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.

The three essential components of mindfulness are Time, Space and Energy. Mindfulness education 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 to work for us. It is a very equitable practice because we are all equipped! We can observe how this formula is applied in life situations and in nature. We can apply these elements to how we design learning for children. We can give the gift of time to our students. We can create space by sitting in silence. We can guide children to become aware of energy and point out how we often communicate with each other without saying anything.

In mindfulness programs in education, we don’t often hear that we are learning how to put love into action. We’ve been socialized to believe that love is too subjective, immaterial, and non-academic. Do we really need love to teach and learn mathematics? Do we need love to succeed ? Yet, when we look past all the mystery, we see that in every exceptional school, in every exceptional family, love is put into action. Love for oneself,  love for others, love for the planet. How we take care of ourselves, and each other and how we use knowledge to make sure our world is healthy, happy and sustainable is central to everything!

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

Mindfulness can be a self serving, egotistical practice when we get absorbed in it. It is possible to lose clarity and balance, even when we are feeling “the love.” This is all part of the human condition and the universe is very clever! So, yes, we must be careful and vigilant about our mindfulness practice. We need to question what we are doing, for whom and how our actions demonstrate love in action. We must remain innocent and open to feedback.

I recommend that we make a commitment to a guided contemplative practice, such as meditation.  Apply the discipline of silent reflection regularly to your life and allow your  mindfulness practice in education to evolve and grow with your own awareness. Share your practice with others so that you can see yourself through someone else’s eyes. That is why we need each other, so we can see our world as one 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

 

 

 

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?