Paula Azevedo, PhD
Remaining Grounded During a Crisis
Recently, I learned about the banyan tree, which is native to India and is the country’s national tree. The banyan is a remarkable tree, because it sends aerial roots down to the soil, which becomes additional support for its extensive canopy. A single tree can expand for several acres, and as a result, it’s home to many animals who find safety in its canopy. I connected so deeply
with this tree this week due to the global pandemic and the many fears and uncertainties of this crisis. As I thought about what I can do to support my students, department, family, friends, and even myself I was reminded of the banyan tree’s great wisdom. The banyan reminds us to remain rooted, but to also extend further and grow additional roots in order to support ourselves, while also extending our canopy to shelter and support our community. So, how can you be more like the banyan tree during extraordinarily challenging times?
First, it is essential to root ourselves through self-care. Self-care is a big buzzword these days and for each of us it looks different, but there are some basic elements of self-care to keep in mind. Self-care is about being very present and connected to your body, mind and heart. It is an action that is deliberate and that supports your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Self-care is more than just a break. It’s about paying close attention to what you need in order to be holistically healthy for both the short and long term. It’s about being kind to yourself and extending that kindness into your home and community. Self-care doesn’t have to be expensive or a big production. It can simply be drinking more water, sleeping enough hours, taking a walk outside, meditating for five minutes, working out, writing a list of gratitudes for the day. The banyan tree can not expand its canopy without first taking care of itself by growing more roots to nurture its growth. So, there is no need to feel guilty of taking care of yourself in times of crisis.
Now that you’ve grounded yourself, you can extend kindness to others. During this pandemic we’re being asked to remain socially distant, but this doesn’t mean we isolate ourselves from the world. We live in a time of great connectivity and can simply call or facetime our family members and friends, especially those in the most vulnerable populations, and check in on them daily or few times a week. This includes our students and their families, especially if we work in communities that are even more vulnerable during a crisis. We can volunteer to hand out or deliver food to our students. We can continue to communicate to our colleagues, students and their families with a call home or send messages via text, email or social media and make sure everyone is safe and healthy.
Of course teachers in school districts that have the capacity for e-learning have an additional challenge of continuing learning online. We can share resources and online lessons with each other. There are great resources out there. I’ve compiled a short list HERE . We can support parents by providing them with a suggested home based daily learning schedule that can provide students and their families with some consistency during these inordinary times.
Finally, remember your mindfulness values and practices. You are not alone in this time of uncertainty. The entire world is facing this crisis together. Of course, there are so many uncertainties about this pandemic, but this is the time to maintain our mindful practices. We can remain in the present moment and not focus on the past or future. We can remember to control what we can in each moment. We can also recognize what is happening around us without getting swept up by the chaos. It’s also important to recognize what is happening inside ourselves by practicing R.A.I.N, a mindfulness practice that supports us during difficult times.
R.A.I.N. stands for:
Recognize what is happening
Allow life to be just as it is
Investigate inner experience with kindness
Nurture (Tara Brach, 2019)
R.A.I.N can be very helpful if you get swept up by a big emotion, such as fear, anger, or sadness. Here’s a very brief description of the practice. First, you’ll sense what that emotion feels like in the body, while not getting lost in the story that may be attached to the emotion. Allow that emotion and the sensations to be fully present. This can be the challenging part of mindfulness practice, because allowing pain to be present is counterintuitive to our human nature, which is to numb or to run away from the pain. But, in mindfulness practice you allow that pain to move through you. By allowing yourself to feel the feelings you can then be curious and investigate what is present with kindness. You may notice that the emotion morphs into other emotions and perhaps may eventually dissipate. Finally, after all that hard, mindfulness practice you can nurture yourself with kindness and gratitude. It’s not easy to be fully present in a big emotion, especially during a crisis, which is why nurture is so important. Nurture can be a simple gesture of compassion by placing one or both hands on your heart. You may choose to say kind words to yourself, “You’re okay;” “You’ve got this;” or other words that resonate with you.
We know that life and teaching are unpredictable and can even feel chaotic at times, but in the past week we’ve gone from normal, everyday kind of chaos to global crisis. Yet, heart-centered, mindful teachers remain rooted in their conviction and passion to teach. These teachers face new challenges with ease and grace not because they are superhuman, but because they practice pausing, re-collecting themselves, and taking wise action. During a time of crisis they are not taking action based on fear or anger, but rather based on compassion, conviction, and deep wisdom. This practice is accessible within everyone and to support you during this challenging time I’m sharing several guided meditation. I’m also sharing guided meditations for children and teenagers you can access HERE.
Feel free to share this blog post and meditations with colleagues, friends, students and their families.
I’ll leave you with this poem by Wendell Berry called, ``The Peace of Wild Things”, which I hope you find comforting in this time.