The Highs and the Lows

highs and lows

As the year draws to a close and I switch off the light and lock the classroom door for the final time for the year, I am filled once again with a blend of emotions: a little sad, for the kids that have been with me most days of most weeks whom I will miss; excited for the RE-LAX-A-TION that is about to begin (surfboard and yoga mat here I come – big time!); triumphant for surviving the year (particularly strong this year as I almost didn’t); bewildered at how fast the year came and went; and reflective upon the highs and lows of 2014.

I have often heard the saying:

‘When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

And I have always been very open to seeing people and situations from a new perspective but never has this quote come so fully to life as this year. Nothing in my external world has changed…..but my whole world has changed. We “look at things” with our heart and mind but the mind has its own agenda so in order to change the way we look at things, we have to change our thinking – which of course is a lengthy process and one I’m undertaking on a daily basis. I’m also trying to look with my heart more because it is where the wisdom lies.

The understanding I am beginning to truly experience is this  (as Donna Farhi describes):

‘Every high and every low arises out of and returns back to a potent, neutral place…’

Life and so too teaching is all about highs and lows but often rather than ride these we try to block the lows and cling to the highs. Our breath reminds us of the place inside that is always stable and the more we use our breath as an anchor, the less extreme the highs and lows become.

My holiday wish for you is a more lengthy connection with that neutrality – less stimulus makes that easier!Take time to celebrate the successes of your year – there were no doubt many that you’ve forgotten or brushed aside in your busy-ness. Our job is one of giving, encouraging, inspiring, guiding, moulding and loving – never forget that. If yours (like mine) has been a hard year, consider this:

‘Those who seek the easy way do not seek the true way.’ Dogen

Teaching is a very hard job but we often make it harder on ourselves. Treat yourself with loving-kindness these holidays and celebrate another year of changing people’s lives. Amp up those Self-Nourishing Acts, find what gives you energy and avoid or minimise energy drains, tap into what you truly value, rest, make some healthy changes – maybe change the way you look at things! And above all find some stillness so you can listen.

Happy holidays everyone!

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Energy Drains

energy drain

Heidi Hannah explains in her book Stressaholic that ‘knowing the demands we face far exceed the energy we have in the moment can feel overwhelming even though our challenges are temporary.’

In general, in our day to day life in the classroom the challenges most of us face are temporary – although each day brings us new challenges to deal with and there can be a hundred different temporary challenges within the one day! To take on these challenges each day we need to have sufficient energy reserves to draw upon. When we are feeling depleted the challenges seem all too much to handle.

The energy we have from moment to moment fluctuates depending on a number of distinct variables that are widely accepted (but not always so easy to ensure)! Factors such as whether we are:

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Eating a balanced diet of nourishing and nutritious food
  • Drinking enough water
  • Moving our bodies everyday with vigorous exercise (the best energy enhancer)
  • Resting and recovering from stress day to day – particularly during those times of increased pressure
  • Involved in a spiritual practice that replenishes us

But something that you might like to consider and that I have found to be helpful in my life is identifying things that are actually draining my energy in a significant way –regularly and possibly on a daily basis. I have found that these things drain my energy even when the aforementioned healthy habits are squared away.

When I stopped to think about it and take note of my energy I realised a number of less noticeable activities truly were energy drains in my life. One of the first issues for me was rushing.

The times when I have felt most off centre have been times when I am rushing to try and fit too much in. I have been caught a number of times running across the playground to go and do something – without even really realising it! I am a naturally active person but rushing is something altogether different. For me it causes a sense of panic and anxiety. Judith Orloff MD recommends asking ‘Is the pace of my life supporting my energy or draining it?’ The best way to get the answer to this is through your body. If you stop for long enough (and that’s even simply 5 minutes), breathe slowly and deeply and tune in, the answer can come to you. You’ll feel it.

When you are out of sync with a sustainable pace you may feel fatigue, irritability with your students and colleagues and experience mood swings – all perhaps a common occurrence around this time of year – but an indicator that you might need to slow down. It’s a great time to ask this question!

The next inquiry to make is ‘What kind of change would feel good?’ The answer to this can be sensed intuitively too but aim for small, slow changes rather than rapid, grand ones. Start to lean towards some minor changes and begin to move in the right direction – one step at a time. Perhaps simply become aware of if / when you’re rushing and pull yourself back a bit, pause and take a breath (and walk instead of running).

THE PRACTICE OF SILENCE

When you are rushing you are not in rhythm with the now, the present moment. You are living in the future and thinking about what’s next. The breath is the best way to anchor you to the present moment and sitting in silence can help you to tune into your breath.

As Judith Orloff tells us ‘Making silence a part of your routine will revitalize you’ – so simple but not at all easy. Many of us have an aversion to silence, possibly because our nerves are so jangled and nervous system so overstimulated that to stop and be quiet is a massive shock to this system. Start with 5 minutes of silence a day and gradually increase this as you feel comfortable.

Year 4 teachers and students at my school have been involved in a study of the effects of daily meditation on students and teachers alike. For two terms we have followed our breath for up to 5-7 minutes daily. Some kids in my class have still not shut their eyes for more than 5 seconds at a time but I am still convinced that even though their eyes are not closed they are benefiting from even this short amount of stillness and silence as they too rush from task to task every day.

You might like to try it with your students. I do it first thing when we come into class. We start by taking some slow deep breaths and then count our breaths starting at 1 and counting up to 10. You can also give students a mantra or phrase to repeat as they focus on their breath such as “Maranatha” (which is what we use) or whatever quality you want to cultivate e.g. “I am thankful”. Alternatively get them to put their hand on their belly to feel the breath move in and out.

As Judith Orloff says: ‘With no noise distractions, Spirit is more easily sensed.’ It is this sense of spirit in our daily life that can have a grounding, decelerating and uplifting effect. To become more centred I urge you to slow down, breathe, tune into your body and start asking some questions about your pace.

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