Lessons Learned

There are so many valuable things I’ve learned in my twenty-seven years of life. Working with kids always leaves me wanting to teach these lessons to the amazing little people I meet every day. This is especially true when it comes to the teenage girls. It’s painful to see so many of them who remind me of myself at that age. I want to tell them that high school drama isn’t going to matter in a few years. I want to tell them to let it all roll off their backs and just enjoy their youth. I want to tell them they don’t need someone else’s love to make them happy, that happiness is something we get to choose, that comes from inside us. But I don’t say any of this.

I don’t say it, because all of these things were said to me a million times as a teenager. It’s frustrating to grow up and realize it was all true. So why couldn’t I believe it back then? Why did I have to suffer long enough to learn these lessons for myself? And what is it that finally allowed me to accept these messages? It certainly isn’t just getting older. I know many people that are adults and haven’t yet embraced these truths I now hold so dear.

While I may not have an explanation for all of these questions, I did listen to a podcast recently that shed some light on the situation. Our brains simply learn better through personal experience than they do by being taught by someone else. So no matter how much we want to spare our own children and the young people in our lives from unnecessary suffering by just telling them what we’ve learned from ours, it isn’t going to work. Perhaps that suffering isn’t totally unnecessary after all. This is why Socrates didn’t go around preaching the things he knew. Rather, he asked his neighbors questions, nudging them towards their own truths. This is why therapists don’t just tell you what you need to do. They help you discover these answers for yourself. When we realize an answer or solution on our own, it hits us differently.

I suppose this is also why telling people about veganism never seems to change their minds at all. There is truly nothing I can say to someone that will make them go vegan. Deep down I think I’ve always known this. I think all vegans do to some extent. After all, most of us were once the meat-eaters shrugging our shoulders at all the information we now desperately try to show others. In the same way, I’ll never be able to get a teenager to realize that high school doesn’t matter, that their emotions won’t be this intense forever. I certainly didn’t believe it when it was told to me. It feels like I hardly even heard what these adults were saying at all. If anything, I resented them for acting like my problems weren’t real. As if I was choosing to feel the way I felt. Hell, I don’t think I realized the importance of loving myself and not waiting for someone else to come and make me happy until I was like 25!

While the idea of needing to learn something for yourself for it to stick makes perfect sense to me, it doesn’t make it any less frustrating. I feel helpless to make any kind of difference at all. I’m left biting my tongue, just hoping that somehow these people will find their way on their own. The hardest part is I don’t even know how to turn them in the right direction. I don’t know the right questions to ask them. I’m not Socrates. I’m not a therapist. And worst of all, I don’t even know how I eventually made these connections in my own head!

With Veganism, I’m ashamed to say, I think it was a total accident. I didn’t have this noble, benevolent change of heart one day. I went vegan for purely selfish reasons. Then once I was already living that way, my cognitive dissonance about eating animals lifted and I was able to see things as they truly are. However, when it comes to my personal life lessons about self-love and letting go, I have no clue how I came around to them. Especially knowing the kind of teenager I was. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d become the person I am today. The only thing I can think of is that maybe it was because I started a yoga practice. Even when you approach it for purely exercise or weight loss reasons, something about the physical practice clears away the clouds inside of you and teaches you the most important things in life without you even realizing it.

Honestly, now that I think about it, I’m starting to see how my biggest insecurities and struggles have actually been the things that led me exactly where I needed to be. Both yoga and veganism were only of interest to me at first to the extent that they could help me lose weight. Yet despite neither really doing that, I was given things far more important. Now these things are core parts of my identity, things I practice every single day, things that bring me closer to that all encompassing loving kindness and peace that I’ve always urned for. If I had been born into a itty bitty, “perfect” body I doubt I would have found the things that really give my life meaning. And I certainly wouldn’t start eating animal products again and give up yoga for something as silly as physical appearance.

I guess ultimately all we can do for the kids and other people in our lives that are struggling is be there for them. We may not be able to spare them the suffering we all experience in this life, but maybe we can at least show them by example that, though we may suffer, it’ll be worth it one day. We can’t take away their problems or expose those problems as mere shadows on a cave wall, but we can sit next to them and hold their hands while they work to figure it out for themselves. We can only offer our compassion and our unconditional love and acceptance. And maybe that’s better than any lesson we try to teach anyway.

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Taking Risks

I’ve never been a risk taker, nor am I at all competitive. Gambling makes no sense at all to me. I’ve only done it a couple times and it was quite unsatisfying. I guess I’ve never thought of myself as very lucky either. I never really won anything. When you start out with that kind of mindset, why would you be competitive or take risks? It seems inevitable that they would only turn out badly for me. Unfortunately, taking risks is an important part of life. If you don’t participate, you’ll never be disappointed, but you also won’t ever advance.

Lately I have really been struggling about whether or not to take a big risk. I’m indecisive as it is, so it certainly doesn’t help when it’s an especially important life decision that I have to make. Although I love my job as a child advocate, I never intended to find myself here. Before accepting this job, my goal was to become a teacher. I went through the whole process to make myself eligible, then kind of forgot about it as I became more and more enmeshed in my new work environment. I never thought I could love my job so much. Not to mention I deeply enjoy spending time with the friends I’ve made here every day.

With funding cuts and our therapist, whom I’ve grown close to, leaving, I began exploring the idea of teaching again. After discovering that the funding has been somewhat fixed (thank god), I was prepared to put the teaching idea on the back burner again for awhile. Then one of the school districts near me put up a job opening for a third grade teacher! It is quite rare for there to be an position available in my small area. I had to at least send in my resume.

Now that I’ve done all I can, I’ve been trying to decide what I’d like to come of this if anything. Part of me is extremely excited at the idea. Although, originally I wanted to teach in a high school, now that I’ve had more experience with young children, third grade may be even better. I particularly loved third grade when I was in school. So maybe that’s a sign of some kind. It does seem like teaching will be more work than what my current position entails, but it would be so nice to have more stability, income, and time off. What a delight it would be to have snow days again!

There are definitely a lot of pros and cons to both outcomes. I guess I should consider myself lucky that that’s the case. For now, all I can do is wait to see what happens. I know I will make the best of whatever the future holds for me.

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Sinking Ship

This year my place of employment took a huge hit financially. The state drastically cut our funding. On top of that we haven’t really been able to fundraise like we normally do because of Covid. It seems like everyone has been staying pretty positive on the surface. Up until recently I’ve just been trying not to think about it and hoping it will all turn out okay somehow. This place has been around for over 11 years after all. But with our therapist leaving for another job this August, I’m really starting to wonder if I should be exploring other job options too.

I really would like to stay here forever. I’ve said that many times, but it’s true. This place is better than I ever imagined any job could be. I actually look forward to coming here everyday. I feel like I’m just spending time with friends most days. However, I know that’s going to change somewhat without our current therapist being here. It’s really going to be sad to see her go. I hope that we’ll be able to remain friends, but she seems so busy and I’ve never been good at maintaining friendships in the past.

Mostly I am starting to wonder if I should go back to actively pursuing a teaching job. I did pay quite a pretty penny for the certification that I’ll have to be renewing here in a few months. I’m not sure that I would enjoy being a teacher as much as I enjoy being an advocate here, but it would still be nice to get summers off. Not to mention I’d get paid a hell of a lot more, plus better benefits and job security.

Honestly money has never been a big motivator to me though. I seem to be doing just fine with the ridiculously low wages I’ve always made so far. It’s much more important for me to like my job than to make a lot of money. I hardly ever feel like spending more than I need for the bare necessities anyway. The people I work with here understand me and appreciate me, oftentimes more than I feel I even deserve. I truly feel blessed to work with such incredible human beings. Which also makes the thought of leaving hard in another sense as well. I don’t want to put them in an even shittier position by abandoning them in their hour of need.

It really feels like standing on the deck of a sinking ship, trying to decide what to do next. The hardest part is I’m not sure that the ship will really go down or if we can salvage it. I suppose that my plan for now will be to ride it out. I refuse to give up on this place. It’s simply too amazing. I’ll do what I have to do to keep my teaching certification in the meantime, but I won’t worry about applying for any more teaching jobs. Then if in a few years this place does go under, I’ll become a substitute teacher while I search for a permanent position. Hopefully, in the end all of this worrying will have been for nothing.

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Meditation for Kids

I’ve seen a few articles that discuss the benefits of replacing things like time out or detention with meditation whether in school or at home. Even since hearing about this idea, I’ve been a huge fan. It seems like a lot of the time parents and teachers can become so frustrated in the moment that they resort reflexively to age old punishments. Most people have used and/or been subjected to spanking or time outs. But how many of us have actually checked into the data behind whether or not these things are actually effective? Not only that, a lot of the time it seems like the intention behind these punishments seems to get lost somewhere along the way.

I would hope that most parents and teachers enact punishments in an attempt to correct and change negative, disruptive, or dangerous behaviors. While I’m not sure if the data supports the time out strategy in this regard, I know for a fact that spanking has been proven to be not only ineffective, but harmful to the child. Among other things, it leads to even more negative behaviors rather than preventing them. Unfortunately I’ve seen many parents dig their heels in on corporal punishment even after being confronted with this information.

Another thing that I’ve noticed while watching the way parents and other adults interact with children is that not many people seem to place any value in finding the time to actually explain things to kids. I don’t know why that is. I’m sure it could be many things from demanding unquestioning submission to their authority, to impatience, to modeling their parents’ behavior, to thinking the child wouldn’t be able to comprehend anyway.

One of the things I’ll never stop giving my mom credit for is always being willing to explain things to me. The older I’ve gotten the more I’ve realized just how incredible the amount of patience that woman has. She never seemed to get frustrated by my endless questions, even about the reasons why I wasn’t allowed to do something or had to do something else. She was even patient with me when after discovering the reason, I continued to debate with her and push the issue. This level of openness and respect allowed me to become the intelligent, thoughtful person I am today. It taught me to value knowledge and the importance of good communication and mutual understanding. Not only that, I feel it helped my mom as well. I think people underestimate kids. They seem to forget that they are just little humans with wills, wants, and desires of their own. Wouldn’t you be more likely to follow a rule if you understood why it was a rule in the first place? Isn’t it frustrating to be forced to do something just because you are told to?

With all of this in mind, I want to come back to the idea of meditation as a punishment replacement. When you think about it, a time out is already somewhat of the same thing. However, meditation gives this period of quite and stillness an important, clear intention. To me it seems like swapping out meditation for time out has almost unlimited potential for parents, families, teachers, and children alike. I can only image what a different world we would all live in if we started raising our kids this way. Think how much more receptive a child would be to this form of “punishment.”

When a kid is acting out, especially a little one, it doesn’t really make sense to expect a reprimand such as time out, taking something away, or especially striking them to make them calm down. So in the end you need to step back and remind yourself what the goal of these things is supposed to be. If it is simply to get revenge on the child for what they’ve done, then by all means, go ahead. You’re sure to upset them at the very least. But if the goal is to help the child find new, more appropriate behaviors and understand why their current behavior is unacceptable, then it seems like a pretty lousy strategy.

I think it would be a much more helpful and pleasant experience for everyone involved if in response to a negative behavior, someone would explain to the child: 1. Why this is unacceptable behavior. (How it negatively effects, not only others, but the child themselves.) 2. Why meditation is the response to this behavior. (How it can help the child not only behave, but feel better.) No one wants to feel like they are being punished for what they’ve done, even if they know it was wrong. However, we are all hardwired to act with our own self-interest in mind. Wouldn’t you be more likely to participate in something (even if you didn’t necessarily like it) if you thought it would ultimately benefit you?

I only wish someone had been around to teach me meditation as a child. For the most part when a child acts out, it is because they are upset or dealing with emotions they aren’t able to handle appropriately. And it really isn’t their fault, they’ve yet to develop the skills and areas of their brains necessary to properly regulate and process different emotions. Even so, kids know that it doesn’t feel good to be upset or to let your emotions overwhelm you. The majority of my life was spent thinking that these things were just out of my control. What a relief it was to me to discover that I actually have the power to regulate my own emotions and to strengthen this skill like a muscle. I’m sure I’d be much better at doing so if I’d started when I was younger too.

I believe children would really respond well to being taught these new, useful tools. It could simply be explained to them that the purpose behind these “time-outs” is for their benefit. It isn’t just to be mean or make them unhappy because they acted in a way we didn’t like. It is just a time for them to practice using these new tools so that they can have a happier, more peaceful life now and in the future. From what I’ve seen, kids are usually eager to please. Many may be quick to comply if they were told all of these things. It all comes down to treating kids with the patience and respect they deserve and remembering what we want the purpose of punishment to be.

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Stay Open, Keep Learning

Today when I pulled into the parking lot of my yoga studio, I had a happy surprise awaiting me. Due to the fact that I almost never check my email, I hadn’t gotten the memo that yoga teacher training was starting again at the studio. At Yoga H’om the monthly training sessions are on the first weekend of every month, generally from October to April. And this has been the first new round of training since I started teaching there.

I live quite far away from my studio, but still choose to teach there because I love the students and teachers there so much. Usually I don’t have time during the week to make the trip up except to teach my class though. It was such a wonderful surprise getting to see my mentors and meet the new teachers in training.

The tradition is that the trainees take the Saturday and Sunday morning classes, and afterward the teacher stays to discuss it with the new students. I hadn’t had the chance to experience this before today. I still remember a few years ago when I was the trainee and how much I admired and respected the Saturday morning teacher we were to critique. I feel so mystified and honored to now be that person.

I welcomed the chance to hear what everyone liked or disliked about my class and teaching style. It was also nice to feel supported by the teachers that trained me. While my teaching isn’t the same as their own, they still respect that difference and see the value in my personal style.

One thing stood out to me during our discussion though. Just as there had been in my group of trainees, there was one that oozed that “know-it-all” aura. (Not that I haven’t been guilty of being a know-it-all in the past.) It was still interesting to see how that fit into the dynamic of the training and how my mentors responded. I sensed some resentment from the student when her ideas were challenged by the trainers.

I know my mentors picked up on the same vibe that I was sensing. They always seem to purposely be a little harder on those types of trainees. But I know this isn’t out of spite or anything like that. They simply want to teach this person how to be wrong. How to be open and keep that humble, curious, absorbent beginner’s mind. No matter how knowledgeable or experienced one might be.

I used this as a reminder for myself as well. I am someone who can also get caught up in my own preferences and opinions, getting hostile towards anyone or anything that dwells outside of them. Even though this time around I was the teacher helping the new trainees, I didn’t feel that way. I was learning and growing from our conversation just as much as they were. I was merely in a difference part of the classroom of life, a different seat, allowing me to see new things that I wasn’t able to before.

What I’m trying to say here is this: Never stop learning. Each day, each moment, each person is an opportunity to learn something new. No matter how much you think you know already. That’s one of the most beautiful things about this life. There is always more to soak in. Make sure your ego doesn’t prevent an open mind and, of course, an open heart.