Inspired Imperfect Action

The Centred Teacher

I was listening to a Yoga Summit the other night and a teacher on there (Laura Cornell) outlined 5 steps to “move in the direction of your desires” and one of these steps has stayed with me – a refrain that I have oft since repeated internally and even out loud in my team meeting this week.

The step was this:

‘Take inspired, imperfect action.’

Our team had decided that a norm for our meeting should be “make decisions efficiently” and I piped up and said “we can take inspired, imperfect action” – they loved it (so did I).

I have written about lifting the shield of perfectionism before as it is something I have struggled with on a massive scale for much of my life until the past couple of years – it is debilitating. And as I said to my year 4 student last year as she rubbed out her artwork for the 10th time “Perfection is the enemy of done” (I didn’t make that up, though I wish I had). We don’t try anything new, we don’t speak up, we hesitate in our decisions and we don’t back ourselves in case what we try, say and decide is not “perfect”. We feel too vulnerable. This step is profoundly applicable to teachers and their students in realising their desires / dreams / learning goals.

You won’t get closer to achieving anything unless you start.

You won’t find out the best pedagogy for your students unless you experiment.

You won’t know if your idea will work unless you test it out.

Give me imperfect action over inaction any day.

We just need to accept imperfection – one inspired action at a time!

Inspired action sounds lofty but as Wayne Dyer always said “in-spired”  means “in spirit” – to live in a way that sees us connected to that deep space where spirit resides. The place that has been obscured by years of stress or disenchantment or sadness or distractions. The place that we have lost touch with in the busy-ness of daily life. In my experience, to live from this place of spirit we must cultivate stillness….and that doesn’t have to be done perfectly either. Stop and do 1 minute of abdominal breathing as you wash up – you don’t need to buy the perfect meditation cushion, incense, crystals or download an app – these are all distractions. Just be silent and still with that monkey mind chattering in the background – no perfection required. So this month make a pact to release the ideal of perfect action or a perfect outcome and create stillness in your life on a daily basis to take inspired imperfect action to achieve what it is you desire in your classroom and in your life.

sig

Postscript: As I type this my 5 year old daughter is watching a fairy dvd where for 5 minutes they’ve sung a song about “Princess Perfect”….oh the irony. Gee, I wonder why we all feel we have to be perfect?!!!! Time to eject that dvd (or fake a black out)!!

Advertisements

Trust Yourself to Achieve Unexpected Outcomes

trust yourself

‘…choose to see the outward forms as poor substitutions for your true nature and you’ll begin to live without attachment to those forms.’

Trust first and foremost in yourself.

Wayne Dyer

I’ve spent a long time feeling that being a teacher was not enough. It didn’t hold enough status, I didn’t earn enough money, I wasn’t outwardly successful enough in terms of possessions or salary. I was somehow not as worthy as a doctor or lawyer. No one ever said this to me directly but of course we all feel the judgements of others fairly regularly in term of comments on the hours we work, how many holidays we have and the old crack about “those who can’t do, teach”.

I was so attached to the idea that I was not living up to anybody’s expectations that it became difficult to take responsibility for anything. But I’ve come to realise what an illusion these ideas are.

Ours is a profession of honour.

Of meaning and magic.

Of heart and heroism.

A sacred vocation in which we have the power to make positive change.

We measure our worth as a teacher by how well our students are performing, how much we achieved in a lesson, by the outcomes we set out to reach. Could we shift the measure of our success to the joy and peace we (and our students) experience daily? How well we model for our students a healthy and balanced mental and psychological state? How easily we give love to our students and to ourselves? How we interact and respond to their needs and accept them as they are – without wanting to change them too much?

With so many pressures and so much accountability I think some of us have stopped trusting ourselves. We are finding it hard to hear our own inner voice.

Anything you aspire to or covet in the material world of “outward forms” will never compare to the grandeur that you’ll find inside – and this is true for our students also. Trust that you know what your students need from the wisdom of your true nature. Watch your own thoughts that might be judging or attached to certain outcomes (Why didn’t I get that finished today?……She shouldn’t be behaving that way…).

Listen to your heart.

If you can set aside some time each day to go inward you will reap the benefits and the wisdom in your heart will be easier to hear. In the world that we currently inhabit this is not an easy task. We are made to feel that what we are or do is never enough, that we are falling short in some way. But the truth is we don’t need anything else to make us whole or better. We have everything we need inside – we just have to access it by peeling back the years of conditioning that have us believe otherwise. Wouldn’t it be great to save our students from years of shedding – that they could just know this from NOW and have a sense of self that could withstand any outward forms that they encounter.

signature star

Centred Leadership

centred leadershipThe great leader speaks little.

He [or she] never speaks carelessly.

[s]he works without self- interest and leaves no trace

When all is finished, the people say,

“We did it ourselves.”

Lao Tzu

I have been reflecting on this quote from the 17th verse of the Tao Te Ching and how it might apply to classroom teachers as leaders of their learning environment.The attributes above seem fitting of a guide – which we agree is what a teacher truly is.

Dr Wayne Dyer (my favourite teacher!) suggests we become an astute observer of what is taking place, then ask ourselves how, without interfering ‘…we can create an environment that will help everyone act responsibly’.

We can only view our class perceptively and intuitively know what is truly taking place by being calm and centred and allowing our inner voice to guide us. We can choose our words carefully and respond rather than react to any situation.

Often the most important lessons that we teach seemingly “leave no trace”. Their effects are not quantitative, their basis not knowledge and skills but rather feelings and self- worth. And the consequences can be life-changing. It is those students that we know we have impacted incalculably that we must hold to when we feel like giving up…when we are tired and overcome. It is for these types of lessons that most of us became teachers in the first place.

We must convey to our students that we trust their ability to figure things out. We must create a space in which students can build trust and confidence in themselves to live a life of purpose and truth and to achieve the greatness that is within them. This greatness can’t always be calculated.

By giving trust we are in turn trusted by our students.

Here are some ideas for creating such an environment (most of which you are probably already doing but that are sometimes forgotten in the busy-ness of everyday):

  • Praise your students often.
  • Foster co-operation rather than competition.
  • Give choices and refer to behaviours that are supporting or hindering learning in order to inspire personal responsibility.
  • Love and serve your students without needing anything back.
  • Encourage personal improvement and reflection.
  • Allow students to make as many decisions as possible.
  • Speak less and suspend self-interest.

We can look to nature (also a great place to centre ourselves) to see the perfect example of giving without needing anything in return (and I need all the help I can get with this – it’s really hard):

Even after all this time

The sun never says to the earth,

“You owe me.”

Look what happens

With a love like that,

It lights the whole sky.

Hafiz

Our service and love can light up our classrooms and our schools as well as the lives of those within them.

 signature star

Valuing Ourselves

Soar above
Soar above the opinions of others…

I hit a bit of a rough patch this week. I felt rushed and a bit anxious. I could feel my blood pressure rise when I had numerous interruptions to my mathematics lesson and then my interactive whiteboard stopped working. I heard myself say “I shouldn’t have even got out of bed this morning”. On the same day a good friend posted on The Centred Teacher Facebook page about the struggles she was facing, juggling the demands of the classroom (and the 25 or so souls she is nurturing there) with her own family and health needs.

We have both been teachers for 13 years. We are both compassionate and dedicated. We both put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We are both deserving of and in fact NEED to have downtime, time with our own children, time to do what makes our heart sing – to recalibrate so that we can keep on giving.

But this week (and possibly the weeks prior) we weren’t giving that to ourselves. We are the only ones who can change that.

What finally lifted me out of this 24 hour state of “blahness” was the following:

  • A new perspective: at the time, the whiteboard pen not working was a major catastrophe but in the scheme of things going on in the world it was insignificant. My lesson changed but the kids still learnt what they needed to (or maybe didn’t). Try and see the challenges of your day within a bigger picture and maybe even with some humour.
  • Gratitude: I went home and wrote down 5 things I was grateful for. If we focus on the negative we start to only see negativity as it keeps showing up in our life. By focusing on the beauty of my life that I sometimes take for granted I tend to see more beauty.
  • Making chicken noises with my class: this was done to imitate a character in a book we were reading – it made us all laugh and we ALL loved it.
  • Meditation – silence and breathing calm the nervous system and bring us back to a state of centredness where we can connect with what we know to be true.
  • This insight from Dr Wayne Dyer:

 ‘It’s crucial to remain independent of both the positive and negative opinions of others. Regardless of whether they love us or despise us, if we make their assessments more important than our own we will be greatly afflicted.’

We worry what people will think if we leave at 3:30pm some days to go for a surf or swim. We worry that others will consider us slacking off if we voice our concerns about how much is being asked of us. We are boosted and love it when a parent or another teacher praise or affirm what we are doing. But how often do we praise and affirm ourselves?

We want to be seen to be doing our best and giving 100% to the students in our care but giving 100% leaves nothing left for ourselves. Maybe this week we can give 10% to ourselves – it’s not selfish. We are just as deserving as all the beautiful children in our lives of receiving our care.

It’s time to start making your own opinions of yourself more important than anyone else’s. Boost yourself with positive feedback. Tell yourself you are worthy of that nap or walk along the beach without feeling guilty. That does not mean you won’t listen to the opinions and feedback of others, it just means that no matter what they say you will stay true to your own inner voice knowing that you are doing a brilliant job.

signature star

NB: When all else fails… chicken noises ALWAYS help.

Keys to Survival in the Teaching Profession

survival

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent but the one most responsive to change.

Charles Darwin

If you substitute “teachers” for “species”, Darwin’s wisdom applies seamlessly to current educational circumstances in which our brute strength and intelligence perhaps need to take a back seat. In a climate of unrelenting and at times uncomfortable educational change on a national, state, systemic, school, classroom and personal level it is not easy to survive!

In yoga we are urged to breathe through the discomfort of a pose in order to find an ease – an acceptance of that moment as it is – to become comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. I like to think that the teachers who last in this profession have found a way to “rest in the pose”.

But what does being responsive to change mean in a practical sense? How can we “rest” in the variety of poses that we find ourselves in in teaching day to day?

To respond to something is very different to reacting to something. Can you become aware of situations in which you are reacting in an explosive way rather than responding with awareness and compassion? Reacting is closely related to overreacting (which never ends well).

Any change inevitably calls into question our current practice. I know that I find this incredibly unpleasant as I have a tendency to become defensive and self-righteous (a fine example of reacting rather than responding).

Wayne Dyer in his commentary on the Tao Te Ching (81 verses on the nature of our existence written by Lao Tzu in ancient China) asks us to notice an opportunity to defend or explain ourselves and choose not to. He says:

“Just be with what is…don’t get caught up with being right or wrong.”

I have been putting this into practice of late and while it’s difficult, in choosing not to defend I have found a more peaceful approach and am able to consider my response from a place of awareness and calm. If you are finding that certain changes in your workplace are making you uneasy or restless, try to feel the subtlety of this in your body. As in yoga, breathe your way through the initial discomfort and be aware that these signals may be out of proportion to what is actually happening. These changes are not all taking place in this very moment. Remind yourself of the changes that are now a normal part of your practice that you reacted to similarly in their initial stages.

After opening to these sensations, take a stand for yourself and resolve to deal with each change as it arises and makes itself present in your teaching life – you know you can handle it, one step at a time. Don’t think about every change all at once. Stay with what is occurring in the present.

In terms of ways to “rest” in the teaching profession some ideas are:

  • Keep tabs on your internal slave driver as well as perfectionistic tendencies and notice when they are trying to take the wheel. Accept imperfection as a normal occurrence.
  • Literally rest each day but particularly when there is increased stress or pressure.
  • Accept it when you don’t get through what you had planned rather than beating yourself up – there’s always tomorrow.
  • Switch off – your brain over the weekend as well as your phone, computer and TV regularly. Listen to music, read for pleasure, practice Yoga Nidra – to recalibrate and renew energy.

I posit then that responding with a positive and self-nurturing acceptance as well as “resting in the pose”, may just be the key to our survival as educators.

signature star

Accepting Each Moment

accepting each momentMy last post was about accepting life in order to change. I would like to delve a little deeper into the practice of acceptance using some strategies and ideas developed by Rick Hanson whose ‘Foundations of Wellbeing’ course I am currently undertaking.

The first step towards accepting your life as it is in each moment is to identify or recognise what you are not accepting. Sometimes this is really challenging because we experience the world through a filter – our mind is conditioned in its interpretations, responses and reactions. It can take great courage and clarity to see things as they really are and to accept that you are responsible for where you find yourself today.

For me the first step towards this clarity was stillness. Sitting in stillness gave me the space to be honest – there was nowhere to hide.

A clue to identifying non-acceptance of something in your life is any kind of anger or righteousness. You will feel this in your body as a physiological response to a situation or person.

Once identified repeat to yourself:

“It’s true that…”

“I surrender to the fact that…”

Hanson suggests ‘lowering your standards for others while raising them for yourself. Not by being more critical of yourself but rather being less critical of others and more focussed on raising your own level of wellbeing and functioning.’

In a work environment that is largely based on human interactions this advice has massive implications for our inner peace and daily interactions with others. So often we default into blaming, judging or criticising others when they don’t live up to our lofty expectations. Collaboration is becoming all the more necessary and vital to student achievement and our teams are made up of diverse personalities and backgrounds. We often struggle against this wonderful mix when people are not exactly like us. If we shift the focus to improving our own functioning while accepting others as they are our wellbeing is raised. When you stop resisting colleagues, students, situations and emotions it starts feeling less difficult.

Accepting difficulties (while making plans to improve the situation) is a lot more peaceful than getting aggravated by them. We forget that we have a choice in how we respond. Can you identify one thing that you wish were different, that you may need to approach with greater acceptance?

signature star

Being with Upsets

upsetsWhen we are trying to live in the present moment we perhaps become more sensitive to what is happening to us and around us and as we try to remain deeply grounded in our body there will be sensations that will signal an upset or issue that needs to be dealt with. Psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach calls these “somatic markers”. If you have been taking time each day to focus on your breath then that too is a good indicator of your internal state.

At times when I’ve been upset, angry or blaming others for my current state I have generally been able to trace it back to an unexpressed feeling on my part, which my body had been signalling to me all along. In effect I was allowing the actions and words of others to take my power away – as the rumination that follows an upsetting event drains our energy significantly. I was ignoring my body’s wisdom.

When something upsets you – be it in the classroom, with colleagues, parents of your students or  with your own family – Rick Hanson suggests you Be with the Issue / Let it Go / Let in (the good stuff).

I would like to look at “Being with the issue” here. For me “being” with something includes expression otherwise it’s just evasion.

Try this:

  • Sit with the sensations in your body. For me this is things like heat, increased heart rate, perspiring / clamminess, a feeling of being winded, butterflies.
  • Try to identify what you are feeling and name it e.g. sadness, hurt, irritation, feeling of being controlled by another.
  • If this feeling can be linked to something someone has said or done in the moment you can then express your feelings respectfully to the person at hand rather than holding onto the feelings and going over and over the incident in your head.

Some of us have a fear around expressing ourselves honestly in the moment – it can be confronting and we don’t want to hurt people’s feelings but if we don’t express ourselves we are hurting our own feelings. It is definitely outside my comfort zone but you have to be your own advocate. If this is hard for you, you might find the following saying helpful, as I have:

“Real but not true.”

This is also a concept from Tara Brach. So for example someone is upset by what I have expressed. It’s real that that person is upset or hurt, they are going to feel what they do, but it’s not true that I am a bad person for expressing it (especially when my intentions are authentic) even if they think I am a bad person.

Some questions to consider are:

  • Are you listening to your body’s “somatic markers”?
  • Is there an issue upsetting you that could be alleviated by authentic, heart-felt expression?
  • Can you identify instances where “Real but not true” could be helpful for you?

signature star

Taking it Personally

bearWithin a 2 week period recently I had a number of fairly confrontational conversations in which the other person became rather aggressive and were really quite angry during the exchange. These were somewhat upsetting experiences for me as they happened within a short space of time and because I had never really experienced such heated situations. I was fairly rattled afterwards and found self-doubt creeping in to find its customary abode (it’s always lurking in the shadows)!

Because I am highly aware of my own self-doubt and have become attuned to the situations, people and external conditions that allow this energy into my psyche, I am very reflective when I feel it arising.

I realised I was taking these encounters personally (it was hard not to after the third one) but when I stood back from the heat of the moment and the tears in the aftermath, I could see that in every situation the outburst by each person was caused by either familial stresses, frustration at someone else’s behaviour or being offended by someone else’s comments (that were in reality about something that had not even happened).

It actually had nothing to do with me. The causes were beyond my control.

In situations where we are beginning to feel offended, neuropsychologist Rick Hanson asks us to consider what may have caused that person to “bump” into us. These might be things such as ‘misinterpretations of your actions, health problems, pain, worries or anger about things unrelated to you…’ When I stopped to consider this I was able to put the confrontations in context and have compassion for myself as well as the other person involved. Compassion really does soothe a lot of stressors in our lives. It always makes me feel better and definitely stronger (contrary to some people’s perceptions who may see it as a weakness).

This week, be attentive to the times you are taking something personally. Ask yourself ‘What is the reality of the situation? What’s the bigger picture?’ Try to step back from the emotion and tendency to replay the confrontation over and over in your mind. Stop and breathe. Sit with the emotion and see what answers arise. Taking things personally weakens us – don’t fall for it, stay strong and witness the peace that results.

signature star