A Can of Worms and Other Rituals

It’s been tough going back to school. Dealing with my own fractured energy is hard enough, but suddenly I’ve been thrust into everything else, a day-to-day chaos which teachers must shape into learning in a not so brave new world. And it requires hours of reading and conceptualizing and creating and time! And the consequences and fruits already are apparent in my body as I slip back toward adrenal fatigue.

Enter self-care. The new “best practice” which supports “teacher autonomy” and learning. Not lip-service. Rather, it is intertwined with other tools of the trade and the broad categories of this can of worms: Mindfulness, Social-emotional learning, Restorative practices, Total communication practices, Brain exercises, Comprehensible input, Coding, Self-talk. Meta-cognition.

Each day, I patiently thread this self-care in to each period online, in face, and in spirit to my ever changing school setting. I have a cozy little room and a refreshing new minimalist view on material goods. I feel safe most of the time, and I have clear boundaries. We all wear masks. We have temperature checks. Many of us try to NOT be socially isolated, but the days are long and we mostly look tired and defeated leaving. It’s hard to share a laugh when there’s no time to share a cry and hugs and hold each other in the massive emptiness of the unknown.

I have a massive respect for parents this year. I’m grateful that my kids are graduated and out of our schools. I can clearly understand the nightly meltdowns and harried demanding emails to teachers about how stupid an assignment is. I feel the same. I know I have students who can’t manipulate Google documents and make their text boxes bigger. I know because I’m one of those students.

I struggle. My practiced, refined, and automatic thinking processes crumble and cower with the 7 hour routine of being online everyday and trying to reach all my students and everyone should be able to see, hear (or have interpreted) and share, triaging 100+. remembering meetings in new departments, and doing a hundred other administrative things that only matter at school. So, I model. Here’s my cell phone. Yes, it’s on my desk, but I’m not going to look at it until lunch. Its here for emergencies. By the way, there’s a fire drill today. If you are at home, what should you do?

And what do we do or where do we find out what to do for a/n fire drill, active assailant drill, inclement weather drill, late dismissal, a kid that shows symptoms, a quarantine letter, a free testing site which has enough tests? There are memorandums which we get after we learn what we actually have to do, and do it well. We keep our F2F students safe, and let go of learning content for that period until this becomes unacceptable and incongruous with mandated testing looming (thanks to our governor and Dept. of Ed). And I’ve missed meetings because of the 3 surgeries my husband has had and I can’t watch the 2 hour recording…not that anyone says anything because everyone is dealing with the same things, which means the students are, too.

Just as practices of physical safety are part of physical and formal school, mindfulness can be, too. Revisiting and reaquainting myself each morning in my own practice beneath the sky helps me build the strength and stamina to begin anew each day until we all feel safe to do good work.

The question really becomes what is good work? What does the student think good work is? The parent? The district? The State? Is it test scores? Is it all these things and more? For me, it seems pretty clear. Learning requires a new and readily practiced set of skills for coping, growing, and succeeding.

Refuge

flames

We have created circles around chasing gratification. When we begin to leave the chase we have to find new circles. These circles support us as we examine the suffering the chase causes. These circles support us as we discover a new purpose. The Buddhists describe this as finding refuge. We find refuge from our old belief system. We find refuge from a world that does not understand the change in our life. We find a refuge for this new way of seeing. We find a refuge for this new purpose. Together we create sacred ground. This ground will be beneath our feet, it’s dust a gentle presence, we will be breathing in it’s scent as we take our first steps on the path to freedom.

-Rolf Gates, excerpt from a new book on addiction recovery and yoga, retrieved from FB 7/28/2017

Day 248 – My July has been filled with wondrous adventures and unexpected stresses from lack of normalcy and routine to food dilemmas, which have taken a toll on my body.  As usual, I injured my shoulder inadvertently on the mountain hike in the rain (when I slipped) and have been receiving care from my chiropractor, modifying exercise, and not practicing yoga at all.  Today, is the first day I am not working and not feeling poorly; my body has been reeling from the cruise food.  Refuge is today’s theme, and as such, the reading in Meditations from the Mat supports the quote above serendipitously well.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to share my “union” story with my brother and sister AR’s at the shop steward training.  The buzz words are “collective,” “sister- and brotherhood,” and “community” here.  I couldn’t help but think of CrossFit and Florida Tribal Dance.  What makes these places so incredibly special:  leadership, community, and love.  These are places of refuge when we are suffering.

For me, my 40’s has been a journey of learning and unlearning and relearning. Similarly, Rolf writes:  “I am someone who has had to work at life.  Somewhere along the way, I picked up a set of rules for myself that put me in conflict with the world.  I have had to unlearn those rules, and to painstakingly learn and apply a new set of rules.”  However, as the opening quote of Day 248 (from/by John Gardner) points out, “we must strive to reach that simplicity that lies beyond the sophistication.”

As I spoke to my fellow AR’s about how CrossFit Milk District brings out the very best in a diverse group of people coming together at various abilities and levels of fitness and circumstance, I realized how important creating a place of refuge is for people, and how the people who create, cultivate, and sustain these places do so in the midst of a complex day-to-day life.  Rolf aptly describes these people in today’s read, writing:  “They smile readily and have a genuine concern for the people around them. For them life is quite simple, for if you come from a place of love, the world around you will respond with love.”

While I’m not suggesting in any way that people must find their refuge in unionism/activism, CrossfFit, yoga, or religion, what I am suggesting is that finding a community which supports us and is our refuge through our times of suffering and self-discovery (the learning, unlearning, and relearning) is essential to our well-being.  Moreover, I can say through this reflection today I have discovered my currency is love and I feel best around others who share that value (whether they know it or not — feel free to substitute whatever buzzword needs to be inserted for currency and value).  Love literally brings tears to my eyes when I think of all the people I love and who love me back in my family, community, and life.  I am truly blessed.  I don’t think it such a bad thing to want to create, cultivate, and sustain a community based on love for my school.  We need refuge from our complex and sophisticated political, pedagogical, and bureaucratic culture.

Skills and epiphanies

It’s 7:34 a.m., and my day begins innocuously.  I wake to see my husband preparing for work (he’s up later than usual, too).  With no intention to rise early on my first day off of summer, I stretch and check Facebook on my cellphone plugged in by my bed, knowing that there will be 15-30 notifications with the late hour.  I give some space every morning for doing this, without judgment to others that do the same (but that is a different blog). I notice a million things running through my mind:  I should clean the bedroom, organizing my bedside, top of the dresser (that hasn’t been cleaned off in over a year), altar; I need do fold and put away the clothes in the laundry basket, wash the sheets, clean the bathroom; I can do yoga this morning (a long session); oh, but, I have a headache, so no morning crossfit session for me.  I need to drink water…I have a headache.

It’s 7:43, and I slowly emerge to the kitchen and say aloud (my daughter, the cook, is packing my husband’s breakfast away to take to work due to the late hour):  I want coffee, but I need to drink my water first.  I already was up drinking water when I let the cats out (late, of course) at 5:30 a.m., and took my thyroid medicine, so I could drink coffee when I woke up without delay.  I fill my smaller Tervis with water and a pinch of Himalayian salt, clean up our oldest dog’s accident because of the late morning hour, and call all our doggy friends to go outside.  My husband is preparing his scooter (his transporation) for take-off to work (a morning ritual in itself).  I tell my daughter:  I have a headache (probably 3 or 4 times).  My mind is spinning out of control with things I want or should do on my first day off.  I should read an entire book (because I can), I should work in the garden (I’m outside), I can meditate and take time on my reflection (see space365), I should plant beans.

It’s 7:44, and I look down at my front yard fairy garden.  The milkweed plant is stripped! I exclaim:  What happened to my plant?!?   
life

It’s 7:45 a.m.  I’ve called my husband out of his morning ritual, taken the pups inside, and grabbed my phone to take a photo (or 2 or 3).  Our whole backyard used to be a butterfly garden, replete with batlike swallowtails (including zebrawings, which took 5 years to coax into our backyard), stalwart monarches, playful fritillary, and swan-like sulphur (until my cassia fell to the one and only bitter winter we had in Florida over the 12 years we lived in this house) butterflies.  The planting of the front yard was a reclaiming of space, a ritual of touching the Earth, of feeling the potential–the tremendous potential–of life in all its possibilities.  It was a small step in my stress management.

With my medications and diet (or rather, nutrition–a whole ‘nother can of worms to blog about) in balance, and with my mind no longer foggy, words bounce around in my head aimlessly and quite intensely.  I’ve of late been calming them (which I will after I finish this blog) through meditation and reflection.  I’ve been changing my habits.  With all the should/can/need/want-to‘s in my head today, one moment of a wonderous and beautiful life cycle stopped this chatter.  Seriously, the amount of joy that this brought me was profound, and made me think of all the previous times that I have experienced the same simple happiness over something so seemingly small.

Dutifully to my mindfulness practice, my mind started thinking of ways to encapsulate this joy into the classroom.  How do I tranform ennui into excitement?  Practically speaking, I don’t think I could; In fact, my book-study friend and I revel in a idea of Stephen Cope (see more information here), that boredom is a habit that should be cultivated.  Still, I asked myself:  How do you turn boredom into curiosity? How do you teach students to be moved by simple wonders? How do you get them to experience ah-ha moments in times of boredom?  How do you teach skills and epiphanies?

The skill and pratice of mindfulness through meditation with habit-building, ritual, and reflection (whether it be a journal, blog, or notebook–or all of these!) are essential to a learner.  My problem, unlike many of my students, is not too few connections due to meta-cognition deficits, lack of experience, sociocultural and socioeconomic circumstances, ADD/ADHD, or executive functioning, etc.; my affliction is too many connections firing at once.  How do we differentiate for this in the classroom? How do we literally and metaphoically teach this simple joy upon seeing monarch larvae munch asclepias to death?  This is my irresistible circumstance.