“I should have known the temperature would be cooler here,” I thought as I hunched lower, pushing my way through the headwind toward the water. Lifting my head briefly, full into the wind, I could see the rise about a half mile away – that’s where I was headed. I was hoping to get to the top in time to catch the sunset to the west over the river, and the moonrise to the east, behind me. I had calculated to be there in time, having left shortly after dismissal to make my way across the water and up to my vantage point between moonrise and sunset. They were to occur within thirty minutes of each other today.
I had been been ruminating on whether to make the trip all morning, but once I committed, my anticipation grew with each passing hour. Although I had no one to accompany me, I was excited to go, nonetheless. I wanted this day to be different. After all, how often does the advent of spring and the rise of a super moon coincide? Hardly ever, as far as I could tell. I was going to do my best to honor two momentous occasions that Mother Nature was offering today.
Pressing into the bluster, I reached the base of the incline near the water’s edge, and climbed quickly to the top. The wind was considerably stronger at this altitude. Turning north, I pushed forward, the chill buffeting my layers. I went on, glancing upward at the threatening haze in the waning light.
As the temperature continued to drop and the sky grew increasingly overcast , I realized that my reason for trekking here tonight was not meant to be. The view of sunset and moonrise was slipping through my fingers as quickly as the clouds were rolling in. Even so, making the trip across the river had earmarked this day as unique. Just being here – on the High Line in Lower Manhattan – had made it a day set apart.
I paused on the path, once an abandoned railway track, now embraced by silhouettes of trees – and took in the sights around me. I was one story up, on a nearly-two-mile-long suspended, forested walkway directly above the busy streets of Manhattan. I squinted across the Hudson River at the coastline of New Jersey due west. “Home,” I thought, and probably time to make way way back there, before nightfall.
I didn’t get to see the super moon rise over Manhattan, nor did I catch the sunset over the eastern shore of New Jersey. I had hoped it would work out just so, but sometimes the best moments are completely different from those originally planned for. This was still one that will be with me for a long time. The day I crossed the river to the city, ushering in my fifty-ninth spring.
Last year we tried earning a pizza, but lost it at the eleventh hour because of a serious transgression.
We tried earning free time on Friday but rarely got it.
We tried extra recess to expend energy, but they fought often, which sometimes necessitated going back in.
We tried charts, stickers, prizes, and emails…
We limped ourselves to the end of the year and finished with a concerted “flop,” having worn each other out, completely.
This year, I have the same group of students and everything is different.
I don’t need to dangle a “carrot on a stick.”
We don’t need a pizza party.
We don’t need extra recess for decompression.
We don’t require stickers or prizes.
In fact, we don’t require group incentives at all.
This year, we meditate.
We meditate for five minutes at the start of every math class, and that has changed everything.
The transformation is nearly miraculous because the current situation qualifies as a veritable perfect storm – ripe for failure – for a group of students whose default mode can be impulsivity and stirring the pot. Mostly boys, they come to my resource room for the last two periods of the morning; a double math period that is sandwiched diabolically between specials class and lunch. By this time, they have been following directions, listening, and producing for almost 4 hours, and the only thing standing between them and recess+food – is me.
Despite these tremendous odds, we get two full periods of math in every day without incident, and enjoy ourselves in the process. I almost always send them off to lunch with a “Good job today, guys! I’ll see you for science later on. Well done!”
Meditation and mindfulness.
From the start of class the children enter a darkened room lit only by the soft glow of strands of white lights hanging on the wall behind them. They hand in their homework and sit at their desk or table and lower their heads down on folded arms, usually choosing to close their eyes, sinking into softly playing music in the background. Almost immediately they begin to quiet and I begin – inviting them to pause their day, inviting their bodies to relax and their minds to be somewhere else, or nowhere at all.
One day they are jellyfish floating on the sea, their cares and worries sliding down their tentacles, rippling away on the ocean swells.
Another day they draw a mind castle and explore it, room by room.
Another day they find a rainbow and lay beneath it, noticing the bands of color arching over them, each one representing a positive quality within themselves.
Yesterday they sent a golden glow of kindness from their heart to someone they thought might need extra care, imagining that person surrounded by the soft light of love, from them.
And so it goes.
The meditation draws to a meandering close and the children gently wiggle their fingers and toes, bringing their awareness back to the room. Floating their eyes open, they settle in to the lesson just before lunch, quiet, calm, focused.
Through this interlude, they experience the notion that handling emotions and behavior is a simple matter of going inside to a place that is peaceful, safe, and accessible, wherever they are.
In solidarity to our Irish roots, my siblings, cousins, and I sent St. Patrick’s Day wishes via text all day yesterday, accompanied by assorted jokes, favorite Irish ballads, love songs, and drinking songs. We are scattered over the northeast coast now, but on March 17th we at least manage to be together in spirit on the day that reminds of of our roots.
I grew up in a family of eight, and my father’s two sisters had 12 kids between the two of them. Eighteen grandchildren from three progeny was probably the greatest legacy left by Tom and Mary Dillon, two young Irish immigrants who stepped ashore at Ellis Island by way of a ship called The Cedric.
They left with little and lived to have little more, even here. They never owned a car or a home, and my Dad – the youngest of the three – slept in the unheated attic of the tiny two bedroom cottage in upstate New York. Despite outward appearances that would have one assume otherwise, there was always laughter in that house. For them, life wasn’t much about what you had – it never was. It was about more than that. Of course it was always about getting by, but it was also about religion, music, stories, laughter, and family. As their grand daughter, I grew up in an Irish Catholic family too, so I thought that our family was the way every family was. It was in adulthood that I realized that there are things that are very important to us that came from our Nana and Bop (May and Tom), and the country from whence they came.
Stories. Stories are very important to us. Good stories, and good story-telling. Several of my siblings are among the best storytellers I know.
Laughter. Laughter is sacrosanct. That is mostly what we try to do – make each other laugh. When we are together, laughter is the unspoken benchmark with which we measure a good time – the more, the better.
Religion. Say no more.
Music! Lots of it, all kinds of it, and songs to sing, especially. I think that many of us are our happiest when singing a song. Around a piano or a guitar? Even better!
The drink – of course! Like every Irish family, it’s big part of our culture. Also like every Irish family, some of us can partake, and others best not. That’s just the way it is.
Food? – Eh! Not so much. Back in the day, “boil the bejesus out of it” was the standard mantra for cooking everything, but after all of the above, who cares!
So here’s to the Irish!
As my brother Tom said yesterday, their love songs are sad and their fightin’ songs are happy.
For whatever the reason, I’m glad I’m one of them.
These words from Lewis Carroll – most appropriate in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – were brilliantly displayed in the studio at the yoga teacher’s reunion that I had the good fortune to attend yesterday.
Alice’s statement resonates resoundingly with yoga philosophy. As our asana instructor reminded us, yoga is far less about the poses (for which it is most famous) and far more about relationships. Transforming relationships to self, to others, and to the divine (whatever that may mean to each individual).
The word yoga means to yoke.
It’s purpose is to “yoke” mind, body, and spirit so that the practitioner becomes wholly integrated – the intended version of themselves – to better fulfill their purpose on earth.
The poses during asana practice are a metaphor , or “practice” for life. What is uncomfortable on the mat prepares me for what is uncomfortable in life. Stretches on the mat equip me for the times I need to stretch myself in life. Perseverance on the mat translates to stamina in real life. Honoring my limitations on the mat invites me to respect boundaries in life. Small victories on the mat serve to buoy me in life as well.
I was warned when I started this journey that it would change my life slowly, over time.
Easeful body, peaceful heart, useful life.
Yoga teaches that most obstacles I face are in my mind alone. When I push myself on the mat, I can do a little more of that in life, too. When I am mindful of my thoughts on the mat, I can be mindful of them in life, too.
Stepping off the mat and back into life, I am transformed.
I am not who stepped onto the mat at the beginning of practice.
Everything about me makes sense when I think of myself as a rabbit.
I am grounded, quiet, observant, quick moving, and a good listener. These are a few strengths.
I am also easily threatened, reactive, hesitant to speak up, and adverse to exposure. These are among my challenges.
To my community, I contribute an eye for detail, a listening ear, a grounded perspective, and cautious judgement.
From the community, I need a chance to be heard, a better sense of the bigger picture, a safe space, and not be preyed on by aggressors.
In your classroom, school, or family, think of your students, colleagues, and family members.
Which animal do they see themselves as? What are their strengths, weaknesses, contributions, and needs?
Who are the turtles? They offer strength and stability, but do they have voice in your space?
Who are your eagles? They offer perspective of the big picture, but are they soaring solo without a sense of stability?
What about the rabbits? They are very perceptive, but are they too threatened to speak?
And your wolves? They are assertive, but are they taking over?
It can be a jungle out there, but it doesn’t have to be.
These lenses offer an enlightened snapshot of the gifts, challenges, contributions, and needs that each person brings to our community table. Having first experienced them at a yoga certification training, I have reaped their benefit in balancing small groups, arranging classroom seating plans, and planning discussion group rosters for adult retreats.
Wouldn’t it be helpful if we knew this much about each other from the start?