Blog

Mindful Thanksgiving Day CHALLENGE

mindful-thanksgiving1.jpg

Maleficent in laws, impossible menus, bumper-to-bumper car trips, stress, anxiety, fear… oh my!  Sadly, these are the situations and emotions that plague many of us during a holiday that should IDEALLY be marked by gratitude, bonding, serenity, and joy.  Mindful living techniques to the rescue!  To me, mindful living, being completely, non judgmentally engaged in the present moment, provides me with a type of “lens” through  which I can shift my perception of situations that have the potential to unsettle me.

The traditional Thanksgiving, if you celebrate it, is one of those holidays that may provide the perfect opportunity to consciously practice mindful perception, or to perceive through a “mindful lens”.  All senses are engaged as stimuli are heightened: there is the preparation, the family engagement, the travel, and of course, the food.

So are you ready for the Thanksgiving Day Mindfulness Challenge??!!

mindful thanksgiving2
Lil’ Thomas made this for our library.

In the Morning

Before you jump out of bed to start the day, take a deep breath, and feel gratitude.  This is a simple ritual that I try to practice every day.  Be thankful for your body, your breath, and your life.  With all of its aches and pains, your body is a gift, and our ability to sense and feel is a blessing we take for granted when we are caught up in thoughts.  Then extend the positive emotion with a lovingkindness meditation.  This is a Buddhist practice through which you focus intently on love for yourself, then for your loved ones, then to those in your life to whom you feel neutral, out toward those with whom you have conflict (a tough one, I know!) and finally, out to the world at large.

Traveling

How many times have you driven from A to B without recalling the journey at all?  How many times have you blown past your exit because you were so wrapped up in thought?  Before discovering mindfulness, this was my daily work commute to a T!  Ugh…  You know the burning in your face and sickness in your stomach that occurs when people honk their horns or cut you off in traffic?  That, my friends, is the fight or flight response.  The primal part of our brains translate that type of experience as a mortal threat, and like a deer in headlights, our bodies act accordingly.  If this happens to you, recognize the sensation for what it is and find that it passes more quickly.  Fully engage yourself in the process of driving.  Feel the power and the miracle of the vehicle you are controlling to move at such speeds.  Take in the scenery lining the road in front of you.  Notice the angle of the sun.  Focusing in this way will pull your focus away from worry and anxiety about the visit to come.  (Are you flying?  Read Mindful Flight.)

Communication

This first suggestion may be an easy one for me as I am more of a European football fan (soccer) than one of American football.  (Sorry!!  Lol)  Although I won’t suggest you turn off the TV altogether, do attempt mindful communication with your family members.  When people speak to you, look them in they eye.  Give them time to complete their thoughts.  Note body language.  Are they anxious depressed?  Consider this when processing what they share.  Secondly, don’t forget to focus mindful attention on the kids.  See them for the blessing they are, even of they are wreaking havoc and making a mess!  Don’t interrupt their play, just watch.  And finally, don’t forget our furry friends.  Poor pets…  They are often the lowest on the totem pole.  Pay attention to them!  Be mindful that holiday celebrations can be incredibly stressful for animals (noise, break in routine, perceived threats, etc.).

mindful thanksgiving3
Jess brought this to work. It was a whole cake before first period!

Sitting Down to the Meal

NO PHONES.  I repeat, NO PHONES.  Rude during ANY meal, this practice takes inconsideracy and mindLESSness to a whole new level during holiday meals.  Pay attention to your family and engage in a practice called mindful eating.  (NOTE: Mindful eating is a common therapy for people suffering from eating disorders.)  As tempting as it may be to gorge yourself (My personal weakness is sweet potato pie.  I am actually drooling at the thought!), slow down.  Take a moment to smell the food before stuffing it into your mouth.  Chew your food thoroughly before swallowing, noticing texture and consistency.  How about temperature?  Note the difference between hot and cold dishes.  LOOK at the food.  See the rich, diverse colors; cranberry, greens, and shades of brown.  Slowing down will enhance your enjoyment of the meal, and potentially avoid the need for antacids later on!

Reflection

At the conclusion of your mindful Thanksgiving Day, congratulate yourself for allowing yourself the opportunity to fully embrace life, mindfully.  How did the lovingkindness exercise in the morning impact your attitude throughout the day?  What miracle of nature did you notice during your mindful travels?  What did you learn about someone in your family that you would have missed had you not payed attention?  How did the mindful eating turn a gorge-fest into nourishment for the soul?

Holding That Gratitude Throughout the Holiday Season

READ one of the following children’s books.  Trust of your Mindful Librarian!  One is more beautiful than the next:

Grateful: A Song of Giving Thanks (Julie Andrews Collection)

Buy on Amazon

 

There Is a Flower at the Tip of My Nose Smelling Me

The Giving Tree

Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? (Classic Seuss)

Gratitude Soup

Meditation Is an Open Sky: Mindfulness for Kids, by Whitney Stewart with pictures by Sally Rippin

This book is a complete gem.  Even though the intended audience is K through 3, I can see using this in my collection as an instruction manual for mindfulness for my middle schoolers (as well as their teachers!).  The strength of this book is the fact that it provides a variety of actual mindfulness practices for kids.  It can work as a daily guide.  Students can choose their methods based on their emotional needs at any given time.  The book describes activities such as, “Mind Drawing for Focus,” “Protection Circle for Security,” and “Friendship Meditation for Kindness.”  They are mostly visualization and breathing exercises.

Intrusive thoughts that “pop up” during meditation are likened to bubbles.  This instruction is to “pop” them when the mind wanders.  As a Reiki practitioner, energy work is a big part of my mindfulness practice and I love how this book alludes to chakras (energy centers in the body) and the importance of, and simple strategies for, sending and receiving energy.  For example, the “Wise Friend for Decision Making” exercise encourages one to envision a wise friend sending, “white light into your forehead to strengthen your body.”  The center of the eyes is the location of the Ajna Chakra, or “third eye chakra,” and it is the point for insight and intuition.  One instructed to then imagine receiving light over the throat for clear speech.  (This is the Vishuddha Chakra.)

The illustrations that accompany the text are simplistic and delightful.  The main subject is a cute elephant and his little friend (representative of the “wise friend” within) is a monkey.  The book concludes with “Questions about Meditation.”  Worded simply for a child, they are the same questions adults often have regarding the practice.  (“What do I do when I feel wriggly?” or “sore legs?”)  In short, this is a delightful little book, and a great addition to my mindful library.

Coincidence?

8E4B708E-

You wake up one morning and recall a dream in which an old high school friend, whom you haven’t spoken to in years, plays a central role. (Let’s call her Mayra.)  The same morning, on the way to work, you turn on the radio and catch an old, unpopular song that you and Mayra once sang at a karaoke party.  Later that day, you get a Facebook alert that it is Mayra’s birthday.  Is it mere coincidence?  Maybe.  Moving mindfully through life though, I seem to be encountering more and more incidences of coincidences, or phenomena perhaps better termed, synchronicity.

According to Dictionary.com, a coincidence is, “A striking occurrence of two or more events at one time apparently by mere chance.”  The same site defines synchronicity as, “The simultaneous occurrence of causally unrelated events and the belief that the simultaneity has meaning beyond mere coincidence.”  This last part regarding the meaning of such events has been my latest big topic of interest.  Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, refers to synchronicity as “meaningful coincidence” and “acausal parallelism.”  Could the dream, the song, and the alert have been just an interesting fluke?  Mere chance?  Or perhaps something more?

In his book, The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire, Deepak Chopra states, “Coincidences are not accidents but signals from the universe which can guide us toward our true destiny.”  He writes of something called “Synchrodestiny,” which can be reached by “accessing a place deep within yourself, and [by paying] attention to the coincidences outside.”  As mindful meditation and mindful living practices both involve digging deep within, nonjudgmentally, and living fully in the present moment, it would only make sense that the more I practice, the more I find what seem like hidden messages coming to the forefront of my consciousness and spurring me to action.  

We have all heard the phrase millions of times: follow your gut.  This is infinitely easier to do when you are unburdened by unnecessary stress and anxiety.  Intuition, in the form of a hunch, coupled by signs and connections from the outside world, shouldn’t be ignored.  A relative of mine who lives far away had been on my mind for a few days.  Flipping through a magazine, I came across an article about his hometown.  I followed my gut and picked up the phone.  He happened to be in crisis and so grateful for my call.  Apparently, “coincidentally,” I had the answer to a problem he had been struggling with for some time.  30453989-.jpg

Things like this force one to question the nature of life altogether.  Are our lives parts of some big master plan?  Is there another force at work here? Quantum Theory does suggest that everything in the universe is connected.  As you move mindfully through YOUR life, try paying attention to coincidences and seek out the deeper significance of every encounter.  Every person who crosses your path, whether it be brief or long-term, can leave you with valuable insight if you pay attention.  Whether you believe in guardian angels, spirit guides, God, “The Force,” or none of the above, through mindful attention, you may find that the universe is trying to tell you something.  Listen.

Tiny Teachers and Mindfulness Masters

This past summer, on one of the most picturesque mornings (sunny, dry, and cool), a friend and I went for a hike in Cold Spring Harbor.  It was a wonderful, mindful experience.  The colors of nature just popped and every hiker and runner we passed was glowing with positive energy.  At the highest point of the trail, we could look down and see the water of the inner harbor gleaming like uncut sapphire.  The brightest shine, however, didn’t come from the sights or the people on the trail…  

After the hike, we stopped in town to recharge over brunch.  We chose a cozy,  kid-friendly gourmet market/cafe with a huge candy and fudge counter.  As we chatted, my eyes kept pulling my attention back to a mother and child who also came in for a bite.  The little boy was absolutely adorable.  Dressed to the nines, he looked like he could have just stepped out of a children’s clothing catalogue.  

Outfit aside, what struck me about him was his face, particularly the eyes.  Ice cream in hand, he moved past the candy counter, glowing with complete wonder and contentment.  He paused periodically only to tackle the cone in his hand, which he did with complete relish.  Not a single care in the world.  Completely in the moment.  Wide-eyed with wonder and appreciation.  A tiny Buddha.  The perfect picture of mindfulness…  From the corner of his eye he glanced a dessert shaped like a cute monster, dashed over to the candy counter glass, smushed his free hand and face against it, and squealed happily for his mother to come see.  My friend and I just smiled.

At this point a profound thought crossed my mind.  Imagine if we, as adults, could move throughout our lives with the same wonder and appreciation, free of past regrets or worries about the future.  Now of course, adult concerns and responsibilities are realities we need to face in order to function in this world, but when we are not actively engaged in problem solving, why not try to view the world through a lens like the glass of the candy counter?  

As a practitioner of mindfulness, I must say that the “kid’s-eye-view” of the world is by far my greatest analogy for mindful perception.  Mindfulness courses, books, groups and instructors provide guidance that will improve your practice, provided you do just that; practice.  But looking to kids as the embodiment of mindful living is a sweet way for you to reinforce the way mindfulness can improve your overall wellness and happiness.  So, how to apply this to life?  For one, if you either have, or work with, little children, foster and nurture their sense of wonder whenever possible.  Let the weight of the world fall upon them gently if you can.  And as for yourself, look to the little ones as models of mindfulness.

 

For Mindful Parents/Teachers: The First Days of School

The faint chill in the air, the hints of yellows and reds in the trees, the first flights of flocks of fully-grown geese… AND the push and shove of antsy parents scrambling for that last orange, plastic, three-hole binder at Target can mean only one thing…

TIME FOR SCHOOL!!!!   

Now add the letter from central administration inviting you to Superintendent’s Conference Day, along with a roster of new student names.  When you are a teacher as well as a parent, this time of year rouses a host of emotions that run the gamut from psyched, to terrified, to relieved, to depressed.  How to manage???  Mindfulness, of course.  To be mindful is to pay focused attention to yourself in your surroundings in the present moment, while non-judgmentally observing your mental, physical, and emotional states.  By doing this, we can significantly improve our attitudes and reactions (both internal, and external) and in turn, positively impact those around us.  And the people around us who matter the most during back-to-school time are very important people indeed: our children and our students.  

20161201_113739

It Starts With Us

Improving our world begins as an ‘inside job’.  In order to provide the much needed love, care, and support to kids in a time of such flux, we first need to take stock of our own well-being.  Only then can we can effectively apply mindful communication techniques in our interactions with these fragile, little beings.

The challenge for me, as a parent and teacher at the end of a summer vacation is that for the past two months, mindfulness practice was easier.  My responsibilities were limited.  I was able to unplug from my devices without fear of missing something important (see Beating Tech Overload).  I was able to sleep until my body was ready to wake (most mornings, anyway).  This didn’t mean I stayed in bed awake and too lazy to move, but having the discipline to climb out of bed just as my eyes were naturally opening (NOT at the blare of an alarm). For me, this is the BEST time for mindfulness practice, as it truly sets the tone for the day.  We were particularly blessed this year to have really mild weather, so there were plenty of mindful walks.  It isn’t too difficult to be truly in the moment when your moment is watching the sun set over the water at the beach.

Strategies for Keeping the Mindful Momentum

Start mornings with a to-do list, then put it to the side.  This will eliminate the worry and fear of forgetting something important, enabling you to focus fully on the task at hand.  In order to live and work mindfully you need to shed notions about the supposed benefits of multitasking.  I attended a workshop with Cory Muscara (The Long Island Center for Mindfulness) during which he said that we only ever have one email in our inbox; the one we are currently reading.  If you are short on sleep and didn’t have the morning time to meditate, take just three minutes at your desk to focus on nothing but your breathing.  Take frequent breaks to walk.  Keep sneakers in your car and weather permitting, walk during lunch.  When times are stressful, I know I tend to overeat and reach for carbs.  Avoid this by planning ahead.  Keep healthy snacks in your desk (nuts, seeds, and protein bars).  Most of all, have faith that everything will get done!  Worrying and stressing will not slow time: it will only impede your ability to effectively function.

20160928_113804

Most Importantly…

As stressed and anxious as YOU might feel, think about the kids with such limited life experience, and the literal and figurative smallness many will feel upon crossing the threshold of the classroom.  For many it is a joyful, optimistic time filled with new sneakers, fresh pencils, curiosity, and new adventures with friends.  Sadly though, and often invisibly, for some it is a reprieve from loneliness and hurt, or a source of extreme anxiety.  Being mindful of our own well-being will better equip us for the the challenge of helping these students.  And don’t neglect the emotional needs of your own kids.  Project an aura of calm, maintain a relaxing and reassuring bedtime routine, and LISTEN to any fears or concerns they might express.

Be mindful and truly enjoy this transformative and wonderful time of year!

Space Camp (Part II of II):  Mindful Teachers Become Students… Communication and Collaboration

FB_IMG_1503009677065
Our Team-Designed Patch!

(Read Part 1, “Mindfully Embracing an Opportunity”)

After arriving at NASA’s Space Camp, parting from our accompanying students, getting the grand tour, and settling into our rooms, we were ready to begin the Space Camp for Educators experience.  On multiple occasions, our counselors told us to “prepare to embrace our inner 12 year olds,” or “be ready to be kids again.”  This appealed to me right away, because children are inherently mindful.  I hoped for a good experience, but was pleasantly delighted to discover that the camp would exceed all expectations!  I can’t wait to apply what I have learned with my students!

The collaborative learning experiences that followed over the next few days provided me with many powerful takeaways.  In addition to being engaged in unique and awesome simulations that would draw mindful attention from anyone, I experienced firsthand the power of consciously applying mindfulness techniques when collaborating with groups, as the ability to successfully work with others to solve complex problems has become an increasingly necessary skill in a rapidly evolving workplace.  

imagejpeg_0-21
My Rocket Launched!

Launching Solar Shields

One problem-based learning activity stands out.  After a lesson on solar shields, we broke into groups and were given access to an array of maker materials- from paper towel tubes, to rubber bands, to foil, to glue guns.  Our “mission”: After assigning formal roles to each member of the team, launch an object attached to a “shield” of a particular surface area which would open and land flat (sort of like a parachute).  In our group there were the usuals: the ones whose inclination is to take the lead, and the “hang-backers.”  The natural leaders emerged. Early on, I was not one of them. A little insecure in my engineering ability to effectively accomplish this task, I initially kept quiet. One member of the group had what seemed like a very innovative and elaborate idea, however, it did seem way too intricate for our time constraints. I also didn’t think the materials we had could make it work. With the activity outside of my comfort zone, I realized how difficult it would be to convey my thoughts in a sensitive, confident manner. My instinct was to raise the volume of my voice slightly in order to force my vision on the others.  I’ve seen this a million times working with impulsive middle schoolers; that intense belief that your way is THE way.  I thought about the mindful communication techniques I apply with students before offering my input.  

We ended up using a combination of different ideas and alas, our project did not work. But we laughed and had lots of fun and it was interesting to bounce ideas off of one another. I realized through mindful introspection that I know more than I think I do, and the same goes for my class members. As group members, we must truly listen to others, have confidence in our ideas, and communicate with our fellows in a compassionate, non-judgemental manner.  All students need to understand this, and we must teach them this skill.

20170712_090756
The 1/16th Gravity Simulator

Discovering A New Solar System

This group project was designed to teach students how differently we perceive space through our own two eyes, through telescopes, and ultimately through spacecraft that go beyond our view-obstructing atmosphere.  A mock solar system which consisted of a variety of objects in different shapes and colors (mostly balls which represented planets), was hidden under a blanket. First, a member of each group would have a brief glimpse at it with his or her eyes from across the room, and would then have to draw what they saw. The other members of the group would alternately be allowed to steal glances from a variety of angles, speeds, and through various obstructions.  Only the group member responsible for observing could look at it at any given time. Everyone else had to look away. The final objective was to draw and describe the solar system in detail by combining our various views.  During THIS scenario, I felt incredibly confident.  I am a highly visual learner with a very strong sense of spacial relationships (I love to sketch). Again, mindful introspection and mindful communication impacted our work as a group.  It turns out that certain aspects of the “solar system” that I was so certain about based on my own observations alone were, in fact, inaccurate.  It truly required input from all group members to complete this task.  Suprise!

IMG952557
Spacewalking to Replace Shuttle Heat Shield Tiles

Landing Orion On Mars

Having conquered the gyroscope, the 3G simulator, the 1/16 gravity simulator, the zipline, and the escape from a water crash, the next set of group activities were a blast (no pun intended) and completed my physical ‘astronaut training’.  They were the launch and landing simulations. This is what we were excited about most of all! We played roles as members of ground control, or astronauts on the shuttle or on spacewalks. Everyone had a task to complete which was graded individually resulting in a final total for our team. I am psyched to say that our team, Destiny, beat all of the other educator groups for this session of camp! We could not have been more proud!  Participating in this challenge reinforced the importance of doing my best to complete my own task when the grade of the group is at stake. Knowing that an individual’s effort will directly impact others can be a great motivator for students.

 

20170712_175720.jpg
My Circuitry Project Worked!

Circuit Uncertainty

The final activity I will mention was a soIo activity.  We had an opportunity to attend one of a  number of breakout workshops. Now more confident in my abilities outside of my comfort zone, I chose the activity that I had the least amount of interest in, and the most fear of learning, as I’ve had trouble wrapping my brain around it in the past: Circuitry… Eww…  (I am deeply ashamed to admit this fact, as a popular part of our library makerspace is dedicated to this.)  Using a soldering iron for the first time and successfully getting my little flashlight to blink, I was giddy as a child accomplishing a task for the first time!  This experience kindled an excitement in me about something I never thought I could get excited about.

I learned how important it is to NOT be afraid of failure when learning something new.  This is something we say in regard to our innovative teaching practices in my home district, but something that proved WAY more difficult to actually practice.  The second takeaway was knowing when and how to ask for assistance.  When you pay mindful attention to the task at hand and can clearly and honestly assess your ability to complete the task, you must then communicate mindfully with your group members to effectively seek the assistance you need.

I am truly grateful to have had this immersive experience.  For starters, I learned amazing facts about the history of space travel, the mind-blowing technology that exists on the horizon, and incredible facts about our precious planet, the solar system, and the infinite space beyond.  Getting to experience project and problem-based learning experiences AS A STUDENT reinforced my belief in the importance of mindfulness in schools, and will inform my teaching of mindfulness practices to students and teachers alike (in terms of assessing situations, self reflection, and communication).  Last, but certainly not least, I am grateful for the friendships and FUN.  We shared lots of laughs and maintained communication throughout the rest of the summer via social media.  There has already been talk of collaborating this upcoming school year!  Yay, Team Destiny!

Mindfulness, the Ultimate “Stay-cation”

I began my personal mindfulness practice by carving out time during my day, usually first thing in the morning, for mindful meditation.  From there, I discovered the added benefits of moving meditation such as mindful walking (or more specifically, “forest bathing,” which is like a mindful hike in nature).  From the get-go, these activities positively impacted my stressful workdays and family life.  The result was a calmer, more relaxed reaction to the things that would normally rattle me.

Reading further about the benefits of mindfulness in education (hence my “mindful library”) and in everyday life, I recognized the potential for a substantially better way of living with even more freedom from worry, stress, regret, and so on.  The result is that now I try my best to apply mindful attention to every situation and interaction.  Although I’m not able to perform a brain scan or any other sort of testing on myself, I can attest to favorable physical and mental change based solely on experience.  I’m sleeping better. I’m thinking more clearly. I have more energy overall…  What I hadn’t considered though, was the intense level of emotional benefit of living with mindful attention.  

Now, what is often our first thought when everyday stresses begin to wreak havoc on our emotional well-being??  The answer particularly applies to educators, who drag their weary bodies through the muck of end-of-school-year chaos, counting the days until summer break with an intensity rivaling that of their students…

I NEED A VACATION!  

This was my thinking several months ago when I booked a trip with my friend to Anna Maria Island, off the gulf coast of Florida.  I had been there once before, a few years ago, when running off to a beautiful, quiet, tropical island seemed like the only real remedy for an emotional pitfall.  At that time, it was pure escapism.  And I will admit that while laying on the picturesque white sand, watching the sunset like something out of a dream,I did in fact feel calm, relaxed, connected, peaceful and free.  I sensed a shift.  BUT ALAS… there was the fateful flight a few days later, back to JFK airport.  Like the flick of a switch, the ache in my stomach and general sense of heaviness was back.  Heading home those years ago (pre-mindfulness), the bliss wore off.

IMG_9099

This time, however, the trip was different.  I discovered the truest perk of mindful living.  While strolling along the familiar white sand to the backdrop of what I daresay was an even more ethereal sunset, my friend leaned toward me and asked, “How do you feel now?”  A fellow teacher, he booked the trip with the same escapist, “get me out of here,” and “I need a vacation from it all” mentality that I had had years prior.  I could see his relaxed posture, soft smile, and easy gait and knew he was experiencing that zenful shift.  Then I paused to check in with myself.

I came to the awesome realization that I didn’t feel much different than when I left the “longer island” I call home.  For some time now, I had been appreciating the beauty in my own backyard.  It may not be a sight that people would pay for a vacation home to see, but there is real beauty there: a pond with chirping frogs, lush trees with chirping birds, a resident family of geese that I have watched mature from hatch-lings, and some perennials that I lovingly (albeit awkwardly) planted outside my door.  When the school year ended, I simply let the stress of it all simply go.  Nothing more could be done until September, and I didn’t allow nervous thoughts of that time to intrude.  My heart was grateful for all of the blessings in my life, from the simplest little things (my patio view), to the largest (my beautiful sons).  Being in a tropical paradise was wonderful, but honestly, not much better than home, from my newfound perspective.  Now, is my home life perfect?  Uh, no…  Certainly not.  However, I didn’t feel like a huge weight had been lifted, because there wasn’t one to begin with.  Mindful living was enriching my everyday experience to a point where no “escape” was necessary.  

Keep the following question in mind the next time you book a trip or a “mindfulness retreat.”  Which would provide the more enduring mindful living exercise?  Immersing yourself in unfamiliar surroundings that beg the attention of the senses for a limited period of time?  Or learning to focus mindful, grateful attention to the simple beauties we perceive every day?  Which experience would avoid the back-to-the-grind dread of the flight home?

IMG_9101

 

Space Camp (Part I of II): Mindfully Embracing an Opportunity

The 9th of July had arrived.  My sons and I had just returned to New York from a trip to Florida, and here I was, back at the airport with two jittery students on the beginning of our journey to Huntsville, Alabama for a week of Space Camp.  The first thought that ran through my mind was, “What was I thinking?!”  I could have have spent that week plopped on a beach blanket, dozing to the sound of the ocean waves rolling in and out.  Little did I know that the adventure ahead would shift the way I perceive the oceans, the land, the planet, the cosmos, myself, and all of humankind.  

Believing that there are no coincidences in this life, I knew as we boarded the plane that, fears aside, I should embrace this experience with complete, mindful attention.  After the mindful flight into the deep South, we disembarked our plane and were greeted by a swarm of other teachers and students in matching blue, Northrop-Grumman t-shirts (a sponsoring company for the camp) along with cheerful Space Camp counselors donning the coveted blue space suits and flight jackets with mission patches galore.  Mindfully observing all of these people, their expressions, gestures, conversations, I couldn’t help but absorb their excited energy.  I knew I was in for something interesting, and I was ready.  I winked at my two students, and onto the Space Camp bus we went.

The NASA Space Camp (the genius of Wernher von Braun and Edward O. Buckbee), from just a mere aesthetic perspective, is a breathtaking celebration of human achievement and an awe-inspiring glimpse of our solar system and beyond.  Exiting the bus, the Alabama heat and humidity struck me like a blow.  My students were giddy, but clearly petrified as well.  This is where I was to leave them for the week, as the students attend a camp that is separate from the educator program.  The mommy in me knew what to do.  I pointed to the sci-fi inspired-looking “habitats” in which they would be staying and told them I was insanely jealous, as I’d be staying in a University of Alabama at Huntsville dorm a mile away.  I added that their friends would be envious too, especially when they heard about all of the other cool girls (and potentially cute) boys they would be meeting from around the globe.  They giggled and went on their way, as did I.

Screenshot_20170727-113145

 

The following morning began with a tour of the campus, which I mindfully took in with all senses.  It was infinitely more impressive than images I remembered from the 1985 Space Camp movie which was my only frame of reference.  The Space Shuttle, Pathfinder, and a number of impressive jets, jut like spires into the sky.  Simulators such as G-Force and Space Shot promised the thrill of experiencing free-falls and 3G of force as the astronauts did.  The A-12 Oxcart stealth jet, so secretive at the time it was not even named, was thrilling to behold.  A scale model of the lunar module in a living diorama of the lunar surface provided a 3 dimensional perspective of the landing as the astronauts perceived it themselves.  A bronze astronaut statue, and even a memorial for Miss Baker, the space monkey (with bananas lovingly placed on top by young fans) roused an amazement in me at the bravery and sacrifice all who made these feats of flight and space exploration possible.

Screenshot_20170727-111404

This experience would have impressed anyone, but bringing mindful attention to the experience provided a different perspective than one I may have had before my shift in awareness.  My device was silenced and used only for the occasional photo.  I wasn’t rude or aloof, but I tried to limit the idle chit chat so I could really focus on my sensory experience.  I focused the bulk of my auditory attention on the counselors who provided the background info for what I beheld with my eyes.  I focused my visual attention on both the grandiose structures like the shuttle and the rockets, as well as the minutia, like the smaller bits that held structures together, the play of sunlight on metallic surfaces, strange plants, birds, and bugs dotting the landscape, and the diversity of the faces around me.  In such surroundings, there was clearly no turning off of thoughts, but I consciously identified and acknowledged how different thoughts made me feel.  I realized that mindfulness during experiences like these not only makes for a more enriching experience, but plants experiences in our long-term memory more completely than any photograph.

*STAY TUNED FOR – Space Camp (Part II of II):  Mindful Communication and Collaboration at Space Camp for Educators

 

Mindful Flight

screenshot_20170630-080612.png

Are you travelling this summer?  Jetting off to some exotic locale, or maybe just visiting family and friends?  Whatever you are doing, if there is flying involved, chances are your thoughts and emotions about the trip run the gamut.  When I talk to people in my circuit about the anticipation of the experience there is a lot of moaning and groaning…  Complaints about the lines at the airport, heavy luggage, the boring wait at the gate, etc.  And when reflecting back on the flight, it is the common narrative about cramped seating, annoying families, turbulence, long taxis on the runway… the list goes on.

This summer, when I ventured to the airport with my two sons to embark on the voyage to Florida to see my mom, I turned the usually grueling experience into a most-mindful one.  As I am learning more and more each day, the attitude that you bring to any situation is what makes or breaks the experience.  The same goes for the oft-dreaded experience of the family flight.

The first factor of the family flying experience to be addressed is the crowds.  There is the hustle and bustle and waiting on lines at the airport to consider.  Instead of feeling annoyed by the presence of the other passengers, really look at them.  See them.  Try to imagine where they might be going and why.  Observe their demeanor and sense their energy.  Maybe they are venturing somewhere in search of adventure, maybe they are escaping something awful, maybe they are surprising someone they love, or maybe they are heading somewhere to mourn.  Sense the warmth of the happy travelers and send healing energy (or if it is your thing, pray) for the ones who seem to be suffering.

Next is to turn the physical experience of the plane and the flight into a mindful one.  Barring extreme claustrophobia, it isn’t too difficult to focus your attention away from the cramped quarters.  Just close your eyes, concentrate on your breathing, relax your muscles, and let yourself melt into the seat.  When the plane has found its position on the runway, appreciate the speed of the plane on the ground just before liftoff…  faster than any car.  When the plane tilts upward and you are airborne, feel your back sink even deeper into the seat and truly appreciate the miracle for what it is.  You are flying!  Picture your body, without the plane and the passengers, moving alone through the air at that speed.  Look out the window at the shrinking landscape and appreciate the privilege of this view which should technically belong only to the birds.  Appreciate the largeness of the world and your small place in it.  And finally, appreciate the amazing human collaboration that created a technology which could make such a thing possible.  To our ancestors this would be nothing short of magic.

And now to tackle the landing.  For me, this is always the most terrifying part of the flight.  If you feel the same, just close your eyes and breathe through it.  When the plane touches down and slows to a comfy speed, ready to taxi to the gate, feel genuine gratitude for the safe journey and for all of the blessings in your life.  (Thank God, if you like.)  Then try to envision the distance your body has just traveled and appreciate that miracle one again.  And finally…, most importantly…, when the lady behind you finally apologizes for her child kicking the back of your seat during the entire flight, breathe in, breathe out, smile, and say, “No worries.  It was like a free back massage!” then send her a little positive energy.  She may need it for her week at her cranky in-laws’!

Beating Tech Overload

I was watching my children “watching” television the other day.  The cacophony was ridiculous.  The show was blasting and each of my two sons were simultaneously watching sports videos on their phones.  This was the complete and utter opposite of mindfulness.  Ugh…  Try as I do to make my sons unplug, all too often the din of the TV is the background noise of our lives at home.  Now that summer vacation is officially less than a week away, I am going to attempt to alter not only my children’s digital behavior, but my own as well.  Here is the plan of attack.

1.   Absolutely no electronics for at least an hour before sleeping.  I usually do read before bed, but I’d be lying if I said I never got lost on online shopping shopping sights well into the wee hours.  It is proven that the blue light given off by LED screens disrupts your body’s circadian rhythms, which tell the body it is time for sleep.  And your brain registers pixelated text differently than ink text on a book page.

2.  Physically leave the phone in one spot of the house.  I have gotten into the habit of literally schlepping the thing from room to room which is just so very unmindful. I even have multiple chargers in various locations throughout the house.  The mere presence of the phone is a distraction.  At work I leave it out on my desk which is another bad habit.  In one room it will stay!

3.   Absolutely NO devices during meals.  This will be a tough one to enforce, but I am determined.  In order to get the kids away from the television, I plan to serve our meals outside as often as possible.  We have a cozy patio with a pond view that is perfect.  This leads to the next plan…

4.    Get into nature as often as possible, WITHOUT the phone.  Now even though I don’t often use the phone to answer calls and go onto social media when I am out hiking, I do like to take lots of pictures with my phone. Snapping nature shots, although awesome, can detract from the mindful outdoor experience somewhat.  After each shot, I must make sure to pause and take in the scene with my own two eyes, with accompanying sounds and subtle movements.  (As far as my sons are concerned, this may involve physically locking them outdoors.  Wish me luck!)

5.  Turn off social media alerts.  I will schedule the time to check up on my friends’ latest Facebook posts.  I refuse to let it consume my days.  It is rare that any real, significant info comes through there.  All of those postings about people’s latest meals and travels can surely wait!

6.   Carefully evaluate the usefulness of the time I am connected.  I was more than just a little horrified at the amount of time I spent on online browsing, without even shopping.  Eww!  And Pinterest…

Screenshot_20170621-093122

Now don’t get me wrong.  I am a huge fan of technology and have the utmost appreciation for the novel ways we can stay connected with friends, and forge new connections with people we’d never encounter in person (I am a blogger, after all), but when the mindless surfing and constant distractions interfere with our ability to be present, subtle changes have to be made.  I am grateful to be in a profession that affords me time to unplug and unwind.  Happy summer, all!