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Saturday, November 21, 2009

(long and rambling) Ahimsa and Veteran's Day

Veteran's Day was my last yoga class at Stillwaters with Kathie. I'm forever thankful to Amy for turning me on to Kathie and this practice. It has been quite transformative. I will go back after surgery.

On Veteran's Day, we discussed the precept of Ahimsa, which is the practice of non-injury. That seemed like a very appropriate topic for Veteran's day. Without realizing it, ahimsa is something I've been exploring for awhile in my efforts to eliminate stress as much as possible and to focus only on what I must. Ahimsa means non-injury in thought, word, and deed. In my reading, I've discovered that, indeed, I have, unintentionally, been attempting this this semester. Early on, shortly after my diagnosis and when I was being encouraged to take the whole semester (and even the year) off, I decided that I could use the energy in my students in a positive way; therefore, I decided to teach.

Frankly, I've been teaching for quite a while. And there have been semesters (and probably times in each semester) when I've been discouraged, negative, and really quite down on my students. In general, though, I really do enjoy being with them. I derive the same type of good energy from my teens and their friends these days, hence the fact that even on chemo-crash weekends there are usually extra teens around here.

So, in August, I made a conscious decision to be positive about teaching and my students this semester. I vowed to not take their foibles personally and to view them as paths to student success. On the surface, perhaps not much has changed. However, I can honestly say that I've had a lot more patience and derived a lot more enjoyment from those individuals. Viewing them as individuals has also made a difference. But first I had to change my actions and approach, which led to a change in my words and tone, and finally in my thoughts.

In changing my thoughts, I've found it even easier to change my words and tone with my students. All of which has made an even larger change in my actions...all leading to a HUGE reduction in my personal stress level. Sure, not all of them are passing, but I no longer find that frustrating. And I'm incredibly pleased with the progress they've all made. I don't even know if I can put the change into words. I guess it is similar to what I've been telling my children forever: it's about YOUR reaction not HIS action. In taking control of my thoughts and words, I've taken control of my actions, making it easier to develop and enforce boundaries as well as finding it easier to allow for flexibility.

I will admit that I'm a good teacher. But I think I'm jacking it up to a whole new level now. It's not just about getting my students to pass, it's helping them develop into better people as well as better thinkers, students and writers. I want them to leave my class believing that someone at BGSU cares about them as individuals and humans and not just PID numbers and tuition checks or empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge and skills. And that's actually quite liberating to me.

What does this have to do with ahimsa? In retrospect, I know that I have harmed individual students, by engendering in them negative feelings, anger, frustration (negative frustration--frustration can also be used positively), feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. This is not to say that the student who emailed me yesterday, basically telling me he is dropping out of BGSU and fears he will fail my class, isn't frustrated and angry, but my role in that is minimal. A year ago, my underlying approach would have been different. I'd have, in essence, looked upon the whole situation differently. And, for the first time in a long time...maybe in forever...I'm not upset, frustrated, or stressed by the students not doing well. Yet, at this point in the semester more of them are doing well than in past semesters. Attendance in two of my three classes is booming. If I leaved "things" tiny, they don't expand into something big which then becomes a negative feedback loop.

But back to part, it seems to me, of non-injury is also the thoughtful pause. If controlling my thoughts is mindfulness, then controlling my words would be restraint. Clearly, anyone who knows me knows that this is one of my utmost weaknesses. I shoot off my mouth, thoughtlessly, numerous times a day. Chemo-brain hasn't helped much in this regard. Heck, half the time by the time something is out of my mouth, I've forgotten what I've even said, let alone what prompted me to say it. It's like there is a huge disconnect between my brain and my mouth. Regardless, I haven't mastered control of my mouth, but with a less negative thought-life, my mouth has been less harmful to others, I think.

I've just made a conscious decision to not get my knickers in a twist, especially about things over which I have no control. Believe me, this has made the many, many hours I've spent in waiting rooms recently much more tolerable. I'm learning to enjoy the quiet solitude of public spaces, to find a centeredness in clearing my mind and just being, even if it is being in a waiting or examining room. If I don't let it get to me, I don't engage in violent or negative thinking. There's nothing I can do about it, any way. If I don't get worked up, then I look at the nurses, technicians, and doctors with more compassion.

The world would be a much saner place if we could all work on this practice. Imagine if the world leaders would just practice "being" and not be in constant, restless pursuit of exerting control over others?

Better yet, what if we all learned to be practice non-harm with ourselves? We can't truly not harm others if we continually show our selfs a lack of respect. No one has been in an waiting room of any sort without seeing some treacly magazine article about "taking care of yourself" by eating right and exercising, blah blah blah. Um hum...whatever. Sure we all know that, and some of us practice it. But what is our excuse for not doing so? Usually lack of time, over commitment, business, other responsibilities. I'm starting to realize that in over-extending myself, in not having clear boundaries that protect ME and my family, I'm committing self-harm, which leads to harming others. How many times, because I'm stressed out by schoolwork, have I pushed one of my children away? Harm done twice. Stress to myself, abandonment of my child. Or, how often have I lost sleep because of procrastination, which then harms me, lowers my ability to practice restraint, and therefore permits me to more easily use my mouth to harm others? How can I teach my boys to treat women well if the main woman in their life doesn't treat herself well?

Yet, our culture makes it really difficult to learn to practice non-harm to ourselves because non-harm does not necessarily mean being self-indulgent. It might mean pampering oneself at times, but if doing so harms others--either in commission or omission--then the purpose is self defeating, I think. I could be full of crap, but if I use family, community, or environmental resources in a way that makes me feel good but is unwise or harmful, then I'm being self-indulgent, not taking care of myself. It's quite a balancing act. I think many people in nurturing roles (teachers, parents, nurses, doctors, social workers, etc) tend to find striking this balance quite difficult. But if we look at ourselves gently, I think that we'd all agree that perhaps it would be easier to take care of ourselves if we'd think of doing so as practicing non-harm

Yesterday, my husband found out his position at the university was eliminated. What that means in the short term is still unclear. It's complicated by the fact that BGSU outsourced food service, forced my husband to take a job in food service when his last position was eliminated in March, and the new company would never have accepted him and isn't required to keep him since they are not part of the "state system." So, he's been tossed back to BGSU and is, sort of, in the same position he was in in March...looking for a bump, which probably doesn't exist at this point. So, at least he wasn't fired. He might be able to stay on Family Medical Leave...none of which is here nor there...but seven months ago, I'd have been much more worked up, much more upset, much more stressed than I am right now. You'd think that I'd be beside myself...and don't get me wrong, I will be at some point. At some point, I'm sure I'll break down and totally lose it.

But there isn't much I can do about any of it. It is what it is. If I take my focus off getting well, if I let stress negatively affect my health, physical and mental, I'll be engaging in self-harm. I can't control what BGSU does. I can control what I do. That's the best I can do. BGSU isn't worth the negative energy that I'm tempted to give it right now. Instead, I try to just do ujjaya pranayama...breathe in, breathe out, in, out, in, out....

And try not to kill someone.

See, I'm still the old Dawn....just more contemplative these days.

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