As our summer ends, I’m thinking about the transition to the school year ahead.
I teach high school English, with one son in college and a daughter in elementary school, and we’ve had more than a few conversations this summer about how we can better approach the 180 school days ahead of us.
As a teacher, I like to begin my day with a meditation that focuses on the quiet of the morning and allows me to get centered for the day. I plan to wake up earlier than the rest of the house so I can sit with the mantra of “patience.” Patience with my students, with myself, the progress of my class, my colleagues, the parents, and the expectations passed down from the state level.
I set the goal of not rushing this year. I want to teach in the moment, interact with my students in the moment, and allow us to learn in the moment. I will speak with my students about patience and how we can breathe it in, breathe it out as we approach our days.
My son (who is away at school) and I have talked about developing a meditation practice. He proposed using the words “focus” and “balance” depending on each situation, to center himself. Like most college students, he faces anxiety with the seemingly unending and overwhelming to-do lists. His anxiety-inducing list includes: juggling school responsibilities, financial insecurity, social life opportunities and temptations, a long-term girlfriend, his living situation, and his personal stability—along with anything else that comes up in his world.
He can breathe in “focus” as he looks at what is required of him, or “balance” as he looks at what he needs for himself. It is challenging to convince a college junior to slow down, sit down, and look at the moment, but we have discussed how important it is to learn and incorporate this practice now, making it second nature as he moves forward. We will see if he makes the effort to have this practice work for him.
My daughter has tried guided mediation for sleep. She has a tendency to worry and set very high standards for herself. Often we need to be reminded that our best is always good enough, she and I both. She also is entering the “mean girl” realm and as an empathetic soul, she has a difficult time with how others are treated. So, in the morning we will sit quietly and breathe in “compassion” for ourselves and those around us.
We also spend just a few moments before we walk out the door centering ourselves in caring for ourselves and offering a caring attitude toward others—even those that may seem like they deserve it the least. She has been taught to have a voice, to speak up for herself. But if she sits in “compassion,” I hope her words will come from a place of love, even as she walks away from mistreatment.
And in that moment she will know that is also caring for herself.
Finally, as her high expectations can produce anxiety for her, “compassion” reminds her that she is smart and doing her very best work. Knowing her best is enough will hopefully make those new situations—the challenging lessons, the tough tests, and the inevitable mistakes—easier to navigate. And at night, after her bath and reading together, we will sit in guided meditation for sleep as she learns to let go of her day.
Finally, and perhaps the hardest part, is not forgetting about myself as a parent, as a woman and individual. My greatest challenge facing this year ahead is to not lose the woman that I am in the lazy days of summer. The slow moving process, following my will, and taking my time will all be altered by a fast-paced schedule with many added obligations. So each night, it is my intention to take the time to center myself in the moment. To remind myself that I made it through another day, the pieces are all still in place, and I can sit in love of myself no matter what happened in the day that has ended. I plan to sit in my moment and breathe in “now” and breathe out “breath.”
Because more than anything, I do not want to lose myself or my peace in those shallow breaths of living in anxiety over things that have happened or what may come, in obligations or situations.
As the school year beginnings, it’s important for me to establish a household that has a foundation in mindfulness. I want to be a role model for my children as I give them the tools they need to face the days ahead. I want to approach my teaching as a mindful practice to be better at my job, and also to be a role-model in action to my students. And most importantly, I want to not lose the progress I have made taking care of myself as these days of summer melt.
I believe many of us want to contribute to the complex and often discouraging world around us. The parents who want to make the most of this school year, to come and support their children living presently in the life they have. The teachers who want to teach their curriculum, but more importantly they want to teach the students they see each day. These teachers want to make a lasting impact on their classes beyond their coursework. I know the students, our own children in classrooms everywhere, are looking for ways to be more successful in school and in life, and to learn their powerful place in this world.
What do all of us have in common?
We can turn to mindfulness. We can incorporate meditation, even if only for a few minutes. We can discover the mantras that empower and center us. Every person, youth or adult, student, teacher or parent, can make time every day to take a deep breath and sit still in the awareness of our new school year and all the benefits that come by just stopping and observing what is.
Author: Andrea Byford
Apprentice Editor: Julie Balsiger; Editors: Nicole Cameron, Caitlin Oriel