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Sunday, January 12, 2020

Teaching Mindfulness and Compassion Through Seasonal Moments

Image by 西坂 真秀美 from Pixabay

guest post by Ira Rabois

To understand the season, winter, spring, summer or fall, what must we do? What is a season? Understanding the seasons is not just a matter of looking at a calendar or being aware of what the weather was yesterday, and the week or month before that, or today. 

It is not simply exploring the basic science: The earth rotates, causing day and night. And it is tilted on an axis, as it follows a path around the sun. In summer one half of the earth faces the sun more directly so it gets the light from the sun more intensely and for a longer period of the day. The other half experiences winter, as it is turned away from the sun.

To understand what the seasons mean to us, we utilize memories of past years, and past moments. We become aware of how everything is constantly changing. That life itself is change. One minute is different than the last. 

And we must be aware how we, also, change. Not just our moods, sensations and thoughts, but how we feel as the earth changes.  We and the earth change together, although maybe not in the same way or at the same pace. Because the earth moves around the sun and is tilted at a certain angle, we experience sensations of cold or warmth. We become aware of what it feels like to be alive on this earth in this particular moment.* We become aware that to understand the seasons we must understand the being who is doing the studying, namely ourselves. 

And one way to generate compassion for other humans is to imagine how people throughout history have tried to live a seasonal moment similar to this one. Here are two seasonal mindfulness practices. As with any guided meditation or visualization, please try these practices yourself before sharing them with your students. Make adjustments to fit their needs and history.

*Note: The book The Dharma of Dragons and Demons can be extremely helpful for developing lessons using modern fantasy literature and films to teach lessons about time, nonviolence, engaging in the world:

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash


You might ask students: What purposes, ecologically and psychologically, might the seasons serve?  In the fall, when you see the first snowfall, what do you feel?
In November, when we set the clocks back, what do you feel? 

I know some people love the snow and look forward to winter. When I was working as a teacher, I remember the joy that filled the school with the first snowfall. Students could barely focus on the academic lesson when Mother Nature had a deeper lesson in store for us. They would rush to the window and look out with wonder. Each snow was the only snow they had seen, so beautiful and exciting.

Yet, for others, winter is a turning in. We cuddle within an extra blanket of clothing to find something kinder than the chill we get from fear and doubt. We wonder if the warmth will ever return. Will the earth ever bear fruit again? Will the dark continue to dominate the light?

And probably ever since there have been human beings, ever since there has been life on this planet, this dread has been experienced. Not only due to snow⎼ or ice-covered trees and roads ⎼ but the earth itself turning within. 

Somehow, we need to embrace rather than turn away from this challenging time, and appreciate this snow fall, the light reflected off snow drops, even the feel of being cuddled by warm clothing. The felt need to get to school or wherever we need to go can create a conflict within us that sets us at war with ourselves and makes it difficult to embrace this time. So, we need to be aware of our own potential for warmth.

We share so much with humans throughout history. But often we think our situation is so totally unique we feel separate from all others and don’t notice what we mutually share. So we need moments where we close our eyes and come back to who we are. Where we are. To our breath, in this moment. 

Close your eyes and turn your attention to your breath. Take your time to notice what you are  sensing. To noticing the temperature of the air coming in your nostrils as you inhale. And the feel of the air going out your nostrils as you exhale. To noticing the feeling of your body touching the chair, or the weight of your hands on your lap.

We can bring to mind an image of humans breathing like this for millennia. People have been living through winter for millennia. Even now, all over the northern hemisphere, people are experiencing similar feelings to our own. 

What are your favorite images of winter? Allow these images to come to you, maybe playing in the snow, or sitting by a warm fire.

Can you imagine how people maybe one thousand years ago prepared for winter? Pick a place on this continent and imagine a person preparing for winter, collecting food and fuel to warm themselves.

When you breathe in, you store up oxygen, fuel, food, and warmth. When you exhale, you turn that stored energy into movement. Each breath is a turn of seasons. You inhale and turn within. You exhale and you go out into the world with others.

Feel the energy coming into your body as you inhale. Your shoulders rise slightly, your chest and belly expand. Then notice how you exhale, relax and settle down as you come gratefully to this particular moment.

Sit for a moment and feel what you feel. 

What we make of winter is our own. How we face any challenge is our own to determine, along with everyone and everything else. 

(This section was adapted from ‘Embracing Winter, and the dread that Spring will never return’ at The Good Men Project) 

Image by myeongae lim from Pixabay


For many students and teachers, March is the most difficult month of the school year. There are few holidays, and we are often tired of winter, the dark and the cold. A meditation on the coming spring can be extremely helpful to everyone. When we have those warm days that hint at spring and we feel a longing or excitement similar to what the first snowfall brought in the falla sense of something new, a renewalinstead of losing patience with the dark and cold we feel it in a new way. We better notice the lengthening day, the colors and sounds, the people around us.

Ask students: What are your favorite images of spring? 

Ask students to take a moment, sit up comfortably in their seats, and close their eyes partly or fully or look down at a space that is uncluttered. For some students, closing their eyes can be difficult, so give them choices. When you breathe in, turn your focus to how your body expands slightly. When you breathe out, notice how your body lets go of the air.

Let come to mind an image of the earth waking up in the spring. Imagine, as you breathe in, energy brightens your face. Then it fills your chest and expands your belly. And as you exhale, the energy goes from your belly up your body and out.  You relax and settle down. 

Imagine a person in the early twentieth century, maybe even 1900, greeting the spring. Imagine a farmer looking out at their fields. Imagine a student of your own age in a newly built brick schoolhouse or one-room school. How do you think they felt?

Imagine someone you trust, maybe a good friend, classmate, or family member looking out his, her, or their window, and seeing a crocus or winter aconite, a touch of purple or yellow  blossom, or green grass poking through the snow, or new leaves clothing a tree, or friends outside playing. Sit for a moment and imagine this other person seeing the flower ⎼ or feel what it would be like to run outside in warm weather and play a game with the friend.

Sit for a moment with the sense of the sun shining and the world coming alive.

When we breathe, the world breathes. If we want to feel the spring, we need to help make it come alive to us. It is not just the weather that brings spring and light and warmth to our world. It is us, too. We are also earth. What light will we bring?  

We need to remind ourselves how much we share with others and how responsibility for others is what holds our society, and our lives, together. 

See the following posts for Ira Rabois' reflections on Summer and Fall:

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

Here are links to more guest posts by Ira Rabois on integrating mindfulness and compassion with academic teaching: