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Sunday, August 4, 2019

Renewing Your Love for Teaching: The Moment That Is Summer

photo courtesy Ira Rabois

guest post by Ira Rabois

Did you grow up with a longing for summer? Summer can remind us what it was like to be a child ⎼ celebrating the end of the school year, of warm weather, and vacations. And if we don’t teach summer school or don't have to work a second job (or maybe even if we do), we can have free time once again.

The longing for summer is, for me, a longing for renewal.  This morning, I woke up early and went outside. Our home is in a small clearing surrounded by trees, flowering bushes and flowers. Two crows were screaming as they flew past. The shade from the trees was vibrant, cool and fresh, the colors sharp and clear. The light was so alive it wrapped the moment in a mysterious intensity. Time slowed so deeply that once the crows quieted, the songs of the other birds and the sounds of the breeze just added to the silence.

This is what I look forward to. Even now that I’m retired, I so enjoy summer. It doesn’t matter to me if it gets too hot and humid or if it rains (or if it doesn’t rain). This is it. I can actually hear my own life speaking to me.

Techniques for Renewal and Re-energizing

When I was teaching, summer was a time not only to relax but to challenge myself in new ways. I would:
*Visit beautiful places ⎼ to see an ocean, a mountain, or forest.  
*Practice mindfulness every day.  
*Take a class and read books about whatever interested me, or whatever would reveal something new about the world that my students and I faced, whether it was politics, quantum physics, writing, mindfulness, neuroscience, philosophy, history, or the martial arts. I wanted to learn something meaningful and feel like a kid again, and a student—open, fresh, playful.
We all need this, so we can renew our ability to see beauty even in winter; so even when there is too much to do or the world feels too dark to face, we know moments of freshness and quiet exist. Not just as memories but reminders that renewal can happen at any time. You can let go. Time can dissolve into silence. Change happens all the time.

photo courtesy Ira Rabois

Summer allows us to let go of last year so we can greet this year as something welcome and alive—so we can learn to find this very moment as unique and enticing.  All seasons can do this, if we let them. They provide a natural rhythm to life. They provide a teaching. This very moment and this earth that we walk on—it sustains us, and is never separate, never distant. 

In the high school philosophy class that I taught, we read a book by Jeremy Hayward called Letters to Vanessa: On Love, Science, Awareness in an Enchanted World

It is a book written by a Buddhist teacher and quantum physicist to his daughter, to help her perceive the enchanted nature of the world, and not just the corrupt and threatening world many of us humans are taught to imagine and thus help create. 

My students loved the book. We would start each class with a mindfulness practice or inquiry exercise based on the book. I’d like to share with you one of our favorite practices. You can try this yourself, first. And then, if it’s appropriate for your class and you feel comfortable leading this type of practice, you can share it with students.

Close your eyes partly or fully and then turn your attention to your breath. 
photo courtesy Ira Rabois
Feel your body breathe in. And then out. Can you feel how your body expands as you breathe in? And how it relaxes and lets go as you breathe out? Just feel the expansion and relaxation for a moment.
Let come to mind a time when you let go and relaxed and felt totally free, open, or present. Where was it? What colors and objects do you notice? Do any sounds stand out for you, or is it quiet? Maybe you were out in the woods or on a beach and you felt ⎼ this particular beach, this woods or sky,  this sunset —this is beautiful. This is it. This I can live with.  
 Just sit for a moment with this feeling. 
When you’re ready, open your eyes. Notice how you feel, now.

If you’re doing this with students, allow processing time. Students (and you) can share what they saw in small groups, write in a journal, or you can ask everyone, one by one, to share in one sentence what place they saw and how it felt.

In his book, Jeremy Hayward mentions a Navajo concept of Ho’zho, or beauty: “Beauty before me, beauty around me, beauty ahead of me.” We can walk the earth with beauty. 

Likewise, Japanese Buddhists have a term, sho shin, which the Zen master Shunryu Suzuki translated as first or beginner’s mind. When we let go of the distractions, delusions and fear, and see the world in sho shin, the world is full, alive, and fresh.  We see the world and other people more directly and clearly. 

So summer is not just a time to let go, relax, and prepare for a new year. It is a time to sit with a particular moment and invest in the only sure investment we can ever have—into our mind and heart and how they reveal the world to us.

adapted from a post that originally appeared at The Good Men Project

About the Author

Ira Rabois has many years of experience as a secondary school teacher, instructor in the traditional Japanese martial arts, and meditation practitioner.  While teaching for 27 years at the Lehman Alternative School in Ithaca, N. Y., he developed an innovative curriculum in English, Philosophy, History, Drama, Martial Arts, and Psychology, and refined a method of mindful questioning. He writes a blog on education and mindfulness. Mr. Rabois is the author of Compassionate Critical Thinking: How Mindfulness, Creativity, Empathy, and Socratic Questioning Can Transform Teaching


related posts:

Using Mindful Questioning to Enhance Academic Learning (interview with Ira Rabois)