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How 343 teenagers in an auditorium sort of terrified me…… and then truly helped me

The past few years, I’ve gained more expertise in mindfulness.  I teach the Mindful Schools curriculum to my students and I recently completed the year-long program with their organization.

Because these experiences and learnings have been so powerful for me, I’ve been moved to share my knowledge with educators in my district.  So, I’ve been doing a fair amount of professional development and really enjoy and feel comfortable doing this.  I’ve taught small classes of 10 people or fewer and I’ve done others of about 50.

Last year, I got asked to speak to a group of high school students about mindfulness.  It was for the Southeast Minnesota Student Government Conference.  They have a speaker every year, and the student leaders were interested in the topic of mindfulness.  I immediately said yes, because I love this age group and really believe that mindfulness can be helpful to them.  I also thought it would be an amazing opportunity to stretch myself a bit and speak to a different audience.

I invited the four student leaders of the conference to come over and give me some input on what they would most like to hear in the presentation.  They came over one afternoon to the Newcomer Center, and I gave them a menu of options.  They had very strong ideas about what they wanted and didn’t want.  They wanted to do a mindfulness experience/practice for sure.  They wanted time to debrief and talk to their peers about concepts I was teaching.  They did not want statistics or research on mindfulness.  Teenagers are so refreshing, because they don’t really have qualms about telling you what they think.

It was a great conversation and we wrapped up talking about the content and started to talk logistics.  They told me my presentation would be in the school’s auditorium.  Hmmm, I thought, maybe this is bigger than I imagined.  I don’t know why but I hadn’t really thought much about how many students this might involve.

So, I asked nonchalantly, “About how many students do you expect at the conference?”

“Somewhere between 3 and 400, probably closer to 400.”  (It ended up being 343, for the record.)

I tried to keep my face from twitching, and said coolly, “Wow, that’s great, yeah no problem. Yeah, this is going to be really great.  I’m so excited!”

To be honest, I started having a little freak out.  Or maybe a major freak-out if I’m being honest.  That’s a big group!  These are all smart, high achieving kids; maybe they’ll think this is stupid!  What have I gotten myself into?!   Was there still a way to get out of this?!

I forgot to practice mindfulness and didn’t do any slow, deep breathing in that moment.  Or really do much of anything to help myself.  Instead, I went home and freaked out to my family.

My teenage daughter said, “OOOO, that IS scary.  Don’t do it, Mom!”

My son in college had succinct advice, “Just don’t read your slides.  That’s so incredibly annoying and boring.”

My husband, who always seems to have more confidence in me than I have in myself, was enthusiastic, “That’s great!  You’ll be awesome!  Of course, you can do it.”

I mulled it over.  I finally remembered to practice some mindfulness a good thing to do when you’re having strong emotions such as fear.

Ultimately, I decided to go through with it.  I had said yes and made a commitment to the kids and the only reason I would be backing out was because I was afraid.  Not a good reason.  So, I shifted my mindset and started to look at it as an opportunity, an incredible opportunity to share something that has made such a positive difference in my life that I know has the potential to help so many.

I planned carefully for this 45-minute presentation.  My Mindful Schools mentor, Sarah Rudell Beach, Brilliant Mindfulness kindly helped me build a framework for the talk and gave me lots of wonderful ideas and positive support.  I practiced with some colleagues.  I perfected my slides.  I took deep breaths.

I was definitely nervous the day of the presentation. There was a Dr. Seuss theme for the conference so lots of the students were dressed up as characters.  The atmosphere was high energy, excitement, and fun everywhere.

My talk was really well-received.  I showed them a few funny videos.  I made the case for mindfulness as a way to cope with the stress of today’s world and to help them in their roles as student leaders.  I told them I could see that they were already doing great things in the world and would continue to do so, but to be able to live up to their full potential, they would need to take care of themselves, and mindfulness could be a great tool in their toolbox.  I led them in a few mindfulness practices.  They debriefed with partners after each one, and I went into the audience and joined conversations.  It landed well, and I felt so happy (and relieved).

Now, time for questions.  Because of the set-up and the large group, asking a question meant coming up on stage and speaking into the microphone in front of everyone (343, remember?).  There was some silence and hesitation at first.  I used my teacher wait-time skills and soon a young man bounded up to the stage and asked me a question.  And, once he bravely got the ball rolling, there was soon a line of students waiting to ask questions.

A young woman stepped up to the mic; she was dressed as Thing 1 or Thing 2.  She was funky and cool-looking.  She looked straight at me and said in a big voice, “Your aura is amazing!  There’s something so real and authentic about you. Thanks so much for teaching us about mindfulness.”

Now, I have a skeptical side, and normally somebody commenting on my “aura” would make me roll my eyes while imagining crystal balls or something.  But because this young woman seemed so genuine, I really took her words in and felt honored by the compliment.

Next person up, a young man, and here comes the big question, “What made you personally start practicing mindfulness and meditation?”  My heart jumped a bit.   I took a breath and looked around the audience at these amazing and open young people.  I glanced back at the young woman who had just complimented me for being authentic.

Should I give a stock and safe answer about life and teaching being stressful and mindfulness being helpful to me in dealing with this stress?  That is a real answer, but the deeper answer, the truer answer, is that one of the biggest reasons I got into mindfulness was because I was looking for another tool to help me deal with my long-term depression.

Self-disclosure was something I had given some recent and thoughtful consideration to. 

At that point, when doing presentations, I would talk in generalities and cover how long I’ve been practicing mindfulness and meditation, what my practice looks like daily, my training with Mindful Schools, the MS curriculum I teach to my students.  I talk about how I feel it’s helped me be more present to my daily life and how it’s improved my relationships with students.  

One of the pieces of feedback I had recently received from more than one person was the wish that I would have talked even more about my personal journey with mindfulness.  

I was aware that I was omitting some big parts of my story- namely that my mindfulness practice has helped me deal with long-term depression.

So far, I hadn’t made that a part of my presentation because it just didn’t feel right yet.  I guess I was afraid.  Maybe afraid of judgment, because stigma still exists.  And, yet…. I know that I am profoundly affected, moved, inspired when others share powerful examples of how mindfulness has helped them with big challenges.  

I had brought this question to our Mindful Schools office hours last year.    I asked the question on one of our virtual calls and it became the focus of the conversation for a while.  Most people said it would be courageous and useful to share and that I should do it when I felt comfortable and that I would know when the right time was.  One woman commented that being vulnerable usually leads to connection, and we all need more of that in our world.  

Our teacher, Alan, asked me why I would want to make it part of my story.

Well, I think it might help people.   I know when people share things it helps me.  I feel less alone.  Less stigma.  I feel connected.

 We ended that conversation, and I felt that it was an issue I would sit with and reflect on.  I felt sure that I would likely talk about it more someday.  I sort of imagined talking about it in one of my smaller classes.   One of Alan’s last comments was that if and when I decided to share, “It might feel right AND scary.”  How true he was. 

So, back to the auditorium and the question in front of me.  So, who knew that this would be the right time?  In my prep for this talk, I had not even considered talking about my own depression.  But, there’s something about kids and teens- they’re so open- they have the power to disarm you and crack your heart open.

And, so in that moment, in front of 343 teenagers, the words came tumbling out.

“I have struggled with depression since my college years and I still cope with it.   So, do a lot of people.  Maybe some of you do.  Practicing mindfulness and meditation have really helped me.  It doesn’t cure the depression, but it’s allowed me to have a different relationship with it.  To not be swallowed up by it and to have some compassion for myself about it. Through mindfulness I have learned that depression doesn’t have to be my identity.  It’s one part of me, but it doesn’t define me.”

I took care to follow up this comment and stress that I have done and still do lots of other things to take care of my depression:  therapy, medication under a doctor’s care, staying connected to loved ones, reaching out when I need extra help, etc.

I saw a lot of head nods.  No one seemed traumatized or even very affected by my disclosure.  But this was a big moment for me.

We moved on, and I answered more questions, like, “Why aren’t we all learning this in school?  Can you teach this in our school?”  Finally, we had to cut the questions off because we were over time.

And, I thought, if I even helped one young person with my honesty about my depression, then it was worth it.

I ended the talk by pointing out that mindfulness is something that is accessible to them at any moment. The breath and the mind are powerful tools.  Mindfulness is empowering.   It’s a way for us all to recognize strong feelings and not be completely  ruled by them. It’s an anchor when life is stormy.   It’s like a secret little superpower in our pockets.

My last slide was, “You are the architect of your own life.”

I thanked them for their kind and generous attention.  They gave me a standing ovation-very generous, sweet, and humbling.    I’ve never gotten a standing ovation from 300+ people, much less 343 high achieving teenagers in Dr. Seuss costumes I’ve got to admit, it felt great.

I never would have thought that the right moment to talk about my depression would have been in this setting.  My teacher, Alan, was spot on- “When the time comes, it might feel right and scary.”

On another note, this impressive group of young people were so open to talking about and trying mindfulness. There was such a strong connection and that’s why I am so motivated to bring this practice to as many youth as possible. Not only are they open and ready for this information, they are HUNGRY for it.

And, now more than ever with skyrocketing rates of stress, depression, and anxiety among our country’s young people, mindfulness needs to be taught explicitly and made accessible.

It’s not a silver bullet, a magic pill, or a cure-all.

But it can be one incredibly powerful tool in a healthy life.

I recently watched this video, which is posted on the Mindful Schools website.  These young people talk movingly, eloquently, and bravely about how mindfulness has helped them with their struggles with depression.

“Into Light”- 4 Teens Use Mindfulness to Battle Depression

Give it a watch.

And, thanks for reading.

 

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Right now, it’s like this….

Recently, I experienced a dip with my depression.  It lasted about a week.  For me, this experience feels like a very dark, impenetrable shade has been pulled down in front of me.  I lack energy and vitality; I want to sleep a lot, I lose all the creativity, enthusiasm, and spark I usually have.  Life feels bleak.

I feel fortunate that it’s not completely debilitating, and I have so much compassion for people who have that level of depression.  I’m still able to do what I need to do. It’s just that it’s very difficult and it takes an extraordinary effort.

Every time this happens, I try to figure out why it happens, and that never turns out to be very helpful.  Sometimes it occurs when things are going really well in my life, and sometimes it happens when things are not going so well.

The first time I felt this dark shade come down was in college, and I have done and continue to do many things to help myself including therapy, medication, exercise, eating well, getting enough sleep, managing my stress, and in more recent years-practicing meditation and mindfulness.

One of the things that has helped me the most is talking openly about it and connecting with others who deal with depression or are willing to understand it.

I’m done with the feeling that somehow, I’m “less than” or not a strong person because I deal with this, so I’m going to speak out about it.  I can be one more person to normalize this experience.  People who suffer from depression need to know that they are not alone and that they don’t have to suffer in silence.

Depression is treatable, but it’s also serious.  It’s a major cause of suicide.  And, suicide is on the rise in our country.  A recent report shows that rates of suicide have risen in almost every state since 1999.  Suicide Rates on the Rise Across America

Over the next few weekends, people will participate in Out of the Darkness walks across the country. These walks will raise funds to support awareness and prevention of suicide. Out of the Darkness Walks

And, perhaps most importantly, these walks will be a gathering of people bringing depression and suicide out of the darkness and into the light, where it has a chance of being transformed.

I want to share now how meditation and mindfulness have become a source of comfort for me as I cope with depression.

There’s a teaching in the meditation world, “Right now, it’s like this.”  Our feelings, thoughts, experiences are changing moment to moment.  We all tend to get attached to the pleasant feelings and experiences and want to grasp them tightly and hold onto them.  Conversely, we want to push away those negative thoughts and hope they go away as fast as possible.

I used to get really terrified when I had dips with my depression.  I would get seriously worried that it would last forever, that I was going to feel this way for the rest of my life.  This was a powerful thought, and even though my bouts of depression have always lifted, I was always convinced that this time was the time it was never going to go away.

My meditation practice has not cured my depression, but it has allowed me to see it in a new way.  It has helped me not go tumbling down the rabbit hole of thinking that I’m doomed.  It has enabled me to say to myself, “Right now, it’s like this.  But, it’s not always going to be like this.”  And, my despair and hopelessness lessen.  I’m able to withstand the pain, because I know it’s going to come to an end.

It’s important to note that this is just my experience of depression, and others have much more serious and debilitating states.

But, the saying, “Right now, it’s like this.” Can apply to many other issues in life as well and bring you some comfort and hope.  For example:

Right now, my job is really stressful, but it can change.

Right now, my baby is keeping me up all night, and I’m not getting enough sleep, but it won’t last forever.

Right now, my teenager is having problems and seems to hate me, but that will transform.

Right now, I’m worried about x, y, and z, but the problem won’t last forever.

It was unbelievable that I was reflecting on this teaching the week I was depressed, and 2 newsletters that I subscribe to on mindfulness and meditation arrived in my in-box with this topic.  Perfect timing.

Right Now, It’s Like This from Left Brain Buddha

Right Now, It’s Like that by Jay Michaelson from the 10% Happier newsletter

The dark shade of depression gradually lifted, and one day last week I was driving to work, and I noticed that I felt like myself again.

My zest, spark, and energy had returned.

I felt it with real gratitude, but I also tried not to grasp it too rigidly.

Right now, it’s like this……

agriculture barley field beautiful close up
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

 

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What is “A Mindful Pause?”

This is my first post on my new website.  I chose “A Mindful Pause” as the title of the site for a lot of reasons.  The idea of taking a mindful pause is not my original idea, but it is a concept in mindfulness that has really captured my imagination.  Learning how to pause mindfully has helped me in countless ways in my life.  It’s such a simple practice, yet has so much potential.

When you take a mindful pause, you simply stop, or pause, for a moment.  It helps to take a few breaths as you pause.  Or you could notice how your body is feeling.  You can check in with your feelings and emotions.  The point is to slow down and deliberately pause.

I try to take A Mindful Pause……

-before I react to situations in my life.  Doing this enables me to respond wisely, rather than react blindly to what is happening.

-before responding to someone in a conversation.  Sometimes this encourages the speaker to expand more on their feelings and thoughts.

-when I’m teaching or presenting.  This gives students or the audience a chance to process what I’m saying.  Or, it makes them wake up and pay attention if they weren’t listening.  🙂

-between activities in my day.  It’s just a way of slowing down a bit in this ultra-busy culture.

-when I get out of bed in the morning.  I pause and think about things I’m grateful for, rather than immediately thinking about everything I need to do.

-when I get to work in the morning.  I take time to say good morning to colleagues, have some coffee, and give myself the chance to really arrive before plunging into the work day.

-when I see my family in the morning and at the end of the day.  Hugs and kisses are a must.  Taking the time to greet each other properly is a priority.

-when I feel uncomfortable about something that someone said or did.  I try to get curious before I jump to judgements right away.

The other part of the title of my blog is “Training for the Heart and Mind”.  Through mindfulness practices, I believe we can truly train the heart and mind.  Compassion and kindness can increase.  Attention and focus can be improved.

“Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life.” (MedicineNet.com)  Mindfulness and meditation are ways to train the mind effectively.  So, just as we can train our body through physical exercise, we can train the heart and mind.  It takes practice and commitment.

Thanks for reading my first post.   I hope you pause and take some time to check out the other tabs.  There will be much more to come!

Advice for Starting a Meditation Practice: My 10 Favorite Tips

I know it’s almost a new year, and a lot of people like to make resolutions.  I wrote this blog in case one of your intentions in 2019 is to start a meditation practice.  

I think New Year’s resolutions are great, but for the record, you can change your life anytime.  

So, if you come back to this blog on a Wednesday in April or a Sunday in August, that’s fantastic.  

All of these tips are things I’ve learned from a multitude of people. I’ve just put them into my own words and perspective here.   I’ve found these ideas to be really useful as I’ve started and maintained a meditation practice.

  1. Start small and go slowly.  

I just watched a lecture by Dr. Richie Davidson, a researcher on the neuroscience of meditation, and he suggests taking an honest look at your life and asking yourself, “How many minutes a day could I commit to a mindfulness practice for 30 days?”  It it’s 1-2 minutes, great, go for it. Set yourself up for success.

Let’s look at the analogy of getting in shape physically.  I’ve been a runner since junior-high, but the past several years, I’ve not had a consistent habit.  I miss it for a lot of reasons, so I’ve committed myself to regular running again. Did I go out and run a marathon the first day?  Of course not. I’m running for 10 minutes at a time and then walking. Next week, I’ll up it to a 15 minute run. This is how you gain momentum.  

  1.  You are an experiment of one.  

I love this quote from the late Dr. George Sheehan, a running philosopher.  You have to figure out your own life and what works best for you. Hate the morning?  Don’t meditate then. Hate that breathy, sing-song voice on your app? Don’t pick that teacher again. Always falling asleep when you meditate?  Try standing or walking meditation.

I was once talking to an acquaintance, and I knew she a meditator.  I was curious, so I asked her about her practice. She didn’t know that I had been practicing mindfulness meditation for a while,and she started to put this style of meditation down and explain that the type of meditation she did was the correct kind and everything else was basically garbage.  I really found these comments to be the opposite of the whole spirit of meditation and mindfulness- awareness, presence, not judging, compassion. Bottom line- do what fits for you and your life. Find the practice that helps you feel and function the best.

  1.  Don’t go it alone.  (unless that really works best for you)  

When most of us are learning a new skill, we find benefit in having some structure and guidance.  

  • Use an app like 10% Happier, Headspace, or Insight Timer (free).  
  • Take a class. If you’re a Rochester educator, I frequently offer PD on mindfulness.  Take an online class like Mindfulness Fundamentals through Mindful Schools. Mindfulness Fundamentals for Teachers class. It’s excellent.   Or take one of Sarah Rudell Beach’s online classes. Link to Sarah’s class offerings..  She has classes for beginners, teachers, mothers, and stress reduction.  I never recommend anyone or anything unless I have personal experience, and I wholeheartedly recommend Sarah and Mindful Schools.  
  • Make a pact with a friend that you’re going to meditate.  Check in with each other daily or weekly to see how it’s going and keep each other motivated.  
  1.  Instant gratification is the enemy.

Meditation practice is not Candy Crush or Instagram.    You’re not going to have a huge hit of dopamine every time you meditate. You probably won’t have huge insights in the first week or become enlightened immediately. (or likely ever) But, if you’re like me, enlightenment is not the goal.  Finding a healthy way to cope with stress and taking some time to turn inward and quiet the mind are the qualities you’re after. So, take the long view. Over time you’ll notice a difference. And, then one day, you’ll skip your meditation, and all day you’ll feel like something is missing, and you’ll remember you didn’t meditate.  And, you’ll know that it has become a part of your life.

  1.  Set aside the excuses.

You really want to start a meditation practice, but have lots of excuses?  Welcome to the party. This is human nature. We all love the idea of meditating, but actually sitting down and putting in the time and the effort?  Not as much fun. I read books about mindfulness and meditation for about 20 years before I tried to seriously start a practice. You don’t have to be a slow learner like me.  🙂 Here are a few common obstacles and my responses.

*No time to meditate?  Commit to one minute a day or 10 good breaths a day.  

*Don’t have a special, quiet, serene place to meditate?  No problem.  Meditation is the ultimate portable coping device.  You don’t need a cushion, beads, candles, or bells.  Yes, I do have a few special places in my house that I like to sit and meditate.  But, I have also meditated in my car (sitting in a parking lot) and  by my computer at school during my prep time. I’ve practiced mindfulness and deep breathing walking down the hall of the middle school I work at and while standing in line at the grocery store.  The great thing about mindfulness is it’s always in your pocket.

*Think it’s too woo-woo, out there, mushy, mystical?  Read about the science and neurobiology of meditation.  Don’t choose practices that are filled with mantras, phrases, and practices you find annoying.  People from all walks of life are embracing mindfulness and meditation-police officers, the military, professional athletes, and business executives.  They realize that it works, and they use it to their advantage.

*Think taking time to meditate is selfish navel gazing,and that you should be tending to the needs of your partner, kids, students, your community, the world instead?  This was one of my biggest barriers.   Now, after four years of steady practice, I realize that taking the time to be still and look at my inner life is the one of the best things I can do so that I can be of greater service to others.  I’ll turn 50 in 2019 and I think I’m finally starting to understand just how important self-care is. That’s my priority this year- to really take good care of myself physically, emotionally , and spiritually.  I know that if I truly do this, my ability to care for others will be even greater.

  1. Bring mindfulness and meditation into your real life.  It’s not just about what you do on the cushion with your eyes closed.  That’s only the beginning.

Sharon Salzberg, one of my favorite meditation teachers, says, “We don’t meditate to become good meditators.  We meditate to become better at life.” In other words, if you sit in a perfectly concentrated meditative state for two hours a day, but are a complete tyrant to your partner, kids, and co-workers, you’re not getting it.  This is where the rubber hits the road- meditation is the practice, the training, the bicep curl for real life. This doesn’t mean you’re going to walk around in a state of calm bliss all the time. You’re still human. When I started teaching mindfulness to my students and other educators, I used to put pressure on myself to be this pure paragon of mindfulness, but I found that’s unrealistic, unreachable, and unrelatable.  And, I got rid of that self-imposed expectation fast. However, I don’t want to undersell the benefits of meditation in real life. I have benefited enormously from applying the principles in my daily life- a happier classroom, better relationships with students, improved communication at home, greater tolerance for difficult people, and increased well-being and calm.

I noticed a difference in my co-worker last year, who is an amazing person and teacher to start with.  Things weren’t getting to her like they sometimes did. She’s expert at dealing with difficult kids in a calm and productive way, but there was a shift in how she was responding- she wasn’t taking on the stress and becoming overwhelmed.  She seemed to have a lot of equanimity about it all. I told her about my observations and asked what the difference was, and she said it was because of her meditation practice. It was transferring to her daily teaching life.

7.  Don’t take it all too seriously.  

Yes, meditation can be serious.  I’ve been moved during meditations.  I’ve cried my eyes out at times, because stuff comes up when you get quiet and still.   I went on retreat this summer, and it got really intense at times.

But, meditation can also be light-hearted and fun.  The teachers who have this spirit and can laugh at themselves and the ridiculous of their own minds are my favorites.  I love Jeff Warren’s meditations on 10% Happier for this reason. Take a light approach. Meditation should not be a death march.  If you want to hear more on this, listen to the intro on this 10% Happier podcast, when Dan Harris answers my question about this topic!  Yes, I feel very famous and important.   Episode #160, I start at 7 minutes 🙂

  1.  When you finally get hooked by meditation, and think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, don’t be annoying about it.   (And, I’m sorry if I’ve done that to you-I’m really trying not to.)  

The fastest way to get the people around you to not meditate is to tell them to meditate.  I don’t go around telling people to meditate, but if someone opens up a conversation, I’ll talk as long as they want to.  🙂 My immediate family members don’t meditate but they know what I’m doing and they have a lot of respect for it. And, they all bring mindfulness to their lives in different ways.  Just walk the talk with meditation and mindfulness. If people notice a difference in you and ask, then you can tell them about your great new practice.

  1.  Keep your interest in mindfulness and meditation alive.

Read books and magazines. Check out websites.  Listen to podcasts. Chat with others who are interested.   What aspects of mindfulness and meditation are your interested in, curious about?  How you can stay calm in emotionally charged situations? How to improve your work life? How to be a more mindful communicator? Mindfulness and sports? Creative life?   How to notice your unconscious bias? The neuroscience and research behind mindfulness? Mindfulness and addiction? I have recommendations for books, magazines, and podcasts under the Resources tab on my website.  

  1.  If you stop, begin again.  

Each time you let a meditation practice lapse, it’s is not a failure. You’re building those neuro-pathways in your brain every time.  Don’t beat yourself up. Simply begin again. This is what we do in practice when the mind wanders, and this is what we can all do in life when we get off track.  Wake up, notice what’s happened, and begin again.

Be gentle with yourself.  Find what works for you. Let me know if you have questions or other obstacles to developing a meditation practice.  I’m still learning, too- always a work in progress.
Good luck out there!   

Planting Seeds

One of the metaphors I like best about teaching mindfulness to students is that it is really like planting seeds.  As the teacher, you provide the materials, a healthy environment, and quality input. Then, you see what emerges and you continue to do what you can to help your students grow and learn.

If you had a garden this summer with vegetables or flowers, some grew fast and thrived right away.  Others you had to coax along, maybe give a little extra nutrition, in order for them to grow. Maybe you thought certain plants were never going to make it, but then all of a sudden, they flourished.

person holding a green plant
Photo by Akil Mazumder on Pexels.com

Teaching mindfulness, and really all teaching, has a very similar process.  Oh sure, sometimes you know right away that a lesson resonated or that kids really “got it.” But, more often than not, teaching is a path of daily offering the best you can, planting ideas, and not always seeing immediate results.  I have learned to really take the long view in this profession. If you are after instant gratification and perfectly finished products, teaching human beings will be frustrating to you.

Two years ago, I had a student in my class we’ll call Anita for this story.  She was strong-willed, bright, and had conflicts with other students frequently at first.  We had to draw a lot of boundaries with her even as we loved and nurtured her. It was challenging, and it wasn’t a linear process of growth.  We’d have wonderful days and really challenging days with her. We persisted, and she continued to grow and evolve.

Anita didn’t ever hesitate to let you know when she thought a lesson was fun and wonderful, and she also had no problem informing you when your lesson was the most excruciatingly boring and stupid thing she had ever experienced in her life.  

In particular, Anita disliked mindfulness lessons and doing anything related to mindfulness in the classroom.  I take a light touch with mindfulness in the classroom. I try to demonstrate what it is more than anything with how I operate as a teacher.  And, when I do teach specific mindfulness techniques, it is always an offering, something they can try and check out and see if it might help them.  I never force kids to sit a certain way or demand that they do the breathing exercises with me. I do ask that if they don’t want to do it, they are still quiet and respectful during mindfulness time, so that others who want to participate can do it without distractions.  

Anita struggled with this respect.  When we did anything connected to mindfulness, she would sigh loudly with exasperation and say things like, “This is so stupid!  I hate this!” She’d try to get others to be disruptive with her. I continued to remind her that she didn’t need to do the practice, but she did need to be respectful.  I stayed positive and continued with purpose and confidence, knowing that maybe the lesson would not connect and resonate with every student.

Anita and I ended up having a close relationship, even if she still hated mindfulness.  The following year, when she wasn’t my student anymore, she would come visit me regularly in the morning and between classes- sometimes just to chat and sometimes to ask for help with academics or advice with something else.  

One morning, she came to me, and her excitement was palpable.  She said, “Ms. Lenz!!! This morning, these boys were bothering me on the bus.  I wanted to hit them. I wanted to yell at them and use bad words. But, I didn’t.  I used Mindful Breathing and it really helped me!!!!  I calmed down, and I just ignored them.”

I was absolutely stunned that these words were coming out of her mouth.  I congratulated her, and she then went on to say that she didn’t really get what mindful body and mindful breathing were all about last year, but that now she gets it.  She really understands how she can use it in her life to give her space to make good choices.

This is one of those moments as an educator that I will never forget. I hold it close to my heart, and I return to it when I wonder if I am having any impact.  We have to keep planting seeds, and we have to keep at it. You never really know what is sinking in, and when that learning may be revealed.

Now, Anita talks to me all the time, and in about half of our conversations, she references mindfulness in some way. At the end of last year, she was part of a video I made of students talking about how mindfulness helps them.  In the video, she comments, “Mindfulness is good for everyone. Everyone should learn it.” The biggest critic had indeed become the biggest advocate and supporter.  Mindfulness was making a real difference in her life.

Change can be slow, and learning can take time to set in.  That runs counter to a lot of what our culture promotes. In a time of instant gratification, constant distraction, and frenetic technology and social media, watching seeds grow can take more patience than a lot of us have.  

Change happens in shifts, over time, and almost imperceptibly. In my experience, most things worth doing are hard and they also take time and persistence.  

I’ll keep planting seeds while I teach mindfulness and while I teach other things.  I’ll watch for the small buds and the growth. And, every now and then, if I’m lucky, I’ll see a big, spectacular bloom like the experience I had with Anita.  

white and yellow flower with green stems
Photo by Bess Hamiti on Pexels.com