The Sound of Silence

One of the things I love about my yoga class at Durham Yoga Company is that there actually is a spiritual component. It’s not heavy, but it’s there–Mira, the teacher, shares her own spiritual wonderings and wanderings and is very knowledgeable about Buddhism, Sanskrit, and more. She encourages us to reflect on our practice, our lives, being better people–in my book all good things. She’s also an incredible teacher of yoga who has clearly put a lot of effort and time into becoming a talented instructor.

There are also so many wonderful people that come to the class–“a full Durham”–to borrow a phrase my parents coined when they lived here. About a week ago, Mira had two friends visiting and she mentioned, off-hand, that they had recently finished a three-year silent meditation retreat.

A three-year. Silent. Meditation. Retreat.

For someone who often has to be reminded to use her inside voice, this blew my mind. How could one commit to three years of silence? Especially undertaking that with a partner–the first thing I thought of was how hard it would be not to compare notes as the experience went on. Also, what do you do all day, besides meditate? I am sure it varies from place to place, but I did a little research to get an idea.

This description from Spirit Rock was the best that I could find, especially when it came to the daily routine:

The daily rhythm of a retreat usually involves alternating periods of sitting and walking meditation, eating and work meditations, as well as interviews, Dharma talks and rest periods. The first sitting usually begins at about 6 a.m., and a typical day includes seven sitting and six walking periods of 45 minutes apiece. Each morning the teachers offer continuing meditation instructions for the day. The whole retreat is a succession of mindfulness training, breathing practices, deep awareness of the body and environment, meditations on the nature of feelings, and awareness of mind and the laws that govern it. These are the same fundamental teachings of insight meditation offered in the traditional Buddhist monasteries of Asia.

To me, it sounds incredibly difficult. In an interview with Dan Harris, author of 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Really Works–A True Story (let’s work on that title length, Dan!), he states that on his week-long silent retreat, this was all “just as horrible as you think it sounds.” But then he talks about reaching a point of euphoria. His description reminded me of a runner’s high–you are slogging through all of the work of paying attention to your thoughts, patiently, somewhat painfully, and then finally the moment hits where it stops being work?

Is a three year retreat then the equivalent of an ultra-marathon? Could you do it?

P.S. Some talks from the three-year retreat at Diamond Mountain. I guess there are breaks in the silence, sometimes!

Spring Rites

The Vernal Equinox has come and past, and although I hear it is still snowing a few states north of here, the buds and blooms around in NC. This year I tried out two new spring rituals–some self-education that will perhaps spill over into the classroom someday.

Homemade hamantaschen.

Homemade hamantaschen.

The first was an attempt at hamantaschen, the traditional cookie of Purim. Celebrated on March 4th and 5th this year, Purim marks when Queen Esther defeated Haman’s plot to kill the Jews of Persia. Apparently what originated as a fairly minor holiday has now developed into something more meaningful, a marker of how so many times throughout history the Jewish people have survived and thrived despite persecution. The celebration itself is joyful–in Jerusalem there is a carnival aspect as people dress up in costume, use noise-makers, and drink and feast. The cookies are meant to represent Haman’s tri-cornered hat. I used the recipe found on Judaism 101 (a wonderful general resource for information on the religion, from an Orthodox perspective), but there are many online. One of my favorite cooking blogs, Smitten Kitchen, has a few different versions–more options to try next year!

Right around this time in my classes, my students were presenting projects on different rituals and holidays in Judaism. Many of them kept showing Sesame Street video clips dealing with Jewish topics that they found online. I had no idea where they came from, but when reading about Purim I found the source: Shalom Sesame. An American version of an Israeli version of Sesame Street, the show aimed to introduce Judaism to kids unfamiliar with Hebrew, the show has a number of famous guest stars and your favorite traditional Sesame Street characters. Apparently, Cookie Monster LOVES hamantaschen!! The clip below was great inspiration for my baking.

The other ritual I took part in was far more spiritual, for me, but was also very much a physical practice. I read that a local Methodist church was setting up a labyrinth during the Lenten season and was opening it up to the public. I’ve always been curious about walking labyrinths: how has the tradition survived since the Middle Ages? What does it represent? How does the physical movement encourage reflection and prayer?

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What’s going on?! A brief run-down of the last few weeks

Photo by Nikolas Wall

It’s not what it looks like. Photo by Nikolas Wall

It’s been kind of a long week. Or two, actually. It started for me last week, with the non-indictment in Ferguson. While not entirely surprised, I was, and continue to be, pretty broken-hearted about the situation. As I shared with my students, to watch images of protesting and anger and to know that so many people don’t feel safe in this country, protected by the police, or served by its government, makes me incredibly sad. That the experience of life (and justice) in this nation for blacks is so different from my own experience isn’t news to me, but last week’s events were a stinging reminder.

The non-indictment led to a heartfelt and thoughtful discussion in my first period class the next day. School teachers (and maybe journalists) are the only people I know who have to read about the news and formulate a response and a way to discuss it with thirty teenagers before 7:30 that morning. Our talk was good, heartfelt and honest, but given the subject matter it was not particularly happy.

What was happy, though, was my 3rd period World Religions class and the moment you see captured above. I mentioned this in my last post, but Reverend WonGong So came to visit our class and delivered an awesome presentation on Won Buddhism. The best part, though, was when she got 36 kids to stand up and led them through walking and moving meditations. My favorite times teaching are when you can get students to completely abandon their teenage self-consciousness and fully embrace a goofy learning moment. (And you can see that they did! They were doing arm circles in that picture, not heiling Hitler, which unfortunately it kind of looks like).

Fortunately, last Tuesday was followed by a relaxed and wonderful visit home with family. Coming back this week to little annoyances (unruly kids, progress reports), and more examples of the troubling state of race relations in our country (the Eric Garner non-indictment and the story about Lennon Lacy in Bladenboro, NC) have been a bit of a let down, but hopefully there are some good things coming up. Next week, World Religions goes to the Sikh gurdwara, and I think we’re making progress in APUSH. I’ve got some projects in the work for the blog, as well. Stay tuned, and thanks for putting up with my emotions this week!

Question, because I am curious: How have you dealt with the Brown and the Garner cases in your classrooms?