Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness’

round white and blue ceramic bowl with cooked ball soup and brown wooden chopsticks

Photo by Buenosia Carol on Pexels.com

I really believe that first I eat with my nose!  Yes, with my nose.  Whether I am doing the cooking or someone else is doing the cooking when I get near the kitchen or the dinning room or the restaurant the first sense that inspires me is the things that I smell.  When I walked into my house as a kid if my dad was making a big pot of stuffed cabbage I could smell that great aroma all the way from the front door.  If mom was cooking a batch of cookies, we’d run down stairs to get the first hot cookie that came out of the oven.  These are wonderful memories triggered by smell. I’m sure you have hundreds of them in your life that you respond to without even thinking about it.

Jan Chozen Bays in her book How to Train A Wild Elephant writes a whole section #31 titled “Notice Smells.”  She says that “…smell can evoke emotion, desire, and aversion (page 130).[1] Chozen reminds us that not all smells bring happy feelings and thus some remind us of painful life experiences like a fire in your home, or the burnt smell of your first and last batch of cookies that you ever made.  For some it could be the smell of a perfume or aftershave of a person that was either a light in your life or darkness.  So when you encounter a particular smell the visual begins to appear right along with the smell.

Chozen goes on to write: “One reason incense is used in meditation halls is that over time a strong link is forged between the fragrance of incense and a quiet concentrated state of mind.  As you enter the scented hall, your mind automatically settles (page 132).”[2]

Foods are famous for having wonderful smells and bringing wonderful memories.  Let’s stop for a moment and take a deep breath.  Close your eyes and think of some wonderful smell that has made you happy, or giddy, or glad.  What comes to mind for me is our family dinners when growing up.

On Sunday we would have a special family outing—going to the Chinese restaurant for dinner.  Dad would choose one item from column A and two from column B and we all waited with great expectations for the food to begin to arrive. I just loved the smell of the wonton soup and the fried rice. But most of all I loved those almond fortune cookies that I used as an edible spoon to scoop up the delicious chocolate ice cream!  What a great ending to a great food adventure—I experienced a beautiful harmony of fantastic smells indeed! How about you….

 

[1] Bays MD, Jan Chozen. How to Train a Wild and Other Adventures in Mindfulness Elephant. Shambhala, Boston & London, 2011

[2] Ibid.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

mindful-teaching-schoeberlein-david

“Mindfulness and education are beautifully interwoven. Mindfulness is about being present with and to your inner experience as well as your outer environment, including other people.  When teachers are fully present, they teach better.  When students are fully present, the quality of their learning is better. It’s a ‘win-win’ equation that can transform teaching, learning, and the educational landscape (page xi).”[1]

Mindfulness is the newest craze in America, although it has been around for many centuries throughout many cultures, religions, and countries it is becoming more available to the secular world every day.

As a Zen Buddhist priest and college professor I have been incorporating mindfulness exercises in my classes and workshops for many years.  Regardless of whether I am teaching a live group in a classroom setting or out doors on an adventure training course or online the principles are applicable.

It really began for me when I was asked to teach developmental English at Broward College.  The first day in the classroom I could see the students were scared to death of me and the course.  Every student in the room had failed the English part of the entrance exam and thus could not take for credit courses unless they passed my class!  Wow.  Scared is probably not even a powerful enough word!

I was mindful as the students entered the room and watched their body language, facial expressions, and heard what they were saying to each other.  I thought about what I could do to help them get calm and ready to learn and I remembered a simple little exercise that I came upon one day in a great little book of Buddhist exercises—How To Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness by Jan Chozen Bays, MD.  “Just Three Breaths” gave very simple directions she wrote:

The Exercise: As many times a day as you are able, give the mind a short rest.  For the duration of three breaths ask the inner voices to be silent. It’s like turning off the inner radio or TV for a few minutes  Then open all your senses and just be aware—of color, sound, touch, and smell (page76).[2]

I revised it just a little for my classes by leaving out the part about thinking!  I never start a class without first taking 3 breaths and I invite my students to participate with me.

Read these steps aloud and do the exercise along with the class. After the exercise is completed get their feedback on how they feel and how it may help them during the class:

  • Shake out your hands to release the tension in them then place them comfortably in your lap or on the desk or table where you are sitting.
  • Close your eyes if you feel comfortable doing so as it will help keep out the visual distractions. If you are not comfortable with that keeping them open is okay as well. Simply focus your eyes on one small object.
  • Take three slow deep breaths counting one on the in breath and two on the out breath.
  • Be careful not to breathe in so deeply that it makes you cough.
  • Is everyone ready—then let’s begin.

This helps me be a “mindful teacher” throughout the class and helps the students open their minds to learn!  Try it and let me know how it works!

In gassho,

Shokai

[1] Schoeberlein, D. (2009) Mindful Teaching & Teaching Mindfulness: a guide for anyone who teaches anything. Somerville, MA:Wisdom Publications

[2] Bays, J.C. (2011) How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness. Boston, MA:Shambhala

 

 

Read Full Post »

My work teaching developmental English at Broward College opened my eyes to the failure of our K-12 educational system in America. Many of the students who had high school diplomas could not do something as simple as write a complete sentence and had no idea what an adverb was. Most had feelings of low self-esteem and were blaming themselves for their inability to pass the English exam so they could be accepted into the college. So to help them relax and open their minds to learning I began including mindfulness and meditation practices into the classroom. Doing this I discovered that the students actually felt more confident and self-assured, and as an added benefit it seemed to help raise their level of self-esteem.

There are many methods that can be used to help students focus on and retain the information. For this article I will share one easy method I use before each of my classes: Simply get relaxed.

All students end up rushing to class whether the class is on line or on campus. They have a hundred other things running around in their minds from finding a parking space, logging on to the internet, the assignments they have to complete, the bills they have to pay, getting the children fed, and more. Yet, as faculty we expect the students to be prepared and ready to learn the second we start the class. That is a totally unrealistic idea.

Being a Zen Buddhist I have used many techniques to help me focus and quiet my mind. Thus I understood that my students needed to quiet their minds and focus their attention if they were to learn the material. So I revised a simple exercise, “Just Three Breaths,” that I had found in a great book entitled How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness (2011) by Jan Chozen Bays, MD.

After several weeks of using my revised version of this exercise in my developmental English classes one of my students approached me with great excitement about her first presentation that she made in her speech class. She told me that she used the three breath exercise before she got up to present and it helped her stay so calm, cool, and collected that she just “killed” her talk! She was so proud of herself she was beaming with light and had a smile from ear-to-ear. I could see that this experience helped raise her level of self-esteem a little bit as well.

Since that time I have had hundreds of students tell me right after we’ve done this excise in class how calm, focused, relaxed and ready to learn they were. Many have even shared that they’ve used the technique at work when they felt stressed or anxious, before a job interview, while sitting in a traffic jam, or on line at the bank.

The entire exercise takes two to three minutes out of the class, but the lasting effect is immeasurable. I hope you’ll try it. The directions are below.

Three Breath Exercise

Read these steps aloud and do the exercise along with the class. After the exercise is completed get their feedback on how they feel and how it may help them during the class:

 

  • Shake out your hands to release the tension in them then place them comfortably in your lap or on the desk or table where you are sitting.
  • Close your eyes if you feel comfortable doing so as it will help keep out the visual distractions. If you are not comfortable with that keeping them open is okay as well. Simply focus your eyes on one small object.
  • Take three slow deep breaths counting one on the in breath and two on the out breath.
  • Be careful not to breathe in so deeply that it makes you cough.
  • Is everyone ready—then let’s begin.

Let me know how it works!

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

Reference

Bays, J.C. (2011) How to Train A Wild Elephant& Other Adventures in Mindfulness. Shambhala: Boston& London

Read Full Post »

The holidays are a very stressful time for most people.  Holidays are also times when those who suffer from depression, suffer even more acutely.  Patterns of the past brought into the present often harm us more than they help us.  The ideas below are not meant to replace your prescription medication or advice from your doctor– they are simply to be in addition to them.

Williams, Teasdale, Segal, and Kabat-Zinn wrote these wonderful words in their book The Mindful Way through Depression (2007). “What if, like virtually everybody else who suffers repeatedly from depression, you have become a victim of your own very sensible, even heroic, efforts to free yourself—like someone pulled even deeper into quicksand by the struggling intended to get you out?”

This may seem like a very disheartening idea, and you are right—it is.  But there is a way out if you will only take the time to look at this very difficult life’s situation through new eyes, with new thoughts, with new information, and with new light.  You all have heard this funny yet ironic definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different end result.  Today is the day to begin anew, to begin doing something differently and watching and waiting for a fantastic, positive, new end result: peace, prosperity, and happiness!

The authors share with us these two very important ideas:

  • At the very earliest stages in which mood starts to spiral downward, it is not the mood that does the damage, but how we react to it.
  • Our habitual efforts to extricate ourselves, far from freeing us, actually keep us locked in the pain we’re trying to escape (page 2).

They also caution us as well when they write: “Exactly how you will experience the profoundly healthy shift in your relationship to negative moods and what will unfold for you in its aftermath are difficult to predict because they are different for everyone.  The only way anyone can really know what benefits such an approach offers is to suspend judgment temporarily and engage in the process wholeheartedly over an extended period of time—in this case for eight weeks—to see what happens (page 3).”

You may be saying, “Eight weeks! Yikes I can’t do anything for eight weeks are they crazy?”  Maybe, but how about trying it out by starting with one day, and if you feel even one tiny bit better, do it for another day, and if that day goes just a little better why not try it for a third day?  Make no plans or promises longer than 24 hours.  No one wants to get depressed about setting a goal and then not achieving it that’s for sure!  So let’s not set ourselves up for failure once again.

So let’s begin with one simple mindfulness exercise that we can do beginning today.  The authors go on to write, “Mindfulness is not paying more attention but paying attention differently and more wisely—with the whole mind and heart, using the full resources of the body and its senses (page 55).”  So there are several different exercises that you can do to practice mindfulness even when you feel sad or depressed.  You can focus on your breathing, eating, or singing for a start.

One of the ways I get my mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease, out of one of her loops is to do what we call “pattern interruption.”  I ask her to sing one of the songs I know she can sing or to recite one of the poems that she has written and memorized.  Within a few short minutes she is able to go onto something different and her breathing slows down, her mind is less confused, and she can think more clearly.

The authors also share some important information with us when they write, “The difficulty occurs when we confuse the thoughts about things with the things themselves.  Thoughts involve interpretations and judgments, which are not in themselves facts; they are merely more thoughts (page 59).”

As a teacher many times my students have shared with me the fears and thoughts that they have about taking tests, writing papers, or giving presentations in class.  For them the thoughts about those things are making them more difficult than they should be, especially if they have prepared well for them beforehand.

For these students I have them use the “Three Breaths Exercise” from Jan Chozen Bays wonderful book How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness (2011).  Dr. Bays says, “As many times a day as you are able, give the mind a short rest.  For the duration of three breaths ask the inner voices to be silent.  It’s like turning off the inner radio or TV for a few minutes.  Then open all your senses and just be aware—of color, sound, touch, and smell (page 76).”   Begin by closing your eyes, and counting one on the in breath, and two on the out breath, just for three full breaths.  Once you have done that observe how your mind and body feel.  If three breaths don’t work, take four, or five.  Then observe how your mind and body feels.

Do this as many times a day as you feel the need to.  When you get stressed, the mind starts to get into that “monkey talk” or “fear talk” or “anger talk.”  This is a perfect time to stop and take the three breaths.  You can even do them right in the middle of a meeting with your eyes open, or you can take a break and go back to your office or desk or to the bathroom and do it—then  observe the results.

For me I find that after only three breaths my blood pressure calms down, my mind calms down, and I feel significantly better than I did before the three breaths.  I am now able to go back to what I was doing with calmness and peacefulness.

If I am eating I take the time to eat mindfully, focusing on each mouthful, the taste, smell, texture, and feel of the food.  Doing this helps me focus on the food instead of my thoughts, and helps me quiet my body, mind, and spirit.  Try it.  I think you’ll like it.

Anyone of these things can help you in a small way during this holiday season to return your focus to the good, the wonderful, and the new opportunities that lie just ahead. Being mindful about simple things can help you be mindful about complex things when they enter your life.  Stop the struggling—start the mindfulness—and watch that depression melt away slowly like caramel in your mouth—with sweetness and light.

Read Full Post »