During the depth of this relaxing summer season, it’s almost possible to forget the pressure and stress that can arise during the rush of the typical school day.   Is it possible to carry some of this lovely summer ease back to school?  Center for Mindful Inquiry guiding teacher,  Claire Stanley, says, “absolutely!!”   Claire and Jack Millet will be joining Judy Coven and me at the annual Mindfulness for Educators Certificate Program summer retreat at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies.   We are now accepting applications for the 2013 cohort.  For more information, please visit the Center for Mindful Inquiry web site.
by Claire M. Stanley
Most teachers walk into their classrooms at the last minute, close the door at the start of the class, and begin their two hours, or one hour or thirty-five minutes of teaching without any pause.  There is a dashing, breathless quality that drives each day.  Get up, get dressed, cup of coffee, drive to school or university, say hello to one or two people, walk down the hall, walk into classroom, begin teaching.  No space divides the time of everyday ordinary mind from the time of extraordinary mind, the time when learning begins, the time for the teacher as the vessel, teacher as the impetus, teacher as the firing neuron to place the spark of learning into the students’ hands.What would it be like to pause, even just for a moment to mark a change in time?  Like the ships that put up sail when they cross the Greenwich mean time marker in the Pacific ocean, is it possible to mark the moment when one has changed from the ordinary mode into the extraordinary?  Tara Brach and others talk of a “sacred pause” and although it sounds like something grand, it is but a moment taken intentionally before one begins anew.  It is but a breath, felt deeply in the body.  It is but a breath that fills the lungs and lets the body stop to step out of time, out of rush, and into the timeless.  The sacred pause and just one breath interrupts life on automatic and brings with it, purpose, clarity, wholeness.Think back on any time you have attended a music concert.  The conductor walks onto the stage to the sound of applause.  She turns her back to the audience.  She does not begin haphazardly, flying into the piece of music as if she has just dashed out of her car, coat dangling off her left arm, cup of coffee in the hand and briefcase dragging her along through the corridor.  She does not ask the orchestra to start playing, or the chorus to begin singing, or the soloist to lift his voice in a way that might suggest that they were running a marathon.  She does not send forth a signal to begin a marathon and then ask everyone to simply start dashing, dashing toward the end of the time, toward the end of hours and minutes together until all the time is used up.

No, the conductor stops and pauses.  There is a silence in the audience and in the whole space of the opera house or the intimate salon or the theatre.  Anticipation then mounts in the minds and hearts of the listeners.  Awareness and attention arises in each member of the orchestra, or each member of the chorus.  Notice how their faces turn upwards towards the conductor, notice how they stop, breathe, anticipate the opening of this glorious work of music with joy.  Then the conductor lifts her hands, raises the baton and on one beat, moves everything forward.  And in that moment, everyone is there, everyone is present, pulsing, muscles in arms and shoulders, muscles in throat and lungs moving in the present moment to create the beauty of the piece, to lift up the hearts of all listeners.

It is possible for a teacher to pause at the beginning or in the midst of her teaching in a similar way.  He can walk into the classroom and stop.  He can pause to put down his books, briefcase or papers.  He can stop and just breathe for a moment.  He can be silent for just a moment.  He can look out at the students before him like the conductor looks at each member of the chorus or orchestra. Then he, the teacher can draw them in, bring them into his sphere, touch them with a sense of presence.

Some teachers I know also ask their students to come into a moment of silence before the class begins.  This is nothing special but it is extraordinary.  Everyone in the rooms simply sits in silence for one or two minutes.  How many minutes of the day are taken in silence?  There is a chance for everyone to stop and breathe, to take a sacred pause out from life in the fast lane, to get off of the treadmill, to drop into the moment and in so doing connect with the timeless.

This pausing is worth its weight in gold, a golden moment as it were, something that says to all those present,  “What we are about to do is important. What we are about to do matters. What we are about to do is going to be done with care and joy.”  So much is communicated by the tiniest of gestures.  I once saw a ballet dancer command an audience of thousands by the pointing of one finger.  I once saw the Dalai Lama speak to eighty thousand people in a sports stadium and commanded everyone’s attention by taking a moment to stop and simply look out into the crowd with a beaming smile on his face as if he were meeting a small group of friends in his living room.  I once saw a teacher walk into her classroom, then just stop and stand there facing the her students for just a moment.  With this simple gesture, the students also stopped and began again from a place of clarity and purpose.

Try this:
Practice pausing several times each day, at the beginning or in the midst of your teaching.  One of my teachers says, “Being mindful is not difficult to do, it is difficult to remember to do.” Take the time to leave the ordinary and take a journey into the extra-ordinary.  Take the time to leave the rush, interrupt it, by simply stopping right in the middle of some fast-paced, moving-forward moment in the hectic swirl of your teaching life.  Take just a moment to pause to reconnect with mindfulness of breath, or sounds or body.

And when you have paused, then take that moment to breathe. Know that as you have taken that one breath, so have your students. See any one person in front of you and know that he or she too is a fragile being just like you whose life depends on just one breath.  Know that when there is no more breath, there is no more life.  Feel the life in you right now surging and rolling in and out like the waves of the ocean.  Feel the space of all of life and then begin again to connect with all that is ordinary in your teaching life but in a fresh and mindful way.

Claire M. Stanley, Ph.D.
Center for Mindful Inquiry
167 Main Street
Brattleboro, VT 05301


Author: sdreyerleon

Susan Dreyer Leon, EdD is the Chair of the Education Department at Antioch University New England and the Director of the Mindfulness for Educators Program.

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