“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates
Lately, when I’m leading an exercise in mindfulness and social-emotional learning, I’ve discovered firsthand how much of a difference it makes for the group to take time to examine how we’re doing and feeling along the way. I’ve even made it a deliberate, intentional part of my work with virtual reality and storytelling. Start with a warm up and check in, so that calmness and clarity can be a base. During the action, appreciate the experience. Take it in through all the senses, to “show up” and be there while any activity is underway. Plan to “come down from” that active experience with a post-reflection. This process, start-to-finish, incorporates and embodies mindfulness in practice, and is “Mindful by Design,” as we’ve been talking about in the 3-part series about mindfulness in schools.
Most stories, as we know, have a beginning, middle, and an end, though not necessarily in that order. We might find ourselves saying goodbye to students, feeling so much connection, and this time is ripe for capturing reflections that are valuable, prescient, and sometimes fleeting. Getting meta with layers of mindfulness, four middle-school teachers share mindful reflections about their mindfulness experiences here, as a way to close the year and kickstart a mindful summer. These reflections focus on how mindfulness has made a difference in their lives, personally and professionally. I love reading them, in the teachers’ voices themselves, seeing new angles and perspectives. Reading them reinforces how much mindfulness comes alive in its many applications, and in the personal ways it can connect community:
What’s one way using mindfulness made a difference in your school experiences?
Mindfulness helped me gain perspective during chaotic days when I needed to look at the big picture and not an exact moment. – Darrell Siciliano, Special Education Teacher, Grade 6
Mindfulness helped my students to calm down before quizzes and tests. – Korey Barkley, Spanish Teacher
Using mindfulness for myself helped me to respond more thoughtfully in my interactions with both children and adults. – Irene Farmer, Grade 1 Classroom Teacher
My orchestra has a routine of taking 3 mindful breaths before we start each rehearsal. This is a time to leave whatever is going on outside the classroom out of the rehearsal. This routine has also allowed rehearsals to start more promptly and with greater focus from the get-go. – Rebecca Schauer, Grades 6-8 Orchestra and Classroom Music Teacher
Can you describe an interaction you had this year with students/staff that shows one (or all) of those 3 A’s of mindfulness: being aware (with calmness and clarity, of self, others, surroundings), advancing (using goals and dreaming big), authentic (connecting authentically with non-judgment)?
Awareness of my own state of mind is something that I was able to increase by using mindfulness through the day. Being present helps me to respond to situations in a way that is beneficial for the students and myself. – Darrell
My 7h grade students enjoyed mindfulness exercises that involve slow movement. They requested mindful minutes regularly, and I believe that these experiences helped them mostly to feel more aware and connected. – Korey
I began leading a weekly 10-minute mindfulness “sit” with staff at my school on a voluntary basis, trying to connect authentically with my peers and establish a mindful community of practitioners within my own school. – Irene
After observing how much fun my students tended to have with composition projects I changed their final project in the middle of the year to allow them to both compose and perform their own song with a classmate. This allowed the students to be aware by employing interpersonal skills to work with a classmate to use the musical knowledge they had gained over the year. The students were also able to advance their understanding of how to apply this knowledge to a real-life setting. Finally, students could put their own personal stamp on the project through choices in instrumentation, performance practice and the composition itself. – Rebecca
What’s one way using mindfulness made a difference in your personal experiences?
I was able to carry it over to life outside of work. For example, being able to take a moment at the stoplight or while waiting in line at the grocery store to breathe and feel present instead of somewhere lost in thought. – Darrell
My mindfulness practice has helped me to be more present with my students at school, my family at home and my friends. It has has a positive impact on all aspects of my life. – Korey
I was able to feel and appreciate the pleasant emotions caused by positive experiences I had much more while also being able to feel and let go more quickly of unpleasant emotions caused by negative experiences. – Irene
Mindfulness has allowed me to practice self-compassion at a deeper and more meaningful level. Coming back to the moment lets me put the things that are bothering me into perspective and create solutions from a place of greater self-awareness. – Rebecca
Regarding mindfulness, what has changed about your outlook? Complete the sentence: “I used to think ______, but now I think ______.”
Mindfulness was just for people who meditated all the time…it is a super useful tool that anyone can access without too much training. – Darrell
I used to think that I needed to meditate for hours to become more mindful, but now I think that even 1-2 minutes of practicing mindfulness each day can make a powerful impact. – Korey
I used to think that taking care of myself above all else was selfish, but now I know that I cannot take care of others until I know and understand my own self first. – Irene
I used to think that I needed to stop thinking, but now I think that I just want to observe and understand what’s going on inside my mind. – Rebecca
What’s one thing you’re looking forward to this summer? How could mindfulness be a part of it, thinking about themes involving renewed energy, letting go of stress, increasing sense of joy, freedom and well-being?
I’m looking forward to resetting my mind and my body from the stress of a very difficult year. Practicing mindfulness each day will be a helpful addition to my routine. – Darrell
My favorite summer activity is being on the water; swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding… all activities that help me relieve stress and be more mindful. – Korey
I am looking forward to going on silent retreat for an entire week to slow down and live in the flow of life without any “shoulds.” – Irene
This summer I hope to apply mindfulness to giving my summer purpose. Being aware and grateful allows me to appreciate the time to myself, the nice weather and the ability to prepare for a fresh start in the fall. – Rebecca
What advice do you have for other teachers, as they head into summertime, with mindfulness messages in mind?
Don’t forget about the year. Take some time to reflect on what went well and what did not. Try to visualize how being mindful may have helped you enjoy those successful moments more. Also, how it may have helped you navigate those difficult situations with more clarity, composure, and confidence. – Darrell
Even if you feel like you don’t have the time, try to set aside a few minutes a day to breathe and become centered. I will be challenging myself to remove all social media apps from my phone for the summer- when I did it last summer it helped me to live in the moment and felt amazingly freeing. – Korey
Take time to fill your own cup. Take slow walks, drink your morning cup of coffee or tea and taste each sip; do something that feeds your soul and nourishes your body. Read books, experience nature, breathe and simply be. – Irene
You don’t have to sit and meditate to be mindful. Taking a walk, listening to music or feeling the sun shine on you at the beach can be meditative acts as long as you treat them as such. Also, be kind to yourself. The chatter will only stop when you accept that it’s there in the first place. – Rebecca
It turns out living an examined life, as these mindful educators have shared, doesn’t have to be arduous or painful. It can be uplifting. That famous quote attributed to Socrates happens to be one of my favorites, especially when it comes to defending space and time for mindful reflection. I don’t know if examining has the same connotation in English as it would have in native Ancient Greek. A lengthy investigation in Google translate cross-referencing that “examining” word, “ἀνεξέταστος” led me to a word I like better than “unexamined”: unquestioned.
So, the quote becomes: the unquestioned life is not worth living. How can we Rilke-up, living the questions as much as answers? It starts with pausing, leaving enough space and stillness for reflection that can make all the difference. Be intentional about this, with a spirit of curiosity. We see these teachers doing this here, examining their own lives with an openness that guides them. It can benefit us all.
At the end of a school year, as we gear up for summer, I’m inviting you to try out your own mindful reflection, using one or all of these questions. See what comes up naturally in the moment, as you take part in an examination that has nothing to do with final exams. Socrates would be proud!
– Caitlin Krause