Switch off auto-pilot mode and come alive with your senses experience Veja-De.
Have you ever experienced a series of tedious days that seem robotic in nature? Day in and day out living in repeat mode. Would this experience be similar to what Bill Murray experienced in the movie Ground Hog Day? We need to catch ourselves in these moments of time in order to awaken the senses and become more aware of life happening around us.
I want to invite you to set an intention. You’ll need to lean into this experience with fresh eyes to bring a new awareness into your day. Doing so helps to draw us out of our mental tedium and begin to focus on things differently.
Here’s the deal, you’ll need to practice Veja-De. Yes, that is right. I’m not talking about Deja-vu but instead Veja-De!
In Warren Berger’s article, The power of “Veja-De”, he focuses on the following question, “Can a shift in perspective help us to become better questioners?” Berger describes it as observing everyday surroundings with “Veja-De” eyes that help us to see the familiar in fresh ways. The familiar can become so mundane and we often times lose sight of the fact that everything around us is changing all of the time. Even though we may feel that our day to day actions are routine and methodical, they are not. Looking at the familiar with fresh eyes allows us to embrace and celebrate the ‘newness’ that every day offers us.
Veja-De captured my attention because I believe it fully connects with mindfulness. Bringing a kind and curious awareness to your everyday environment is the practice of mindfulness. Ellen Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard University who is known as the ‘mother of mindfulness’, talks about the act of noticing new things that keeps you in the present moment.
Below is a link to a 4-minute video where Ellen explains why we need to stop operating on auto-pilot.
This video sparked a connection to another great blog that I often read, “Slow Looking, Out of Eden by Shari Tishman link”
How often do we permit ourselves a moment or two to linger and really look at something that we've passed a million times on our daily commute to work? How often do we actively pause with a revered stare to curiously look at something that we’ve never noticed before?
In the car, on the way to school each morning, my boys and I like to play a game. We pick out 3 new things that we notice. For example, sometimes we choose a color (let’s say blue) and then find three new things that are blue. Other times we try to spot weird or silly things. We make these careful observations and then share our discoveries. We’re always so surprised to see what each of us has pointed out. These observations always end up being so different. We note the different perspectives that we have, even though we take the same route day in and day out.
Perhaps this is what the French novelist Marcel Proust meant when he said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
Begin to see your world with “Veja-De” eyes.
Strive to rid yourself of the mundane in your life.
Reflect on the uniqueness of each day.
One of the joys and rewards I find delight in about teaching and sharing mindfulness is when it really begins to organically stick with my students.
I used to think that I was the only one jumping up and down, excited about teaching mindfulness practices, especially during the early days when I had just begun to share it. Despite initial bland expressions and responses when I first introduced mindfulness to my students, I stuck with it over the months and years as I was so passionate about it. I began to check in more frequently with the students in regards to how they felt about the different mindfulness practices we had worked on and over time I started to hear more and more of their thoughts. At times they expressed things that they loved about mindfulness and other times what they didn't like about it which was great feedback for me.
They surprised me with their honest reflections. For example, a student once opened up that she was so busy during the week that she was stressed out. She said that mindfulness practice was the only time that she could relax because her after school schedule was jammed up every day with either piano, Mandarin, English, or violin lessons. She said that if she was lucky, she would some times have Fridays off to play.
Another student upon reflection said he thought mindfulness was a waste of time. Trying not to react in defence, I asked him to explain why he felt it was a waste of time, so that I could better understand his thoughts.
He then went on to explain that his mother always said to him that in order to be productive and to improve himself, he had to do extra math, English, and Mandarin, so his interpretation of mindfulness was that it was 'doing nothing', therefore useless to him. I did not judge his response instead try to understand his point of view.
Receiving regular feedback from my students about how they feel about mindfulness allows me to personalize and provide choice in regards to the practice itself. For example, I often use eye-pillows with my students during the mindfulness sessions. One of my students prefers not to be still and lay down, so I allow him to quietly walk around helping me to place the eye pillows gently on the other students.
I have another student who has difficulty remaining still but still likes to take part in the activities. However, instead of remaining still, he quietly rocks back and forth or side to side as he listens. After one session he thanked me and told me that he could see what was going on in his mind. He said that he cannot be still in his head because it's like ten giant screens playing images all at once. This was a great first step to personalize my practice for him in order to help him quiet his mind.
Ending my mindfulness sessions with time to reflect is a valuable tool as it allows my students' voices to be heard. We always purposely pause and listen to one another's thoughts and opinions about the mindfulness practice.
Although they all don't fully embrace it, having done mindfulness with my students for four years now has allowed me to see that many of them are really beginning to understand the value that the practice can bring to their lives in helping to calm them, reduce anxiety and lower stress.
How happy I am to water the seeds of mindfulness in these young and beautiful minds.
“Renew thyself completely each day.”
~Henry David Thoreau
Mirror Mirror on the wall…
2016 has been unwrapped and it is the time of the year to renew again with a fresh start. Trying something new this year will have you start by practicing self-love.
Over the years, one of my most consistent goals has always been to strive to be healthy. Some years have been better than others. If I look back and take stalk, my previous goals have been to complete a full marathon, to always eat better, to give up coffee (only for a short time) and to lose some extra pounds. So you can see the common thread has always been one of a physical nature.
Given that I am now 45 years old, I see that there are certain experiences that begin to repeat themselves when a bevy of women get together. It’s common to see them begin to talk about their physical bodies, not with what it is they love about their bodies, but sadly with their endless complaints about what is wrong with their physical selves. Of course it can be in a joking manner and is usually kept lighthearted, but for so many of us we have and hold numerous misconceptions about our physical bodies.
If what I have mentioned above resonates with you in the tiniest, I invite you to test out this mindful body scan that I created for when you are in the shower.
In writing this I think about many female friends that I have. I wrote it firstly for myself and with all of my surrogate sisters in mind from around the world who would like to declutter negative thoughts and begin to take care of their mental health and wellbeing. I ask you to aim to practice gratitude for your body, and all of your curves, at its current state right now. Practice emotional well-being about how you see yourself and aim to delete those default narratives you may repeat over and over about your body. Aim to revive yourself in the shower each day with this mindful gratitude practice.
I really believe that this body scan in the shower will help to develop and maintain a better body image for all of my dear surrogate sisters and friends. Be kind to yourself in your thoughts, your actions and your words. Use this time and energy to flood your mind with grateful thoughts about your body.
I know it isn’t a cure all for what ails the mental image you hold of yourself, but I believe it can help in minimizing the negative thoughts we can possess about our bodies. As you would support a best friend, aim to be kind to yourself and begin to look at your body as a blessing. Shift over to a more neutral or even better yet, a more positive body image for yourself. As with any new skill the more you practice the better you get at it.
Strive to be kind to yourself, be kind to your body and be kind to others.
How Often Do You Stop?
Stop doing what you are doing right now! Take three slow and complete breaths.
Now, do it again. It takes just a minute to stop and pause.
That’s how easy the practice of mindfulness can be. When you take a moment to remind yourself that you are simply breathing in and breathing out, you start to bring more presence into these important moments in our daily lives.
“Smile, breathe and go slowly.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh
Initially, I started to bring mindfulness into the classroom more for myself than for my students. Throughout the day, usually during transitions from one class to another, I would ask my students to pause and together we would take several slow, deep breaths as we moved our arms out and around in big wide circles.
Ultimately, I came to realize that infusing mindfulness into the classroom was not only beneficial for me but also for my students and the colleagues that I worked with. During morning routines such as ‘circle time’, we would share our ideas, energy and thoughts about what each and every student thought of mindfulness and soon our practice began to evolve. We began to practice more frequently and sometimes for longer periods of time. How happy I was to hear my students call out, “Can we practice some mindfulness now”.
It was these little moments that helped me to connect my students to the importance of the ‘pause’ and the power it plays in our lives which I was eventually able to share with those who I work with as well.
Teachers and students can take advantage of mindfulness by simply dropping into the moment with a purposeful pause. No matter how busy we are, we can certainly afford to stop for at least a minute a day to connect with our powerful human presence.
My husband and I like to listen to TED RADIO HOUR, a great podcast that draws attention to multiple themes in life that highlight major lessons that we can all learn from. Many of these episodes provide us with inspiration, motivation and excitement to do the things we love to do. As we listen to these podcasts, we often take notes in our journals and it’s these inspirational notes that provide the impetus for blogs or stories that we share with our friends. We love turning people on to Ted Radio Hour.
Todays blog post was inspired by the following episode:
Guest: David Steindl-Rast
What Does It Take To Be Grateful?
In David Steindl-Rast’s talk, he gently reminds us to recall a simple childhood lesson of how to cross the street as a method to build more mindfulness stop signs into our daily lives. He refers to it as:
“Stop, look, and go”
And the main message that he delivers is about taking deliberate time in our lives to construct opportunities to slow down to a halt, to be more aware of what happens around us, and look at every single moment as an opportunity to learn and grow. It’s not about life being wonderful every second of the day, it’s much deeper than that. As we confront issues, situations, and moments in our daily life, we have choices. In order to best absorb what these choices are, we must stop and be aware and this is only possible by creating stop signs to bring us to a halt. And it’s only by stopping that we can begin to evaluate what the opportunities we are presented with and how to act on them.
The ‘Look’ part is about examining these moments and to ultimately make a decision about how best to move forward. Once we make these decisions, it’s about taking action and that’s what the ‘Go’ part represents in our lives.
Such a simple activity. Think about it for a moment and as you reflect on what David Steindl-Rast says, all we need to do is ‘Stop, Look, and Go.”
What messages resonate with you and your teaching in regards to his simple philosophy? How can we take the ‘Stop, Look, and Go’ idea and apply it to student learning. How can we slow down the ever increasingly busy lives of our students to help them become more aware and present. Can we help them create more stop signs in their constantly changing world? I believe that we can and strive to do so.
Always be aware of the power of pausing.
Practice creating stop signs in your own life and the lives of those who you teach.
Don’t forget to be more mindful of your breath in slowing things down.
Parent Lead Conferences
This past week our school held Parent Lead Conferences. The purpose of these meetings was for teachers to listen to parents speak about their child and learn more about them as a person and as a learner. Guiding questions were provided as a starting point for parents to answer ahead of time to prepare for the meeting with teachers. Each conference was only 15 minutes long and the parents were asked to attend with their child present.
See the guiding questions below:
When we began, I felt a heightened sense of attention and found it so interesting to see the student interact with their parents.
It was during these meetings that I found myself deliberately implementing several mindfulness practices particularly related to listening. I first began to remind myself that it was time to slow down to be fully present as I listened while putting aside my internal commentary for the moment. Physically, I became aware of my seat and how I was sitting in it, ensuring that my shoulders began to soften. I aimed to sit tall but not too stiff or rigid.
Checking in with my own body language was critical as I aimed to be warm and welcoming which meant positioning myself at the best possible angle to parents and student. I began a concerted effort to soften my face and practice being truly present.
While being very aware of my attitude, I strived to bring the intentions of curiosity, kindness and patience into being as I sat attentively to listen to what the parents had to say about their child.
Slowing down with the breath to be fully present is the essence of mindfulness, so I took a couple of slow soft breaths to simply be more aware. Every step was allowing me to drop into the moment on a much deeper level.
By slowing down I was able to observe and pay attention to the non-verbal cues being given off; those subtle facial expressions, affectionate patterns of interaction and certain body language being conveyed. Each of these subtle interactions offered a window into our students’ lives, their relationships at home and how they cope and respond. This fundamental skill of listening is so simple, yet it’s power lies in its practice. Maintaining and sustaining this level of attention and energy was an absolute necessity as we had several conferences in a row lined up that day.
What I have learned is how valuable it is when you give your students and their families your full attention for just those few minutes. I believe that really increasing this ability to be deliberately present not only improves the awareness of your own body language, listening skills and level of presence but it also allows us to walk away having fully enjoyed connecting to the our students while getting to know their families a bit more in the process.
How do you ensure you get yourself into listening mode and fully present when dealing with parents and students?
Which strategies help you be more present with those you work with and teach?
In what ways can you improve upon your ability to listen on a deeper level?
One of the books I just finished reading is Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World written by Mark Williams and Danny Penman.
Jon Kabat -Zinn provides an introduction to the book, “The world is all a buzz nowadays about mindfulness and this is a wonderful thing because we are sorely lacking if not starving for some elusive but necessary element in our lives.” The 8-week program that Mark and Danny have designed is evidence-based, arising out of the curricula of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). The book offers an excellent exploration of the practice of Mindfulness.
The link to the website is http://franticworld.com/ . You will find many free resources to guide you through some of the mindfulness practices. My personal favorite taken from the book is an 8-minute mindfulness practice of body and breath to help you tune into the sensations of your body. This practice invites you to pause and consciously release any tension and stress from your body. This body scan allows to you relate to your body in a healthy way that is firmly rooted in the present moment.
Surely you can pause and take 8 minutes out of the 1,440 minutes of your day to rebalance.
I highly recommend this straightforward and helpful book to anyone who wants to live life with more equanimity. Remember, just reading the book and saying, “Oh yes, I’ll be more mindful in my life now” won’t exactly help. You’ll need the discipline to put it into practice and know that mindfulness requires a strong commitment. As with any new skill, approach it with a growth mindset. I wish you success in this endeavor.
Integrate more mindfulness into your you life, practice daily, and remember to breathe.
Last Friday was a public holiday in China, it was Labor Day. We had the day off and how happy I was to have the freedom to putter around the house. Looking though book shelves I happened to open up one of my dusty old journals from 2010. In it I found a poem I had hand written and copied from Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living”. It was first printed in 1948. It is my inspiration for this post today.
These ten intentions provide practice, purpose and pleasure and act as daily intentions that help to keep us tethered to the present day. They do not propel you into the future with overwhelming thoughts but help to keep you anchored to the here and now. They fully embody the practice of mindfulness.
Do you know how many minutes we have in a day? Every day we are given the gift of 1,440 minutes. Each day the clock is reset and again we receive another 1,440 minutes. Mindfulness allows us to aim to stay present for just one minute at a time and to build on this with regularity throughout our day. Here are the ten intentions.
1. Just for Today, I will try to live through this day only, and not tackle my whole life-problem at once. I can do some things for twelve hours that would appall me if I felt I had to keep them up for a lifetime.
2. Just for Today, I will be happy. This assumes that what Abraham Lincoln said is true, that “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Happiness is from within; it is not a matter of externals.
3. Just for Today, I will adjust myself to what Is, and not try to adjust everything to my own desires. I will take my family, my business, and my luck as they come, and fit myself to them.
4. Just for Today, I will take care of my body. I will exercise it, care for it, and nourish it, and not abuse it nor neglect it; so that it will be a perfect machine for my will.
5. Just for Today, I will try to strengthen my mind, I will study. I will learn something useful, I will not be a mental loafer all day. I will read something that requires effort, thought and concentration.
6. Just for Today, I will exercise my soul. In three ways:
(a) I will do somebody a good turn and not get found out.
(b) I will do at least two things I don’t want to do, as William James suggests just for exercise.
(c) I will not show any one that my feelings are hurt. They may be hurt, but today I will not show it.
7. Just for Today, I will be agreeable. I will look as well as I can, dress as becomingly as possible, talk low, act courteously, be liberal with flattery, criticize not one bit nor find fault with anything, and not try to regulate nor improve anybody.
8. Just for Today, I will have a program. I will write down just what I expect to do every hour. I may not follow it exactly, but I’ll have it. It will save me from the two pests of hurry and indecision.
9. Just for Today, I will have a quiet half hour, all by myself, and relax. During this half hour, some time, I will think of God, or meditate so as to get a little more perspective of my life.
10. Just for Today, I will be unafraid. Especially I will not be afraid to be happy, to enjoy what is beautiful, to love and to believe that those I love, love me.
Being in the moment is what mindfulness is all about and striving to sustain a level of awareness with equanimity requires mental effort. It takes discipline and grit to practice mindfulness everyday. Personally I strive to take mindful breaks though out my day not just when I am sitting still but also when I am with my family, jogging, working, eating and doing daily activities around the house. This poem helped me get through one of my runs today. In my mind I wanted to stop and walk as I felt too hot, too tired, too sweaty and not very motivated. My mind shifted when I remembered the words to this poem. The chant in my head was ‘Just for today I will run 10 kilometers and be in the moment to enjoy my healthy body’. I want to make more of an honest effort to do just one intention or all ten. I challenge you to do the same.
Stretch your body, stretch your mind and stretch your breathe just for today.
Between now and June 19th our school calendar has only 8 weeks left. Just thinking about that makes my heart palpitate with a bit of excitement and anxiety. Many people are always counting down, crossing out the days and weeks on their schedules and wishing away the time but I think it is critical to slow down and savor these moments. These moments after all are what make up our precious lives.
Jon Kabot-ZInn defines ‘Mindfulness’ as being aware in the present moment, paying attention in a particular way without judgement. This takes mental effort every day. Honestly, I understand the desire to race towards the summer months, where we have weeks off with our families. It’s hard not to fantasize and romanticize about spending time with our family and friends, wherever home may be.
This week my intention is simply to create more space in my head, my heart and in my life to be more present in the moment.
I aim to ask myself these questions every day and to work on a daily reflection at night.
What worked today?
What did you do that kept you in the present moment?
Were you aware of your breath?
What didn’t work?
What distracted you?
What is your ultimate heartfelt desire?
What is your intention for tomorrow?
What is your next step forward?
Strive to stay in the now, be aware of your breath, go easy on yourself.
A mindful teacher offers his/her students time daily to breathe and connect to sensations and feelings. It truly only takes five minutes to do so.
One of my teaching partners, Paul Johnson, offers his students five-minute mindfulness breaks throughout the day. They have full autonomy over when, where, and how they take these breaks. The only time that the students cannot access their five-minute mindfulness break is during those crucial times when whole class instructions are being delivered. Other than those times, the students are totally free to choose when they want to take their mindfulness breaks.
Here is a list of just some of the choices available to them:
All that Mr. Johnson requires is that the students use the sign up sheet beside the door to record their name, the time they took their mindfulness break, and how they feel going out and how they feel coming back in. There are stopwatches available for the students to use to keep track of time. Once they grab these stopwatches, they are free to go.
Upon their return, they record the time and assess how they are feeling or how emotions may have changed. At any point in the day, they can take advantage of these breaks whenever they feel the need. They are encouraged to use these mindfulness breaks both wisely and responsibly for there is no real limit on how many times they can use them.
As I have taught on the grade 4 team all year, I can say with full certainty that I have seen these mindfulness breaks have a very positive impact on the students. Here are just a few responses from the students themselves regarding the mindfulness break option.
"It is a great opportunity to feel more awake and refreshed."
If you try this out with your students let me know how it goes. I assure you that it they will love the freedom to choose when and how they need to take their breaks.
Strive to connect, release control, and be present.
This past weekend my husband, Andy, and my eldest son, Eli, traveled to the city of Suzhou in eastern China, about 220 kilometers from us here in Nanjing. The reason being that Eli was participating in his first track and field meet.This meant that Tai, my youngest, and I had quality time together for the day. We lingered in our pajamas in the morning, Tai had hot chocolate and I had strong coffee respectively and then headed off to soccer practice at 11:00.
“You know Mom, there is a boy in my class who doesn’t have any friends,” Tai reported as we shared lunch together. “He talks kind of slow and says words differently but he’s really polite.” Tai then went on to say, “Maybe I’ll help him more, umm you know like, once he didn’t really understand what we had to do in class so I explained it to him.” What a compassionate little guy my son is. This moment warmed me and made me smile.
When Tai was sharing this story with me I had slouched over the table to get down to his level, and I was looking right into his eyes, I reminded myself to remain fully present. My eyes were solely focused on the color of his gorgeous hazel eyes. Wow, it had occurred to me that I hadn’t genuinely looked into his eyes very much this week at all. I noticed I was calm and grateful that we were sharing a lovely Saturday lunch, eating Japanese food, his very favorite and it was just the two of us.
‘Drishti' is a Sanskrit word that translates roughly into ‘focused gaze’ the technique is used to develop concentration and aims to tether you to the present moment. I’ve specifically used drishit in yoga balancing postures, to keep my mind engaged and focused. These focal points have always helped me maintain better balance while holding challenging yoga postures for several breaths. Personally, I think of it as a way to center myself by deleting the distractions around me so that I can work on the postures. I was reminded of drishti as I was looking into Tai’s sweet eyes.
As my students come into the classroom each morning, I try to greet them by looking into their eyes and say hello. If they don’t look at me, I ask them to pause to look up so we can make eye contact and share a smile as I say their name with a morning salutation. The reason that I do this is to let my students know that I am present and available for them and I want them to know that I care for them.
One of the exercises that I do with my students during our drama sessions together is called a circle gaze.
We begin by splitting the class into two groups and form two concentric circles.
The students who line the inner circle face the outer circle and the outer circle students face the inner circle. Each person has a partner that they are facing and the goal is to gaze as deeply into their eyes as possible. Before we begin, I ask the students to resist the urge to look away, laugh or make funny faces. It takes a lot of focus and is an excellent activity to practice.
I ask the students to linger with their eyes and remain present with awareness of their breath. I’ve done this practice with and without music. It truly is up to each teacher to make this choice.
To reflect we offer up how the experience was in a whole group circle, I will usually ask each person to share how they felt. The option to pass is always available.
Last time, I did this with a grade 5 class one student reflected “that was awkward but it made me realize how we don’t make eye contact often enough.”
So for my #MindsetMonday, the point of focus this week is to connect with intentional eye contact with all of my students, colleagues, friends and family members. It will allow me an additional reminder to strive to be present in the moment with kindness and curiosity.
A couple of pointers here if you aim to do this Monday mindset with your own students:
If you aren’t comfortable trying it out right away with your students, aim to do it with your loved ones and pay close attention to how it feels.
Don’t strain your eyes or freak anybody out by staring a little too aggressively.
The muscles around the eyes should be soft and at ease.
Bring your attention to your breath and each time you do, let it be a big spacious breath throughout the torso.
Strive to be present with kindness, connect with others and breathe fully,