Me: Katie, you are so cute.
Me: Do you know what is more important than being cute?
Katie: I don't know.
Me: Being nice.
Then yesterday, Katie spontaneously said this to me--"Mom, do you know what is more important than being nice? Being happy."
This really blew me away. She is right. You can't feel nice and be nice toward others if you are not happy, or at least feeling generally at peace with yourself and your life. So working at being happy is actually a pretty honorable pursuit, not as self-absorbed and narcissistic as we might think. And for some of us, having a general baseline of happiness is challenging. It doesn't just happen without any effort. That is certainly the case for me.
I was listening to a youtube talk by one of my favorite teachers, Tara Brach, called "Freedom from Fear-Based Beliefs (03/18/15)." In it, she mentioned a recent finding that something like 30% of all people possess a brain enzyme that allows a person to feel bliss and the other 70% have a strong propensity toward anxiety. Darn. I am definitely part of that 70%.
Thank goodness for meditation and mindfulness. The changes that have gradually come about since I started meditating and practicing mindfulness have led me to a higher level of happiness and while I still have my fair share of rocky times, life truly just keeps getting better and better. I am beginning to notice when negative feelings arise, like self-doubt, shame, judgement, resentment and irritation and before I get hooked by them and start identifying with them, I take a deep breath and internally put some some space between me and those negative mind-states. This can only happen, however, when I am mindful, when I am slowing myself down and not rushing around. I have to work really hard at this, since I am seriously hard-wired to be constantly ticking items off my to-do list. When I am busy and "scrambling" to try and accomplish everything, it is easy to slip into a kind of trance state, where I am no longer really in control of what I think, do or say. I spend a lot of time on auto pilot, especially at school.
But more and more, I am letting go of things and simplifying life in the classroom so I can really be mentally present with my students. When I am in this really clear and balanced place as a teacher, I feel calm and centered. My heart feels open and I notice my students more. I notice their emotional states from their facial expressions and I am more able to witness their interactions. I stand back and watch them more. I lecture less and ask more questions and this helps students realize the answers to their questions or problems and become more independent. I am able to handle situations that arise more skillfully and can even do a better job anticipating problems and addressing them before they have a chance to manifest. I have a long way to go in this process, but I am simply ecstatic that I am finding the way to a teaching life that is less exhausting, more joyful and more rewarding.
In her awesome TED Talk, Rita Brown said, "Children don't learn from teachers they don't like!" I am so grateful that I am getting happier, so that I can be nicer and my students can learn more.