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Archive for September, 2010

My latest blog post also appears as an article on The Shambhala Times!

http://shambhalatimes.org/2010/09/26/back-to-school-back-to-square-one/

The version on the Times also features a photo of my own children.  🙂

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Group Calligraphy - Summer Arts Dathun, 2010

While at the Summer Arts Dathün, I rediscovered True Perception by Chögyam Trungpa. His words about art and artful living led me to contemplate artful family living.

What does it mean to live artfully as a family?

How will I guide my family in the coming school year?

What approach might be best?

In what way can this school year be a “fresh start”?

Each year as Labor Day rolls around, families with children begin again. The start of the school year marks a “New Year” for families, teachers, and students alike. So, here we are. Back to Square One.

At this point, we are in a very powerful spot: being in the present, we can reshape the whole future. Therefore, shouldn’t we be more careful, shouldn’t we be more awake in what we are doing in this very moment?  -Chögyam Trungpa

Another school year sets our lives in motion. The lazy, perhaps more carefree days of summertime slip away. We buy school supplies, sign the children up for fall sports, and ink Back-to-School Night on the family calendar. The routine’s
familiarity both comforts us and bores us. Surely this school year will not resemble the last. New teachers, new friends, new subjects, and additional extra-curricular activities, even a change of school – these things will all produce a different year. However, our way of being, our way of interacting with this school year, might be just the same. We might continue with the patterns set during the last school year.

Perhaps your family has a rigorous schedule of soccer practice for your third grade son, while your twelve-year-old daughter joined a competitive dance troupe, and your second grader’s teacher suggests he take speech therapy after school. As parents, we want the best for our children. So, you take on each challenge. You schedule carpools and divide responsibilities, engineering the family schedule to work around each and every activity. You’re doing it all and you feel good about it! But later in the semester… you feel trapped and over extended – just like last year! This is just one hypothetical example, of course. Many different scenarios could run a family dry of their lungta – year after year.

The point is to approach your family’s activities with thoughtfulness, to be mindful of what your family considers to be a priority. This is the same as coming back to your breath during meditation. Being present on the cushion is practice for being present in your family life. Parents who make their mindfulness practice a priority in their lives will find they notice when the family balance is off kilter. Course corrections are always possible if we’re paying attention. Better yet, we must begin carefully. As the school year unfolds, let us continuously keep in mind the words of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche: being in the present, we can reshape the whole future.

Enjoy the school year!

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Let's Do Nothing by Tony Fucile

At the start of the school year, all teachers devote time to constructing a classroom ethos (ie., “class rules).  In my library, my co-librarian and I use a consensus model to help the children create their own “Library Agreements.”  We all agree to “be” a certain way in the library.

During this process the children come up with their own “library agreements” (which are inevitably similar to the rules they may have experienced in other classrooms).  The exercise  gives them ownership of the library’s behavior guidelines.  The children sign the document and we post it for the first part of the year.

Each year, we select a different title to read aloud before doing this exercise.  This year we chose Let’s Do Nothing! by Tony Fucile.  In Let’s Do Nothing!, the main characters try very hard to do “nothing” but eventually realize that “doing nothing” is a physical impossibility.  (We’re always breathing, blinking, etc.)  In these characters’ persuit to “do nothing,” they try “doing nothing” for 10 seconds, acting like statues, and being redwood trees and skyscrapers.  I used these moments in the book to incorporate excersises that promote mindfulness.

When we got to the point in the book where Sal suggested, “Let’s try doing nothing for ten seconds,” I paused and waited a full ten seconds.  Waiting quietly for ten seconds provides the children with an opportunity to notice the passing of time, to recognize one moment, then the next, then the next…  It’s a pause they don’t  frequently get during a regular school day.

Before I read the book, I took the children through some “yoga” postures to prepare them for the story.  I let them know that we would be stopping the story to do three poses: statue, tree, and skyscraper.  We tried all three before we began to read.  Then, at the appropriate point in the story, I stopped reading and we held each of these poses for ten seconds.  Breaking up the book with movement activity and moving along with the story allowed the children to really share the experience of the characters in Let’s Do Nothing!.

We moved from the story of Sal and Frankie trying to “do nothing” into a discussion about all of the “somethings” we would be doing in Library Class this year and how exactly we were going to do those somethings: with respect, responsibility, and attention.

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Chris Kelley leading workshop participants in yoga.

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