Monday, January 30, 2012

Thoughts ...

As I mentioned in a previous post, I read The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. This was a really great read. It's short and easy to read but filled with some real wisdom. As I mentioned earlier, she talked about not comparing yourself to others. Then she lays out the guideposts (or qualities/values) that she found in her research led to whole living. Some of them I feel like I'm doing pretty well on or at least I'm aware of their importance and trying to incorporate them in my life.

Her guideposts are these:
authenticity
self-compassion
a resilient spirit
gratitude and joy
intuition and faith
creativity
play and rest
calm and stillness
meaningful work
laughter, song and dance

I found the chapter on gratitude and joy to be so inspiring. She said that as she did her research, she found that gratitude and joy were inextricably linked...that those who were joyous actively practiced gratitude. Also, she (like many apostles have done in conference talks) discussed the difference between happiness (which is a feeling that comes and goes and that is based on circumstances) and joy (which is a more spiritual feeling..its Greek root was chairo and means the "culmination of being" or "good mood of the soul".) What I found especially interesting is that she spent time in this chapter talking about the opposite of gratitude and joy which is fear and scarcity. Many of us (including me at times) get into attitudes of scarcity... "I didn't get enough sleep", "there isn't enough money", "my students aren't doing well enough on tests." She quotes Lynne Twist in The Soul of Money, who writes, "Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don't have enough of..." (page 83). She then says, "As I read this passage, it makes total sense to me why we're a nation hungry for more joy: Because we're starving from a lack of gratitude." (page 83) Wow! That seems so powerful to me. How many times have I answered someone's query, "How are you doing?" with something like, "Fine, but too busy." So time to transform my thinking. I have chosen the activities in my life and for the most part, I am happy with them...so time to stop complaining about them and give thanks for them, or let them go. Scarcity is a big part of what I see as a problem in public education right now...and I could do a long post on just this. But basically we, as a nation, are so scared that some other country will pass us by and we won't be number one. We are afraid that there aren't enough high achieving students, that students aren't passing enough tests, that we won't make "adequate yearly progress" and as a consequence we are making some very bad decisions as a nation when it comes to education. We are testing too much and instructing too little. We are teaching kids to bubble in worksheets but not teaching them to be creative, to appreciate the arts, to understand history (so we won't be doomed to repeat it), etc. I could go on an on.

I found the chapter on creativity both interesting and in a sense, rewarding. I can relate to her original thoughts that she is "not a creative person" because I've definitely thought that before. But as I read that chapter, I realized some interesting things. First, my blog is one way I am creative (I was about to add a deprecating remark about how my blog isn't that creative, but after reading this book, I'm not going to). But secondly, I realized in a more concrete way one of the reasons why so many teachers are not happy with being handed text books and teacher's guides and told to teach out of them. One reason of course, is that there are often times when the way a lesson is being taught is not the best way to teach that lesson to the group of students you have in front of you that year. Perhaps, they need even more background before they can learn it...or less... or they'd learn it better if there was art or music tied to the lesson or whatever. But, I also think that teachers are frustrated because our ability to use creativity is being hampered. As I read this, I realized that teaching is my main way to act creatively and that I'm happiest as a teacher when I'm putting my own spin on a lesson...even if I'm teaching the same concept as the text book, if I'm doing it in my own unique way, then I'm happier, more enthusiastic and the lesson generally goes better. Brown says, "There's not such thing as creative people and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don't. Unused creativity doesn't just disappear. It lives within us until it's expressed, neglected to death, or suffocated by resentment and fear." (page 96) In a way it is refreshing. We, the teachers at my school, have been accused a few times of being "unwilling to change" or being "stuck in our ways" and I've always felt that (at least for most of us on my faculty) that was an unfair description. No two years are ever the same in teaching and I'm constantly changing things and trying new things. I don't think I'm unwilling to change, in general, but I am unwilling to change if I'm being told to do things that I don't believe are best for children and that take away my creative process. I've tried in various ways to explain that, but I'm not sure I've been 100% aware of what I was feeling. This book helped.

I am thrilled that I do feel I am engaged in meaningful work and to have that reinforced as I read the chapter.

And now to the most difficult chapter for me. Guidepost 7, "Cultivating Play and Rest". I'm okay at playing with my children. I take them out to do fun things with them and I read to them and I even get down on the ground and play with them. But I'm not so good at the resting, overall. And could be better at the playing, as well. I would like to read Dr. Stuart Brown's book, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul. Some of what she talked about, I already knew... at least when it comes to my children. I make sure that they aren't too overscheduled so they have free time most evenings to play. But wow, I had some personally rude awakenings as I read this chapter. I'm a busy woman with a full time job and I'm a mom and I'm active in my church, etc. And I actually usually like most of what I'm doing and feel it is important. But I found that I'm very guilty of using all that I get done as a kind of badge to show myself (in my head) and maybe to show others that I'm of worth. Brene Brown says, "If we want to live a Wholehearted life, we have to become intentional about cultivating sleep and play, and about letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth." (page 102) Wow! That could have been written to me. I often find myself feeling very proud of the fact that I teach all day, have 3 great kids (who are great kids but are far from perfect! and neither is their mother), cook a healthy meal for dinner most nights and a healthy meal for breakfast most days, keep my house fairly tidy and read a lot of books. I do it all! (I think this as I mentally pat myself on the back.) Now, don't get me wrong. I also have plenty of the other kinds of thoughts...about all the things I'm not doing right, about the things I leave undone, etc. In this moment of self-disclosure, I'll even admit to something that I only sort of realized about myself until I read this book. I love to read. It is one of the things I do for myself, to relax, unwind and to have a little "me time". Reading is a priority for me. I don't do well when I have weeks where I have little time to read. But if I'm not being careful, even reading can turn into one of my "to do" things rather than a pleasure. I'm on goodreads and at times, I find myself comparing myself to others...and thinking, "wow, I haven't read nearly as many books as she has" or "she reads more sophisticated books than I do". There I go, comparing myself again. A couple of years ago, I admitted to a couple of friends that I feel almost a little panicky if I run out of books to read...I always have at least 2 or 3 books checked out for myself at any given time. A wise, dear friend said something along the lines of "Jenny, you are more than the sum total of your list of books read." At the time, my feelings were a tiny bit hurt (not too much and certainly not enough to hurt my friendship, but a tiny bit). But I've reflected on that off and on since the comment was made and realize what a wise comment it was. I am much more than just the books I've read or the tasks I've accomplished. I don't have to get a million things done each day to be of value. I am a child of God, His daughter. My worth comes from who I am, not what I get done. I need to take time to play, to laugh, listen to music, dance with my children, and recognize the joy in life ...and not push myself to keep working when I'm tired, but to get enough sleep. What a great book. I still have a lot to learn and a lot to get better at. But I'm thankful for the insights I've gained.