If you’re wondering what mindfulness is really about

Mindfulness is really about love. Love and creativity. I know these are foolish, simple words for me to say these days, but sometimes it’s the oldest, most overused picture book in the library that speaks the truth, generation after generation.

When we choose the practice of mindfulness coupled with a daily, contemplative discipline like meditation, we are cultivating our capacity to love. Mindfulness is love in action, so to speak. Learning to love yourself and love others. It is really very simple. Love is always creative. From love, life is born.

The three essential components of mindfulness meditation are Time, Space and Energy. Learning mindfulness is about learning the function and interrelationship between each of these three alchemies.

Time. When we give anything in life a regular dose of sanctioned time, we communicate value, concern, and care. We spend time with those we love, we spend time with our life’s work. The amount of time we give or receive radically transforms our perspective. Over time we grow old and wise. When we are present, time is eternity.

Space. When we provide ample space for something unknown to exist, we are opening the door of possibility. When we are full or constrained whether it be physically or in thought, there is no room for novelty and expansion. When we declutter the space, starting with our mind, we are inviting the whole world in.

Energy. Life requires energy. We learn to metabolize energy wisely in order to survive. Choosing a natural source of energy is best, because it does not cause harm to others or the planet. Through sustained focus and understanding the field of energy vibrations that connect us to the earth and each other, we increase our potential.

Mindfulness is about putting these natural components into action. It is very equitable because we are all equipped! We can learn how this formula is applied in life and in nature.

Instead of love, some might call the result of this magic consciousness. In the end, it is all the same. Conscious loving awareness. We love deeply when we know. We expand ourselves and learn to generate this primordial warmth and compassion all around us.

In education, we don’t want to talk about mindfulness being about putting love into action. We’ve been socialized to believe that love is subjective, immaterial, and non-academic. Do we really need love to teach mathematics? Do we need love to succeed? That is why we are failing our children and the planet. In all excellent schools, in all excellent families, putting love into action is central to everything.

A teacher says “I love my students.” What is she saying exactly? Should we question her integrity? Do we think she is lacking in judgment and right selectivity? Perhaps love makes her biased and she cannot assess her students accurately. These are all important questions.

Love can be an illusory love, an egotistical and blinding experience. It is possible to lose clarity and balance. This is all part of the human condition! The universe is very clever! So, yes. We must be careful and vigilant, even when it pertains to how we put love into action! We must remain innocent and critical of our own practice.

Discipline is required and a guided contemplative practice, such as meditation, must be applied regularly to our lives and our practice in education. We must share our practice with others so that we can see ourselves and our work through their eyes. That is why we need each other, so we can see the world as a whole.

We can lead our mindfulness work with this understanding. That mindfulness is about love and creativity. Sometimes foolish, simple words are what we need.

love

 

 

 

Teaching Freedom with Limits

The Vietnamese monk and master teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote: “It is an illusion that we are free…”

Koan: A statement, a saying, an act or gesture that can bring to an understanding of the truth. Also, a tool used to educate a disciple.

In my early morning sleep, I had this dream. I had arrived ten minutes late to my lecture and found two students entwined on a chair. They were in love. One had a shaven head, torn denim jeans and scruff. Their posture didn’t alarm me, but I had to think quickly how to untangle them. I knew that if I mishandled the situation, they would not engage fully in the lesson. With a light but firm voice, I told one to get off, and I gestured to a nearby chair. I said, setting limits defines you, gives you character and identity. It does not mean you do not love or that you are not free; it simply reveals who you are and how you express your individuality. Let me show you, I said.

I walked to the front of the room and found a large, piece of white construction paper and a pair of scissors. By this point, the young man had moved to his own chair and was listening intently. I held the construction paper up for everyone to see. This paper is blank and free of any writing or drawing, I said. It is completely open to possibility. It is beautiful, yes, to look at a blank sheet of paper like this, like a canvas with infinite, creative potential? Now, let us see what happens.

With the scissors, I began to cut into the paper. Slowly and with great care and precision, I carved out a figure of a man, with long arms and legs and broad shoulders. When I was done, I held up the cutout for the whole room to see. He too is beautiful, isn’t he? A unique and curious character has been born, and he is looking for a name to call himself. You see what I have done here? Without the limits I have imposed upon this blank sheet, carving out form with precise snips, this bold, young man would not exist. He would remain invisible and unnoticed.

It is right to experience freedom without limits in meditation. That is why the practice is essential. In the real world, however, in the material world, we define ourselves, and make our mark. In other words, we learn we are ‘cut out’ to give meaning and definition to human existence. Invisibility is good, yes, and so is partaking with others. Setting limits and applying discipline help us share spaces and adapt to social situations. When we do it mindfully, with consciousness, we are not losing freedom, or authenticity. We are still very much beautiful and simple, like that open canvas. We are just sharing it with others. In this way, we can learn from them. In this way, we discover happiness.

In order to explore this concept of Freedom with Limits further, I encourage you to try this activity with a small, professional learning community.

Shared Freedom Activity
Purpose: To explore the notion of freedom with limits; to increase awareness of how we adapt ourselves in group situations
Overview: A group of three people simultaneously cut out an image of themselves onto one piece of paper
  1. You will need a large piece of construction paper, scissors for each person, a timer and a group of three people
    • Sit comfortably in a circle, close enough for each person to hold the paper
  2. Have someone volunteer to be the timekeeper, and go over the instructions
    • Each person will cut out a full-length image of themselves, working at the same time
    • Do not let the cut-outs fall out of the paper. In other words, there should be one whole paper design holding the figures in place at the end
  3. Before starting, take a few minutes to contemplate the intention of the activity: Shared Freedom. Set the timer for 3 min
    • An intention directs your attention and energy to an outcome. The outcome is typically a disposition, virtue or state of being
    • Sometimes, we connect an intention to a particular problem we want to solve, such as how to resolve a conflict with a student, boss or colleague. An intention of this nature would take the form of a statement such as “By contemplating shared freedom, I can learn how to work more effectively with my team.”
  4. Each person picks up the scissors at the same time and starts cutting. Set the timer for 10 min.
  5. After the timer goes off, reflect individually in writing, or discuss with the group the following questions:
    • How did it feel to engage in this activity?
    • What challenges did you encounter?
    • How did you negotiate with each other?
    • How did the end product turn out?
    • What did you learn about the nature of freedom with limits?

*A portion of this post, as well as the format, was adapted from my forthcoming book, Mindful Practice for Social Justice: A Guide for Educators and Professional Learning Communities, Routledge, April, 2019.

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References

Deshimaru, T. (1996) Sit: Zen Teachings of Master Taisen Deshimaru, Hohm Press, p. 317

Thich Nhat Hanh, The Four Layers of Consciousness, The Lions Roar, Dec. 26, 2018 https://www.lionsroar.com/the-four-layers-of-consciousness/

On Music, Mindfulness and Cultural Appreciation

“All his life he had done nothing but talk, write, lecture, concoct sentences, search for formulations and amend them, so in the end no words were precise, their meanings were obliterated, their content lost, they turned into trash, chaff, dust, sand; prowling through his brain, tearing at his head, they were his insomnia, his illness. And what he yearned for at the moment, vaguely but with all his might, was unbounded music, powering, window-rattling din to engulf, once and for all, the pain, the futility, the vanity of words.” 

~The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera

Music

Music detaches us from the intellect and shifts us into right brain mode where we see things as they are: in relationship, out of time and space. We are lost in music and then transported to some unknown place: part imagination, part the world of the artist. This warping of our senses invites us to become aware of the vast wonders of originality and simultaneously, the universality of all human experience.

Exquisite music, the kind that is unbounded, is artistic expression that is certainly influenced by culture, language, identity and mastery but also genius. When we close our eyes and allow such music to penetrate our being, we are merging with a vision of an artist who may live far away or speak a different language but who is able to transmit the essence of longing or suffering identical to our own. What does it matter from where or by whom, with the eyes closed?

If we were to be lectured about such an out of body experience, or any notion of invisibility through music, we would likely want to defend rational thought and objectivism as a matter of freedom. And yet, when we are in the presence of music, or any enduring art form, we are liberated from the rational mind, and only then, can we breathe in the sweet, infinite nature of our humanity.

A spiritual master once told me that the purpose of all knowledge is to move from the visible to the invisible.