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.

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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?

Looking Through the Cracks: Fighting Ignorance with Mindfulness & Critical Consciousness

Mindfulness is a constant unfolding that gives us new sight, called insight. It moves from the inside out, unfolding outward like the petals of a lotus. It is a way to see out, from the inside cracks of ordinary life.

Solomon, Emmonds and Paolini wrote a picture book called, Through the Cracks. It is about what is wrong with schools and society that makes kids get smaller and smaller until they slip through the cracks in the floor. This is a good metaphor for us to consider when thinking about the practice of mindfulness as a lever for advocacy; a pathway for us to lead the way for a holistic schooling model that is inclusive, creative and uplifting.

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We need to see clearly what is happening to students in schools and society. If we examine from the outside and think we can understand what is happening, we are misguided. We have to train our mind and our eyes to see differently, to move from our inner world to the outer world, to look through the tiny cracks in ourselves, to understand how all human beings can feel isolated and afraid, unworthy and confused, a real lack of purpose in the world. We have to change our perspective in order to understand that an individual is not solely responsible but rather, there are conditions in the environment that make people shrink.

When we first go into teaching we are creative and giving. Some of us are in love with our subject matter a little more than working with children, but we are in love all the same, and that is what matters, that we teach from this starting point, creativity and love. 50% of the teachers drop out of the teaching profession within the first 5 years. Why is this happening? Because they fall out of love with teaching. All awareness of what is wrong with our schools and what is wrong in society starts with an understanding of the self. We have to identify the how, when and where we have been separated from our passion, from our heart. I fell through the cracks a long time ago when the practice of education began to feel oppressive and boring. It lost its creativity and giving nature. I was forced to conform to what others wanted me to be. When I felt unseen, and not worthy, I fell through the cracks.

Mindfulness is raising awareness of your inner world, your inner dilemmas. This is entry to consciousness. This is the inner most layer, the foundation. Then, as you move along in the practice, your awareness unfolds and you can move towards critical consciousness. Critical consciousness is going beyond and recognizing how social, political and cultural factors influence your sight and receptivity, your thoughts, your feelings of worthiness and social standing in the world. It is about realizing that your state of mind and well-being are directly related to the state of mind and well-being of everybody around you. This in interdependence, integrative consciousness and systems thinking.

Mindfulness and critical consciousness are a choice because as I stated earlier, they are born out of continuous action, the discipline of slowing things down so that you can browse inside your mind and familiarize yourself with existence; to pick up on the fine details, the elements that have come together to create your story and context. When we allow ourselves to move on and on without reflection, we are mindless actors performing. We are not seeing the features and contours of our behavior, the impact of the scenery on experience. In essence, we are in a state of ignorance. Picture1Ignorance means to ignore. When we are not mindful, we are ignoring insight and knowledge of the world and the people inside it. That is why awareness and critical consciousness is a daily choice and active discipline. It starts with the self, looking inward, and expands to the outer world. It is constantly changing and adapting the image of yourself and the world.

Many teachers, especially those who work in schools and societies that are not healthy, distressed or malfunctioning, walk around in ignorance, ignoring the truth of the situation. It is awareness and critical consciousness that allow us to see clearly the cracks in the floor where children sink, that which causes us tremendous pain and discomfort so we want to ignore it. When we open our eyes wide, we may say, I would never send my child to this school, this harsh institution where lunch is served at 9:30am, kids are silenced, classrooms are housed in trailers or there is no library or gymnasium. We begin to attribute the conditions of the place, the negativity and the disruptions to something outside ourselves, something far away and foreign. If we opened our eyes and our heart fully to the conditions of our work, the conditions of our students’ lives, we may not want to stay and do the job at all. Who wants to live in such misery? We focus on pay at first, but money will never be enough in these situations.

So we suffer. We realize more and more that we can’t separate ourselves from them, from it, from the place. When children lack joy and creativity, when they are fearful for their lives, when our students fall through the cracks, piece by piece, our own humanity dies. We feel like failures inside, because we are those children. We go home at night and wonder— why can’t we do something differently to remedy the situation? The next day we try again. We are not trying to save the children, as some may say. We are trying to save our own sanity. Adults are falling through the cracks every day. Teachers especially. When thousands of teachers across the country are on the streets protesting, they are not blind walking. They are fighting for sanity. It is not just money they want, although this is important to our survival. They are fighting for the end of suffering. Money is the distraction. We know this because we love children for free.

Mindfulness that has led to critical consciousness is a lever for conscious action and justice in education. It is about asking the hard question, what do we do now? When we say, this is real, this is happening, even though it hurts, we keep our eyes open and we begin to dig deep into the cracks, exploring what part of our self is down there—we begin to gain more and more awareness of the context, the intersection of factors, the social, cultural, political matrix that has created the conditions for this situation, and our role in it. We begin to see the bird not separate from its nest, not separate from its mother, the flight, the food, the wind, the height of the tree. This is critical consciousness, and we are thinking, what to do with all this knowledge?