Reposted for the benefit of your students and your own well-being: I would like to report back to you my results from practicing the sense-based meditation I mentioned in my last blog. It seemed to help all the uncertainty of the coming school year roll off my shoulders. It let me pick my head up from the mire of planning the year’s first project. It even helped me prepare to greet my students with non-judgmental, and even empathetic energy.
Daily meditation was helping me get ready to begin a new school year. The week before school started, I met some curious and excited students and their parents while setting up my room. We had wonderful conversations and a nice time together. Things were going great! However, on Sunday, the night before school, an all too familiar tinge of anxiety and fear struck. I had practiced sitting with the thoughts in my head and the sensations in my body, but the emotions in my heart were a whole new game. This brings us to the third component of teacher mindset and the focus of this blog.
I realized that while sitting still, with my back straight and my eyes closed, that my heart rate sped up whenever I thought about Monday morning. The fear of letting down my students, or simply not being good enough to do my job became palpable. This fear caused waves of anxiety to course through me and promised a sleepless night was waiting for me. I then recalled lessons learned from my MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction) training and practice.
Repression makes things worse, especially feelings of anxiety and fear. Repression gives my negative emotions more force and energy. It allows them to hideout and even ambush me when I really don’t need them around. The remedy I recalled for dealing with these negative emotions might sound counter intuitive to you, but hear me out. Instead of pushing tricky emotions like fear and anxiety away, welcome them into the forefront of your consciousness.
With these lessons remembered, I let these difficult emotions in without offering resistance. I observed them and tried not to attach arguments defending myself, proving I was a good and professional educator. I sought to observe my feelings without trying to diminish them. Before I knew it, they began to move on their way and were gone. It was Sunday night and I began to smile.
It is important to realize that sadness, anger, hope, and yes, even joy, can all be experienced within the practice of meditation. As I sat still all feelings of anxiety and fear vanished and the emotion of happiness arrived to take their place. I then remembered another lesson. Don’t play favorites with your emotions. Not grabbing at good feelings can be especially difficult. It is a natural, human survival instinct, to prolong what is good and avoid what is bad. However, holding onto to those good feelings can make you imbalanced.
Even feelings of bliss can be objectively observed and help you create a steady mindset. Remember to be easy on yourself. I recommend allowing your lips to curl up into a smile, be it ever so slight. Just don’t hold onto the feeling, let it go. I did this and then opened my eyes and happily went to bed. Monday morning came, and I was ready for the day.
Thoughts, sensations, and emotions comprise our mindsets and can become invaluable allies in the struggle to be the best teachers we can be. The “emotional body” as it is referred to in the Yoga Sutras, is full of energy that can be harnessed, if it is acknowledged and not worshipped.
Emotions don’t have to weigh us down, hype us up, or be hidden from the mind’s eye. I certainly don’t want my students to repress their feelings and think that they need to be automatons to succeed in our classroom, or in their future adult world. By being steady in your own mindset you are able to better help your students become aware of what Bruce Lee called “emotional content.” These are the themes or stories in our mind that tend to elicit strong emotions. Strong emotions as we know can lead to strong actions. Picture now your students from last year that were prone to cry or to have physical outbursts. Imagine if you are able to help these students become aware of the causes for their difficulties?
Please allow Bruce Lee himself, in this classic teacher student scene from Enter the Dragon, to further educate us on the value of “emotional content. Whether we’re teaching kung fu or algebra, learning how to acknowledge emotions without being ruled by them can only help to strengthen our craft and your student’s ability to learn and to achieve excellence in life.
If you have not started your mindfulness practice yet, remember, there is no time like the present! Thank you for reading and sharing.
Nicholas Philliou, 7th grade humanities teacher in Durango, Colorado