The Acceptance Epiphany: “Book Bites” from Gabrielle Bernstein’s Judgment Detox

I first started listening to the audio of the Judgment Detox while on holiday in Italy in June. The book came up as an Audible recommendation, and based on the synopsis and title, it sounded like a book I DESPERATELY needed to hear. On top of all that, I figured that I could use the time traveling to and from Italy to listen, learn and hopefully grow. While I did find the book engaging from the beginning, I wasn’t in the right headspace to appreciate and absorb Bernstein’s words. One sleepless night in Rome I began to listen along, but soon drifted off to sleep and missed valuable nuggets of information. I resolved that I would try again once I’d made it back home. And in late July, that’s exactly what I did (because I have to honor my commitments). Since giving my full attention to the audio, I also bought a hard copy of the text because I’m a bookworm and I LOVE to annotate texts. Also, having a physical copy of the text has allowed me to re-read and reabsorb things that I may have missed while listening to the audio—because let’s face it; we all lose focus from time to time. Let me first state that this text has been above and beyond eye-opening. Having finally accepted that I needed to reconcile my judgment issues, I’ve realized so much about myself, and others, in a brief amount of time. More specifically, the fourth chapter, “See for the First Time”, has provided me with a myriad of what I am calling “Book Bites”. And what are Book Bites? A Book Bite is similar to a Sound Bite, but better (and there’s that judgment again) because their extracted from books. Book Bites are composed of phrases or sentences from the texts that I read. And since my last name is Booker, I’ve taken it a step further. They’re the words that have left a lasting imprint on my mind and heart.  The bolded quoted text are the Book Bites from just one of the six chapters (steps) in Bernstein’s Judgment Detox.  The other bolded text are my Booker Bites–the phrases and sentences I am to reflect over.

Book Bite #1

“The most loving thing we can do for someone is to accept them. The most unloving thing we can do is try to change them.”

Since beginning Bernstein’s Judgment Detox, I’ve done quite a bit of self-reflection. I had one of the most profound epiphanies of my adult life just recently. In my journal I wrote: It’s hard, damn near impossible, to accept others if you’ve not first and foremost accepted yourself. Some of you may be thinking to yourselves: yeah, I got that lesson years ago. And if that’s you; rock on! However, if you happen to be like me and you’re sometimes slow to acquire new skills/revelations, then this information has made a huge shift in your psyche. Here’s my truth. When I first began reading Bernstein’s text, I was under the assumption that I needed to stop judging other people. But the more I listened to the audio and then followed it up with the physical text, I quickly realized that I have been my own worst enemy. I’d been investing so much time judging other people because I’ve been doing it to myself for years. Did you get what I just wrote? I arrogantly believed that I needed to stop judging others, but what became clear was that my judgment of others has been a direct reflection of the relationship I’d been having with myself FOR YEARS! That’s right. This wasn’t something I’d been struggling with for four years; this has been something I’ve been struggling with since childhood. When I get up on any given morning and look at myself in the mirror and I find it hard to say/think something nice to/about myself, it has become absolutely clear that I haven’t accepted myself. Here’s what I’ve come to realize: All the judgmental thoughts and vocalizations I’ve made about other people are just reflections of my own lack of self-acceptance.

Book Bite #2

“…the darkness you seen in them is a disowned part of your own shadow. When you judge the shadows in others, you’re merely projecting what you’ve denied within yourself. Whenever you’re triggered by others, it’s because they’re mirroring back elements of your shadow that you’re unwilling to heal.”

Well damn. Now that’s deep. This goes back to the first Book Bite because those triggers are obviously connected to things that I’ve been unwilling to accept/love about myself. All the things and people catalogued in my Judgment Detox Chart from chapter/step 1 are all connected to the disowned aspects of myself. Each one is a reminder of something I’d like to have but don’t have, some trait in them that I aspire to have but don’t believe I exhibit, or something they’ve attained that I too aspire towards. When I look back over my chart, jealousy is a common thread that connects many of the items. And at the heart of it all is an inability to accept both the good and the bad within myself. screen-shot-2019-08-04-at-9.58.31-amThese wounds, these dark places within me have kept me metaphorically suffocated. It’s time to take inventory of the shadows, so that the healing balm of complete self-acceptance can wash away the residual shame and guilt of my past. Without complete self-acceptance, judgment will continue to rear its ugly head.

Book Bite #3

“When you change your thoughts and feelings about another person, you change your energy toward them.”

Here again, I received a metaphoric slap in the face with these words. I first tried to use these words to alter the atmosphere in my current living situation. And then it hit me: the person/people you’re living with aren’t your enemy. I am my own enemy! While I was busy trying to change the attitudes, beliefs, and actions of those around me, I’d forgotten that I don’t live in a glass house and shouldn’t be throwing stones. For years I’ve been thinking ill of myself. For years I’ve been my own worst critic. For years I’ve been replaying negative sound bites about myself in my mind: you’re not smart enough, not attractive enough, not good enough, no longer young enough, not able, not capable, not whatever. And this constant stream of negativity got projected onto others because it was an extension of the “good treatment” I’d been giving myself. I am hyper aware of my desperate need to change my thoughts and feelings about myself. Instead of mentally beating myself up about the the myriad short comings over the course of my life, I need to start speaking words of love, admiration and appreciation into my spirit. As a first step towards complete self-acceptance, I created a list of things I appreciate about myself.

  • I appreciate my drive for emotional and physical betterment.
  • I appreciate my candid honesty.
  • I appreciate my dedication/commitment.
  • I appreciate my thoughtful and giving nature.
  • I appreciate my love of reading and learning.
  • I appreciate my wicked sense of humor.
  • I appreciate my desire to always strive for more.

If I learn nothing else, I have learned to start speaking to myself more positively (perhaps to even talk to myself like a Buddhist 🙂.

Book Bite #4

When we accept others we give them space to grow. When we accept others, we clear the path to create a new story.

Again, when I first read these words, I put them in the context of an individual with whom I’ve been in conflict. And that’s when Spirit intervened with truth. This hasn’t been about the other person; this has been about the shadows that I’ve been unwilling to look at in the mirror. For over twenty-one years I have not been able to give myself space to grow, nor an opportunity to create a new story. I’m going to be transparent with you. There have been three occurrences in my adult life that I’ve earnestly wanted to take back. Twice in my twenties I chose to be pro-choice and in my late thirties I turned down an opportunity to teach abroad (and likely absolve my debt in the process), but chose not to for a romantic relationship. I’ve berated myself daily for over two decades for the first decision, the second for over a decade and a half, and the last for the past four years. As I write these words, I realize that I’ve not forgiven myself for my choices. As a result, I’ve not accepted that they’ve brought me to where I am today mentally and emotionally. I’ve been unable to clear a path to create a new story because I’ve been hung up on the what could have been stories. It’s time to accept that the choices I’ve made, good and bad—there goes that judgment again, have led to my current personal evolution. Without those experiences I wouldn’t be the person I am now. And that includes appreciating the woman I’ve become.

Book Bite #5

“…feel relief in letting go of trying to change someone who can’t be changed.”

Yet another salient point brought up by Bernstein. While the text references our not trying to change someone, I believe the same can be true for past experiences from our lives. In Book Bite #4, I spoke about the choices I’d made and how they’ve been limiting me from speaking encouraging words into my own life. There may be moments from our past that we’d like to turn back the hands of time on, but we can’t. And it stems from this deep and unrelenting desire to try to change a past that cannot be resurrected. We must bravely walk into our tomorrows with a clear conscious and love for the individuals we’ve become as a result of our past actions and/or decisions. screen-shot-2019-08-04-at-9.59.01-amThis became true for me earlier this morning. I finally moved onto to listening to/reading the fifth step in the Judgment Detox: “Cut the Cords.” This chapter included guided meditations to assist in letting go. I was eager to meditate as it is my Commit 30 focus for the month of August. As I was guided to invite the person whom I’d been judging into the meditation, glimpses of the twenty-one year old version of me flooded my awareness. Later, Bernstein urged on to draw awareness to where the cord (the energetic connection) was. Immediately, I started to feel a tightening in my chest. It felt surreal, but I knew that the energy stemmed from my inability to feel relief because I’d been trying to change an event that cannot be changed/undone. Tears started to well in my eyes and when Bernstein urged to sever the energetic cord with a metaphoric sword, the tightening in my chest ceased to be. I was in no way prepared for the feelings I’d experienced earlier, but I knew that I desperately wanted freedom. To once again borrow words from Bernstein, I wanted a freedom “…to focus…on the good that has come from this situation…shifting your focus…[and] get closer to acceptance.

Book Bite #6

“…you can choose to see this person with compassion, accepting that a happy person wouldn’t treat someone so poorly.”

I love what Bernstein said with regards to compassion—a gift we should give to those with whom we are in conflict, especially if that individual is ourselves. During the guided meditation referenced in the previous Book Bite, I looked back at the twenty-one year old version of myself with the eyes of compassion. I recognized that at that stage in my life I was doing the best I could do based on my level of emotional and spiritual enlightenment. Much has transpired within me in the past twenty-one years. Enough to allow me to look in the mirror with the eyes of compassion. A happy person doesn’t criticize others or him/herself. A happy person sees the light that resides inside of themselves and other beings. A happy person doesn’t pick apart another or him/herself. A happy person sees a plethora of virtues in him/herself as well as in others. When we look at ourselves with the eyes of compassion, it is easy to extend the same to others.screen-shot-2019-08-04-at-9.58.50-am

We cannot give to others that which we have not given to ourselves. Take a look in the mirror; how are you treating yourself?

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The Importance of Honoring Commitments

According to Dictionary.com, commitment is defined as:

  1. The act of committing (I loathe it when a word is defined using a configuration of the word).
  2. The state of being committed (and here we go again).
  3. The act of committing, pledging, or engaging oneself (finally, something beyond the word commitment).
  4. A pledge or promise; obligation.
  5. Engagement; involvement.
  6. Perpetration or commission, as of crime (well that’s got negative connotations wrapped all around it).
  7. Consignment; as to prison.
  8. Confinement to a mental institution or hospital. (I think you get the point with this list)

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At the start of the calendar year, I purchased a journal. Not that I needed one considering I pick up journals at Barnes and Noble and Marshalls like they are packs of gum for my purse—in danger and running low and needing to be steadily replenished. Nevertheless, this wasn’t any run of the mill journal, it was one I’d found on Facebook. Yes, the social media platform that I do my best to stay away from on most days. At any rate, I was fascinated with this journal because it focused on commitments thirty days at a time. That’s right, I clicked on the ad for the 30 Commit Journal. As someone who’s struggled with commitments (financial, relational, and personal—to name just a few), I believed that I could use this journal to help me be more successful. With little hesitation, I purchased the journal and eagerly waited for it to arrive.

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When I opened up the journal to the first page, I was graced with a myriad things to which I could commit. I scanned the list and started circling the items that resonated with me. Item number one: 30 days of yoga—no brainer. Item number four: 30 days of clearing clutter—but of course. Item number eleven: 30 days of no sugar—God give me strength. And has the universe infiltrated my thoughts because these are things I could likely get behind; things I NEED to get behind like decluttering? Long story short, that page included over twenty-five items that one could commit to for a minimum of thirty days at a time.

Why thirty days? Perhaps because popular science believes it takes twenty-one days to form a habit. If we stretch that out to thirty days, then maybe we’ve latched onto a deeper level of success. I really couldn’t tell you the science behind thirty days, but I can tell you that I jumped right in.

About 30 Commit

Step 1: Is all about thinking through one’s vision. There were two questions at the top of the page to get me started: What do I want this year to look like? To feel like? This two-page spread consisted of circles, each with a different focus or theme. The prompt at the top of the page read: “Within each circle ask yourself what is most important to you and what you can do to improve upon these areas for a more balanced life. The headings in the twelve circles included: physical health, mental health, marriage/partner, family/friends, pure joy/fun, adventure/travel, spiritual health, personal growth, career, home, community, and finances.

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For example, in the personal growth circle I wrote that I wanted to read at least one book a month. Six and a half months later I’ve been able to keep that commitment. It’s likely due to the fact that I LOVE to read. Really, I could have challenged myself with something more daunting, but I’m trying not to judge my own actions (curtesy of reading Gabrielle Bernstein’s Judgment Detox: Release the Beliefs That Hold You Back from Living a Better Life) and maintain an internal dialogue that is positive and nurturing (curtesy of having recently finished Cynthia Kane’s Talk to Yourself Like a Buddhist: Five Mindful Practices to Silence Negative Self-Talk). Clearly, reading is something to which I can easily commit. So let’s look at something that doesn’t come naturally to me, the mental health circle. In this circle I wrote that I wanted to meditate daily and to also focus on the positive.

A few days ago I received a text from the owner of the yoga studio where I instruct. Immediately, my brain went to it’s default setting: something’s wrong and/or bad. Not to say that I told you so, but the information she shared with me wasn’t positive. She shared with me a screenshot from a review that was recently posted from a new client. img_3679-2After reading the review, my heart sank. I was saddened by the information. But what was more disheartening, was how my mind ruminated only on the negative pieces of the text thread for hours, no, days later. And that got me thinking about the Negativity Bias. I’d first heard/read about the concept from author and psychologist Rick Hanson. In his book, Buddha’s Brain: the practical neuroscience of happiness, love, & wisdom, he explained the concept of the negativity bias.

“…your brain is built more for avoiding than for approaching. That’s because it’s the negative experiences, not the positive ones, that have generally had the most impact on survival…The brain is drawn to bad news…[what’s more] This bias makes you suffer in a variety of ways. For starters, it generates an unpleasant background of anxiety…the negativity bias fosters or intensifies other unpleasant emotions, such as anger, sorrow, depression, guilt, and shame. It highlights past losses and failures, it downplays present abilities, and it exaggerates future obstacles. Consequently, the mind continually tends to render unfair verdicts about a person’s character, conduct, and possibilities. The weight of those judgments can really wear you down” (Hanson, 2009)

I know that was a lengthy way to get to the gist of the circle, my goal of meditating daily and focusing on the positive, but I wanted to be transparent about my struggles. Identifying the positive doesn’t come natural to me. When I’m scoring student essays, I sometimes find it difficult to identify just one thing that they’ve done well. More often than not, my mind immediately goes to jot something down on the assessment chart under the heading “Areas of Improvement/Growth”. So, long story short, I am determined to meet that goal of meditating for five minutes EVERY day during the month of August. Also, I’m determined to re-train my brain in an effort to change that default setting of the negativity bias. I know it will take time and constant practice and awareness, but I’m committed to the challenge.

Step 2: This page consisted of twelve circles, one for each month of the year. This is where I listed out the focus of each monthly commitment. I numbered each of the circle and tentatively planned out the commitment for each month of the year. Yes, some of those monthly focuses have changed or been replaced with something else, but what matters most to me is that I am challenging myself with something new one month at a time.

Step 3: A diagram of how to use daily action steps to successfully commit to reaching your goals donned this step. The idea was to create detailed action steps. Here one is advised to plan out the days and nights beforehand and to set realistic, achievable goals. I have to admit that this has been the one section that I’ve not been fully invested in completing. I started strong during the month of January, but have neglected to fill it out since then.

 

 

 

Step 4: Here was where one would track their success each day of the month. I have enjoyed this area the most. There is nothing like adding a sticker or a check mark to a page to encourage yourself along. Side note (aka, honesty alert): During a conference with a parent and student this past year I shared this truth about me and stickers. I’d told the father and his son (who at the time was struggling to complete his assigned work) that when it comes time for me to have to grade 120+ essays, I plan out how many I’ll assess daily, and then when I achieve my goal, I place a sticker next to that item on my To-Do list. It may seem juvenile for a forty-two year old woman to use stickers as a form of positive reinforcement, but I’m telling you it works (and I really don’t care if you’re judging me—remember, I’m trying to release that from my own life).

Step 5: Share your goals. And this is where my own self-judgment has led me to sit quietly on this journal and my progress (and lack thereof) for the past seven months. The limiting belief that I’m a mediocre writer rears it’s judgmental head and the anxiety consumes me. What will people think? Will they comment negatively? And just like before with the feedback from the yoga class, I tell myself that it’s best to keep it to yourself—no one can say/write anything negative when they have no knowledge of what you are doing/writing. And so I’m going to rise above the fear of negative feedback and put myself out there anyway; I’m going to get comfortable with being uncomfortable (check out last week’s post if you missed it).

My 30 Commit Journey Thus Far…

A Month of Success

Back in January when the year was fresh, I committed to thirty days of exercise (for a minimum of ten minutes each day). For me, this was easy to do as I enjoy exercising. However, I am keenly aware that this may not be the case for someone who doesn’t like to work out. Nevertheless, for someone who may be working out for the first time in a long time or even for the first time EVER, ten minutes is a commitment that you may be able to get behind—especially when you get to decide how you work your body for those ten minutes. Stephen Guise, author of Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results and How to Be An Imperfectionist stated that, “…mini habits are too small to fail; and so they lack the common destructive feelings of guilt and inadequacy that come with goal failure.” If we use Guise’s logic, it is impossible to fail to meet the commitment of a ten-minute work out. The key for me was diversifying my exercises and writing them into my weekly calendar. It was like a date I was having with myself. Each day I looked forward to the opportunity to add another sticker or check mark to my monthly commitment chart. It also helped that we had a step challenge at work where the winner got to spend $75 on fitness items through Amazon.com. Right!? Yes. With my 30 Commit journal in hand, I planned out each week and used stickers and a to-do list to honor those daily commitments, which in turn became weekly commitments.

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However, the Struggle is Real!

I don’t want you to think that I’m invincible when it comes to commitments. Remember, I didn’t start my July commitments until the 9th day of the month. So let’s take a quick step back to March when my monthly commitment was to “Drink more water; relinquish soda!” Yep. You probably already know how the chart for this month looked. It certainly wasn’t as pretty as January. Seven of the thirty-one days of the month I fell from grace and indulged in drinking soda. img_3673

Here’s how my house of cards started to collapse. I was doing good until I got on a plane en route to Dubai from New York. Yep, I’m blaming my fall on turbulence and my penchant for motion sickness. Sure, you might be wondering whether or not I planned for this and brought some medicine. I hear you in my head, “Where was your Dramamine, Linai?” It had been ingested and my Pepto Bismol tablet had been chewed, but they were supplying me with zero relief. I’d been okay during the seven hour flight from JFK to Heathrow. But something in those seven and a half hours from Heathrow to Dubai had pushed my body beyond its limit. Seemingly out of nowhere, I got REAL hot. Sweat began to collect on my forehead and the back of my neck felt like a small fire had sprung up. And that’s when I buzzed the flight attendant. Every fiber in my body felt like it was about to spew out that delicious in-flight Virgin Atlantic meal, and so I bit the bullet and asked for a ginger ale. Never before had ginger-ale (especially a brand that wasn’t my beloved Canada Dry) tasted so good. Finally, the sweat building up on my forehead and temples started to recede and I finally leaned my head back and closed my eyes. I’d managed to keep my food down for the remainder of the flight. But the next seven days of that trip I continued to drink soda. It wasn’t until March twentieth that I regained my composure and re-honored my commitment.

All that being said, I was only partially successful with my April commitment of de-cluttering when I planned out the categories and reading for Marie Kondo’s books, the life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing and spark joy: an illustrated master class on the art of organizing and tidying up. Side Note: (aka, honesty alert): I breezed through Kondo’s first book and inhaled her show on Netflix. However, when it came time to tidy up, there were only fifteen days on the calendar when I honored my commitment to decluttering. It wasn’t until late June when I picked that mantle back up. And yes, the book mark is still on page 199 of 279 pages. And NO, I have NOT completed the second book or the remaining decluttering categories. However, I do hope to re-honor that commitment before the year ends. And yes, I am a major work in progress.

I hope my words have helped you to see why I believe honoring commitments is so vitally important. When I consider the word commitment, the words pledge; promise; and obligation immediately resonate within me. As I try and wrap this up, I am reminded of the impetus behind this post. It began with a conversation I had with my boyfriend several days ago. The sky had turned an eerie color gray and the radar was calling for thunderstorms in the area. Hesitant as I was about the possibility of walking in a thunderstorm (again), I desperately wanted to honor my commitment since I’d fallen short the day before (I met the walking goal but not the writing goal). First I got on the mini-trampoline and started “walking”. Yes, it is possible to walk (more like march) two miles worth of steps on a mini-trampoline—especially since you were able to acquire it with that step challenge win back in January, but I just wasn’t feeling it after seven minutes and only a quarter mile to show for. This is how I recall the conversation that encouraged me to honor that walking commitment.

Sometime around five in the evening…

Me: I really want to get my two miles in.

Charles: (gazing out the window between the blinds) It looks like it’s about to get nasty out there.

Me: I know. I think I’m going to chance it.

Charles: What’s wrong with the mini-trampoline?

Me: (trying to speak over the squeaky springs) I’m just not feeling it. If I’m going to walk, I might as well be outside where I can get some fresh air.

Charles: Oh. Well, if it clears up later, I’ll go for a walk with you.

And that’s when I threw caution to the wind (literally and figuratively) by changing my clothes and grabbing my wireless earbuds. Shortly after getting outside, I started to think about this idea of commitment. I began to analyze the previously referenced conversation as words from Rachel Hollis’s book, Girl, Stop Apologizing, encouraged me to honor who I was, A Goal Digger—her words, not mine. But I’m giving her a metaphoric high-five at this very moment.

This idea of commitment is important. When we keep our commitments, we honor ourselves and anyone or anything to whom we’ve made a promise—most especially ourselves. On July 9th, I’d made a commitment to myself to walk two miles every day. I also committed to writing fifteen minutes every day (because one day I want to prove to myself that I can author an entire book). And lastly, I committed to completing three or more thirty-minute strength training exercises every week. This was the commitment that I’d made for the month of July. You may be thinking: July, just like every other month, begins on the first. You’re absolutely correct. July did begin on the first, but I had dropped my metaphoric commitment ball back in April and didn’t pick it back up until the 9th. But I have been determined to honor my commitments because I’ll never be able to achieve the goals I have for my life if I take a lax approach to the idea of what it means to commit.

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So tell me; what are you committed to and how are you honoring the commitment?

The Value of Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

In 2011, one of my favorite celebrity fitness trainers, Jillian Michaels, changed my world with her Extreme Shed & Shred workout video.  No.  I din’t become a lean, mean muscle machine after struggling through her workout video.  It’s what she said that caused a shift in my mindset.

As a self-professed at-home workout junky, I am always on the lookout for a new DVD (now streaming service) where I can “feel the burn”—cliché, I know.  Anyway, as a frugal woman, at-home workouts are also cheaper than a gym membership, and I can workout whenever I want.  All that being said, my girl Jillian planted a seed in my heart and mind all those years ago when she said, “…sit in that uncomfortable place, and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”  There I was holding a five-pound weight in triangle pose when her words shifted something within me.  Immediately, I took her words to heart.  No, it wasn’t mind-blowing in the sense that I sprang out of triangle pose and immediately started chasing after my dreams (it would take another three years for me to muster up the courage to even start blogging).  For a time the message lay dormant, but later came back to me in a way that has recently caused me to almost use her words as a mantra in my personal life as well as my professional life—in my classroom as a middle school teacher.

This past year I started incorporating yoga and meditation into my classroom.  And at the start of the second semester, I used Jillian’s words to inspire my students (and myself).  It started with the quote and image of Jillian Michaels in one of my least favorite yoga poses, wheel—and a variation of wheel at that, with one leg in the air (she’s such a bad ass—and I absolutely LOVE that about her).  Actually, the PowerPoint presentation for my students led with a quote from motivational speaker Lou Ryan.  It read, “Most people condition themselves to avoid problems, rather than facing them positively and using them as an opportunity to grow.”  The next slide was the image of Jillian and the words that shifted my mindset, words that I was hoping would also shift my students’ mindsets.  Later that week, I added an additional reminder of this message to my classroom when I copied those words onto a mini-chalkboard that I then hung from my classroom door.

Why, you ask?  I was on a mission to help eradicate an epidemic—limited mobility and flexibility in youth.  I wish I could tell you that nearly all of my 124 students could touch their toes.  But that would be a lie.  In my humble opinion, too many of them cannot touch their toes.  These are thirteen and fourteen year old kids who SHOULD be able to reach their toes when they bend over.  But many of them couldn’t and that bothered me. Aside from that, I’ve been on a mission to incorporate yogic elements into my classroom. So each week we focused on a different pose for two reasons.  One, obviously because I wanted to increase my students’ physical flexibility.  But more than that, I wanted to increase their mental flexibility.  Each pose that was chosen was also chosen because of what it is believed to cultivate within us.  For instance, we started with Chair Pose.  It is believed to cultivate strength and endurance.  Who can’t use more strength and endurance in their lives?  I personally, need more.  Later, we practiced Pyramid Pose.  It is believed to cultivate a calm mind and body.  Yes, two things I REALLY need given my profession.  And on and on we went from one pose to the next.

It’s simple; we all need to get comfortable with being uncomfortableDiscomfort is the impetus for change.  It’s when we find ourselves in uncomfortable situations that we start to change (psychologically, physically, spiritually, etc).  No, I don’t think that change happens immediately.  Nevertheless, over time, the discomfort we experience causes something within us to change.  It begins with a shift in our mindset and that shift grows within us until our actions match up with that mindset.

Okay, maybe some of you are apprehensive to believe me, perhaps you’re like me–a natural skeptic.  If that’s the case, let me share some recent experiences with you, instances where I got a taste of my own uncomfortable medicine.

#1: Working Out in SMedium Shorts

I’ve been trying to lose excess weight for what seems like FOREVER!  Seriously though, there is an extra twenty pounds that isn’t serving my body at the present moment.  And no, I haven’t been real strict about limiting what I eat.  Let’s face it.  If I deprive myself of those things that I love: cookies, and brownies, and pie, and cake, I’d likely fall off the proverbial wagon at some point after slimming down and then end up right back where I am—or worse (this isn’t my first rodeo).  So, rather than going commando with regards to what I eat, I’ve made a pact with myself about reintroducing weight/resistance training back into my life.  Lately, I’d been more into jogging and thought that it would do the trick.  It hasn’t.  For one, I’ve been cautioned away from jogging since my knee surgery.  And two, before the surgery, I’d been jogging fairly regularly and hand’t seen much in the way of results.  Thirdly, since beginning the ascent of Mount Forty, I’ve noticed that my body isn’t as toned as it once was.  Giving these facts, I figured I should at least make an effort to bring resistance training back.  Ergo, after my knee surgery, I slowly started to reintroduce weights back into my life.

A few days ago, while in the midst of a grueling sixty minute workout with Bob Harper (another one of my favorite celebrity fitness trainers), I experienced an epiphany: I am so uncomfortable in these shorts.  Yep!  I was serving myself a dose of my own medicine; I was getting comfortable within being uncomfortable.  My SMedium sized Walmart shorts were tight.  That was no typo; I meant to write it like that.  You see, SMedium is when the garment(s) you’re wearing looks and/or feels like a small and you know you wear a large.  So yes, my SMedium shorts felt like suction cups around my thighs.  And not in that form-fitting flattering kind of way.  My thighs felt like they were going to rip the seems of those shorts apart with each and every squat I completed.  I literally felt like I was having a real-life Hulk experience without turning green and/or becoming a more buff version of myself (remember, I am currently working to get muscle back into my body).  And rather than rush to find something else that was more comfortable, I persevered through the workout with a profound appreciation for the discomfort I was feeling.  Sure, I wanted to jump in my car and go to Walmart to purchase another pair of shorts that weren’t cutting off the blood flow in my thighs.  I wanted so bad for the once lose-fitting shorts to feel like they once did—comfortable.  But I knew that purchasing another pair, one’s that were comfortable, wouldn’t teach me the lesson that I needed to be taught—get comfortable with being uncomfortable.  I absolutely felt like those shorts were about to split right down the back seem and expose my big butt for what it was—enlarged.  I desperately wanted out of the shorts.  But I kept them on.  One, because the exercise clothes that were moderately comfortable were in the dryer, and two, because I’d just continue to behave in a manner that wouldn’t allow me to change.  Again, discomfort is the impetus for change.  If we never place ourselves, or find ourselves, in uncomfortable situations, were are NEVER going to change.  Change is good and change is necessary.

#2: The Steamy Sunny Snake Surprise

I HATE snakes!  Yes, since childhood I have not been a fan of the creatures that slither. Perhaps it has to do with too many run-ins during my youth.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve never given myself an opportunity to get over my fear.  Perhaps there is a deep-seated Eve complex I’m subconsciously carrying around.  Who knows?  Whatever the reason, I just want you to know that I do not like snakes.  But we’ll get back to that in a second.

I have to ask: who goes for a walk at one in the afternoon (in July) when it’s ninety-one degrees outside, when, according to the Weather Channel, it feels like 101 degrees?  A lunatic?  Nope.  Just someone who isn’t convinced that she’s getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.  That’s right; me, of course.  After my suicidal workout with Bob Harper, I made the conscious decision to go out in the heat and humidity of Florida for a walk.  Again, you’re asking “why?”  Well, I told you I made a commitment.  I am committed to walking at least two miles EVERY day until I have to go back to work at the beginning of August.  So, that basically means that I cannot make excuses.  And that’s why I mustered up the mental fortitude to go outside at the peak of heat, humidity, the sun, and walk.  Was I comfortable?  As comfortable as one can be despite the temperature.  But I was determined to get in my two miles so that I could check off another circle in my Commit-30 Journal–this month is about bringing my metabolism back to life.

Just when I thought the universe was on my side.  I returned from my walk to find a snake in the bushes just outside the front door.  Yep.  Just when I was about to smile at myself for doing what was necessary for change, the universe balled up its fist and landed a metaphoric blow to my gut.  Let me remind you: I HATE snakes.  It’s not a HATE like the one I have for peas.  It’s a HATE tinged with fear.  I don’t care how many times someone, especially Charles, tells me that a snake isn’t poisonous.  I don’t care if it’s a few inches long.  I DON’T LIKE SNAKES!  And I especially don’t like having to see them that close to my home.  I hear you; you’re saying that it’s no big deal.  I’m going to run into snakes since I live in Florida.  Yes.  You’re right; that is true.  But I prefer to see them from afar if I have to see them at all.  I don’t want to see them sunning themselves just inches away from the front door.  So what did I do?

Did I stand there is the heat, humidity and sun waiting for it to slither off?  Did I take an alternate route into the house?  Did I find a WMD and kill it?  Nope.  I did none of those things.  I jumped past it and dashed into the house like a crazy person.  Did that experience make me uncomfortable?  Hell yes!  Do I want more tests with that particular form of discomfort?  In the words of Miss Sophia (played by Oprah Winfrey) in the film adaptation of Alice Walker’s Color Purple, “I said, hell naw!”

#3 Questioning My Negative Self-Talk

Disclaimer: the following is an exercise I completed while reading Cynthia Kane’s Talk To Yourself Like a Buddhist—a book that explores Mindfulness practices that help to shift/silence our negative self-talk.

After reading the chapter where this activity, The Practice of Questioning, was introduced, I looked up the definition for the word judgment.  For me, it was necessary so that I could really examine the way I was internally speaking to myself.  Because yes, I constantly find myself judging my words and actions all too often, and I seek to break free of the negative judgments I speak to myself.  All that being said, what follows is one of six charts I worked through to question my negative self-talk.  More than the previous two examples, this one makes me the most uncomfortable as it a sarcasm-free peek into my heart and mind—pure transparency.

Judgment: to form an opinion, estimate, notion, or conclusion—from circumstances presented to the mind.

Negative Self-Talk: I am not as attractive as other women.

Screenshot 2019-07-19 18.53.15

 

So there you have it, three examples of my getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.  Despite the run in with the snake, the heat and humidity of a summer afternoon in Florida, an extremely tight pair of shorts, and my opening up about a limiting belief I’ve held about myself for years, I can earnestly say that I understand and appreciate the value of being uncomfortable.  Will this be the last of my Herculean tests of discomfort?  I highly doubt it.  But I know I’m one step closer to appreciating the value in getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.

I’m curious, when have you allowed yourself to get comfortable with being uncomfortable?  I’d love to hear about your experiences!

Breathe For Change (B4C): My Journey to Becoming a Wellness Champion

IMG_0074 1On June 14th I began a literal and metaphoric journey to—Breathe For Change. As a classroom teacher who has been feeling like she’s been dangling by the thinnest thread at the end of her rope, I signed up for Breathe For Change hoping that this professional development would transform me in a way that would leave me feeling EQUANIMOUS (having or showing equanimity; even-tempered).Before beginning the training very little information was divulged—probably to keep many of us from cancelling and running back home with our proverbial tails between our legs. At any rate, I knew the focus of each day and where the training would take place—Riverview (an hour drive from my home in Land O’ Lakes)—not really complaining, but making a note of the distance. I did not anticipate two, sometimes three, yoga workouts in one day. I did not expect to shed tears nearly every day of training. I did not have any idea that I would walk away with love in my heart for so many complete strangers. I was completely caught off guard by the amount of teaching we were expected to do in such a short amount of time. But alas, it was all worth it.Day 1: Transformation of SelfToday’s Takeaway(s):

  1. It’s okay to cry; really, get it ALL out!
  2. First: take care of self!
  3. Get out of the Comfort Zone!

The first thing I wrote in my B4C journal was the word: EQUANIMITY. From the beginning, my intention (a word that carries very different connotations after our Philosophy Lesson on June 26 (Day 12)–more of that to come later) was to maintain a state of equanimity: evenness of mind; composure. On this day we learned that we cannot take care of anyone else until we first take care of our self. During my first official journal entry I wrote: “Many variables have brought me to B4C. First and foremost, I desire an internal change…My intentions for myself are to be more equananimous [I have since learned that the correct adjective form is equanimous—even English teachers make mistakes:)].This desire for an internal change was expressed in front of a small group of strangers (Robbie, Kathryn, Michele, Blake, Carol, Ciara, Yael, and one familiar face Amy H.—love you girl). Amidst a face full of tears and a mostly inaudible cracking voice, I admitted that I didn’t like the person I had become in recent years. I had become this hateful and judgmental person who rarely, if ever, saw the good in anything and anyone—especially myself. As for my well-being, I desire a more balanced life: emotionally, physically, and mentally. I’d also like to add that I had a very narrow view of yoga, having written, “…yoga consists of movement-based exercise where breathing is at the center of every movement…[and] To ‘live yoga’ off the mat I believe I’ll need to keep coming back to my breath. To unionize my mind-soul-body; I need to create opportunities to ‘just breathe.’” And at the end of the day, our Philosophy instructor, Yael, made the point that we should try and think of yoga as: “Less of a quest and more of a rediscovery”.Day 2: Breathe For Beginnings (Building the foundation for wholeness)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Give up control.
  2. Respond; don’t react!
  3. Speak your truth!

During the Transformational Workshop on new beginnings, we journaled about our vision for ourselves. I wrote, “My vision for myself is to live in a fully equananimous [aren’t you glad that I finally learned how to correctly spell the word—equanimous] space—mentally, physically, and emotionally. By the end of the training, I want to be the woman who is not rocked or bothered by life’s ‘hiccups’—unexpected and/or disappointing occurrences/instances.” Shortly after writing this we had to identify obstacles that were preventing us from actualizing our vision. I noted that mine included, but were not limited to, my beliefs/judgments about others and myself, my set ways (stubbornness), and my desire to have things BE a certain way—and have my way be accepted by others.Later that day during meditation I wrote my intention for my meditation practice: “…accept ‘what is’ by responding to, rather than, reacting.” Again, this goes back to the idea of equanimity. If I am accepting what is, there is no need to react, only to respond—without judgment.During Philosophy we examined the “Pathways to Union”—the yoking of our minds and bodies. After a discussion in small groups, we spent additional time contemplating and reflecting on the pathway that would get us to the “stretch zone”. So let me back up for a minute. Back on day one we were introduced to graphic consisting of three nesting circles. The innermost circle consisted of the Comfort Zone—the place where no learning occurs. The circle just beyond the inner circle is the Stretch Zone, the place where learning occurs; a zone that is characterized as being uncomfortable. And finally, the outermost circle is the Panic Zone, another zone where learning does not occur—probably because our brains aren’t malleable when our emotions are in a state of panic. All that being said, the pathway I chose was jnana yoga—which deals with knowledge and intellect. This path to union asks us to ponder “Who Am I?” An answer to that question should include an exploration of The Vedas, Upanishads, and other sacred/spiritual texts. As someone who loves to learn and gain knowledge, I am looking forward to expanding my knowledge of yoga.Also, during this day we learned to be Mindful Listeners as we bared our souls to strangers who became our “accountabilabuddy” (love you Kelly R.)—a B4C term. For ten minutes straight we opened up to the truth of what has been holding us back. As we spoke, our partners did the best they could to simply listen (no gestures of agreement; no facial expressions—simply listen). And when the ten minutes were up, they took the next three minutes to reiterate what they heard—without judgement or agreement. This was truly a moving experience. Listening has evolved.Later, during Anatomy, we examined our “body story”. I accepted the truth that I have had few moments over the course of my forty-one years on this planet where I’ve had positive things to say about my own body when I look in the mirror. And the truth is setting me free.Day 3: Breathe For Creativity (Living Your Fully Expressed Self)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Listen to Lil’ John!
  2. Trust the process.
  3. Observe and accept my breath.
  4. Practice…

Today’s unofficial song of the day was: “Outta Your Mind” by Lil’ John. No, that wasn’t the song the B4C trainers were playing at the start of the day, but it became my song of the day after our Transformational Workshop (Thank you for listening and encouraging Lori D.).We answered the journal prompt: “What’s holding you back?” Easy one: ME!—my thoughts to be more precise. I wrote: “…All too often I get caught up in thinking and lose out on the doing. I allow my mind to wander to the past or to the future, and in doing so, I lose the precious space that is NOW.”Once we’d identified what has been holding us back, we created a list of ideas/solutions we could use to assist us in successfully moving beyond this stronghold. I do want to point out that we were encouraged to list whatever came to mind—never dwelling on the practicality or the potential absurdity of the idea/solution. Having pointed that out, I’ll share the five items I circled (most called to) and the three times I starred (the craziest). My list of five (most called to) included: read, go to a park and listen to others’ conversation(s)—don’t judge me, that could be some great material for a book;), say the same phrase/mantra over and over and over, use Jeremiah’s count to 100 meditation strategy (more on that later), look/listen to the Atlantic Ocean all day long. The list of the three craziest ideas included: say the same phrase/mantra over and over and over, listen to Morgan Freeman talk all day long, and scream all day long—about everything and nothing in particular. After we’d completed the evaluation of our ideas, we communicated them with our partner (Lori D.). The next step was to create our Action Plan. This plan consisted of a title, a three to five sentence description, three tangible actions steps, two external obstacles/resistances, two internal obstacles/resistances, and the support we need to succeed. My plan follows:

  1. Title: Operation “Get Outta My Mind!”—inspired by the Lil’ John song, “Outta Your Mind”.
  2. Description: Operation GOMM is meant to help me let go of my overactive mind. When I GOMM I’ll be able to live in the present moment—no longer thinking about the past or the future. Operation GOMM is the impetus for being fully in the present moment.
  3. Action Steps (3 tangible):
    • Listen to Lil’ John’s “Outta Your Mind.”
    • Go outside and enjoy the presence of other living beings—take a mindful walk.
    • Meditate by counting to 100–repeating the process, if necessary.
  4. External Obstacles/Resistances (2):
    • Time of day (may be at work or it could be unsafe to be outside)
    • Other’s around me may be unnerved by my presence
  5. Internal Obstacles/Resistances (2):
    • Laziness/Lacking Motivation
    • Too many obligations
  6. Support: Friends to venture out with, time to “just be”

Later that morning Jeremiah, our Zen Master and Meditation Leader, made a statement that resonated within me. He said, “Begin to build a relationship with your breath.” He went on to say that “what you resist, often persists”. This was a FOR REAL aha moment for me. When practicing meditation in the past, I’ve tried to stop thinking about something—never actually acknowledging it, but trying to suppress it and make it go away. And here was an entirely different, and yet freeing, message to embrace the thought(s) that arose. After a brief meditation, I wrote in my journal: “Practice—that I word is so important. Rather than try and reach a state of “perfection”, I want to remember that this is about practicing—practicing on focused breathing, practicing on coming back to the breath, practicing staying in this present moment.” And then I wrote, “We aren’t practicing to get anywhere other than where we are right now. Just BE HERE!”And if that wasn’t enough, Yael took us on a journey through the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Again, my first inclination of yoga was from the aspect of Asana. I had no idea just how deep the roots of yoga expanded.

  1. Yamas (first of two limbs that offer moral and ethical guidelines)
  2. Niyamas (second limb offering moral and ethical guidelines)
  3. Asana (the practice of physical postures)
  4. Pranayama (breath work and energy control)
  5. Pratyahara (sensory control/awareness)
  6. Dharana (one-pointed concentration)
  7. Dhyana (meditation—the merging of individual and universal consciousness)
  8. Samadhi (beyond consciousness; towards enlightenment)

There is such depth to this idea of Yoga that I know we’ve only just scratched the surface. I am fascinated and eager to dig deeper.I have to add that during Anatomy I wrote the following in my journal: “So…I should truly be nicer to my feet. They are so very important. Tonight—my feet get a massage on me!” Truth be told, I try to massage my feet with Lavender Oil (mixed in Almond Oil) every night before bed. It feels good and smells good!During SELF (Social Emotional Learning & Facilitation) we examined Trauma Informed Teaching. I admit that I am not very knowledgeable about this. If anything, I’ve probably done some emotional damage to my students with my the tone of my voice and mood swings. I hope that I am better able to facilitate a sense of community in my future classrooms.Day 4: Breathe For Gratitude (Appreciating the Gift of Life)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Three Collective Breaths will transform 5th period!
  2. A gentle touch changes EVERYTHING!
  3. Use energy wisely.
  4. Appreciate more.

Today was revolutionary. Our Transformational Workshop was fo very filling and emotional. We created two circles. Members of the inner circle were prompted to close their eyes. Once our eyes were closed, the facilitators made statements—“Touch someone with whom you’d trek to Mt. Everest”. Members of the outside circle then walked around and gently touched those on the inside circle with whom the statement applied. First of all, physical touch is powerful. But an appreciative touch is truly transformative. Being part of the inner circle was both scary and liberating. Being touched was affirming in so many ways. There we were, for all intents and purposes—exposed. And yet, when someone came along and touched us, it was assuring to know that we were seen without pretenses.When Philosophy came around, we examined the Yamas (the “ethical” precepts of yoga). The Yamas can be considered the principles or guidelines of Yoga. There are five Yamas: Ahimsa (nonviolence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (right use of energy), and Aparigraha (non-greed). We were tasked with journaling about which Yama we most need to explore. I chose Brahmacharya—not just because I need to practice saying it correctly, but because this precept asks us to use our energy in well-served ways—not impulsively or compulsively—which I have been prone to do. It also calls us to create and maintain healthy boundaries—again, areas I need to work through. Our manual noted it quite succinctly, “Anything that causes turbulence in the mind and stirs the emotions might be seen as violation of Brahmacharya”. There it is. This is confirmation of my overactive mind that then causes the emotional storms that I’ve let send me to moody extremes. If I’m living yoga off the mat, I certainly must learn to use my energy wisely.Later that day Yael shared some pearls of wisdom that immediately resonated within me. She quoted Tony Robbins, saying: “Trade your expectations for appreciation and the world changes instantly.” All too often I’ve let my expectations about the future cripple me when things didn’t turn out as I had expected/desired. Accepting this reality, I believe I can walk into the future with more appreciation for the singular moments that unfold rather than anticipating the unfolding of my expectations. This is especially true for me in the classroom. I want so very much for each of my students to succeed, and I have high expectations for their level of performance. But I know that it would be best to reframe these expectations to appreciations—appreciate them for showing up EVERY DAY, appreciate them for making an effort EVERY DAY, appreciate them for who they are in the present moment, and being hopeful that they’ll be better at the end of the year than they were at the beginning.Oh yeah, when I returned home that night, I shared how moved I was by the Transformational Workshop. It lead to a heartfelt conversation with my guy. We talked about physical touch and objectification. And at the end of the night we enjoyed a gentle and long embrace; it really does feel wonderful to be touched, to be embraced.Day 5: Transformation of RelationshipsToday’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Non-Violent Communication (NVC) is revolutionary!

In today’s Transformational Workshop we learned about Non-Violent Communication (NVC). This was by far the BEST tool for me to walk away with (and yes, I did end that sentence with a preposition). Anywho, NVC has a basic four-step approach and the materials we were given included a sheet that listed basic feelings and basic needs to help us prepare for the practice discussion.

  1. Observations (what you observe that does or does not contribute to your well-being).
    • “When I see/here…”
  2. Feelings (how you feel in relation to what you observe).
    • “I feel…”
  3. Needs (what you need or value—[rather than a preference, or a specific action] that causes my feelings).
    • “…because I need/value…”
  4. Requests (the concrete actions I would like taken)
    • “Would you be willing to…?”

The workshop began with our examining our relationships. Later, we split into partnerships (thank you Heidi) and practiced the NVC process. For my practice I had a conversation with my guy and expressed the following:

  1. Observation(s): We (my guy, his daughter and myself) rarely spend quality time together. You and I do things together and then you and your daughter do things together, but it’s rare that the three of us do something together—that doesn’t include sitting in front of a TV or movie screen and is not distracted by electronic devices.
  2. Feelings: I feel angry, isolated, and disconnected.
  3. Needs: Because I value quality time, my strongest Love Language, I need communal time, interaction, and a peaceful living environment.
  4. Request(s): Would you be willing to work together to ensure that we (all three of us) spend quality time together at least once a week?

Heidi and I took turns playing the role of each other’s significant other as we practiced the NVC process. And by the end of the day I had made up my mind that I was following through with the real thing when I got home. I even shared my intention (there’s that word again) with my Mentorship Group, This Is Us!243496ef-0857-4baa-898d-cfc124ebc196Finally, I felt like I was making real progress. I had a new practical tool that I could, and would, use to talk through things that were bothering me—things that I would normally let ruminate and cause me mental and emotional turbulence—a violation of Brahmacharya. At any rate, I did follow through with NVC that night when I went home and I’m glad to say that an emotional weight has been lifted. We had the talk and now we’re making the necessary steps to build a sense of “family”. Our talk lead to us agreeing to eat dinner together EVERY Thursday—no TV or electronic devices at the table. And we’ll engage in one activity a month that we can all agree upon.By and large, NVC is a practical tool that I can use at home and at work. I can even see my students benefitting from using the process to work through their interpersonal relationships at home and at school.But NVC wasn’t the only thing we learned about on day five. We explored the Niyamas—personal observances; the second half of the moral/ethical guidelines of Yoga. The Niyamas include: Saucha (purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (burning discipline), Svadhyaya (self study), and Ishvara Pranidhana (spiritual). The Niyamas are the “personal practices” that relate to our inner well being. When we journaled, I noted: “I think Saucha will serve me well in relationships at home and at school/work. A literal and metaphoric cleanse is certainly needed.” As the area of purity, Saucha is about keeping our bodies and environments clean and pure. More than anything, I need to be more mindful of what I eat and how it is impacting my body and mind. Likewise, I feel the need to declutter my surroundings. Less is more!Day 6: Breathe For Presence (Exploring the Best Gift of All)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Quiet is still my favorite sound.

So, the day started with us being FULLY PRESENT, aka, we were encouraged to be quiet—not communicate with those around us. For someone who has spent a great deal of her childhood and adult life alone, I wasn’t really bothered by this exercise in presence. However, there were times when I was a bit unnerved—moments when I wanted to say “thank you” to someone or acknowledge their presence.During the Transformational Workshop we partnered up and soaked up one another’s presence without saying a word. The time I spent in Amy H’s presence was indescribable. It’s amazing what you can express without uttering a single word. It is also amazing what you can feel from just “holding space”—another B4C term that I’m totally using from here on out. Oh yeah, we also took time to engage in some Mindful Eating during our Presence Workshop. I thoroughly enjoyed this activity. In reflection, “There is a beautiful quiet present in one’s presence.”During Meditation today we learned about seven Mudras (seals/gestures)—a symbolic hand gesture that channels the flow of energy. Each mudra we learned about was presented in connection to the seven Chakras—energy centers in the body.

  1. Bhumisparsha Mudra: associated with Chakra 1 (Muladhara, the root Chakra); this mudra grounds us.
  2. Ksepana Mudra: associated with the 2nd Chakra (Svadhisthana, the sacral Chakra); this mudra is a gesture of pouring out and letting to (of negative energy).
  3. Abhaya Mudra: associated with the Manipura Chakra (solar plexus); this mudra cultivates strength, fearlessness, and protection.
  4. Garuda Mudra: associated with the Anahata, or heart Chakra; this mudra inspires creativity and cultivates collective energy.
  5. Shankh Mudra: associated with the Vishuddhi Chakra, throat chakra; this mudra calms the mind and enhances communication.
  6. Hakini Mudra: associated with the Ajna Chakra (third eye); this mudra focuses the mind, promotes concentration, imagination, and precise thinking.
  7. Jnana/Gyan Mudra: associated with the Sahasrara Chakra (crown of head); this mudra aids in dissolving the ego, cultivating concentration, and increasing mindfulness.

I am most interested in using the mudras to cultivate energy in more useful ways—being intentional about the Brahmacharya Yama I pointed out on day four.Day 7: Breathe For Compassion (Vulnerably Opening Our Hearts)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Just Breathe!
  2. I desperately need to extend some compassion to myself.
  3. It’s a great thing to be a GOAT (Greatest of All Time)—thanks Kristin!
  4. I am full; I am overflowing!
  5. Be happy HERE!—How we are in our bodies shapes our reality (thanks Jeremiah)!

“…as we increase our ability to love ourselves, we enhance our ability to extend love to the partners, family, friends, colleagues and students in our lives”—B4C Manual.As we began our Transformational Workshop I compiled the following list to define compassion:

  • Extending empathy
  • Showing concern
  • Active listening
  • A held hand
  • A warm embrace
  • A smile; a nod
  • A kind word
  • Understanding that we all have “those moments”

Later we identified Limiting Belief(s). I wrote,

  • “I am less than because I don’t have children.”
  • “I am not full, complete, and whole—lacking nothing.”

The feelings that arise with these limiting beliefs include: disgrace, anger, sad, shame and disappointment.And I use sarcasm and keep others at arms length (emotionally and physically) to “feel better” about myself.Once these statements/confessions were written in our journals we extended compassion to ourselves and one another through an activity. In groups of five (Lynnette, Jennifer, Kristin, Asia and myself) we were each given an opportunity to share our Limiting Belief, the feelings we associate with it, and our coping mechanisms—all the while mindfully listening to one another and then supporting one another with our presence. Thereafter we were given three minutes to speak to ourselves with compassion and encouragement. In the circle of my friends I opened up fully and completely. For the first time I shared the honest truth out loud, but with love, with compassion. In that circle I was fully supported and loved. Supported with physical touch, one of my partners (Lynnette) spoke support and love into my spirit. Speaking my truth out loud for the first time was the first step to extending compassion to myself. A step that will undoubtedly allow me to extend compassion to others.After this very transformative moment, we explored the Chakras (wheel of light/energy that runs through our physical and subtle body) during Philosophy. While I’d heard about Chakras before, my eyes were more fully opened when our Lead Trainer, Yael, outlined what each Chakra would look like in terms of deficiency, balance, and excess.

  1. Muladhara Chakra (root)
  2. Svadhisthana Chakra (sacral)
  3. Manipura Chakra (solar plexus)
  4. Anahata Chakra (heart)
  5. Vishuddhi Chakra (throat)
  6. Anja Chakra (third eye)
  7. Sahasrara Chakra (crown)

For instance, I believe that an imbalance exists in my Anahata (heart) Chakra. Deficiencies are characterized as: antisocial, critical, loneliness, fear of intimacy, lack of empathy, and narcissism. I definitely acknowledge my overly critical nature towards myself and others—some compassion is assuredly needed to balance this chakra. Also, my lack of empathy towards my students has made for unpleasant classroom interactions in recent years—again, some compassion is so very needed to bring this particular chakra into balance. And well, I get into my moods when I don’t want to be bothered by others—sounds like antisocial to me!Day 8: Breathe For Communication (Fostering Deeper Relationships)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Lions, Rabbits, Wolves, Turtles and Eagles—oh my!
  2. Emote: to show emotions.
  3. When you receive the message, hang up the phone (thanks Yael)!

Today’s Transformational Workshop began with us making a list of our strengths as communicators. My list included:

  • Written words
  • Attentive listener
  • Speaking when it seems most valid (not hogging a conversation)
  • Expressing body language
  • Facial expressions

Later we identified growth areas for communication:

  • Tone
  • Expressing good despite the bad (focusing on the positive)
  • “Bottom lining it”
  • Getting things off my chest (at the moment it arises) rather than bottling it in

After our journaling we had to choose with which of the following animals we most identified: wolf, eagle, rabbit, lion, turtle. I chose the turtle. Why you ask? Like the turtle, I have a hard exterior and soft interior. Like the turtle, I sometimes take my time doing things—I’m patient. And like the turtle, sometimes I come out of my shell; other times I enjoy the solitude of my interior space. We did some additional journaling to identify: our strengths, our challenges/weaknesses, our contributions (to other animal) and our needs (from other animals). In our animal groups we created a graphic to synthesize the information. It was so truly comforting to be around like-minded individuals. What wasn’t so comforting was verbalizing this information with everyone else—but hey, sometimes a turtle has to come out of his/her shell.When Philosophy time came around, I made the following declaration in my journal, “[My] #4 Chakra needs some alignment. I believe it begins with loving me. Each day I will verbalize one thing I love/appreciate about myself.”And then we had a day off. Yes! One might think that I would have used the day off to simply relax, take it easy. No! I got up and when to a Fire Flow yoga class at Chi Yoga. When I returned home I did get a few loads of laundry done, and I finally washed my STANK hair. But I didn’t take a nap at all. Actually, I suggested that my guy and I go for a bike ride later that evening. I may not have done much relaxing, but I did enjoy the day “off”.Day 9: Transformation of Community Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Connection is key!
  2. Stay woke!
  3. Show up, Speak up, Team up! (Thanks Betsy)
  4. That’s “A[we]sa[m]na”!

This day began with us devoting energy to a community with which we feel called to be of service. Based on comments and interactions from the previous eight days, a number of groups (People of Color, LGBT, Teens, Special Needs—to name a few). And after choosing a community, we broke into small groups and created an action plan. I walked away thinking about what I was breathing to cultivate in my future classrooms. My BFourC’s include breathing for: consideration, courteousness, compassion, and a sense of community.While contemplating the upcoming school year I thought about the possibility of a Yoga Night (perhaps during or after Conference Night). I thought about the bringing Yoga to the HOST program. And then I thought about Girl Scouts of West Central Florida (an organization with whom I recently worked) and I wondered if I could build a new relationship centered around yoga, meditation, mindfulness and SELF.Despite the fact that my principal got transferred to another school, I’m hoping that our new leader will still be interested in the Walker Wellness program that could certainly include yoga, meditation and mindfulness practices.During Meditation Practice we “manifested with our emotions”. This idea brought on some anxiety. Since day one of the training I had been trying to manage my emotions and sitting with myself and my emotions. Nevertheless, our Lead Trainer Jeremiah calmly reminded us that meditation is about three basic components: Observe (our feelings), Interpret (the feelings by accepting them and not trying to resist them), and then Respond (to these feelings with compassion). Sounds simple, but it isn’t exactly easy. However, I was able to work through the feelings without my overactive mind hijacking my meditation practice. Small victory!And once again, the Philosophy session was enlightening. Today’s focus was the (5) Kleshas (thought patterns that inhibit us from experiencing union).

  1. Avidya—represents ignorance (of the self); we forget we are divine; focus on outward attachments
  2. Asmita—the ego; it’s about living “the story”
  3. Raga—focused on attachment; idealism
  4. Dvesha—aversion; internal resistance
  5. Abhinivesha—fear of death; characterized by existing; concentrating on the unknown; lacking trust

We officially became yoga instructors today as we worked as a community to teach a sixty minute class. This essentially gave each member of our Mentorship Group about five minutes to cover a segment of the class. I was responsible for teaching Supine Poses and Forward Folds. Basically, I lead the group through Happy Baby, Supine Twists, Staff Pose and Seated Forward Fold. Not bad for my first go round.Day 10: Breathe For Inclusion (Cultivating Well-Being for All)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Use Three Collective Breaths at the start of every conference.
    • After allowing my emotions to rule The Worst Conference Ever this past spring, I believe that this small gesture has the power to transform interactions with parents and students.
  2. Being a “teacher leader” doesn’t always mean that one has to have a title; I can make a difference in my classroom.
  3. May you be safe; may you be healthy, and my you extend compassion to those with whom you come into contact.
  4. Listen to the Beatles: “Let it Be!”
  5. While in Chaturanga Dandasana, elbows should never be lower than your hips—light bulb moment—right Wendy!
  6. Maha= great (peak pose)—approached from the Backwards Design Plan

Today we explored the idea of privilege as it relates to cultivating an atmosphere of inclusion. This was a unique day as each person considered their relationship with privilege. While journaling I noted, “Privilege gets to make the bulk of the decisions regarding Curriculum and Instruction and Pedagogy—regardless of one’s inherent qualifications, most often that is. As for class culture, privilege doesn’t dictate, but can if one [the classroom teacher] is not ‘awake’. The same can be said for family engagement as well. Awareness and ‘awake’ness can stifle or enhance a classroom culture or family environment. STAY WOKE!”More than ever, I think this workshop solidified that I am a champion for the underdog, for individuals who’ve been on the “outside looking in”. That being said, I journaled, “I am committed to supporting my peers with creating tools: emotional and physical, that will help their overall wellness. I am also committed to encouraging a classroom culture that is built on compassion for ‘other’!Today’s High Note—Meditation: I commented, “Today’s session was DIVINE! I caught myself ruminating on planning for the 2018-2019 school year, and I compassionately pulled myself back in to awareness of my breathing [and said to myself]: ‘I know you’re excited…but let’s try and focus on our breathing…”. That was pure self-compassion at work. PROGRESS!In Philosophy, we examined the question: “How do I live yoga off the mat?” For this exploration we learned about the sacred duality that is Yin and Yang. Yin (the moon energy) graphically expressed by the black space encircling the white dot, is characterized by stillness, coolness, contraction, inward, soft, introspective, “feminine”, and rest—to name a few. On the other hand, Yang (the sun energy) graphically expressed by the white space encircling the black dot, is characterized as outward, extension, openness, active, hot, aggressive, “masculine”, and motion—to name a few. And when it comes to balance, I listed the following:

  • Self-care
  • Asana
  • Cooling Breath
  • Nature
  • Macrobiotic Diet
  • Nostril Breathing

So, now I’ve got the tools and the know how—“Do or do not; there is no try!”Speaking of “Do or do not; there is no try,” we learned some incredibly beneficial information during Asana today. Teaching middle school English is a cake walk compared to teaching yoga! Before B4C, I had tried putting together a yoga sequence, but wasn’t aware of this “peak pose”—the pose that your are essentially working towards at the climax of the class. So we split up into groups of three (Lori D., Mell, and myself) and we began planning a class with this “peak pose” in mind. We anticipated that we’d be teaching this lesson soon. We were mistaken. After the planning and excitement, we soon learned that we’d be teaching another class, but the class was with a partner from our Mentorship Group. And just like that the Turtle Power Trio was disbanded and the “One-Legged King Pigeon” class was but a mere memory in our journals. But also, we did unearth that the key to teaching yoga involves a three-step process:

  1. Identify the breath associated with the movement (inhale or exhale)
  2. Explain which body part(s) are moving, and in which direction (left foot back)
  3. Name the pose (in English—and Sanskrit if you’re on top of your game)

It was during this practice session that I realized I need a LOT of practice if ever I want to not sound like a blubbering idiot in front of anyone crazy enough to trust me to teach them yoga.Day 11: Breathe For Collaboration (Working Together for Greater Impact)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Channel our thoughts in ways that SERVE us.
  2. Shift the narrative
  3. I’m co-teaching a yoga class in three days, THREE DAYS—Kristin!
  4. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable—thank you Jillian Michaels!

Today’s Transformational Workshop has left my memory. However, I did make a note during Anatomy to try and notice something positive about my body each day. Today, I’m loving my freckles and moles. I also decided to challenge myself to focus on what’s right and not on what’s wrong.And today Kristin and I began preparations for our sixty minute class “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable”—a challenging journey to Crow/Crane pose.Day 12: Breathe For Social Justice (Using Wellness as a Vehicle for Social Change)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Stay mindful of my intentions!
  2. Be willing to fail!
  3. Give…give without the expectation of getting in return.
  4. Move through “it”, not past it—regarding the thoughts and emotions that arise during meditation.
  5. Get ready to teach another class—SELF!
    1. I’ve got Mindful Movement—the “official dance of the state of Florida—the Sun Dance”!

Okay, today was mind-altering. Two important questions were posed to us: What are we doing? Why are we doing it? If I consider my role as a teacher with regards to these two questions, the answer seems simple. I’m providing my students with the skills they will need to be critical readers and well-versed writers. And why am I doing this? It darn sure isn’t for the money. It’s because I want to give back. I want to ensure that my students have what they need to succeed. I want them to feel equipped and capable of handling anything the world my dish out at them—academically and socially.Before our Transformational Workshop got underway we noted the tools that we’ve been given. I listed:

  • Non-Violent Communication (NVC)
  • Meditation
  • Pranayama
  • Mantras
  • Mudras
  • Asana
  • Workbooks
  • Mentorship Group—This Is Us
  • B4C Family
  • SELF strategies

RESIST                              REFORM                                 REIMAGINE                             RECREATEFor the Transformational Workshop I confessed how socially unjust I’d been to my students. If I have learned nothing, I have learned that B4C has given me the strength to admit the truth without judgment (Thank you Brittney, Ashley, and Heather).It was once again during Meditation that this idea of intentions began to take new form in my mind. As we delved into unearthing Karma Yoga and the Bhagavad Gita, Yael said, “Find the thing that you’re willing to fail at…Have a willingness to fail before we succeed.” Ouch! She seriously said that to us. That’s REAL TALK! I’ve toyed around at this idea of publishing a book or two, but I’ve made minimal steps in turning that into a reality—a reality where rejection letters amount to my willingness to fail.She then noted five important factors:

  1. Don’t be afraid of hurting/killing
  2. You cannot outrun Dharma (cosmic duty; life’s purpose; your “why?”)
    • Found between our unique gift/skill and what the world needs
  3. Inaction isn’t possible
  4. Evil is in intentions; not actions
  5. Karmic yoga (tenants to consider)
    • Requires us to be in a place of pure intention
    • Don’t work for a reward
    • Don’t be attached to an outcome; release attachment

With all this newfound information, we made a list of five (or more) things that come “naturally” to us; things that we are “great” at; things that we’ve been told that we do “well”.My list included:

  • Making others laugh
  • Write well
  • Blatantly honest
  • Inquisitive
  • Give others things to think about
  • Say things other people need to hear

Next we considered an answer to one of the following:

  • What are you passionate about; willing to fail at?
  • What would you march on Capitol Hill for?
  • What would you put on a Billboard?
  • What would my captain say?

My Billboard would read: “Show appreciation to those around you: hold doors, say ‘hello’, say ‘thank you’, have a giving heart.And then we wrote a short response: “If money wasn’t an issue…I’d write and publish books (humorous) with embedded messages about humanity…write books that hold truths, but tackle them in a light-hearted way.”How does Dharma relate to social justice?“If I’m doing what I’ve been called to do, then I’m doing it from a place where I’m not trying to get something [in return], only to give [with pure intentions]”. And with that my good friend Asia shared some profound words of wisdom that resonated with me. Thanks Asia; I’m writing to that one person—me!I’ve got a micro move to make—time to dust off A Dictionary of a Middle School Teacher’s “Favorite” Words.Day 13: Integration and RenewalToday’s takeaway(s):

  1. There will always be something intriguing to learn during Philosophy.
  2. Like increases like.
  3. Opposites bring balance.
  4. Choose room-temperature water over ice-cold water.
  5. It’s okay to smile.

And then there was Ayurveda. Prior to B4C I’d had some exposure to Ayurveda. Having read several of Deepak Chopra’s books, I’ve been intrigued by this ancient mind-body health system from the East.According to Ayurveda there are three doshas—operating principles: Vata (air & ether), Pitta (fire & water), Kapha (earth & water). When I returned home, I found my copy of Deepak Chopra’s Perfect Health: The Complete Mind Body Guide. On January 21st, 2017, I completed the Ayurveda Mind Body Type Test. The results were: Vata (85), Pitta (106) and Kapha (61 points). I’m a Pitta-Vata type. What does that mean? In short, here are some of the characteristics:

  • Medium build
  • Strong
  • Muscular
  • Quick movements
  • Good stamina
  • Assertive
  • Welcome challenges

Let me just say that today’s Anatomy lesson was the BEST. Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate the human body—it’s pretty important if one is planning to teach yoga. That being said, I found the information about the Nervous System (The Observer Energy) so very relevant.The lesson started with our examining the difference between reacting and responding. So, that was a hard slap in the face. Before B4C, my go to was to react. I hardly ever took the time to respond. In all actuality, if something went wrong (as was pretty common), I immediately reacted with some form of dissatisfaction—most often visible in my facial expressions.If nothing else, today’s lesson gave me the encouragement I needed to tap into “The Observer Energy”.Day 14: Breathe For Harmony (Experiencing Universal Connection)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Honor All Bodies
  2. Kristin and I taught a sixty minute class!

One of the most important aspects of teaching yoga has been learning how to communicate modifications without sounding like an ass. And today we were given some vital information.B4C’s Approach to Modifications:

  1. Do be honest!
    • Understand that our body isn’t the standard; better yet—there is no standard!
  2. Don’t assume!
  3. Do know the student is in the driver’s seat!
    • Provide space and choice
  4. Do be helpful!
    • Provide options
    • Guide them to the right variation for them
  5. Be mindful of your language
    • Be inclusive
    • Be accessible
      • “If it’s in your practice…”
      • “If it feels good or right for you…”
      • “Your hands might be…”
      • “Feel free to play around with…”
  1. Provide alternative postures
    • Most accessible to least accessible
  2. Regard props as tools
  3. Provide adjustments
    • Back
    • Floor
    • Wall
  4. Assess/Identify the current challenges
  5. Ask for permission to make adjustments (friendly demeanor without judgment)
  6. Observe and consider what might work
  7. Offer/Suggest modifications
  8. Check in (ask questions)
    • What are you feeling/thinking?
  9. Reevaluate
    • Provide continued guidance

Day 15: Breathe For Playfulness (Living With Lightness and Joy)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. It’s okay to have fun—actually, it’s a necessity to have fun!

Our Transformational Workshop began with us returning to our playful roots. With some good music we danced our way to happy. This turtle was fully out of her shell!And here is how we channeled our inner playfulness:

  1. Duck-Duck Goose
  2. Yoga Charades
  3. Yogi Says (variation of Simon Says)
  4. Massage Circle
  5. Selfies with J. Bones
  6. Sing-A-Song to Yo’ Hommie (not the name, but that’s what I’m calling it)
  7. Mandala creation
  8. Mentorship Group Poster
  9. Rock-Paper-Scissors Chakra Evolution

Oh my goodness! We had so much fun. I didn’t want it to end. It seriously proved that, EVERYONE, irregardless of their age, should stop and play for a half an hour every day. Better yet, let’s follow in the steps of the NFL and promote Play60–but that sixty minutes should be playing one of your beloved childhood games (like Badminton)! Yeah!Day 16: Breathe For Inspiration (Igniting the Fire Within)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Be the observer of impermanence!
  2. Embrace change!

During Meditation I wrote, “This journey has brought me to a place of peace and stillness. Mentally I’d been a ‘wreck’ during meditation, but I’ve begun to use my breath as an anchor. I can elongate my breathing and find inner stillness.” That is a far cry from where I was mentally and emotionally on day one.Our esteemed Meditation trainer, Jeremiah, left us with three pearls of wisdom:

  1. Practice (that word has a new connotations since B4C)
  2. Love your wandering mind (accept and redirect—with compassion)
  3. Remember to tell yourself: I am my best teacher.

In our last and final group circle I mentioned that “There is something absolutely beautiful about change.” That was/is an honest truth. I’ve been changed over the course of sixteen days. I chose Breathe For Change, and it chose me. Together, with the help of the B4C staff, and the open-hearted educators who also chose to transform their own lives, we have only begun this journey. Though the sixteen-day training has commenced, our new lives have just begun. Some people got “their lives back”, others got their “peace” back, and still others got back to the heart of their True Self. Whatever it was that was gained and/or lost during those sixteen days, we can all say that we’ve been transformed from the inside out.And now, the Journey to the Center of Yoga has begun! I hope to see you somewhere along the path (remember, I’m a turtle)!IMG_0073 1

Teacher Appreciation: A Teacher Shows Her Appreciation (pun intended)

Teacher Appreciation: A Teacher Shows Her Appreciation (pun intended)

Sharon M. Draper, the 1997 National Teacher of the Year and popular young-adult author, consistently reminds me in Not Quite Burned Out: But Crispy Around the Edges “Teaching is often maligned and denigrated by the media and the general public for being a thankless job that offers no rewards…we need to be reminded of the small pleasures and simple joys of working with young people, to overshadow the negativity we see portrayed about our profession” (2001).

As usual, I’ve got an axe to grind and this is my forum/platform to express my thoughts and feelings. Let me first note that I’ll do a little complaining (as is customary and healthy), then (partly in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week) I will (hopefully on a positive note) share the qualities/character traits that I most appreciate in my students, and finally end on a positive note by reflecting over the school year—which has finally concluded as of 12:25 p.m. today.  Hip-Hip-Horray!

Grinding the Axe (Thanks Marie [aka Bestie]!)

We (educators) serve a purpose—shaping and molding the minds of the next generation(s)—or at least those are the lies we tell ourselves to keep our heads above water. However, more often than not, we are the first to be crucified, persecuted or called out for our wrong doing. Rarely are teachers acknowledged for the “good” we do—like babysitting the kids that these modern-day parents don’t even interact with (I digress, for now). In recent decades teachers have been in the news for assaulting children, for having inappropriate relationships with children (which is exceptionally high in Florida—just saying), and for not supervising children (because we can’t be inside the classroom and out in the hallway at the same time—I’ve got your back Mrs. Lesh). Never is there news about a teacher having gone above and beyond to ensure that his/her students are amply prepared for life (our district’s mantra for the past three years).

At any rate, for the past ten years I have worked in one of the nation’s largest school districts in Florida. And in these ten years I have experienced the “highs” and “lows” of teaching. There have been moments when I’ve wanted to walk out my classroom, go straight to my vehicle and literally drive off into the sunset—which is absolutely beautiful down here. And then, there have been moments when I’ve walked out of my classroom at the end of the day beaming with elation at the enjoyment and enthusiasm that my students (and myself) recently experienced from one lesson or another. Lately, however, there have been more days when I’ve wanted to never return than days when I couldn’t wait to come back. I’ve come to regard these moments as the “normalities” of teaching. Let me set the record straight by pointing out that there is nothing “normal”, or sane, about teaching. Hell, those who endure this profession for longer than the national average of five years cannot be labeled as “normal”—and as such, we deserve free counseling and/or access to cognitive behavioral therapy, at least a unlimited yoga and meditation for the duration of our teaching careers. The only thing that is “normal” is that each day brings new challenges—some rewarding, some not so much.

As this fifteenth year draws to a close, I’ve been doing whatever I can to “survive”. No, it isn’t my worst year on record (by the way, that was the 2015-2016 school year—and another bag of worms that won’t be expounded upon at the present moment). But, it also hasn’t been the best (because when the BEST YEAR EVER arrives, I’m quitting at the end of it). It started out promising in many ways; however, as time elapsed, I began to feel those all too familiar pangs of frustration and burn out. Similar to my first ever year of teaching where I was ready to throw in the towel, but “couldn’t” because I’d just gone $26,000 deeper in debt to obtain a Masters in Education—one that is not currently recognized, nor financially compensated for by current employer. Now, fourteen years later I’m back in this all too familiar place. And what do I do when I find myself “here” again? I get advice from my friends—the living, breathing ones and those that are bound.

Before you let your mind start wandering with my reference to “bound” friends, understand that I do not endorse the mistreatment of others. Let me make it expertly clear that my “bound” friends are those with which I share my beloved namesake—books. Books are my friends and have been since I was knee-high to an anthill (bad analogy—whatever). Anywho, moments like this allow me to escape into the pages of a book (mostly non-fiction these days) and lose—or perhaps find—myself among the words that give me solace, hope, inspiration and comfort when I’ve been beat down. I recently began reading The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life by Parker J. Palmer. In the first chapter, “The Heart of a Teacher: Identity and Integrity in Teaching,” the author noted, “…good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of a teacher” (2007). Through a series of anecdotal accounts, the author draws the conclusion that “good teachers” are inherently true to themselves. In short, “…good teachers share one trait: a strong sense of personal identity [that] infuses their work”. After some contemplation and reflection, I have taken comfort in the fact that I am authentically me—in and out of the classroom. My personal agenda as a black woman suffuses every decision I make as an educator. There is so much that I hope my students (all of them—regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic standing, religious beliefs, sexual and/or gender orientation) gain from spending 185 days with me. I want them to find their unique voice as a writer, but to also leave being a bit more sure and confident with who they are as individuals—and to not be afraid to be different.

I appreciate students who: Express their unique “voice” 

During Teacher Appreciation week, one of my students gave me the BEST Thank You card EVER. What made his card the BEST EVER was the unique and thoughtful response he crafted. Recently, we began our exploration of Shakespeare and his comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Because our students have limited exposure to Shakespeare and Early Modern English (Elizabethan English), they tend to shy away from the reading of his plays (yes, I’m that teacher, the one who will push them to take on a challenge—with the proper guidance, of course). Alas, they soon learn the futility of their fears because at some point in their lives they have to read one or more of his plays. And because we “care” about them, we make every attempt in Middle School to give them the skills to break down the text in a manner that allows them to understand the plot—and thus appreciate the humor embedded in Shakespeare’s works. Okay, so now that you’ve got some back story, I hope you can understand why the card featured above put a smile, and not a scowl, on my face during Teacher Appreciation Week. rahim

Not only did this kid properly use apostrophes, but he added the right Old English suffixes to make his missive absolutely one of a kind. And that is exactly what I wish for each and every one of my students. And, aside from his proper use of Shakespearean language, I am most appreciative of the following phrase, “…being the most real of mine own teachest’rs”. That line really goteth to thine heart (the cold, dead thing faintly beating in my chest).

I appreciate students who: “Keep it Real”

Real is all that I know to be. Being “real” is what has made me both adored and hated by present and former students (and some of their parents—since we’re really being real). But being real should be at the heart of every teacher. If we are to truly make a lasting impression on our students, we must give to them from our truest self. And that is what Parker Palmer was getting at in the first chapter of his acclaimed text The Courage to Teach. Also, I will never be the teacher that doles out hugs and high fives. And I am SO perfectly okay with that reality. I will never be that teacher who gives out grades to undeserving students (despite the constant meetings and passive-aggressive emails and talks from our school’s administrators). My students know from day one that “I Don’t Give Out Grades, YOU Earn Them”—not because I have a poster on my desk that says this, but it sure does help to remind them. They know this because I tell them (and their parents) this Truth during Open House. Here’s my Truth: I have had to work for everything I have (accomplishments, possessions and pain alike). Nothing was handed to me (except maybe a hard time—which I freely give to ALL of my students). And because of this fact, I believe that EVERY student needs to work (preferably to his/her greatest capacity) to earn a grade. Those students who produce little, if any, work tend to earn less than satisfactory grades.

I appreciate those who: Have a Diligent Work Ethic

On the other side of that proverbial coin: students who are diligent tend to earn higher grades. Carol Dweck points out in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, “Lowering standards just leads to poorly educated students who feel entitled to easy work and lavish praise” (2006). Dweck’s words are part of my email signature at work. It serves as a reminder that I am a person (educator) with integrity. And as such, I’m not going to give a kid a grade just because he or she showed up to class. I don’t get a paycheck for “showing up to work”. I earn it by planning lessons, delivering those planned lessons, and by collaborating with colleagues (many of whom I’d rather ignore than talk to). I earn a living because I show up every day ready (and sometimes, not so ready) to teach and learn with my students. Later in chapter one of Palmer’s book he shared, “If the work we do lacks integrity for us, then we, the work, and the people we do it with will suffer” (2007). These words are poignant. They explained why Sales and Retail Management served as jobs for me and why I’ve made a career of Teaching. I learned early on that I was not successful at selling things that I didn’t believe in—clothes, shoes, and resume databases. It was/is impossible for me to be “authentic” in environments where I lack integrity. I sold clothes and shoes to make a living; I sold resume databases to get away from selling clothes and shoes. But these words also get at the heart of another student document and feedback to a student’s comment (an expected criteria on the Article of the Week, or AOW). In short, I have a great deal of respect for resourceful students as their resourcefulness is a byproduct of their diligence. Kids who Rick Hanson would call resilient. In his most recent book Resilient: How to Grow An Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness, he point out: “Mental resources like determination, self-worth, and kindness are what make us resilient: able to cope with adversity and push through challenges in the pursuit of opportunities” (2018).

I appreciate students who: Are Resilient

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been at this gig for fifteen years now, or because I’m a pit bull; but the following comment sent me into a tizzy. How dare a student, whose mother is a “teacher”, have the audacity to state that her teachers don’t care. ashleyAs my response indicates, I do care. I just don’t care in the ways, methods, strategies, etc. that this particular student desires. Some of my dearest teacher-friends care so much that they make breakfast for the students who’ve done their part to earn A’s and B’s over the course of the school year (love your Rex). Another one of my teacher-friends cares enough to call parents when their kids have done something good (love you Marie). Caring just so happens to be one of the IB Learner Profile traits that we reiterate with our students since we are an IB World School. And yes, I did make the statement at the beginning of the year that I needed to work on being more caring. I meant it in a joking manner (with a pinch of truth). Anyone who knows me intimately knows that my feelings run deep. No, I don’t go around sharing my feelings like some Elementary school teacher (no disrespect to Primary teachers), but I am convinced that a certain level of personal distance needs to be exercised when working with 8th grade students. And now that my sense of “caring” has been questioned, let’s talk about those teachers who “care” so much that they don’t ever read through their student’s work, but will quickly give them full credit for work that is neither complete nor well-written. This year one of my school’s objectives was to push feedback-driven instruction. Not to blow my own horn, but I am the poster child for the feedback-driven classroom. Nearly every assignment I give comes back with some form of feedback if it isn’t collected for completion. There is absolutely no way to read through EVERY assignment, and because of that, yes, some things just get collected/reviewed for completion. But let me make it very clear that those completion assignments aren’t collected very often. Besides, if EVERY assignment was truly scored based on the quality of writing, there would be few students who would be passing. Nevertheless, one message I try to impress upon my students is that quality trumps quantity—ALWAYS!

I appreciate students who: Express Depth of Thought

In the chapter titled, “How to Think”, educator and author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, Paul Tough succinctly stated, “…most people won’t tell teenage girls (especially the together, articulate ones) that they are lazy and the quality of their work is unacceptable. And sometimes kids need to hear that, or they have no reason to step up” (2012). And with that statement Paul Tough instantly became one of my educational heroes and his book(s) became one of my “bound” friends.

At the beginning of the school year I decided to engage in an Action Research Project—“There is no FEAR in FEEDBACK”. In years past students have seen, and responded to, teacher feedback (written and verbal) as negative. That being the case, my intention has been for students to remove the negative connotations surrounding the constant feedback I provide over the course of the school year. My objective was to use dedicated time (two days a month) towards conferencing with students one-on-one to provide students with verbal feedback. As a secondary measure, written feedback was provided for students—which was absent of a score point or letter grade for written assignments. Furthermore, it was my hope to provide students the opportunity to meet in small groups (3-5) to engage in student-led conferences with their peers. During these student-led conferences, peers would give and receive verbal and written feedback specific to the writing situation or task. By setting aside consistent, regular, and dedicated opportunities for students to meet with the teacher and in small student-led groups, it was my hope to foster and develop students’ written expression/clarity of ideas. And in the end, students would look at, and feel differently about, feedback.

Okay, so that was the rationale behind the Action Research. If you ask me whether or not ALL of those components were implemented, I cannot in good conscience say that is true. I had lofty goals, and learned that this process of changing my students’ mindsets is an on-going process. Nevertheless, I am pleased to note that at least one of my students (one of those girls that Tough mentioned in the quote above) made some improvement. The feedback form is one of many where I continuously noted that this student’s Commentary lacked depth of thought. Week after week, assignment after assignment, until finally, mid-way through the fourth and final grading period she finally went beyond the literal and simplistic. But what really impressed me was her final Independent Reading Project (IRP). Students chose one of five products to complete after the reading of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The student created a board game based of the play. It was exquisite, and I told her so right after I looked it over. The craftsmanship and depth of thought that went into her directions proved that students can (and do) rise to the level of expectation(s) that we set for them. We’ve all heard the adage that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and so building a new Mindset in adolescents shouldn’t be expected to change overnight, or even of the course of a school year. But that will never stop me from trying.

IMG_0939

What I’ve Learned the Past Fifteen Years

Towards the end of each school year, I tend to do some form of reflection in an effort to improve upon my practice. This year my reflection inspired changes in my Open House Power Point Presentation. I changed up my game by adding the following slides: “’Keys’ to Success”—which is essentially a list of actions that will help students meet the demands of a teacher who challenges her students rather than allowing them to fester in their mediocrity, “What ‘caring’ looks like in room 510”—inspired by the student’s comment about wishing her teachers cared, “I respect…”—a list of character traits that I admire in my students, and “Pet Peeves”—a list of traits that will certainly put you on the train to losing my respect and only interfacing with the Angry Black Woman, the Hulk that resides within me. Even though I don’t feel like I can do this—teaching for another eighteen years (the point at which I will be of retirement age), at the very least I need to ensure that I am doing this with fidelity and integrity. Parker Palmer challenged me to ponder the following…

“…teaching is a daily exercise in vulnerability…If a work does not gladden me in these ways, I need to consider laying it down”—Parker J. Palmer

Today, on my fifteenth “Last Day of School” we (my students and I) ended the year differently—with yoga and meditation. I took a chance, and was rewarded with a fulfilling dividend—a positive response from my students. At the start of the day, I moved the desks to the outskirts of the classroom, placed yoga mats on the floor, and spread out my fairy lights. The ambiance and the student’s reception made for the BEST Last Day on the record. Each class entered the room with a mixture of surprise and bafflement. By the time the period ended, the students were relaxed. A few even expressed their newfound interest in yoga and/or meditation. I’ve reflected and drawn the conclusion that you can teach an old [downward] dog new tricks.

yoga

Almost every day I consider laying this down. And nearly every August I return to teaching hopeful (even if only on a miniscule level) that the upcoming school year and its students will yield fulfillment and pleasure (I know–silly rabbit– tricks are for kids). For now, I’m not yet ready to call it quits. But I’m damn sure ready for my eight weeks of a teacher’s three R’s: Rest, Recovery and Red wine.

Can somebody point me to the wine cellar, please and thank you?!

From a Childless Woman’s Heart

Some days of the year are easier to emotionally maneuver than others. Today, Mother’s Day, is not one such day. As a childless woman, my life choices have brought me to a place of emotional unrest or dis-ease.

You see, as a young girl I planned to get married and have kids. Like most young girls, that is what we had been indoctrinated to believe was one of our rites of passage. In my youth I planned out the number of children I would birth and even had names for each of them (that ridiculous list still resurfaces every so often). However, as I grew older, the life that I had envisioned didn’t quite unfold as I had planned it out. I have since learned that our plans (mine especially) rarely unfold as we wish.

If someone had told me that I would be unmarried and childless at forty, I would have argued the impossibility of that situation. Yet, here I am at forty—not once giving birth to a child, nor knowing the joys and pains of motherhood. This is certainly not the future I had envisioned. Nevertheless, it is the life I am currently living.

Please know that I am not faultless. On two occasions I had the opportunity to grow a mother’s heart, but made the choice to terminate each pregnancy.   I have long carried feelings of guilt and remorse. I have long wondered what kind of woman, and mother, I would be had I made a different choice in at least one of those situations. But alas, we cannot go back in time; we cannot take bake the choices that we have made.   Presently, I can only move forward and hope that I can make some positive impact before I take my last breath on this earth.

If the following text from one of my current students is any indication of my path to making a difference, then maybe there is hope for me yet.

“Happy Mother’s Day (Even though you don’t have kids) But thanks for being          one to me, I wouldn’t be the young lady i am today if it wasn’t for you. Thank      you so much I love you lots!”

Given my life choices, I am deeply moved by my student’s words. I dare say that I am any type of role model—except perhaps a role model for what not to do. At any rate, today has reminded me that the choices we make have life-long impressions. I will not deny that I sometimes yearn to know what it truly means to be a parent—to express a pure love without condition. But at forty, I feel as if that chapter of my life has now passed its expiration date. Perhaps the role of mother was never written in the stars for me. Maybe I was only to play a proxy role of mother as a classroom teacher.

Despite my life choices, I still stand firm that a woman’s choice remains hers and should not be taken away. However, I would tell any woman who is contemplating that choice to be advised that you will have to bear the burden of your choices for the rest of your life—so choose cautiously.

In closing, I want to thank my parents (most especially my mother) for giving me life. My childhood, perfectly imperfect as it was, is not without appreciation. I am grateful to know the unconditional love of my parents. Perhaps one day I can extend that some unconditional love to others.

Happy Mother’s Day to all!

Hold ‘em? Fold ‘em? Walk away? Or Run?

Kenny Rogers was certainly on to something when he penned the lyrics to his hit song, “The Gambler”. After serving as a classroom teacher for over twelve years, I have found myself between a proverbial rock and a hard place. In the words of the late and great B.B. King, “The thrill is gone,” and it has been for some time now. In the past twelve years I have spent more time griping and complaining than praising and celebrating. And for these and other reasons, I believe that it’s time for me to walk away. Better yet, I might need to run Forrest!

 

My contemplative state is in no way new or fresh. I considered leaving the profession after my first year (as do many novice teachers), but I mustered the strength and gumption to try a second year (at anything other than a charter school—too much to add for now). In year two I transitioned into a small “suburban” school district in central Ohio, which was certainly much kinder to me than the first year, but it definitely wasn’t easy.

By my fifth year (still in central Ohio) I was again ready to walk away, but chose instead to try a different environment: Florida. In 2008 I packed up my belongings and headed to the “Sunshine State” after procuring a job in Hillsborough County (the “8th largest school district in the country”—the district’s constant claim to fame). Once here in Florida the spark was reignited for a time. By my eighth year as an “educator” (where I had once enjoyed teaching at a Performing and Visual Arts Magnet School) I had once again found myself feeling complacent and jaded. And again, my immediate response was what I have coined the “Goldie Locks Effect”—trying out a different bed, or in my case, a different school (district, state, etc.).

However, unlike years before, the spark wasn’t reignited after I reached school number four (another magnet school—this one IB: International Baccalaureate). I thought that perhaps this school and its students might more closely align with my philosophical beliefs about education: it’s the most important thing to get. I was sorely disappointed and dissatisfied. If anything, my level of discontentment and resentment for what I had chosen as a “profession” had actually intensified to the nth degree. While at this school relations with students and parents (essential stakeholders in education) were in a constant tug-of-war. It was in this environment that I started to seriously question whether I was cut out for teaching. I constantly second-guessed myself, and my efforts, nearly every day. However, I pushed through four years at this school before I had the overwhelming itch to run far-far away (despite its over-glamourized allure in Shrek 2).

This time moving to another state wasn’t going to cut it. I had made up my mind that the landscape of education had changed, and perhaps I was no longer able to adapt to the surroundings. So that’s when I got very serious about teaching abroad. So serious did I become that I managed to get a job offer at a private International IB school in Dubai, UAE. I was on cloud nine. What? How could the teacher who was constantly contemplating walking away somehow be on cloud nine? Great question.

I was determined that teaching in a different country where education wasn’t an afterthought but a highly prized attainment, and educators were esteemed and not emasculated, might somehow bring me the satisfaction that I had lost somewhere along the way. But alas, my emotions superseded my judgment when I backed out of the opportunity. Shortly after I had accepted the offer, I chased after the possibility of “love” instead of the assurance of a new start in a totally different landscape. Turning down the opportunity overseas has undoubtedly been the hardest life-lesson that I failed. And at the end of the day I blame no one but myself. At any rate, choosing not to go a month and a half after being excited about the prospect and the new journey ended up being awkward at my current school. I had to ask myself, could I be happy and/or satisfied staying at the same school? The answer was a resounding: No! So that’s when an opportunity “knocked” in the form of an email from a former principal I had worked with. She had an opening at her school, an opening that came with a leadership position: Subject Area Leader (SAL). I jumped at the chance and was subsequently offered the position. My spirits raised because again, maybe this next school would prove to be “just right” and I could be like Goldie Locks and take a well-deserved nap.

But that wasn’t what occurred. Within weeks (less than four to be exact) I was (am) ready to pack up my belongings—actually, keep them for all I care—and walk away from teaching forever, forever-ever? FOREVER-EVER! And that brings us to my current situation: Hold ‘em? Fold ‘em? Walk away? Run?

Earlier today while reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, I came across the following words that greatly impacted my level of consciousness:

Wherever you are, be there totally. If you find your here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally. If you want to take responsibility for your life, you must choose one of those three options, and you must choose now.

These words have been the best piece of advice that I could ask for. And since reading those words I have been contemplating what to do with my life. Do I remove myself form the situation (teaching)? By and large, this option seems like the most practical and viable. After finding so little satisfaction in a “profession” that drains me of my vitality and zeal, leaving public education sounds like the most logical response. Besides, I don’t see how I could change it—the student’s attitudes and postures towards learning as well as the education system. In the past five years I have watched the vast majority of the students who walk the halls of our school do so with an attitude of unconcern and reproach. It is as if they see little, if any, value in obtaining a public education. Aside from their attitudes, the system that educates them is severely flawed from the top down. Yes, the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) was a step in the right direction, but there is still much more work to be done to make the public education system in this country equitable. Lastly, when I consider the idea to accept it fully, chills run through my body. These aren’t the chills of a mind-blowing, deeply conscious awakening, but chills of horror. It would literally be the death of my soul to accept that the vast majority of public school students don’t give a crap about obtaining an education from a system that is highly dysfunctional. To accept it fully means that I have truly become nothing more than a baby-sitter for middle school students. And on that note I’m with Fred Sanford, “You hear that Elizabeth? I’m coming to join you honey!”

Here are the cold, hard facts:

  1. The 2014 graduation rate in Hillsborough County: 73.5%.
  2. The state of Florida’s graduation rate: 76.1%.
  3. The nation’s graduation rate: 80%.
  4. In 2014, only 60% of Hillsborough County’s African-American students graduated, while 68.1% of their Hispanic students graduated.
  5. Most students drop out in their 9th grade year in Hillsborough County.

With these numbers I have to ask myself: Is the deck stacked against me? Am I fighting a losing battle? Is it time to raise the white flag?

Hold ‘em? Fold ‘em? Walk away? Run?

IDK: Really, I Don’t Know!

“ ‘I don’t know’ is not confusion. Confusion is: ‘I don’t know, but I should know’ or ‘I don’t know, but I need to know’…When you fully accept that you don’t know, you actually enter a state of peace and clarity that is closer to who you truly are than thought could ever be”—Eckhart Tolle

Admitting that I don’t know and/or don’t understand something has often times felt like defeat. As someone who has always strived to do and be better, not knowing or not understanding something and/or someone perplexed me even further (if such a stance is possible). So when I came across this quote on July 12th, just three days after my therapist introduced the concept of a Don’t Know Mind to me on July 9th, I felt as if divine intervention had just taken place within my spirit.

Let me back up for a minute and try to explain this idea of the Don’t Know Mind. According to Zen Master Bon Soeng, “We want to know, we think we know, we think we’re supposed to know. There’s all of this bias toward knowing. But we don’t really know.” The basis of the Don’t Know Mind is this radical idea that we admit the truth: the fact that we don’t know (something and/or someone) and move forward from there. This posture of “Don’t Know” doesn’t scream to the universe that we are incompetent, but that we are open to knowing; we wonder; we seek to be informed rather than assuming we already know.

“A beginner’s [novice’s] mind is wide open and questioning. An expert’s mind is closed”—Suzuki Roshi

Soeng went on to note that, “We fill our minds up with all this stuff, and it gets stale and dead. Not knowing is what opens us up and comes alive.” In essence when we ascribe to this Don’t Know Mind we are freeing ourselves of the incessant thoughts where we attempt to rationalize and understand those things and/or individuals we just don’t seem to “get”. So when I think about the above referenced quote by Eckhart Tolle, I am reminded of the fact that it’s okay to not know. In fact, not knowing can be a peaceful place if we embrace it. Take this for instance, “What we know blocks the truth. Returning to not knowing opens us up” (Zen Master Bon Soeng).

And the convergence of these ideas opened me up to a clever technique for freeing myself of my incessant desire to control, wanting answers and/or solutions to things I toil over in my mind. On the morning of July 12 I had an epiphany. I purchased, and later decorated the exterior of, an empty craft box from my new favorite store, Michaels. This box has become my IDK (I Don’t Know) Box. The box is symbolic because it represents this new approach to thinking (or in my case, the absence of thinking). Inside the box I have placed small slips of paper where I write down things that my mind would love to ruminate on, things that would literally drive me crazy because I want to find an answer for them. But not any more! My IDK Box serves as my release from the chains of my ever-“thirsty” ego. Yep! There is that dastardly ego again; the ego I’ve been trying to Le’Go. At any rate, once I’ve written down the idea I have literally and figuratively given it over to God and the universe to solve. A wise young man recently told me that I am not in control, that there are things in life that are out of my hands. When he told me this I looked at him with bewilderment and disbelief. In my mind I thought, This is my life! Of course I have control. Sad, but true; he was telling me the Truth. Undoubtedly, there will be events that occur to us that seemingly make no sense. But their not making sense doesn’t discount or lessen their impact on us. And for these, and perhaps other reasons, the easiest, and most practical approach to freedom and the opportunity to truly live in the moment, comes when we throw up our hands, not in defeat, but in surrender, and proclaim: “I Don’t Know!”

idk

If you see someone on the street wearing a black t-shirt with the letters IDK (in white) plastered across the front, it just might be me. And I’ll be proudly sporting three of the most important letters in the English alphabet.

What You Want Isn’t Always What you Need

A man’s integrity isn’t predicated on his ability to tell you what you want to hear, but in his uncanny knack to tell you what you need to hear.

While working as a part-time Program Specialist with Girls Scout of West Central Florida, part of the mandated programming on money-management required us to talk with the girls about the differences between wants and needs. Over the course of four weeks we introduced the girls to money (reviewed dollars and coins), talked about spending and saving, created budgets and established the differences between wants and needs. It was during the session on wants versus needs that many of these young girls struggled to articulate the differences between these two ideas. As an introductory activity we created a T-chart where the girls shared examples of “things we want” as opposed to “things we need”. I was often times humored by the examples that were provided. Take the following for example:

WANTS NEEDS
Cell phone Shelter/home
Takis (junk food) Water
Our hair and nails done Fruits/Vegetables

Nevertheless, what I always found interesting was the discussion that ensued when one or more of the girls had determined in her spirit that something could be considered a want and a need. It was at these moments when a huge smile would form on my face and I would get to play the Devil’s Advocate. In the end, we would walk away having learned something about ourselves and each other. It was in these moments that I found great joy in what I was doing. At any rate, this piece isn’t about my love of Girl Scouts, but about wants and needs. The previous example merely served to introduce the concept and to remind me of the good times I’ve had as a girl in green.

A little over three weeks ago I wrote the piece titled, “Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall, Who’s The ‘Ugliest’ of Them All?” This particular piece was birthed from a recent epiphany I had regarding a dysfunctional pattern of relating to men. At any rate, the epiphany touched me at my core, and has provided me with an opportunity to reach a new, and higher level of consciousness. Since coming to terms, and to some degree—appreciating my “ugly”, I have had subsequent opportunities to mull over how my words and actions contributed to the demise of my most recent fall with love.

In The Path To Love, Deepak Chopra uses mirrors as a symbol of love shared between two people in relationship/partnership with one another. He urges the reader to,

“…look at love as a mirror of the present instead of the past…When you fall in love, you fall for a mirror of your own most present needs.”

After reading those words it took me a while to truly understand what Chopra was saying. Recently, when I fell in love, I had fallen for a man who, in his spirit, reflected what I needed. This means that the man who had, and continues to, captivate my heart, is a man who:

  • Helped me see my destructive desire to control
  • Assisted me in realizing that I have double-standards when it comes to (extending empathy, budgeting my time, and expressing compassion and appreciation)
  • Showed me that faith is more than a belief (it is active and not passive)
  • Enlightened me on how selfish I have been; it was all about “Me, me, me” (I can here The Matrix’s Agent Smith’s voice as I penn these words)
  • Communicated the Truth about my inability to effectively communicate (I am a poor listener and have a fledgling ability to express my needs, emotions, and frustrations)

That’s right, this man who has captured my heart has given me what I need. Don’t get me wrong though. He has also given me much of what I want. This man who ignited the once-dim spark in my heart has given me:

  • A listening ear
  • A patient countenance
  • Empathy
  • Affection
  • Reassurance in God and humanity
  • Care and concern
  • Understanding

It wasn’t until I had reflected on the following words that I truly did understand how big of an ASS I have been. Chopra notes, “If you examine a negative trait you insist is present in another person, you will find the same trait hiding in yourself”. Well damn! There it was…the Truth. For months I had been busy pointing an accusatory finger at the man I loved, not once being able to recognize my own reflection in the relational mirror.

Chopra continued to “whisper sweet somethings” in my ear while reading The Path To Love. The following quotes are what I have titled, “Mirror Talk”—those “sweet somethings” that have assisted in my enlightenment.

  1. “…controlling people deeply fear abandonment.”

This quote makes perfect sense given the fact that I have emotional scars from my parent’s divorce and the fledgling relationship I have with my father.

  1. In the mind of a needy person, any loss of attachment equals loss of love.”

In this respect, I recognize I had become quite needy towards the end of the relationship and tried everything, but the right things, to hold on to my beloved.

  1. There is no way to achieve real contentment, real fulfillment, other than through the Self.”

It is clear now that my discontentment could never have been rectified through another person. The love that I have sought after for all these years was a love of Self (the spirit that resides within me). True love comes from loving one’s self unconditionally—good, bad, and ugly.

  1. The difference between a cosmic love affair and an earthly one is the difference between play and need.”

All I have to say about this is: He gave me what I needed!

  1. “…’by framing this as a negative situation…you’ve missed the beauty in change.’”

When we are given more of what we need, as apposed to more of what we want, change, the change that leads us to a higher consciousness, is ushered in.

  1. The belief that you won’t ever get what you want implies enormous hatred and judgment against yourself.”

All I can say is that life isn’t always about getting what we want. More often than not, we got what we need, because in getting what we need; we get to be better people.

  1. “…all spiritual work is done by yourself, with yourself, and for yourself. No one ‘out there’ can take responsibility.”

As I reflect on this last statement I have to appreciate the fact that my beloved made the decision for us to split. He had the spiritual awareness to know that I had spiritual work to do—by myself, with myself, and for myself.

I have learned that when we look in the mirror, we are granted an opportunity to see the Truth about ourselves. It is our responsibility to stand there and take a deeper look. If we are ever going to grow and mature, we must be willing to stand there and gaze at our reflection. When we cannot do that, we are surely fearful of the person we have become. Today, and every day, I will look in the mirror and appreciate and love the woman who looks back at me. I will extend grace to her and love her unconditionally. I will recognize her faults, but not hold them against her. I will smile at her because she is perfectly imperfect.

This piece is dedicated to the man who captured and captivated my heart. Thank you for the mirror! You are forever in my heart. ELG, thank you!

A Visit to the ER (Emotional Repression)

Imagine if you will…

 er

Patient: “Doctor, my symptoms are: irritability, shortness of breath, an inability to sleep throughout the night, loss of appetite, and a soreness around my heart. I haven’t felt good in weeks. I probably should have come in sooner, but I just thought it might go away.”

Doctor: “Your pulse is good. Your heart rate is too. Blood pressure is normal.” He takes a deep breath and releases a short “hmmph”. “You’re suffering from emotional repression.”

Patient: Looks at the doctor. Cocks her head forty-five degrees to the right and says, “Excuse me?”

Doctor: “Yep. Nothing is physically ailing you, but you certainly are suffering from some serious emotional trauma.” He scribbles a few notes on her chart, looks up at her and then reaches for something in the pocket of his lab coat. “Here is the number to a great therapist.” On his way out of the exam room he gives her a pat on the shoulder and exits without another word. The patient, on the other hand, sits in wide-eyed bewilderment looking at the information on the business card.


In the last chapter of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, the author John Gray unearths why couples in loving relationships experience turmoil. When my most recent romantic relationship began to rapidly unravel I couldn’t help but try and determine where things had gone wrong. I was baffled how something so beautiful could become so hideous in such a short amount of time. And then it all started to make sense when Gray noted that:

It is very common for two people who are madly in love one day to hate each other or fight the very next day. These sudden shifts are confusing. Yet they are common. If we don’t understand why they happen we may think that we are going crazy, or we may mistakenly conclude that our love has died. Fortunately there is an explanation.

After reading these words, instantly I began to feel better. There was an assurance that an answer would soon be provided and I would know “what the hell” had been going on. Gray continued by point out that:

Love brings up our unresolved feelings…The painful memories of being rejected begin to surface when we are faced with trusting and accepting our partner’s love. Whenever we are loving ourselves more or being loved by others, repressed feelings tend to come up and temporarily overshadow our loving awareness. They come up to be healed and released.

Eureka! There it was–right there in simple terms. The love that had grown between my beloved and me was being taking to the ER (emotional repression). It wasn’t that our love had diminished, but that our love was somehow being tested by repressed feelings/emotions that hadn’t fully been dealt with from the past. But in the midst of the emotional trauma that I was experiencing, I couldn’t see past my current situation. I couldn’t connect my present circumstances with past hurts and disappointments. Finally, it was becoming clear that:

We are all walking around with a bundle of unresolved feelings, the wounds from our past, that lie dormant within us until the time comes when we feel loved. Then, we feel safe to be ourselves, our hurt feelings come up.

It is true that I have made some great gains in the past two years. I have recovered from the last heart-wrenching failed romance, but somehow there were still some things from my past that had not yet been acknowledged. And then the following words helped me determine how far in the past I needed to go to gain the healing I had longed for.

By understanding how past unresolved feelings periodically surface, it is easy to understand why we can become so easily hurt by our partners. When we are upset, about 90 percent of the upset is related to our past and has nothing to do with what we think is upsetting us.

So, with this new sense of awareness I have determined that the “unraveling” of my most recent love affair wasn’t so much about what my beloved had said or done, but was about the emotional trauma of a childhood smeared by a divorce and feelings of abandonment. All these years I had been suppressing feelings that were birthed in my youth. I subconsciously believed that every man that I loved would eventually leave me behind just like my father had left my mother and his children behind. Please don’t get me wrong. I am in no way pointing a finger of blame at my father, but acknowledging how the events in the past have shaped my emotional (in)stability in the present. I am well aware that both of my parents did the best they could with the information they possessed. They loved us to the best of their ability and for that I am thankful. I am merely acknowledging the hurt, so that I can heal and release it–so that it doesn’t surface again.

As part of the healing process, author John Gray suggests the “Love Letter” technique for communicating difficult feelings to those we love. Gray believes that there are times when talking is ineffective. He also points out that letter writing provides us with an opportunity to listen to our feelings without the possibility of hurting our partner. It is an effective tool to provide awareness to us for how unloving we may sound.

Gray’s Love Letter Technique

 

  1. Write a Love Letter that expresses your feelings of: anger, sadness, fear, regret, and love.
  2. Write a Response Letter where you express what you want to hear from the person to whom you addressed the Love Letter.
  3. Share the Love Letter and Response Letter with the individual to whom it was written.

Gray acknowledges the flexibility in this three-step approach—meaning it’s up to you to determine if you will do only one or more of the steps. He urges us, the reader, to:

  1. Include all five elements in the letter
  2. Use simple terms/phrases
  3. Try to keep each section balanced in length
  4. Don’t stop until you express the “love” at the end
  5. Include a “P.S”

All that being said, I used his technique to write a “Healing Letter” to myself. This letter is then followed by the “Loving Response” that I needed to say to myself.

Disclaimer/Footnote: the use of “self” in the Healing Letter and “Self” in the Loving Response Letter are purposeful. In The Path To Love Deepak Chopra connotes the “Self” with our higher Self, our spirit man, “…created from the same spirit that in infinite form is called God”. Thus the “self” is synonymous with the humanly defined and psychologically developed (ego-driven) image of who we are—separate from our innate spirit. So hopefully that will shed light on the symbolic use of the words in the closing.

The Healing Letter

July 8, 2015

Dear Linai,

I am writing this letter to share my feelings with you.

  1. Anger: I am angry that love is so elusive. I am frustrated by life’s unexpected hurdles, trials, and tribulations. I am annoyed by my lack of faith: in God, in others, in myself. I don’t like it when things don’t go as I would like. I want to trust that my heart’s desires are unfolding in this very moment.
  1. Sadness: I am sad that my relationship with my beloved has not been rekindled. I am disappointed that I didn’t experience a childhood where open communication was the norm, not the exception. I wanted to open up and effectively communicate with my beloved (and other men), but I didn’t have the tools or know-how to do so. I feel hurt when I think about my relationship (or lack thereof) with my father. I want to stop trying to “fix” a broken childhood that cannot, through proxy, be repaired.
  1. Fear: I am afraid that I will spend the rest of my life alone—never knowing/experiencing a lasting romantic love and never experiencing motherhood. I am worried that I won’t get what I want out of life so I “try to make things happen”. I am scared that my beloved won’t come back; won’t want to try and make our relationship successful. I do not want to start all over again. I need my beloved to “see the light”—rekindle the flame and work with me to repair what we lost.
  1. Regret: I regret becoming sexually active at such a young age. I feel embarrassed for not investing in a good therapist in my early twenties. I am sorry for all the missed opportunities to show my love to others. I feel ashamed for focusing so much on my emotional needs, that I neglected those of my beloved. I didn’t want to hurt/disappoint my beloved.
  1. Love: I love that you’re a fighter; you never give up on love, those you love. I know that you write from the heart. I adore your natural curiosity. I appreciate that you are a romantic through and through. I respect the transparency in your writing. I understand why you’re hurting and what you’re trying to heal from. I forgive you for being human and not having the tools you needed to be a more loving, successful, and compassionate being. I thank you for realizing that you need help.

Love,

your self

P.S. I need you to know with ALL certainty that you are perfect, complete, and whole; you lack nothing. You are perfectly imperfect.

 

The Loving Response Letter

Dear Linai,

Thank you so very much for sharing this with me. I understand that you are working through some emotional turmoil right now. I am sorry that life hasn’t always been pleasant for you. You deserve to relish in each and EVERY one of your heart’s desires. I want you to know that you are completely loved and completely lovable. I love the person you are and the person you are becoming.

Truly,

the Self


The prospective client knocks on the office door. Slight cracked open, a sliver of dim light escapes. Upon entering she is greeted by a smiling forty-something woman. She drops her tote bag and purse to the floor after the smiling forty-something woman reaches out to hug her. Two strangers embrace in a hug. Moved by the therapist’s compassion, tears begin to well in the eyes of the prospective client. The therapist gestures for the client to have a seat and then grabs her a tissue from the box on her desk. Again, she smiles warmly—full of care and concern.

 

Therapist: “This is a safe place.”

Client: Still in tears. She begins to regulate her breathing. “Thank you so much.”

With a smile and a forty-five degree head tilt, the therapist looks into the eyes of the prospective client with warmth and compassion. Their journey had just begun, but the healing was already underway.