Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Autumn Mindfulness

I wrote in Summer Mindfulness about a class I took this summer on mindfulness for educators. I also wrote about my struggles incorporating mindfulness into the classroom. Here's an update as the year progresses.

As someone with my own life-saving, pain-easing, anxiety-reducing, compassion-and-calm-producing yoga and meditation practice, I have always wanted to bring my practice to others, especially children, but often get waylaid. When I taught in a large elementary school classroom I used to try a little yoga or breathing with my students now and then, but when the schedule was frantic and I didn't see others reinforcing this work, I usually gave up pretty quickly. My best, most committed year, was the one in which I created Moment That Matters. It was a moment set aside in the day that could be used for any number of things. Sometimes I taught a yoga pose or led a short self-talk moment -- "I can do this!" -- or even just a class phone call home to a child who was sick. That year I had an assistant who loved I was doing this. That was a great reinforcement, even still I eventually started glossing through the time quickly or skipped the Moment altogether.

This year, partly inspired by the mindfulness class and partly by new circumstances, I'm determined to try yet again. As I have for the past three years, I am teaching in a resource room setting rather than a large classroom. My office/classroom used to be joined with someone else's. It was a very comfortable room and I loved the time I spent collaborating with the teacher who shared the room. However, there was a lot of movement in and out of the room either by her students or other teachers coming to get books that were stored there. So I suppose I must have lost confidence in the importance of that little bit of peace I was trying to bring into my students' academic day.

This year my office/classroom was moved. My old space was needed for first grade and my new one is actually joined to one of the Second Grade classes I serve. However,  it's a space I never initially would have chosen. Some years ago it was the back of the gym. Later a wall was built to incorporate it as a storage area into a classroom. Now the storage has been removed from the area and it is my office. There is no window or regular air circulation, so I've brought into the space everything I can to make it comfortable. (Mind you, interior decorating has never been a strength of mine.)

As you enter, you pass through a magical curtain instead of a door. It feels as though you are entering a sacred or secret space. My principal choose a calming blue paint that now covers two of the four walls. I have an air purifier which both clears the air and provides white noise to block out the sound from the adjoining classroom. Finally I have put to use an aromatherapy diffuser that I've had for years but never really did much good in larger spaces. I have a collection of oils that my students help me choose from for the room. Every now and then students in the adjoining classroom say, "I'm getting hungry for cookies. Where is that peppermint smell coming from?!"

For each of my daily 6 classes, the first thing I list on the board's agenda is "chime." The children are reminded by a poster I have on the wall, "When you hear the chime, show you are ready by sitting tall and breathing slow, quiet and relaxing breaths." Even the students who giggle over his follow the directions and will remind me if somehow I skip that step.

Partly inspired by a meeting I had with a psychologist of one of my more anxious students, I also add in some self-talk. So I might say, "Today while I ring the chime, think to yourself, 'I've got this!'" Other phrases I might use are, "My brain is so good at learning," and for one of my more distracted groups, "I am ready to learn something new."

Last week we had a lockdown drill. The 20 kids who use the room that adjoins mine came into the space with me and my two more anxious students. Since we knew to expect this drill, we worked together first to move the tables and chairs out of the way. (This gave ownership of the room and the situation to those students.) Then when the class came in I asked the class teachers if I might use the time to read quietly to the students. Right away out came Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda. The children were silent and absorbed it all.
Image result for mindful monkey happy panda

Even when the drill was over they were happy to sit to the end of the book and followed my lead when I closed my eyes at the end and said, "Right now I'm kneeling on this hard floor, I'm sweating because it's so crowded in here and it's pretty uncomfortable, but I'm also breathing gently and telling myself that in this moment, I'm really OK."

I got a note from the parent of one of those anxious children noted above. The child came home and quoted to the mother from the book about how to stay in the present moment. Her mother has been trying to teach her this skill and was grateful I reinforced it.

I've got this.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Remission Anniversary #12

This is me during the Providence Bridge Pedal of 2003. I cried when I discovered I wasn't strong enough do the longer route that I wanted to take towards the Sellwood Bridge and had to remind myself how wonderful it was that I could do it at all. Both truths were real. I wasn't strong enough to make it to Sellwood AND I did the Providence Bridge Pedal even while undergoing chemo.

This first paragraph is what I will post on Facebook today:

Today marks my 12th year free from cancer. I celebrate today not only to be cancer-free, but also to have experienced cancer. I'm grateful that the lymphoma was eradicated from my body, but am also grateful for the deep teachings it brought me about my own strength and about surrender. While I no longer think daily of my status as a survivor, I do daily face the question of what I'm able to do and what my limitations are. Every day we are all given an infinite number of opportunities to be thankful and the choice to be compassionate towards ourselves. I think the gift of cancer has somehow helped me look at this a little more seriously than if I hadn't had it.

This second paragraph is just for the blog:

I write this now knowing that yesterday a colleague's mother died from the same disease. I was uncertain at first how to handle that. Should I celebrate in the way that I'd planned, bringing a platter of food to school to celebrate? Would doing so be callous, I celebrate life while someone else mourns? It reminds me of when I first learned that I would survive my cancer, but felt so sorry, and some guilt, that my sister-in-law, Denise, did not.

As I turn off the deliberate thinking and go deep with this, I realize that the deep spiritual work is just in holding all of this truths together. I lived.  Another died. There is suffering. There is beauty. There is.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Hoshanot 2015

I guess writing about Hoshanot is becoming a tradition for me as I did it in 2013 as well as in 2012 in a post that led to my article on JOFA's site and all the way back in 2005 in this article to name a few. You can search the blog if you really want, but by now you will have gotten the point.

Well, this year I had two similar but distinctly different Hoshanot experiences. The first was in our regular shul. Remembering anxiety in past years about how this might go, I emailed the rabbi ahead of time and asked that it be made very clear exactly where women would be and how to participate during the Hoshanot service. I also asked what I could do to help make sure this happened. Our rabbi assured me all would go well, that he would make sure there was a circle for men as well as one for woman, and said what I could do was recruit (which I did a little).

I was grateful to see that an email appeared in the bulletin inviting both women and men to participate in Hoshanot and encouraged both to bring lulav and etrog.

Welcome To Our Sukkah!

These first two days of Sukkot were packed and I want to write about two things that happened. In this post I'll tell about the sukkah hop. I'll use another post for the other thing.

So in our shul there is an annual sukkah hop. It used to consist of hoards of children bombarding one sukkah after another, swooping up candy, and leaders pleading with them to say thank you and try not to break anything. At least, that's what I hear.

Friday, August 28, 2015


There are a lot of landmarks looming for me right now. Next June I turn 40. I'm just about to start teaching for my 11th year at the same school which means I've lived here for 10 years, taught here for 10 years and now gone camping for the 10th year in a row.

I remember how I felt at the end of my annual camping trip after the very first year. Pure terror filled me as I'd had a rough beginning at the new job and have always tended to be anxious. I felt nauseous and doomed. Teaching has always been anxiety-producing. At other times in my career it has manifested as keeping candles oriented in a particular way during yoga to help me see how close to Shabbat I was. At other times I remember being afraid to get out of bed until I could just remember the face of a child from my class instead of feeling I was drowning in the sea of things I needed to do and could not seem to do well enough.

It has been a habit for me to cling desperately to things that make me feel safe... visits home to Portland, hoarding of special items I'd buy there, weekends, precious moments in nature.

I've been through the cycle so many times now, it's no longer a big deal. When I went on my souvenir hunts this summer, I still loaded up, but not as much, and wondered what things at home I could get rid of at the same time.

How is this possible?

For one, I've become a better teacher.

For another, I have an easier position now than I used to.

Refuge seems to always be accessible now even if it takes a deliberate breath or step away from a difficult situation, but I've so many times gone through days that just weren't as bad as I thought, that I feel fine more often now.

As I began to reflect on this I wondered if age has brought a dulling of my feelings. I'm feeling less anxious. Does that mean less happy too? Now... it just means feeling a little lighter. Happiness is less desperate, but it's certainly there.

Don't get me wrong. I wouldn't mind if I were still camping right now. However, when I show up on Tuesday next week, it will feel familiar and I don't have to think a lot about it right now.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Missing writing

I admit it. I'm jealous. A friend from my writer's group, Writer Granny posted a few days ago that she hit blog post number 1,521 after having started her blog in 2009. This blog that you're looking at was started in November of 2004 and this post is number 912.

The result? I'm writing a blog post that doesn't say a whole lot of anything.

A few hours ago we took a break from some household chores and watched Spellbound, a documentary about 8 kids competing for the world championship in a spelling bee. Talk about over-achievement! My takeaway (especially after my last post): When you set goals that are really really high, there will always be a little disappointment, even if you really do the very best you can. To be in the moment without qualifiers, without "but" or "if only," but just to be and do what's possible with a little bit of discipline, that's my new goal. It's not easy to keep a goal like that under pressure. However, it's a goal that I can be proud of achieving again and again in small victories.

So why I'm writing this blog post. Well, yeah, I wish I had more blog posts. Am I aiming for 1,521? No, not right now. I do think I'd like to post a little more often though, and then maybe I'll throw a party when I discover I've actually reached 1000.

Another small victory.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Summer Mindfulness

Summer is a complicated time for me. I'm fully aware of how fortunate I am to be part of the working population who has the summer "off" and as a result has a very different life during that time.

My summers are not, however, smooth sailing. My workaholism, ambition and strong belief in the importance of professional development prevent me from just vacationing. I've been putting in hours studying for my special education endorsement program as well as accomplishing things that I'm unable to do during the school year.

The onset of every summer is emotionally jarring for me. There's an enormous leap from putting in long and stressful hours, investing my work into children, worrying that my work over the year wasn't enough, waving them off and then having only my own child left to care for. To put in so much energy for other beings and then just have them disappear after maybe giving me a goodbye and thank you card is uncomfortable. It shakes up my sense of self-worth and industry. Then I face unstructured days and lists upon lists of expectations for myself, goals, to do lists.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Yad

I wrote in a previous blog post about our visit to Safed and of commissioning a beautiful glass yad to be created for me.

Today was the first day I used it, and a very busy day at that. We davened at our local "Shira Hadasha style minyan" where today I had more roles than I'm used to having in a single day. I led the Torah service, leined Hamishi and told a drash as well. The Torah service I've done enough times that it doesn't take a lot of preparation, but I've been practicing the leining for weeks. I was inspired to do it that as I was eager for my first chance to use the yad. I said a shechechiyanu on it before reading.

Between the leining, davening and speech, the speech went most smoothly. (I had the leining down perfect when I left home this morning but botched it reading from an unfamiliar Torah.) I'm enclosing the text of my speech. It's a little rough. I didn't actually read the pages I held, but rather spoke whenever possible, using what I had written as a backup and as a guide.