off to a hilltop

My friend, C, used to tell me that in her bedside nightstand, she keeps a little kit. Inside there’s a good book she’s dying to read, suntan lotion, a bathing suit, flip flops and a towel.

She keeps the kit for that one moment when there’s no choice; when there’s no hesitation. That moment is when she’ll grab her kit and head out to the beach. For a day or two. If she has her charge card in her wallet, the required stay is open-ended.

That little bedside ‘get out of jail free’ option has been my vicarious secret for many years. When I would exercise that option was an inside joke, within the firm belief that I was still doing some good where I was and that the sun and the beach could live without me for a while.

Something’s shifted. I’m looking at my own escape plan.  A retreat. A permanent retreat in Ein Dor with Tovana, in Plum Village with the Tibetan Buddhists. In my room with my meditation application. In my puppet workshop shed with my contact cement, paint and foam rubber.

Making a dignified run for it. Away from work. Away from teaching. Away from the bureaucracy that surrounds everything I do. The receipts, the accounts, the checking in and out. The computer programs, the bells that tell me when I can rest, walk, eat, pee.

An elegant tip of the hat as I blow a silent kiss to a machine that cranks out papers to sign while I am trying to connect my inner chi to the chi of countless pupils or teachers who are unaware of the changes of chi, or the empathy that is there for the taking.

The photo of the monastery on a hilltop. The snapshot of a pristine cell with bed and window. A place to meditate. Silent small meals. Early rising, early retiring. Others who also search for something inside that longs to grow in a separate daily routine.

A shift from a clock. A shift into a real flow of time.

This world that begins with a bedside kit – to grab and to go. My kit: a collection of books. My skin cream, my water bottle, some fruit and vegetables for the way.

Then it gets tricky. My phone. My charger. I need to be in touch. My partner. I love him. My children? My grand-child? This kit isn’t large enough.

Do I take the train or a bus? Do I need a ride to the station?

Maybe just my bike. I’ll get as far as I get and then breathe.

On the hilltop in my mind.

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turning up the chi

Journal of an English teacher, meditation teacher, puppeteer

Oct 29

After a nice Sukkot vacation, school has resumed. First day shock slowly gave way to good times for all. Second day resumption saw me bringing in some puppets and playing ‘Creep’ to introduce the theme of being an outsider.

We’re going to study Ray Bradbury’s story “All Summer in a Day”. This wonderful story takes place in a future school in Venus, where rain lets up for only 2 hours every seven years. One young pupil named Margot still remembers her life on Earth where the sun was commonplace. When she shares her memories, the other pupils can’t deal. They’re jealous, they’re disbelieving and they bully her.

She, the outsider, suffers their cruelty. (The ultimate cruelty, they —spoiler alert—- lock her away so that she completely misses the 2 hour sunshine.)

How can I turn up my own pupils’ empathy? How can I help them feel Margot’s predicament and more, towards other victims of bullying?

I began the topic asking them to look up the definition of the word ‘bullying’. Then I asked if there was anyone in the room who hadn’t experienced being an outsider. If there was a person among us who didn’t know what it was to be different, new, not a part of the majority. No one could say that they had never felt being the ‘weirdo’, as the song ‘Creep’ puts it.

I gave my own experience of being an outsider when I was young – way shorter than all the other kids, younger than the others, and my black hair, curly on dry days, frizzy in humidity. It seemed like all the other girls were tall with long blonde hair. Plus, I was the only Jewish kid in my class for many years.  The only one who didn’t celebrate Christmas or Easter. I helped friends learn their catechism, but I never participated in their first Communion. Outsider.

Outsiders. We find our way.

We become writers. Actors. Puppeteers. We are the musicians. Artists. Or readers. We retreat inwardly. Or become highly extroverted. We are the comedians.

Fat or thin. We find our way. We become what we become. We survive. If we find other outsiders, we can form clubs or secret societies.

Discovering one another, we bloom with new energy, find new impetus to be creative or  proud to be an outsider.

And now, I ask: how can I set up a situation for pupils to celebrate their own energy? How can I turn up the chi in the room?

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Reflecting on doings and beings

Looking back at this teaching and studying year, it seems like a lot has happened. A lot of doings. A lot of events.

Puppetry

Art days

Parties

Web chats

And studying

Buddhism via a few courses

Positive Psychology

Personal Resilience

In Memory – appreciating the lives of those who perished

Touring around Israel – inspecting the sites of the stories of the Bible

A School Twinning Course

Memory taught with examples from movies

Learning to Learn

Finding Happiness and Fulfillment

So many courses

I learned a lot

I listened to Mindfulness Summits.

I wrote poetry

I submitted to magazines

I taught mindfulness to grade 8 students

I led meditation sessions on my kibbutz

I led students in a new digital project and learned a new online platform

I narrated a film and then another.

And by simply being

I became a grandmother and discovered that life takes on a new super tingle just by that one switch of circumstance.

I began to wonder if I really want to continue my life as it is. Do I want to really live here? Do I want to change my daily activities? What makes me feel good? How much do I want to interact with others and if I could choose, which others?

Do I want to work with those older than me?

Or younger?

Do I want to write? And what do I want to write?

Is it time for me to reconsider living far away and devoting my time to painting, being, meditating

Or perhaps a retreat once a year is enough

I reflect on what brings the most smiles to my face. The moments fly into focus: when I taught puppetry. Helping kids create their puppets from their own designs. Helping them prepare a stage. Offering them my time and more time when they seriously wanted to work on their play.

Smiles when I met brilliant pupils who were open with me and shared themselves. Smiles when I worked on art projects and spoke eye-to-eye with young people.

Many such meetings and much good feeling was derived. These special moments of heart meeting heart are what make my life. As always. I remember from a very young age, the vibration of these precious moments when pretense is stripped away and a glimpse of understanding is shared.

Reflection on how to maximize such moments brings me into further deliberation.

As I pause on this 18th day of June.

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Are there less desirable side effects to Meditation?

As the mindfulness movement becomes more and more trendy, there are studies focusing on possible concerns.

What happens when a person sits in silence for hours at a time, when that person sticks to it no matter what emotional state s/he might be experiencing? What happens when an ‘unstable’ personality is faced with the idea of noticing mental activity or unwanted emotions. What happens when that person is unsupervised or offers no hint that there might be some kind of danger when participating in a retreat that continues for days on end?

There are studies being conducted and studies show that not everyone is equipped to deal with vypassana retreats.

Reminds me of the studies that showed that not everyone can deal with intense walkathons, fasts, or the intensity of high achievement in academics. Not everyone can slide through a new experience and come out shining.

Should there be a disclaimer when a meditator registers for a Silent Retreat? Eventually, there will be. A registrant will have to know that just like in yoga when the instructor reminds us to pay attention to our body, not to over-extend, so will the facilitators at a retreat. One will need to be aware that the mental and emotional stretch of hours upon hours of meditation might bring about side effects. One will need to be ready and able to judge if it’s cool to continue or if a short break is needed.

You might be interested in listening to this podcast given by Dr. Willoughby Britton on The Dark Side of Dharma about research being conducted.

Dr. Willoughby Britton

Thanks, Dr. Britton. The more we engage in an activity, the more facets we will encounter.

 

 

Passover Thoughts

A break from classes. No class relax last Monday, this coming Monday and perhaps only half a session the Monday after that.

I’ve had time to step back, pick up some books for my own practice, and note down a few observations.

Here’s my list of Spring Cleaning of the Mind Post-its

  1. Wish students well and then step back. Contact should be positive and easy.This is no time to keep a tight leash.

  2. Wish myself well and repeat often – Lovingkindness meditation. More than ever, self-kindness is a well-needed nutrient

  3. Clean my space and throw out what I don’t need and check the inventory of what I’ve so diligently collected

  4. Allow new connections to form. Get a step away from old traditional routines emphasizing others, allow for the chance to vibrate to a new beat. Top suggestion – open the book Search Inside Yourself and let Meng provide some inspiration.

  5. Do something I love. Do it. Sing, make puppets, practice.

  6. Eat loquats.

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  7. Investigate location of sense of humour and encourage it to reappear. This is a challenging one. Where has my humour gone? On-going search

  8. Do not take everything personally. Not everything is an assassin hit. Not everything is intentionally pointed at my sore spot. Probably not anything. Listen and detach.

  9. Do not take, but notice and appreciate. It is not necessary to own a moment or a comment. Appreciate it as it appears.

  10. Drink water, walk and listen to body. The physical form needs attention. My own schedule, no need to postpone food or rest because of an externally imposed agenda. Listen to what I need.

  11. Old habits? Are they still around? Notice. Who said that the thing I once worked on to conquer forever is truly gone. When I least expect it, that thing might just be leading me into past paths.

11. Meditate. A lot. Whenever and however. Investigate new guided meditations from new voices. Find the sounds that inspire me to focus.

Read. Eat. Walk. Hug. Drink. Laugh! Smell the blossome. Listen to the birds. Move on. Offer what can be given. Do not hold back.

Spring is the time for affirming what it is I’m doing on this planet. My time.

Neurobiological changes explain how mindfulness meditation improves health

New research from Carnegie Mellon University provides a window into the brain changes that link mindfulness meditation training with health in stressed adults. Published in Biological Psychiatry, the study shows that mindfulness meditation training, compared to relaxation training, reduces Interleukin-6, an inflammatory health biomarker, in high-stress, unemployed community adults.

Source: Neurobiological changes explain how mindfulness meditation improves health

Pupils with PTSD, teacher with mindfulness

So, this week I read in one class’s Whats App group, that I don’t know how to get mad.

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stop, pause and continue.

This was an interesting comment and brings me to think about how I appear from a student’s point of view, or at least that student. Who is the student, one might first need to know.

He was presented as someone with problems, who can fly off in outbursts of rage and that as teachers, we are not to yell at him or go ‘head-to-head’. We were told to leave him alone, and to respect his learning accommodations so that he could function at least during tests.

This particular student made the decision with his parents’ agreement to join our Partnership 2gether Project, a living bridge connection between some of our 7th grade students and Bet Shraga school in Albany. We communicate via New Year’s cards, posters, internet joint projects, emails and of course through Web Conferences.

This said pupil conformed to the first few requirements but stopped at the 3rd and 4th. No card made, no youtube clip made, but he wanted to come to our meeting this past Thursday when we would be working on a joint Tu B’shvat project (birthday celebration of trees and plants) and then a Hangout with our partners in the US.

When I instructed them to pick a plant or tree native to this area, pupils got busy choosing and learning how to work with Google Slides. This pupil ,maybe I’ll call him “M”, chose a hand grenade. In Hebrew, hand grenade is the same as pomegranate. He thought it was applicable. I told him to get to work, and to choose a proper plant.

As I was walking around the room, I saw Tal, the head of the entire Partnership 2gether Project in our Western Negev area, take the computer from M and tell him that he was formally out of the project. M got up, kicked the computer cupboard and left the building.

A few minutes later, other pupils started to say, ‘Hey! My picture disappeared.’ ‘Mine, too’.  and more voices chirped in until someone said – ‘It’s probably M!’

I went outside to inspect. Sure enough, there was M, reclining on a bench outside the Grade 7 building with his phone in hand, clicking onto a picture and pressing delete. I looked, uttered a reproof and quickly took his phone to prevent further damage.  I went back into the classroom and removed his name from the joint Google slide file.

He came in, took his phone, left and as we all prepared for our Hangout trans-Atlantic conversation, another pupil came to me with a Whats App conversation in his hand. ‘Judih, look at this! Take him out of our group!

Then the phone rang and I got busy answering.

While the phone rang and my US partner and I worked out the bugs, apparently little M was busy trolling our whats app group. I  removed him from the Whats App group and carried on.

We spoke to the kids! The kids introduced themselves, said thanks for shared Chanukah cards and were happy to talk. We then presented the Tu B’shvat idea – ours and theirs. And we signed off.

Meanwhile, M decided to take his complaints to my regular English class whats app group. He explained that for no reason, he had been removed from the Project group. He had done nothing. Then, only because I was incapable of getting mad, I took his phone.

When I spoke to his homeroom teacher, I reported some of M’s chosen phrases to post in our chat group and I was told that the things he said were typical (calling us all “Hitler lovers” and “may you all burn”). I was advised to update M’s mom and especially emphasize the fact that his phone was a key player in the drama.  (The phone being a sensitive object in M’s life)

M’s mom informed me that his use of a hand grenade as an object for focus is a known phenomenon with him. She told me that he’s PTSD and in any situation remotely possible, he’ll revert to weaponry to express himself.

This was new to me. No one had previously mentioned this. One would think that a pupil having PTSD would be information worth sharing with his teachers. But now I knew.

And as I ponder how to deal with this student, I recall his words that I don’t “know how to get mad.” I wonder what constitutes getting mad. Is getting mad yelling at them, turning red? Is getting mad punishing them till they want to shrivel into worms? Is just a little punishment considered getting mad?

If M is judging my show of anger in relation to his own, I expect I should start kicking computer cupboards and finding interesting curses for my students.  Kicking something is good, but only with protective shoes. Cursing might work if I can think of something in a Shakespearean style, perhaps.

Food for thought.

Thanks, for listening.

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