Practical Spirituality

Creating Balance during COVID-19

We’ve been on lockdown due to COVID-19. I wear a mask to food shop. I practice social distancing. I live in NJ and last night they included county parks to the list of things that are now closed. I’ve also been remote teaching for the last ten days. The previous 10 days have been unique, and this is putting it mildly. I’m sure that everyone has their unique story or experience during these times. We have just started our Spring Break from school, which gives me some time to stop. It may sound ridiculous to make the statement that I now have time to stop, during a time where we have all been asked to stop.If however, you are a teacher or a parent home with your kids, if there is now or soon to be a Spring break from the remote learning, the sign in, the emails, the uploads…you can relate to this statement with a head nod.

As I have time to get off of autopilot I have time to reflect. The last conversation I had with a parent before our break was about “getting back to basics” One of the “basics” of working with children with autism is being mindful of praise and positive reinforcement. In our classroom if you say, “No!” then you are basically reinforcing a behavior. The parent nodded in agreement and admitted that they had become frustrated with their child’s behavior and meltdowns, and that they had not been using positive reinforcement. I assured them that this is natural , I get frustrated too….. we both had a laugh.

The basics of a special ed classroom, positive reinforcement is nothing more than saying yes to what you want. It’s refraining from using the word, No. If you want to look at this concept through spiritual eyes, then it’s about positive and negative energy. It’s about being mindful of where your energy is. It’s about being mindful of your words.

What are you saying no to? What are you saying yes to? Where is your energy these days?

Be mindful of where your attention is.

I’m not talking about dealing with every day crisis. These are scary times. People are sick, people are dying. Businesses are closed, people are unemployed. There is real fear.
I am fully aware of this. Despite these circumstances I am also aware of the necessity of being mindful of where my attention is. I’m mindful of where my energy is.

Back to the basics.

It’s not the time to be judgmental. Maybe you’re judgmental of yourself for not doing enough. Maybe you’re judgmental of others for not doing enough.

It’s not the time to be political. ( political and judgmental seem to go hand in hand lately)

Back to basics.

In your quiet moments what are you reinforcing? Is it more fear? Is it frustration over your confinement? Are you in the present moment or thinking about tomorrow? If you are thinking about tomorrow is it a happy thought or a negative one?

I’m finding it increasingly important to create balance. It’s necessary for me to stay practical and grounded. Take care of daily business. At the same time I also need to utilize my spiritual perspective: face and process fears and judgments, invite in more of what I want.

How exactly do I invite in more of what I want?

Back to basics.

Mindfulness. I notice small things to appreciate. In this moment I can see out my window the tree that bloomed pretty flowers. There is hot coffee brewing in the kitchen, and I love that smell. My cat wants me to pet her. I breathe. This practice of mindfulness took less than a minute. It’s minutes like these that helps me create much needed balance.

I do have a choice to gravitate toward the negative. I can shout No! I can tell you from experience in my classroom that this option never gives me a desired outcome. Ever.
So I’m going to try my best outside of the classroom to do the same.

The Art of Letting Go Some things are just not in your control

As a Special Education teacher, I have to find balance between having control of my classroom and letting go of control. It’s my job to make sure that my kids are learning and that the classroom, which consists of eight students and five paraprofessionals, is running smoothly and with teamwork. There are schedules, IEPs to follow, and goals to be met. This requires me to have control.

Yet, on a daily basis I need to let go of control. More importantly, I need to be OK with letting go.

There are unexpected schedule changes. The World Language teacher is absent. Gym time has been changed. We have a fire drill. A child comes in not feeling well. One or more of my students has a tantrum ( at the same time) Someone has a bathroom accident. Someone spills something. You get the idea!

If you have worked with or have a child who has autism then you know how upsetting it can be to have a change in routine. When there is a change in their schedule, this child feels that loss of control and it usually will result in a tantrum.

You don’t need to have autism to dislike losing your sense of control. Change can be difficult for anyone, but for someone who has a personality where control is important, ( dare I call you a control freak/ type A personality) losing control of a situation can give you heart palpitations.

I get it. I feel you.

Now let’s throw in the whole Coronavirus situation! Life has turned upside down. Schools have closed. Workplaces have closed. Things are closing as I type. We have been thrown into a crash course of letting go of control!

It seems like nothing is in our control, and this is an unsettling feeling.

It’s why I was inspired to write this post today. I write to remind myself. I write to maybe inspire you. It’s true, there is so much that I cannot control, especially now. What do know is that fighting this fact is futile. No matter how many times I shout out to God or the Universe that it should NOT be this way, I come to the same realization….

I cannot control it. It is this way.

Fighting to have control gives me no comfort. It will give you no comfort either. This is why I share the art of letting go.

Accept. ( this is what is going on)

Breathe. ( just take a deep breath)

Choose. (consciously let go of what isn’t working…. needing control)

Now remind yourself that you are doing the best you can. Breathe some more. Find something to make you smile. Drink water. Treat your body with kindness. Treat others with kindness. Listen to music. Dance in your living room. Read. Watch TV that inspires you.

Let go of control.

Don’t Take It So Personally

As a Special Education Teacher I have to have thick skin. I teach children who have autism and many of these children come without filters. On any given day one of my students could call me stupid, or old, or fat. Most of my students are not being malicious, although I have been called an asshole in the context of a student being angry at me. To thrive at my job ( and survive) I just can’t take it so personally.

I’m human though, and if I happen to be not feeling quite so attractive one day and a student asks me why I have lines around my eyes, sure I can notice what I like to call a “trigger” in myself. An insecurity I happened to be feeling about myself was triggered. A trigger feels like a little “ping” in my body.

I have choices here as to how I react. I can get angry, I can get depressed, in other words, I could take it personally. I could also choose to step back from it being so personal, and I could simply notice that I had been triggered, then let it go.

If I choose to step back and notice, this is self awareness in action. This is mindfulness.

In my awareness have to ask myself if silently beating myself up over my appearance benefits me in any way? Of course not. My student energetically played a part in this awareness. This encounter and my acknowledgment of it is my version of mindfulness in the classroom.

Let’s take this awareness out of the classroom. We can all be students and teachers. Ask yourself, “Am I taking this personally?”

I’m not saying that if some random stranger calls you stupid, fat, or some other nasty thing that you need to be OK with it. Nor am I saying that you should take shit from people in your circle. What I am trying to shine a light on is your awareness of your own triggers and how you then choose to deal with them.

Are you aware when one of your insecurities is triggered? How do you choose to react?

You see a really fit and attractive woman walking down the street. Her clothes show off her body. Do you appreciate how good she looks. Do you feel a ping in your body and silently say “bitch”? Do you make snide comments about her to your friends?

Someone at work gets praised for doing a good job, maybe they even receive some type of promotion or bonus.They have worked really hard, and they really deserve it.

Do you acknowledge their hard work?
Did you feel a ping in your body when you heard the news and then complain about it to your friends?

You read something on FB that got you all fired up. Perhaps you read someone’s political post that differs from your beliefs. There is a lot back and forth nasty banter on FB these days.

I could go on an on with various examples of possible triggers, but ask yourself if you connected with any of the examples I gave. How often are you taking things personally? How often do you then react in a not so positive way?

I often read about people whose feelings are being hurt for one reason or another. I hear about it on the news. While there can be legitimate reasons that someone is upset over something they hear, read, or see, there are just as many instances where they are over reacting. If you find yourself constantly feeling that ping in your stomach, and constantly taking things personally, it may be time to do some self reflection.

Please know that I am not writing about extreme cases here. In no way am I writing about someone being bullied. I have zero tolerance for bullying and I could write a whole different post about what’s behind the motives of a bully. What I am talking about here are those small insignificant events that seem to get under your skin. Those insignificant events that you physically feel inside your belly.

I’m talking about the people who “bother” you. I’m talking about the FB posts that annoy you. I’m talking about those moments when someone else’s happiness or good fortune aggravates you. I’m talking about those tiny dramas that go on inside of your head where you feel insulted or disrespected. I’m talking about many of those times, that if you are honest with yourself, the other person wasn’t really directing anything at you…..but you took it personally.

My mother used to always say, “Don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill.” Her advice serves me well. Life can have many mountains to climb. I know I’ve faced mine, but I certainly don’t have to create more of them.

Neither do you.

There are plenty of legitimate times that something is going to upset you in one way or another. My desire for this post is to help weed out the times when you maybe you simply don’t need to take it personally. Awareness of triggers of your own insecurities is the first step toward changing them. If you resonate with anything I have written here, then simply question yourself the next time you feel that “ping” I’ve been talking about. Look a little deeper, and remind yourself that you don’t need to take it personally.

The Importance of Mindfulness

Being mindful is important both in and out of the classroom. What exactly do I mean when I say that it’s important to be mindful? If you were to Google “mindfulness” you will see it defined as being present. For me, being mindful is paying attention to the present moment. It’s paying attention to my thoughts, my emotions, and how my body physically feels in the present moment. As a Special Education teacher it’s also important to be present with my students in this same way.

I can tell you that it takes practice to be mindful.

How do I know I am not being mindful? I know that I am not in the present if I come to work remembering something that happened yesterday, or if I am worried about something that might happen tomorrow.

If I am lost in thoughts from yesterday or tomorrow, then I am living life on autopilot. Living on autopilot can affect my body physically and emotionally. It can be a vicious cycle. Most times, thoughts from yesterday or tomorrow are troublesome rather than pleasant, and such thoughts prohibit me from my experience of the here and now.

Living on autopilot, is therefore a huge block to being more mindful and mindfulness is a huge stepping stone toward more balance, happiness, and ease in your life.

As I mentioned before, mindfulness takes practice. You have to first recognize if you have been living on autopilot. What I would like you to take away from this blog post is an awareness of where you are on the spectrum between autopilot and mindful.

Living on autopilot is nothing more than a habit, and it is a habit that can be changed. Your self awareness plays a key role in any change, and it is a topic that this Spiritual Sped will continue to explore if you care to join me.