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,
Neila Steele & Andy Vasily