Visions of Apocalypse: Part 3.1

 

Since the time I last reflected on the design and creation of this course, a couple notable things have occurred.

  1. The class commenced; it stars eleven young men and me. In the first few days, there was one young woman, but she dropped the course last week.
  2. The apocalypse occurred. It had a “local habitation and a name”:

#Houston, Texas

#Harvey

Before Harvey interrupted our learning, I assigned the seniors Book 5 of The Odyssey with this guiding question: How can a close reading of this book help us understand the concept of “apocalypse” with more nuance; how might it provide us with a wider definition of ‘apocalypse’?” I instructed them, “we are searching….”

We didn’t have to search long. The apocalypse found us before we could meet back up and discuss the reading.

In book 5 when the hurricane hits Odysseus, he exclaims, “Wretched man—what becomes of me now, at last?” As we in Houston waited out Harvey’s rain, watching the news or checking Space City Weather relentlessly for updates or watching the water rise on our street or in our house, we asked the same question: what will become of us?

Was it weird that my students were reading about Odysseus surviving a hurricane and weathering the flood (i.e. the ocean—for 21 days!)? at the same time that we ourselves were experiencing the dirty side of Hurricane Harvey and weathering a flood (storm surge, incessant rain, dramatic flooding)? Because I’m into etymology, I’ll say it is weird! Wyrd in its Anglo Saxon origins means “fate.” 

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Here is the first thing that a close reading of Book 5 of The Odyssey (800 BCE) clarifies about apocalypse, and it’s a thing that relates to the current situation in Houston (2017).

No material preparations will protect us from apocalypse.

When Odysseus learns that Calypso is letting him go (apocalypso-ing him), he immediately sets to crafting the raft that will sail him home to Ithaca. Lines 259-287 present a near-precise blueprint for building a seaworthy raft. Despite Odysseus’ deft and speedy building skills, despite his thorough preparation and divine Calypso’s aid—she provides him with tools, timber, cloth, fragrant clothes, a nutritious and filling meal, and even memorable sex on the evening prior to his setting off—he still is unprepared to handle the real-time waves, churning into chaos, “whipping all the gales from every quarter, / shrouding over in thunderheads the earth and sea at once” (5.322-324). Within moments of the hurricane starting, “the brawling galewinds [strike] full force, snapping the mast mid-shaft / and hurling the sail and sailyard far across the sea” (5.350-351); moments after losing his sail, “Poseidon god of the earthquake launche[s] a colossal wave, / terrible, murderous, arching over him, pounding down on him, / hard as a windstorm blasting piles of dry parched chaff, / scattering flying husks—so the long planks of his boat were scattered far and wide” (5.403-407). For all his preparations, he still loses everything, finally even the clothes divine Calypso gave him.

Likewise, in Houston before Harvey hit, many of us did our best to prepare.

flood preparedness slide from space city weather

Image provided by Space City Weather

 

Because I had freaked out in a previous hurricane season, our disaster supplies kit was well-stocked; we just needed extra water, which my husband got on his way home from work on Thursday. On the other hand,

  • We did not have flood insurance, nor could we get any because the storm was literally upon us. What can I say? We live in “the Heights,” 52 feet above sea level; we didn’t think we’d need it.
  • Our “family disaster plan” was to stay together—god forbid disaster should strike while we were at our respective schools/jobs; in this case, we knew Harvey was going to hit Rockport on Friday night, so we’d most likely be home together over the weekend.
  • We knew that, regardless of the situation, we weren’t going to evacuate: we’d tried to evacuate at the last minute during Hurricane Rita and ended up creeping west along State Highway 1093 (Westheimer) for ten hours with our then-nine-month-old daughter, a garbage bag full of clothes and diapers, and our polydactyl cat Ginger. Before we ran out of gas on that evac attempt, we made it to a friend’s parents’ house in Jersey Village, weathering that non-event for the next three days with them. I’m in total agreement with the mayor’s decision to NOT order evacuation of Houston for Harvey, as I shudder to imagine the thousands who might have drowned while waiting for traffic to move.
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Click on image to read Kam Franklin’s thread about why Mayor Turner was right to not call for evacuations. (Kam is the lead singer of the band, The Suffers.)

 

As it turned out for my family during Harvey, we did not flood; we did not lose power; we did not lose property. Like so many in Houston, we breathed a deep sigh of relief, grateful for our good fortune, and then, driven by extreme survivor’s guilt, we set to figuring out how we might help those who were not as fortunate: we donated money, did flood-related laundry for others, made emergency-related phone calls for people, cooked and delivered food to first responders, showed up to volunteer at the GRB, NRG, Meals on Wheels or any number of other places that provided people with desperately needed help: shelter, diapers, food, water, towels, bedding, shoes. The lists were long and ever-shifting.

A week and a half after the flood, after the waters receded in the inner loop, but not in some areas outside the loop (i.e., Houston’s suburbs), I met a man from Meyerland, and he told me about how he thought he was so well prepared, buying a generator and a new swamp cooler, stocking up on disaster supplies and extra food. His home flooded in a matter of seconds, he said: “at first, there was only a foot of water inside, but then I opened the door to see what the flooding was like outside, and three to four feet of water rushed in. I couldn’t even close the door. All of my preparedness was underwater in moments.” He continued telling me how he and his family spent the day and night in the attic, how he built a makeshift toilet for the girls to use in privacy by cutting a hole in the seat of a lawn chair and taping plastic bags to it, how he was already searching for furniture to put in the house they rebuild. “It is what it is,” he said. “It was so traumatizing; all we can do is keep going.” I felt grateful that he was willing to share some of his story with me.

Here’s one of the first lessons we have learned from poetry (and from our personal experiences with Harvey) about how to survive the apocalypse: we can’t prepare physically or materially to avoid apocalypse, but we can prepare mentally to endure it.

Next up:

How to prepare mentally for apocalypse.

 

Hint: it involves cultivating and transforming our awareness.

chrysalis on booboos house

Chrysalis, 2017

 

 

 

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Banner Day!

Today my work with 10th graders at The Kinkaid School was featured in The New York Times. I wrote the piece as a lesson plan that could be implemented by other teachers. The NYTimes Learning Network is a fantastic resource: I highly recommend their site. I’ll be co-presenting a webinar with them on September 27th, and I will post details as the date approaches. I’m looking forward to using the resources they recently compiled for their Vietnam War education archive; I start teaching Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried next week!

In other news, I witnessed the nearly-total solar eclipse today, too; from where I stood, coverage reached about 65%.

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Tomorrow, I get to meet my 2017-2018 students for the first time. I am looking forward to beginning again.

Visions of Apocalypse: from Dante to Dylan to Dr. Dre (part 2)

What do I mean by “apocalypse”? What are the apocalypses being envisioned by Dante, Dylan, Dr. Dre?

I stand in the back of the Recital Hall and watch and listen as my colleagues (veteran Senior English teachers at the Independent School where I’ve taught for the past seven years) “pitch” their courses.  The AP Courses get pitched first: “Gods and Monsters,” “Shakespeare in Tandem,” “Critical Approaches to Literature,” “Gothic Literature.” Several of my colleagues have visual aids: a wooden Buddha, a hand-held mirror, even a baby! (My colleague on maternity leave returned to campus for the day to pitch her class).  Even though we’ve been given a three-minute time limit to “sell” our courses, most of my colleagues miss the mark by about two to three minutes. Understandable—each of us has designed our course around our passion and expertise, those questions we most care about as readers and writers (eight of our department’s faculty are working, publishing writers).  I want to enroll in all their classes. After each pitch, the students whisper and throw meaningful looks at each other; “That’s the one I want to take,” they say to each other through their eyes and body language.

Now it my team’s turn to pitch, the on-level teachers: “Human Beings: Heroes or Beasts?”; “Rebels and Outcasts”; “Visions of Apocalypse: from Dante to Dylan to Dr. Dre.” I have a little under three minutes to present my course before the bell rings, sending students to their D period classes. I have no notes, no visual aid, but I have my title, “Visions of Apocalypse: From Dante to Dylan to Dr. Dre,” and I’ve spent the previous class period trying to gather my ideas in writing, so I feel prepared enough not to flub it. Here is what I’ve written in prep:

The world is always ending, but through poetry it is always being remade.

In this course, we explore how poets translate the harsh truths about the human condition into an energizing, even beautiful, force. Poetry is like a crucible—a transformative container, wherein the writer transforms life experiences through the forge of language, tempering grief, love, joy, loss, rage, hope, longing through devices such as image, meter, rhyme, etc.

Poetry endures. It’s the most powerful form of literature because of its flexibility: it slays whether a Bible verse, a Shakespeare play, a Greek epic, or a Rap song. In this course, students explore how poets give people language for experiences and ideas which seem unfathomable—for example Hell (Dante), racial and class paradoxes (Bob Dylan), street violence in Compton, California (Dr. Dre). Day to day, students read and analyze poetry (lyric, narrative, epic, dramatic, rap); they read essays and books and articles about poetry, and they write their own essays and articles about poetry. Additionally, they experience first-hand the world of the poet as creator, attending at least two poetry events (readings, slams, workshops) and writing poetry themselves.

My actual presentation to the students does not go as smoothly as my writing, but I stumble close enough to my original thinking, and, as I do, I notice the looks on students’ faces: they’re incredulous, confused, bemused, even happily shocked; some of them laugh at me and roll their eyes. Their skepticism is palpable, and it’s also reasonable: here I am—a seemingly middle-aged white lady proposing a class that sounds bizarre, and, to those in the know about Dr. Dre and rap lyrics in general, iconoclastic (or, in the parlance of high school students, “WTF?”). I bank on the fact that the students who know me already through my 9th and 10th grade courses are giving me the benefit of the doubt because they know that I’m “the kind of teacher who likes to have fun,” as one student wrote in one of my favorite evaluation comments ever.

Fast forward several months. The course selections are complete and the classes have been populated (mine “made”); I’m starting to be asked by colleagues and even a few parents, “What do you mean by “apocalypse”? One parent, who also teaches at the school, admits to me gently that the course was not his son’s first choice, and that when they went to pick up the summer reading, Hamilton: The Revolution, by Lin Manuel-Miranda, the Barnes and Noble clerk was flummoxed: “You’re reading this for a class called what?!! How is Hamilton apocalyptic?!”

“I’m wondering the same thing,” my colleague confesses.

“I mean apocalypse in its original sense; I mean it in its etymological sense,” I explain to him, and I trust he will understand because he teaches Latin.

The word kalyptô in Ancient Greek means “hidden, veiled.” We find this root in a word like, “eucalyptus” (a fast-growing evergreen Australasian flowering tree that dominated my childhood in Southern California). The prefix eu means “well”; add it to the root kalyptô, and the word evolves, referencing the well-hidden seed pod that conceals the tree’s flower.

So, the word in question, broken into its Greek etymological parts—apo (un) and kaluptein (to cover)—I hope clarifies that I do not mean the word in the sense of “the complete final destruction of the world, as described in the biblical book of Revelation,” which is what people initially think I mean. No: what I mean is more along the lines of “unhiding,” and “uncovering” — of revealing that which has been concealed.

Calypso — In Ancient Greek, this goddess’s name literally means, “she who conceals” (Oxford Living Dictionary, online). In Homer’s Odyssey this “bewitching nymph, the lustrous goddess held [Odysseus] back, / deep in her arching caverns” (Fagels 1.13-15). In other words, she hides Odysseus in her cave “across a salty waste so vast, / so endless [there is] no city of men in sight” (5. 112-113).

True, Odysseus has sex with Calypso, losing himself in love in her arms on a nightly basis; however, also true is the fact that “the nymph no longer please[s]” Odysseus. He has grown tired of her. Her ways have worn out on him (or worn him out). Homer describes Odysseus as an “unwilling lover alongside lover all too willing…” (5.172). He is being used; Calypso is using him. Calypso wants to keep Odysseus with her because he gives her immortal existence pleasure and meaning; in exchange, she offers Odysseus immortality (eternal youth). However, in order for Odysseus to enact his human destiny, he must not remain concealed by Calypso. According to Zeus, Odysseus must be apo-Calypsoed.

Thus, when he leaves Calpyso’s island, his apocalypse begins, and even though Calypso prophesies that “pains are fated to fill [his] cup,” even though Poseidon has in store for him “a swamping fill of trouble” (5.229 and 320), this journey is, nevertheless, the one he must undertake in order to reach his home.

 

 

Visions of Apocalypse: from Dante to Dylan to Dr. Dre

Yves Tanguy, “Neither Legends nor Figures”

 

Our worlds are always ending, but through poetry they are remade.

Next fall, I start teaching an English course I have designed for on-level high school seniors (“on-level” means not Advanced Placement). I came up with this course title, “Visions of Apocalypse: From Dante to Dylan to Dr. Dre,” after the curriculum committee rejected my initial title—Poetry and People. “Very few high school seniors will sign up for a course called ‘Poetry and People,'” the committee agreed.

My revised title possesses more verve and vigor, yes, but the humbleness of my first title, Poetry and People, pleases me, too. I wanted my students to know that poetry is for people: high school seniors and iron workers and moms with three children under seven and priests and bus drivers and office workers and business owners and migrant workers and fast-food servers and voice coaches and football players and anime lovers. It’s not exclusively for rarified folks—for example, AP English teachers and AP English students (although, full disclosure, I did fall hard for poetry in my own AP English class at Capistrano Valley High School—T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” being the poem that stopped me from living my life in the same way as I had been before).

Here’s the thing I’ve discovered that I want to share with my students: More than any other type of literature, poetry survives. Homer’s epics, Shakespeare’s plays, The Bible’s verses—all are examples of the enduring power of poetry. The essential question of the course, when the title was Poetry and People, was “why does poetry survive so much, and how can it help me survive?”

It’s risky to design a course for high school students that centers on poetry, but W.H. Auden’s poem “In Memory of W.B. Yeats” inspired me to do so because, in addition to being the most enduring form of literature, poetry is also one of the most subversive forms, and high schoolers are totally into subversion (defined by my Macbook dictionary as the act of undermining the power and authority of an established system or institution). Auden hints at poetry’s subversive power when he says,

For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth. 

Auden’s line “poetry makes nothing happen” often snags readers’ attention and keeps it there, but his word “executive” must be understood as the contrast to this “nothingness” that poetry makes happen. The word “executive” comes from the Latin “exsequi,” meaning “carry out,” “follow up,” or (according to Macbook’s dictionary), “punish” (as in execute). These executives do not dwell in the valley made by poetry while they’re carrying out, following up, or punishing; they are up in their steel-and-glass towers, cutting labor costs to increase their companies’ profits, strategizing how to maximize exposure for their products or services and therefore consumption. These executives work so hard to make money make more money that they are always up in the air. For those of us who live down on the ground in “ranches of isolation,” “Busy [with our] griefs”—turning fifty, losing a parent or a child, paying taxes, coping with illness or addictions, working and living paycheck to paycheck, feeling unrepresented by our representatives—in our “Raw towns that we believe and die in,” when the mouth of poetry speaks, we are more likely to hear it.

In Auden’s poem, poetry is a river that flows through the valley it has made. It may be out of view or irrelevant (why “tamper” with it?) unless we’re on the brink—of loss, of falling, of going down—or unless we already exist down in the valley somewhere near this river. Maybe we live close enough to this river that we can hear its rapids; maybe we can see the cottonwoods that grow along its banks, this river called Poetry that has the power to refresh us, to sustain us. Let’s wade in the water, why don’t we? Perhaps we’ll give ourselves over to the current and be borne along.

Poetry is not merely soothing. It’s energizing and invigorating—even scary. Poetry’s power to frighten was the force that stopped me on purpose. This stanza that opens Eliot’s “Love Song” changed my life:

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.”

Auden argues that “poetry makes nothing happen,” and this is true: it has the power to make us do nothing, to stop us long enough on purpose that we notice that something more, something deeper is calling us not just to notice, not just to follow up, but to follow it down.

What is it in poetry that calls us? Who is the Caller?

 

Tanguy’s image, “Neither Legends nor Figures” is taken from The Menil Collection website: https://www.menil.org/collection/objects/5146-neither-legends-nor-figures-legendes-ni-figures

 

Making-Strange Paragraphs

My students have been writing rhetorical analyses of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” In an attempt to help them compose their paragraphs more mindfully, coherently and logically, I repurposed an idea from Viktor Shklovsky, the Russian Formalist critic: I instructed my students to take their paragraphs and make them strange.

They undertook Shklovsky’s concept of Ostranenie by rewriting one of their analytical body paragraphs on index cards, parsing the paragraph’s sentences out card by card. I provided each student with the number of cards he or she needed; post-it notes could work as well, although index cards are slightly easier to move around and manipulate quickly, and I happened to have a lot of them on hand!

As students wrote out their sentences, which took 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the number of sentences in their typed paragraphs and the length of their quotations, I fielded questions.

“Can I put ‘dot, dot, dot’ in the middle of a long quote so that I don’t have to write the whole thing out?” a sweet 16-year old boy called out.

I responded firmly. “No.”

“But this quote is so long!” he whinnied.

“Hmmmm,” I answered, “maybe you don’t need the whole thing?”

It was working! Students noticed things that normally are hard for them to notice; for example, the process slowed them down enough to recognize that maybe they didn’t need the WHOLE quotation to support their idea — maybe they only needed a part of it.

I emphasized that students should pay attention to any awarenesses and thoughts they had while they wrote their sentences out on the cards. “Maybe you’ll see a grammatical error that you didn’t see before, realize that you’ve mistakenly tried to make a dependent clause stand on its own. Maybe you’ll notice that one of your sentences can be broken into two sentences, or that one of your sentences doesn’t really belong logically in this paragraph.”

Students continued to work; their engagement inspired and thrilled me.

Once they’d finished this part, I gave them ten minutes to read and annotate a handout about paragraphs from The Little Seagull Handbook. Any grammar and writing handbook would work for this part of the lesson; I pulled from my bookshelf the book closest at hand, but I could have easily pulled the Hodges’ Harbrace College Handbook or Easy Writer: A High School Reference, both of which are in my bookcase, too. These types of handbooks provide concise instructions for writing issues (like “Developing Paragraphs”) and provide examples for students to examine. Aimed at beginning writers, the lessons from these handbooks can be read and comprehended quickly.

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After they read the lesson on paragraphing, we discussed it briefly, reviewing the functions of a paragraph and the suggestions for how to make them more coherent using strategies like repetition, parallel structure, transitions. I spent a few extra minutes showing them examples from the Purdue Owl website of non-parallel and parallel structures, because in my experience, the importance of using parallel structure is the greatest challenge young writers need to master.

I asked them to shuffle their sentence cards before spreading them out before them again in the appropriate order.

“Based on what you just read, take some time to see if any of your sentences might benefit from the repetition of key phrases, from parallel structures, or from transitional words or phrases.”

“Wait,” a girl with braids said, “I can’t remember the order of my sentences! Can I look at my typed paragraph?” (They’d been told to put their typed drafts away).

“No,” I said, firmly again. “My hope is that you are able to tell which sentence goes where.”

This was one problem I had been hoping for. I wanted students to understand that no matter how strange they made their analytical paragraphs, the techniques they employed could make the order of ideas so apparent that they — or anyone else, for that matter — could reconstitute the paragraph from the index cards, based on the component parts (topic sentence, evidence, analysis of the evidence, etc.) and the logical flow (coherence).

Once they had finished finessing the sentences on their cards, I asked them to shuffle them again and then give me their stacks. Then, I randomly reassigned a stack to each student.

“Now let’s see how well you can reassemble your peer’s paragraphs!”

They were not allowed to talk at all during this process, to ask the paragraph writer which sentence went where. I gave each student a large post-it note and told them to write any comments or questions they had for the writer on the post-it. I gave them about 20 minutes to do this part of the activity.

At the end, I asked students to number their peers’ cards in the order they thought was correct and to return the cards and the feedback sheet to the paragraph’s owner. I overheard them giving great feedback to one another at this point, telling each other what had made it easy or difficult to reassemble the paragraphs.

One student asked, “What if my peer put my sentences into a different order than I meant them to be, but her order works better than mine?”

“Fantastic!” I beamed.

This lesson worked really well for all the students and they had a great time doing it.

“Doing this made me realize how I needed to make my paragraph stronger,” one student said.

“While writing out my paragraph on the cards, I felt really bad because I could see how bad my paragraph was,” another student said.

“That’s okay,” I consoled the latter. “It happens to the best of us.”

Inspired by Shklovsky, I hoped that by making their paragraphs strange, my students would see them in a more mindful, vivid light (instead of numbly recognizing them), and in seeing them more clearly — five days before final drafts are due — they could make revisions that would help them become clearer, stronger, sounder writers.

Want to be happy? Slow down

I enjoyed this read.

ideas.ted.com

In 1972, Matthieu Ricard had a promising career in biochemistry, trying to figure out the secrets of E. coli bacteria. A chance encounter with Buddhism led to an about turn, and Ricard has spent the past 40+ years living in the Himalayas, studying mindfulness and happiness. In this free-wheeling discussion at TED Global in October 2014, Ricard talked with journalist and writer Pico Iyer about some of the things they’ve learned over the years, not least the importance of being conscious about mental health and how to spend time meaningfully. An edited version of the conversation, moderated by TED Radio Hour host Guy Raz, follows. First, Pico Iyer on how he became taken with the idea of staying still:

Guy Raz (left), Pico Iyer (center), and Matthieu Ricard (right) discuss mindfulness and the importance of being still at TED Global 2014. Photo by Duncan Davidson/TED. Guy Raz (left), Pico Iyer (center), and Matthieu Ricard (right) discuss mindfulness and the importance of being still at TED Global 2014. Photo by Duncan Davidson/TED.

Pico Iyer: When I was in my twenties, I had this wonderful…

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Mindfulness in the Independent School Advisory Program

In the 2012-2013 school year, The Kinkaid School revamped its advisory program. The following post contains the Mindfulness activity that I developed for 11th grade advisors to use over a two-period time frame.


Recently (February, 2104), Time Magazine featured the cover story, “The Mindful Revolution.”

The Mindful Revolution Cover Image

If you did not see or buy the issue on the stands, that’s okay: here’s a PDF of it for you (if you can’t access it, please let me know in the comments, and I’ll try to find another one) — PDF of Time Magazine.

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By now, there are very few Americans who have NOT heard the term mindfulness being tossed around like a whiffle ball. But few people have a sense of what this term means — for good reason: it means different things to different people.

Here is a working definition for the general Western audience, from a website called MindfulSchools.org.

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As a media darling, the catchphrase “mindfulness” relates to another contemporary catchphrase — “Emotional Intelligence.” Both imply a state of psychological equanimity that results in more inner and outer peace. In short, the mindful person or the emotionally intelligent person proceeds through life experiences with a deeper level of awareness about what is going on in any given moment, and this deeper awareness naturally provides him or her with more options for how to behave and respond in any situation, no matter the level of intensity.

Whereas the term “Emotional Intelligence” derives from Western psychology, the term “Mindfulness” is traditionally linked with the Eastern practice of Meditation. As a meditative practice, mindfulness can refer to traditional “sitting” meditation — where one focuses on an object, such as the breath or a mantra (like “Om”) — or it can mean bringing one’s full awareness to any given activity; for example, one can walk mindfully or eat mindfully. (Update — I have included a script for a fun “eating” meditation — the Raisin Eating Meditation — in the activities section. The advisor could read the script while each student follows along, eating a single raisin. One small box of raisins should be enough for every student to have one raisin.)

As mindfulness is linked to the Eastern tradition of Buddhism, mindfulness practitioners usually eschew attaching a goal to their practice; that is, they don’t meditate so that they can be more peaceful, or better learners. Nevertheless, the practice of meditating may lead to more personal peace and more ease in learning.  As Jon Kabat-Zinn says in his book Wherever You Go, There You Are, “Meditation is the only intentional, systematic human activity which at bottom is about not trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, but simply to realize where you already are.”

The best way to understand what it means to be mindful is to practice being mindful. So here are a few links to some different types of basic mindfulness activities. It’s important to note that it’s through the regular practice of being mindful that we grow or develop our capacity for more peacefulness and psychological equanimity.

Videos:

1) Here is a basic exercise — presented by Jon Kabat-Zinn at Google — of bringing mindfulness to the breath. (12 minutes)

Note that in this video, around minute 4, Kabat-Zinn stops talking and breathes with the audience for 2 minutes. Then around minute 6, he begins again to talk about what goes on during meditation.  I suggest preparing students for this silence in the middle of the video, and I would encourage them to close their eyes at this point and try what Kabat-Zinn is suggesting.

2) Here is a very short, animated introduction for how to bring mindfulness to the breath for a minute, used by Howard Rheingold in his Stanford course on Participatory Media Literacy:

Meditation in a Minute by Marty Boronson (5 minutes)

http://mountainsangha.org/take-a-moment-to-meditate/

3) Here is an audio exercise for bringing mindfulness to the breath (around 7:30 mins)

Audio Guide: Meditation on the Breath

from Mindful Schools

http://mindfulschools.org/mp3/mindful-breath.mp3

4) Raisin Eating Script — from West Virginia University. For this exercise, the advisor leads students through the action of eating a raisin mindfully. One small box of raisins should provide enough for an advisory. This exercise should take about 7 to 10 minutes, but it could be shortened or elongated, depending on the time-frame. It should be done fairly slowly, in any case.

(featured image from Crazy Frankenstein)

Being Mindful Saves Lives

Guest Post by Dr. James Houlihan

How often we do accomplish something without knowing that we did? And how would we ever know unless someone told us?

I had just finished teaching my three-week Interim-Term class: Buddhist Meditation and Philosophy, where students develop the ability to sit zazen, facing the wall, for ten to fifteen minutes, and to be present to guided meditations for 20.

At the beginning of the term, I had been asked to admit a student even though the class was full and the space limited. But when I heard the student’s story from our psychologist, I agreed. His father had died suddenly of a rare heart abnormality that was also found in the student, necessitating open-heart surgery. His mother was recovering from brain surgery to remove a cancer and for the moment was doing well.

Throughout the three weeks, the young man showed no emotion whatsoever. Any attempt to draw him out was met with a polite word, no facial expression, and silence. But when the class gathered in the dim reflection room he was the first to sit properly on a zafu. I could tell that he was calm, not-distracted, able to follow his breath or the course of his thoughts. Basic mindfulness.

Later, all of his teachers met to discuss his situation with the psychologist and she touched my arm, and turned to tell the other team members. “The Meditation class,” the psychologist said, hand still on my arm, “was a life saver.” But without her words, I would not have known, for sure, the effectiveness of mindfulness for one challenged young man.

Mindfulness: How to Change Your School Culture by Doing Nothing

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This post is part of a series.

I am in Boston at the NAIS 2015 annual conference to present a workshop about practicing mindfulness in the educational environment. I developed this workshop, “Mindfulness: How to Change Your School Culture by Doing Nothing,” with two colleagues Dr. James Houlihan, my peer at The Kinkaid School, and Larry Kahn, Chief Technology Officer from The I’olani School in Hawaii.

Before Larry took his job in Hawaii, he, James and I developed an informal, collegial sangha (Sanskrit word for community) at The Kinkaid School, where we met regularly for the last 15 minutes of our lunch period to sit in silent meditation together.

zafuswiab.euFor many years, Kinkaid has had a Reflection Room as part of its Character Education complex, and this is where we’d meet. We dimmed the lights, sat on zafu cushions, faced the wall (in the Zen tradition), set the Insight Timer iPhone app, and “did nothing” — on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. Recently, the Reflection Room was assumed by Kinkaid’s administration to serve as a staging ground for Kinkaid’s ISAS reaccreditation process, and, currently, it’s being reconfigured as a temporary office space for Kinkaid’s facilities managers, as that space undergoes construction renovations. My dearest hope is that the Reflection Room survives these waves of necessary progress; having a dedicated space to practice with colleagues and students is not only visionary, it’s revolutionary; it’s a built in garden where seeds of empathy, authenticity, resiliency, honor and many other positive character traits can be sown and grown. Our NAIS workshop grew out of our practice sitting together in this room at lunchtime.

We all came to meditation differently: I started practicing sitting meditation in the mid-90s, during a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in Houston (MBSR is the program developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at ); James has been practicing Zen meditation for 20+ years; Larry started with Transcendental Meditation during his teen years in the 70s. Although we all come from different traditions, we all know the positive impact meditating regularly has on our emotional, physical and psychological health.

As educators, we also have experienced the value of sharing this practice with our students and our colleagues. James and I both offer Mindfulness courses during Kinkaid’s three-week Interim session in January. Our classes are among the first to fill up, as students hear from peers who’ve taken them before that our classes are fun, interesting, and ultimately extremely relaxing. In a culture of high-achieving students and faculty, relaxation and peace often sound like elusive fantasies. And yet, through practice, we come to know that peace is available in every step and every breath, as the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh has taught in his seminal book, Being PeaceScreen Shot 2015-02-25 at 6.05.01 PM

 

In our classes, students learn by practicing mindfulness that they can become masters of their time and thereby their experience; time no longer is their foe, stretching them to their limits, causing undue and intolerable anxiety. This is an invaluable, profound lesson for students who are conditioned to feel like there’s never enough time to do everything they want to do, everything they have to do.

In addition to our Interim courses, James and I facilitate a monthly Mindfulness Study Group for our faculty colleagues. Over 27 Upper School faculty members have joined it. We meet in the morning from 7:15 to 8:00; our principal provides breakfast for us.

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We read Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Wherever You Go There You Are, and we practice different mindfulness meditations; for example, breathing meditation or walking meditation or eating meditation or Metta (loving-kindness) meditation. This study group has provided us with an incredible community-building experience: in less than 45 minutes, we have connected to one another more deeply, authentically and compassionately than we have in over a decade of working in classrooms next door to one another.

Please join my colleagues and me on Friday morning to learn more about how to “change your school culture by doing nothing.” When: 2/27, from 8-9 am Where: Room 311 at the @NAISAC15.