In an attempt to make this into a ‘great’ lesson, let me start by telling you about where I am at personally in my life: I haven’t been writing enough recently.
I know, I must have big problems in my life if that’s what I’m complaining about! But in all seriousness, it is a major a problem for me – I can feel that it’s a problem for me in the contentment I have been feeling in my craft recently. You see, writing is the second step (after verbally processing with a friend) in a sequence that I don’t take pleasure in, but that I know provides meaning to my life as a way to process the events taking place around me and to set a path forward of embetterment. Thus, if I’m not doing it, I’m not reflecting, processing, serving students to the best of my abilities, and living consciously. That’s a big deal to me.
There are a lot of reasons that I haven’t been writing, but at the end of the day, all of them are BS… excuses. The real reason at the heart of it all is that we live in a world of constant busy-ness in which we get very little work that is of substance accomplished. I sit down to type my thoughts on my computer and suddenly remember that I need to order a new High-Limit Thermostat for my project on fixing our dryer, and switch tabs to order that quickly on Amazon. Then I remember that I forgot to email that kid’s tutor with the Study Guide for the final exam, so I do that. I convince myself that these are all things that needed to get done, so I am doing well! But it’s horse shit. I’m making myself busy rather than productive. I’m doing exactly what I’m trying to teach my students not to do.
Well, I caught myself doing this a few weeks ago, and realized I needed a re-set. I needed to get away from our technology that we love so much for a little while; I needed to return to writing in a notebook with a perfectly sharpened (by a hand-turned sharpener) pencil. I needed to return to meditating – to help me practice the skill of controlling my attention, and to return to doing my Training Plan. As a result of my own efforts, I created this lesson for students that I think could be useful to every student in modern America as a starting place for how to re-set when the lure of technology attains the gravitational force of a black hole, or when the frantic need to be busy but not necessarily productive in the modern world feels overwhelming. Obviously this is not a stand-alone lesson that will change everything, but the start of an ongoing process that needs to be incorporated into the school culture.
Start off by taking the time (if you don’t already do this every day) to stand at the classroom door and welcome each student into the room. Shake hands, give fist bumps, and look them in the eyes.
After the routine of the Mindful Moment, just chat with students for a little while. Tell them a story about a time in your life where you encountered a struggle similar to the one I just described with my writing; relate it to the point of the Mindful Moment – to practice our ability to control the only thing we actually own in this life, our attention. Personalize things! We are all struck by the urge to capitalism, which plays directly on an ability to control our attentions and emotions to get more money from us, the non-rational actors in this global economy, and I’m sure you have stories of struggling to get the things you intend to do done in your life as well!
Now that the tone is set, explain that we are going to do an extra practice session, trying to dive with a bit more depth into meditation. This will feel uncomfortable, but you will get more out of it the more you attempt to relax into it. This practice session is paradoxical, because we are going to be using technology to help us guide our meditation session. Then, get your class set-up with a good posture and have them breathe. Begin to play the recording of Alan Watt’s speech, Limitless Life found on YouTube. A special note of consideration here: you may have already noticed that YouTube, like so many other online content carriers, would like for you to just move on at the end of a video to whatever they have decided is next in queue for you. Plan and prepare for this.
You will have to explain the second portion of the lesson before starting the first. Students will need to be prepared with a clean sheet of paper or notepad, and a sharpened pencil (as a total consumerist tip, the Mitsubishi KH 20 Hand-Crank Sharpener is a game-changer… get three). After the ‘guided meditation’ by Alan Watts is finished, without talking to anyone, students will just begin to free-write about anything that pops into their mind, even just describing the things around them, with focus on making every letter of their writing absolutely perfect, but recognizing that none of them will actually be perfect and continuing on nonetheless. The attentional control is what is important! This part of the activity will go for an uncomfortable amount of time (as perceived by the modern brain)… so about 10-12 minutes.
Next, we will get into a seminar circle, and each student will share out how the activity made them feel. The assignment for every student who is not currently sharing is easy, but oh-so-hard: focus 100% of their attention on listening to the person speaking. When their mind drifts to things like what they will say when their turn comes, simply notice that thought and redirect it gently back to the speaker.
Finally, we end with either an introduction to or a re-dedication to our practice of completing our Daily Training Plans. These provide structure to our lives that turns out to be incredibly powerful in battling the forces of consumerism and busy-ness that be in our society.
That’s it. Try it out, please! Put your personal spin on it all!