What ARE “golden sparkles?” As the beautiful text by Catarina R. Peterson unfolds, accompanied by the whimsical illustrations of Mateya Arkova, the reader begins to understand that “golden sparkles” describes the sensation that fills our hearts during mindful interaction with the world around us. Golden Sparkles taps into the awe and wonder of a child’s experience and gently conveys the methods for maintaining this inherently mindful outlook throughout trials and tribulations of later life. It is a simple analogy used to describe a most profound experience.
Peterson’s book charmed me right from the start as it is dedicated to each member of her preschool class, (each addressed individually), who she thanks for being both teachers and fellow learners, NOT mere students. In my experience the most mindful and reflective educators perceive their students in this way.
The language of Golden Sparkles is poetic with a gentle rhyme which flows quite like the breath, gently “in… and out…” making it a delight to read aloud. Highlighted words throughout the text conjure peace and relaxation. They are defined sequentially in a glossary at the end of the book and can serve as talking points between reader and child. Timeless universality is an important theme, as children are reminded that through mindfulness practice, golden sparkles are literally just “a breath away” no matter where, or who you are.
There is depth in the simplicity of the illustrations. Arkova skillfully uses a soul-soothing, pastel palette to immerse the reader in Peterson’s story. A delightfully depicted trio of friends, each with their unique charm, effectively capture the calm, serenity, and gratitude that can be achieved by applying mindful attention to everyday activities (a picnic, a bike ride, a meditation). Golden sparkles literally emanate from their hearts!
The foreword by Vicki Zakrrzewski, Ph.D., Education Director of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, invites readers to ponder the long-term effects of mindfulness practice on children. I think of the ways mindfulness has improved my life and it warms my heart to know that authors like Peterson may succeed in introducing mindful living practices to the children, as they will shape our future world. During these turbulent times marked by devastating current events, this gem-of-a book is a “golden sparkle” in itself.
It is February, the month that many associate with hearts, chocolates, sappy cards, bouquets, and other symbols of “love.” When I was a child, February was the month that my dear ol’ dad used to buy my sister and I Whitman’s Samplers for St. Valentine’s Day which we savored. As I got older, February was alternately a giddy or depressing month based on my current romantic status (During my teens, this was usually bleak!). Through latter years, with the hustle and bustle of career and family life, I gradually lost all interest in February, save for the beloved “mid-winter recess” from school that New York teachers and students enjoy!
This year, however, the month of February, with Valentine’s Day smack in the middle, I will be thinking about loving-kindness. Loving-kindness, or Meta Prayer, as it is known in Buddhism, is a mindfulness practice that has benefits extending far beyond stress reduction or relaxation. “Extending far beyond” is in fact a key component of this type of meditative practice and the attention focuses first on self, and then farther and farther outward to all of mankind.
It Begins With Self
Mindfulness expert, Shauna Shapiro, delivered an excellent TEDx Talk (The Power of Mindfulness: What You Practice Grows Stronger) during which she illustrates that mindfulness is not just paying attention, but paying attention with kind curiosity. To love yourself, you can’t be judgmental. This is the part of the loving-kindness meditation that develops our sense of SELF-COMPASSION. When I dug a bit deeper into the meaning of self compassion, I learned that it differs from self-absorption, and selfishness. Self-compassion isn’t about putting myself first, or placing myself on a pedestal looking down at others. Instead, it is about fully accepting myself as I am and recognizing that I am worthy of all the wonderful things this life has to offer.
It Moves Out Toward Loved Ones
This, for me, is the easiest part of practicing loving-kindness. Most all of us, at least those with the capacity for compassion, inherently wish the best for the people we genuinely love and care about, and consequently, suffer when they do. What makes this part of the practice special is that we are consciously sending well wishes out to the universe in their favor. In other faiths, including the Christianity in which I was loosely raised, we are encouraged to pray for loved ones and come to believe that God can grant our wishes. As a Reiki practitioner, I definitely feel that channeling energy and sending forth a healing intention toward another can yield real healing during a planned session. When I send favorable thoughts to loved ones during regular loving-kindness meditations, for me, the greatest benefit is GRATITUDE. I remember to be thankful for these people in my life.
Toward Those Who Inhabit Our Daily Landscape
The Starbucks barista who prepares my morning coffee. The main office secretary who manages the sign in sheets at work. The lady who mans the security gate of my development. The neighbor who sings out loud while she jogs each morning. These are the people in my life to whom I feel relatively neutral. And they are precisely the people I tend to take for granted. Since our contact is limited, I tend to discredit the impact a kind word from any one of them could impact the course of my day. Conversely, a warm smile or a simple compliment from me can start a chain reaction of good in their world. Remembering to send energy to these individuals in my loving-kindness practice heightens my AWARENESS of the far-reaching effects of every single person we encounter every day.
Toward Those Who Raise Conflict
Here comes the challenge, and honestly, the reason the loving-kindness meditation is important for all people to practice. When we think about those who raise conflict in our lives we need to remember that there are two types of conflict; internal and external. The latter has never been a tremendous issue for me. For the most part, I tend to play nice with others. Internal conflict, however is something I grapple with on a daily basis. They are people who make me jealous, impatient, intolerant, sad, and angry, and even though these emotions may not lead to an altercation, they cause suffering in my soul. I love the quote about hate being like holding on to a hot coal with the intention of throwing it. I am the only one who gets burned. By consciously projecting love and light toward those who cause conflict in my life, I cultivate FORGIVENESS, and more importantly, TOLERANCE.
Finally, Toward All
This, final part of my loving-kindness meditation feels me with a profound sense of CONNECTEDNESS. I extend well wishes to all of the people in all of the world: people who live different lives but share the basic characteristics that make me human. No matter how alone or isolated I feel, I am reminded that I am in fact part of something much larger and more powerful than Jen.
The loving-kindness meditation, as I have come to practice it, enables me to acknowledge my own feelings with kindness and to cultivate more of the good stuff… forgiveness, identification/empathy, connection, self-compassion, selflessness, gratitude, and love.
After a long, restful, mindful holiday with my family, I am finally back to my blog! It just feels like the perfect time to reflect on my progress so far this past year implementing mindfulness in my library. As readers may know from my previous posts, my interest in mindfulness began as a personal quest for stress reduction and the Buddha-like serenity I saw so cleverly depicted on the faces of models in yoga and meditation magazines. Through personal practice I have slowly begun to achieve these and more… better sleep, better health, more compassion, and a deep, grateful appreciation for all that surrounds me. Although life isn’t perfect, and I still experience negative emotions from time to time (I am human after all), through regular meditation and mindful living practices, I bounce back quicker and feel a significant “shift” overall.
In my quest to spread the benefits of formal mindful practice and mindful living to the students in my school, I have taken a number of avenues. As part of my long-term plan to make mindfulness an inherent part of the learning and growing experience at my middle school, I have begun to implement “phase one” which is to familiarize all students, faculty, and administrators with the concept, and to provide opportunities for both organized and informal practice. Thankfully, I have been lucky to gain the support of both parents and administrators in this endeavor.
First, came the creation of “meditation stations.” At each windowsill in my library, there is a bench. For years I have toyed with the idea of getting them upholstered, but it was difficult to justify the cost. This year, I applied for, and received, a mini-grant from our PTA for meditation cushions that can move from the window areas to the floor for guided meditation sessions as needed. Very cozy and so very hygge!
On the walls of these window nooks, I posted colorful QR codes leading to soothing meditation music. Our students have been issued their own Chromebooks this year which they can use to scan them. Pop in earbuds, and welcome serenity! In baskets, I have also placed coloring sheets, colored pencils, and scrap paper on which they can doodle or journal.
Students are free to use these “mediation stations” during recess at lunch, after school, and during class with a teacher’s permission. Administrators have begun to use the spaces as a “time out” for students. A comfortable, soothing, place where students can take a moment to just breathe and be present with themselves affords them the opportunity to identify and accept their thoughts and emotions and recognize how they may be affected physically by them. They can then pause to think through their next actions. This has proven very effective at calming an angry or distressed student. The teachers have been made aware of these spaces and increasingly take advantage for their students who need it.
When I was getting my masters degree in Library and Information Science I clearly remember the unit dedicated to bibliotherapy; reading text to promote mental wellness and foster an understanding of self. Books containing characters who break poor patterns of thinking and behavior through reflection and mindfulness, along with the latest nonfiction devoted to mindful living, yoga, and meditation, provide a treasure trove for stressed children and teens who may feel they are suffering alone. I have devoted a special section of our library to texts on these topics, along with some eye-catching signage, to promote circulation. It’s working!
Monday Morning Mindful Message:
It’s Monday morning and the homeroom bell rings. Students settle into their seats and brace for the upcoming week. Most are ready, but some… not so much. Anxiety plagues many, and what better time for inspirational words of encouragement and the promotion of a mindful attitude than the Monday morning announcements? Each Monday I read such a quote over the PA system. On a few occasions, I have followed this up by posting a QR code in the library leading to a Padlet (https://padlet.com) on which students and faculty can post a comment, reflection, graphic, or website related to the quote of the week. I also email teachers a graphic like the one below so they can post it on their smartboards.
Feel free to email me with questions or comments regarding mindfulness in school. The main purpose of my blog is to connect with like-minded people out there! And stay tuned for an articles on Mindfulness in the Makerspace, MINDcraft Club, and Mindfulness Professional Development.
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??!!
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.
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.)
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.).
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!
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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?