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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Disappearing Educator

When I decided to start this blog, it was my hope that it would be a source of good conversations and a place where we could learn from and support each other as educators, mindfulness instructors, or just people trying to manage our way through this stress-filled life. This weekend, the February MEA Voice was delivered, and I was surprised to see myself quoted in the featured article, The Disappearing Educator. I had been contacted by the editor back in December, after she had seen a comment I had made to a blog post by my former superintendent. She said she was working on a piece about why teachers are leaving and the growing teacher shortage, and asked if I wouldn't mind elaborating on my reasons for retiring after only 20 years. I was happy to respond, and then I totally forgot about the whole thing, with the holidays and all . . . until this weekend, when my phone started going crazy with email and message alerts from educators around the state! They wanted to know more about why I left, about mindfulness, about how it helped myself and my students, and how it could help them.  They are stressed, frustrated, and looking for help. So, I thought this would be a great thing to blog about!

If you haven't already, please take a minute to read the article, as it tells my story, as well as the story of several other educators who have made the decision to leave the classroom. Please feel free to tell your story; your feelings as a current or former educator, your concerns as a parent, your response as a mindfulness practitioner, or just someone who values teachers/education and is concerned about the current state of affairs.

"Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths."
- Etty Hillesum

Monday, July 25, 2016

Why not mindfulness?

Those of you that know me well have had to put up with my frequent posts on social media about the benefits of mindfulness. In the remote chance that you've missed these, here is an article that quickly sums it up:

Mindfulness Meditation Benefits: 20 Reasons Why It’s Good For Your Mental And Physical Health

As I was prepping for my mindfulness classroom visits this fall (yes, I know it is still July. The teacher in me will never die!), I started to wonder about those of you out there that see and hear about the benefits of mindfulness but are reluctant to try it. My question is simply why? What is it about mindfulness that keeps you away? I am seriously not trying to convert you. I want to know as a mindfulness instructor. It will help my practice to know what the apprehensions are when talking to staff and parents. Is it the meditation part? The time commitment? Just not knowing enough about how you do it?

I can't stress enough - I am NOT trying to sell it to you.  I am not and never want to be a salesperson. I don't like when people try to sell me on something.  I really am looking to enhance my instruction by knowing what all of the obstacles are. It will be a great help when talking with teachers, administrators, and parents. I know what my reservations were. Now, I'd like to hear from others. Thanks in advance!


Monday, July 18, 2016

I'm baaaack! Another retreat and creating space.

Well, I hadn't planned on taking a year off from blogging, but life happens!

But, I am back and committed to creating weekly posts to spur meaningful discussions.

Again, I have returned from a week long mindfulness retreat at the beautiful Garrison Institute.  Upon reading my posts from last year's retreat, I must confess that my experiences this year were quite different! Although eating in silence was still a challenge, there was no dramatic walk to try and find civilization - or at least a Coke!  I DID drive this year instead of fly, so I had access to a vehicle.  That might have had an effect on me, knowing that I could escape if so inclined! And, I DID take a drive one evening to explore the nearby towns, and I MAY have brought a snack or two along with me . . .

The bonds that can be formed between 80 virtual strangers with a shared vision within a few short days boggles my mind. We shared laughter, tears, and lots of hugs.  We bared our souls, shared our individual goals, voiced our concerns for the future. We taught each other and learned from each other. Most importantly, we created strong bonds of collaboration and friendship.  And, our students will be the beneficiaries of all of this. It is so exciting to hear about the amazing things happening in schools all across the country, and throughout the world. I am frustrated that the Midwest is so far behind the east, and especially, the west coast, but its coming. The need is there. Our teachers need mindfulness. Our students need mindfulness. We all need mindfulness.

It was especially meaningful that we were all together during this difficult time for our country.  The violent actions that are happening throughout our country weighed heavily on our hearts.  My thoughts were drawn to one of my favorite lessons of the mindfulness curriculum.  I shared the following on Facebook as soon as we came out of our 3 days of silence:

"Whether you buy in to mindfulness or not, if I could leave you with one idea that you could bring into your life it's this: create space. Now, I'm not talking about space between you and the people around you. I'm talking about the space between the things that happen to you (stimulus) and your reaction to it (response). We live in a knee-jerk reactive world, and each reaction is intensified exponentially. You say something to me, I give you attitude. You push me, I shove you. You threaten me, I shoot you.
Just one deep breath. That's all it takes. Just one deep breath to create a space long enough to prevent an argument, start a conversation, show compassion, change a life, save a life. Just one deep breath can mean the difference between "What is the best thing for me to do right now?" and "Oh God . . . What did I just do?"
That's it, folks. It's that simple."

As always, I would love to hear what you think.  A blog is no fun without replies!!

Monday, August 31, 2015

2015 Mindfulness Retreat in Garrison, NY; or Mindfulness for the Non-Hippy Finale: The Silence is Over!

Monday, Aug. 10 - The Silence is Over!!!

Looking back (now that it's done), the experience was good.  I liked the feeling of not being obligated to speak or even interact non-verbally with anyone. There were no expectations other than just being for me. It allowed me to really take in everything around me.  In self-reflection, I came to realize that a lot of this I've really been doing to a certain extent for years.  I am a very reflective, self-inquisitive person. That's why my time alone late at night, after everyone has gone to sleep, is so vital to me. That is my mindfulness time. I think that's why I've been drawn to mindfulness so quickly and completely - there is something familiar to this "new" thing!

But, now that the silence is over, I did not forget how miserable meals were, or how kind of crazy I got yesterday when I took a walk and found myself at the main road and saw civilization.  I remember that feeling of wanting to make a break for it.  But, I also know that my little walk to the edge of civilization and back was all I needed to rejuvenate myself for the remainder of our silence.  I had no desire to break my silence or turn on my phone other than to take pictures.  I just needed to get "out." Although, it would have been amazing to have stumbled across a pop machine or an ice cream stand!

Tuesday, Aug. 11 - Class and Reflections

RAIN, RAIN, STEAM, SAUNA, CAN'T BREATHE!!! Serious asthma alert day.

In class, we got into the cohort groups that we will be working in throughout the year.  Yay Michigan group!!  We also formed affinity groups so people with similar backgrounds and goals can work together and share ideas.  We learned very useful information when marketing ourselves, and learned more about what will be coming this year.  We also did more group activities that allowed us to share, get to know more about each other, and more about ourselves.  Some of these activities were very deep, and raw emotions were exposed.  Its amazing how close you can get with a room full of complete strangers! 

Pam gave the evening talk.  Now, before that, during our afternoon break, I received messages about picking dates next week to give mindfulness workshops to teachers that I've been waiting to put together.  My 1st reaction: EXCITED! It's finally coming together!  Here we go! My business is getting off the ground!  And then: Oh my gosh! What am I doing? I can't do this. I'm going to make a fool out of myself.  I don't know enough about this yet. I'm not good enough at this yet. Maybe I should wait and practice more.  Why did I quit my job?  What was I thinking? Everyone's counting on me.  I can't let them down . . . and what will happen when I do? Yadda, yadda, yadda.

And then Pam started to talk.  It was as if she could look into my mind and channel my thoughts, because she articulated every thought and feeling I was having as her own.  She asked a question that really stuck with me: "When will I be enough?" She has always felt, and still does - as do I, that she's not good enough . . . or smart enough . . . or thin enough . . . or pretty enough . . . or ______ enough. She does not fit the mold of a mindfulness trainer that I had fashioned for myself.  She is not young, she is not skinny, and, as she put it, she is not blond-haired and blue-eyed. But, she is intelligent, she is confident, she is a great teacher and mentor - whether she feels all of these things inside or not.  And, she is now my "angel." Thank you, Pam.

Wed., August 12 - Our last full day here.


Spent the day and evening taking lots of notes, exchanging phone numbers and emails, making outlines, writing lists, and planning our first steps.  Wednesday evening after dinner, we pushed the tables and chairs to the side and transformed the dining hall into Party Central!!! After a week of deep emotions and reflections, it was time to let loose - and that we did!!  Snacks, sweets, beverages, and dancing!! So much fun!  After clean up, we went outside to see the meteor shower - perfect!!

Thurs., August 13 - Saying Goodbye and Re-entry

We talked a lot about what it will be like to re-enter life.  I felt bad for most of the group who were going right back into their classrooms and going from a week of silence and peacefulness into full-blown, school-year chaos! I am very grateful that I can gently get back to my life - my new life.  As happy as I am to get back to my family, I will miss all of these people. As we officially ended our retreat with a touching ceremony solidifying our bond with string bracelets, we all hugged, cried and said goodbye.  It was amazing to me that just a few short days ago these were all strangers to me. Now we all feel like family. 

I came here expecting to learn more about mindfulness, and I left here with so much more than that.  I am counting the days until next summer's retreat!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

2015 Mindfulness Retreat in Garrison, NY; or Mindfulness for the Non-Hippy Part 3: 2nd Day of Silence "I'm making a break for it!"

Sun., Aug. 9 - 2nd full day of silence.

Today was a lot like yesterday, except I woke up with a tight chest and my asthma cough - great.  I thought since the doctor put me on steroids "just in case," I would be ok.  Guess not. I can't imagine what it would have been like without the steroids! I would have been doing some mindful breathing in the local ER, wherever that is.  I was able to get it under control with lots of puffs from my inhalers. Of course, then I had to deal with the steroid/albuterol high.  45 minute sits and 45 min. controlled, slow walks were especially challenging when my body was screaming, "OK, we can breathe now, so let's go RUN!" And then, there's the post-high crash, with the albuterol brain freeze headache and total exhaustion.

After lunch (salad, again), we had a break until 2:30pm and I was feeling much better, so I decided to take a walk. Not a slow walk, but a "I need to get up and walk like anything other than a turtle" walk.  So, I started by walking around to the back of the building.  Wow! It kind of has a Hogwarts feel to it.  Again, the grounds are beautiful, and I spent time taking pictures.

I followed the circle drive of the property just a short way, and saw something that made me freeze in my tracks - the main road! Cars! Civilization! I can't tell you the feeling I got - sort of like a prisoner that sees an open gate! "Oh boy!  I wonder if I walk down this road a bit if I'd run into a store, or a vending machine, or something. We don't have to be back for an hour, and I know I don't have money with me now, but if I find a store, I'm coming back after dinner!"  I pictured myself lugging bags full of chips, candy, pop, and other forms of decadence back up to my room. I wasn't sure how I'd manage with my bum arm, but I figured where there's a will, there's a way. So, I set off in search of something unhealthy to eat.  I walked about a mile down to the first intersection, and saw nothing but a golf course.  I briefly entertained the idea of crashing the clubhouse, but decided I'd better not.  I turned around and decided to go back to my room and look at where I'd gone on the map.  Turns out I was only about a half mile away from the train station and Garrison Landing, but according to every map app I have (and later from others who also tried to find civilization) there is NOTHING for miles.  I guess it serves me right.

At least tonight at dinner I got to put blueberries and grapes on my mixed greens, and I got an apple! Score!

Major revelation for the day:  Hello. My name is Carol, and I am a foodaholic.  I would kill for a nice, thick, juicy steak and anything carbonated and sweet . . . anything liquid and sweet . . . anything sweet.

Things I want when I get home:
pop (don't care what kind as long as it's loaded with caffeine, sugar, artificial colors & preservatives)
cake (made with lots of processed flour and sugar)
Magnum double caramel bars
That should do it.

Monday, August 17, 2015

2015 Mindfulness Retreat in Garrison, NY; or Mindfulness for the Non-Hippy Part 2: 1st Day of Silence

Sat., Aug 8 - 1st full day of silence.

Silence actually began after breakfast.  I got all excited when I saw a big bowl of yogurt and a big bowl of granola.  One of my favorite things to eat for breakfast!  Then, I took a big spoonful into my mouth . . . there was nothing sweet on the granola - no sugar, no honey . . . it almost tasted salty!  Yuck!  When I took my bowl to the kitchen, I noticed a table with toast, peanut butter, jam, and BROWN SUGAR!  Wish I had seen that before I ate!

After breakfast, we all met in the meditation hall where the instructors explained the silent days.  During the silent days, there is guided practice; 30-45 min. of sitting meditation, then 30-45 min. of walking meditation, then repeat all day.  No talking (naturally), no electronics (absolutely!), no reading and no writing (wait . . . what?).  Just focusing on your inner self.  No reading? Not even a book about mindful meditation? No. No writing? No journaling our thoughts and feelings? No.  The instructors assured us we would not forget what we thought and felt.  They clearly have not reached middle age.  I can assure them I WILL forget.  So, I am already breaking a rule!  Well, technically it's not really a rule, but rather a "suggestion."  Suggestion noted. I'm journaling.

The "sits" (sitting meditation) . . . not a problem.  I was amazed at how fast 45 min. went by!  That was not what I expected.  Great opportunity to practice maintaining good posture for my back and neck.  Thinking "down and back" for my shoulders became my new mantra! I was pleasantly surprised at how easily I was able to get into the "zone," and how peaceful it felt.

The "walks" (walking meditation) . . . not a problem.  At first, I was disappointed that it wasn't just taking a walk.  Instead, we were to walk about 15 paces, stop, turn around, and walk 15 paces back, and keep pacing that distance back and forth.  Varying the speed helped, and actually slowing it WAY down, so you are mindful of every muscle movement in your legs and feet, made it more like a yoga exercise.  My legs are really weak from before my back surgery, and it's hard for me to balance on one foot.  So, this slow walking was really good to strengthen everything back up again. Again, I really got into the "zone," and was walking like a ninja!

The silent meals . . . a BIG problem!  I expected "unplugging" would be difficult.  I expected silence for 2.5 days would be difficult. I expected eating vegetarian would be difficult.  I did NOT expect eating in silence would stir up the emotions it did.  I started off ok. Mac and Cheese and salad - best meal so far!  I was mindfully eating; looking at the colors and textures on my plate, putting each bite in my mouth and letting it roll around on my tongue before chewing . . . and then the other group that is here came in to eat. They are not in silence.  And I watched as they sat at their tables, talking, laughing, and enjoying their meal.  Well, this surge of rage came up first with thoughts of "This is crap! Having to sit here in silence while they're having a good time! I feel like we're the bad kids in time out!"  And then, I began to feel incredibly depressed.  All I wanted to do was finish as quickly as possible and go back to my room . . . which I did, and proceeded to fall fast asleep!

Lesson Learned: Sit down meals at the table for me are more of a social event than about eating.  If I'm hungry, I'll grab something - an apple, a granola bar, a sandwich.  But, all my life sitting down for a meal was when we gathered together to talk about our day; whether it was my family growing up, or sitting with my friends at school, or sitting with my colleagues, or sitting with my husband.  We talk, we laugh, we vent, we eat. The only time we sit in silence through a meal is if someone is mad or upset about something.  So for me, there is nothing more sad or depressing than a table full of people sharing a meal in silence.  It's just not right.  I thought maybe being aware of this would make dinner easier, but it wasn't. Again, I ate quickly and went up to my room.

Other than meals, I survived my first day of mindful practice in silence better than I expected.  We'll see what day 2 has in store!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

2015 Mindfulness Retreat in Garrison, NY; or Mindfulness for the Non-Hippy

Before I go any further, I'd like to explain my use of the word "hippy."  I mean nothing bad by it.  I grew up in the 60's, and as a young child, saw the Beatles and the "counterculture" practicing TM (Transcendental Meditation) on TV.  They were the hippies.  So, by using this word, I am merely distinguishing those who have practiced some or many forms of meditation for many years. I admire them.  By distinguishing myself as a non-hippy, I am obviously not one of them, although I hope to change that.  Anyway . . . on with my journey.

Day 1 Aug. 7
Left Bishop Airport in Flint, MI at 5:55am (left my house at 4:15am!)  Flew to Atlanta, GA (what?!) and then to NYC.  Arrived at LaGuardia airport at 11:00am.  I had volunteered to be the "flock shepherd" for the 18+ people arriving at LaGuardia that were taking the shuttle to the Garrison Institute.  So, that meant I had the contact information for all of them, and I was to make sure that everyone was accounted for before the shuttle took off at 2:00pm.  Yesterday, I decided it would be a good idea if I sent them all an email, introducing and describing myself so they would have a better idea of who to look for.  "Look for a short, round, middle-aged woman with a fluorescent pink shirt on.  See you tomorrow outside of the baggage claim area at Terminal D, pillar #7!" Great.  One problem . . . we were all supposed to meet at TerminalB! I wasn't aware of my little mistake until after I had landed, got my bag, and tried to find pillar #7 at Terminal D (there isn't one).  I turned on my phone to check Sachiko's (the coordinator) email, and saw a long list of replies to my email: "You have a different meeting location than the original email." "Terminal D or B?" "Ok, see you at Terminal D pillar #71" - NO! That was 7 exclamation mark, not 71 !  YIKES!!  I haven't even met these people yet, and they all either hate me or think I'm a bubble head!  So, I walked about a mile to Terminal B, sat myself down on the cement, leaning up against pillar #7, and sent texts, emails, and phone messages to everyone on my list that I had totally confused in my attempt to make things easier!  Oh well . . . it all worked out alright.  Everyone made it, the shuttle was a big, air conditioned bus with very comfortable seats that reclined, and we were off!

BTW - good thing those seats were comfortable, because we were on our way at 2:30pm on a Friday, driving through NYC.  Two words: traffic jam! A trip that Google Maps says should take 1 hr. 7 min. took almost 2.5 hours!  At least most of us got in a nice, little nap!

Garrison Institute is beautiful.  Overlooking the Hudson River.  Lush gardens, lots of trees, beautiful hills.  West Point is just across and a little further up the river.  It used to be a Capuchin monastery on 95 acres of property called Glenclyff, formerly the estate of Hamilton Fish, Gov. of New York and Sec. of State under Pres. Grant. I checked in and got my room assignment - room 408. Yay! 4th floor rooms are the only ones with ceiling fans (no air conditioning).  The down side - no elevators.  I don't mind climbing stairs - its good exercise. But, lugging my suitcase up to the 4th floor with a bum arm and asthma was a challenge! I was lucky to get a double room all to myself.  It feels like a cross between a dorm and camping!

The food here is vegetarian and all organic.  I knew this ahead of time, so it was not a shock (for those of you that don't know, I'm a "meat and potatoes" kind of girl. Vegetables are not high on my list of favorites!).  1st meal: Broccoli and Cheddar Quiche, Roasted Yams, Corn on the Cob, and Mixed Greens.  Looks like I'll be getting my fill of salad this week!

Cooled off nicely this evening.  Everyone met for the first time in the Meditation Room - beautiful! Its nice to see Megan, Chris, and Vinnie from curriculum training, and to meet the other instructor, Pam. Love the Mindful Schools team!! First group meditation was very easy, peaceful.  I think the room makes it easy.  Tomorrow we begin our first day of silence.  Not sure if I'm ready for this!