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.

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.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What's in a Name?

I've been thinking about the title of my thesis. I have tried very hard to be open-minded about my thesis topic and its title, ever since I started tossing the idea around in my head last spring. Part of me has felt resistant to changing it, but for what reasons(s) I am not sure. It's a great topic, to be sure. It's a vast topic, of that I am even more sure.

The other day, this thought came to me as a thesis title: Ritual: a Path to Cultivating Community, Connection, and Compassion (in and out of the classroom). I am drawn to the word "cultivating." I am attracted to the verb, to the consciousness of the doing. Ritual has to do with meaning. It has substance and purpose. It is alive.

Here is how defines "cultivate":
tr.v. cul·ti·vat·ed, cul·ti·vat·ing, cul·ti·vates
a. To improve and prepare (land), as by plowing or fertilizing, for raising crops; till.
b. To loosen or dig soil around (growing plants).
2. To grow or tend (a plant or crop).
3. To promote the growth of (a biological culture).
4. To nurture; foster.
5. To form and refine, as by education.
6. To seek the acquaintance or goodwill of; make friends with.

The rituals I have incorporated into my personal life, as well as my classroom practices, do "nurture and foster." They do "form and refine." They do help "to seek the aquaintance or goodwill of; [and] "make friends with." Like the definitions that apply to the land and plants - ritual does help to "improve and prepare," "to loosen and to dig," "to grow or tend," and rituals do "promote growth."

The "deeper learning" that I have been referring to in my working title - and exploring in my work - actually seems to fall under the heading of "connection." When one learns deeply, one can connect to material/subject matter, to other, to self, to community, and/or to the greater world.

The cultivation of community (also a form of connection) and compassion (another form of connection, really) has been an integral part of my use of, and exploration of, ritual.

In William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Juliet wonders:

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

(Act II, sc. ii)

There isn't much in a name, really: we call a table "table," but we could just as well call it "goomba," or give it any other name and it would still remain the same object and serve the same function(s).

Romeo and Juliet could have been called "Earl and Henrietta," and it wouldn't change the story. But, seriously: what sounds better? "Earl and Henrietta" - romantic? no think so. Therefore, a name is important to some extent. And so is the title of my thesis - if for no other reason to help me and whomever reads it, to be more clear about my exploration of ritual.

I have just given myself some more "food for thought" - especially with the definitions I found for "cultivate." More work for me? No doubt. Exciting none-the-less? You bet.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I Need Some Repose, I Suppose

Rest when you're weary. Refresh and renew yourself, your body, your mind, your spirit. Then get back to work. ~ Ralph Marston

Funny (ironic, not "ha, ha") that "repose" is one of my students' vocabulary words this month. Mine as well, then, to be sure. So while my students will use it in a sentence on their test tomorrow, I am using it in my blog-post title this evening.

I am completely over-the-top tired. Under-my-desk tired. And, really, just plain, old I-gotta-go-lay-on-my-couch-but-really-should-just-go-to-bed tired!

I think I'm just going to take my cue to chill and stop for today from some that are probably much wiser than me:

Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop. ~ Ovid

The time to relax is when you don't have time for it.
~ Attributed to both Jim Goodwin and Sydney J. Harris

For fast-acting relief, try slowing down. ~ Lily Tomlin

And, so: good night.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Reflecting Back (and Forward) on Ritual and Routine

Back in January (oh - it does feel like way back, and yet it's been less than two months), I posted about ritual and routine and the differences between the two. In the questionnaire I gave three "non-contemplative" (though, I have a sneaking suspicion they are contemplatives of sorts) teachers at my school, I asked them what they thought the differences were between routine and ritual as well.

Here are their answers:

Teacher A*: 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 B: "Routine" is a word or idea without value judgement. It is simply a series of motions that have become, or will become habit. A routine is neither "good" nor "bad." A ritual is a specific thought or action which should serve a purpose. Ritual is more formalized and is usually not just an "accident."

Teacher E: Routine has to do with that which is customary or commonly practiced. A ritual, which one might perceive as a "good" thing can become routine, which probably means it has lost its depth of meaning or transcendance for the practitoner.

"Purpose" and "meaning."

In his book, 36 Tools for Building Spirit in Learning Communities, author R. Bruce Williams says that rituals "point to something meaningful and significant"(p. 122). This is a part of my understanding (and practice) of ritual, and it is clear that this is also true for some of my colleagues.

Of great interest to me was reading about each of my three colleagues' personal morning practices to ready themselves for the school day ahead:

Teacher A: Paryer is part of my morning routine. It involves reading scriptures from the bible. It is my time to center myself and bring peace before beginning a day of taeching.

My routines involve sending all emails personal and school-related prior to leaving home for the day; Preparing my planner for the week/day with any tasks or schedules, personal or professionally-related.

Then I prepare my class schedules for the day or week. I listen to classical or spiritual music while doing all this - and especially while grading student papers.

Teacher B: Each morning I intentionally spend time alone. I have a specific chair in which I sit with my planner, a book, and my journal. I begin with prayer in three categories: "pray for," "thank for," and "forgiveness for." I write those down and give them to God. Then I read Scripture. From there, I plan my day and reflect on putting people before things. Then I read an inspirational work, currently Steven Covey, and then I get ready. Sometimes I review or work on my Personal Mission.

Teacher E: My first thoughts in the morning usually are prayer. Later, I often use a variation on a Quaker prayer that I heard about at a Promise Keeper's conference: palms up (acknowledging God's presence, his provision, love, and guidance); palms down ("please take from me everything that displeases you"); and palms up ("fill me with your Holy Spirit, your love, your truth, and your grace").

While not a ritual, I derive great pleasure from studying the Bible. My current studies are taking me through the sermons of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.

I would liken my morning rituals and how they help me connect with the present, myself, and a Higher Power - how they set the tone for my day - to what my colleagues do in the morning to ready themselves for the day ahead.

Reading about my colleagues' practices has been insightful, not just in terms of gathering data, but also in terms of getting to know a few of my co-workers a bit better. I was talking to Teacher A after school for awhile today about some of the questions I asked, and she said she would actually really like to know how she could incorporate some ritual into her classes, but wasn't sure how that would bode well with math. I told her I was excited to have the opportunity to speak with her further about that (it's been difficult for everyone to find a date to meet, so she and I will probably meet sometime next week over spring break). What I am mostly excited about is connecting with my colleagues on a deeper level.

Though we may not engage in any rituals together, the topic of ritual, itself, has helped foster a connection between myself and a few of my colleagues. Not so routine, eh?!

*The teachers are labeled Teacher A, B, and E because each letter represents the initial of their first names.

Monday, March 8, 2010

"See Much, Study Much, Suffer Much"

The unexamined life is not worth living ~ Socrates

Reflection has been a key component for me as far understanding myself and the part I play in the world. Whether I reflect in dialogue, in silent contemplation, or through writing, I have been able to get to know myself better and gain a clearer perspective of who I am, what I think, and how I feel.

My students also seem to be learning about themselves through reflection. Literature has often been a catalyst for my students (and myself), and books, plays, song lyrics, spiritual works, and poetry have all incited thoughtful discussions and insightful writings.

Last week, my students were asked to find two different quotes in Lloyd Alexander's The Book of Three, connect them to a greater "life lesson" of some kind, and write about their own thoughts, feelings and experiences in regards to it.

From one of my students:

On page 155, Taran says, "Medwyn would not say so. In the hills, he spoke of kindness for all creatures; and he told me much about the gwythaints. I think that it's important to bring this one to Caer Dathyl. No one has ever captured a live gwythaint, as far as I know. Who can tell what value it might have?" I think that the life lesson here is that we should show kindness for all humans...We cannot tell what a person is really like just by theirappearance. An example of this is Muslims.

I know quite a lot on the subject of Islam and Muslims since more than half of Indonesia's religion is Islam [this student is Indonesian]. When some people see a Muslim or think of one, they think, "Oh, no! I hope they aren't a terrorist, I hope they won't hurt me!" Well, I think that this is just silly. It is judging someone by their appearance without even meeting them. And for all those people who think that all Muslims are terrorists, I CAN CERTAINLY TELL YOU THEY ARE NOT. In fact, most Muslims are very kind and friendly, I even have some friends in Indonesia that are Muslims and I am sure that they are not terrorists.

So we should all show friendliness and kindness for all humans, of any religion, ethnicity, etc., and not judge what they are like just by their appearance or looking at them right away.

From another student:

"She looks like a wonderful pig" - "It's always nice to see two friends meet again. It's like waking up with the sun shining" (Eilonwy, p. 47).

I think that the life lesson that is trying to be shown in Eilonwy's reference is that when you have something that you are ungrateful for, you only realize how much you appreciate it when it's gone. In reading The Book of Three, I learned more about being grateful and thinking about every little thing that affects your life. This could be friends, pets, or homes. I hope that we can all really take notice of the little things in life, because they all add up in the end to something further than we can understand.

In The Book of Three, Coll says to Taran: "You have been at The Book of Three...that is not hard to guess. Now you know better. Well, that is one of the three foundations of learning: see much, study much, suffer much" (Alexander, p. 10). This quote reminds me of the process of prajna: observation, contemplation, and meditation...or observation + knowledge + experience = wisdom.

In her article, The Sharp Sword of Prajna, Judy Lief explains: Prajna is a Sanskrit word literally meaning "best knowledge," or "best knowing." Prajna is a natural bubbling up of curiosity, doubt and inquisitiveness. It is precise, but at the same time it is playful. The awakening of prajna applies to all aspects of life, down to the tiniest details. Our inquisitive interest encompasses all levels, from the most mundane, such as how do I turn on this computer, up to such profound levels as, what is the nature of reality?

It seems to me that my students are applying their "best knowing" to "all aspects of life," as they delve into The Book of Three and make connections between the story and the language, and themselves and how they view the world.

Lief says:

Another image for prajna is the sun: the sun of prajna is illuminating our world. If we're inquisitive, if we're attentive, a kind of natural illumination happens. There is light shining on the dark corners and a sense of being under the spotlight, totally exposed...there's no corner where the sun of prajna isn't shining. Prajna is like having a sun shining all around, everywhere, never setting.

Reflection has become a ritual in my personal life, as well as my classroom. It takes on different forms all the time, so there is no one way to practice it. It is a ritual on one hand, because it is a constant practice and a conscious practice. It is also a ritual because it's very nature begs the practitioner to look more closely, dig a bit deeper, and learn more about him or herself, others and the greater world. It cultivates deeper learning and serves as a platform for making connections.

In her article, Lief writes: "Usually we think that knowledge means having all the answers, but the quality of prajna is more like having all the questions." So, too, is the way of reflection.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

"Wrong-footed, you know, or as if I had three thumbs on one hand..."

That's about how I feel when I don't do my sitting practice in the morning.

On Friday morning, I woke up late. I had neglected to set up my coffee maker (on a timer) the night before, so I rushed through the process of setting that up, and just as quickly rushed around trying to dress, do my hair and make up, and get my things together for the school day.

With "no time" for meditation, I darted back into the kitchen to grab a cup of joe, and wouldn't you know it - I had forgotten to empty the carafe out from the day before and there was coffee all over my counter! The time it would have taken me to just sit, even for five minutes, would have been worth nixing the coffee. Had I done so, I would have had a bit more peace of mind, and would not have had to clean up a mess that was all due to the fact that my mindfulness had gone out the window, or out the door, and probably somewhere far down the street!

I had to simply laugh at myself. "Really, Nicky? How many times will it take for you to get that starting your day off with meditation - even a shortened practice - renders better results than no practice at all." Hmmm...

In my Language Arts class we are just finishing up Lloyd Alexander's The Book of Three. It's a wonderful book, filled with rich, juicy characters. Eilonwy (pronounced: ih-lawn-wee), a princess, is one of my favorites. She always says what she thinks and how she feels. She most often uses analogies and similes, and though they are often a bit off-the-wall, they tickle me because they are also so right on.

When she first meets Taran, the story's protagonist, Eilonwy asks him his name and then explains, "It makes me feel funny not knowing someone's name. Wrong-footed, you know, or as if I had three thumbs on one hand, if you see what I mean. It's clumsy..." (p. 51). That's preciscely how I feel when I don't attend to my morning meditation. It's a terrific description.

On the other hand, when I attend to my sitting practice on a consistent, daily basis, it does feel like Eilonwy describes in the last chapter of The Book of Three: "You should be glad to be home...It's like remembering where you put something you've been looking for" (p. 184). It feels right. Just like coming home.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

How Does One Measure This Stuff?

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights - in sunsets
In midnights - in cups of coffee
In inches - in miles
In laughter - in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in a life?

How about love?
Measure in love.

~ RENT, Seasons of Love, by Jonathan Larson

I remember when I began working on my thesis, I wondered about how I could "measure" my data. How would I even collect it? I can observe - use my own observations to see and feel how ritual impacts deeper learning and connection. But observation is quite a subjective way of showing data. It's part of the data, but it cannot account for all of it.

Feedback, in the form of discussion, verbal and written interviews, and written reflection (from journal writing and written responses to specific questions) is probably the best form of data. However, unsolicited feedback is the real McCoy.

After a difficult, yet thoughtful and caring discussion in my classroom yesterday, I received an email from a parent today. Her student joined our classroom within just the last month, and I am appreciative that she took the time to share her thoughts. The following is an excerpt from her email:

I hope you're enjoying your weekend. Just wanted to tell you how much [Student J] is enjoying the discussions in class. I picked him up yesterday after school and went to the zoo with his brothers for a couple hours, trying to take in as much of this gorgeous weather as possible. When I asked him about school he told me how great it was to be able to talk about all kinds of things...and everyone's point of view seems to be well listened to and respected, no matter how different they are. I think this is so neat and unusual for a group this age to be able to come together and discuss their differences, but do it in a way where they can come away feeling like they've been heard, maybe challenged, but respected. Thanks for engendering that kind of openness in your classroom. He also shared with me about [Student J2] and the letters and the discussion that ensued and how one girl brought up that this class is a family and needs to function that way....I just think it was all so neat, for lack of a better term! It's great when you ask the question, "anything interesting happen in school today?" and you get such a long and drawn out answer. [Student J] really loves it!

As I posted yesterday, my students are constantly demonstrating compassion. They are reflective and articulate, and, as yesterday's conversation continued, it was really wonderful to step back and watch and listen as many of my students were able to see things from different perspectives and open their hearts even wider as they continued to dialogue.

The "compassion gymnasium" renders results: tipping the scales with deeper learning and connection.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Semi-Random Thoughts on Reflection, Repetition and Compassion

I have been thinking about how ritual plays a part in reflection, repetition, and compassion and vice-versa. All three components are important parts of my own world, and they play out in my classroom frequently.

I finally wrote up my notes from the Mind Life XIX Conference I attended last November in Washington, D.C., along with several other Naropites. The Conference entitled, Educating World Citizens for the 21st Century: Educators, Scientists, and Contemplatives Dialogue on Cultivating a Healthy Mind, Brain, and Heart. The Conference was composed of four sessions, and HH the Dalai Lama sat in on each one.

I can't remember who said it during the first session of the Conference, but I wrote in my notes:

Compassion = Empathy + Reason

Then I wrote:

In order to increase the growth of national happiness, we need a "compassion gymnasium." It takes mental training and control of the mind to cultivate compassion and loving-kindness. i.e. training for a marathon: you cannot run 26.2 miles if you are not in shape.

In cultures where compassion is built in, they just "get it." But when it's not built in, children need to be taught.

We are just coming up to the end of our third quarter at school next week. I have been marveling at the growth of my students. They are thoughtful, creative and caring souls. They thrive on repetition and the structure it offers. Most of them are capable of reflecting deeply and critically. They demonstrate compassion in ways I would never have expected, and I am awed that they are able to rise to all of it in their sixth grade year. Today, after school, I simply sat at my desk and wept. The tears were of joy, tinged by the suffering that each of my students so bravely - so maturely - dealt with today, and so often demonstrate in their discussions, written work, and actions.

In Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche explains:

The genuine heart of sadness comes from feeling that your nonexistent heart is full. You would like to spill your heart's blood, give your heart to others. For the warrior, this experience of sad and tender heart is what gives birth to fearlessness. Conventionally, being fearless means that you are not afraid or that, if someone wants to hit you, you will hit him back. However, we are not talking about that street-fighter level of fearlessness. Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw and beautiful heart. You are willing to open up, without resistance or shyness, and face the world. You are willing to share your heart with others (Trungpa, 1984, p. 32).

My students are warriors.

During the fall semester, I gave my students a piece written by Mother Teresa (we affectionately refer to the piece as "Mother T"). There are nine phrases that make up the piece, and we learned it phrase by phrase - one new one each week. We started with the first phrase and recited each day for a week. Then then students would write a reflection on the phrase - what it meant to them, personally, how they had experienced it in their lives, and often they reflected on how this phrase fell into the world picture. The following week, wee would recite the first two phrases every day, reflect again on the second one, and so on. Here is a copy of the piece:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.
Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten.
Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.
Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

~ Mother Teresa

*The students were told that if they weren't comfortable with the word "God," they could substitute it for another word, i.e. "good" or "Universe" or not say anything at all.

My students know the entire Mother T piece by heart. Two weeks ago we began re-visiting the piece. I posted "Phrase One" up on the white board for the week. I asked the students to reflect in their journals on the first phrase and how they have incorporated it into their life since we began working on the piece in the fall. This second week, we did the same. Next week, we will do the same again, and so on until the piece runs it's course.

The repetition of reading and verbally saying the piece out loud (and in unison) has helped the students (and myself) learn the piece, so that now, at this point, it seems to be a "part of us." The written reflections (and subsequent discussions), have helped us all think about our thoughts and our actions - has given us pause about how we look at others, ourselves, and how we can make choices about our attitudes and actions.

Saying the Mother T piece out loud, as a group, seems to be a uniting force. The students say it together, and if one falters, the others help get him/her back on track. The voices, in unison, reverberate the message of the piece. To hear twenty-two sixth graders recite this, just about breaks my heart into twenty-two pieces of love (regardless of how sappy that sounds, if you heard them, I have no doubt that you might experience the same).

The practice of speaking the piece daily last fall was more than a practice: it was a ritual. The meaning behind it were the words themselves and what the students got from them. The creation of a unified body of students who were (and still are) creating a cohesive community was enhanced by the words, sounds and reverberations of saying the piece out loud and together. The connections that students have made between themselves and the piece and themselves and the world are clear, as seen in their written reflections, discussions, and actions. Re-visiting the piece now, fortifies those connections.

In the third session of the Mind Life Conference, Matthieu Ricard explained that "Compassion must be cultivated through practice." and Martin Brokenleg offered the literal translation of "child," in his native language (forgive me, I cannot remember what tribe he is from):

"Child" means "One who stands sacred." Brokenleg went on to express what he believed a child's mental and emotional needs are:

- A sense of Belonging: with parents, society, and land
- A sense of Mastery: what a child is capable of doing
- Being responsible for self: good behavior, good thinking
- Generosity: being a part of the world, giving to the world

The Mother T piece and how we practice it in Room 503 (my classroom) seems to provide a platform where all four points above can be cultivated.

I have more thoughts on repetition, reflection, and compassion, and I will continue to write about them in the coming days.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Getting to Know Myself...Not so "Breezy"

It's a very ancient saying,
But a true and honest thought,
That if you become a teacher,
By your pupils you'll be taught...
Haven't you noticed
Suddenly I'm bright and breezy?
Because of all the beautiful and new
Things I'm learning about you
Day by day.
~ Anna, The King and I (lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein)
This morning I re-read last night's post, and I realized that like shamatha, my Awareness Walks with Love help me get more aquainted with myself...more aware of who I am and how I am, and some of it...I don't like so well. It's sort of hard to really look at.
I posted the lyrics above from "Getting to Know You," because when I think of Anna singing them, she seems like such a lovely, kind and patient teacher...everything so easy, despite the fact that she's wearing that dang huge skirt with petticoats in that swealtering heat and teaching students in a language other than her own, all while working under some chauvenistic king.
Like Anna, I learn as much (if not more) from my students as they learn from me. Unlike Anna, getting to know them is not always "breezy," and getting to know me is not always "beautiful." Or, maybe it is beautiful, but it's not always pretty and definitely not always comfortable.
Just as I interpret Love's behavior, I realized that that is what I do with my students - a few in particular. Because they behave a certain way, I decide it's because of this...or because of that...I make judgments. I get angry or irritated because they don't seem to change their behavior to meet my expectations. I often forget to let go of my expectations. My ego gets in the way. I struggle with the idea that I can help my students change (a.k.a. be the way I want them to be), and I struggle with the fact that they sometimes simply are who they are (ak.a. I can be of service in the best way possible, yet that doesn't mean I can always help them).
This morning I sat with these thoughts. They are not comfortable realizations. However, because I am aware of them, I have the opportunity to let them guide me to a better place, for my students - and my own - greater good.
This realization is a form of deeper learning...about myself. This realization helped me make a connection between my thoughts and my behavior. Therefore, I believe, my Awareness Walks with Love, like meditation, are leading me to greater awareness - in the present moment, as well as by helping me become better aquainted with myself...with my thoughts, emotions, and actions.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Noticing What I Notice

This morning, while I was taking my Awareness Walk with Love, I kept noticing how I notice Love. Quite often I am able to watch her "in the moment" and simply notice what she's doing - simply observing the way she walks, what she stops to sniff, when and where she yanks her leash to get to where she wants to go when she wants to go there...yada, yada....

But this morning, I was distinctly (is that the right word: "distinctly?") aware of how I notice what she does (and when she does it) - and how I often interpret it. An example: At the end of the alleyway closest to McKellips (my street address), is the corner house (at the cross stree), with its backyard up against the alley. Love and the dog who lives in that yard cannot help but have a snarl fest - bordering on a ballistic barking bonanza - every single time we pass by. Every single time...unless I pull Love away from the alley wall as quickly as possible (and somehow, every morning, I forget the other dog is in that yard...or I think that she must be in the house at such an early hour - but, of course, the dog is always in the yard).

So when we pass by this wall to the other dog's backyard, Love just goes all out: she tries to get her snout in one of the fence slats, she barks and snarls and the hair on her back stands on end. I hold tight to her leash, trying with much might to pull her clear of the wall. I don't know what to make of this. Does she really revile this dog - a dog she has never seen? Is her "frenzy" a territorial thing (even though it's really not her territory)? Is the dog a Teabagger (Love's absolutely a liberal, I'm certain)? And this is how it goes every day.

As we wind up our walk, I am pretty sure that Love can sense our jaunt is coming to a close. The reason I believe this is because she will stop to sniff something and she will inspect it like a woman inspecting a pair of her husband's trousers - so sure she is that he has been unfaithful. Love will inspect every nook, every cranny of the trousers (or whatever it is - a bush, a patch of grass, a section of sidewalk) - not because she really wants to inhale its scent, but because she wants to prolong the walk. She knows I must wait - especially in the mornings. She knows it is my discipline - my ritual - to keep my focus on her, to use her as my awareness sherpa. And because she knows this, she dawdles and lags around any given thing, because she CAN! (That was the interpretation part).

It's interesting to me how I can create these ideas about why she does what she does. How quickly my head can whip up ideas that are probably non-existent (and especially, because I think they, so often, have to do with me). So I noticed that I notice things much of the time from my perspective - and a not very objective one at that.

However, I definitely also notice the beauty and the sweetness and the sense of being present and the constant sense of being alive and in tune the way Love is in the world, on her walks: her dainty little feet...the way they touch the ground in a poised trot of sorts; the way she investigates a flower or when her ears lift up and out just a bit whenever a specific sound catches her attention. She is always in the moment - always present for whatever presents itself. She is a gift. She is my teacher. She helps me be aware of what is all around me, and she helps me become aware of what is going on inside me as well.

Love helps me notice, what I notice.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Good Timing!

A friend of mine receives these bits of wisdom from a source called The Daily Motivator from her brother, via email. She, in turn, passes them on to me and some of her other friends.

One (she usually sends me a few at a time) I received this evening was this:

Embrace discipline

Run away from discipline, and it punishes you. Embrace
discipline, and it enables you to do magnificent things.

You can decide to discipline yourself, or you will surely
and eventually have discipline forced upon you. It is far
better to choose it for yourself, so you can fashion with it
whatever you desire.

You already have the ability to act with self-discipline.
Make use of that ability by making it a constant habit.

Discipline doesn't cost you. It pays, over and over again.
Discipline makes what you already have, more valuable. And
with discipline you can create much more new value.

Do what is in the best interest of everyone involved, even
when it is not comfortable or easy at the moment. Long after
the immediate inconvenience and discomfort are gone, you'll
be enjoying the rewards of choosing to discipline yourself.

Ralph Marston


The EYES of March

This month, I am committing myself to seeing with a new pair of eyes. Especially looking at my thesis with beginner's eye, so that I can approach this phase of the process with clarity, excitement, and wonder. I can also approach it with a wee-bit of wisdom, taking what I know and what I have experienced and using that to guide and serve as well.

My eyes are tired and my mind is jumbled, and yet I know that with gentle discipline, willingness, and an open mind and heart (and a good sense of humor), the task before me is do-able and most definitely do-able well.

MARCHing on...