What I’ve learned from Walter

At our house this week we’ve been reading the hugely popular book Walter, the Farting Dog by William Kotzwinkle.  My  six year old brought it home as her library book this week.  When I asked her what she liked about it she said,  “That it’s funny and that it makes me want to laugh because before it, I never said ‘fart’ in my life. “


I’ve been enjoying it a lot too.  It’s quite liberating to talk about bodily functions that normally get politely ignored around our house.  And anything that gets a good belly laugh out of a six year old is a winner as far as I’m concerned.

But there’s something else that I really love about Walter.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, it’s about a couple of kids who bring home a very stinky dog and just want to keep him because they love him even though he farts all the time.

After trying various remedies, their father finally puts his foot down and declares that Walter will have to go back to the pound the next day.  The kids and Walter are miserable and Walter resolves to never fart again.  And then he goes down to the kitchen and eats 25 pounds of the very snack that makes him fart the most.  And you know what he thinks to himself after he eats them?  “Very tasty.”

I fell in love with Walter at that moment.  I wanted to break down and cry for him and hug him and adopt him into my home.  To me, Walter is every single one of us who sets an intention and then promptly does the VERY thing that makes it least likely that we can achieve our goal.  It seems to me that in some corner of our minds, if we’re really honest, we recognize the intrinsic reward in our poor choices, even when they don’t truly serve our purpose.  Being dead to the “very tasty” nature of these actions, even when they are unwholesome may be part of what keeps the whole cycle of resistance to change engaged.

This is what it means to be so much a product of our own conditioning.  I have repeatedly had the experience of setting an intention which requires self-discipline and finding that I can achieve it if it flows out of a healthy place, a positive regard for myself and others and a sense of realism about what I can control.  On the other hand, many of my experiences with intention put me right where Walter is.  Even when the stakes could not be higher, if the intention comes out of a place of self-loathing or external pressure (and resentment), it often just falls apart before I can even get started.  Then I have no results AND self loathing. In Buddhist psychology, this is the second arrow.  The first arrow is the pain of the life situation.   In Walter’s case that he has to leave his new home.  The Second arrow is made of the thoughts, feelings and judgements that proliferate around the situation, leading us to feel even worse than we already do.

We are so quick to judge ourselves, others, and our students.  But behavior, change is so hard.  Not impossible, but it requires a self-kindness to both honor and then interrupt the deeply conditioned aspects of ourselves that keep us stuck.  To have any hope of lasting success, we have to start by setting the intention to change the right things and then do it with love and a gentle self-compassion.

I won’t spoil the end of Walter for you, but it’s worth a read if you get the chance.  In the meantime, I’m going to be paying attention to how I set intentions and what my expectations are for others to change.


We’re taking our mindfulness practices on the road!

Antioch New England Experienced Educator student, Selena Goldberg, and faculty member, Susan Dreyer Leon will be presenting at the Coalition of Essential Schools Fall Forum this Saturday, November 10th in Providence, RI.  Selena will talk about her work teaching mindfulness to students at Pioneer Valley Performing Arts and will share a short film she made with them about their experiences.  Susan will talk about the Mindfulness for Educators Certificate Program, which is now entering its third year!

For more information about the Fall Forum, please visit the CES website.  There is still space available for Saturday’s session!


For more information about the Mindfulness for Educators Certificate program please visit:

Mindfulness for Educators Certificate Program at Antioch New England

If you are interested in using the Antioch University New England Experienced Educators program to earn an MEd with a Mindfulness Concentration, please email Susan Dreyer Leon at sdreyerleon@antioch.edu or visit the Experienced Educators program home page at:

Mindfulness for Educators M.Ed Concentration at Antioch New England


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.  http://www.mindfulinquiry.org/about_the_center/news/
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

“What do you do with the mad that you feel?”

Lately, my five year old daughter and I have been doing the Pebble Meditation from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Planting Seeds:  Practicing Mindfulness with Children.  It consists of four simple meditation instructions and it has picture cards that go with each one.  Children visualize themselves as a flower, a mountain, still water and the big blue sky.  She seems to really enjoy the simple activity and seeing the pictures on the cards.  She can’t read just yet, so we sit together and I read the cards to her.  The whole thing takes about 3 minutes. She often asks for it if I forget.  Then, in times of stress, I remind her to take a minute and breathe and repeat one of the phrases to herself.  I love the idea that she is learning these techniques for self-calming and self-knowing.

I believe that we desperately need to teach students these skills in school starting from a very young age.  The late Fred Rogers knew all about this.  In our house, when anger arises we sing his song ‘What do you do with the mad that you feel?”  For us, it seems essential to be able to name a feeling and acknowledge that this is a normal thing.  Humans get angry sometimes.  No problem.  It’s what you DO with your mad that’s important.

There’s no “should” or “should not” when it comes to having feelings.  They’re part of who we are and their origins are beyond our control.  When we can believe that, we may find it easier to make constructive choices about what to do with those feelings.

–Fred Rogers  The World According to Mr. Rogers

We have to teach children to become familiar with their own emotional landscape and to manage their emotions.  The rewards are many.  Happier children, happier adults, a calmer school environment.  Planting seeds indeed.

And Pebble Meditation is a great idea for adults too.  Often we don’t know what to do with our mad feelings either.  Teaching is hard work and when we’re working with lots of little reactive beings, it is easy for our own anger, anxiety and frustration to get triggered.  Having a way to insert a little space between our emotions and our actions can make all the difference between whether a situation escalates or whether we and our students can calm down and come to a more peaceful resolution.

Benefits of a simple practice

By Susan Dreyer Leon

This weekend, five of us from the Mindfulness for Educators Certificate program presented at the annual conference of The Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education Conference.  The title of our presentation was “Mindfulness and Reflection: Tools for clarity, creativity and compassion.”  The students in the program did a beautiful job of describing how they have been using the frameworks of the program to deepen their own practice in their classrooms and with their students.  I also had a chance to talk about one of the mindfulness practices were are using here at Antioch New England and I’ve included that here for your perusal!  We are still accepting applications for the Mindfulness for Educators Certificate Program for 2012.  Join us!!

 The benefits of a simple practice

The Integrated Learning Program at Antioch University New England is an M.Ed with Elementary Certification.  We begin our required course sequence with a Human Development course.  This course takes as its text Robert Kegan’s The Evolving Self, which leads our students to discoveries about elementary- aged children and themselves.  Three years ago, after some scattered practice of mindfulness meditation in different courses in the program, the faculty agreed that all sections of Human Development would begin their weekly Friday morning class meeting with a simple meditation.  The meditation was developed by AUNE Adjunct Faculty, Besty Taylor and Integrated Learning Program Director and Core Faculty, Jane Miller.  The full text of the meditation below.

Benefit for the course instructors:  Clarity

I’m a better instructor because of our mindfulness time at the beginning of class. Clearing my head before we begin with course material makes me clearer in MY teaching. The jumble of things I want to cover settles out and I find myself being sharper in my focus.         –AUNE instructor

My tendency in class it to talk too much.  The “stop” of this arriving meditation gives me time to connect with my intention to limit my own airtime, listen from my heart and not so much my brain and make that listening my mindfulness practice in class. What emerges is often a much clearer articulation of the course content and a sparkling, surprising incisiveness in my ability to connect that content to students’ lives.                                      –AUNE instructor

Benefit for the students during the class meeting:  Clarity & Compassion

This practice gives students in the Antioch teacher preparation program an opportunity to feel an interruption in a fast paced day. Their future classrooms will be busy, hectic at times. They’ll be making dozens of decisions every hour. Our hope at Antioch is that they’ll remember what it was like to stop the speedy flow and have a time out.                                   –AUNE Instructor

 One student commented that this mindfulness practice that we have “is like a power nap. I feel refreshed afterward.”  Another said, “I came in a snit and now I feel like I love you all.” Refreshed, kind teachers are what our graduates want to be and we need to support them in finding the tools to be that. One tool is mindfulness.                              –AUNE students & their instructor

Transitions cause my mind to race in a million different directions.  This gives me a chance to just be, to clear the chalkboard in my mind.                                                                                                                                    –AUNE Student

It constantly brought me back into awareness of my own humanity in a time of great demand.    –AUNE Student

Benefit for teachers-in-training: Compassion

Mindfulness practice has helped me better understand and attend to behavior issues in the classroom.                                                                                                                                                                                                              –AUNE Student


Unhurried, undistracted attentiveness is what teachers need in order to observe their students carefully, to know them well and understand how each one is making sense in the world. We talk about “meeting our children where they are” but, really, we can only do that if we SEE them, are attentive to them. Our five minutes of mindfulness is a time to practice unhurried, undistracted attentive awareness.                                                –AUNE instructor




A meditation for arriving

by Betsy Taylor and Jane Miller, Antioch University New England

There’s something I’d like to do with you in this course that has to do with being present—not thinking of what you’ll be doing later or about what went on earlier but really be in in the moment—It’s an important skill for teachers, and for all people.

I’d like us to spend 5 minutes now practicing being present—to really arrive here—do a simple kind of meditation—no religious connections—purely a way to be here and mindful.

I’ll lead us but if it feels better to you to use this time to think or rest, that’s O.K Either close your eyes or find a soft focus on something.  Begin by focusing your attention on sound. Don’t  try to hard to go out and find sound.Let it come to you (you may notice sounds in the room: chair scraping, coughing.  You may notice sounds in the building around us.  You may notice sounds of your own body as you breathe or swallow)



Now, letting the awareness of you body move into the background, be aware of any emotions you’re experiencing—excitement, nervousness, irritation, frustration—just notice without judgment.

Now bring your attention to being aware of the movements of your breath. Soften around the waist. Notice as you breathe in the lungs fill up with air and the diaphragm pushes down notice if there is movement in the abdomenBe aware of breaking in. Be aware of breathing out. Observe the body as it breathes. Use awareness of the breath as a way to be really present in this moment


When you notice your mind wandering, as it will, very gently escort your attention back to the breath


Open your eyes. Look around the room. Notice what you see. (maybe light and shadows, colors, maybe textures). Now look around at each other.

And with this arriving, our class is ready to begin!

Educating for Sustainability: A Mindfulness Practice!

A colleague recently suggested I watch a Youtube video of Ram Dass interviewing  Thich Naht Han.  Both men have made substantial contributions to the American understanding of mindfulness over the past four decades.  It’s a delicious little slice of insight between two beautiful minds.  During the interview, Thich Naht Han says something that cuts to the heart of what I see as the relationship between mindfulness and sustainability.  He says,  “It’s easy to get people to agree that things are impermanent.  They may understand it completely, but they act as if things are permanent.

In order to experience, truly experience the changing world around and within ourselves, we must cultivate the capacity to know, to intimately see and experience, impermanence and how we relate to the fact of it.  For example, we here in New England  know the seasons change.  Do you have a favorite season?  Are you acquainted with how you relate to its impending arrival? Do you savor each day greedily, be it warm summer swims or frosty ski runs?  Do you mourn the passing of this season with longing, melancholy or outright sadness?   Do you find yourself complaining to yourself or others when the expected weather conditions do not materialize.  We KNOW that seasons come and go, that weather patterns change and yet, we plan and organize and react to these changes with grasping and resistance.  And, we suffer for it in ways large and small.  What would it mean to live our knowing of this impermanence and acting based upon it, unhooked from the cycle of desire, longing, and aversion?  Would we love our “favorite” season less, or would we be more contented with the ever-changing flow of the natural world around us?  I challenge each of us to experiment with this simple idea and see where it takes you.

It puts me in mind of the reasons why I believe so strongly in the development of the field of Educating for Sustainability.  The need for the conscious development of a culture of sustainability is rooted in our default tendency to take as permanent our current conditions.  As a species and as individuals, we do not act as if the health of the earth is urgently essential for our survival.  We do not treat our planet as if every single thing we need to stay alive and every single thing we possess arises from it and it alone.  But this is the case.   Educating for Sustainability is rooted in the idea that we have to increase the capacity of individuals and groups of people to act in ways that will ensure survival for ourselves and the ecosystems on which we depend.  It’s not enough to understand that our lifestyles are unsustainable, we have to do something about it.

In addition, those of us who live in this affluent, abundant culture of plenty, must understand that our situation is intimately connected to lives of others whose basic human needs are not met.  We know this intellectually, but we do not act based on that knowledge.  Or maybe more accurately, we do not change our activities based on that knowledge.  And yet, we must know on some level, like the changing of the seasons, it’s only a matter of time until the affects of global resource degradation confront us at our own door step.  Higher prices for food and fuel, being perhaps just the first small symptoms of much larger changes to come.

So, in developing our mindfulness practices, are we also developing our capacity to take on the challenges of creating a sustainable present and future?  I hope that this post will be the first in a series of explorations of the link between mindfulness and Educating for Sustainability.  Please add your thoughts and comments.  We would also be very interested to know about work happening in the intersection of the  fields of Mindfulness and Educating for Sustainability, so please feel free to send links and share information on resources.  For more information on the Educating for Sustainability program at AUNE, please visit us at http://www.antiochne.edu/ed/exed/ss_edforsustainability.cfm.

To see the full interview between Ram Dass and Thich Naht Han, please follow this link!


Five Reasons To Develop A Mindfulness Practice

Center for Mindful Inquiry senior teacher, Claire Stanley guests for us this month.  Claire and her CMI partner, Jack Millet will be the guiding teachers for the Mindfulness for Educators Certificate Program that will convene its first class at the end of January!  It’s not too late to apply, follow this link for more information. http://www.mindfulinquiry.org/certificate

In addition, Claire will be teaching a Mindfulness Practice for Educators elective here at AUNE this spring.  This course is open to non-AUNE students through our continuing education program.  Follow this link for more information.   http://www.antiochne.edu/academics/ce.cfm

Five reasons to develop a Mindfulness Practice

Educators live at a very busy pace of the current world of education.  Whether you are in the elementary, secondary or post-secondary sector, or whether you are an educational administrator, teacher, professor, school counselor or school principal, you no doubt feel that you do not have enough time in any single day to do what needs to be done in order to do a good job at what you do.  In the graduate school where I teach, we call it the “breathless” syndrome.  Feeling like you are jogging in place, going as fast as you can, and never catching up.  Who has time to develop a mindfulness practice in the midst of all that?  There is too much to be done and no time left to “just be.”

In response to that question, it turns out that a concept that has been around for several decades is actually true.  The idea of “working smarter” rather than “working harder” has been given a lot of lip service.  But there actually is a way to learn how to work smarter and ironically, it has a lot to do with slowing down, stopping or pausing, and taking some time each day for yourself.  Educators who engage with mindfulness practice on a regular basis – not out of guilt or fear – but out of interest and even joy, find that they have more energy and that they end up actually working smarter in the long run.

Here is a rundown of the five reasons to develop a mindfulness practice.  You have number one already, it actually helps you to do your work better and can also help you to work smarter.  How does that happen?  This first reason, at the most basic level, is physical and has to do with reducing stress.  Many studies have proven that a person who is less stressed performs any task or job with great ease at both the physical and mental level.

Second reason has to do with the joy factor that I mentioned earlier.  When there is less stress in the body and the mind, there is more energy and space.  And when there is more space, creativity has the option of entering the mind and capturing the imagination so that new ideas flow more easily so that both pre-work, during-work, and post-work time is filled with more energy and space.

You might say that is quite idealized, so if you are more of a skeptic, let’s just say when you get very stressed and out of balance (in a week, a day or an hour), a consistent meditation practice actually helps you to see more clearly.  When you can see and admit that the stress is there, then mindfulness practices help you to find a way to bring greater balance into whatever aspect of your week, day or hour that needs more support.  That is reason number three.

Reason number four is that when you move away from a place of reactivity and move toward a place of balance, you notice that your mind and body like the fact that there is a sense of choice.  Where there is a sense of choice, there is a sense of agency, and that allows you to feel like you are your own person and not one who is living at the beck and call of other forces in your life.

And the fifth – and final – reason is that a consistent mindfulness practice helps you to wake up in the midst of your life and even in the midst of your work.  When you are awake, you can see things more clearly, and based on that clear seeing, you can make choices to respond in ways that are more wise, compassionate, and in the long run, beneficial to both you and the people in your educational work world and to the people in your family or circle of friends.

As you read this, you might be saying to yourself, “I know this.  It’s nothing new.”  And I would invite you now to do it.  Try for yourself and see what happens.  Mindfulness might just make the difference that is needed for you, your work and your life.