This is my mantra for the year. It is a truth I see realized around me and in me.
There is science and parable behind this concept.
The parable stems from the story of a grandfather telling his grandson, “There are two wolves inside of us. One represents courage, love, and kindness and the other fear, hate, and greed. The wolves are always at battle in us.”
The boy asks, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?”
The grandfather looks at his grandson and wisely replies, “The one you feed.“
I feel those wolves battling it out everyday when I feel frustrated by situation or circumstance. One wolf wants me to choose anger and reprisal while the other one pushes for empathy and understanding. One wolf sees a glass half empty and the other sees the glass half full (or even all full). I wish my default were always the kind and brave wolf, but it is not yet automatic. I haven’t fed it enough–YET. I need to pause, take a step back and make a choice of which one I want to feed in these circumstances.
There is a science behind this as well. Our social-emotional systems function in a feedback loop where our output influences our input. An example may be when we hold onto resentment it influences how we perceive that person or situation and it reinforces those feelings. Hate begets hate. We can recognize this when we hear ourselves or others exclaim, “Nothing ever goes right.”or “This class never listens.” We are in a negative feedback loop that influences our perceptions of all events with a singular, painful lens.
We may not be able to change our circumstance, but luckily, we have the power to shift our perceptions. Our output can influence our input. We can choose which wolf to feed. When we feel like nothing is going right, we can ask ourselves, “Was I kind to someone?” That’s going right. “Did I persevere and make it to school today?” That’s going right. Maybe someone in class actually did listen. Maybe that class isn’t good at listening (yet) but they are good at something else. Maybe we can stop thinking of the class as one monolithic group and recognize the tender souls who make up the composition. Focus our energy and attention on their uniqueness and worth.
I’m not saying, Be Pollyanna. I’m saying what we feed grows. Our choices are growing the wolves inside of us each and every day. Pay attention and choose the wolf you want to feed.
I’ve found a podcast that I think will help me with this awareness; it is called THE ONE YOU FEED. They also have a Facebook Group for those who would like to continue the conversation from the weekly podcasts. If you have other resources that could support us in our quest for a more meaningful life in and out of school, please feel free to share in the comments. We could all use more food for our wolf.
It’s 1969. The whole world is awaiting the launch of Apollo 11. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are going to walk on the moon-they are the heroes to everyone in Mamie’s class. Yet she thinks Michael Collins, the 3rd astronaut on the journey who will stay will the command module, and not get a chance to walk on the moon, is the best one. She decides to write a series of letters to Michael Collins as he prepares for the trip and continues to write him as he is in space. However, her letters are not those of a star-struck fan, but of a girl trying to come to grips with a serious family crisis as the world comes together for the biggest event of their lifetime. The weaving of storylines, and the theme that minor characters have stories that are equally important and compelling as main characters really drew me in. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this historical fiction-and how much I learned. An MSBA nominee for 2018-19.
My life is full. At times I admit that it is busy. I believe that life is not a rehearsal and we are allowed one shot to ‘get it right’ so I want to experience as much as I can and try not to waste it. I strive for a sense of harmony with work and play, and I am lucky that my work is mostly a great source of joy for me. I stopped thinking about “balance” as being equal distribution of time and energy, but embrace it as more of a consonance between work and play.
What I still still struggle with however is “being in the moment” and fully present with whatever I am doing. I am much better with this than I’ve been in the past, but it is definitely a work in progress. I’m sure we all do it. I find myself planning lessons in my head while taking a walk, remembering to reply to an email while working on my National Boards, checking on the progress of April the Giraffe while watching a movie with my family. To be sure these are little things and I am able to get back on task rather quickly, and in some moments I don’t really mind.
But there are some moments, new experiences or instances of awe, when it is easy to be fully present and focused and attentive. It is during these moments that I feel most connected to this life, to this time I am given. These moments can come out of the blue and if I am not mindful I might dismiss them or they can be planned and savored. I see them as opportunities to be awake and engaged and present.
I often say to myself, “This.” This is my signal to engage with what I am experiencing, to call on my senses to raise my awareness, to focus on the slice of time before me. I consider these moments of ZEN. To me, Zen involves seeing and experiencing things without the distortion created by my own thoughts. I try to let the experience wash over me and not filter it through past experience.
To be sure I do not walk through this life in a perpetual state of mindfulness. But when I get these Zen episodes I use them as a gentle reminder that each moment is really a gift if I stop to acknowledge it. What makes my life richest are often the things I forget to notice, that I take for granted.
So I am grateful for reminders. I continue to practice. I strive to be present. And I don’t criticize or chastise myself when I am not. I know that every moment offers a new opportunity to tune in and zen out. I know that “slicing” helps me with this practice. All month I am tuning in to life experiences with a heightened sense of awareness and gratitude. I am embracing random acts of Zen.
I hope that slicing helps you with this practice as well. May you all find moments of zen in your day today.
Most teachers I know are truly lifelong learners. They never stop honing their skills or acquiring new knowledge. For many of us, that learning comes from more knowledgeable others, often through books and written words. During summer break I am excited by the prospect of having more time to read and savor professional books, there are so many I can’t wait to crack open.
But this summer I am committed to finding more balance in my life. It is often hard for my brain to shut down and allow me to be present in a moment. There is always a to-do list to tackle, ideas that float through my mind, people who need my attention-and these are good things to me. They are satisfying aspects of my life. But as I grow (ahem…age) I have a stronger desire to just BE. It’s a hard concept to describe but it’s what I consider ZEN.
Zen is the peace that comes from being one with an entity other than yourself.
Zen means being aware of your oneness with the world and everything in it.
Zen means living in the present and experiencing reality fully.
Zen means being free of the distractions and illusory conflicts of the material world.
Zen means being in the flow of the universe.
Zen means experiencing fully the present, and delighting in the basic miracle of life itself.
I’m not going to become a Zen Master or practicing Buddhist this summer, I just need to add “Moments of Zen” to my life. So how do we find them? I think we have to plan for them, to consciously create opportunities, and to connect with our earth more. Summer is a perfect time for that! Nature is beckoning us to engage with her. Our senses can help us connect in a variety of ways as we look, listen, touch, taste, and smell the world around us.
Here are some of my favorite “Moments of Zen” so far. Each allows me to be fully present in the moment and tune out the daily distractions-if only for a little while. My senses are activated in ways that bring me pleasure. My rational mind is freed up to focus on intuition and experience. I feel a part of something bigger than me.
Sitting in the woods listening to bird calls
Beachcombing for interesting shells and rocks
Floating in water and experiencing weightlessness
Lying in my hammock being warmed by the sun
Sitting next to the ocean listening and watching the breaking waves
Lying with my pets on the couch and noticing the syncing of our breath
Monday morning yoga on the riverfront.
I’ll keep adding to my repertoire. I’d love to hear your “Moments of Zen”.
What’s On My Book Radar?
This was my first summer read and it is one I have been truly anxious to get my hands on. It was SOOOO worth it. Lily was born Tim, but knew early on that she was a girl trapped inside a boy’s body. Dunkin is really Norbert Dorfman who is ‘trapped’ by his odd name and a painful secret he doesn’t think he can share-even with parts of himself! This book will open your eyes to the real life struggles of human beings in our society who just want to belong and could use our help and support to be the people they were born to be. I dare you to read this and not feel changed. Beautiful. Simply beautiful.
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” -Socrates
I’m not exactly as bold as Socrates with my desire for self-reflection. My life is still worth living, even as I stumble through it mindlessly on many a day. But I do find deeper meaning in life when I take some time to reflect, examine and learn using some of the same principles and ideas that I embrace in my work with my other experiences. So what in my day to day life would benefit from some of this reflection? How can I integrate my goal of reframing into this process?
One way is to think more metaphorically, to help me make some meaningful connections and revelations. Metaphors are powerful tools. They help us to think about something familiar from a different angle, perhaps to gain a deeper perspective. We can often discover new meaning in the common experiences -making the ordinary, more extraordinary. How can I learn some deeper lessons and create more meaning from the ordinary in my life?
It hit me when I was out for a run this past weekend. (Now, I should probably clarify my definition of ‘run’. For those who know me, I am the fabled tortoise of the classic tale.) I took the winter off from running, in Maine snowshoeing and cross country skiing are more efficient modes of bipedal transportation. So this spring I am in the process of getting my running groove back. It could be a bit frustrating to start from the beginning, but I decided I would focus on the process and reflect on my progress. So I thought…
Running is a metaphor.
There are dozens of running philosophers you can follow, but for me I’ve contemplated a few ideas that shed some light on deeper truths for me in life. How is running like teaching and learning (life)? Here are a few thoughts.
“You get out of it what you put into it.”This is so true. My results are tied directly to my efforts, there are no cheats or ways around it. I can’t look for a quick fix. Teaching and learning is the same way-our results correlate with our efforts. There are no easy answers for education reform, we know it is a lot of hard work over time that will yield results. To get stronger and better you need to push yourself, out of your comfort zone. This isn’t always pleasant, but when you can see the results and understand their direct link, the process becomes a welcome challenge. We can help our students see the reward and benefit of moving out of that comfort zone when they can see results. There is no progress without effort.
“Do the best with what you’ve got.”- I do not have the body of Joan Benoit Samuelson, but I did run a marathon once. She could have run several marathons in the time it took me to run mine-but it was my best and I did it with what I had. The pride she felt when she was the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal in the event must have been comparable to the sense of accomplishment and pride I experienced crossing that finish line. When we know we have done our best, THAT should be our measure of success. Not all of our students will cross the finish line of their education at the same pace, but if we help them to do their very best with what they have-we will have been successful.
“If you wait for perfect conditions, you’ll never get anything done.”- We can always find excuses to avoid the hard work we need to put in. For running, it is weather or aches or road conditions. For education it might be kids who aren’t ready, curriculum that isn’t great, books that are outdated, students who are unmotivated, parents who don’t care, etc. We need to realize the conditions for what they are and then do our jobs in light of those factors. Face the conditions, prepare for the conditions and then (sorry Nike) JUST DO IT. We’ll never get the perfect class, the perfect assessment system, the perfect standards-they are mythical. Stop waiting, start doing.
It never gets easier, you just get better. Sorry, for those of you who are waiting for the day when teaching becomes easier. If you want to be the best you can be, you never settle for easy. To continue to grow you need to push yourself, try new things, face new challenges. In running you move faster or run further or try new courses. In teaching you read more books, take more classes, try new lessons-you become a leader. Now don’t get disheartened-it shouldn’t be HARD all the time in life or in running. But if you get to the point that you can just ‘phone it in’, you might want to hang up!
Motivation is what gets you started, habit is what keeps you going. Lots of people jump off the couch and lace up their shoes, determined that this is the year they are getting into shape. The motivation is invigorating and exhilarating. Sadly, motivation isn’t enough to sustain the hard work, tough conditions, injuries, setbacks and strain that can come with running. The school year is like that. We all begin so excited with possibilities and motivation. It’s hard, but we have the energy and we are determined to build stamina. As the newness wears off and the year moves on, we need to draw on more than motivation to sustain us. That’s when the strong habits we have built kick in and keep us on track. We set ourselves up for success. We prioritize our time and energy to make it easy to work out or create those lessons. Creating the conditions that fosters success is critical, because we will all face setbacks, fatigue and disappointment that will zap our motivation. I remember a quote I once heard that nails it, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” It’s as true for running as it is for life.
Nothing worth having comes easy. If running were easy, we wouldn’t see so many cars on the way to work. Everyone can appreciate the effort it takes to run, whether it is a mile or a marathon. We are in awe of those who make it look so easy. We wouldn’t be in awe if it WERE so easy. That’s what makes it special. That’s what brings about an incredible sense of accomplishment when you simply finish a race and not just if you win it. We don’t pat ourselves on the back for sitting in a chair, it’s not an achievement we take satisfaction in. It’s the choices we make that require effort that provides us with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Remember that when it gets hard, and take time afterward to appreciate that effort before moving onto the next thing in your busy life.
Step. Breathe. Step. Breathe… Every run is a series of steps. You can increase your pace, but you can never take more than one at a time. That’s why there are moments when running is meditative (not to be confused with relaxing). Runners can focus in on their breath, and the beat of a footstep to create a zen-like state. You can focus your energy inward and truly be ‘in the moment’ at times. Your life may seem to move fast, but it’s never more than one step at a time. When we find opportunities to focus our attention to the step we are taking, tasks seem more manageable, stress seems less intense, pain seems more tolerable. We don’t have to carry the burden of the entire journey in that moment. We can breathe in new air to refresh the oxygen supply to our cells. We can breathe new ideas, energy and life into our tired bodies as well. We can breathe out the carbon dioxide the way we can we can breathe out toxic thoughts, anxieties and perceptions. Each breath we take refreshes and cleanses our bodies. Don’t forget to breathe!
I’m sure I could think of many more analogies for running and life/learning. The idea isn’t to overload, but to offer up some food for thought. Maybe your aren’t a runner. It might not be your thing. My point is that we often go through life without much thought on the lessons waiting for us to notice. Running may not offer you lessons, but there are choices you make in your life and things that you do that are waiting to teach you- to help you grow.
So to you I would ask, what IS your thing? What is YOUR metaphor?
What’s On My Book Radar?
For anyone who has contemplated running, but didn’t think it was your thing. You might want to check out “The Penguin” (John Bingham)’s book The Courage To Start. He writes a monthly column in Runner’s World and has been a huge inspiration for many Couch to 5K enthusiasts. He took up running at age 43 with a simple jog down his driveway. This book might be just the inspiration you need to try something new in life. It could be YOUR new metaphor!