Category Archives: meditation

brilliant honesty

One of the positive comments I often get on my work is that my writing style is remarkably candid and direct. Such comments go back to graduate school when peers would read my work and has followed me through my years as a professor. This consistency often bothers me because I want to be commended for being “smart,” dare I hope “brilliant,” sometimes I’d even take “interesting” over “honest.” I know theoretically that this desire has more to do with the self-doubt that academia is structured to instill in scholars than with my own desires, but that doesn’t stop my cringing.

buddha keyboard

What often happens when I get such comments is that I immediately want to take everything back. I want a do-over because I feel over-exposed and under-assimilated into the profession that I’ve chosen to pursue. One of the things that daily mediation has helped me to do is to notice my behavior patterns. And I recently had cause to notice and reflect on this particular pattern when I received an email about work I had shared with a group and the following sentence triggered my insecurities:

Thank you for bravely sharing your thoughts on your pedagogical experiment, for modeling a kind of honest wrestling with difficult questions that is rare in the all-too-often performative realm of the academy.

I had the initial knee-jerk reaction: “Crap, there it is again. So much for the ground-breaking I was shooting for. I need to work harder to make it innovative. I should…I’m not…Why can’t I? etc. etc. etc.” All the monkey-mind negative thoughts that have made their home in my head. (Whenever I really pay attention to such thoughts I think of the sitcom, Herman’s Head, where parts of the title character’s psyche were personified and viewers became privy to how his thoughts and actions were connected).

But the whole email was so beautifully written that I had to reread it. And the rereading gave me enough space to pause and notice the path I was travelling mentally. I realized that my work was being described as valuable. Indeed, uniquely so. Brilliance is so firmly established as the ideal for academic work that we see anything less as, well, less. Is there something to be said for other types of contributions? Like honesty? And candor?

Of course, the negative thoughts haven’t packed up and left. But they have been relegated to a corner for a bit while I play with this notion of other virtues of academic writing. And with the budding realization that this is my academic style. Readers aren’t randomly choosing similar words to describe my work. Actually, I’ve gotten some similar comments from friends about my Calm Strength posts as well, so it seems that I am the one privileging this approach in my writing. (Although it took lots of attempts and deletions to almost state that brilliance may not be the end-all/be-all/everything of academic writing.)

All this to say, I am noticing three patterns here: my writing approach, the responses to my writing, and my response to those responses. Thanks to my work with daily meditation, rather than constantly coming down on myself for not changing my writing style, I am learning to insert a little space between the second and third of these patterns.

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Sneaky moves

I’ve been having conversations with fellow academics lately about how to fit in movement and mindfulness now that school will soon begin, or has already begun, for Fall semester. It’s relatively easy to begin or recommit to a practice in the summer, when classes are out and you make your own schedule, but how to maintain this when the pressures of the semester begin to build and your calendar starts to look like an obstacle course?

First, I recommend blocking off time for self-care in your calendar that is sacred. That means no moving it around for anyone or anything. That also means not choosing a time that you know will be challenged constantly. Everyone’s calendar is different, but after you’ve mapped class times, monthly meetings (the ones you know at the beginning of the semester), and other regular time commitments in for the semester, see what time for the week you can block out just for yourself. If you’re ambitious, maybe two blocks per week. Or, maybe that time period can coincide with your favorite yoga class or meditation sitting.

Second, try to work in short 2-minute breath meditations in the interstices of your day. (If you have no interstices, make some. If you can’t figure out how, reevaluate your scheduling…is it necessary to do everything back-to-back?) Just sit, close your eyes (and your door if you’re in your campus office) and count 15 deep breaths. That easy.

Third, sneak some mindful movement into your day. Below are some suggestions for various times.

Morning

Sun Salutations. These are a ready-made way to squeeze strengthening, stretching, and centering into your day. Too many benefits to name and if you do a few right as you roll out of bed, then you’re done for the whole day. See “5 Reasons Sun Salutations are the Best Way to Start Your Day” for some specific benefits and a visual guide to the traditional Surya A.

But what about when you’re having one of those days, when even rolling out of bed takes effort. For those days I just scoot down off my pillow and do a modified version on my back. The key is to move with your breath. Inhale, arms above head, exhale arms back down. You can add on by brining a knee to your chest on the exhale and hugging it in for a bit. Then alternating knees. Feel free to improvise. When you’ve done a few, bring both knees to your chest, roll to your right side, and push up to seated. Guess what, now you’re almost out of bed!

Throughout the day

As the title of the article indicates, these exercises can be done at any point during your day; so, for between classes, or during mandatory 5-10 minute writing/grading breaks, squeeze in the following moves described in “Anywhere, Anytime Pilates Moves You Should Squeeze into Your Day.” They help to bring your mind out of the academic trenches and move your body out of the perennial computer crunch. Some are designed to be done right there at your desk. I especially like any that make me take my shoes off and move my toes; there’s just something so decadent about that.

Evening

Technically, you could close your day with those bed salutes described above, but, for variety, try these “3 easy stretches you should do every night.” The first one is a bit confusing, but I think it’s your top leg that you should let hang off the bed. Also suggest you do that one last since who wants to then get up and do the other two?

Of course, there are lots of other ways to sneak mindfulness and movement into your day. I hope these few suggestions show how easy it can be. But even so, try to also get to a yoga or meditations class now and again throughout the semester to commune with other folks committed to this contemplative life.

Wishing everyone a great Fall semester!

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Jillian Pransky at TEDxNavesink

One of the guest teachers in my 500-hour yoga teacher training program, the gracious and generous Jillian Pransky, gave a talk recently at TEDxNavesink. In this talk, titled “Mindplay to Expand Love in Your Life,” Jillian explains the benefits of metta meditation and leads the audience in a short practice.

Jillian’s easy charisma and her willingness to weave anecdotes from her own life alongside words from teachers such as Pema Chodron make the practice and the philosophy behind it accessible for audience members at all levels of experience with meditation. The talk is less than 12 minutes, but could easily be the highlight of your day today.