When did you first start practicing mindfulness and why were you motivated to do so?
I began mindfulness practice when I began the M.A. program in Contemplative Education at Naropa University two years ago (Summer 2008). I was motivated to participate in the program because I knew there was something more I needed to bring to my teaching and to my life, in general. I began mindfulness practices because they were a requirement of the program. I continue to practice because being mindful has impacted my life in so many positive ways.
Did you take a class? If so, what sort of a class did you take?
The Masters program in Contemplative Education includes many different kinds of classes, i.e. Compassionate Teaching, Maitri, Aesthetics, Sacred Perspectives in Learning, and Presence. The summer classes (intensive, on campus) are very hands-on and experiential, though there is much reading and writing that goes along with it. The fall/spring classes are online, where posting is required several times during the week, as well as reading, writing, and the experiential component comes with assignments, observations, and personal mindfulness practices, i.e. shamatha meditation and loving-kindness practice.
How has mindfulness made a difference in your life?
Mindfulness and awareness practices have helped me become more present to what is going on in the moment both within me and around me. I seem to “notice” so much more than I ever noticed before and, to quote one of my Naropa instructors, Lee Worley, I “notice what I notice” so much more as well. Mindfulness practices have helped me get to know myself better. I see both negative and positive aspects of myself, but seem to have acquired a bit of balance with both, and I have acquired a bit more compassion for myself and others because of it…more times than not (thought I should include that, lest you think I have “perfected this” – ha!).
What do you do for your livelihood (e.g., homemaker, teacher, firefighter) and does your practice of mindfulness affect that?
I am a teacher at a 6th-12th grade Charter School. The past two years I taught sixth grade. This fall, I will be teaching drama, exclusively. And, heavens, yes: my mindfulness practices have had a huge impact on my work! I even incorporate some mindfulness practices into my classroom. My students and I take a bow at the beginning of the day together to show respect for ourselves, one another, our classroom, and the work we do in it. I use a mindfulness bell at the beginning of every subject transition (a weekly peer leader rings the bell and all of the students and myself sit in silence until the reverberations end).
I also meditate every day before going to work, and though I don’t always notice a difference when I do so, I certainly notice a difference if I skip shamatha practice. I feel out of sorts, often irritable and short-tempered.
Slowing down before entering my classroom also helps. If I dash around until the last second, I often feel scattered and self-centered when I arrive at my classroom. If I give myself some breathing space between preparing for the school day and entering my classroom, I am much more generous and calm.