Over the summer I had the opportunity to watch Ram Dass: Fierce Grace on Netflix. If you have not had the pleasure of viewing this film, I highly recommend it.
Dass, formerly known as Dr. Richard Alpert, is a fascinating figure who was once a Harvard Professor, an "experimenter" in "mind expansion," and a spiritual seeker who traveled to many places searching for enlightenment.
I was so fascinated by his story that I began listening to a series of podcasts that feature talks he has given. I also read his most famous book, Be Here Now. Both are incredibly interesting and made me reflect deeply upon my own journey.
Dass is certainly not going to be appreciated by everyone, but he has made a huge impact on me. Below are some quotes from Dass to reflect upon. If they ring true to you, I encourage you to check out the links above.
A page from Be Here Now
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I have never met a teacher who enjoyed duty. Whether it is monitoring kids getting off the bus on a cold morning, ensuring nobody cuts in line in a loud cafeteria, or maintaining some sense of order during recess, teachers more often than not perform these duties unenthusiastically.
I remember literally counting the seconds until duty was over. I recall being bored, frustrated, and trying every mental trick I could think of to take my mind off of the crushing monotony of this involuntary task.
I won't pretend I ever learned to LOVE duty, but I did finally have a breakthrough that made it much more pleasant. It went like this:
One semester I was assigned duty outside during lunch. I was tasked with preventing students from entering our main building without a pass. This duty was pretty easy, but I had to regularly confront students who did not have passes. By the third or fourth student, it was easy to lose my patience. "No, you CANNOT go in the building unless you have a pass!"
Around that time I began reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. It dawned on me that I was never accepting the present moment while I was on duty. I was constantly wishing I were somewhere else. I was always internally stuggling against the moment. My mind was almost always in the past or future because it HATED the present. When a student forced me into the present moment, I became irritated because it took me out of the comfort of my inner world of thought, my "internal escape from the now mechanism."
So I decided to shift my approach to duty. I attempted to be present for the whole thing. I started by just noticing the sky, the interesting weeds growing in the grass, the bugs, birds and planes that flew around, the feeling of a cool breeze or the warmth of the sun, etc. I decided to stop fighting the present moment and realized the folly of my internal struggle. I was a TEACHER. I wanted to continue being a teacher. Part of being a teacher is performing duty. So duty was not an option, and there was simply no point in wishing things were different. I was causing my own suffering by the way I THOUGHT about duty. That awareness alone was the most important initial step. It took lots of effort, but over time I was able to spend more and more of my time on duty in the present. This made my interactions with students much easier. The frustration melted, and I was able to address almost every situation calmly.
The next semester I had duty outside where kids were eating. I had to monitor them and make sure they took their trays back to the cafeteria. Fortunately, I had a lunch break right before this duty. I began regularly practicing short meditations during my break so I could go into duty with my mind settled. I'm not sure I can honestly say I ENJOYED that duty, but I was in complete acceptance of it. There was very little inner struggle, unless it was a REALLY cold day. I enjoyed conversations with students and often felt a deep sense of tranquility as I sat outside and watched young people laugh, play ball, and enjoy their lunch.
Now that I work for CERRA, I no longer have to perform duty. I can't tell you that I miss it, but I have tried to apply the lessons I learned about duty to the other mundane situations in which I constantly find myself. Whether it is waiting in line at Walmart or getting caught in a traffic jam on Highway 501, I know the trick to remaining present. I know it, but often forget it. When I forget, I get agitated. When I remember, I am able to keep things in perspective and the irritation either subsides or is prevented altogether.
So here are some tips for learning to accept duty and make it a much more pleasant experience.
We give away far too many minutes, hours and days of our lives living in conflict with the present moment. If we are constantly wishing time would just hurry by, so we can get to a place where we can be happy, we will sacrifice a HUGE portion of our lives. The goal is to embrace every second we have on this planet. It's time to bring the battle with now to an end because now is all we will ever have.
Update on Jan. 20th, 2014 - The Seahawks are headed to the Superbowl for the second time in franchise history.
Update on Jan. 3rd, 2014 - The Seattle Seahawks wound up 13-3. Seattle and Denver ended the regular season with the nest record in the NFL. Seattle is the number one seed in the playoffs and are considered favorites to advance to this year's Superbowl.
Update on November 22nd- The Seattle Seahawks are currently 10-1, the best record in the NFC.
ESPN posted an article in August that has the potential to accelerate the spread of mindfulness. In the article, ESPN describes how Head Coach Pete Carroll and his staff have taken a completely new approach to coaching and managing players. A key component of their new system is to integrate meditation and yoga to prepare players for the chaos that inevitably comes on the field and in their lives. This approach contrasts greatly from traditional approaches that emphasize yelling, cussing, stern attitudes, and draconian training practices. Those traditional practices remain the standard for leading an NFL team.
The article gives a great example of how this traditional approach is utilized from the beginning of a player's career. To prepare NFL rookies, the league hosts the NFL Rookie Symposium. One of the most powerful parts of the article describes a speech made at this year's symposium .
"Chris Ballard, the director of player personnel for the Chiefs, has a harsh message for the recent draft picks. 'Most of you will not be in this league three years from now,' he begins. Later, he adds, 'Nobody cares about your problems. The fans don't care. The media doesn't care. And ownership doesn't care. They care about results.' These words are spoken seven months after a Kansas City player, Jovan Belcher, shot his girlfriend nine times, then drove to the team facility and killed himself in the parking lot. But in what remains a suck-it-up NFL culture, that speech could have been delivered by almost anybody in the league."
It then dawned on me that this speech, or at least its intent, is probably duplicated numerous times in school districts across our country. I will reword it to illustrate my point.
John Smith, the principal of John Doe Elementary School, has a harsh message for new teachers. "Half of you will not be in this profession five years from now." he begins. Later, he adds, "Nobody cares about your problems. The students don't care. The parents don't care. And the administration doesn't care. They care about results." But in what remains a suck-it-up education culture, that speech could have been delivered by almost anybody in the country."
While there are many caring and compassionate administrators in our country, the message that MANY teachers receive is essentially the same. RESULTS! We don't really care about you. Results are king. Don't like it? Can't hack it? Stressed out? Leave the profession! And so....they do.
Coach Carroll's new approach was born from his observations over years of coaching. He notes, "It hit me that in our days at USC, many of our players were drafted high, but a lot of them didn't do very well in the league. They would come back to visit campus and say: 'It's hard-core. You don't know anybody. You go home and you're by yourself. You don't feel connected at all.' We had reached guys at a different level that allowed them to perform at a high level. And when they left us, they didn't have the support to carry them through."
Does something similar happen to the young people who leave our colleges of education and enter the teaching profession?
Substitute teachers for players and school for league and you have a perfect description of why so many teachers are leaving the profession within their first five years.
So what does Carroll's new approach look like?
But aren't results important?
Last year, with a rookie quarterback, the Seahawks went 11-5 in the regular season, won a playoff game, and missed the NFC Championship game by 2 points.
Success on the field, or in the classroom, depends on a large number of factors. Even if Carroll's philosophy has a neutral impact on wins and losses, isn't it worth implementing a system that makes players/teachers happier? My guess, however, is that we will see the Seahawks experience high levels of success. What would happen if a superintendent of principal gave Carroll's ideas a shot?