Diversifying Our Portfolio: Building Resilience and Equity

Wise financial advisors tell us to diversify our portfolio. It offers us long term benefits, reduces risk and increases the potential to perform in a changing market.  A fixed mind set with any bias for one type of investment over another can be our downfall. Everybody wants to prevent loss and increase their equity. After all, we invest in things that safeguard our future.

The same advice holds true when it comes to education. Except, in education we often work in silos. This makes it harder to diversify our portfolio. We get stuck investing in the same old approach. Sometimes we make decisions based on bias or we refuse opportunities to broaden our reach. The notion of building resilience and equity is interesting, but we want to know how resilience and equity influence our potential to perform. How does diversifying our approach lower personal risk and help us obtain long term benefits?

We also cling to the feeling of being an expert. Academics zoom in close and can conduct important investigations but when we have to collaborate with others outside our discipline, we get rude and impatient. Our nomenclature and our language just don’t translate. Schools are organized by subject and asking the algebra teacher to teach reading and writing or the art teacher to sub chemistry can lead to anarchy.

For these reasons, when I talk about combining mindfulness and social justice in education in order to diversify our approach and increase potential, I get resistance. I am learning how hard it is to communicate why going hybrid can be a wise investment.

We all want schools that are safe, inclusive, intellectually stimulating, creative and well-resourced. But how are we going to do this unless we work together and consider the problems holistically? We need to address the overwhelming stress and anxiety attached to schooling. We need to be intentional about personal and social awareness, teach compassion and  intercultural competence. We also need to understand the inequitable distribution of resources and learn how to advocate. Most importantly, we need to understand how social-emotional well-being leads to academic achievement. Safe, inclusive, intellectually stimulating learning environments build trust, foster engagement, promote critical thinking, improve skills in problem solving, encourage invention and curiosity.

That said, diversifying our portfolio or investing in a hybrid model can feel both exhilarating and scary. How will this move improve my situation? How will this approach benefit the climate? These are important questions to ask. Another  important question is: Will I enjoy the process?

Infusing our teaching with mindfulness techniques and social justice pedagogy is fun and life changing. When you decide to go rogue and start driving over those dreadful lines, you will begin to see the world (and the road ahead of you) with new eyes. For example, many mindfulness folks talk about Yoga and meditation. However, for some individuals like athletes, rock stars, gamers, and so on– the idea of sitting still for too long in silence or doing yoga in a studio sounds ridiculous. What happens when we start to talk about the role of movement and stillness in our lives? When we talk about discipline and the shape of our body, when we talk about stretching and breathing before a challenging exercise? We begin to expand our reach into diversified territory. Just this week, I learned about Bomba meditation! Bomba is a traditional dance and music style that originates out of Puerto Rico. Those who practice seriously describe it to be a way to reach a meditative state.

How are we moving into that sacred space where we go egoless and free? Are we sitting legs crossed or are we chanting, dancing or drumming?

For Working Class, Mindfulness is a Gimmick

When I called my colleague and told him the title of my new book, he told me I had sold out. Sold out? I snapped. I’ve been unemployed for years, while you’re sitting easy in a tenured teacher position. He snickered and told me to calm down.

Yesterday, they towed my ten-year-old car away after it was declared totaled. I was rear ended by a huge GMC over Labor Day weekend. We’d been praying the car would last another year. My part time job and husband’s salary doesn’t cover our bills. Every day debt and ‘fear of falling’ are snowballing. When the insurance man gives me the bad news, I get so angry and shaky I give him a piece of my mind—fulness.

There are mindfulness people selling their books and working the circuit. Social Justice people are doing their thing. The words are academic and their jobs appear safe and secure, to me. I scoff and say they are all part of the establishment, while I crank out another resume.

Teachers and other workers, who are part of the disappearing middle class are right to be careful. They say they will try these practices out. Whatever you want and need from me, I’ll do it. I just want to know if I will get home  in time to be with my kids. Some of this stuff does work, they think. Oh, yes! Yoga and social emotional learning is a beautiful thing.  Equity, absolutely! Teachers are in the business of changing the world, one mind, one student at a time, one yoga class, one day of mindfulness at a time.

I talk to the field inspector who has my puny check. I ask him if he’s heard of mindfulness. He’s not sure, he says, isn’t that something to do with paying attention? Yes, I say and we look at each other inquisitively. We are standing in the middle of the street. I ask him what he knows about yoga, or meditation. He says, yea, I know about that, I’ve been doing those things my whole life. Really? Yea, I do martial arts, it’s the same thing. How’s that? He goes on to explain that martial arts is about the mind-body, discipline and focus. I’m impressed. Do you think martial arts has anything to do with mindfulness? I don’t know, does it? I ignore the question and ask, what about spirituality? I don’t know, he says, I guess it depends on the teacher. He shifts his weight and I know he has to leave.

Sometimes, I think words, like a webpage, put us in a bubble, an illusion, dividing us from each other, keeping us lost in some abstract notion of who we are that rarely has anything to do with reality. Most of us are working class people, thinking about bread and butter issues. We don’t have time and money to keep up with the inner circle where academic words, book contracts, networking and research grants mean anything. Outside, on the street, in the working class world, saying things like mindful practice for social justice just sounds ridiculous. People just want to know if I have a job, what organization I belong to or what school.

Mindfulness Starts at Home. Then Social Justice

“The way to experience newness, is to realize that this moment, this very point in your life, is always the occasion. So the consideration of where you are, and what you are, on the spot, is very important. That is one reason that your family situation, your domestic everyday life is so important. You should regard your home as sacred, as a golden opportunity to experience newness.” 

~Chögyam Trungpa

In the past, I traveled a lot for work. I enjoyed being on the road. I felt free. I had meals prepared for me and the cleaning was taken care of by a staff I could not see. I focused on my work, my thinking, my Self, my needs. I loved my work so I thought this is what it means to be happy. Even when my neck started hurting and my back ached from too much traveling, I accepted it, as part of business.

When my work contract ended, I found myself stuck at home. It was hard to adjust. Even though I was writing and job hunting, my daily routine featured shopping, cleaning, carpooling, cooking, care taking, walking alone. I became the master of our home. I noticed every lint, every dropping. I bought mop heads and knew when my neighbors were coming and going.

Domestic life felt oppressive and ordinary. I don’t remember when it happened, but I remember feeling I had lost my identity.

I felt disconnected from the world. I felt unseen. Less useful suddenly.

People around me seemed to be working on important projects, teaching and traveling, attending conferences, fighting for social justice, saving the planet.

One day, in my research, I came across a Buddhist writer and philosopher Chögyam Trungpa. He wrote about how mindfulness and building an enlightened society start at home. I found this very hard to understand. And even harder to put into practice.

How can shopping, washing the dishes enlighten me, make me feel at peace, make me happy? How can my life at home, with my family, cultivate world peace?

It has been almost two years living a home life. I have learned that mindfulness requires discipline, time and trust. I read and reread, read and reread wisdom writings and traditions and practice meditation and contemplation daily. I join a Sangha occassionally but mostly it’s just me, on an island, listening and grappling with the now, and the very, very ordinary reality.

It has taken me a long time to find calm. And even calm is temporary. I have begun to see how patience and compassion does grow. Awareness of the details matter. I find that in every wrong, I have been there. And the wrongs that I am still unaware, repeat over and over again until I see myself in them, and then I am sad again realizing that all along, I am the misfit, that we are all misfits, and shy of it, and that I am the carrier of every wrong, of every pain and how can I do better?  Understanding and forgiveness is in the Self first, and then knowing that you are the mirror image of every human being, and then multiply that by society.

What is a detail? Each detail is a small view of the bigger picture of the world. Like discovering the simplicity and complexity of a snowflake. One single snowflake in the world of snow. Think about that.

Now, with all this time and space around me, I think about those years on the road. Eating and living in hotels. People cooking and cleaning and taking care me so that I could be an intellectual, thinking and busy.

In some strange way, I have found new meaning for the words, social justice, freedom and fairness. Thinking about how sometimes it is time to say, “Now, it is your turn.” or “Now, it is my turn.”

My turn to make life easier for other people, like my husband and children. Every day they have to go out there to work, commuting on the train. They work, go to school, navigate the real world— which is too often callous and cold and too busy to be sensitive to their needs.

I am beginning to think differently about not having and suffering. About waiting. About what we value in life and society. How we assign worth and status to some jobs, how the traditional woman’s work in the home, is never valued enough. How we need to be compassionate and careful in our treatment of others, who are busy or not busy enough.

How sometimes we have to live it and breathe it before we understand desolation, anxiety, hunger, despair, forgiving.

Isn’t this mindfulness and its relationship to social justice—when we become aware of who we are, outside our role, our helplessness, our vulnerability, and that wheel of fortune turning and turning? Where it stops nobody knows. Isn’t that the beginning of compassion and treating each other with dignity?