Just Stop It: I Can’t Take the Pain Anymore!

August 15, 2019

Just Stop It: I Can’t Take the Pain Anymore!

Do you remember this video?  [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ow0lr63y4Mw] In this comic spoof, Bob Newhart, a comedian, plays the role of a therapist whose advice was to simply “stop” doing the behavior that each of his clients came to him complaining about.

When I first saw this video, I laughed until I cried. I thought how great would this be if we could just have people “stop” doing the behavior that caused them and others pain and suffering.    I even tried it out on myself and a few of the students I work with….  Of course, it didn’t work… It only created more aggravation among all of us.

As humans, we don’t choose to “just stop” the behaviors that cause us pain and suffering.  Rather than stopping the harmful behaviors, Brene Brown explains that we often make it worse by choosing behaviors that numb our pain or allow us to escape from our pain.  And as Professor Brown suggests, we can’t selectively numb, so we end up numbing what brings us joy as much as we numb what causes us pain.  And when whatever we did to numb or escape our pain wears off or ends, we awaken to find that our pain and suffering is still present.

Every day, I awaken to feelings of pain and suffering; I also awaken to feelings of great joy and happiness.  They exist in my life side by side, ebbing and flowing throughout the day.  Almost every day, I sit across from students who are also in pain (emotionally and physically), and they also see the joy in their life.

Antonio Damasio (a neuroscientist at University of Southern California) suggests that human emotion plays a role in how they behave, whether they are aware of it or not.  In other words, our emotions play a role in regulating how we make decisions, whether we are aware of our emotions or not.  If we can learn how to turn toward our emotions with kindness and grace (and we can learn how to do this – just ask Jon Kabat-Zinn and Kristin Neff), then we can become more aware of our feelings and sensations, offer self-compassion for our experience, instead of avoiding them and having them run our lives without our knowing.

Yes, this training process is unpleasant and it isn’t fast, but with the guidance of professionally trained teachers, it is doable. It is a process of training attention to my life as it is, noticing sensations, breathing to soothe the physiological exacerbations of those lived experiences, and gently inquiring into what I am experiencing. And as I begin to inquire into the experience I am having … not in some morbid, sadistic manner – but with kindness, curiosity, compassion, and patience, I can then loosen the hold the pain has on me so that I can make empowered choices that are in alignment with what I want to co-create in the world with others.  This decision to move away from “just stopping it” to exploring what “it” really is anyway and what “it” has to teach me and how I might transmute “it” opens up new possibilities to see something that I couldn’t see before.

The powerful part of this practice is that asI learn to be with my own pain and suffering, I can also be with others.  I can listen to what I couldn’t hear before.  I can notice defensiveness or anger arising and ask what is behind it, feeling what I am feeling, while I listen to another describe how my behavior created something that was other than empowering for them.  This creates new opportunities for new choices and new possibilities for us to move forward creating something different than we had experienced before.  How empowering and inspiring is that?

I am still learning this practice of being with my own pain and with others’ pain in inquiry and with compassion, but there is the benefit.  Being able to be with my own pain and others’ (albeit emotional or physical) allows us to also enjoy the positive aspects of our lives.  It also allows us to see solutions and different ways to approach alleviating the pain – if at all possible.  If I just numb my pain and invite others to do the same (or worse, ignore it), there is no solution in that.  Nothing changes… business as usual…Yuck!

We are in a lot of pain (emotional and physical) in this country that I love so dearly.  As a woman wearing white skin, I am horrified by the atrocities that are caused in the name of the color of my skin.  And I am heart-broken that I can’t fix that pain and suffering.  I can’t “just stop” the behavior that is tearing us apart. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do anything.

There are so many people in indescribable pain who want to be heard.  I can’t become a part of the solution until I learn about that which underlies the problem. My job is to train myself to be able to turn toward my own pain and the pain of others with kindness, without judgment, and with large doses of compassion, so I can hear them in their pain and be with mine as well.  And this is done with a genuine desire to alleviate their pain without harm to anyone.  This is a path to my becoming a part of the problem-solving team,especially when my behavior or someone who looks like me has caused the pain.  My colleagues, friends, and family reading this know I don’t do this well all the time. Sometimes my own pain is so loud, I can’t hear theirs. Sometimes my own pain becomes so loud, I have to care for myself before I can listen. This is a part of the process as well.  I am still learning and practicing.

Many humans experience significant pain at the hands of others who are in pain – and they may experience that pain just because of the color of their skin, their gender, their religion, their sexual orientation, their disability, I can go on and on and on… My grandparents moved to this country because they believed that here, in this country, everyone, regardless of what they looked like would be heard and would be given a genuine opportunity to thrive, to live in peace, prosperity, and happiness.  I never got to meet my grandparents, but I am holding onto their belief.  And every day, I am asking how I need to be, which I believe will inform what I need to do to make it a reality.

My role in creating this opportunity is to allow space for students, colleagues, friends, and family to show up as human – not creating excuses – but rather, giving permission to be human.  As such, I must practice taking care of my own emotion in a way that allows me to hear theirs.  I strongly believe that THIS is the place where we will find something different than what we have currently created.

How can we, each day, embrace the challenge of being human without marginalizing or normalizingthe pain experienced by those who are different than us?  How can we learn to regulate our own pain so that we can hear and be with the pain of others as we do our work?

If you are reading this post and saying, “it is not my job to be with other’s pain,” then I encourage you to “just stop it.” Each one of us has a role in healing this country.  If we learn to allow the space to be with our own pain and allow others to be with theirs with compassion and grace, then we just might learn something different from each other, we just might hear and see a shred of the solution. We might also discover how to be with what brings us alive and gives us joy as we co-create something different than what we have today.

 

Marilee Bresciani Ludvik is Professor of Postsecondary Educational Leadership at San Diego State University.  She can be reached at mbrescia@mail.sdsu.edu

 

 

 

Addressing the “Lack of” Epidemic on American College Campuses

June 23, 2019

Addressing the “Lack of” Epidemic on American College Campuses

Marilee Bresciani Ludvik PhD

There is a growing epidemic on American college campuses.  Walk onto any college campus in the United States of America and you will encounter its symptomology almost immediately.  Within moments of greeting any human being and asking how they are experiencing their work, they will tell you they could do more or do better if only they had moreresources.  Chat with them long enough and you will discover the shared list alludes to their experiencing a lack of sleep,money for all sorts of things including their ability to pay their own bills, a lack of time to reflect, and a lack of systemic structures to support collaborative workin order to arrive at meaningful solutions needed to resolve social injustices, environmental violence, and to stimulate economic viability.  You will also hear the “lack of” conversation infiltrate any other dialogue that seeks to address the many other challenges we face as a nation and as global citizens.

The “lack of” resources dialogue on American college campuses is nothing new.  The “lack of” mentality afflicts all American higher education community members.  Over time, faculty, staff, administrators, and students (even the most positive among them) will turn their focus towards identifying with limitations that are steeped in the “not enough” quagmire. The “lack of” resources mentality is an epidemic that spikes alongside the tyranny of the urgent; its costs measured in the killing of human ingenuity, resilience, and vitality.

If this kind of “lack of” resources had an identifiable virus associated with it, the Center for Disease Control would register it as a plague that requires inoculation.  They might quarantine the area given how quickly the infection spreads.  No one would be able to step back on campus unless they were equipped with the appropriate infectious disease armored suit. If the extent of the human harm caused by the “lack of” resources was a result of Mother Nature’s actions, the government would issue a state of emergency and immediately allocate millions or perhaps billions of dollars of aid to those afflicted, send experts to design preventions for potential future reoccurrence, and commit to rebuilding the infrastructure so that well-being for all in the area could be- restored.

While the epidemic of “lack of” resources to do the job well is apparent in almost every aspect of each organization, the urgent response is not.

Why?

Is it because there is no evidence that we have a “lack of” resources?  Is evidence that human lives have been harmed as a result of our “lack of” problem nonexistent?  If there is evidence of a “lack of” resources, why have the metrics to improve time to degree and graduation rates within an environment of “not enough” been increased?  If there is a “lack of” resources, are ALL the members of our communities who secure more money for specific efforts within the institution getting a percentage of what they brought in as payment for their success?  And if so, why is the organization continuing to engage in activities that aren’t aligned with revenue flow?  If we do have a “lack of” resources, why are there so many constituents so deeply invested in ensuring that change occurs slowly or not at all?

If we don’t have a “lack of” resources, why is most everyone within the Academy acting as if we do?  Is the “lack of” mentality a plague with some unseen contagion influencing our way of thinking and being? And if it is, what is the treatment or the cure?

What if there is no “lack of” resources within higher education?  What if we are simply not organized in a way that has caused us to avoid investing in and subsequently leveraging the most precious resources of all – the human beings themselves?  What if we are ignoring investing in the internal resources of the human beings within the organization so that their skills and abilities can be identified and skillfully matched with wider community desired outcomes?  What if investing in the cultivation of human flourishing was the antidote to the “lack of” resources plague that has infected every college campus?

As leaders of every hierarchical level of the Academy, we do have a choice.  Do you want to continue to perpetuate the dialogue of “not enough” or do you want to have a different dialogue, which would then require correspondingly different actions?  The organizational transformation process that would invest in human flourishing by cultivating internal human resources is not a mystery.  What is a mystery is why we continue to celebrate and reinforce a “lack of” organizational mentality and daily choose to live within “not enough”; all the while witnessing (or contributing to) the violence to humanity that results.

Let’s cure this epidemic.  There are plenty of organizational behavior theories and prescencing practices (such as the mindful compassion practices found on this site) that can guide our way into organizational transformation; the ones that seem most relevant for discovering how to combat “not enough” mentality and live social justice are within our grasp.  We just have to commit to exploring them and then putting them into place one moment after another, all while embodying compassion for ourselves and each other as we fail, learn, and engage again.

 

 

 

 

 

Update on Our Work at Rushing to Yoga Foundation

 

 

May 23, 2019

Dear Colleagues,

How are you?  I trust this email finds you as well as can be.

We just wanted to let you know how much we appreciate your interest in the Positively Transforming Minds Curriculum.  We are honored to be joined by those of you who seek to integrate mindful compassion practices into higher education.  Thank YOU!

Many of you have already accessed the free book from the website https://rushingtoyoga.org/positively-transforming-minds-the-book/

And now, we want to share 5 other exciting updates with you.

  • As requested by our colleagues in Cameroon, the curriculum is currently being translated into French. Yes!!!! We hope to have that posted for your free download by mid-October 2019.
  • Available NOW (at your request) are the audios of the Positively Transforming Minds curriculum to utilize in your in- and out-of-class settings. You can access those for free here – https://rushingtoyoga.org/positively-transforming-minds-curriculum/
  • We are continuing our work with UNESCO and are honored to do so. Stay tuned for more research to come.  For now, we would love your opinion.  If you haven’t already done so, please take a moment to complete this brief questionnaire found at

https://sdsu.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_8DmUnf52rts7FyZ

  • Finally, we have more curriculum coming for you to adopt and adapt in your in- and out-of-class settings. If you need any assistance with curriculum design or evaluation/assessment design, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at rushingtoyoga@gmail.com
  • While we have concluded our Spring 2019 webinar series ( see https://rushingtoyoga.org/689-2/),we are in the midst of planning the fall 2019 series and welcome your engagement. Please email us at us at rushingtoyoga@gmail.comif you would like to contribute your expertise in a 20 minute webinar or share your insights via our blog https://rushingtoyoga.org/blog/

Thank you again for joining us on this journey and please don’t hesitate to let us know how we can be in service to you and your vision.

In joy,

Marilee and Carol

 

 

 

 

Looking Below the Surface to Improve

 

April 29, 2018

Looking Below the Surface to Close Achievement Gaps and

Improve Career Readiness Skills

 

Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Ph.D.

 

Abstract

 

While institutions have been investing in efforts to close achievement gaps, they still remain.  With a growing emphasis on data analytics, some institutions may discover additional interventions that will benefit students while others may simply reinforce past behavior and potentially increase achievement gaps. This manuscript utilizes emerging neuroscience to introduce malleable learning dispositions that align with desired career readiness skills.  In addition, this manuscript shares inquiry methodology that can help institutions ensure they are not creating more harm with the use of their data analytic strategies and potentially improving career readiness skills for all students.

 

 

Article

 

There has been a great deal of emphasis on using data analytics to close achievement gaps among varying identity groups and intersecting of identity groups as defined by persistence, graduation rates, and time-to-degree.  For some institutions, applying just in time academic and student support initiatives predicted as necessary by data analytics has been fruitful.  For other institutions, this approach may be less welcomed as it may not account for institutional leaders’ desire to understand individual students’ needs or to critically examine how well the institution is transforming its alleged historical deficit mindset.   Furthermore, using historically predictive analytics without an understanding of how those analytics intersect with students’ attainment of desired career readiness skills could potentially increase achievement gaps as opposed to decreasing them.    With increasing emphasis on preparing career readiness competencies such as social emotional intelligence, self-awareness, global citizenship, compassion, pro-social behavior, and lifelong learning skills and abilities, this manuscript seeks to offer a different lens through which to collect data in order to close achievement gaps while also ensuring optimal career readiness preparation.

 

In 2016 and 2017, a synthesis of learning and development research was published by the Institute of Educational Sciences and the National Academies of Sciences respectively.   In 2018, the National Academies of Sciences released another synthesis of research in a book entitled How People Learn II: The Science and Practice of Learning.  Within these manuscripts and this book, decades of research reported how malleable desired career readiness skills are and subsequently provided some ways in which they could be cultivated and assessed within in- and out-of-class educational settings.  What was also made clear in this book is that culture and context play an important role in understanding how people learn. “Learning does not happen in the same way for all people because cultural influences pervade development from the beginning of life” (p.22).  And while many scholars have been exploring the influence of internal and external influences on learning, the research is still in a nascent stage.

 

While there is no question that socio-cultural groupings of students and the intersection of socio-cultural groupings of students is illuminating achievement gaps across the country, there are many complications to identifying ways to improve learning and development based on socio-cultural groupings and the predictive metrics that accompany those conversations.  To quote from How People Learn II (NAS, 2018) “Research on genetic differences among population groups has established that there are not scientifically meaningful genetic differences among groups commonly identified as belonging to different races (Smedley and Smedley, 2005). It has long been recognized by social scientists that race is a social construction and that criteria for inclusion in a racial category or definition of particular groups as racial ones have varied over time (see, e.g., Figueroa, 1991; Kemmelmeier and Chavez, 2014; Lopez, 2006)” (p.24).  Furthermore, perspectives on what constitutes culture and how it relates to learning and development have changed over time thus further complicating data analytics.

 

Having said this, there are a number of studies that illustrate how culture plays a role in basic cognitive processes that help learners understand and organize the world, such as attention, memory and perception of self and others, as well as the cognitive processes that shape learning (Chua et al., 2005; Cole, 1995; Rogoff and Chavajay, 1995; Markus and Kitayama, 1991; Nisbett et al., 2001; Gelfand et al., 2011; Kitayama and Cohen, 2007; Kronenfeld et al., 2011; Medin and Bang, 2014; Segall et al, 1966).  Furthermore, students’ environmental experiences and personal choices change certain portions of their brains necessary for learning and development.  And since there is clear evidence that human beings have a wide variety of diverse environmental experiences and personal choices and that not all human beings have the same opportunities to learn and develop, neurodiversity is a fact that educators must contend with simply based on the variety of lived experiences each student has already had prior to matriculating to each institution.

 

Given that neurodiversity exists and its presence may not be easily identifiable by social groupings, how might we consider allowing for malleable learning dispositions (e.g., desired career readiness skills) that could be culturally constructed in order to ensure the closing of achievement gaps while also optimizing career readiness learning and development? To respond to this, let us consider the iceberg analogy of learning dispositions presented in Kuh et al (2018) and adapted here.  In Figure 1 below,  you see a list of several learning dispositions listed, underneath the surface of the water, where researchers have affirmed that educational environments can contribute to improving.  The understanding from cognitive, social, and emotional neuroscientists is that these dispositions are indeed malleable and the assumption is that it is our responsibility to cultivate these toward positive goal-oriented behavior such as degree attainment.  Furthermore, many of these learning dispositions map directly onto desired career-readiness skills expressed by employers.

 

Figure 1. Iceberg Analogy of Learning Dispositions

 

 

 

Figure 1 illustrates that many of our efforts to identify achievement gaps within our institutions rests in large part on the measurements of indicators listed above the water line.  Measurement tools such as tests, standardized exams, time-to-degree, and persistence are easy to gather measures.  And many current data analytic practices are seeking to understand students’ behavior as it correlates with or predicts these indicators.  That kind of data may be useful to many institutions, however, it neglects to account for a great deal of underlying conditions or learning dispositions that are known to contribute to easy to identify learning. These learning dispositions also tightly align with employer desired career readiness skills. How do we get at better understanding those, particularly given neurodiversity?

 

Figure 1 is presented in an iceberg analogy to showcase a portion of Otto Scharmer’s (2009) organizational behavior change Theory U.  In Scharmer’s organizational behavior change theory, leaders must conduct their own deep dive into understanding why their performance metrics are the way they are.  The deep dive process, illustrated in Figure 2, requires an understanding of patterns of past behavior, which data analytics can shed light upon.   However, understanding past patterns of behavior is not simply gathering data to identify a pattern, rather, according to Scharmer, the intention is to unearth the identification of deep-seated beliefs, values, mental models, and systemic structures to explain what informs the creation of those identified patterns of behavior.  Analyzing the systemic structures that contribute to the patterns of behavior involves awareness of the values, assumptions, and mental models that have shaped these behavior patterns.  As you can see by the model, this requires refraining from acting upon the easy to identify performance indicator data and instead, leveraging leaders’ increasing awareness brought about by intentional reflection to examine ways of being and doing that have caused their organizations’ past failures.  It is an exploration of the systems of belief, values, and attitudes that have informed policies, practices, and behavioral expectations which reside underneath the obvious question as to why the performance indicators might look the way they do.

 

 

Figure 2. Otto Scharmer’s Iceberg Model

 

Returning to Figure 1, if organizational leaders begin collecting data on how known malleable learning dispositions is cultivated in every individual and then compare those strategies within and across groupings and sub-groupings of individuals using pre- and post- assessment measures along with first-person direct self-report experience, then perhaps we can begin to better understand how organizational and individual context and culture influence easy to identity above the surface data.  Engaging in this kind of inquiry requires an investment of time to collaborate, design, and pilot evidence-based strategies known to cultivate learning dispositions.  It also requires evidence that can be meaningfully compared across groups. Thoughtfully  administered pre- and post- assessment measures across varying learning and development opportunities analyzed by various groupings and sub-groupings of students along with gathering individual students’ voices of their learning experience can signal to leaders what is working for whom, under what conditions, and why.  This kind of inquiry is likely not possible for many institutions under the current systemic structural assumptions that one size fits all and the assertion that assessing students’ learning and development is a waste of time.  It also may not be possible unless organizational leaders are really willing to think critically at how educational opportunities are designed and delivered and how those who contribute to expected learning and development are hired, on-boarded, provided with professional development to adopt and adapt learning science design and evaluation, and required to do this kind of work as a part of their employment contract.

 

There are a number of free, valid and reliable pre-and post-learning disposition/career readiness questionnaires and measures available to assess desired skills.  We refer to these as equity indicators because neuroscientists have reported that these are malleable skills but we don’t yet know how individual students’ lived experiences may have already cultivated these or whether they need to be cultivated within their higher education experience.  What we do know is that they are related to desired career-readiness skills and students’ ability to demonstrate what they do know and have learned.

 

As such, the time-consuming portion of this diving underneath the surface inquiry process is gathering meaningful student voice. Embedded reflective journal prompts, digital narratives, 360-degree evaluations, and thoughtfully constructed reflective student portfolios provide a wealth of data about students’ internal processes of meaning making.  While this type of inquiry is  time-consuming and that there is no such thing as more time, without organizational leaders gaining a deeper understanding of what is working well for whom via the use of pre-and post- learning disposition measures (e.g., equity measures), we can’t know where to allocate the precious resource of time and to whom and when.  Gathering pre-and post-learning disposition data along with first-person self-direct report of experience could ground dialogue for priority decisions around who needs something different than what we have been providing in order to succeed.  This is equity.

 

Figure 3 summarizes the context of this invitation to higher education administrators.  Neurodiversity exists; while there are some very real genetic and epigenetic differences in some students that influence their ability to learn and develop in expected ways, it remains a fact that not every human being is experiencing the same thing externally or internally in any given moment.  All of that is shaping each person’s ability to learn and develop even when the same opportunity for learning and development is provided.  Organizational and individual culture and context do matter when it comes to ensuring every student has an opportunity to achieve.  While we have historically offered one size fits allor one size fits this social group models to meet the increasing demand of access to education, we have plenty of evidence of not meeting expectations of employers for all students’ high achievement of career readiness skills. In order to fix this problem, we can look at historical data to see who is predicted to succeed in the one size fits all models in the hopes we can change students’ behavior or provide interventions that reinforce that historical behavior.  Or we can seek to better understand who our students are, how they are experiencing what we provide them, and do so in tandem with the measurement of the malleable learning and development skills employers want us to positively influence.  We can also understand how specific students acquisition of these skills is influencing their persistence, time-to-degree, cumulative GPA,  graduation rates and employability.  Without this type of evidence, we risk never searching below the easy to identify indicators in order to avoid reinforcing continued achievement gaps.

 

 

Figure 3. Educational Context for Equity

 

 

 

In closing, if  institutional leaders seek to ensure they are not perpetuating achievement gaps or inadvertently increasing them, and they also seek to assure the cultivation of malleable learning dispositions that ensure career readiness, then they may find it useful to respond to the following questions.

 

  • What malleable learning dispositions does our institution value?
  • How well do our valued learning dispositions map to our employers’ desired career readiness skills?
  • Where are we providing opportunities for these skills to be cultivated, how, and to whom specifically?
  • How are we gathering first-person direct self-report of these learning experiences from the students?
  • How are we collecting evidence that the desired learning disposition/career readiness skills were acquired?
  • How are we comparing this evidence gathered across social grouping and sub-groupings to identify how well the cultivation of these skills is allowing certain groupings and sub-groupings of students opportunities to achieve?
  • How is what we are learning from this evidence providing us with opportunities to re-think our mental models, beliefs, values, and behaviors around previously conceived notions for how all students succeed?
  • And how well are we using this data and dialogue to refine specific experiences so that all students have an opportunity to achieve at high levels?

 

 

References

 

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Cole, M. (1995). Culture and cognitive development: From cross-cultural research to creating

systems of cultural mediation. Culture & Psychology, 1, 25–54.

 

Figueroa, P. (1991). Education and the Social Construction of “Race.”New York: Routledge.

 

Gelfand, M.J., Raver, J.L., Nishii, L., Leslie, L.M., Lun, J., Lim, B.C., Duan, L., Almaliach, A., Ang, S., Arnadottir, J., Aycan, Z., Boehnke, K., Boski, P., Cabecinhas, R., Chan, D., Chhokar, J., D’Amato, A., Ferrer, M., Fischlmayr, I.C., Fischer, R., Fül.p, M., Georgas, J., Kashima, E.S., Kashima, Y., Kim, K., Lempereur, A., Marquez, P., Othman, R., Overlaet, B., Panagiotopoulou, P., Peltzer, K., Perez-Florizno, L.R., Ponomarenko, L., Realo, A., Schei, V., Schmitt, M., Smith, P.B., Soomro, N., Szabo, E., Taveesin, N., Toyama, M., Van de Vliert, E., Vohra, N., Ward, C., and Yamaguchi, S. (2011). Differences between tight and loose cultures: A 33-nation study. Science, 332(6033),1100-1104. doi: 10.1126/science.1197754.

 

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Decolonizing Higher Education Requires a Growth Mindset and Compassion

April 6, 2019

Decolonizing Higher Education Requires a Growth Mindset and Compassion

Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Ph.D.

For as long as humans have dwelled on this planet, they have lived, worked, and survived together within groups.  There may be specific common characteristics across the human groupings and there may be characteristics unique to the groupings. Regardless of the groupings, a set of values emerges, often articulated by the dominant members of those groups and then those values are carried forward across generations of the groupings. These values actualize themselves in the form of ritualistic practices, rules, or norms for which the humans within that grouping live by.  These ritualistic practices, rules, and norms are often upheld and reinforced by the dominant members of the organization or by the ones who are given authority over the group. Violations of these rules and norms result in a continuum of reprimands for the violator.  The continuum of reprimands could include public or private shaming for the behavior, educational approaches/interventions, a variety of sanctions, an invitation to restore justice, imprisonment, or death.

Whenever a specific human grouping holds a value as an absolute truth to live by, that human grouping often wants other human groupings it comes across to adopt that value.  It is a sort of a, “this works so great for us, we have to tell you about and you just have to try it” kind of thing, but it can also be, “we had to jump through this hoop so you have to also” kind of a thing.  However, when that absolute truth is viewed  (whether real or perceived) as key to a particular human grouping’s survival, groups of humans will do whatever they need to do in order to keep that value alive, which may include doing whatever is necessary to extinguish any opposition to that real or perceived absolute truth.

This is not a new discovery for those of us who work in the education industry.  We witness the declaration of various groupings of human beings’ absolute truths to live by on one another every day.  This assertion of these truths among diverse groupings of human beings can take many forms.  For example, it can look like formalized academic debate with agreed upon rules for engagement, an assertation of unwritten rules that people are just supposed to know as in the process of getting tenure, a compassionate dialogue, or an emotionally vulnerable difficult conversation.  When one grouping’s absolute truth to live by is adopted above all other versions of human groupings’ absolute truths to live by, it can look and/or feel like a microaggression, a macroaggression, demands, oppression, harassment, hate speech, racism, sexism, or violence to name just a few.

Moving to agreement of what our common values are within higher education that inform our rules to live by can be difficult.   However, agreeing on our absolute truths to live by and describing what it looks like when we are living those out within a diverse community within higher education can be daunting.   As I have heard Jamie Washington, Past President of ACPA, proclaim on a number of occasions, “this is not a value free dialogue we are trying to have here”. Value laden discussion are messy. People’s feelings get hurt in value rich discussions. And people can understandably feel that the core of their identities are under attack, which means they may feel or experience emotional harm.  To critically examine the previous absolute truths that we have been consciously and unconsciously living by within higher education in order to explore, adapt, and adopt new absolute truths to live by so that allhuman beings feel heard, seen, and valued within this diverse community, then a growth mindset is in order.

Carol Dweck, Stanford University Professor and author of the book Mindset, defines a growth mindset as the understanding that skills, abilities, and intelligence can be cultivated.  With emerging neuroscience research, we know that there are many skillsets, once thought to be fixed, that are in fact malleable. Cultivating malleable neurocognitive skills such as openness, conscientiousness, empathy, compassion, emotion regulation, self-regulation, and a growth mindset may be crucial for our continued engagement in decolonization dialogue, design, assessment, and evidence-based informed actions within higher education.

What could this growth mindset look like for us as educators in the examination of and understandable challenge of previous absolute truths to live by so that we can collectively adopt new ones?  In their Bold Vision Forward Framework, the Association for College Personnel Administrators (ACPA, INC) has defined this explorative process as decolonization.  The definition of decolonization is “a long-term process of first recognizing and then divesting bureaucratic, cultural, linguistic, educational, and psychological power from colonizers” (p.11).  ACPA goes onto explain that “as a part of this process, it is essential to:

  • Be self-aware of our words and practice in order to develop and nurture a mindset different from the dominant paradigm,
  • Honor the land which has belonged to Indigenous people who were exterminated and/or removed against their will [we add here to also hold in reverence the continued existing pain and suffering of the land and the people], and
  • Not assume Indigenous people need fixing or need to adapt to the currently dominant culture” (p.12-15).

If you are reading this and don’t identify as a colonizer, I share this.  The family I was born into  migrated to Nebraska because the human grouping they belonged to in Eastern Europe were being oppressed  by another group who wanted their absolute truth to be adopted.   The family I was born into refused to adopt the other groupings’ absolute truth and resistance resulted in persecution and often, death.  So, they moved across the ocean and settled into a place where they worked for landowners who were descendants of people who stole the land from Indigenous people.  Eventually, my parents purchased land from descendants of people who stole the land from Indigenous people.  And then eventually, I purchased land from  descendants of people who stole the land from Indigenous people.  In a nutshell, to escape colonization, we bought into a colonized nation… as in literally bought into.  We didn’t buy into just the land we now call home, but we also bought into what we understood that it meant to be American.

One day when I came home from school, I told my father that people were asking where we came from. I saw a fearful and then angry face as he sternly said, “whenever anyone asks you that again, you tell them you are an American. You are an American.”  I heard him repeat this over and over again. I never asked him another question about what all that meant.  Around the dinner table in the evening is where we received our behavioral lessons. We learned how we were supposed to sit at a dinner table, hold utensils, dress, speak, use proper grammar, and we were told to never answer any questions about where we came from or what we believed in.  We were to work hard, get as much education as we could, go to church, pray our prayers, be generous with what we have, avoid becoming materialistic, fly under the radar at all times, and to stay very close to the family.  According to my father, these were the rules we had to learn in order to become successful.

I never thought that this was colonization; but I did know that it was an assimilation process which we were involved in and I willingly engaged out of deep respect for my father and all that he and his family had been through to give me a shot at becoming educated.  Later, I would learn that assimilation is a process inherent in colonized societies.  What didn’t escape me is that apparently, the family I was born into left a country where the colonizers were forcing absolute truths in which they couldn’t assimilate and moved to a country whose absolute truths they could assimilate.  And in this country, I experienced the most violent form of a colonized mindset; the one that often acts from a place of, “I can hurt you and get away with it.” In other words, “I can steal your land and kill your people and no one will hold me to justice for doing that.”    Many people dismiss this dialogue here as if colonization was a past act and not a present mindset.

Well, perhaps we have mis-characterized it and perhaps we have not.  Consider for an instance that there may be other forms of a colonized mindset that may appear less violent, yet are effective at causing internal harm.  Could one of them be, if you just work harder, you will get your degree?  And if you fail, it will be because you didn’t work hard enough.  It is a belief I was required to buy into in order to complete my degree.  Yes, I worked hard to get my college degree, but if a family I barely know wouldn’t have covered the $1,000 tuition, room and board bill that I literally had no way of paying in my senior year, it wouldn’t have mattered how hard I worked.  My degree would have been stalled.  With the course transfer policies in place in most states,  there was no less expensive way I could have found to complete my degree in one year; than to accept the generosity of a family I barely knew who paid the bill so that I could finish my undergraduate degree.  And still, in my academic journey to becoming a tenured full professor with a PhD, I have encountered all kinds of “I can do this to you and get away with it” experiences that had nothing to do with the work I was doing and all to do with who I was as a human being and sadly, I know I am not alone.

Colonized thinking is the thinking that we were told to “buy into” in order to “make it” through college and in this profession.  The colonized mindset, along with other fixed mindsets such as the SAT score is the predictor of academic student success,  influence how we examine our policies and practices and deem them fair.  In essence, without our examining the fixed mindsets – termed as a decolonization process – we will never understand what is needed for all students to achieve at a high level.

As a person wearing white skin who once believed several mentors and professors who told me I had no place in this conversation because I am wearing white skin and because of my passage as a colonizer, I share some lessons thus far from my growth mindset journey.  I trust that you will receive these lessons with loving kindness and a commitment that growth mindset for me means leaning into learning more and continually revising my lessons learned so the resulting actions open up more possibilities for genuine connection with and loving kindness and empowerment of all human beings, rather than the preservation of a system’s previous way of doing.

As I share these lessons, I thank the leadership of ACPA’s Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice and Decolonization conversations (particularly Jamie Washington and Craig Elliott), my colleagues at San Diego State University (particularly Lisa Gates and Frank Harris III), my colleagues within NASPA (particularly  Larry Roper and Penny Rue), and all the students I serve for teaching me these lessons that I am still learning.

  1. Acknowledge that we are living in and among the pain of oppression; the past is always in the present. And no amount of good-person-ness or good intentions will make that go away.  That doesn’t mean goodness is not appreciated; it means that we can’t expect to get pats on the back for demonstrating goodness.  There is simply too much work to do to restore past harms and heal.It can indeed take place with goodness, but good intentions alone are not going to help us all figure out a different way of being and doing that serves all human beings well.
  2. Love for all  human beings is at the center of this exploration and action; ithas to be. To quote Brene Brown from her 2018 book of Dare to Lead,we need to be in these conversations and resulting actions without armor and with a vulnerable, compassionate  heart.  However, the students I serve have told me countless times that being loving and vulnerable is not enough. Being loving may allow individual student empowerment, but across the organization, funding formulas undergirding policies and practices continue to prohibit individuals from succeeding. I firmly believe that being loving and vulnerable will open up doors to wisdom that can emerge, however, it must be tried on to see who it works for and how.
  3. Practice critiquing what is “not enough” in a way that invites movement toward understanding whatis enough for each human being and all the ways it can look depending on who is answering the question. It is easy to criticize, but it takes wisdom and courage to dive into the dialogue, create pilot programs and assess their effectiveness in a way that informs what we need next.  Questions such as those that follow allow us to discover the individual nature of human learning and development and also help us recognize when we are asking students and colleagues to make it work when it really doesn’t.  What does it look like for you when you feel you are being heard? What does it look like for you when you know you are being seen?  What does it look like for you when your identities matter in this place and time or in this difficult conversation?
  4. Accept that you are going to fail and learn from that failure in a way that informs what’s next. Barb Snyder, former Vice President of the University of Utah and University of Nebraska-Kearney, once told me that if you want to do this work, you have to accept that you are going to have the best day in your life and the worst day in your life and experience it all in the same day.  Since that piece of useful wisdom was adopted, I would add to it another piece of advice from Brene Brown’s 2018Dare to Lead book, “embrace the suck.” It hurts to fail and it hurts to not know how to fix it, but that is not an excuse not to engage in trying on something that may work well for at least one more human being. Ask, what about this failure worked for whom?  And what about this failure did not work for whom?  And why, if possible to discover.
  5. Inform the work that needs to be done with explicit honoring of the work that has been done. This is not to say, as ACPA leaders attest, that we can hide behind a statement about all the work that still needs to be done by focusing on what we have accomplished.We have accomplished a great deal. However, consider analyzing what is working well within the context of informing what’s next. Engaging in outcomes-based assessment where you involve the students’ voice and your colleagues’ voices in describing what it looked like when it was working for whom and what was happening when it worked and how did you know that, can be incredibly useful for validating what did go well while also informing what needs to be done next for whom.
  6. All identities matter and there is work to do to hold all identities with reverence while meeting the shame that arose, arises, or is still present from perhaps skillfully hiding in, behind, or simply hiding that identity or intersecting of identities.  In essence, shame can arise when the implicit is not made explicit or when identities are mis-appropriated and as a result, dialogue closes.   In the same context, it is important to recognize that not all of the human beings we serve within higher education want their identities brought forward.  Some religious and spiritual practices seek to embody a self-less presence.  In essence, identifying with the self at all is not welcomed or invited.  No-self is an identity that also must be honored and respected if we are to practice what it looks like when all identities matter.
  7. Whois saying what   I need to hold with reverent awareness and compassion that identities may be visibly present, mis-appropriated, or assumed. I need to learn from the pain that was created by how my words landed.  For me, receiving compassionate coaching or feedback from people who know my heart and expect me to get back into the dialogue to discover what is possible next is pertinent to cultivating a growth mindset.  As Jamie Washington says, this is not a performance of the political correctness in which we used to train people. When he states that who is saying what matters, he is talking about a genuine way to cultivate the self-awareness aspect of the growth mindset that begins with an individual, moves into social grouping(s), and then moves onto organizational functioning.
  8. Actively practice compassion and self-compassion. We keep telling the students we serve that if we knew how to serve each one of them in a way where they felt fully honored for who they are at all times, we would have written a book and been making money off of the consulting.  We remind them and ourselves that we are in this practice of living social justice as a way of being with them in all of this and that means I’m going to mess up and you are going to mess up.  If love for all human beings is at the center, as ACPA leaders remind us, then we can give each other space, time, and resources to care for ourselves so that we can return to the dialogue, dynamically discover, and subsequently act upon what we do and don’t know while holding the question,what does respect,  justice, and genuine care look like for you in this situation?  Are we resourced (internally and externally) to co-create that for everyone in every situation?  And if not, what would it look like to be able to co-create that?
  9. Actively practice self-compassion and give permission to others to do the same. This is repeated for emphasis here because I have so many, “oh s _ _ t” moments when I amin this;  as in, “oh s _ _ t, I just did that or said that or didn’t do that or didn’t say that” moments.  Without the mindfulness-based self-compassion practice, I wouldn’t know when to withdraw to re-fuel or re-source (e.g., re-building internal resources) so I can re-enter the dialogue.  Instead, I would be out lost in my story of “not enough,” which I have done in the past.  And that in and of itself is an “oh s_ _ t” painful memory moment.  One of my mentors continually reminds me to write out a stack of mindful self-compassion permissions slips to use for myself and to also hand out to others for their own personal use.
  10. Practice mindful compassion with mindful compassion. Mindfulness and compassion are grossly misunderstood terms and practices. Nonetheless, it is important to acknowledge that while they are powerful evidence-based practices to decrease stress and anxiety, decrease implicit bias, stereotype threat, and implicit racism, and increase a myriad of other positive outcomes, many of the practices are intended to invite one to detach from the identities that one holds as important so that we can connect with each other first as human beings.  This can leave a mindful compassion practitioner who cares deeply about being seen and honored for their identities with a feeling that mindful compassion is covert colonization. That is not its intention but it could be its felt outcome if not practiced with awareness that identities do matter to many and they are in the room.  The practice of mindful compassion requires an explicit statement of what common humanity is – an avenue to connect with self and others in a genuine way.  It is not the marginalization of identities.

In closing, it seems apparent that we don’t need any more evidence that what we have been doing for centuries within American higher education is working for everyone.  And even for those who it appears it has worked as in they have graduated within four-years, or been promoted to professor with tenure, the health and well-being costs for many have been enormous. I don’t know how to fix that or heal those who have been harmed.  As such, I welcome hearing the lessons have you discovered and how have you discovered them in your journey with a growth mindset to co-create a new set of absolute truths that will work for everyone within our higher education community.

Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Ph.D. serves a professor of postsecondary educational administration at San Diego State University. She can be reached at mbrescia@sdsu.edu

 

The Process of Meeting Striving and Driving

March 24, 2019

The Process of Meeting Striving and Driving

Right now, I am sitting at our fold up coffee table that serves multiple purposes.  In our glorious and greatly appreciated 825 square feet of living space that we call home, this fold-up table has a view of the ocean and it humbly serves many purposes.  We prep meals on it,  share meals around it, layout projects that we are working on upon it, organize our tax papers on it, layout home-baked goods to be re-packaged and delivered to friends and neighbors door steps, and simply use it as a desk as I am now.  It’s the best investment of $39.95 USD we have made in a long time.

We made this investment, because I had begun to have trouble sitting and working at our kitchen counter that had previously served all the aforementioned purposes.  The diseases I have been  fighting turned up their obnoxious presence in this body about three years ago and as such, the struggle to walk, ride my bike with my husband Robert, practice yoga, and engage in other activities that fuel my soul has become more challenged; even just sitting at a bar stool at our kitchen counter had become well, just too painful, too difficult.   But now, after some intense lengthy treatments, I am better.  We even folded up this table for an entire day while I worked around the kitchen counter just to see if I could.   It was pain free working… and all the while I noticed this voice in my head saying repeatedly, be careful, don’t overdue, you don’t want to go backwards again.

I wondered whether there was wisdom in this voice or just fear… And here I am back at the table today, working on taxes, and now, stalling to join Robert on the Sunday afternoon bike ride that has become a joyful tradition for us – at least when I am able.  Why am I stalling?

I notice I am feeling afraid.   And I am breathing in and out, observing the sensation of the breath in the body as I notice where fear has set up its own fold-up card table to take residence within.

To get these legs working again, I have been in physical therapy, acupuncture, massage therapy, avoiding gluten and dairy, and receiving other types of treatments for the other diseases that are making using the legs challenging.   I feel better than I have for a long time and still I feel afraid.

I see the fear, I greet the fear, and I notice I am debating with the fear.  It won’t be my first time on the bike; we have been working with a stationary bike to rebuild muscle memory, and have even taken the bike out on flat surfaces while Robert supervises my riding ability.   I have been on this bike before and simply stopped when it feels like it has become too much. Robert was there to care for me then and he is now.  And guess what?  Fear is still present.

I see you fear.  I name you fear, and I notice I am in emotional pain because fear is here to set up a workplace within me on a beautiful day where I would love to be outside enjoying a bike ride with Robert.  Ah… this is now emotional suffering.   I want what “is” to be something other than what it “is”.

I want to have the overall confidence that this body can push through whatever physical challenge it might experience to finish the bike ride that this mind is dead set on doing. However, this body has repeatedly told this mind that striving and driving are no longer options.  This body has sent clear messages to this mind that pushing through physical or emotional pain no longer is a strategy that works … at all!  For this past year of living, it’s as if this body goes on strike in a very dramatic way anytime the mind says, I need more out of you than what you are producing now. If a body could flip the mind a finger,  and turn the other way, that is exactly what I have been experiencing this past year.

And so, I began to question, what would setting aside striving and driving look like?  The immediate response – it looks like failure.  It looks like you’re not producing enough, doing enough, and your body will get sloppy and weak because you won’t be exercising enough. (And then I notice how this also shows up in my work life and home life – ouch!)

To summarize the story my mind is telling here, looks a little like this.  If I give permission to the body to avoid striving and driving means that “I” won’t be enough.   And when I ask who is I anyway, I start to giggle and the hold that fear has begins to loosen.  And the breath begins to arrive more easily.

What do I need to hear right now?  This… what would it look like to consider that the wisdom inherent in noticing what you are experiencing and pulling back when the body starts to signal too much is simply wisdom to respond to for it is designed to help you operate in optimal health?  What would it look like to know that not even trying to do what you love is just fear that anyone in your circumstances would be experiencing if they have been experiencing what you  have been experiencing for the past 3 years and prior to that.

So, today, as this blog entry closes, the mind, the body, the fear, and the deeply felt sensation of “not being enough” are about to go on a bike ride.  We have set a goal for how long we intend to ride and to where we intend to ride.  (Of course, we have.  We love to accomplish stuff.)  We also have made a commitment to listen to the body and to invite the mind to kindly respond to the body, noticing the stories of not being enough or doing enough that will arise as we bring the bike ride to a close, whenever that might be and especially if it is prior to the goal not being met.  And we are noticing the joy that arises in moving forward with the fear as opposed to being paralyzed by it.

Sending you and I loving kindness,

Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Ph.D.

9 Lessons from Trauma-informed Mindful Compassion Practices

 

9 Lessons from Trauma-informed Mindful Compassion Practices

Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Ph.D.

It comes as no surprise that the students we serve are experiencing heightened levels of stress and anxiety. Liu and colleague’s (2019) research “point to an urgent need for service utilization strategies, especially among racial/ethnic, sexual, or gender minorities. Campuses must consider student experiences to mitigate stress during this developmental period” (p.1) is a call that can’t be ignored.  Many campus leaders are seeking to implement specific ways to heighten students’ sense of belonging and safety as well as reduce their stress and anxiety in- and out-of- the classroom.  Mindful compassion practices show promising effects in alleviating stress and anxiety, however they can also potentially have negative impact on mental health and wellbeing when implemented without a heightened awareness of well-researched trauma informed practices (Kang et al, 2018; Magyari, 2016; Treleaven, 2018, Rothschild, 2017).

What follows are a few of the trauma-informed mindful compassion practices that you may consider implementing in your in-and out-of-classroom learning and development opportunities.

  1. Assume there is trauma in your presence.Informed by thewealth of emerging research about the frequencies of racism-inflicted trauma, and sexual assault-inflicted trauma for all gender identities (Retrieved from http://mcsilver.nyu.edu/sites/default/files/reports/Trauma-of-Racism-Report.pdfon December 8, 2018), we don’t know who among our students has experienced trauma.  As such, we invite educators to assume that someone with whom you are in service to has experienced trauma and plan accordingly.
  2. Co-Create the Container for Learning and Development

We spend a great deal of time discussing with our students what we want them to know and be able to do from whatever experience we are providing them, regardless of whether it is a course, a workshop, or an out-of-class experience.  We spend less time inviting them into a dialogue that paints an experiential picture of their optimal environment for learning and development. As such, this is an opportunity to engage in a process where you and the students you serve co-create the ways of how they want to be in their learning and development experiences.

The co-creation of this environment can be done in several ways, the most important point is to make sure everyone has an opportunity to contribute to identifying how they would like to be or show up within an optimal learning and development environment via note cards, post-it notes,  anonymous online surveys, photos, or word doodles prior to inviting the students to discuss the words and concepts, grouping them, re-labeling, or further characterizing concepts before crafting a statement that will guide their intentions for holding space for each other’s learning exploration in alignment with their values and goals for their learning.  Here are a few ideas that you may want to toss into the learning and development co-creation process to get the dialogue started.

  • Engage/ do the work to the best of your ability from where you are and with the resources you have, knowing that your best will look differently from moment to moment
  • Honor confidentiality; hold another’s narrative with reverence for their human dignity
  • Embody curiosity, which includes observing and objectively noticing while suspending immediate judgement
  • Offer compassion/kindness/grace to self and others
  • Avoid “fixing”
  • Avoid “Doing it Right” or “Striving”
  • Use ”I” language so that others have space to speak to their experiences
  • Avoid shaming and blaming
  • The next moment is a new moment and a new opportunity for a new choice
  • Give yourself permission to take care of you at all times
  • Courageously ask questions and share comments, while inquiring into how your social context, historical social forces, and global perspectives are shaping what you are seeing, hearing, and asking

3. Invite Students to Opt-in and Opt-out of Pair and Shares. As educators, we don’t always know who is experiencing challenges within our learning and development environment. And we aren’t always sure as to whether what we have invited students into dialoging around will be a further trigger for them.  One way to address this concern is by always inviting students to opt-in and opt-out of pair-and-share dialogues or small group dialogues.  A simple way for students to indicate whether they want to join in a dialogue or journal on their own is to offer them a card with 1 of each of the heart messages listed below on each side.  At the educators invitation, students can turn the green side up if they want to engage in dialogue with their peers, or alternatively turn the red side up if they choose to reflect on the invited dialogue prompt through silent journaling.  In this way, the student experiences choice in their learning environment and the instructor can scan the room for colors to determine who may need a one-on-one check-in following the learning experience.


4. Identify well-being resources (internal and external) that can Re-Source students when they become dysregulated. Regardless of how well you feel the co-creation of the learning and development environment was experienced by you and the students you serve or how often you all invite each other into re-embodying those principles, students will find themselves in emotional dysregulation.  As such, it is extremely helpful to invite students early on in the educational experience into an exercise that allows them to identify their external resources that serve as well-being anchors for them so that they can turn to these re-sourcing practices in times of stressors that may trigger trauma.

This exercise can begin with a question such as, “What are ways that you re-source your sense of well-being?”  You may want to provide some examples such as taking a walk, having a cup of herbal tea, chatting with a friend, taking a nap following an evening of cramming for exam, looking at a photo of a redwood tree or the moon setting over a snow-capped mountain range, rubbing their thumb over a stone, listening to a favorite song, or reading a poem, etc.  These would be examples of external ways that we re-source our well-being.

Once students have at least one example that they feel good about, invite them into a guided imagery where they can see themselves doing or being in their well-being re-source practice.  As they imagine themselves re-sourcing their well-being in a particular way that feels welcomed to them, invite them to imprint that image into their mind while absorbing all the sensations associated with this well-being re-source experience. You may even – if appropriate – invite them to journal on what they noticed as they practiced their re-sourcing imaging exercise.  Perhaps they noticed their jaw softening or their shoulders becoming less tense.  Next, invite them to either bring in a small physical object that reminds them of that re-source experience to each meeting you all have together or invite them to simply draw on an index card a few words or a symbol that will bring them back to this re-source moment and the positive sensations associated with it whenever they want to re-source themselves in this moment.

Again, because we don’t always know when our students need to re-source themselves during the learning and development opportunity we are providing and when they might simply be confused, we offer another visual tool for them to use.

Invite your students to display the blue Re-sourcing heart when they are practicing taking care of themselves with their rehearsed re-sourcing exercise.  Or if they are confused and noticing they are withdrawing from the learning and development exercise, invite them to display the  yellow heart which signals to you that they are simply confused and need some other ways in which to understand the material you really want them to be able to know and do.

5. Invite students to safely inquire into what they notice when they are in their emotion regulation process. While identifying external well-being re-source experiences may be useful, sometimes, students won’t remember to bring their well-being re-source objects with them or they will forget to pull out their index cards when they need them. As such, it may be useful to explain to students that we, as educators, know they won’t always be in the most optimal state to learn and develop at all times. As such, it may be useful for them to begin to identify when they start to move out of that optimal state so they can take care of themselves to the best of their ability, which includes their giving themselves permission to seek professional support that the institution provides them and expects them to use.  The intention here is to normalize help-seeking behaviors, while also reinforcing they have the educators’ consistent and constant permission to seek those resources.

The diagram below is adapted from Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development (Fani & Ghaemi, 2011) and Kristen Neff and Chris Germer’s work on mindful self-compassion (2018).    It may be useful to share this diagram or one that you adapt with students to illustrate how the blue safe and comfortable zone is a great place to return to when they are challenged by learning and development. It is state that we hope their well-being re-source practices brings them to.  The yellow zone is when they will likely feel emotional activation or arousal; it is an optimal place for learning and development as long as they don’t become too aroused or emotionally activated to where they no longer feel safe in their learning environment.  When they notice they begin to feel unsafe, as educators, we want to be sure to give them permission to return to the challenge learning and development zone, but that may mean they need to ground themselves by using their re-source well-being practice or other practices (some of which follow).  Returning to a sense of safety, once they feel they are approaching feeling unsafe, may be the only way in which they can then re-engage in their learning and development experience.

Once you share this diagram with your students in the context of learning and development, invite the students to journal for 1minute on each of the following prompts for each zone.  Prompts: A) What within you (thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations) signals to you that you are operating in this zone?  B) What well-being strategies help you stay within this zone (if it is zone 1 or 2) or empower you to return to the zone of feeling safe?  C) In what ways can your educator(s) empower you stay within this zone (if it is zone 1 or 2) or empower you to return to the zone of feeling safe?  D) What would you like your educator(s) to know about how they can best empower you into your optimal learning and development zone?

The point of emphasis is that if students can begin to recognize the experiential attributes of each zone as they arise, they can utilize strategies that serve them well in order to move back to the optimal learning and development zone or the safety zone.  The intent is also to re-enforce permission for them to seek their educator’s and/or professional support if they find themselves in the feeling unsafe zone or check out zone and not knowing what to do about it.  As educators, it is important for us to infer that if students find themselves in those zones, they won’t be alone to navigate their way out. We must consistently invite our students into awareness of the choices they have to respond, so they feel empowered to healthfully respond to what they know they need in any given moment.

 

6. Begin learning and development experiences with the invitation to engage in grounding exercises. In the interest of leaving the student in choice, beginning learning and development exercises with “invitations” to engage in any activity is important. This invitation leaves students in choice about when and how to engage, thus empowering them into their own emotion regulation strategies (assuming they have been coached into awareness of what their healthful strategies are, which is what we are inviting trauma-informed practices to facilitate).

Each time you meet with the students you serve, it may also be useful to invite them into a physical grounding exercise of gentle movement such as stretching, where they are invited to bring their attention to rest gently on parts of the body that are moving.  You might also invite them to bring their attention to simply sitting on a chair, noticing the sensation of their feet on the floor, seat in the chair, back upright or slouched, etc.  This can be a fairly quick exercise that brings the students’ minds and bodies into the space where invitations for learning and development are about to be experienced.  If your students are opened to it and following an invitation for them to become aware of their bodies in the chair, you could also invite them into bringing a gentle attention to rest on the breath sensation in the body, noticing for instance, the sensation of the belly rising and falling with each breath. Many students find this brief practice quite useful.

However, not all students will welcome arriving into the learning and development space and bringing immediate attention to their bodies in the chair or bringing a gentle attention to the breath sensation in their bodies.  As such, it may also be useful to begin with an invitation for them to move – in whatever ways are comfortable to them – and to bring attention to their bodies in the way they move with each inhale and exhale.  What is important here is that as educators, we are offering as many supportive alternatives as we can to aid in our students full arrival into the learning and development space.

7. Give permission to regulate the arousal system in a way that honors students’ survival skills. Continuing forward with the theme of inviting students into choice in any given moment, acknowledge that they all have survival strategies that have served them well. As such, give them permission to engage in those if they find themselves nearing zone 3 or in zone 3.  A symbolic practice to illustrate this to your students may be this one, taught by David TreLeavan (2018).  Invite your students to close their dominant hand’s fist as tightly as they can, if they are able.  Invite them to imagine that their safety is dependent on that fist remaining closed. Then invite them to take their other hand, if they are able, and attempt to pry their fisted hand open with force. What do they notice?  Now invite your students to take that fisted hand and rest it gently in the palm of the open opposite hand.  Invite them to imagine that their survival strategy is welcomed here. What do they notice?

8. Invite Students to Use an Arousal Scale from 1-10.  It may be helpful for students to gauge their own arousal by using a 1-10 scale.  David TreLeaven  suggests putting some framing on this scale such as 0-3 means I am feeling foggy and spacey, 4-6 means I am in the optimal learning and development zone, and 7-10 means I am experiencing anxiety.  Inviting students to place a number on what they are noticing within their own arousal process before and after inviting them into these practices may be very helpful to their noticing which practices are working well for them in which situations and which are not.

9. Inviting in Other Anchors of Attention.  When practicing mindful compassion, we often use the breath as the anchor of our attention of the object of our focused attention.  David TreLeaven invites us to offer students other anchors of attention or objects of focused attention such as sound, smell, the body connecting to the chair, the feet on the floor, or some small movements.  Just as you would guide an opening arrival to class mindfulness practice, you may want to change the object of focused attention around so students can explore what works well for them in particular situations.

There are many other trauma-informed practices, specifically those drawn from mindful compassion work, that we can invite into our in- and out-of-classroom settings empowering our students to safely care for themselves, while we work to reform the systems where they may not feel they belong.   I am happy to share those with you so feel free to email me at rushingtoyoga@gmail.comif you are interested.  In the meantime, I invite you to consider that the very fact we are re-designing our learning and development spaces to be compassionately mindful of our students who have experienced trauma is a powerful step toward that transformational process.

 

Do you want to use the hearts in your classroom? Simply email us at rushingtoyoga@gmail.comto learn how to get your colorful, laminated, card stock heart trauma-informed messages.

 

References

Fani, Tayebeh & Ghaemi, Farid. (2011). Implications of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) in Teacher Education: ZPTD and Self-scaffolding. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences. 29. 1549-1554. 10.1016/j.sbspro.2011.11.396.

Kang, Y., Rahrig, H., Eichel, K., Niles, H.F., Rocha, T.,  Lepp. N.E., Gold, J., and Britton, W.B. (2018). Gender Differences in Response to a School-Based Mindfulness Training Intervention for Early Adolescents. Journal of School Psychology, 68, 63-176.

Liu CH, Stevens C, Wong SHM, Yasui M, Chen JA. (2019). The prevalence and predictors of mental health diagnoses and suicide among U.S. college students: Implications for addressing disparities in service use. Depress Anxiety. 36(1):8-17.PMID: 30188598.

Magyari, T. (2016) Teaching Individuals with Traumatic Stress: Applying a Trauma-Informed Framework to Teaching MBIs.In McCown, D., Reibel, D., and Micozzi, MS (eds).Resources for Teaching Mindfulness: An International Handbook. New York.

Neff, K & Germer, C.(2018). The mindful self-compassion handbook. Guilford Press: New York.

TreLeaven, D. A. (2018). Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness: Practices for Safe and Transformative Healing. WW Norton & Company: New York.

Rothschild, B. (2017). The body remembers volume 2: Revolutionizing trauma treatment. WW Norton & Company: New York.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sacred Time

Sacred Time

When I was a kid, everyone seemed to die young. At school, it seemed that deaths from suicide, car crashes – many of which were alcohol related – , strange diseases allegedly related to  chemicals commonly found on a farm, firearm accidents, farm machinery accidents and news about 18-year old friends and family killed in military related incidents all just seemed so common.

When I was a kid, growing up amidst the constant reminders of the circle of life that seemingly only country living can imbue, death among young people was a given.

Life is sacred.

Time is sacred was inextricably intertwined with Life is sacred.

Time is sacred was a truth I knew in every cell of my being growing up. I didn’t have to be taught this.  Nonetheless, in the late evenings just before I put myself to bed, I could often hear my father saying, time is the most valuable resource you have, invest it wisely, invest it in developing your mind. No one, Marilee, no one can take away from you what you put inside your mind.  His large, work-worn hand,  stained from the chemicals of the day would land wearily on top of my head with a thud as he continued, so get as much knowledge as you can out of the time you have.

He spoke with such great conviction – with the kind of firm, loving, urgency that made me think, I am going to die in my sleep. I better get a few more things done then before I fall asleep.

Remember, Marilee, his words echoed in my mind, you will never get time back once its spent, it’s the message I awoke to every day. And thus began my fervent pursuit of learning and the study of how people learn.

Life is sacred.

Time is sacred… or am I confused?

Time is scarce!

Wait… is there a difference?

I wrestled with this question for a long while. Until…this belief emerged front and center – amidst my obsession with time – and it did so when I came to San Diego State University to serve as an untenured  professor of education.

What’s the belief?

It is the belief that All humans are worthy of dignity, regardless of how much I agree with their ways of being and doing. That is the belief that brought a glimpse of clarity into my relationship with time. More specifically, it is the belief that Life is Sacred and therefore I must hold in reverence the experiences of these humans with whom I am so privileged to guide along their learning journeys. Their lives are sacred regardless of how they have chosen to invest their time; regardless of whether I agree with where they have placed their priorities.

So, here I was, only 2 semesters into my experience at SDSU, with two beliefs now deeply embedded in the center of my heart and prominently screaming in the fore-front of my mind.

  • If I view time as scarce, I will not see my investment of time as sacred.
  • Life is Sacred therefore all human beings must be treated with dignity and their experiences must be held with reverence.
  • If I view my investment of time with my students as sacred, rather than scarce, perhaps the students will see their investments in themselves and their education as sacred – perhaps they will seem their own lives as sacred.
  • Time is Sacred
  • Life is Sacred

It was as if the missing piece to my previous research – which sought to measure the most effective and efficient ways that students learn and develop in a manner that informed improvements in their learning and development prior to their graduation [read: time is scarce] – had revealed itself.  Investing in Human Dignity and holding human experiences with heartfelt reverence is synonymous with sacred time.

Though this cognitive and heartfelt realization was vivid, I had questions. For instance, how do I hold each human with the dignity they deserve and view their lived experience with reverence IF their words, choices, or actions are not in alignment with what I wanted for them? [read: they are not fully engaging in the work that will earn them their degree in a timely manner]. AND while sacred time is synonymous with honoring every human’s dignity and holding their experience with reverence, how do I “do” that while also trying to get the work done? [read: get tenure and fulfill my other responsibilities while also supporting these students in the ways they need to be supported so they can obtain the learning that will lead to them securing their degrees in a timely manner when time still feels scarce].

Bleh – Quite a quandary I found myself in…

My historical research said that everything must be measured and everything must be improved and it needed to be improved quickly because students were only with us for a brief time. Time is sacred continually became confused with time is scarce – it can’t be wasted…

And with all that came a drive to produce more and more in my sacred life’s allotment of time – something which I have recently come to call Productisease. You know…becoming obsessed with gathering as much data as possible; getting as much done as possible within the time that I have that the sacredness of time becomes warped and construed losing all awareness of human dignity and the wisdom that arises from being with whatever it is I am experiencing with grace and reverence for others’ human dignity.

Given all of this, how do I now integrate the holding of all humans with dignity; the holding of each human’s experience with reverence, while also ensuring (with the case of the students I serve any way) that evidence is gathered for the knowledge and skill sets they have developed and are also needed so they can obtain meaningful work or gain entrance to graduate school and do so in an expedited manner?

With regard to my current research in pursuing this question,

  • the holding of each human being with dignity and viewing their lived experience with reverence is integrated into
  • the research methodology that understands how students learn and develop
  • which is integrated into the opportunities we provide students to learn and develop
  • which is integrated into the methodology to evaluate that learning and development
  • which then informs the improvements needed in the design of their learning and development.

That is the research I do now – over 10 years of research published in a book that came out in 2016; 10 more years of research in a book that just came out in November 2018 and one in progress with yes, former students.  And it wouldn’t be possible without bringing a gentle attention to the awareness of the sacredness of the moment-to-moment breath in the body that is connected to the breath of the human being sitting across from me.

In summary,

  • Being with each human as a human whose dignity must be preserved as they learn and develop, as opposed to their being viewed as a data point is sacred.
  • Being with each human’s lived experience with reverence and how it informs the learning and development design and assessment methodology is sacred.
  • Time intentionally invested in those experiences is sacred.

Alas, where is my drive to produce in all of this?  It’s still very much alive. Simply noticing what I noticing with kindness and curiosity, naming what is and  equally important, what isn’t. Then, connecting with the sensation of the breath in the body until the mind remembers that Time is Sacred; Life is Sacred…. there is no scarcity in that.

With awareness of breath and the body in this moment,

marilee

Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Ph.D.

 

 

 

Meeting Unmet Needs in Times of Suffering

Meeting Unmet Needs in Times of Suffering

Whenever I try to write for someone else or for some audience regardless of who it is, something that has to do with my heart gets lost in the writing; not all the time but some of the time.  It’s as if I self-edit so much that the meaning or intent of what I am really wanting to convey gets completely lost.  Does this ever happen to you?

In reflecting, I realized how much of this has happened in my life – not just in my own writing but in other aspects of my life (my speech, my actions, my choice-making) but I didn’t really know how to name ituntil I began to read Michelle Robinson Obama’s book entitled, Becoming. And in reading this book, I felt inspired to look again at this process of self-editing.

I was drawn to this book in great part because of its title, Becoming. As one who has been studying the science and practice of being for over a decade and a half, I was curious about how much of being as juxtaposed with doing might be within the practice of becoming.  Furthermore, I was intrigued as to what someone I idealize might have to say about it all (more specifically the only First Lady in all the first ladies that have ever been, except for Eleanor Roosevelt, with whom I have felt a deep connection).

There is so much about this book that has pulled me in, pulled at my heart strings. And there is also so much about this book that has pushed me into some new and not so new-found convictions. So, when it came to reflecting on this over-editing approach, I’m not sure whether it was a push or a pull, but regardless, I found myself looking again at this innate not-so-new nature I have of not wanting to overwhelm people with my speech (verbal or written) or my actions so much so that I would spend more time self-editing than just being with what I was experiencing with grace and kindness toward all involved.

What I once thought of as a little, simple, country girl way of being kind had in reality become a strategy to belong, a defense to go unseen, and an offense to avoid confrontation.  Who was I to be so bold after all?  I don’t know enough; haven’t experienced enough; I haven’t “whatever” enough.  My historical way of being kind, of being polite turns out has nothing to do with kindness.

As I aged and was slowly introduced to mindful compassion practices, the mindful compassionate eye observed that the root of this over-editing behavior, woefully mistaken for kindness, was suffering.   Suffering perhaps created by embodied rejection. Suffering perhaps created by believing others’ judgments of not enoughas true. Suffering created perhaps by abandonment or unhealthy attachments.   Regardless, mistaking kindness for people pleasing behavior had at is core, suffering.  And this form of suffering was a moment when one believes that the preservation of another’s human’s dignity outweighs the desire to honor one’s own human dignity – one’s own awareness of what is whole and complete.

So, I still notice this desire to over-edit in my writing and in my speech primarily and sometimes in my actions.  I notice the rising of a desire to honor another’s version of their human dignity over my own version.  And the mindful compassion practice that helps me meet this noticing is a specific self-compassion practice adapted from Kristin Neff.  Here are the steps I love to follow, when I remember to practice.

  • First, is this practice of noticing the suffering. “I feel icky – something is not OK within me about what was just said (or done or witnessed or directly experienced).  I don’t want this icky feeling to be here.  I don’t like it and I want to be experiencing something other than this… as in, I want something different than what isright NOW.”
  • Then, it’s time for the wisdom of the pause or stop and breatheto arise – noticing the soothing sensation of the breath in the belly for as long as it takes until I can remember the next step to practice.
  • And the next step is the silent naming of the suffering as suffering. “This is a moment of suffering.” That sounds crazy, but when I just silently recognize that I am wanting something to be other than what it is right now, some internal struggle begins to lift and as such, I have more access to clarity of seeing what it is I am actually experiencing.
  • Now, thanks to Michelle Robinson Obama’s book, I know how to a name the suffering(which is the next step) and so I silently can say, “I am suffering because I feel the need to self-edit in order to honor this other person’s version of their human dignity over my own human dignity.”
  • And then, I can notice the feelingsthat may be associated with this particular experience of observing this type of suffering. And for me, it varies, it might be anger, or sadness, or frustration, or irritation, or shock, or confusion where I am questioning whether this person does deserve a higher level of human dignity in this moment than I do or I might feel embarrassed because implicit bias is not unveiling itself to reveal that I just behaved as if my needs were more important than this other person’s.  In the wisdom of the pause and breathe, some feeling arises and I can silently name and notice where it is taking up residence in the body.
  • Next, Dr. Kristin Neff recommends silently offering oneself soothing words. To me, it is a lot like Dr. Laura Rendon’s validation theory in action, except the validation is directed toward the self, as opposed to other. And often, my soothing words begin with a common humanity phrase– a way to connect myself with other humans so as not to feel so alone in the moment (another Kristen Neff recommended practice), “Of course, I am feeling [fill in the blank of the feeling]; who wouldn’t be feeling this way in this situation?”  This common humanity practice really helps me gain access to soothing words; the words I would offer my best friends if they were in this situation, words like, “It’s okay to feel this way, of course you feel this way.”  Sometimes, I will even tell myself, “uh hum, I hear you. This is a shitty situation to be in right now.”
  • And after that practice, what usually arises is an awareness of some underlying feelingsuch as fear of not being seen or heard, or sadness about how much pain is right here within both of us or we wouldn’t likely be in this type of conflict right now where one is feeling less human dignity than the other. And if I can, I’ll silently name that (however in my practice, most of the time, I am zooming right past this step).  The good news is that this awareness can come later and the naming of it can come later… as I reflect on a situation that I want to handle more skillfully in the future, I can say, oh wow, I was really feeling fearful, or responsible to fix this [whatever this is] for everyone involved and I couldn’t fix it.
  • And then I can identify what the unmet needs arefor me. Perhaps, I am feeling a need to be heard or seen; perhaps I am feeling disconnected from the team… all of that is valid, however, what are my specific needs informing these feelings?  I can softly name that need OR, if courage is present, rather than self-editing some sort of response that elevates one person’s human dignity over another’s, I can say, “I hear you saying this [insert whatever this is].  And when I hear that, I need for you to know that I am concerned that these other people might be jeopardized in this specific way or that I might not get [insert whatever it is] that I feel I need right now. Can you help me understand how that won’t be a plausible outcome of this decision [or whatever it is]?
  • And thenoffer compassionto whatever happens next. What I mean is offer kindness to yourself if you are not sure you can identify what your needs are. Offer kindness to yourself if you get more caught up in judging the other person’s needs as selfish or even judge your needs as selfish. Offer kindness to yourself if you were courageous enough to speak to your needs and the other person dismissed them or you don’t feel your needs were heard.
  • And if appropriate or even possible, determine how you can meet your now silently or perhaps audibly named unmet needs. I hear you, sometimes, it is not possible particular if the cause of my suffering is needing someone else to realize something they are not realizing. But then I have to ask myself the question, “why do I need them to realize it so much?  Is there some way I can meet my own needs without being attached to this other person meeting my needs? Is there someone else I can work with to have these needs met?”
  • And finally, how can you offer yourself compassionwhen you can’t find a way to have your underlying needs met? Perhaps practicing this sequence again may be useful.

Sending you all my love and light,

Marilee

Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Ph.D.

A Reflection on Feeling Fragile

A Reflection on Feeling Fragile

By Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Ph.D.

When I was diagnosed with a neurological auto-immune disease the first time, I immediately wouldn’t accept that what the doctors were saying about the prognosis of the disease was my present or my near future.  And you know what?  It wasn’t.

Recently, I have faced more health challenges and the primary treating physician literally said to me last month, “You are a ticking time bomb, your body is going to crash one of these days and when it does, it will crash hard.”  Yup, that is what he said.  However, as opposed to 14 years ago when I gave the physician who pronounced something like that my middle finger and a few choice words; this time, those words really hit me.  They landed like a hard blow to my gut and then radiated up toward my chest, stealing away my breath and making me feel like I was going to pass out.

What I mean is, that I immediately believed those words to be true; not just for the present and the near future – but for all of my future. As I left the doctor’s office, everything I looked at was as if I saw it through those words.  It was as if they were a lens that over laid everything I experienced.    It took me a full week to gain the courage to pull that lens away from how I was viewing the world and to lay it in front of me, observing it as it was.  And when I did, I immediately laughed.

Think of it… those words are true for all of us…. Every single one of us in wearing a body suit that is going to “crash” one day.  It is inevitable.   As Jim Morrison says, “no one here [earth] gets out alive.”

What perplexed me however, was why did it take a full week for me to find my way back to my sense of humor in the midst of this adversity when 14 years earlier, I looked at a different physician with equally grim news and gave her the finger?

Pema Chodron explains that as we grow older and are faced with health issues, (as opposed to being younger and being faced with health issues) we feel more fragile, we see the body failing us and we know it is a part of the aging process, even if it really isn’t.  We know that at some point, the body failing is not reversible. And as we grow older, we are never really sure when that might be.   As a result, as we age, we become more rigid in our ways.  We don’t want, for instance, the lamp moved 2 inches to the right because it makes us feel safer and more secure to have the lamp right there where it has been serving us well the years prior.  We make it about the lamp but it isn’t about the lamp.  It’s about feeling fragile that we are now even more aware that this body will one day “crash” and while some of us have prognosis from doctors with estimated times of the great bodily collapse; others of us don’t.

In that week of feeling incredibly fragile, instead of being rigid about the lamp (which gets moved regularly), I became rigid about how I had to approach my work schedule – you know, the work that I love to do and that which inspires me. I thought that if I couldn’t make myself productive within a certain time frame, I surely was “crashing” and it was irreversible.  I also made those doctor’s words about my finances and as such, I couldn’t see any way to carve out of the budget for the additional money needed for alternative treatment that insurance wouldn’t cover. I became so rigid, I wouldn’t even answer a question my husband asked me upon waking in the morning, if simply looking for the information to answer the question felt like it was a diversion from my typical morning routine.

I felt so fragile, so vulnerable, so afraid all because I believed those doctor’s words as true NOW.  As a result, those words fueled a feeling of losing my fierce independence, and all the while not wanting to feel alone to figure it all out inside my head.

And then Pema Chodron’s wisdom came.  She invites us to lean into the fear and just name it “fear,” breathe into it and settle, observing it as fear taking hold of the body.   So, I practiced that.

And as I practiced, I noticed an intense yearning to fix the fear.  I wanted the fear to go away.  I wanted to find the “solution” to all that which the rigidity that fear created would not let me observe.  [All because I chose to believe some human being’s words as true for my immediate present and near future.]

And then I laughed again, realizing that likely what my fear/my rigidity is making it about today (a work schedule, finances) will change tomorrow. And it did; the next day was about cheese and toilet paper. (I’ll spare you the details.)   And at the end of that day of leaning into the fear, naming it, and breathing into it, settling and observing, I wondered, what I would make it about tomorrow.   Will I make it about the lamp being moved 2 inches? Or about where I place my walking shoes and socks?

It doesn’t seem logical… It doesn’t seem logical that when I notice feeling so fragile because of some truth I am experiencing or the experience of fear being fueled by the sharp edge of someone else’s words landing in my body… that when I notice that, I must lean into it, name it, breathing and settling into it so that I can observe it. But if I don’t, the rigidity that arises is so intense, I don’t even know where I am directing that fear.  I don’t even know that my thoughts, words, and actions which emerge from that rigidity are making me feel even more fragile.  I don’t know that I can’t discover any solutions to the underlying cause because my rigidity is freezing me into a pattern of behavior that may need to change for my own and others’ benefit.

So, when I notice feeling fragile, this is step one in the work I know I must do so that I can flourish in the reality of this present moment and see all the possibilities for flourishing in the future.

In closing, from my heart, I wish for you freedom from physical and emotional suffering, regardless of whether the source of that pain is from something you chose, something you didn’t choose, or some well-intentioned (or not so well-intentioned) person’s words,

Marilee

 

 

Strategies to Decrease Frustration when Working with Low Levels of Awareness in the Workplace

 

 

Strategies to Decrease Frustration when

Working with Low Levels of Awareness in the Workplace

By Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Ph.D.

Recently, I have had the honor of listening to a number of masters-level and doctorate-level students who are experiencing high levels of frustration in working with what I would like to call low levels of awarenessin the workplace. So, what does that mean?  Borrowing from the wisdom archive of “it takes one to know one.”  I can easily identify low levels of awarenessin the workplace because for most of my life, that is the place in which I have operated.  What do I mean?

Beginning with a definition from Merriam Webster, awareness is “the quality or state of being aware : knowledge and understanding that something is happening or exists promoting a heightened awareness of the problemseemed to have only a slight awareness of what was going on, an acute awareness of subtle differences.”  Extracted from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/awareness on 11-15-18.).  And now noticing the frustration of having a word defined by using the word, perhaps it is useful to examine the synonyms of awareness and they are ”attention,  cognizance,  consciousness,  ear,  eye,  heed, knowledge,  mindfulness,  note,  notice,  observance, observation.”  If the use of these synonyms is still not helpful, I like to operationally define awareness as simply noticing what you are noticing with open curiosity and gentle kindness.  So, as opposed to the kind of intensity that researchers bring to their research, this is more of an effortless effort of noting what is being observed and inquiring into what else is there.  And then engaging in this – noting what you are noticing – in a manner that goes beyond the first impression where judgment ensues and inquiry shuts down.  ‘Ya know what I mean?

According to the National Academies of Science (2017) and the Institute of Educational Sciences (2016), we can intentionally educate our students to become more open, mindful, and conscious.  I have interpreted this to mean that we can move ourselves from low levels of awareness to high levels of awareness but ONLY if we want to do so.  I want to do so because I have become so sad knowing all of the harm my choices have created when they emerge from low levels of awareness. As such, I have found myself enrolling in training program after training program for the last 13 years all in a passionate effort to move myself from operating consistently in low levels of awareness to a higher level of awareness.  In essence, I have sought to change the way I see the world.  I seek to move from a self-preservation, quick to judge, survival modality that informs decisions that can harm self and others to an open, vulnerable, curious, gentle, and kind way of being in the world that then leads to wiser and more skillful choices.

Yes, I notice I have a long way to go in moving to a high level of awareness – to a more consistent and frequent way of noting what I am noticing with open curiosity and gentle kindness that informs wise and skillful choice; the training (and continued training) have been immensely helpful. And what I have also noticed is that the students and colleagues I serve are my best teachers – of course they are. And here is what they demonstrated in their being with my low levels of awareness behavior that was particularly valuable for my moving forward in this awareness training.  In other words, rather than their moving to meet my low level of awareness and judging me (which would trigger survival behaviors such as avoidance or fighting), they remained at their high levels of awareness and engaged in inquiry that places the responsibility for doing something differently directly on my shoulders, as opposed to their needing to fix what my low level of awareness behavior was creating.

SO, when you notice low levels of awareness, consider practicing this…

  • What I heard you say is…
  • What I heard you feel is…
  • What creative solution is possible from the statement you just made?
  • What would that choice that you are considering create for [fill in the blank for the person or people your high level of awareness notices may be harmed from the choice they are about to make]?

There are many more questions and practices to engage in if you would like to do so… but these, as I can attest, have been useful in moving me forward.  Thank you students, colleagues, and my trusted teachers and mentors.

In joy,

Marilee

Testing your Vision for 2019

January 4, 2019

Testing your Vision for 2019

Welcome to a new year… we are four or so days into it (depending on what part of the world you find yourself in as you read this) and I am trusting that you have found some time to ponder what you would like to be, do, or create in your 2019.  If so, I trust that what you hope to be, do, and create aligns well with the Life Mastery Institute’s*list of criteria to test your dreams.  Basically, does what you want to be, do, or create in your life align well with:

  1. what you would loveto be, do, or create in the world – the kind of love that really warms your heart space in a way that you notice that warmth resonating in the heart space;
  2. what brings you alive– you know that champagne bubbly kind of feeling inside your veins where you just can’t wait to wake up and “get on it” kind of aliveness;
  3. a requirement to grow– to learn or discover something within and outside of yourself that is more than what you already know or are confident in;
  4. your core values– those personal, cultural, spiritual, familial, professional, ethical values that when you even think about compromising them or justify in your head compromising them, you throw up or at least get really queasy. So, is what you want to be, do, or create in 2019 in alignment with your core values?
  5. honoring your own human dignity and the human dignity of others*– sometimes, acting on a vision for a better way of living life means what you want to be, do, or create in the world might hurt another person’s feelings or be counter to their vision for your life. What we are speaking of here is a requisite that your vision is informed by a non-violent wisdom – the wisdom that states clearly and unequivocally that we are all human beings worthy of being treated with the highest level of dignity even when we vehemently disagree.  So, while I may abhor another human being’s behavior, my disgust of their behavior does not constitute justification for me to bring that other human being harm. Similarly, if another human being’s behavior is causing me harm, honoring my own human dignity means I can envision living in greater dignity than perhaps my current circumstance is revealing and therefore, I will make a new choice.  This also doesn’t mean absolving the harmful human behavior that led to the downfall of human dignity – either yours or another’s.  Finally, it also doesn’t mean that harmful behavior isn’t sanctioned; it means human dignity is not harmed in the process of sanctioning.  As you can see, this one will require more of our attention as we seek to restore injustices in the world, so we will be focusing on this much more in future blogs.  For now, consider what is possible for you with regard to this criterion as you test your vision for 2019.  Finally,
  6. trusting the life force that is breathing you* – you know that whole notion of sometimes “you just gotta trust what you can’t see”?Well, that is what we are talking about here.  While there is a lot of science that allows us to study and witness the life forces within every human being (respiration, digestion, circulation, neurology, etc.) that allow them to thrive and make choices to create, be and do, there is also a lot we just can’t see.   Most of us wake up each morning and just trust these various life forces to work so we can actually wake up (which has a lot of life force properties we can’t see going on) and function (whatever that means to you).  We don’t see it all working, we just trust it.  Choosing what you are going to be, do, or create in 2019 requires you to trust in what you cannot always see.  If it doesn’t, you chose an easy to attain goal and this world needs more from you so choose again.

In closing, if you haven’t yet decided what you want to be, do, or create in 2019… perhaps starting with these questions may be useful.  If you have decided, we invite you to test that vision against these Life Mastery Institute Criteria* and give yourself permission to adjust your vision for 2019 or choose again.

Wishing you a loving, alive, fully growing in alignment with your core values and in support of human dignity for all while trusting in what you cannot see kind of 2019!

Marilee

*Note that criteria 5 and 6 are not the exact criteria from Life Mastery Institute but modified criteria based on my life experience with human beings while trying to assure organizational members meet productivity requirements.

 

 

 

Happy New Year’s Eve Eve

 

December 30, 2018

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve.  It’s a time when we are to get excited about resolutions for the new year – it’s a time to nurture hope, fuel dreams, and resonate with all the possibilities that are to come.  This typically positive dreaming time of year is important medicine for the soul.  Holding hope that things can be better than they are, dreaming of a future where you feel more empowered, more alive, healthier, where the world feels safer, where equality is evident, where peace is possible… this kind of hoping, this kind of dreaming… well, it’s almost like it’s a prerequisite for optimal living.

To top it off, the Christmas season can prime the sensation of hope with its focus on love and generosity.   And whether you have a lot to give or a little, whether your heart has been broken or is overflowing, or whether you just received a life-threatening diagnosis, the Christmas season seems to absorb it all … it’s like a sponge for all the pain and suffering.  It’s as if the lights and the music and the smiles lighten the pain and you find yourself in a place that still allows you to prepare for something different to come in the new year.

Unless of course, Christmas season is a season that worsens the pain (like during the time following the divorce of my former husband and right smack within the heightened onset of my transverse myelitis).  When stuff like that happens, you can’t wait for it – Christmas season that is – to be over.

But what if your heart breaks afterChristmas? What if you lost something or someone you love afterChristmas?  What if you get your life-threatening diagnosis afterChristmas? What if Christmas magic (or even the wishing for “it to be over”) didn’t work for you after all?  Is there enough magic left over from Christmas day to sustain you into holding hope for a more positive future on New Year’s Eve?  Is there enough holiday love and generosity left to bring a positive new year’s resolution into your awareness?

I dunno. Maybe that’s why there are half-price holiday candy sales and so many people giving away leftover candy, cookies and other excess items.  Maybe those people are unconsciously trying to create some space for the people whose pain and suffering wasn’t absorbed by Christmas magic; at least not long enough for them to feel a flicker of hope to fuel at least one new year’s resolution or intention for a brighter tomorrow.

So, if you already have your new year’s resolutions or your intentions to live life in a particular way in 2019 – good on you(that is if those resolutions and intentions are in alignment with your higher levels of awareness and if they cause you and no one else harm).

If you are in the camp that is struggling with setting your 2019 intentions, just as I am, then join me in a mindful self-compassion practice created by Drs Kristin Neff and Chris Gerber (2018).

First, simply acknowledge the pain and suffering you are experiencing.  Yes, name it. For example, right now, I am calling mine WtF?  And if WtF?is a lot of stuff…. Pull it apart, like, look at all these kids dying… can’t we stop this for heaven’s sake…WtF?  I can’t believe she wasn’t promoted to full professor; her work is so powerful and important… WtF? What do you mean this disease isn’t treatable…WtF? How on earth do I get these board members to realize that just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it won’t create social injustice for those to follow…WtF? 

SO, after you acknowledge the pain and suffering and name it, then stop for a moment and just breathe deeply (whatever that means to you).  Then, remind yourself that you are not alone in this pain and suffering… for example, others are feeling the grief that they can’t stop a particular group of kids from dying; others are angry that this particular amazing scholar wasn’t promoted to professor, others are in shock that this life-threatening diagnosis has no treatment, and others (obviously not these particular board members) would be frustrated that they can’t see the policy they are creating is allegedly promoting social injustice.

Then offer yourself some soothing words of kindness that also validates the pain.  Validating the pain doesn’t mean that you agree with the underlying cause that created it.  It’s more like what you would say to a best friend who is experiencing what you are experiencing.  For me, I am choosing something like this, Yes, this sucks; I feel for you.  Who wouldn’t be feeling that way if they experienced that or witnessed that? I so wish I could fix this for you right now but I can’t.  And I’m feeling so upset that I can’t fix this.  So, how about I sit here and be here with you in this; would that be alright?  I’ll also be here with you through this, as long as you need me – I’m here for you, OK?

Yeah – it may sound silly… I used to think it was goofy… that was until I tried it on.  And now, I practice it a LOT!

And then one of my favorite things to do next is this… count my blessings…

Hey, I saw those eyes roll. Seriously, try it on just for a second… yes, you can count big blessings (aka what you feel grateful for) like friends and family, the amazing partner who loves you just as you are, fresh drinking water, electricity, and the ability to breathe, hear, and see (in all the ways that breathing, seeing, and hearing can occur).

HOWEVER, what I am really talking about here is this:

Let’s count the little blessings we take for granted every day such as a loving touch, the sensation of sun on the skin, a paper clip, a facial tissue, the waft of a welcomed fragrance that took just a fraction of a moment to recognize, a fraction of a moment invested in noticing what there is to notice, a genuine smile, a welcome song that randomly comes to mind and the amusement it brings as you realize you can hear inside of you what no one else is hearing.

The list can go on and on, yes?  I invite you to allow this list to go on and on until your attention drifts to something else… and perhaps that something else is a new year’s resolution.  Or perhaps your attention is now on an intention to invest in a new way of being and doing such as practicing self-compassion.  Perhaps that something else is a small flicker of hope that there is some beauty in the midst of intense pain and suffering, even if it is a fraction of a moment when you are slightly amused by the pattern in the sidewalk cracks or the dirt path before you or the letters, WtF.

Regardless, know you are not alone in either the joy of planning your new year’s resolutions or the post-Christmas season heavy heart that simply wants to be acknowledged with loving kindness.  And so here is something else we can now add to our list of blessings… Dr. Kristin Neff and more of her self-compassion exercises; check them out at https://self-compassion.org/category/exercises/#exercises

And if your heart is still super heavy and you need affirmation that you are not alone in this pain and suffering, we invite you to call this number (or perhaps a number you already have) so they can offer you support you deserve (1-800-273-8255).

In closing this entry, it isn’t easy to carry the burdens of your very real pain and suffering all by yourself… it isn’t.   And one of those little blessings is that we don’t have too… you don’t have to…remembering that can be another little blessing noticed in just this little fraction of a moment.

In loving kindness,

Marilee

Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Ph.D.

www.rushingtoyoga.org