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,
One of the things I like to share with my students is breath of joy. Breath of joy is something I learned in a yoga session many years ago. It is a great way to rejuvenate yourself and your students. I use it in drama lessons, during transition times and whenever we feel sluggish with low energy. One of my students dubbed it a ‘brain snack’ because it brings more oxygen to your brain. This easy, invigorating breath expands your lung capacity and usually creates a tingling sensation in your body.
It always encouraging a new flow of energy throughout your entire body. It also requires a little bit of silliness and the ability to let loose (literally) as you may feel slightly vulnerable when demonstrating what a breath of joy looks like. The first time you may feel rather ridiculous especially when you are being filmed ( watch the video clip below). Without fail though, you will be left with whole class giggles, smiles and crackling new energy.
How to do it:
1. Stand up and spread your arms out to the sides. I ask the students to take up bubble space.
Safety first so no one gets a slap to the face with a flailing arm.
3.Take three quick snorts through your nose.
4.Simultaneously throw your arms up over your head, then out to the sides and up over your head again like a crazy orchestra conductor.
5.Exhale through your mouth with a big audible sigh as you lean forward over your bent knees and stretch your arms out to the sides. Imagine you that you're taking a bow. Let your torso cascade forward like a waterfall.
6. Inhale slowly roll back up to a standing position. Pause to close your eyes and experience the sensations moving through your entire body.
7. Ask yourself or your students to note how you feel and compare your levels of energy before your ‘breathe of joy’ or ‘brain snack’ and after.
8. Aim to do three to four rounds.
For this week's Mindset Monday post, I'd like to challenge you all to try something new. Give the breath of joy a go and try it out on your own, with your students, or with a group of teachers.
Strive to have fun, connect with your breath, and remain present.
One Foundation: Inspiration from Bob Marley
Today my inspiration comes from Bob Marley. As I write this, I am presently sitting on a speed train from Shanghai to Nanjing and I am tuning into my music, in particular the music of Bob Marley. It is a foggy and grey day and I can say at this moment, without a doubt, I am happy. This train ride is providing me with time to read, to write, and to rest. I don’t want to get off as I am thoroughly enjoying the ride. Today my inspiration resides in the One Foundation song written and performed by Bob Marley.
The lyrics flow like this:
Got to build our love on one foundation.
There will never be NO love at all.
Got to put aside them segregation.
Got to come together.
We have to realize that we are one people.
From this song, I was inspired to write a mindfulness practice to focus on compassion for ourselves and for others. I've included an audio clip with this blog post that will allow you to listen to my voice as I lead you through the compassion exercise.
Here is the script as well. To listen to the audio clip, please click the link below.
Take a seat wherever you may be. Breathe.
Use your breath to become grounded and centered. Take a full body breath.
Offer up this quiet and still time to yourself as a gift. Breathe from your toes to the crown of your head.
Get physically and mentally comfortable with where you are. Full cycle of breath.
Aim to be spacious, still and silent. Strong deep breath.
Choose to keep your eyes open gently resting your gaze softly or allow your eyes to close completely. Breathe.
Now offer up this practice as a way of flexing your muscle of compassion for yourself and others. Full breath.
For each of the rounds, choose someone you are close to, a family member, a friend, a colleague, a difficult person or a community.
Just as I want to be healthy and free from pain so too does this person (state the person’s name)
Just as I want to be free from worry so too does this person (state their name)
Just as I want to be free from anger so too does this person (repeat their name).
Just as I want to be loved so too does (repeat their name).
Just as I want to experience joy so too does this person (repeat their name).
Just as I want to be peaceful and calm so too does this person (repeat their name).
Practice this exercise to develop your level of compassion to know that as Bob Marley says, ‘We have got to realize we are one people.’
Radiate compassion, practice sensitively and be present,
I do not regret growing older, wiser and stronger. Today is Tuesday, March 10th and it is my 45th birthday and I have a lot to be thankful for. I sat down today and took stock of all my blessings. There are so many people who have supported my life and continue to support me along the way. Without these blessings I would not be where I am.
Here are 45 things I am thankful for.
I am so grateful for:
1. Andy, an amazing partner, who loves me, imperfections and all.
2. Scrumptious dishes created by Andy that I get to devour over and over again.
3. Eli, my brilliant, witty, goofy, strong first born.
4. Tai, my gorgeous, compassionate, kind and principled sweetie
5. 20-second hugs
6. My beautiful mother and my witty dad, without them there would be no me.
7. Our lovable and slightly psycho dog Coffee who takes me out on daily mindful walks.
8. A career that I enjoy and find meaningful.
9. Running therapy with Marthe-Sophie.
10. Being surrounded by inspiring students and teachers.
11. Great friends from around the world ( lovable just as you are).
12. Power walks with Nadean.
13. Green avocado, apple and lemon smoothies in the morning.
14. Getting lost in the power of music and dancing.
15. First live music venue with my boys seeing Ed Sheeran, Shanghai 7/13/15.
16. My respiratory system which allows me to take deep breaths throughout the day.
17. Stretch marks from two pregnancies.
18. Presenting and sharing my love of mindfulness.
19. Sharing partner yoga with J & R on Monday nights.
20. The uniqueness of my healthy, curvy and marvelous body that has never failed me.
21. Wednesday morning tabata sessions with strong Emma.
22. Sitting still.
23. Gracefully surrendering things of my youth.
24. Daily laughter.
25. Feeling wiser.
26. A great night's sleep.
27. Motivating others.
28. A satisfied belly and a fully functioning gastrointestinal system.
29. Building a tapestry of experiences all over the world with my family.
30. Being able to ruffle my son Tai’s hair.
31. My sense of smell.
32. My strong thighs that let me walk, run, dance and play.
33. Long relaxing train rides that provide me with time to read.
34. Big buoyant clouds.
35. Smiles from strangers
36. Hot & relaxing baths.
37. Unexpected encounters with kind strangers.
38. Mountains to hike.
39. Beaches to visit and and falling asleep to the sounds of waves.
40. Time to read.
41. Comfy pajamas.
42. Brie cheese.
43. Being mindful of the wonderful blessings and beauty in my life.
44. Banana boat rides.
45. For all of the above and infinite things more to come - thank you, thank you, thank you.
May you all be happy, healthy and surrounded by numerous things to be oh so thankful for today and everyday.
Do you give yourself some genuine compliments when you wake-up to start your day? I know it sounds very corny. It’s not easy to admit that there are days when I am not very nice to myself first thing in the morning. Those mental thoughts that I whisper are not very pretty at all. Why would I say such things to myself when I would never consider repeating such thoughts to any other female friend of mine. The answer is quite simple. As humans we can be incredibly uncompassionate with ourselves. It’s so important to change this way of thinking about who we are and how we may think that we look according to the perspectives of others.
To admit that I am not very self-nurturing in this way isn’t very positive and yet I like to think that I am an 80 - 20 girl, meaning that I am positive about 80 % of the time and the other 20%, well you get the point, I can be very unflattering to myself. We are so incredibly quick to criticize ourselves. We find it so easy to look at what is not right and only focus on what is wrong. We have no qualms about broadcasting this information to others. Broadcasting and projecting negative views of myself is something that I used to do quite a bit, but I’ve learned over the years just how cruel this is.
As a Pisces my traits are considered to be imaginative, kind and compassion, intuitive, sensitive and self-less but on the dark side, people in my horoscope zone can also be escapists when things go wrong, idealistic, weak-willed, oversensitive, pessimistic and lazy. I believe that I may have tendencies leaning toward the darker side mentioned above at times, but as another birthday approaches, I am realizing more and more that we all have both positive and negative traits. Being mindful of this fact allows me to be more forgiving with myself if negative traits or poor self-talk enters my headspace.
Gracefully letting go of the past, those memories and things of my youth, and letting go of negativity is an important practice. This is why I want to flip it upside down. Liking who and what you see in the mirror every single morning that you wake up is so important. It’s about going beyond skin deep and connecting to that warmth, kindness, and radiance beneath the surface.
What is it that you like about yourself? When was the last time that you looked at yourself in the mirror and gave yourself a compliment? Although it may sound hokey at first, you would be doing yourself a great service if you did. As you treat yourself with loving kindness, you will etch messages in your brain and you’ll walk taller, take up more space, move differently, look and feel more confident. You’ll work on balancing an internal harmony and increasing positive body awareness.
Aim to look at yourself with sensitivity and compassion each morning. If you find this challenging, just start small at first. Maybe you might look at your belly with loving kindness knowing that those stretch marks gave you gorgeous twin boys or those green eyes are uniquely yours and you love to play them up with dramatic make-up. The goal is to sprout more positive praises for yourself so that your ‘zoom in’ lens will allow you to bring about more of whatever it is that you focus on. You will think differently and begin to embody those thoughts. So why not play around, flirt a little with yourself and practice self-love.
Scan your body from the crown of your head to the tips of your toes and provide yourself with genuine compliments. Practice gratitude for the miracle of your body and consider all of the minutia that goes unnoticed. See, feel and appreciate what your body does every day.
Be aware, give yourself some genuine compliments and strive to be well.
In 2004, I received one of those phone calls everyone dreads. At that time, I was living in Japan and my husband and I just had our first child. Our baby boy Eli was just 6 months old. The call relayed information about my father, Allan Kenneth Steele. He had suffered a massive stroke and was retaining fluids. He wasn’t doing well at all and I knew that I had to deal with the fact that this would be his swan song. My husband booked an emergency flight back to Canada to go and see my father not knowing how much longer he was going to be able to fight on. I managed to arrive in time and had 12 hours with him in the hospital room along with my dad’s sister, my beloved Aunt marjorie.
My sister, her husband and my two younger brothers were also present during this difficult time. It was here that we all experienced immense pain. As you can imagine, it felt like a cleaver permanently stuck in your heart but we managed to laugh between those incredibly tough moments. It was the comic relief that helped us get through that incredibly difficult time.
My dad loved the power of laugher and was often caught many a time, cracking up the sales lady, the mechanic at the gas station and strangers he came across in his life. He was extremely generous in this way of sharing his joy. As a young girl, I was impatient and when my dad would chat away sharing his jokes, we were sometimes left waiting restlessly ready to move on. I believe it is only now, years later that I have come to understand him better and see that I can be quite similar to him at times.
Reminiscing about my dad, I vividly remember him saying that people who didn’t laugh (at least at his jokes) had full frontal lobe deficiency. It didn’t matter what occasion it was, my father always enjoyed sharing a smile and making others chuckle. When my husband and I first moved overseas my father would call me regularly and every time we spoke, he had a new joke to share. Even when he was repeating a joke that I had already heard, I still managed to laugh over the phone. Oh, how I miss his voice and would love to hear a few of his familiar jokes. Today would have been my father's 80th birthday. How I wish that he was here with us still.
Laughter and Teaching
A few weeks ago there was a day that my students seemed to be having a tough morning that was full of challenges. The mood was a bit sombre and serious, so I decided to show them a few funny videos. After I asked the students to share what they noticed about their feelings and sensations in their body after watching these hilarious videos and they were keen to share their thoughts.
Some of their responses included:
All the bad stuff that happened today went away.
I feel full of energy.
My face hurts from laughing.
I feel light.
The power of laughter is undeniably healing.There is a quote somewhere that says the average person laughs about 15 times a day and the average preschooler laughs over 400 times a day. There are some days that I take things too seriously and I’m sure that on these days that my genuine laughs are few and far between. This week, I aim to be an over achiever and to find little delights of humor and fun to bring about genuine laughs and joy.
So this week take note;
How many times do you laugh a day?
Do you laugh at yourself?
Who do you laugh with?
How often do you share your joy of laughter?
Who brings laughter into your life?
Do you surround yourself with people who make you laugh and feel joy?
How often do you goof around?
Remember we all need a big dose of silly every day to keep the joy alive. Laughter heals! That's one thing that everybody needs to better understand, including myself. Aim to add more joyous laughter into to your day, every day this week.
Remember to be silly, connect with joy and laughter and remain present.
Gallivanting around the globe with my family has always been an experience that makes me feel excited. There is the art of people watching at airports, the buzz of the train stations and that big audible sigh of relief when you arrive at your destination. Over the years, I have come to realize that I favor places that are slightly chaotic and full of character versus sanitized and impersonal. The adrenaline rush of having a break from our everyday routines, in a different part of the world still gives me such a thrill.
Travel takes us out of our normal daily routines and away from our list of things to do. Somehow when we leave home we notice things with newfangled eyes and it is such a delight.
What I love about traveling is that it brings about a new awareness, you begin to experience new smells, tastes, sounds and all of your senses are on high alert as you step out of the comfort zone of your day to day patterns. Immediately you are more alert to the experiences, you pause to notice the diversity and what is beautiful. You note this awareness when seemingly unexpected things happen that point you in a particular direction with incredible surprises.
When you travel mindfully you have to remember to be very flexible, it is not all picture perfect post card moments. There are unplanned delays, queues, and bumpy rides. In addition to being flexible in your attitude, you'll also need to pack a willingness to receive help and support from strangers along the way. All of this is a part of the adventure and, as always, the things that go wrong make for even better stories to share with friends and family upon your return home. I’d say through all the undulations of traveling, being mindful is a practice, and I am always striving to be present to all the pleasures of traveling, both positive and negative.
I’ll leave you with the opening verse of Van Morrison’s These are the days.
The lyrics emphasize the simple act of appreciation in life is to be rooted in the present moment: “These are the days, the time is now. There is no past, there’s only future.There’s only here, there’s only now.”
Be mindful, savor your days and be present to the pleasures in your life.