on Tuesday, February 22, 2011 comments (6)
Little Energy Workers
Early on, I taught them energy visualizations, very similar to the ones I shared in my posts a while back in my Meditation for Moms series. I wanted to give their active minds something to focus on other than just sitting quietly, which just wasn’t going to happen at this stage. We’d begin with grounding, then we’d choose a color and run energy, and finally, skipping the chakra focus, we’d move right into protecting our energy. Though they started out squirrely, once they accepted that this was a daily event, they soon began to relax into it. Some shared that they were trying this at home before bed or when they wanted to calm themselves down. Though I didn’t have 100% full participation each day, most of the kids were on board with it most days. This was encouraging, and I believe our morning ritual contributed to how quickly we were able to transform our classroom dynamic.
Stillness in First Grade??
More recently, I’ve been revisiting some Eckhart Tolle talks, and those, coupled with a wonderful children’s book called Peaceful Piggy Meditation by Kerry Lee MacLean, inspired me to try shifting our classroom meditation practice toward stillness, presence, and silence. The results of my first attempt at this were stunning! After reminding them of proper postures and inviting them to close their eyes, I rang a little chime to begin our practice. I softly encouraged them to feel the cool air coming into their nose, and to feel the warmth as they exhaled. After a few slow breaths, I invited them to focus on the words “just” on the inhalation, and “this” on the exhalation. The energy of the room began to settle.
After a few rounds of “just … this,” I asked them to bring their awareness to the silence between the sounds for a few moments. That’s when the energy of the room shifted dramatically. I opened my eyes to check it out. All eyes were closed; the children were peaceful, relaxed and focused. It felt as if a giant magnet was under the floor of our room, and our bottoms were made of metal. All of the random energy and thoughts were like little metal shavings being sucked out of the air around us and pulled to the earth. They stayed like this for close to one minute. That’s a long time for 19 first and second graders! Some could have gone much longer if left on their own.
I hit the chime to end our practice, inviting them to listen to the sound until it had completely faded, and then they opened their eyes. The children remained in this still, alert state, and I asked them to share how they felt. They shared words like peaceful, calm, focused, joyful, relaxed, and happy. We sang our good morning song and then, as I took attendance, each child shared one word to set their intention for the kind of day they’d like to create for themselves. I love listening to what they say, “Creative, exciting, happy, joyful, easy-going, love-full, focused,” and so on. It’s beautiful.
This is our 15-minute morning meeting, and it’s how we begin each day together.
Making it Their Own
We’ve been doing this stillness meditation for the past three weeks. Last week, we decided to put a sign up outside our door that said, “Meditation in progress. Please wait here,” so that kids who arrived late wouldn’t disrupt our meditation. On the first day of the new sign, I heard a little kerfuffle of multiple voices outside the door just as we were settling into our meditation. “Darn!” I thought to myself, “I should have added ‘Please be quiet’ to the sign, too. They’re still going to distract us.” We continued our meditation, and I discovered we were not being distracted by any noise. Had they left?
When we finished, I opened the door to find five girls grinning ear to ear, eager to tell me that they’d done their own meditation outside. “We even clinked our water bottles together for the chime!”
It was gratifying to see how much they valued this practice; that meditating would supersede chit-chatting with their friends when no teacher was around. Maybe it’s just habit now, but I’d like to think it goes deeper than that; that they want that stillness and silence, that calming sensation in their bodies. But, even if it is just habit, I can’t think of a better one to be forming at this age.
How about your thoughts? Have you tried meditating with your own kids or students? How would you feel about your own children meditating at school? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
on Wednesday, February 16, 2011 comments (13)
This is a post in two parts. It should probably be two separate posts, but I’m on a roll. I did not optimize this for search engines and I didn’t include engaging pictures. I wrote it for you, my (former) regular readers, as a way of reconnecting with you after my extended absence. It’s kind of long. I hope you’ll hang with me, anyway, and share your thoughts in the comments.
Part 1 – Coming out of Hibernation
Part 2 – Brene’ Brown’s Inspiration
Coming out of Hibernation
I haven’t written since October. Something had to give when I returned to teaching full time, and writing was what I reluctantly chose to set aside. Unlike a four-year-old, I reasoned, writing ideas can be left untended for a few months. However, like a four-year-old, those ideas can continue to pester until they get their way, no matter how skillfully I try to redirect them.
“But I’m writing at work,” I told myself. “The two or three reflective essays I send out to parents each week should suffice for my creative outlet.”
The writing crossed its arms, shook its head, and said, “No, that’s not the same.” It kept poking at me. “Hey… hey … hey …! Write something. Write something on your blog.”
“Hush up!” I scolded. “Can’t you see I’m so, so busy?”
Though it was partly a matter of limited time, I knew it was more than that. After my span of inactivity, I didn’t really know where to begin. Being back in a classroom with vibrant, diverse youngsters had caused me to rethink the focus of this blog. I lost track of why I felt it was so important to write about this one aspect of sensitivity in some children, in the face of the larger concept of childhood, in general, and how we protect and nurture creativity, imagination, self-respect, and compassion in our small ones. My interests had returned to the broader discussion of how we socialize and educate masses of young people for better or worse in our society.
This was a much bigger topic.
It was easier to write about Lucas’ conversations with the fairies. I think this has to do mainly with my own sense of emotional safety. After all, who could argue with my own experiences with my own child? If I began writing about educational philosophy and approaches - which impact other people’s children - I was sure to encounter contradictory points of view. How would I handle that? Could I engage in debate with grace and understanding? Might I get pedantic and rigid in my assertions? Might my ego send me off on a wild goose chase? Alternately, would anyone care? Would anyone even read my posts?
Fear. Vulnerability. This is what has kept me from writing.
Which brings me to part 2 …
Brene’ Brown’s Inspiration
My dear friend, Nanci, shared this TED talk with me this week, and it hit a wake-up nerve. When you’re done reading this post, I sincerely encourage you to watch it. It’s funny, entertaining, and honest. It’s the reason I’m writing today.
Brene’ Brown is a researcher in the field of social work, and in this talk she shares insights from her six-year study of what’s behind our human experience of belonging and connection, and what gets in the way. She ultimately determined that the only difference between people who experienced belonging and connection and those who didn’t, was that those who experienced it believed they deserved it, and the others didn’t. That was it. (Wow!)
She then undertook a deep study of just those who had the belief that they deserved connection and belonging, (she called them “the wholehearted”) and found that the key thing they had in common was vulnerability – the willingness to be seen exactly as they are. This vulnerability turns out to be the key to connection and belonging. Anyway, really, you should watch this. It’s riveting, and I’m not doing it justice here.
So I sat with this and wondered why it touched me so deeply. At school, I’m not vulnerable at all. I’m responsible, of course, for my class. Being a strong, positive presence provides security and safety for the children. I’m a leader-of-sorts among our staff. We are a start-up school with a lot of room to grow, so I’ve taken it upon myself to research curriculum options and philosophies, pilot new programs, and generally help organize things that need organizing. I may have the respect of my colleagues, but connection and belonging? I’m not quite there. In light of Brown’s work, how could I be? I’m too busy keeping it all together.
At home, I’m not as vulnerable as I could be, either. There are things and people to be taken care of with what little energy I have left at the end of the day. It’s hard to slow down enough to be present, to share my true self with my husband and my son. If I fall apart, it will all fall apart. At least that’s the false belief, so I plug on.
Until I don’t.
Is it surprising that I’ve been sick for the better part of the last three months?
I know that my immune system tanks when my emotions are out of balance. It’s been a nasty cold and flu season, and it seems I’ve been susceptible to every strain coming through my class. Even between illnesses, though, when I slowed down long enough to feel, I have felt a sort of emotional sickness, a disconnection with life. I wondered if it was depression. I knew I needed to ramp up my meditation practice, but somehow lacked the motivation to actually pull it off. I knew I needed to exercise, but I kept getting sick. Good excuse.
It wasn’t until I watched Brene’ Brown’s TED talk that it occurred to me that I was creating my own little disconnected hell by not giving myself the opportunity to experience connection and belonging through vulnerability. In a follow-up email, Nanci (the one who shared the video with me) wrote that her way of practicing vulnerability and wholeheartedness was through acting, and she asked me what creative endeavor I might use to exercise my vulnerability.
It actually took me a few times re-reading her email for a thought to dawn on me. What finally settled into the cracks was that writing had been my way of being vulnerable, and through that vulnerability, I had been experiencing a form of connection and belonging which mattered tremendously, even though it was via comments and emails in the virtual world. Leaving writing out of my life wasn’t such a balanced or healthy idea after all.
So, while I’m home sick from work today, I am healing my emotional body by writing and sharing myself with whoever cares to read. It feels good. I hope to continue to make time for writing, somehow. You can expect it to be more focused on education than about Lucas and sensitive children. I hope you’ll still be interested. At some point, I’ll reorganize the blog so it fits the new focus, but for now, I just needed to write.
Here's the video for you to watch!