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Category Archives: Teaching

Fl QG sunset

My husband and I joined our Qi Gong (energy work) teacher this morning at 8:00am in a nearby park to practice “animal walking” – the crane, turtle, bear, eagle, deer, tiger and monkey. He offers this free class every Sunday, no matter how cold the weather. I recalled that coming to this class on a January morning a year ago in 23 degree air took away my “winter blues” and helped me to deepen my commitment to energy work.

Then in February of last year, I attended a women’s retreat in Florida where I led Qi Gong exercises each morning at dawn on the banks of the Manatee River. The women were so enthusiastic about these movements as a form of morning meditation that they encouraged me to become a Qi Gong teacher. I wrote an affirmation for 21 days – “It’s so exciting to share my talents with others”- while continuing to attend my twice weekly Qi Gong classes. In March, our teacher Nianzu Li (www.songho.net) invited me to join his first Qi Gong teacher training program. My affirmation worked! After eight months of daily practice, an extra two hour training session on Sunday mornings in the park, in addition to study, journaling and the regular Tuesday class and testing, my husband and I were certified as level one Qi Gong teachers in December.

Just last weekend, I returned to the women’s retreat in Florida to share my gratitude and offer Qi Gong with a new level of understanding and energy in my body and spirit to share with others. Although I had been practicing QG on retreats for many years and leading exercises on retreats and days of mindfulness we organized, I now felt I had much more to offer. I have long felt the health benefits of Qi Gong in relieving arthritis pain, increasing mobility and strengthening my immune system. The spiritual benefits include allowing the energy of nature to enter my body, bringing much joy, peace and stability. This movement form of uniting body and spirit has become a regular part of my morning meditation process.

This morning I felt so much energy, good energy, hopeful spring energy as we breathed in the 30 degree air. Cold air keeps me in touch with life. The trees, the frozen earth and clouds give energy here, just as the warm air, sunshine and Gulf waves gave us energy last week in Florida. This is a powerful form of exercise that I can carry wherever I travel. Everywhere I go, the outdoors is present, whether on the Florida beach or in my backyard.

I am grateful for my teachers – including the daffodils moving through the frozen ground, the crocus buds that know warm air and soft ground will be here soon. I am deeply grateful to have a new level of energy work to share with others. May I continue to learn and grow the rest of my life. May the energy of sun, moon, stars, clouds, earth and air move through my mind, body and spirit to all beings I encounter today.


Photo from Stillwater Mindfulness Practice Center website (www.stillwatermpc.org)

Recently I had two opportunities to offer healing guided meditation to friends who were suffering from physical ailments. One had a persistent pain in her leg which was worrying her because she was about to embark on a trip that would involve much walking. The other had a serious physical problem that was causing stress and inability to focus on work. In both cases, my friends were getting medical treatment, testing and physical therapy. I am no doctor and don’t give medical advice. But each of us had experienced the power of meditation to deal with pain, illness and stress. So, the first woman only had time for a short meditation by phone and the second asked me to come to her home to guide her in a deep relaxation meditation. In each case, I began and ended with the sound of a bell, invited my friends to assume comfortable positions (one sitting, the other lying down) and begin following the breath. As we moved through the body, breathing energy and relaxing, I tried to concentrate on the particular areas of discomfort. Breathing in energy from the Universe; breathing out pain, relaxing.

I love doing this work and do it best when I am also breathing slowly, aware of my in breath and out breath, relaxing my body as I am directing others to do the same. Becoming aware of places where I am holding tension, and relaxing that muscle. I would not be able to instruct anyone else to relax and breathe, to concentrate on images or experiences that bring peace to body and spirit if I did not do the same for myself on a daily basis. I also allow others to guide me in deep relaxation and my husband to guide me when he notices tension or suffering in my body and spirit. We “inter-are,” so my meditation affects him and his affects me.

The practice is very simple, something that anyone can do, anywhere, anytime with oneself or others. Breathe, follow the particular breaths, in/out, relax each part of the body…..concentrate on an area of the body or mind that needs attention. Sit with the discomfort…..feel the feelings….watch them move and change…..we are still sitting and breathing, alive!

The Buddha taught that each living being has within the potential to become awakened, aware, alive in the present moment. Guided meditation is a tool for awakening, one that gives to both the giver and the receiver at the same time. I plan to do a deep relaxation meditation at a day of mindfulness next week and several forms of guided meditations on our upcoming retreat for women in May.

Perhaps these guided meditations might become my next book. Something that helps people trust the spirit within themselves to find the words to help themselves and one another breathe, relax and awaken.

What do you think?

How fulfilling it is to be a TEACHER!!!!! Yesterday we had a reunion of student leaders of the Diversity Workshop Program from Blair HS. It was so sweet the way they ran out to the car when I turned up, gave me a group hug and wanted to know about my granddaughter, my book, etc. This love came from years of showing up every day, planning meaningful experiences for my students, listening, laughing, helping them find other teens who were having similar experiences, bonding, building skills to help others, learning to love one another on a deep level. It created a community among us that is very deep and real. We KNOW one another after years of leading “Hidden Identities” and “Speak Outs” together in the Diversity Workshop. We are an intense mutual fan club, based on years of very deep and meaningful work together in a crucial period of change for them….and ME!

They nursed me through that last difficult year of my formal teaching career when a particular administrator was trying to kill our workshop and the Peace Studies course, in the name of “teaching to the test” a la “Every Child Left Behind” mandates. I tried my best to remain kind and patient. I tried to apply all the conflict resolution skills I taught the kids, but my young friends knew I was suffering and were a great comfort. We did our best to preserve the wonderful program that had helped thousands of teenagers; but eventually it was stopped, transformed into a club that could no longer hold workshops in classrooms. It was necessary for me to remove myself, so that at least that remnant and the Peace Studies classes could survive with other teachers leading them.

My zen teacher would say “let go.” All things transform, change, pass. I have let go of the day to day classroom schedule, let go of running the powerful Diversity Workshop Program at my old school. When we let go, we allow new fresh sprouts to bloom. Every year, I had to “let go” of several hundred seniors I loved as they transitioned to college or work. The letting go was necessary, so that they could develop their own lives, their own gifts to the world. It was good practice and gave me so many more children to love. I am deeply grateful for my 27 years of formal classroom teaching and for all the other opportunities I have had to teach and learn throughout my whole life. May I remain a student and teacher until I die.

What a thrill to see each of these former students continuing the life transforming work of the Diversity Workshop in their lives and in work with other young people, with rape victims, with art, music, film, with immersion in other cultures and issues that need their insights, enthusiasm and love. They will always be part of me and I part of them.

The Diversity Workshop LIVES!

Yesterday, I had the privilege of leading a Diversity Workshop at a local high school. This workshop was one of the great passions of my teaching life for 20 years in two public school systems. It is so powerful, energizing and hopeful!

It pumped me up, reconnected me to teens, took all of us to a deeper level of sharing, especially in Caucuses, Hidden Identities and Speak-outs. There were so many examples in this group of suffering from alcoholism, conflicts with parents, suicide and cancer, in addition to prejudice and stereotyping. Leading the workshop requires a great deal of skill and training to help young people open up so much pain and to look at solutions.

The workshop is even more powerful when led by teenagers. They learn to listen deeply, to help other students connect to friends who are sharing similar forms of suffering and solutions. Sharing cuts pain in half, bringing it out into the open in a setting where confidentiality and respect are the rules. The DW makes it possible for young people to hear that there is someone else suffering from depression, an alcoholic parent, death or stereotyping in the same way, to help bring them out of isolation. Also to hear that another student cherishes her Jewish faith or Latin food or loves to create art, creating connection and hope. Revealing some of the pain and joy with teachers and counselors who can also follow up with individuals and find inspiration in becoming workshop leaders themselves – such a joy for me! It works! It’s still about the most powerful model I’ve found for taking a group of teenagers to a very deep level of sharing in one amazing three hour session. The possibilities for other classes and activities flowing from it depend on the commitment and enthusiasm of a few teachers and students. I am so happy to help younger teachers carry on my tradition of the Diversity Workshop and Peace Studies classes!

Watering seeds of Hope, peace and joy feels so GOOD!!!!!!

Photo by Bao-Tich

Monday, August 30, 2010

On Saturday, my husband and I had the opportunity to spend the whole day in mindfulness and meditation with the Mindfulness Practice Center of Fairfax. We have practiced with this sangha, led by Ahn Huong and Thu Nguyen, for many years in the tradition of her uncle, Thich Nhat Hanh. Ahn Huong is my inspiration and model for the days of mindfulness and women’s retreats that Ruth Fishel and I have been conducting.

I realize that leading the exercises of mindful breathing, walking, eating, and deep relaxation is a type of work that is also restful, not only to the people who are breathing and relaxing to my guided meditation, but also to me. We inter-are. But it was a treat to return to my teacher’s beautiful sangha, to be guided by her peaceful voice, to just REST.

For many people vacation is over today. Schools opening. Teachers teaching. Traffic increasing. Stress increasing. It’s a work day. So, here I am at my desk, working on a blog and my next retreat. Without traffic, without the stress of my many years in the classroom. Also without the excitement of meeting my new students. So I turn to you, my new audience of readers, less visible, less audible, but there.

There is a time for everything under the sun. I am so grateful for this period of my life when I am able to rest between periods of work and to attempt to make every task I do one of mindfulness and joy. I am still capable of becoming stressed about writing and publishing, capable of working without pausing. But, if I come back to my breath, at least three breaths when beginning a new task, occasionally during a task and at the end, my work is more productive and happy. My life has become so restful, so filled with joyful opportunities to merge work and rest.

How do you find rest within, before and after your work? Do you STOP occasionally to rest and breathe? What reminders do you use?


Photo by Lori Greig

Seth Godin, who has written 12 bestsellers that have been translated into 33 languages, laid a bombshell on the book world Monday. He announced in his blog that Linchpin would be his last book published in the traditional fashion – by a publisher.

“The thing is–now I know who my readers are. Adding layers or faux scarcity doesn’t help me or you. As the medium changes, publishers are on the defensive…. I honestly can’t think of a single traditional book publisher who has led the development of a successful marketplace/marketing innovation in the last decade. The question asked by the corporate suits always seems to be, “how is this change in the marketplace going to hurt our core business?” To be succinct: I’m not sure that I serve my audience (you) by worrying about how a new approach is going to help or hurt Barnes & Noble.”

Alerted to this news by my husband, who reads many marketing books and blogs, I was curious to see what other authors had to say as I begin this arduous task of getting my book into your hands – or computers? I don’t want to waste time with 20th century methods if new ones suit people better. Yet I yearn to hold my own book in my hands and to see it in yours on the metro.

I see that Tim Ferris and Jim Farley still find a place for physical books and the publishing world.
Tim Ferris on How Authors Really Make Money: The Rebirth of Seth Godin and Death of Traditional Publishing
“I find that it helps refine your thinking, just as having the content in a fixed form (print) forces you to consider your writing and editing more seriously than if you could change it willy-nilly like a blog post. There are certainly benefits to the multimedia books on the horizon, but I wouldn’t call them “books”, and I think the bells and whistles of video, hyperlinks, etc. will be used to mask sloppy thinking as often, if not more often, than they will be used to create a more compelling argument or presentation. The wordsmithing and precision of the language will suffer with the crutches of embeddable video, etc. Will they make perfect sense for some books? Absolutely. Will they distract and detract from the flow of the prose, story, or argument in most cases? Absolutely.

The compelling case for the printed book that resonated with my heart was made by Jim Farley, owner of a bookshop in New Hope, PA. I highly recommend reading Farley’s whole story! It gave me hope and spoke to the heart of how I want to touch people with my book. This process is about much more than “success” or “profit.”

Kindles Aren’t Books
I was twenty, newly tattooed and sobering up. I was running late. The Greyhound bus I boarded in Pittsburgh smelled like old sweat and food. A red-eye, I was going to move through the night, across the open fields of middle-Pennsylvania for a crack of dawn arrival in Philadelphia. There didn’t seem to be an available seat on the bus and the driver was watching me through the rear-view to sit down before he backed out into the steel city night. I scanned the bus, tired, in and out of it, and saw a seat on the aisle three rows from the back. A large black man was in the window seat, more piled there than sitting, a muscular pylon rising out of the fabric. Our eyes met. I didn’t have to look down into his to do it.

“Mind if I sit here?” I asked.

“Only if you’ll talk about Nietzsche,” he said.

I looked at my hands. I was carrying the Viking Portable Nietzsche in my left hand, the cover facing out to the world. Red-eye reading.

We spent the next seven hours talking about the nature of god, will, the meaning of religion. He was a studying with the Jesuits in New York, on his way home from visiting friends.

That never would have happened if I was a Kindle user.


August 20, 2010

Today I completed the third draft of my book The Power of Love! Hooray!

As I was compiling a bibliography, I breathed yet another prayer of gratitude to all the teachers and writers who have influenced me for so many years – Theilard de Chardin, Franz Fanon, Paulo Freire, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Thich Nhat Hanh. Two leaders of the Sisters of Loretto whom I dearly loved are on the list – Sister Luke Tobin (Hope is an Open Door) and Sister Helen Saunders (More than a Renewal )- which contains an entire chapter about my participation in the anti-war action that is the subject of my book. I still have the copies of several “handbooks” I dragged all over the country hitch-hiking from trials to demonstrations to speaking engagements: Seymour Hersh’s Chemical and Biological Warfare, Domhoff’s Who Rules America , The Rich and Super-Rich by Ferdinand Lundberg and Baran and Sweezy’s Monopoly Capital.

Not to mention the minimum of three novels I need every week to keep me going.

Isn’t it the least I can do– to contribute one book in gratitude for all I’ve been given to read?

I had the great privilege yesterday of organizing a day of meditation for women friends.  The setting was an octagon in a beautiful blueberry farm.   I led guided meditation, walking meditation amidst the blueberries and on the labyrinth, deep relaxation and eating meditation.  At the end, we shared and listened to each other’s experience of meditating in a group of women.  For some it was a first experience; for others a reunion of fellow meditators.  Some of the women there had guided me toward this path after a period of deep hopelessness and despair in my life.  Now I was able to offer them methods of meditation I had learned over the last 19 years.  Giving away what we have been given is truly the best way to ensure its presence in our lives.

Later that evening I attended my regular Sunday evening sitting with the Washington Mindfulness Community (http://www.mindfulnessdc.org).  I needed to be nourished after giving and being present for others all day.  I also wanted to say goodbye to a very special young woman who was leaving us for a year.  It was her first time as bell mistress and she did a lovely job.  Passing it on…that’s important…teaching others that anyone can meditate, that we can’t meditate wrong, that peace and calm are available to us at any moment, anywhere, as close as our next breath!