Now: Mindfulness in Children

14721564_1801597840129204_3415128670002018220_n60 eyes are closed around the room showing respect for self and others. Deep breaths inhaled and as the exhale is released so is a bit of stress from earlier in the morning. Thoughts of love fill the room, a complete shift. Peace. All agitations from earlier are washed away, opening up my core to receiving that love as well.  The innocent are shifting my energy as I stroll among them.

As a teacher we wear many hats. On any given day they may vary from guardian to  guide, cheerleader to caregiver,   nurse to counselor, and comedian to disciplinarian. On those days that I tend to need just a moment, a chance to feel human- all hats are required on deck.

It is 9:00 am-Students and parents alike fill my hemisphere with questions and callings of “Ms. Carolyn” ring in the air just as my computer screen breaks. 5 minutes and counting before 30 students will grace my presences ready to learn about mindfulness and the practice of meditation, and I am the opposite of zen. My ears are ringing with words that at that moment sound of simple noise, my mind is cluttered with how am I going to get the music to play, and my body is racing out the door to meet the students who patiently wait in the hall. My stressfilled smile invites them in and ask that they sit nicely as I run to find another computer… and take the 30 seconds needed to clear my mind.

An open-heart conversation began our practice. Discussing the past, present, and future- using visuals to show how much we miss in life if we are constantly in the past (at Spanish class) or in the future (at snack). We talked about when we are constantly in the present we always get to the future without missing anything along the way. As we talked my own feelings of frustration and “overwelmedness” began to wither away.

Meditation: the act of calming the mind and connecting to the true Self.

Magic: Thirty 1st and 2nd graders sitting quietly fully connecting to self.

The breath, our vital connection to life. Seeing the rainbow rise from the grown to the top of their head and releasing through the front of their body back into the ground. Imagining their balloon filing with air and very slowly deflating as they release all worry from their bodies.

Our last minutes were spent on “Love”. Feeling, thinking, imagining and filling the room with this healing force. That is when it shifted. My hats were removed. All of them. Accept the one of passion where everything I adore and believe came rushing into the space. Where my best practices and most proud teaching came into play and I felt alive.

A circle: the shape of connectivity-oneness.  Hands stacked on top of each other, words of gratitude feel the air, shared compliments to our friends and self while feeling the community build in the room- our closing to a mindful practice.

A closing to the feeling of frustration that welled up within me throughout the morning. An opening to receiving the love that filled the classroom and came from near and far.

And now we entered the new present, and they are off to snack time…

 

 

Then: LUVStock

270315_709964573568_368949_n
The teacups still turned with the assistance of the man powered wheel, the lotus flower paintings  graced the faces of the boulders scattered throughout the property, and the pirate ship still swung, although the safety aspect was questionable at best.

This mystical fairyland became my paradise that first year in Taiwan. Many nights were spend surrounded by calming energies, mindful conversations, and individuals willing to share a piece of their journey with me in order to collaborate themselves into the scrapbook that is my life.

LUVStock was my first encounter with this story worthy place.  Facestalking and Googling “Events Around Taiwan” allowed me to find this weekend festival in the mountains, in what appeared to be a broken down amusement park (The Refuge). The images that graced my presences involved ones of adults looking like children with their smiles lighting up every aspect of the camera’s frame. Dancing, music, food… cool looking people- sold. Knowing that Kelli had been to The Refuge many times before means she would be the perfect accomplice to this adventure. As this became the main focus of my daydreams from the plane’s take off in Kentucky to landing in Taipei and all days that followed until the festival.

The morning of LUVStock I knew perfect “hippie ware” must be chosen. Now looking back I smile. How hard I tried to express myself through the material that covered by body that now seems to choose itself for me each morning. Letting go of trying means falling into self, but for that day it meant overplanning.  A green tank and an abundance of patterned squares from the 1970s drapped my lower half- a perfect mix of appropriate, expressive, and  easy-going. Simple anxieties and excitements waltzed through my mind until I finally threw a bunch of extra” just incase”  clothing in my backpack and headed down stairs to join the others. Lauren (my roommate), Kelli, and I were off for a night of unexpected adventures.

The energy completely shifted as we drove up into the mountains. Any nervousness of the unknown faded away – pure excitement and life rushed in. As we walked down the steep hill to enter this land everything in me changed. I found home. Before even seeing it, I knew this place would be a sanctuary where I could go and self-discover.  The fires roared, the people swayed, the music calmed, then excited. Booths filled with exotic clothes from around South East Asia, India and Nepal, and the smells of the food took me around the world in a matter of seconds. I was in love- with a place, a feeling- a life that had just begun, and me. I loved how real I felt in that moment. I got it, even for just a moment… what “feeling like yourself” truly was.

The night was spent exploring in the dark. Curiosity welling within, questions of what this place could possibly look like in the daylight.  Eating, looking around, becoming a bit overwhelmed, then not, were the first stages of our night.  When the night could not get any better the pool arrived and it was as if quicksand brought me into a trans that ended when the night did. Something as simple as dancing in a pool. Yes, a pool. Some people turn pools into skateparks, LUVStock prefers community dance garden.

Feeling the vibrations bounce off the walls, and breaking by laying in the water slide looking up at the starts, I promised myself I would not forget. That moment. That feeling. The movement that started within me.  That night also brought Jessie into my life who would end up being a 2 year travel buddy and forever friend.  Jessie’s and my stories continue up rocky cliff faces, Friday night bouldering, weekend morning bunches, and treehouse adventures in Laos, but I thank that first night. The one where I met my Taiwanese sister, a gift among many produced in those few hours.

Exhaustion took over at the end of the night, but running within me was pure light. Light that would shine brighter with each night The Refuge took me in and has continued to burn deeper within me even to this moment and far beyond..

 

Now: Reflection

It’s like anything else. I fight it until I finally let it engross me. Only then am I taken away. A desire to be fully present.  To be one with the vastness that surrounds me… yet I am consumed by an eagerness for the next challenge that will come rolling my way.

Out by myself with my ego aside, allowing the reteaching process to be one of enjoyment, not competition. A bit of frustration arises from the knee that continues to kiss the board no matter how kindly I will it not too. Knowing that with more days like today that habit will quickly be broken.

Sitting… feet dangled in the water. Fingers dance along the surface as the water sits calm. Sending selfless gratitude for the encouragement to find this love again. A constant in my life: this moment of reflection where the addiction returns and the song “uno mas” rings in my ears.

~Surf
12540570_1650216718578479_2270525755782470070_n

 

Now: Universe’s Laughable Lessons

8767839_origTuesday afternoons- the one day that I am liberated from the duty of after school activities. Don’t get me wrong, I take much pleasure in the swim lessons and especially the Meditation and Mandala class, but to have one night to myself… As if freedom arrives as soon as the last child dances joyfully out the door. The meetings and Halloween dance practices do not count- as they are gentle in comparison. Tonight was going to be all about me. A trip to the grocery store, a quiet French lesson accompanying my cup of tea in my decently clean apartment-pure perfection ahead.

As dance class ends I skip my way home as visions of me time danced in my head. I ran inside with just enough time to drop off the aftermath of a long day and swim lessons to turn around and head out again.

Passing the glow red gas can that sings “I am a good idea”, yet I think to myself I am not yet at emergency level.. it can wait until tonight… and off I go.

At the end of the road a kind soul waits… I offer to pick her up as an  uncountable number of people have done for me in the last years. She was a bit farther than the grocery store I was so ecstatic to go to, but that didn’t matter. Every time I had needed a ride and someone took me all the way home it changed my whole day. Seeing the beauty in such a simple act was a favor I would love to repay at any opportunity. As we drove I found out that she is one of the owners at the new chocolate factory that is walking distance to my school. Fate was on my side and the joy of “the simple things in life” continued to well up within me. As we drove and chatted I thought to myself “yes my gas looks low, but a kind act for another surely will work in my favor..”

At that moment the Universe giggled and I drove on my way. After a hug and a see you soon I dropped off my new acquaintance, headed to the fruit stand, grocery store and was quickly on my way back –quiet harmony awaiting me.

As I drove I thought of my blog. How I would write about the magic I had encountered the night before with Ana, a soul sister that was sent to me as a reminder of our most perfect gift-the breath. How I would share all the balance and simplicities that have made me so incredibly grateful these last few weeks.  How I have love in my life that bring vibrations of joy, pure connectedness, and simplistic gratitude to my soul each time I look at the clock and see 11:11. These were the thoughts that crossed my mind as….I… revved… the… gas… and… it … came.. to ………. a……………dead hault.

I laughed.

I am daydreaming of lessons learned, as I look around and find pure darkness on a abnormally tight fit road surrounding me. It’s okay though… I am a genius… I bought a cell phone JUST for moments like this… AND I brought it with me!

In one quick very proud moment I whip out my phone ready to call JT in order to be laughed at, and get a ride. Swiping my screen I saw a message with two words that brought me down to reality… pin number. Ahh yes, that thing on the card in the box at home. Well at least I “thought” about entering the number before leaving home. It’s the thought that counts, right?

So as I am.. at that moment.. pushing my bike out of the way… hopeful after all the pick ups I have had before. As the minute hand wondered on, I watch cars quickly drive pass me without a care in the world. Freedom at their fingertips… and me with breathing techniques and a smile.

I like the Universe’s sense of humor! After a while and a look of desperation crosses my face, two kind individuals offer me a ride back to school where only one more challenge awaits.  I now need to connect civilization to my campus through walking down the moonless, black road with it’s “sometimes” snakes, tarantula, scorpions, and other  beautiful Costa Rican’s miracles.

The night ended with my saving grace, JT, picking me up and taking me to my car… after giving me a bit of hell of course. Once arriving at home I couldn’t help but smile. I felt as if I am so connected to all that is around me. By asking (consciously and subconsciously) for lessons to help me practice what I so deeply believe- I am finding growth and appreciation. I have balance in these moments and found that breathing just a tad deeper kept all panic and frustration at bay.

Merci univers pour cours d’amour de soi et pratique personnelle!

Then: The Building of Glass Walls

401660_799881070188_2031822475_nLet me tell you about a relationship. One in which each day I felt as if I was walking on glass, for fear of making a crack that shattered into more criticism and disapproval . Yet… I loved and fought-silently until I won the battle.

 

Every story has two sides, and this is mine. I am not writing to denounce this individual, that is not my intention. She did however challenge me in ways I never knew possible. One’s that taught me lessons of strength, holding my tongue, letting words go, and looking at life as a whole to find happiness, even when the workplace was my glass house. To her I am forever grateful. The struggle allowed me to be here, in this moment, knowing that I am on the right path– and her challenges helped to get me here.

In my suitcase, there was a leaf. A big leaf-  a canopy- ready to grace the presence of my new reading corner.  The Greenhouse: a place to grow your brain and expand your imagination. Excitement poured out of every cell of my being. An anticipation to see those encouraging faces that were introduced to me at the job fair. My boss. A woman I knew would be there for me every step of the way. To support, encourage, and praise my enthusiasm and hardwork. She would love this leaf. She was going to adore the tree I was preparing to create with handprints that would welcome the class to the reading corner. Ohhh and the “Grow Your Brain” cheer– that would win her over too. When she saw me in action, I would be told that I am doing a great job, a superstar first year teacher- the conscious and subconscious desire of every newbie.

The year began and I was “On Top of the World” (thank you Imagine Dragons for my daily theme song). Wearing the tie-dye shirt with my flowing turquoise skirt (a bit of a contradiction to the business suit I was hired in) that danced as I sang and pranced my joyous way around the staff office.  The song of “Good morning, isn’t it the most beautiful day.” rang from my lips daily. I was in a new country. I had a beautiful class that although scared of me and didn’t speak a lick of English were charming me with their tear filled smiles. A new group of friends that like me had just graduated university and where experiencing this life for the first time. Everything seemed perfect…

And it was… except for the fact that I quickly learned my Suzy Sunshine attitude and bright spirit was not encouraged in a public setting such as the staff office. I started to feel as if I was a burden an annoyance of some sort to all that surrounded. As I continued to go about my ways, living bubbly and loving life I reverted my focus to my students. The dancing, singing, and charisma continued, and this was enough to fill me up in a way that made each day still as lovely.

With any traveling story, there is a moment or a mark where the honeymoon stage begins to wither and reality kicks in. Normally around the 3 month mark, and it quickly passes like any storm, but that first lightning bolt is always a bit shocking. Mine came the day of my first observation.

The morning was filled with tears as I felt I was having trouble adapting to all that was new in my life. The friendship, work environment, distance all seemed difficult on this particular day, yet I still had to perform. I gave my boss fair warning of my situation and then was ready to do exactly what I ask of my students.. I would “try my personal best”.  Well.. I bombed it… in every sense of the word. I knew it from that first moment. As I choked on each word while trying to steady my voice and my hands I felt the book drop. I shook, couldn’t grasp the pages, or my thoughts for that matter. The next 30 minutes trampled on as if eternity was as the end of this road.

Relief rushed through me as the lesson came to an end and I was able to self-evaluate. Considering I am and will always be my toughest critique I knew this evaluation would be exceptionally easy- nothing but progress could be made. I warned my evaluator of my “bombingness” and without acknowledgement she said that she would see me in her office at our scheduled meeting time.

At that moment the walls of my workplace went from an indestructible concrete to a transforming of easily broken glass.

Our meeting was not a meeting, but a learning session. Yet after much thought and time put into my self-evaluation it was quickly dismissed and not one glance was given as it was her truth that was shared.  Other than the fact that I was made to feel that I am disorganized, unprepared, and overall a waste of space to the teaching community, there are two phrases that particularly shook my world and brought tears to my eyes.

I am destroying the children’s learning. I am insulting the Taiwanese culture.

Yep… those two got to me. I tried to stay strong as I knew this was not my best performance, but when I was told doing group work sitting in a circle on the floor was showing a complete disrespect to the Taiwanese culture… I lost it. The water works began and I was told not to cry…

I asked to speak about my self-evaluation. I was told there was no need. At that moment I knew that no matter the age of a child or adult that I would never adapt this approach as my own. One of negativity where I was not acknowledged of my honesty in the self-evaluation or a discussion was not had about how I could better myself. We are all here to better ourselves.. to find our true selves.

Sometimes our lessons are simply of what not to do… and this was the lesson found here. I did not know at that moment that each second that passed a wall was being built, yet at that same moment my growth as a person was being structured in the most beautiful form of myself.

This was the beginning of a year compliments being overwritten yet “constructive criticisms” were forever present… until the very end… when I won this battle… but that is still a year away…

Now: Social Media, an Internal Battle

Writing about social media, on a social media platform- a perfect example of the complexities that rack my brain at this precise moment. The fascination- that words, pictures, videos on a screen can change the mood and outlook of an individual in a split second. How checking a devise becomes an addiction, and the obsession with other peoples’ drama is now a social norm.

Dear Facebook,

My fingers are automatically programmed to type in the “fa” upon arrival to Google Chrome. The  enter button is so quickly pressed my brain did not even have time to catch up, and before I know it I am completely engrossed in a world that is not my own.  I scroll and scroll looking for … I honestly don’t know what. The newest, latest and greatest quote from Spirit Science, what my friends did over the weekend, the best and most natural way to cure a disease,  or what amazing waves were present recently and who was the rockstar that caught them. At times I give you the power to completely change my mood. I let what I see get in my head and and mesh into stories of untruths in order to cause unnecessary drama and anxieties in my life. The same effect is true when binge watching trashy girly TV shows.. except this time I know the people. I take their life and put it as my own. I shift from just seeing what is happening to adapting it into my reality, but this is not my reality…  it is just information on a screen. It is not real.

These  moments-the “I love you” card passed from the hands of a timid new student on her first day into my own, the thoughts of kindness and feeling of the air hug received from Nicaragua- are authentically mine.

 

Dear Instagram,

You have now become a part of my reality. I fought it. When I accepted an account my fingers felts as if they were filled with cement, fighting that moment I became even more “connected”. As I slowly maneuvered my way to the sign-in button I officially accepted a new addiction. My mind was racked with the rules and limitations I would put on myself so that I would not become engrossed in just one more form of screen time.  I would not take selfies, I would not use  hashtags– I would, I would not, I would, I would not… labeling, restricting myself… when in reality like any media platform it is solely about INTENTION.

I find that I am aware of how much of MY time is screen time, but I also am taken back to being mindful of all that is beautiful, any moment that could be captured by a lens  and shared with others. I have found a love for writing never discovered before and  gone back to my love of photography, but on a more daily realm.

My soul sister reminded me that if my intention is true my spirit will shine through in these platforms. I wanted to fight it (Instagram), I did, but I find that sharing my story and looking to truly connect with others through words or the life of my lens is what is real. Hearing feedback so far especially from those I love most washes away any doubt or worry I have. Those restrictions are broken and intention returns as the main focus.

I feel grateful for this opportunity, this life, and the reminder to be mindful and keep my purest intentions at the forefront of my mind… even when the scrolling of the addictive screen is lurking in my midst… 🙂

 

 

Then: Om Nashi Me

That little silver Taiwanese car might have been old and a bit rinkidy, but the spirits and song that filled the car where on fire. Tears of missing coming from the driver’s eyes, wonder coming from the eyes of the passenger, and in the backseast a girl sat in awe of her new life. Her eyes as wide as the ocean she just crossed. That ride, that one song, a moment filled with emotion shining clearly in my mind.

As a somewhat stalker I found Kelli on Facebook before I began teaching in Taichung, Taiwan. I knew the girls from the job fair, but Kelli kind of looked like me, or at least the me I would like to portray. On Cornel’s website she looked like the “hippiest” of all the teachers and that was enough for me- instant friends. So as I began to Facebook her with messages of “I swear this is not weird I just would love to learn about life in Taiwan and the school” a friendship formed. One that to this day I am very grateful for and in the short month we were together she opened the doors that paved the way for the next year.

Kelli is a beaming soul that brings joy to the lives of everyone lucky enough to come into her presence. I knew when we met that she was going to not only be a friend but a guide, a teacher, into this new world of living- one outside of the comforts of the box that I had only known. This world that I had grown up in was one of more love than anyone could possibly wish for. I had everything I ever wanted and needed and more support and protection than I feel most have in a lifetime. I was also given wings- the greatest gift my parents ever gave me, and with those wings I chose to fly.

When you begin to fly- you fear falling. When I met Kelli I did not so much fear falling as I wanted to fly higher… and fast. I wanted to know all there was about her life. I wanted to ride a scooter around the country, sleep for nights in a hammock remote from the rest of the world, take buses to locations I could not pronounce and meet people that left stories in my mind and imprints in my heart. Now looking back this was the first of many examples of: I asked, I received.

Kelli was only in Taiwan another month, so on her last weekend we went up to see Alumi and his family- her adopted Taiwanese family.  I had no idea when getting in the car that morning that this day would check off the “day to go down in history” on my internal checklist.

The mountains glowed in an aqua green that is only visible in Southeast Asia, where the mountains sing their song of joy that the rain is still present. We stopped on the way to take in all the beauty and appreciate that moment offered. I was in the presence of two people that had mastered this ability (Kelli and her brother, Ryan). I looked around in awkward awe. This feeling of “I really appreciate this moment, but I am thinking so much… what’s next, wait… body… mind… quiet- let’s take this all in… should I take a picture.” Lucky for me Ryan is big into photography so he snapped the moment and we hopped back in the car and headed on our way. We were going to her adopted families house. A Taiwanese family that spoke little to no English… to spend the day. I was WAY out of my comfort zone, but I said I wanted to live the experience, so I must try the experience.

Upon arriving at Alumi’s I was speechless of how these three individuals could so openly welcome me into their family in a matter of seconds. We ate, laughed, loved, and explored each other’s cultures and lifestyles. I watched the interaction they had with Kelli and I knew that she was truly part of their family- the people she chose to have in her life and love deeply. Gifts, tears, and many hugs were exchanged as they shared their last moments together before Kelli headed back to the States.  Sandy (their daughter) on the other hand was too busy to be sad. She felt the need to initiate the new girl into her family by forms of trickery. Coming up to me with her sweet smile and a cherry tomato in her hand for the garden . As if offering me a welcome gift, she slipped that little red ball into my hand and encouraged that I eat it all at the same time. Her angelic face covered up that moment of devilish ways as I bit into the most intense and deathly hot pepper my mouth has ever experienced. We fell into a wrestling match, and at that moment she became my sister.

Through seeing Kelli’s interactions with the family, I became a bit envious and so badly hoping that my journey here would entail something as beautiful. Not knowing that I again I was manifesting my path.

On the way back, the car was silent. Not an awkward silent, but more thoughtful.  Kelli shed quiet tears as the thoughts of her amazing journey crossed her mind, and pure appreciation of all that her life has given her. Ryan sat in the front see overlooking the most spectacular view wondering where his next adventure would take him, as his wanderlust was far from finished, and I sat in the backseat manifesting my dreaming of my future experiences with Alumi and the family-one  that would eventually bring them to a week in the United States with my parents. That is when a magical moment happened. One that brings tears of pure appreciation to my eyes every time I go back to those three minutes.

While riding high up in the mountains in peaceful gratitude a song starts… no not a song, the most breathtakingly beautiful pattern of sounds that can ring in these human ears- Om Nashi Me. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros created a song that changed my life and touched my soul. That moment I sat unable to think, move, breath- the only comprehensive feeling I had was “There is not place in this world I would rather be than here in this moment.” A “song” changed everything. It brought life, promise, adventure, future all into my life. I so desperately held onto that moment. One where I was alive- every cell of my body could feel, was balanced, dancing…

In that moment I could fly.

And my wings were only beginning to spread…