dynamic

Yesterday, Dave and I–along with our best friends the Boyds–explored Glacier National Park. A short jaunt around John’s Lake ended alongside the “dynamic McDonald Falls,” as described by some hiking guru’s map we bought for $11.95 at the gift shop. I imagined loud, obnoxious, energetic water motion–kinda like when I call myself a dynamic teacher. Upon arrival, that was exactly what we encountered. However, when our friends mentioned that the last time they were at these very same falls “it was merely a trickle,” realization dawned on me as to how Jake-the-hiking-guru was actually using the word dynamic:

dynamic: marked by usually continuous and productivity of activity or change

And sitting in meditation beside the dynamic McDonald Falls, I could not help but reflect on our lives. Sometimes still like John’s lake, sometimes a trickle like the McDonald Falls of the Boyds’ first trip, and sometimes–as in now–the powerful and overwhelming current of change forcefully charging downstream.

dynamic: marked by usually continuous and productivity of activity or change

As we are currently homeless and bound for Brazildynamic now holds deeper meaning for us. On July 22nd, we will depart the country and abandon everything that has been familiar in exchange for new lives as expats. Dave will not work. I will work in a completely different environment. And we will live in the city, gasp. And just as the raging current shapes storied-alcoves out of rocks, something new will form in us.

Something mysterious.

Something beautiful.

A new story formed by the dynamic watery wheels of change.

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breath. earth.

Lately I’ve been stepping on a lot of crap–cords and belts and shoes and brooms and oh, there’s my underwear. This is because the beloved chipping-green-and-red-refuge we’ve called home for the past eight years is currently in the process of being dismantled and divided and donated as we prepare for our adventure to Brazil. I’ve gone to heat water forgetting the microwave is sold; I’ve gone to eat takeout on the plates currently in our friends’ homes; I’ve gone to sit at the table that’s no longer there. We are living in a construction zone: the construction of a new life.

Breathing in. Breathing out. I am grounded.

I am in the process of some heavy goodbyes. Students–who have had way too many people come and go in their lives–asking: Why does everyone leave us? Colleagues who have become friends. Friends who have become family. Family who will become foreigners. Not to mention, the scariest goodbye of all: the adios to urban education–or life as I know it. I wonder if it will be forever. I wonder if there will be regret. I wonder if I’ll be effective with a different population. I wonder how my identity will change.

Breathing in. Breathing out. I am grounded.

We hover near a cliff with unknown horizons. Questions float by like clouds shadowing the reddened landscape. Who will our friends be? How hard will it be to learn the language? What if sickness strikes? What if we hate living in a city? What happens if there is a financial crisis? And dear me, how am I going to look in a swimsuit on a beach in Brazil?!

Breathing in. Breathing out. I am grounded.

Tonight I meditated. As I have done daily for the past four months and twenty-five days. (If you do not have Insight Timer, download. it. now.)  As I was guided into my emotions, a sense of being overwhelmed rose to greet me. It was not the overwhelmed of Mary past. It was different. I am different. It showed itself as a coiled spring, loaded low to the earth with heavy weights. But beneath those compact spirals, a palpable sense of excitement breathed. A readiness to spring forth into something new and exciting and refreshing. An eagerness for expansion and space and adventure. An embrace of joy and hope.

Breathing in. Breathing out. I am grounded.

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meditations on the sea

It is vast against the horizon. So much so…it IS the horizon. It shifts the sand beneath my cold toes, and still further dizzies my eyes with its periphery-dancing. Yet the sea does not dread the distances, calculating arrivals and departures, lost in the abyss of so-whats and then-whats.

It is buoyant despite emotional spasms. At one rock outcropping–battered knuckles of stone rising against the blue–there is anger. Foam churns, one million crashes in a busy liquid intersection. It is violent, destructive. Just five rock-knuckles down, small children and grown men laugh in the surf, their bodies caressed by the gentle tide. Here, there is joy: a playground for the young at heart. Yet, the sea does not worry about its vacillating waves of ups and downs, giggles and groans.

It is storied. An infinite amount of narratives are surrounded by its borders. There is no place on earth not footnoted by its boundaries. Beneath its surface another language exists: tall tales of ferocious hunters and tiny fables of minuscule plants. Yet, the sea is at peace in its own identity, authentic and brave and beautiful.

It is inconstant. The only thing that stays the same is that it changes. Fluid, flexible and fluctuating because nothing is in its control; it bows to the moods of the moon and the pollution of the people. Always unsure of who it was or who it will be, the sea just is.

It is frightening. Dangers lurk beneath it and above it and beside it. Fear multiplies like grains of sand: storms and tsunamis and sharks and stings and sunburn; currents and cancer and career changes and crashes. Yet, though drowning in a million anxieties, the sea is not anxious.


 

 

training the monkey… the mind that is

(Author’s note: I really wanted to title this post “Spanking the Monkey,” but I didn’t want some perverts to open this post thinking it was going to be up their alley.)

(Pervert’s note: That’s what she said.)

phonto

Buddha often spoke of the need to train the monkey mind through meditation and mindfulness. His intention was that our life would be less about narration and commentary and more about the presence and experience itself.

To me, the idea of minimizing narration and commentary and analysis and story is quite daunting–and perhaps even backwards. After all, I am an English teacher: I live and love stories. To explore this conundrum (and generally solve all of the universe’s mysteries), I was fortunate enough to garner a fellowship to participate in the Mindfulness in Education Retreat at Vallecitos. (Thank you Hemera!)

While there, meditating for about a quarter of every day (insert shocked emoji face here), I gained a few treasured training tools to get that monkey mind to sit and stay:

  1. It’s a muscle…or a puppy. I like to do things well. I don’t like to struggle. There’s a small chance I might be addicted to perfection and the illusion of what it does for my soul. So naturally upon arrival and discovering we were going to meditate for six. hours. every. day. I just knew I had to nail it. I didn’t. I had unrealistic expectations of instant-6-pack-upon-entering-the-gym-after-keg-magically-disappears, or miracle-puppy-who-falls-out-of-mom-rolling-over-on-command. Cuz that happens. Like anything else, being present in the moment with mental chatter under control takes time. Takes discipline. Takes training. Takes constant attention and reattention and rereattention and rerereattention (or attention to the 3rd?).
  2. Tone matters. But therein lies the rub: it’s not just about the training; it’s about how I train. I naturally fell into this kind of cruel, self-abusive narrative progression when my mind would wander: “Be here now.” “Just get it together.” “Ugh again, come back.” “Why can’t you just be here?!” “Damn it Patrice!” At the height of my frustration, I considered myself a failure who could never get it right… you know, after meditating for oh…3 minutes. Mindfulness is a constant redirecting of attention, but that does not warrant a scream or a flog or a deep sigh of frustration. I found the mantra of “there is room for that, too” to bring me back again and again with kindness and compassion and grace.
  3. Interruptions versus experience. Before this retreat, meditation meant to me all the right conditions. I want people quiet. I deserve to be comfortable. I need to be in the mood. I seek out perfection, both inside and outside of me. Then, once the stars have aligned, I can meditate. What I learned at this retreat is that noise is a part of the meditation, not an interruption. Discomfort a part, not an interruption. Chaos a part, not an interruption. Instead of seeking the perfect external context, I need to be internally present in whatever is occurring–however annoying.
  4. The power of narrative. But what is annoying, exactly? One night while sitting in meditation with my nose running; eyes itching; throat tickling; sneeze building; tissues missing, I thought: “this is miserable.” But I checked myself before I wrecked myself. Is it? What is misery? These are the physical sensations, and they just…are. It is my narrative and commentary that creates the bias of misery. Even deeper, why does it do that? I realized I’m still realizing that mental narrative is the last stronghold of control chimera of control. I think by naming I have power. I think by describing I have hold. But…I don’t.
  5. Escape mechanisms. Which leads me to the biggest aha of this retreat: when I feel like I am failing, I want to escape. This should come as no surprise after my year failing as an instructional coach, but alas…this lesson was only more pronounced when I could not escape “failed” meditation. Instead it went on and on and on. (I mean at home, I’d be blissfully ignorant on Facebook or delightfully numb playing Angry Birds or completely tuned off with the TV on. Oh the wonderfully destructive avoidance technology allots.) But I did learn even in those moments when meditation lingered and I could not physically leave, there are a lot of ways to mentally escape: sleepiness, haziness, mental chatter, restlessness, distraction, planning, discomfort, judging (about me), gossip (about others). Unfortunately, where there is a will, there is a way (to get out). I learned that when I feel like escaping, I need to examine the urge: what I am afraid of? what exactly is failure? what am I avoiding? Sitting with the urges (does anyone else have to go tot the bathroom now?), rather than running from them, is the challenge but also the reward of mindfulness.
  6. Size matters. Before this retreat, I was narrow-minded. Who am I kidding, I still am. But I’ve come to a thought-place that is more spacious, more wide, more welcoming, more soft, more generous…more. There is room for that, too. Mindful meditation can–and should–include the distraction, the clanging pots, the escape tendencies, the judgment, the narrative, the cramp in my foot, the constant need for approval, the desire to be seen, the pervasive sense that I am not good enough, the unanswered questions, the buzzing fly. There is room for that, too.
  7. Pattern trumps pieces. At most retreats, I make sweeping plans to come home and be brand spanking new. But what I carried away this time is that a little each day makes more difference than grand gestures occasionally. And so I am committing to 12 minutes of meditation a day. I can do that. I want to do that. I will do that. And if it doesn’t happen, well, there is room for that, too.

 

on meditation: 2 poems

I recently spent 5 nights at the magical Vallecitos Mountain Ranch participating in an intensive silent meditation retreat for teachers. Wow! More on this to come…

But for now I wanted to share two poems inspired by my time there.

“Suspension”

the mind is a child swinging

at birth of motion

legs pump furiously to take flight

lifted by the wind of joy skyward

after the initial peak

legs extend and point to another world

then retract back beneath

falling into gravity’s arms

up and

down, back and

forth, lengthen and

folding, inhale and

exhale, ebb and

flow, rise and

fall, sunlight and

shadow, swelling and

subsiding, expansion and

contraction

a never-ending dance in the air,

within every ark there exists an “and”

a whisper of a moment at the zenith

a magical suspension of being

where the seat floats off the leather bottom

golden braids freeze in sky

time stops to catch its breath

it is the absence of movement

a paradox of weightlessness

breathtakingly beautiful

heartbeatingly alive

achingly brief

overwhelmingly present

Meditation lives in that moment.

*****

“The Fly: Two Sits”

~1~

inhale presence

exhale presence

crap, I hear a fly buzzing

how gross, but stay in the moment

inhale presence

exhale presence

I hope he doesn’t land on me

who knows where he’s been

last night there was one all over the food

whose idea was it to eat outside anyway?

talk about unsanitary

on our last camping trip,

I couldn’t even eat the corn because there were so many bugs floating around

shoot, I forgot to get corn at the store

I’ll have to go there on the way home

let’s see, what else do I need?

sour cream, eggs, bread, cilantro, and one more thing, what is it,

oh yeah, a fly swatter

shoot I’m supposed to be focused

~2~

inhale presence

exhale presence

crap, I hear a fly buzzing

there is room for that,

too

inhale presence

exhale presence

there is room for that,

too

inhale presence

exhale presence

mind minefields and mantras

At a class I attended this month, the yoga instructor compared self-talk to shopping for clothes. We take a bunch of clothes into the fitting room, and the ones that fit us and serve us and make us feel good go home with us. The ones that don’t stay behind, crumpled on the floor for the unlucky and underpaid attendant to clean and restock. She asked:

Why don’t we do that with our self-talk?

We take all kinds of self-talk with us into the dressing room of our minds, and we try it on, the good and the bad, and we leave with it all, each and every time, the good and the bad.

At least I do. Especially as of late, when my mind has been demonized by negative self-talk:

I’m fat.

I’m lazy.

I’m undisciplined.

I’m overwhelmed.

I’m failing.

I can’t do this.

These thoughts do not serve me. Negative self-talk never serves us. These thoughts do not motivate me. Negative self-talk never motivates us. These thoughts do not drive me to change. Negative self-talk never results in positive change.

Instead, we become what we chant over and over and over in our minds.

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Clearly, God meant for me to not miss this message. At a different yoga class on the other side of Denver, another yoga teacher brought up the power of water to shape features such as the Grand Canyon, simply by following the path of least resistance. She compared this to the negative self-talk that runs rampant in our minds, etching and carving a path for negative energy to follow and build and become. And to combat this she directed us to create a mantra–a mind tool, a desire stated as truth, in the present tense. Here are the two resonating with me lately:

I am light.

I am disciplined.

I have meditated with my mantra both on and off my mat. And it allows me to try on the negative self- talk, but then leave it behind in the dressing room, creating in my thinking a vortex of affirmation instead of deprecation. It allows my brain’s streams and canyons to shift direction, away from criticism, towards love.

I am light.

I am disciplined.

mantras for students

I get a lot of questions in my classroom.

Miss, is this right?

Miss, what page?

Miss, can you check this?

Miss, what do you think?

But the question in my class that has brought me the most refreshment as of late is…

Miss, can we meditate?

Several weeks ago, I faced the big, bad giant Senioritis as he trolled through my student population. Since then, I have been setting space aside on a weekly basis in my class–if not daily–to lead my students in meditation. Sometimes I guide them. Sometimes I use an app. But either way, it is a few minutes that consist of no instruction but great inspiration. I’m okay sacrificing the academic time for the social-emotional support. After all, there is no learning where there is no security, and as my seniors prepare to make the biggest transitions of their lives, anything I can do to foster security will reap benefits tenfold.

Just recently during one of these meditation sessions, I guided my students through setting mantras. These are “I am” statements that embody all they wish to be in their lives: I am light. I am successful. I am strong. I am able. I am loyal. I am a leader. I am happy. I am beautiful. I am love. Positive thoughts popcorned in my class, making it feel more like a Friday night carnival than a Senioritis-stricken classroom. Though I know this is nothing that will be tested on the AP Lit exam, I am confident and intentional that these positive centering thoughts can help them with all the other non-academic tests life throws their way. All their lives, they have been fed the message that they are not good enough: They are poor. They are minorities. They are undocumented. They are from the hood. They are insignificant. They are underestimated. They are unsatisfactory. They are violent.

But I believe, through this mantra activity, that I can give them a glimpse into the power of language. That the stories we tell ourselves, the stories we believe, are the stories that will come true. And so by stepping on the meditative dance floor with their breath, with their heartbeat, with their affirming mantras, they are creating a future that is full of self-confidence, positive energy, courage, and hope. They are rewriting their stories.

After they left class, I slowly strung and untangled and tangled and knotted their mantras into a prayer flag that now hangs along our windows. As the sun catches them in the morning, I feel honored to be a part of this new story they are writing.

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