Tag Archives: adventure

To Be A Teacher

“Are you ready to fly solo?” the text read. “Kristen went into early labor so you’re on your own tomorrow!” On a Tuesday in late October I entered Humanities Left at 8am with some knowledge of myths needing to be completed.  I was taking over for the 6th grade teacher out on maternity leave. Thinking that time was on our side Kristen and I had met the previous Friday going over the classroom routines and then  planned for a week together where I would shadow Kristen and then gradually be released into the world of humanities.

Well, babies have their own timing and Kristen was in Labor and I was standing alone in front of a bunch of sixth graders. What, I wondered, would  a three month stint back in the classroom bring? Stomach flipping anxiety? Fun? Would I be able to let go of the classroom at the end of the day or keep my experiences tied into who I was as a person, my self-worth included?

What I found , during that three month stint, finally was a growing sensation that  I could finally be myself. Certainly there were rough stints.

One day was especially hard. After a week of teaching, tutoring, and babysitting I burst through the doors of my house practically in tears. “What’s wrong?” asked Swami Ramananda. . As I recalled the daily digest and also expressed frustration at myself for feeling a need for control, he said, “Hmm..can you notice your behavior without responding to it?”

What was it about the classroom then that I felt I had to control others’ behavior? I watched myself one day as I got into a futile argument with a student over paper. Hmm. Would the result of the argument help the objectives of the assignment? Or just prove to this ego that I am the teacher and therefore in “control.” If the argument didn’t go my way then what? Was I not in control?

Taking Ramananda’s advice, I began to watch my behavior. Were there times, when altough I might not agree with a student’s decision, I could let it go? And what happened if I did? As I stepped back, the classroom became it’s own entity in which I was a part but not in charge of.Students come to me for help, and I started to only interfere if I felt that a student needed to be guided back on track to reach the objectives of the class.

More and more I let the class become truly about the students and I as an ally to guide them along.  One student in particular if not given specific directions would spend the class gazing at the ceiling or tying his shoe. One day I asked him, “What is it that you need from me to help you feel successful?” The shift from having all the answers to a collaboration with the students  shifted the space dramatically.

I will also say that this was a class that allowed for an easy collaboration. The classroom so varies on the personalities that it brings. It’s not always the case that I, or any teacher can so easily step back and let the classroom be as it is.

Children reveal our greatest vulnerabilities. Child professionals and parents have an especially big sensitivity button that when pushed can spill tears, rage, blame, love, hugs, and praise sometimes all in one blubbery sentence! It is easy to put one’s exbrokennpectations of self-worth, and measures of success and failures on that of a child as they have an easy way of exposing adults for whom they really are. Inside we feel a great sense of pride when these children experience a certain measure of success and a bout of dissapointment when they don’t measure up to one’s expectations.

When a child appears resistant or shows a lack of understanding it is easy to jump into fix-it mode. With what could appear as stalled movements forward fix-it mode can turn into desperation which can spew blame, dissapointment,frustration, and sadness by the adults around him or her.Is it possible that while we are applying all of our knowledge to those that need it,we can also just be by their side and let them know that they are not broken, but loved just as  they are?

Connection and empathy are  often the most empowering gestures that we can give and receive. The ablity to sit with a student and be with him or her exactly where he or she is in struggle or success is a practice. As authors Michael I. Bennet and Sarah Bennet express in their book F*ck Feelings, “It’s the loving parents of self-hating kids who are genuinely the most amazing, specialest, snowflake parents of all.” In the acceptance of that self-hating child or whatever stage they are in, allowing him/her to  just being perfect in their imperfections we are also showing ourselves that same acceptance which, at the end of the day, may (or may not) help us take a step forward.

 

 

A View From the Cottage

These hillsphoto 2

light  breeze ,  sunshineunnamed

And some blank pages

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Nothing more needs doing

Surrender

Sometimes I wonder if my posts are heading more towards, what my aunt would say the “woo woo” side of things. Well if they are, so-be-it! Worrying about the “woo-woo” has prevented me from writing this post for too long. So take a deep breath and bring on your woo-woo!

I’ve been exploring this idea of surrender this year. If you don’t mind, praying for it, actually. And I’ve been playing with the line between “doing” and “waiting.’ I’ve spent times, dwelling at coffee shops (if you’ve been following my blog you know) and taking time to smell the flowers. I’ve also had super busy weeks filled with activity that leave me exhausted at the end of the day. Both ends of the spectrum  have given me great pleasure and stress depending on the moment.

So, this past week there were two instances that rang true for me about what surrender MIGHT mean. The first was during a morning meditation. After our silence, a cassette tape  (remember those?) of questions and answers with Satchidananda was played (the guru that founded Integral Yoga). The question from a man in the audience was, “I suffer from acute panic attacks. What can I do?”

Full disclosure, I usually tune out during the tape playing part of the meditation. However, having suffered from incredible anxiety myself and having been exposed recently to two close young adult friends of mine who were also experiencing anxiety attacks I listened in.

“Anxiety comes from expectations,” he said. “So ask yourself what am I anxious about? What am I expecting?” For many of us this is feels like way too a simplistic solution. But when I think about that myself I reflect on what my own anxiety has been around. So much of of it has been about fear of not being able to….or What if I lose….or simply, What if I am not enough..

he goes on to say, “So stop expecting things. Stop having desires.” And then he laughs knowingly. “Or keep desiring and keep wishing. But know if you don’t get what you are expecting or if what you want it’s because God didn’t want you to have it. Blame God for not getting your wants.”

The word God makes many people shudder. Perhaps another way to think about this  is that it’s just not meant to be.

It’s only woo woo if you take it as making the choice to stop moving towards your goal. Right now my own life has many different moving pieces that are filled with uncertainty. They often offer glimmers of opportunity that are just barely out of reach. Sometimes they grab hold and take off and sometimes they don’t. The other day, I told a friend, “My schedule this week changed in the span of five minutes.” She commented, “your whole life right now is like dating!” We both laughed.

And yet, as I commented to a housemate, “I’m hopeful and I’m wanting these opportunities to happen. But I’m not going to be miserable if they don’t.” And she said softly, “Surrendering.”

Ahhh. To my desiring, striving, ambitious, and often lazy self-that was a definition of surrendering that I could get my head around: keep on keepin on no matter the outcome. But don’t stop moving forward (even if it feels like there’s a standstill or moving backwards).

Bad Mice and Flying Giants

There are giants in the sky.There are big tall terrible giants in the sky…sings Jack from the play Into the Woods, a  musical that combines all the fairy tales into three acts. The first act all the fairy tales end happily ever after, and in the second…well, explores what would happen if the Giant’s wife came and got revenge.

I was playing this song for my four year old charge. We were at a nearby campus because Dad was working for home and the little girl (who I will call Lisa) requested that we spend time there instead of a nearby playground. The campus was  not at all kid friendly. There were no slides or swings, or even big fields of grass.

The song came about because as we sat down to have a picnic (trail mix and bananas), it came into my head and out of my mouth. “What’s that?” asked Lisa. “Oh, it’s one of my favorite songs.” I told her. “Here, I’ll play it for you,” taking out my phone not half hour after dad had said to me, “No media, please.”

Funny enough the previous day I confessed to a friend, “I have to admit; I’m addicted to my phone.” Not as bad as some perhaps, but I do pull it out when I am on the bus, walking down the street, and even at work.. Of course, when I catch myself mindlessly whittling the way the hours on the screen, I feel more tired and  disengaged from the people and the world around me. I also think sometimes that having constant and instant entertainment, leaves less motivation for creativity. If we have instant entertainment than there’s no sense of boredom and then no reason to make anything up!

And don’t get me wrong; having an electronic device has been very helpful and useful to me.  But I haven’t figured quite how to use the amount of media around me in a mindful way.

Anyway, I felt too, like the “no media” was a good six hour detox and challenge for myself. I certainly feel more present and more connected to what is going around me when it is not in front of me.

“Shoot.” I thought remembering ‘no media’ suddenly. How engrained it is in me! Well, music is different I justified. And we won’t watch the phone. We’ll just listen to it. But as all of us are conditioned to do, Lisa came closer to the phone wanting to see what was on the screen. “We’re just going to listen to it,” I said. And I put the phone face down. She respected that and started to listen to some of the lyrics. “Who’s Jack?” she asked and I started to tell her the story of Jack and the Beanstock. “Does he have a green hat? Did he come out of a hole? What does he look like?”

Pulling out the teacher card I said, “Well, what do you think he looks like?”

She sighed and said, “Can’t you just tell me.”So many of us are conditioned to have a right answer. With media at our fingertips we don’t even have to question or think, as we have the answers right in front of us. But it’s not even media per say. As soon as we read a book or watch a movie we suddenly have an idea of what something is like.

I remember reading the Ramona books as a child. I loved the very primitive drawings that it came with…and figured that Ramona was just a creative mess! She certainly looked like that in the book. When the series came out on PBS, I was shocked to see what she “Really” looked like; she and her family were much more of the all-american type than I would have ever imagined from reading the books.

I told Lisa, “The story has been told so many different times that everyone has a different picture of Jack.” She soon became uninterested in what Jack looked like and more interested in listening to the music again, and figuring out what a giant might look like. I found my own imagination activating as I asked Lisa questions. “Do you think a Giant is as big as that tree? Can they fly?” And suddenly we were looking up at the sky looking for giants. “There goes one!” she exclaimed. The theme of giants continued throughout our time outside with the only spurring of imagination being a song that Lisa could barely understand.

We walked back to the apartment (when we knew that Dad had left) for lunch continuing to be on the lookout for giants.

After a lunch of frozen pizza we proceeded to the living room where after building with train tracks and legos, I felt my energy diminish and I moved onto the couch where my body started sinking into the cushions. I felt the urge to just take a quick glance at my phone. Just for a second. A sneak peak. And as four year olds are very in-tune with when the attention is off of them and somewhere else, Lisa said to me, “Now you build. And I’ll watch you.”

My conscious spoke to me. Sarah, it said, When you advertise yourself as a caretaker you promise the parents to egange their children and be engaged in the activities that they enjoy. So start building train tracks and legos.

I said to Lisa, “Let’s do it together.”

Perhaps because it was too quiet or she just got bored, we put the legos and train tracks away. Suddenly,Lisa was a ballerina and  I found myself in a nightmarish version of the Nutcracker where the ballerina could not escape the “bad mice.” We took turns being the ballerina and the “bad mice” (even though it was just one mouse it was still ‘now you be the bad mice”) and then the game turned again. This time Lisa was the ballerina and I was the audience member.  Again,my body felt the comfort of the couch as I started to sink down. “This is not good! Quick entertain yourself!”

I remembered, then, my own living room performances as a four year old. I would take out the garbage bag of tutus and other costumes from previous ballet recitals and make my mom sit on the couch to marvel at my amazing talents. To perhaps engage herself (and me) she would make up voices pretending to be different audience members. On Lisa’s couch sat three stuffed animals. I put them on my lap, and much to Lisa’s and (my own) delight, I made them speak to each other and to me. “Oh my,” I thought. “If anyone walked in at this moment…” and as I found myself getting more into the characters:”It is ridiculous how much fun this is.”

The game ended only after Lisa’s dad walked in the door. “Papa! You have to sit on the couch and then all of the animals want to dance with me!”

As a sometimes aspiring and definitely struggling artist I wonder how to make the imagination jump off the page in a way that is engaging and makes sense. I marvel at fiction writers! And yet in the span of a day, two people banned from screen time, thirty years apart were able to make believe  and allow giants, bad mice, and stuffed animals come to life.

Walking Towards the Sun

Lands End

Lands End

“What would you do if you had nothing?” an ex-boyfriend once asked me. I was in the middle of preparing report cards, and training for a half-ironman. I didn’t have a whole lot of time for him, and he was frustrated. Nonetheless, his question gave me pause. I loved being busy. It’s who I was, and without it? I didn’t know. I never stopped to think about what “nothing” was.

Coming back to San Francisco this past December, I felt totally lost and lonely. I had entered a huge urban metropolis that I wasn’t used to anymore. And I was confused by that lostness as I had once loved this city so much. I realized over that month that I was holding onto expectations of what this city was for me before, thinking that  I would drop back into the life I had previously and pick up where I left off. Once I started to let go of those expectations I was able to have patience with the ups and downs that come with moving to a new place. But still, I marveled at the busyness of it all. Maybe because I wasn’t part of it. And of course I had just come from living in community where, part of the busy day was consciously stopping to make time for meditation and for conversations at meal time.

So yeah, I was confused…especially because I had been a part of a bigger urban metropolis just 6 months prior. So the fact that it was strange and foreign was strange and foreign. Had I changed that much in just those six months? Was I jealous of all the busyness that I no longer felt that I was a part of? Did I suddenly feel that I had “nothing?”

As it was, my loneliness led me to the Integral Yoga Institute. Having just come from Yogaville, I was rejuvenated with the idea of teaching yoga again and was determined to do so. The Integral Yoga Institute is a center in San Francisco related to the Yogaville Ashram in Virginia. It is situated in an old victorian up on a hill from Dolores Park. At night, when I stand outside on the front steps the sun lights up the sky with different neon colors as it settles over the top of the city.  Since I was there, and desperate for housing in a seemingly very expensive city with a housing crisis I thought I would ask about residency as well. “Yes.” They said.  And so here I am two months later living in a yoga center with housemates and a community that practice meditation and yoga, and embraces peace of mind and transition.

Shortly after I moved in, I came down with a cold. That ate up quite a few expenses as well as had me laying low for almost a month. Almost no work, no going out, and certainly no signing up for the classes that I had hoped. I was, by nature of the cold, forced to stay home, get quiet and meditate. And meditate. And meditate. It was stressful at first. I am active. I am an ironman! And to sit and watch the busy lives of those around me while I had to sit, drained of energy was indeed frustrating. And then, something happened. I relaxed. I stopped worrying. There was no need. There was no use.

I have heard that if you trust in the universe it will provide. I have some tension with this. How is that not lazy? I believe that if I want something to happen then I need to put the energy out there to make it happen. And yet, once that’s done there needs to be a certain amount of trust that the right thing will bounce back.  I think what it comes down to is listening. It doesn’t mean being  lazy.  It means sitting and listening to that voice inside even if it doesn’t make sense. It means, at least in my case, practicing patience.

So in my three weeks in which I couldn’t do much I sat and listened a lot.I did nothing.  I have achieved a certain amount of relaxation that I fear is lethargy, although I am also making sure to keep an eye on that.I am yoga-ing, journaling, involved in a small fun project, discussing,  and my favorite, practicing to be a professional coffee shop dweller, an aspiration of which I had in my early twenties.

Simple Pleasures Cafe

Simple Pleasures Cafe

I was coming back from my favorite coffee shop, Simple Pleasures, late afternoon one day, after a morning in the foggy part of the city. I called my friend to say hi, and left a message. She texted me back and said, “I hope you get this with your phone dying and all, but I love that you ended your message with ‘I’m walking towards the sun.’

The Missig Letter

Drink spilled on keyboardI spilled coffee o my keyboard

ad ow it has the flu

its hard you see to write such words

as ow, & fu, & ew.

To fid a remedy

I traveled far ad wide

ad as to the store ca’t simply be

I had a waderig ride.

The trai dropped me for coffee first

ad iside I did fid

a lovely writer who took the time

to share with me his mid.

“Thak you,” I did say

ad headed for the store.

But dow the street the yoga place

was callig me for more.

So I wadered i

ad ot so shyly said

a yoga teacher here I am

are you lookig to be led?

“Call this umber!”

she did say.

Ad smiled at me big. We chatted for a momet

as I  cotiued o my way.

ow I ca say with glee

The store I foud at last

ad the missig letter you do’t see here

is nothing but the past!

More Tea?

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Ray’s Teaset. Yogaville, Virginia

On February 14, 2002 I wrote in my journal, “Floating in the ocean with nothing better to do than stare at the bright blue  sky.” This was from the white sands of the beaches in Northeastern Brazil. It was my third year of college and this was my study abroad…I was studying the relationship between ocean and sky. I wasn’t, actually. But there was something that I was trying to grasp in that journal entry that I’m just finally moving towards twelve years later:  relaxation.

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The road outside my mom’s house. The start of the 40 mile biking adventure from the suburbs to Boston.

In that moment as in other vacation moments I’ve wondered how to bring that “floating” sensation to “every day life” or “the real world.” After leaving Mexico, where I taught 2nd grade for three years, I decided to take the year off from teaching.On purpose, with no job or home in place, I flew to Boston where I floated in between my parent’s homes  by bike, by car, and by train. Things just worked out. My dad gave me his old car for the price of a new muffler. I found a job substitute teaching very easily, and out of the blue came the email that my acupuncturist said I would get. Would you like to staff the Basic Yoga Teacher Training it read from my yoga teacher.

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The trails in Yogaville

And so I floated to Yogaville, an ashram situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Once there, floating was easy. My “work” was supporting a program that I truly believe in while I too practiced with the students. Work was learning the elements of Integral Yoga again, practicing yoga every day, and meditating. “Work” was getting to know participants and their floating lives, learning and conversing with the other interesting members of the staff. “Work” was hiking the trails,
long conversations in the dining hall with others’, and jamming to poetry and chants. While I was “working” the support and love I felt as a staff was the same that I had felt four years prior when participating in the program itself. Floating felt natural as I found that many participants in the program and others that were living in the ashram were also floating.

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The Dunes Trail. Arcata, Ca

From there, I floated to another retreat on the coast of Northern California.. While these two retreats were different they had a very similar effect on me and the message was clear: “Relax into love and you can’t go wrong.” The question among many of us was, “But how do I do that during every day life?”

Something in both places that was said resonated me. “This is every day life.”

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San Francisco in the Fog.

Living in community, acting with and discussing what it means to move with awareness. And most of all, learning to live in the in-between, because that is the only thing real that exists.”And yet, that is a very scary place to be, especially when living in a city; a city where“floating” doesn’t always feel acceptable because everyone’s always racing to get on the next train especially me!

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Yogaville, Virginia

Or where there are so many distractions  it’s hard to remember what feels true and to remember to give myself the time to stop and listen to the voice of love inside. And being in a city has brought up old anxieties and it’s hard to be patient with myself. I somehow feel that  because I just came from these magical places of conscious floaters that I should automatically be different and when I put that should on myself  I feel the fear of being in that “in-between” place creep up and from that fear tension grows.

And yet, also while being in this city,I have been lucky enough to float from amazing person to person, including loving family that has let me into their home.

The stories of inspiration, trauma, and  love that I have heard are incredible.No one has spoken of perfection or of lack of want. But everyone has spoken with an understanding of the importance of following one’s heart and understanding of that chilling fear when hearing the voice that says, I am lost. And yet, with patience and tranquility the answer of what’s next always comes.

Before I left Mexico, I had lunch with a friend. When I started telling him all of my plans and everything I wanted to do with all of my excitement he said, “Sarah, I see you as lost.” My face fell and I started crying. “You need to have a plan.” he said.

I heard a “but” creeping up inside me. What’s wrong with being lost? It said.

“Yes.” I nodded my head. “A plan.”

“And not just sit around and have long lunches and tea with people.”

“Right.” I thought.

And I left that lunch feeling miserable. Why hadn’t I voiced what I had heard? There was nothing wrong with being “lost.”. And besides, I love long teas!  I learned how to do that in Mexico!

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Tea Ceremony at Yogaville led by Ray.

Yesterday, I floated from one two hour tea date to the next. I was able to completely be with them in the moment because there was nothing else I had to do. Floating gives me the time to be still so that I can finally hear that voice within me that guides me to either go left, right, or stare at the blue sky while floating on the waves on the white sand beaches in Brazil.