to the ceiling (maybe so we wouldn't "see"). He stood like that for quite a few moments.

As gently as I could I said, "[His name], imagine that I have just told you about my weekend. Then imagine you went and told somebidy else exactly what I said. That's what you're doing here. You are simply re-telling a story. A story that you know really well." He relaxed a bit. After a few moments, this student, quietly began to tell his story. There were no bells and whistles, no really expressive moments, but he got through the entire story. His classmates cheered.

Later, during our second round of stories, one of the girls was telling her tale about Artemis, and how she lost her love, Orion. She choked up and stopped, because she couldn't go on. At firs, I was unclear if she couldn't remember the story or she was simply moved by it. Three of the other female students jumped out of their seats and went to hug her. I let this go on for a few moments and then asked the other girls to sit. I asked the student telling the story to continue, if she could. She did. When she finished her story, she too, received a round of cheers and applause.

"Bearing witness" ...being fully present for all of it: the joy and the sorrow, the challenge and the triumph. I think that happened on Thursday.

Besides the story-telling, my students teamed up with the other Sixth Grade section for a team game of Greek Trivial Pursuit, Crazy Olympics, and also had the opportunity to dine on Greek food (served with the help of classroom parents), and watch one another's "three-actor" plays (in ancient Greece, there were never more than three actors in a play, so for a week in drama the students tripled up to create plays based on a theme, and gave their final performance at Greek Fest).

Though Greek Fest wasn't an actual "rite of passage," it bore many of its elements: it was an opportunity for "students to learn through their own experiences, by creating specific educational settings where learners can really 'take the plunge'; by helping them touch the mythic imagination; helping them nurture wisdom and compassion through not-knowing and bearing witness" (Halifax, 1999, p. 179).

What Greek Fest most certainly supported was a "community of learners." Each of us learned from one another and alongside one another. We listened, we shared, and we celebrated all that we had learned previous to that day, and, in the process, learned some more.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Notes to Self

*Bearing Witness

*Community of Learners

*"Aren't we bowing?"

*Is that my voice in my book bag?

Another long day. Just got home from dinner with my dad.
Will post much-o tomorrow.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Greeked Out!

Well, not really...but I am pretty pooped from today. I have so much to share about today, but I am tuckered out. Along with Greek Fest, today is my birthday. I can't think of a much better day. My students (and parents) celebrated with me, our Greek Festival was terrific in so many different ways, and my father came to visit me from California this evening.

Today "took the cake" - along with being presented with one (made by one of my "moms" - see photos above) - as far as birthdays go.

I am blessed.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Celebration: Greek Fest

“Celebrations weave our hearts and souls into a shared destiny” (Bolman & Deal, 1995, p. 96). In some magical way, ceremonies and celebrations that are well carried out build meaning and significance into the life of a group, organization, or community (Williams, 2006, p. 124).

Both sixth grade sections (at Tempe Prep Junior Academy, where I teach) have spent the past month immersed in ancient Greece in their Social Studies, Language Arts and Drama classes. Today their mythology scrapbooks were due: a four-week project where each student had to research one specific character from Greek mythology, and following specific guidelines and criteria, create a "scrapbook" of information about him/her.

This was a big deal assignment.

This afternoon, the students exchanged scrapbooks with one another so that they could share what they had all accomplished. It was quiet in the room, as each student looked through the others' books. It was clear they were excited about sharing their work with their peers and seeing what everyone else had done.

Following the "viewings," each student then had to go through a check list and write a critique/reflection of his/her own work.

Tomorrow, we are having a celebration of our ancient Greek unit with "Greek Fest." For part of the morning, students will be presenting oral stories about the mythology character they studied. The students will also be split into four teams - the Giants, the Olympians, the Titans, and the Half-Bloods (the last team name is based on the modern-day Percy Jackson series, which we've been reading during homeroom) - to play Trivial Pursuit, the ancient Greek version, and for a 6th grade-twist on the Olympics. The students will also be performing "Three-actor plays," and feasting on Greek food for lunch.

Tomorrow will bring together pieces of what we have been exploring for the last 30 + days, in the spirit of play, in the guise of fun, and in an atmosphere of mirth. The students are really excited about the festivities, and after all the hard work they've put in (and they put in a lot of hard work), I have no doubt that some much needed merriment is in order!

Because the students have so much background information to bring with them tomorrow, Greek Fest - though light-hearted in spirit - will be packed with a great deal of significance and understanding. Like the Greeks, the sixth graders will have the opportunity to celebrate the "Good Life," - the balance of academics and play, of seriousness and silliness, and the beauty of participating as full-fledged citizens of TPJA's sixth grade class.

Williams, R. Bruce. (2006). 36 tools for building spirit in learning communities. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

More on Meditation

This morning I got in a lovingkindness (LK) practice. I hadn't done that all week and what I noticed this morning, is how open I felt after the practice.

It felt like I "shifted" somehow while I was sitting, extending my thoughts. Especially when I was sending LK to a neutral person. There was more space - more heart space, so that when I shifted LK to a very specific person who I am struggling with, I felt a bit more open-hearted to this person.

The person I struggle with is a colleague at work, and this morning I took the LK on the cushion with me. When I saw him - first thing as I walked into the faculty house today - I felt less "snarly." That was a really nice feeling...a really nice "lift."

Small steps. Short post. Hopeful progress.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Other, Myself

This morning as I sat down on my cushion, I thought about some of the suggestions I took in during my Shambhala I training last fall. I recalled Bill Bothwell encouraging us to sit with reverence - that our cushion was our throne. I also remember him talking about the Dedication of Merit - practicing it before, as well as after meditating.

I thought about how when I allow my mind to dance off in discursive thinking, I am not practicing reverence of my meditation time. Nor am I being of benefit to anyone (myself or others) by allowing my thoughts to run off like wild horses (as the Sakyong explains).

Each time my mind began to wander today, I did my best to bring my awareness back to my breath, knowing that each moment could serve others, and that this sitting practice was not for my benefit alone. I have a responsibility to "sit up" and "show up" for The Other.

In class, over the past few weeks, I am noticing my students as they perform the task of "Peer Leader," and how they take such care in ringing the Mindfulness Bell. They patiently wait until the entire class is ready to take part in the silence/stillness practice. They are poised. They take their job seriously, knowing that it is for their peers that they hold this charge.

In Other I see Myself. In Myself, I show up for Other.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Simple Intensity, Coupled with Improvisational Urgency

Tonight I spent some time looking over some of the papers I wrote from my first summer at Naropa. While there are only a couple that I can "pull" from to use in my thesis work, I was awed a bit by my writing.

That first summer we wrote a lot - a lot more than the second summer, and with little time. We also had quite a bit of reading, as I recall, and being that it was the first summer and our introduction to Naropa, it was intense. It was the intensity, however, and the urgency to meet deadlines that - I believe - kept me more present to the work at hand. I have a feeling that's why my papers were so clear...and so raw.

I'm wondering how I can bring some of that intensity, some of that raw-ness and some of that urgency to the draft writing of my thesis...

Two things I thought of utilizing: the Wisdom Energies (which have been encouraged all along) and the paramitas. I remember last Spring in Richard Brown's Compassionate Teaching class, how much the paramitas impacted me. I recall that I seemed to always practice the opposite of each to their full-blown counter-parts in order to really understand the true meaning of each of them (I don't know that that is a necessity for most people, it just seemed to be my experience all the time).

At any rate, with the work I've done this weekend, I am thinking I need to keep both the paramitas and the Energies in clear sight of me while I work. I also think I need to add an element of urgency to my writing.

I have a creative writing book that encourages writing with the assistance of a timer. I think that might be a good exercise for me for awhile. Just set the timer for a small amount of time: 10 - 15 minutes, and write furiously, and see what comes. It may produce some terrific results...and, if not, well, at least I will have given my right hand some good exercise!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Keeping it Real

We ache to touch intimately what is real, to find the marriage of meaning and matter in our lives and in the world. We ache to feel and express the fire of being fully alive.
~ Oriah Mountain Dreamer

As I lay in bed this morning after writing my Morning Pages, I reached over to snuggle with Love (my dog), as she lay at the end of my bed. I relish this time of the morning - whether it is a weekday or a weekend. When I commune with my dog, I "touch intimately what is real." Her name says it all: she is a bundle of love in the purest sense of the word. It's that simple.

Meeting with my co-teacher, Meghan, at school this morning, we made plans for our classes' big upcoming event this Thursday: Greek Fest. We divvyed up who was going to do what/buy what and exactly what our plan was for the day. We noted some other transitions on our calendar for the rest of the semester and we chatted a bit about our personal lives. Meghan and I have led extraordinarily different lives, but our bond, even after just six months is strong, respectful and loving. And we laugh our butts off. We are alive.

This afternoon, I rode on the back of a Harley up to a town called Carefree, just North of Scottsdale. Though I wore a helmet, the feeling of being open to the elements and simply enjoying the ride reminded me of my connection to the present, my connection to the world...meaning.

This evening I put a twist on a Julia Cameron exercise from her book, The Sound of Paper. I pasted magazine images and words into an art journal that I have kept tucked away for so very long (the last entry was 2008). To just sit and create. To be present for matter and meaning. To express - to be "fully alive"...

These things that nurture my soul, nurture my thesis. They inspire, ground, and feed me. They keep it real.

"Reality is always richer than having a good time" - R. Brown
*(Though you can certainly have a good time in reality).

Friday, February 5, 2010

Connecting the Dots

Who we are and the environment we create in class are at least as important as the teaching skills we possess. ~ Rachael Kessler

This morning I woke up on time. I wrote my three long-hand written Morning Pages. I made my way out the door with Love and had time for a good walk-about and was able to attend to my Awareness Walk. I did not have to rush to my cushion. I had time to meditate. And I had a whole rush of ideas and a sense within my mind and body that the thing that really tickled me to the core about my thesis subject was the connection of me to my students.

Ritual serves as a conduit for this connection. I feel alive and connected and am constantly learning about me and my relatonship to my self, others, and the world through my personal rituals. I want my students to have similar experiences. To feel feel connected - even when alone - to simply feel...and to notice - to be aware - and to want to be even more want to know, to want to seek, to want to imagine, to want to create, to want to simply be.

On the last day of our session at Naropa last summer I wrote the following aspiration:

I aspire to...
Let go.
Let it be.
And welcome whatever is yet to come.

When I actually do this, I find that I get exactly what I need.

Last night I received feedback from my thesis advisor. I received thoughtful, provocative questions. I received encouraging suggestions. I received an objective view that I simply didn't have - a new pair of eyes who could see through some of my murk to a clear path of movement.

This morning with these questions and ideas dropping in, I allowed them to linger in my mind and rest in my body. "You might want to organize this...into two headings...Is your thesis about teachers in general or about you? If it is about you..get even more specific...I think personal is better...What is the difference between practice and ritual?...What is your connection to these rituals in regards to your thesis? Make this connection more clear..."

It is about my connection. It is personal. I rambled into my hand-held tape recorder this morning.

Connections abounded today in my classroom. From small sweet gestures and silly vocal and physical warm-ups, to the greater collective quiet reverence that comes when we ring the mindfulness bell.

A new book I received three days ago from Amazon, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice by Catherine Bell discusses ritual and practice and the distinctions of both. I just read that tonight. Auspicious that I did so right after Mary asked that question.

Sadly, Rachael Kessler passed away last week. However, the news of her passing prompted me to visit the PassageWorks (Kessler founded the organization in mid-1980's) website. There I found three articles that are completely helpful to me in my thesis work.

The Universe, God - the great powers of the world - are conspiring. The dots are being connected.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Thoughts on Thursday

Went to bed far, far too late last night (and missed posting here on the blog. S**t! I'm not perfect!) and woke up with a feeling reminiscent of a hangover, sans the alcohol. I overslept and upon awakening, I did have a feeling I was back in the "old days." Ugh.

No Morning Pages. No Awareness Walk. No Meditation. No Shower. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh, and ugh!

My day went surprisingly well, despite.

Tonight I received feedback from my thesis advisor, Mary. I am so grateful for that right now. I so very much need an outside perspective. Someone objective. And someone who can offer me suggestions and questions and ideas on how to really get specific with my work. I am so "in" it, that I can't see my work clearly - even when I step away from it for a bit and come back to it.

Tomorrow night I am going to read over Mary's words again with my thesis proposal in hand, and then make notes and chart my path.

Now, I'm going to get some sleep.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Are You Now or Have You Ever...

...incorporated ritual into your classroom, consciously or sub-consciously?

I didn't realize how difficult coming up with "good" interview questions would be! Every time I try to come up with one I feel, so pedestrian. I keep hearing myself encouraging my students, "Dig deeper!"

Part of me wants to say, "Well, I can't dig deeper. I can't do this. I don't even know why I'm doing these interviews anyway" (pout, stomp foot, cross arms)!

I have no doubt that some of my students say the same things to themselves when I ask them to create discussion questions. How can I expect my students to think critically if I'm not willing to do the same? How can I expect them to keep trying, to keep digging, to make re-writes, if I don't keep on keeping on?

Right now I am a little stuck (mostly in my thinking). I also have been before - but I got un-stuck too. There's that little bit of wiggle room that always appears...a loosening...and then typically a clearing, and then a path to walk on.

Sometimes you dig...sometimes you widdle...and sometimes you walk away...

...and come back later.

Monday, February 1, 2010

It's That Time of the Month...

...In my classroom (not the other time of the month you're thinking about).

At the beginning of each month I pass out two hand-outs. One is called the "Monthly" and the other is our class Rota schedule for the coming month.

"Monthly's" offer information about the new month we are about to embark on. Obviously, today being February 1, the Monthly was entitled February (from the Latin words februarius mensis - meaning month of purification).

The first paragraph is all about the origins of the month, why it has the name it has, how many days are in the month, etc.

Next, the month's flower and gemstone are listed (February's is the violet and the amethyst, respectively), followed by a listing of variously registered National holidays (i.e. "Return your shopping cart to the grocery store month," or "National cherry month," or "Black History Month").

Then, specific holidays of the month are explained: When they are and what they celebrate/honor. For example, February 2 is Ground Hog Day, while the third Monday of the month is Presidents' Day (this year, February 15).

Sometimes I incorporate the name of the month or the holidays into our school work. Last month we did an art project inspired by Janus (the Roman god of doorways and new beginnings), for whom January is named. We also spent a good deal of time learning about Martin Luther King, Jr. and writing poems inspired by his "I Have a Dream" speech. It also happened to be National Letter Writing Month and my students had the opportunity to write letters.

Some months we don't use the "Monthly" at all, except to acknowledge the passage of one month and welcome in the next.

The Rota schedule is the job schedule for Room 503 (my homeroom). I borrowed this idea from the Naropa summer intensive. Rota is an especially British term. It is "a list of person's acting, or duties to be done, in rotation" (Oxford Illustrated Dictionary, 1998). My students are each responsible for a particular job every other week. "Peer Leader" is the first job on the rotation. The Peer Leader leads the opening and closing bow every day. They also ring the mindfulness bell at the beginning of each new subject period. The "Attendance" person brings the attendance sheets in the morning and the afternoon to the Main Office. The "Homework Scribe" is another job on the schedule. This person's job is to make sure that the Science homework (students go across the hall for Science) gets written on our classroom whiteboard upon return to our classroom. Other jobs included are "Supply Table," "Duster," and "Recycling" (a couple of people team up to do the last two).

Rota fits into our classroom philosophy O.T.O. (Other Than Ourselves). It is about pitching in and taking care of our classroom and one another. Rota gives each student a chance to step up and be a part of our classroom community in a specific way every other week. It fosters awareness and responsibility.

When both the Rota schedule and the "Monthly" are passed out to the students each month, there is always a bit of excitement about who has what job when, and what kind of "holidays" will be coming up in the next 28-31 days. There is a hint in the air of new beginnings, as we leave the old month behind.

It is where the Kyu and the Jo meet and greet: The Kyu being the "rapid conclusion," while the Jo serves as a good, "orderly beginning" (Jo, Ha - an intensification, or a breaking away, Kyu...Naropa speak).