why i sit

I sit.

Intentionally.

In silence.

(4/365) concentration, meditation, contemplationIt is certainly not because I’m a calm, balanced person who lives devoutly among the pure and the pious. Nor it is because I exude self-discipline. Far from it. Sitting started out simply as my way to overcome the overwhelm, to quell the tsunami of thoughts and lower my oft-rampant heart rate for a sense of overall well-being. It was basically a physical solution to a spiritual problem.  But that has transformed into something more akin to falling down the rabbit hole where the experience has become curiouser and curiouser. While I still get the physical benefits of habitual stillness, my sitting has become a time when I explore previously unknown landscapes and meet the oddest characters who mostly exist inside my own head.

Body-Speak

I sit to notice my body.

Physically, the act of sitting provides an experience of grounding and being firmly rooted to one spot.  From here, there is room to build capacity to get out of my head and notice my bodily sensations. It may be a subtle sensation of discomfort especially if I’m sitting for an extended period of time, or perhaps tightness in one shoulder, a stiffness in a joint or a blunt lack of sensation in one area. During a typical day of non-stop mental information tennis, this quiet time of softens the mind-noise enough to allow me to be keenly aware of my body’s innate wisdom.

Feeling-Talk

I sit to feel the feelings.

The feelings could be connected to my body’s messages or they could be left-over feelings that had never been given permission to be expressed.  Isn’t that the point of feelings? To be felt?  Not all the feelings that come up are easy so I sit with whatever comes up and resist the urge to label the feelings “good” or “bad”. I notice the feelings then give into the fullness of their expression. A gratitude, a sorrow, a desire or even a dark numbness are acknowledged.  The practice is to hold both difficult feelings and the sense of ease and grounded-ness that sitting provides as a balancing act of surrender and release.

Story-Time

I sit to listen to the stories.

I love a good story.  I’m a stubborn idealist with an imaginative flair for dramatic detail so talk about walking the smooth path to self-delusion.  I can rant, rage and rationalize with the best of them.  But I have found that there is absolutely no light at the end of that alliteration tunnel. The mind-stories where I repeatedly have a starring role are fun for a creative outlet but definitely not so useful for living life on purpose and wide awake. Sitting often enough helps me to recognize the stories penned in fear and dread, to unravel the foggy plot-lines from the intricate web of physical sensations, emotions and to recognize the way things actually are.  That is the work. Unremarkable, hard work.

Work that frees.  Releases.  Softens.

And work that begins with sitting.

Just sitting.

Meditation Rock 2

repeat after me

Real learning happens most often and effectively in light of:

1)  Danger

2)  Personal relevance

3)  Repetition

I heard this years ago at a professional development day for teachers and it has helped me tremendously in supporting students with working memory challenges for whom repetition becomes a most dependable academic ally.

I guess it makes sense, doesn’t it?

A toddler who burns himself on something hot will most likely learn quickly not to touch. But what is learned in school is rarely dangerous enough to tattoo less-then-fascinating course content on even the most impressionable of minds.  Second only to that is how infrequently the course work is personally relevant to students from their viewpoint, at least.  Even as adults, we  learn more quickly when we are even vaguely interested in a subject.

That leaves repetition.  The broken record of life.

.broken.

How else did you first learn your phone number when you were old enough to travel further than your front yard?  Or memorize the multiplication tables?   Or cajole your parents into buying you something you wanted at the grocery store with an endless ‘please, please, pleeeeease!’?  Or be able to sing the theme song lyrics to every 70’s-80’s sitcom?  “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have…” repetition.

But is that all there is?  Just repetition?  Where’s the passion?  Where’s the drama of learning in the theater of life?  Where’s the curiosity to explore unknown cognitive landscapes?  The getting high on vibrating cerebral connectors that are firing on all cylinders and that glorious ‘aha’ moment?  And how on earth do I inspire my students with the richness of being open to seeing things in a new way with the dull mantra of “shampoo, rinse, repeat“.

A few years back I tackled a physically, emotionally and mentally draining certification process to become a yoga instructor and I was amazed at how often repetition played a key role.  Besides making flash cards to memorize the Sanskrit names for all the poses, it was actually doing the yoga poses again and again and again that was beneficial on so many levels.  Most significantly, it was how the physical repetition ingrained the poses into our bodies’ memories.  It was as if our cells would know precisely what to do in Trikonasana even if the light of our brain was extinguished due to a middle-aged brain-freeze moment or an actual coma. Well, maybe not a coma!  It was a simple yet potent reminder of the power of repetition.

Flash-cards

As it is with work, relationships or our work-out routines so it is with even our greatest passions.  Sometimes it comes down to basic repetition.  Mastery of the moment. The practice of presence that happens in this moment, then this one, then the next and so on.

So even when repetition is the task, I can still inspire passionate learning in the young minds who have no choice but to listen to me go on and on repetitively about things that move me and that I think are monumentally important to them. Colour me relieved.

I have seen the power of intentional repetition and recognize its ability to build a more resilient memory and eventual mastery.  And, I have just discovered that this is precisely what I’ll share with my next batch of unsuspecting students.  Lucky them!

Cue the eye-rolling.

 

Eye Roll

 

 

 

 

a mindful student’s guide to stress relief

 

Mid-term mania is sweeping through high school hallways like a mid-autumn tropical storm.

Research shows that the adolescent brain is not quite done ‘baking’ yet and is very much still in the developmental stage, so teens cope with stress much differently than adults.  Add an over-commitment to activities in and out of the classroom, teacher and parental expectations for consistently self-regulated behaviour and the increasing pressure on teens to figure out their future plans and you’ve got the makings of the perfect storm.

Fear not, oh overwhelmed adolescent!   Not only does it get better as you get older, there are strategies that can help you weather the high winds and choppy seas of high school life.

 

student_in_tilburg_centrum_mei_2008_cc

 

NAME IT

Name what is actually happening.  Don’t rationalize, blame or give the power to change your situation over to anyone else.  Stand up.  It’s your choice.

Right now, I choose to procrastinate. Instead of taking even a tiny step forward, I am distracting myself from the discomfort of having too much to do with other things like friends, electronics, music or just zoning out to temporarily help me create the illusion that I have nothing to do.  I choose a temporary fix over a long-term solution.

My expectations are much higher than is reasonable and is rooted in my need to please everyone, to be accepted and to prove my worth to those around me. I choose to keep thinking in this concrete way even though I know, at some level, my value is not connected to how well I perform.

I am attached to this heightened level of panic because it is what I know and I am only  comfortable when there is some drama and chaos.  Plus, it also gives me an excuse as to why my performance and achievement is well below my capability.   

Naming it may not be pretty.  But it is potent and is always your choice.  By taking responsibility for what is really happening and not blaming others, you will become free and more empowered.  Since you are responsible then you can not be a victim to an external source.  Taking responsibility give you all the power to change things and make a difference.

 


NUMBER IT

On a scale of 1-10, rate your current stress level.  We all know a little stress is okay and, for the most part, manageable. But how much is too much?

Level 10 would be the hyperventilating, off-the-charts panic mode when the sound of your heart beating wildly in your ears drowns out all other noises.  Overwhelming anxiety, irrational fears and phobias showing up, and being mentally frozen or unable to act could be possible signs of this level of stress.  Save Level 10 when your life is danger.  In my experience, no one has died writing or even failing a math test.

Level 7 is not a bad place to be during times of evaluation like tests, exams or a performance of some kind but it is definitely not a desirable place to live, work and play every day.  Staying at this level consistently could easily lead to emotional, mental and physical dis-ease.  You need to go lower.

Level 4 is quite comfortable, bordering on relaxing, but with just enough energy to get things done.  This is more like it.

Level 1 is like a quiet, restful slumber that seems to only come when you are on summer holidays and you know you have no tests or assignments due the next day so can sleep in as long as you want.

Notice your stress level throughout the day and become aware when it begins to crawl ever-upwards.  Once you know where you tend to live, you can intentionally level out to a healthier, more functional place.

 

Student in Starbucks, Fremont Seattle

 

LEVEL IT

The best strategy to help you to quickly bring down your stress level to a healthier number is deep, belly breathing.  You can also try other relaxation techniques that work well for you, exercise, yoga, meditation or calming music. The benefit of focused, deep breathing is that is accessible wherever and whenever you need it.  It so simple to do and the results are powerful, predictable and grounding.

Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Take deep, smooth, belly breaths.  Evenly inhale and exhale allowing your lower belly to expand like a balloon and contract with each breath.  Do this slowly 3-5 times.  Check in with your level.  If you are still floating up to any number beyond 5, then repeat.  Practicing this type of calming breathing regularly in non-stressful times will make it more automatic and have a greater impact during times of stress.

 

RE-FRAME IT

Visualize yourself stress-free and living large at a Level 4.  What does it look like?  How do you feel?

What is working in your life right now and already fits with that picture of what you want your life to look like?

Are the thoughts that you are having true and useful?  Is your thinking distorted with over-generalizations, blaming or catastrophizing?  And which thoughts are cleverly distorted to match the story you keep telling yourself where doom is the only outcome.

What steps have you tried already to change the situation from stressed and striving to calm and thriving?  Did they work?  Why or why not?

Where else could you go for support?

How can you break down your tasks to their smaller, bite-sized portions? Checking things off your to-do list is energizing and smaller tasks mean more chances to check!  And how does doing this impact your level of stress?

What itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny tiny step could I do RIGHT NOW to start?  Take three deep breaths?  Make a list?  Ask for help?  Be grateful for what is going well?  Name the situation courageously where you are responsible?  Notice your level as you take one step.

 

GROUND IT

Now that you can visualize what a stress-free ‘you’ looks like, recall a time when it was true.  When was the last time you felt amazingly at ease, comfortable, relaxed and in charge of your own life?  It could be as recent as the beginning of the school year when you vowed to stay on top of things.  Or maybe you have to go back a few years when life seemed simpler.

After you have a mental picture of the way your life looked and how you felt back then, find some token to reflect that important memory. It could be a picture, an object, an action, some music or whatever else will remind you of the experience of being at peace. When you find your stress level inching higher, remember your grounding token. Hold it, look at it, listen to it do the action that reminds you to settle and breathe deeply.

 

Student

 

Stress is unavoidable but managing it is a life-long skill that takes practice and is worth every moment you commit to doing just that.

Start now. Take a deep breath and choose to take that first step to managing your own mania!

 

 

coming out crazy

 

The first time I encountered Billy Bob Thornton, he was portraying a cool and edgy, zen-like character in a great little film called “Pushing Tin” alongside the engagingly manic, John Cusack. They had great on-screen chemistry as apparently Thornton also had with his other co-star, Angelina Jolie.  Billy Bob intrigued me enough in that flick to convince me to watch “Sling Blade”, “Daddy and Them”, “Monster’s Ball” and “Bandits”. I’ll admit that by that point, I was slowly becoming bit of a fan.

But it wasn’t until I read an article where he publicly admitted to having a few OCD-type characteristics that included some truly odd fears and phobias that my fan status grew to a genuine fondness for the guy.

In the interview, Thornton described his fear of antiques and how he would seriously get the creeps around especially heavy furniture types of antiques.  I love this!  Here is this multi-talented character who acts, writes, performs music and who presumably successfully takes care of his daily business despite getting severely weirded-out at the sight some dusty Louis XV chair.

For some reason, this revelation made me smile then and still does now. I feel a sense of lightness and liberation for him and much more hopeful for me.  And I wonder if his wonderful off-centeredness significantly informs his creativity and his life? Likely.  Or is there a chance that his oddness also  negatively impacts his ability to create thriving relationships since he’s been married five times? Maybe.

I was recently at a friend’s house and he asked if I would be offended if he rinsed the bottle of wine I had brought before he uncorked it.  I wasn’t offended in the least and delightfully asked if that was one of his things.  He smiled.  No pretense.  Just resonance.  How great is it that even my friends have things?

Perhaps some my of own quirks would be more useful if they were set free from the mental safe-boxes where I have been in the habit of keeping them hidden. Well, where I like to imagine I keep them hidden. Anyone who has met me knows that they’re as easy to see as an obnoxious bumper sticker on the back of a beat-up family van.  And would opening that Pandora’s box, to more than just those in my closest circle, clear a path towards radical self-acceptance?  Accepting all aspects of myself?

Imagine that.  Accepting all of it.  What freedom could come from that level of acceptance? What pretenses could be dropped?  Rationalizations rejected?  And what creativity and passion could be ignited, as a result?

This following short list of my idiosyncrasies would never land me in a safe haven where belts and shoelaces are not permitted, but it definitely creates a personality profile of one who significantly fixates. In reading my list, you are free to smile, cringe or resonate.

Here goes:

    • Whenever I arrive late for work, I absolutely have to balance the universal scales by clocking in even more office time than had been originally missed by arriving late.
    • I must let my dishes dry on the dish-rack because leaving them there to air-dry is the visual reminder I need to prove that I have accomplished something that day in an attempt to reach my own daily productivity quota.
    • All my clocks are intentionally set 7 -10 minutes fast to feed my punctuality addiction.  And no, in the rush of a workday morning, I don’t even think to make last-minute mental time adjustments to give myself more time even though I know I have more time than it appears.  This means I regularly arrive a minimum of 5-10 minutes early to ease my minor discomfort around even the possibility of being late.
    • I cannot bear to see more than a few unread emails in my inbox and will definitely not allow it to ever go to double digits. The bolded number in brackets signifying how many emails are still unread functions as a neon sign flashing the news of unfinished work.  As well as the expectation that others might be waiting for a response from me.
    • When driving, I attempt get as many places as absolutely possible without turning left.  I have nothing against all things ‘left’ but turning right is just simpler and significantly less stressful for me even if means going a bit farther out of my way.

Is that enough? Should I keep going?

Perhaps that’s enough nuttiness for the moment. And maybe coming out crazy might make you smile (or just cringe) or even encourage you to discover a similar desire for some self-revealing liberation for yourself.

And now I can go on my way, released from the need to pretend I have it all together and get on with being okay with the way things are.

Your turn.  Go nuts!  Heaven knows, Billy Bob and I certainly won’t judge you.