Living in Alignment with your Values

IMG_0243When you sense that you are living “off centre” there could be any number of reasons for feeling the way you do. In my experience a great place to start is to look at whether you are living in alignment with your authentic values. I’m not talking about the values that are forced on us all by society at large or even an education system that prioritises certain outcomes. I’m more concerned with the values that you hold dear that may have been buried by the expectations and beliefs of those around you.

I read this recently:
‘To go against the dominant thinking of your friends, of most of the people you see every day, is perhaps the most difficult act of heroism you can perform.'(Sorry I’m not sure who said this…must keep track of who is writing these amazing things!)

This is not to say you need to become blatantly oppositional, it just means to be true to yourself and not be swayed by dominant thinking within society, within your friendship circles but also within the education system if it does not align with the values you treasure. Once you are clear about what it is that you value you can stand strong in support of these.

One of the first steps in living a centred life is to identify your core values so that you can start living in reference to them. Some examples of mine are:
I value physical health and vitality; mental health; spiritual practices, learning, my family; my friends; eating healthy food; meaningful work; being in nature…. You could devise a list that rings true for you. In the busy-ness of our day we can be living very much on auto-pilot without ever stopping to ask ‘Is this how I want to be spending my time?’ ‘Does this feel aligned with what I value and what I want to be bringing to this world?’ When we pause to reflect we can move from ‘auto’ into ‘manual’ mode – much more in control and living intentionally. When we bring what we value into the light of awareness and consciously set about connecting with these in our daily life we can feel a sense of alignment return. If you are feeling stuck, restless, dictated to or feel a lack of control, this small practice might be just the thing to get you feeling more centred and ahold of the reins.

You might like to journal about what it is you truly value, reflect on how much time you are giving in your day / week to those things…..it will soon become clear as to whether or not you are spending your time on things that inspire you and create joy in your life and where you can make more time for these things! Through awareness we become clear with what is lifting us up or dragging us down. With clarity comes action and so too change.

This week: spend some time alone determining what you truly value so that you can begin to take small steps to centre your life around these. Once these become the focus for living they will inform your teaching – that world-changing work that takes up much of your day!

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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.

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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)!!

Re-Defining Success in 2016

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It has often troubled me that student success in school is only ever tangibly measured via test scores and academic improvements – it’s the data that we celebrate (or lament!) often fairly exclusively at a state or national level (though at a school level this can vary). When studies are released that give us pedagogical strategies for greater student success I often wonder how the researchers have defined long term “success”. Academic improvement, university entrance rates, level of education and salary upon completion are widely accepted as measures of “success” but do they give the clearest picture?

My own definition of success in adulthood (after years of feeling I wasn’t successful enough) looks something like this:

  • being truly happy
  • looking after my body and the environment
  • having a peaceful mind
  • working in a field / job I am passionate about
  • being a supportive friend and family member
  • having a sense of hope, resilience and faith in the universe
  • being kind to others and an authentic person
  • valuing myself and being confident in my abilities
  • having vital energy and enthusiasm for life
  • speaking my truth without worrying what others think

(of course I vary in my achievement of these from week to week!).

I am finding that more and more kids are coming to us with low self-esteem, anxiety, concerns over making mistakes and scared to try new things. They don’t trust in themselves. My concern is that we validate them in terms of academic and sporting achievements – on what they do rather than for who and how they are in the world. So it’s time we celebrated more vocally, those successes that often get glossed over and never show up in the data: kids having the courage to speak at assembly for the first time, competing in an athletics carnival despite being a slow runner, a child turning their negative self-talk into positive affirmations, someone who no longer cries when their mum drops them off….

These are the successes that inspire me and I know they inspire you too.

You might like to ponder as we begin a new year, fresh with possibility:

What does success look like for you in your life as a whole? Are you achieving these criteria to a level you are content with? What does success look like / feel like for your students? What successes do you want to celebrate more visibly in 2016 and how could you do this?

The words of Wayne Dyer seem powerful here:

Monitor your inclinations to compare yourself to others or to stay within the “system”. A system is designed to get you to behave just like everyone else, as it contrives to make comparisons determine your success or happiness…

We work within a system but WE ARE the system and can determine how that system operates. I would love you to share yours and your students’ “successes” here (in the broadest sense of the term). Here’s to a “successful” 2016!

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PS: I have created a new site www.jalayoga.com.au as a platform for my new yoga venture (part of doing work I am passionate about!) you may like to check it out? You can sign up for monthly yoga newsletters that include tips on living a yogic lifestyle, as well as find out about upcoming workshops and retreats to keep you calm and centred.

 

Cleanliness as a Spiritual Practice

cleanlinessI’ve been toying with the yogic concept of Sauca (sow-cha) or cleanliness / purity for a long time. But this week, as the state of my desk and the students’ desks got to the point of “possible breeding ground”, it came to a head. I’ve always used the excuse that I am a messy person (and way too busy to be neat) and tried to accept that it is just how I am, that my brain doesn’t work that way. But I know that our brain is elastic and can be changed with practice and patience so my excuse is in no way legit. I also truly believe that our external environment is a reflection of our internal state and this week the piles of paper were impacting my calm and feeling of being in control. This week also saw me lose my house keys and have to climb into our very high and very tiny bathroom window. If it wasn’t for my wonderful hamstrings and strong upper body I would have been locked outside with a “starving” 5 year old until after midnight. I also had another teacher come into the staffroom one day and say “Did you leave your coffee on the roof of your car out there?” Me? No….of course not. So it was a combination of events this week that made me stop ignoring my ingrained habit of disturbing disarray and commit to a more orderly and mindfully organised work (and kitchen) environment.

As I deepen my yoga practice and develop more control of mental activity I am increasingly becoming more able to identify (and begin to break) unconscious habits. But I have been putting this one off for a long time.This topic brings up shame for me as I associate mess with laziness or incompetence but I know that this is just my inner talk – I am far from lazy and highly competent. I’m just messy. I have begun to take note of where I put things when I arrive home or during lessons and it is a constant source of wonder (and alarm) to actually notice these actions that were once unconscious.

Some questions to ponder if you think you may have a “Sauca” issue (I know I’m not the only messy teacher who secretly envies the ridiculously neat ones but I’m certain extreme neatness has its own back story anyway):

* Do you feel overwhelmed or anxious about the state of your desk / classroom or work and living environment?

* Do you put things away randomly or misplace items regularly?

* Is there a sense of spaciousness in your classroom / home or is it cluttered with items that don’t seem to have a place? This spaciousness (or lack thereof) correlates with our internal world.

* Does your own messiness frustrate you and leave you feeling depleted?

It may be time to tackle it – one pile at a time.

I am convinced that clarity in our external environment creates clarity of mind and spirit. This is going to be a killer of a habit for me to break but I know I can’t remain in denial any longer.

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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?

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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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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.

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