Why have a mindfulness practice? Here’s one radical idea.

I’m sure we can all write our own posts on this topic and I’d love to hear from others about why they find having a mindfulness practice beneficial to them as educators (and human beings!)  I’ve been working with some very challenging emotions recently and I’m realizing more and more that one of my biggest reasons for wanting a mindfulness practice is to cultivate the possibility that I can interact with the world from a perspective of peaceful acceptance, regardless of external circumstances.  This idea runs as a powerful counter current to almost all of our emotional conditioning, especially in this culture.

Very often, we tell ourselves and each other that angry outbursts, fearful withdrawal, wounded pride or sulky acceptance are normal responses to the external conditions of our lives.  We actually support one another in validating these responses as healthy and we expect and accept that those around us will excuse, forgive and understand our behavior as normal under the circumstances.  And, thank goodness they do or we’d all be in big trouble!  The path of mindfulness, however, suggests another possibility, another choice.

Meditation instructor Michelle McDonald tells the story of a Zen teacher who is instructing his cook.  He tells the cook that part of his job is to keep the fire burning sharp and bright regardless of the quality of wood that he has to work with on any particular day.  Some days he’ll have wonderful dry cooking fuel and other days brambles, but regardless, he must keep the fire going.  If he gets sulky and neglects his job in frustration, then the fire will smoke and when that happens, it disturbs others.

I love the idea that one of our goals could be not to get smoky and bother other people.   Of course, this is a huge challenge.  But cultivating a mindfulness practice is a great first step to laying a foundation that can allow us to be less reactive and to have more choices in our reactions to external circumstances.  So much of what happens in our classrooms and schools, and with our students in their lives is way beyond our influence, but our responses to these events is something we can investigate every day.

If we can keep our fires burning bright, then at the very least, we can support and encourage others rather than adding to their burdens.  We can lessen drama, lower anxiety levels and add joy and peacefulness to our classroom communities. The amazing thing is that if we practice with offering more peaceful responses, rather than our standard conditioned ones, then we feel better too.  Double benefit.  We feel better and we don’t get smoky and disturb others.

Here is the link to Michelle McDonald’s talk for those who might be interested:
(http://www.dharmaseed.org/talks/?q=Understanding+Mara+and+the+Seven+Factors)

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Author: sdreyerleon

Susan Dreyer Leon is the director of the Experienced Educators Program at Antioch University New England. For information about our programs, including our wonderful Educating for Sustainability M.Ed. program, please visit http://www.antiochne.edu/ed/exed/default.cfm?nav=1. Susan is also involved with the new Mindfulness for Educators Certificate program, which is a three way collaboration between the Center for Mindful Inquiry, Barre Center for Buddhist Studies and the Antioch Center for School Renewal. For more information , visit the CMI website at http://www.mindfulinquiry.org/

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