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

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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.

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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.

The “Real” in Relationships

solar system

I used to walk around in rose-colored glasses when it came to this idea of “love” and lasting relationships. In my youth, and to some degree in my adulthood, I tended to believe there was this mystical “perfect person” with whom we were destined to spend our lives. However, years of living, loving, and losing have taught me that there isn’t a “ONE” out there waiting to save us from ourselves (basically we have to save our own self). In all honesty, I think that there are an infinite number of possibilities that we can “make love” with (please do not misconstrue my use of the phrase ‘make love’; it is not sexual in nature, but spiritual). Like I said, I do think there are a number of individuals who cross our paths over the course of our lifetime(s), and it is up to us (both partners) to decide if we will walk out this experience together. Yesterday I read some TRUTH that not only opened my eyes, but allowed me to take off those rose-colored glasses and crush them under my feet. The following words revolutionized my thinking:

Love often fails because people instinctively give what they want….Many people give up when relationships become too difficult. Relationships become easier when we understand our partner’s primary needs. Without giving more but by giving what is required we do not burn out….To fulfill your partner, you need to learn how to give the love he or she primarily needs (John Gray, from Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus).

When I tell you that my mind has been blown and that this is earth-shattering information, I kid you not. This statement tells me that this idea of “love” that we so often toss around has the power to be sustained in a relationship/partnership so long as both individuals know how to fulfill their partner’s needs, not just their own.

I will be the first to admit that I had a selfish view of “love”. I was overly protective of my fragile heart because I was afraid of being vulnerable to another person’s needs and desires. In nearly each of my past relationships I kept up a shield to protect myself because I was so concerned about my needs that I failed to take the necessary actions to meet the needs of each man I claimed to “love”. That is a sad indictment on my part, and for that I apologize to every man I have ever loved.

The truth is, I was afraid to do what real love requires: surrender. Deepak Chopra wrote in The Path To Love, that:

Spiritually, no action is more important than surrender. Surrender is the tenderest impulse of the heart, acting out of love to give whatever the beloved wants. Surrender is being alert to exactly what is happening now, not imposing expectations from the past. Surrender is faith that the power of love can accomplish anything, even when you cannot foresee the outcome of a situation.

Quite honestly the idea of surrender scared the crap out of me. I connoted surrender with weakness and as an independent woman the last thing I wanted was to appear weak. But that’s what happens when our ego gets in the way. And you know what Deepak Chopra has to say about the ego? He says:

At the level of ego, two people cannot want exactly the same thing all the time. Yet at the level of spirit, they cannot help but want the same thing all the time. Your ego wants material things, predictable conclusions, continuity, security, and the prerogative to be right when others are wrong….spirit and ego are total opposites. Bringing them together is achieved through surrender, and the only force that can accomplish it is love. Surrender, then, is the next phase on love’s journey, which you enter as soon as you choose to be in relationship.

I don’t think that Deepak Chopra is saying that we, and our beloved, should literally want the same things, but that we should desire the same things from love: support, compassion, understanding, appreciation, respect, devotion, etc. I believe that he is urging lovers to recognize that our ego inhibits our ability to surrender. For it is through surrender that we are able to achieve our loving desires (those noted above).

In my previous post, “Le’Go My Ego”, I spoke of the importance of relinquishing ego because it stands in direct contrast to love. I stand firm on this belief. Actually, while watching a previously-aired episode of Oprah Winfrey’s “Super Soul Sunday” I received confirmation about this issue of the ego. In the midst of a conversation with Reverend Ed Bacon, a priest in the Diocese of the Episcopal Church, he noted that Satan, the deceiver, is synonymous with ego. Reverend Bacon went on to say that Satan/ego (whose instrument is fear) isn’t purely outside us. The enemy that he spoke of is not outside, but within and that makes sense when Joyce Meyer has informed us that the battlefield is in the mind. So much of our drama is internal, and if we are ever able to control our thinking, I’m certain that we would experience a freedom we have never known, perhaps surrender. Our ego is that enemy that we battle daily. If we want our freedom, we have to give up ego. Just last week my therapist asked me a fundamental question; she looked me right in the eye and said: “Do you want to be right? Or do you want to be effective?” The question she posed was asked in the midst of our discussion about my emotional turmoil over my most recent break up. I contemplated her words and instantly realized how I had been allowing my ego to sabotage my relationships. Instantly I wanted another chance to prove that I could love: be vulnerable and surrender.

As I sit here now, I continue to contemplate Bacon’s words and am immediately drawn back to Chopra’s idea of surrender as it relates to spirituality. If each of us is on a spiritual journey, then it only makes sense that love would require us to learn lessons about surrender. While I cannot do anything to change my previous actions/responses to love, I am eager to integrate what I am learning. So here’s what I have gleaned from Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.

The Differences in Men’s & Women’s Values

Men Women
Power Love
Competency Communication
Efficiency Beauty
Achievement Relationship
Proving themselves Support/Help
Developing power/skill Nurturing

Men define themselves through achieving results. They gain fulfillment through success and accomplishment.

On the other hand, women define themselves by their feelings and/or the quality of their relationships. They are fulfilled when they share/relate.

The Differences in Men & Women’s Primary Emotional Needs

Men Women
Trust Caring
Acceptance Understanding
Appreciation Respect
Admiration Devotion
Approval Validation
Encouragement Reassurance

In reading John Gray’s text, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, I have been able to pinpoint experiences where past relationships had “gone wrong”. Knowing what I know now, I feel I have gained insight on what is required to successfully maneuver through a healthy love relationship. If the premise from my introductory paragraph is correct, “…there are an infinite number of possibilities that we can “make love” with…”, then I am walking into my future with 20/20 vision.

Now knowing these fundamental truths, I am hopeful about my future responses to love.   And the following quote will lead me to loving freely and fully.

“Love is magical, and it can last, if we remember our differences”—John Gray (author of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus)

Le’Go My Ego!

Despite the fact that I’m just four months shy of my 39th year, I have just begun my “path to love”. At times it seems both strange and frustrating to only now be on such a journey, but I try not to allow the idea of time to box me in. Better to have begun the journey, than to live a false life without really knowing, and experiencing, love in its purest form. Now, this “path to love” that I have started isn’t so much about finding an external source of love (a partner), but about falling in love with the Self (spirit) as it is referenced by Deepak Chopra. According to Chopra, the ego is at odds with the Self (spirit):

Ego is responsible for protecting your self-image; it creates the compartments where everything undesirable about you has been hidden. What blocks love is not the presence of these shadow energies but the division of the psyche that came about when your ego started building inner walls. Love is a flow, and walls keep the flow out (24).

If Chopra’s premise is true (that the ego battles with the Self), then my inability to experience love in its truest, most pure form, has been the result of my fated attempts at preserving my “fragile” ego—which in turn is the cause of my “emotional constipation”. That being said, it’s now time to “le’go my ego”!

As a self-proclaimed bibliophile, I started reading The Path To Love: Spiritual Strategies for Healing by best-selling author Deepak Chopra when a dear friend (Sunila) suggested I look into some of his videos on meditation. While in search of Chopra’s videos, I came across the before-mentioned book title and was immediately in awe of his prolific and profound words. Recently, while reading the chapter titled “The Spirit of Romance: Tender Courtship”, the following words from Chopra leveled me.

The exhilaration of falling in love is an escape from ego, its sense of threat, and its selfishness…the ego cannot do two things: it cannot abolish fear, since ego is founded on fear; and it cannot create love, since ego by definition shuts out love. The reason the ego and love are not compatible comes down to this: you cannot take your ego into the unknown, where love wants to lead. If you follow love, your life will become uncertain, and the ego craves certainty. You will have to surrender to another person, and the ego prizes its own will above anyone else’s. Love will make your feelings ambiguous, and the ego wants to feel the certainty of right and wrong. Many other experiences that cannot be comprehended by ego apply to love—a lover is confused, spontaneous, vulnerable, exposed, detached, carefree, wondrous, and ever new. Love’s journey would be terrifying if we didn’t have passion to give us courage—the blind courage of lovers, it is often called. It would be truer to call it the blind wisdom of lovers, because the ego’s certainty is an illusion. Uncertainty is the basis of life (115-116).

The ego is at war with the Self (spirit).

Fascinated by human behavior, I took my first psychology class as a sophomore at Denison University. I continued to take psychology classes and even considered a dual major in English and Psychology, but my love of literature and writing won out. A couple years after I had graduated with my B.A. the yearning for the field of psychology haunted me and I found myself in another institution of higher learning, Marshall University, simply taking psychology classes because of my curiosity with the subject matter. But let’s get back to this business of consciousness and the battle of the Self and ego.  In an effort to fully understand Chopra’s words, we must return to our notes from “Psychology 101” where many of us learned about the three parts of the human psyche, as defined by noted psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud.

Pen and Paper, Please: Time for Notes

First and foremost, in The Ego and ID, Sigmund Freud explains the difference between consciousness and unconsciousness—which are central to understanding his assessment of human personality (id, superego, and ego):

The term ‘conscious’ is to start with, a purely descriptive one, resting on a perception of the most direct and certain character. Experience shows, next, that a mental element (for instance, an idea) is not as a rule permanently conscious. On the contrary, a state of consciousness is characteristically very transitory; an idea that is conscious now is no longer so a moment later, although is can become so again under certain conditions that are easily brought about. We can say that it was latent, and by this we mean that it was capable of becoming conscious at any time. Or, if we say that it was unconscious, we are giving an equally correct description. Thus ‘unconscious’ in this sense of the word coincides with ‘latent and capable of becoming conscious’…we have two kinds of unconsciousness—that which is latent but capable of becoming conscious, and that which is repressed and not capable of becoming conscious in the ordinary way…That which is latent, and only unconscious in the descriptive and not in the dynamic sense, we call preconscious; the term unconscious we reserve for the dynamically unconscious repressed, so that we not have three terms, conscious (Cs), preconscious (Pcs), and unconscious (Ucs)… (Freud, 1927)

Yes, that is certainly a lot to ingest, but I am certain that Freud’s insights about human behavior, coupled with Chopra’s insights about love, will lead us to a better understanding of how many of us have blocked the flow of love in our lives.

“We have formulated the idea that in every individual there is a coherent organization of mental processes, which we will call his ego.” (Sigmund Freud)

 

Yes, Your Hand May Be Cramping; Suck It Up…More Notes (from Freud’s The Ego and The ID, 1927)

The Ego:

  • Includes consciousness
  • Situated nearest to the external world
  • Controls approaches to the external world; attempts to avoid negative societal consequences
  • Regulates constituent processes (decision-making component of our personality)
  • Goes to sleep at night; censors dreams
  • Represses (attempts to cut off certain trends in the mind—trends that stand in opposition to the ego)
  • Is also unconscious
  • Represents “reason” and “sanity”
  • Carries into action the wishes of the id
  • Operates from the “reality principle”

The Super-ego or Ego-ideal:

  • Less connected with consciousness; preconscious
  • Represents the internal world (of the id)
  • Mediator between the ego (rational) and id (impulsive)
  • Weighs values and morals
  • Controls id impulses
  • Works to “persuade” the ego to operate at a “higher” level of consciousness–moralistic

The Id:

  • Works on an unconscious level
  • Contains passions
  • Primitive
  • Instinctive
  • Impulsive and irrational
  • Seeks gratification
  • Operates on the “pleasure principle” (Freud, 1920)

Okay, now that we’ve taken our notes and have a more insightful understanding of Freud’s assessment of human behavior, here is one last piece of information—an illustration of these systems.

ego

Alas, let’s start to merge Freud’s ideas with those of Deepak Chopra. Let me remind you, Deepak Chopra insists that the ego is at war with the Self (spirit). Let me clarify the Self that Chopra speaks of. According to Vedic tradition, the Self is:

…not the everyday self with its thoughts, wishes, needs, and drives but a higher Self that is silent and eternal…In truth you are the Self, created from the same spirit that in infinite form is called God (12-14)

That being the premise we are working from, we have to understand what this ego is all about. According to Chopra, falling in love is about journeying into the unknown and that is a “scary” place for our rational mind (ego) to go. The unpredictable nature of love stands in contrast to the ego’s desire to reason and rationalize. The ego seeks to avoid pain and does so by weighing the id impulses against the superego’s understanding of societal values and morals. Love desires for us to surrender, but the ego cannot conceptualize surrender because it does not come across as “rational”. However, “Surrender is the door one must pass through to find passion” (Chopra, 1997).

As I reflect over my most recent experience with “love”, I have drawn the conclusion that it was neither pure nor true because it was tainted with an intrinsic need to protect my heart from the “unknown” variables associated with love. If I am to truly love, myself, and another spiritual being, I must relinquish my ego. While it supposedly serves to assist me in rationalizing the world around me, there are just some things that need not be rationalized—love for instance. Chopra notes that, “Getting to true love is a growth process, and the first requirement is to become aware of when you are not being true”. We are not being true to the Self (spirit) when we allow our ego to dominate our actions in the face of love. In an effort to maneuver through Chopra’s four phases of romance (featured below), I have decided to Le’Go My Ego!

  1. Attraction–choosing a person “to be smitten by”
  2. Infatuation—“the beloved becomes all-desirable and all-enveloping”
  3. Courtship—we are “wooed”
  4. Intimacy—“Through intimacy the union of two people begins to be played out in the real world rather than within an isolated psyche”

The patterns in my “love life” have shown that I tend to get so far as the Courtship phase and then the relationship begins to crumble. I am going to venture to say that the crumbling is a result of not being true/honest about my feelings and perceptions. When true Intimacy began to surface, my ego pumped the brakes and I became fearful of sharing my Self.  My vice is my inability to communicate from the deep recesses of my heart, and this has led to many an unsuccessful attempt at love. Knowing and acknowledging this now is freeing me to experience the love that I have longed for. It is clear to me that, “The courtship phase succeeds to the extent that a man and woman can dismantle their defenses; it fails to the extent that they build new defenses together” and “Even the most intoxicating romance will not be able to overcome a history that places ego needs much higher than those of relationship” (Chopra, 1997).

Chopra on Courtship

  1. It brings together two people’s perceptions
  2. Is a tender stage where lovers decide to pursue a new reality or return to the old
  3. Is about speaking your heart to another; sharing your spirit (Self)
  4. Is a shared birth; an opportunity to exchange our innocence
  5. Where a new path (into the unknown) is created together; a path with no past
  6. Allows trust to grow despite old wounds

I know in my heart of hearts that I want a man in my life who will stand with me through the good and the bad. I cannot love and respect a man who flees at the slightest sight of danger and/or discomfort. By nature, I am a fighter and the next man I allow myself to fall in love with must too be a fighter. After all, “If survival is paramount in a dangerous world, two are better at it than one” (Chopra, 1997).

And The Truth Has Set Me Free

It takes maturity to, “…know when to hold ‘em/Know when to fold ‘em/Know when to walk away/Know when to run….”. Kenny Rogers made that very clear in his song, “The Gambler”. For the past two and a half weeks I have allowed my past to keep me emotionally bound. Today I received enlightenment and got back my power. Before today there was a glimmer of hope regarding the possibility of reconciliation with the man who had recently captivated my heart. Today, I see our truth with a clarity that I did not have the day before.

Last night, while speaking with a dear friend, she intoned that we (women) have a tendency of thinking we are the best person for the men whose lives we enter. Her words, powerful and true, pierced my heart because I had fallen prey to such patterns of thought time and time again—including this present moment. Despite the continuous arguing this man and I had done in the “last days”, I still felt like he should return to me because he will never find a woman to love him as deeply as me. While there may be truth to the depths of my love, that doesn’t mean that I am the best woman for this man (and vice versa). In reality, the past few weeks have been a mixture of feelings. One minute I wanted the man I loved to come to his senses and call me back to his heart. The next minute I wanted to forget his name and his remembrance in my own heart. Now however, I don’t feel one way or the other. Now, I have come to the realization that the man that I had “fallen” in love with was incapable of loving me to the degree (on the same frequency) on which I was currently living.

Unable to get him “out of my system,” I brought him up in today’s therapy session. I shared with Sarah that he had sent me an arbitrary email two days ago. I went on to point out that the sight of his name in my inbox sent waves through my spirit because it felt good to be thought about. But what I had failed to think about in those fleeting moments was that his reaching out to me in the past three weeks had been inconsistent and unemotional. There were random emails here and there, all with seemingly no depth. Before I could continue to relay my confusion with E, Sarah interjected.

“What was your relationship with your father like? I know it seems out of context, but I think it will bring you some insight.”

It took me a moment to gather my thoughts before I relayed my memories. “I followed my father around like a lost puppy. If he was out tinkering with something in the garage—his motorcycle or the lawnmower, I found a reason to be out there because I wanted to be in his presence. But he was never really around. I mean, he would come home from work and we’d all eat dinner at the table together, but after that he’d be in the family room watching television—usually Westerns—I hated Westerns, but I suffered through them because I wanted to be around him. Basically though, he was always gone—bowling, hunting, fishing, out with his motorcycle group. He wasn’t really around physically; he most certainly wasn’t around emotionally. We aren’t close. In all actuality there was a time when I called him out of a sense of responsibility. Over the years however, our relationship has developed and I call because I want to know how he’s doing.”

“It sounds like you didn’t get the attention you needed from him.”

“No,” I said in a somber tone.

Sarah responded with, “You see attention [from men] as a reward.”

Eureka. There it was–the source of my dis-ease, my dysfunctional way of relating to men had been borne from the lack of an emotional investment/connection from my father. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not pointing a finger of guilt at my father. I am merely acknowledging that the dysfunctional pattern of relating is tethered to a basic need that was never fulfilled in my childhood. No one is at fault. There is no blame to place. There is only forward progression into a future where healthy relationships and ways of relating exist.

That being said, the conversation went back to E. I went on to share with Sarah how I had expressed my dissatisfaction in our relationship in an email in mid-May. I noted how I didn’t feel that he included me in his plans. I also pointed out how visits from his female friends made me feel uncomfortable and devalued. Most noteworthy was the following paragraph where I shared how I wanted to be treated.

I deserve a man who is going to consider my feelings when he makes decisions.  I deserve a man who includes me in his life, not just when it’s convenient for him, but on a regular basis—either because he chooses to, or because he makes the sacrifice to do so.  I deserve to be treated with respect, to be honored and appreciated.  I am not asking for the world, but for the “simple things”.  I deserve to be with a man who isn’t trying to maintain the life of a single man while enjoying the privileges of a committed man.  Yes, each person in a relationship should have outside interests, but you can’t be committed to someone only when it’s convenient, or when it fits into your schedule.

It was at this point that Sarah drew a diagram of how she envisioned E’s idea of a “relationship” versus what I desired in a “partnership”.

Screenshot 2015-06-18 20.38.20

E’s way of relating involved a “me” and “you” mentality. My vision of relating served as a “partnership” where WE were on equal ground. It was becoming more and more clear that E was incapable of relating to me in the manner that I desired. He was incapable of including me in his decision-making. He didn’t see me as his equal. In a partnership two people are in tandem. In a partnership there is a sense of equality. In a partnership WE supersedes “you” and “me”.

It was making perfect sense that I had been making snarky remarks in the “last days” when I asked E (the Thursday before our relationship ended), “What are your plans for the weekend?” And his reply was, “I’m going to Orlando to see a friend.” Individuals in a partnership include one another in their plans. They consider their mates in decision-making. E’s inability to ask me to join him in Orlando was a clear indication that WE weren’t operating at the same relational frequency.

I sat there with a most pensive look on my face when Sarah very casually asked me, “Why do you love him?” I thought, what do you mean? Is this some kind of trick question? She continued, “Is it that you can say ‘I love the way you make me feel or I love the way I feel when I’m around you?’”

“Hold on I said. I need to write that down.” She repeated the phrase and I allowed it to penetrate my thoughts. “Any time a man showed some interest in me I would lose all sense of control.”

“It’s because you see their attention as a reward.”

The pattern was more and more clear. The dysfunction could no longer be masked. In that very moment I knew in my heart, in my spirit actually, that E was not the man for me, and I was not the woman for him. There was no longer a need to wonder about the possibility of reconciliation. He, in his pre-formed ways of relating to women, was incapable of loving me as I desired and deserved to be loved. So long as E had a “you” and “me” perspective for a “relationship”, he and I would continue to bicker and argue over the same things. I have finally accepted him as he is. E is not a bad person. He is simply a man whose way of relating does not match mine.

I leave you with scripture that has comforted me, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8: 32). The truth is truly freeing.