Monday, March 12, 2018

Arming School Personnel: We Can't Do This to Our Kids (or Our Teachers)

Sometimes, I have a view in to PTSD that I haven't ever seen before. Generally, at this point in my life, it's a pretty distanced view, and for that I am grateful.

As I was getting ready to take the dogs for a walk this morning, I was putting my shoes and socks on and having to contend with Chivito to keep possession of both socks. He loves nothing more than watching me separate a pair of socks and waiting until I begin to put the first one on and my attention is diverted so he can snatch the other sock and run away with it to a corner of the room. As I chased him to retrieve it, I was suddenly reminded of something I used to muse on as a kid.

Is it better to put both socks on first and then start on your shoes, or one sock and one shoe first and then the other sock/shoe combo?

Seems fairly philosophical, except that, as a kid, when you're living in fear, it's not. It's practical. I always chose one sock and one shoe and then the other pair and here is why - if I got interrupted halfway through and had to run, at least one foot would be entirely covered. If I did both socks first and had to run, those socks wouldn't protect my feet for long as I ran away, but, I reasoned, I could always give the bare foot a break by hopping on the foot with the shoe for a little bit if necessary.

These days I can look back at the kid who thought that way most mornings and smile with compassion. I no longer feel that sharp spike of adrenaline in my chest as I imagine what she was afraid of. I know I'm safe these days. I am filled with appreciation for that little girl's survival skills and for the fact that I made it through that time and am no longer forced to think that way.

I wonder what else that little girl could have done with her time and intellect if she hadn't been so afraid all the time, so focused on fight or flight, and it makes me determined to do what I can to keep other kids from living that way.

This is a pretty ham-handed segue in to a discussion about gun control, but here you have it: this is one of the reasons I find it unconscionable that there are lawmakers considering adding more guns to the landscape of our kids' lives. Between active-shooter drills and actual mass shootings in schools, churches, and other public places, our kids are traumatized, and we are letting it happen. Consider this post by a teacher named Danae Ray (taken from Facebook postings made by her FB friends - I don't know her):

"Today in school we practiced our active shooter lockdown. One of my first graders was scared and I had to hold him. Today is his birthday. He kept whispering "When will it be over?" into my ear. I kept responding "Soon" as I rocked him and tried to keep his birthday crown from stabbing me.
I had a mix of 1-5 graders in my classroom because we have a million tests that need to be taken. My fifth grader patted the back of the 2nd grader huddled next to him under a table. A 3rd grade girl cried silently and clutched the hand of her friend. The rest of the kids sat quietly (casket quiet) and stared aimlessly in the dark.
As the"intruder" tried to break into our room twice, several of them jumped, but remained silently. The 1st grader in my lap began to pant and his heart was beating out of his chest, but he didn't make a peep. Eventually, the principal announced the lockdown was lifted.
I turned on the lights, removed the table from in front of the door, opened the blinds and announced "Let's get back to work. " I was greeted with blank faces... petrified faces.... tear stained faces... confused faces... elated faces...and one "bitch REALLY?" face.
This is teaching in 2018. And no... I don't want a gun." #teacherlyfe

Now consider those children coming to school every morning, passing through metal detectors staffed by men and women with guns. Think about what it must take to walk through the halls of school with armed personnel in your periphery. Think about what it might feel like to be a child of color, whose family history might be peppered with stories of police officers using undue force. Imagine how incredibly difficult it might be to focus on what your teacher is saying or relax enough to joke with your friends or cut up in the lunchroom.

Think about what it would be like, as you get older and begin to draw conclusions based on subtle societal cues, and you notice that your teachers are working two or three jobs just to afford their rent and your classmates are holding bake sales and car washes to raise money for field trips or band uniforms, but the government seems to have plenty of money for school police officers and ammunition and bullet proof vests. What would your conclusions be about where our priorities lie?

Human beings can't learn when they are in fear-mode. They can only react. Schools need to be a place of learning. They need to be safe places to experiment, and they should be places of joy. In order to create the best conditions for creative thought, problem-solving, and collaboration, we need teachers who are not afraid and who feel as though their efforts are appreciated and well-rewarded. We need students who are well-nourished, relaxed, and who feel safe and optimistic.

Banning assault weapons (or whatever you choose to call them - I know there is some petty argument about whether bump stocks or AR-15s should be called "assault weapons" - but I'm clear on the fact that these are not simple hunting rifles unless you're hunting human beings) is not an affront to anyone's Second Amendment rights. Banning assault weapons is simply a way to incrementally increase the safety and security of every single person in this country. Is it a perfect solution? No. That doesn't exist. Is it a key part of the puzzle? Yes. It is. And if we can take that step toward reducing the amount of fear our children have as they simply get dressed in the morning to go to school, it's the least we can do.

#guncontrolnow #notonemore #neveragain

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Wearing My Heart on My Sleeve

The thing about mindfulness for me is that it lets me have more access to my emotions. It's not only that I give myself the opportunity to breathe when I feel something strongly and tune in to the stories I'm telling myself (either in an effort to quash the feelings or to turn them into something else). It's that when I am really mindful, I let the emotions show up as they are, whenever they choose to show up. And as hard as it is to trust that they'll come and then go (as long as I don't spin tales about them that take me off into another place), they always do, and the more I practice that, the easier it becomes.

It's not easy.
I said "easier."

Because what I'm discovering is that all of this means that my emotions are much closer to the surface in any given day and sometimes that's a little uncomfortable for people around me. Sometimes that means that without any notice at all, I get tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. Sometimes it means that I dance through the kitchen at the mere sight of sun streaming through the windows on a Tuesday morning.

Today, I was struck by a wave of unexpected sadness and I watched as my brain struggled to turn it to anger almost immediately. I was driving Lola somewhere and part of my brain said, Stop it! Don't let her see you cry. You don't want to make her worry about you or feel bad. And my brain's response was to start crafting reasons why this sadness was the fault of someone else, why I would be entirely justified in getting angry, and I even began imagining potential conversations to that end.

Wow.

For a split second, that worked. I felt anger rise in me and I no longer had the urge to cry. But when I realized what I was doing, I let go of the story and waited. It was remarkable to me that the sadness didn't return right away - how easy it had been for me to push it away.

After I dropped Lola off at her destination, I spent the rest of the drive home experimenting. I played with conjuring up the sadness again (even though it had been unexpected, I was perfectly clear on why it came up when it did) and watching as my brain fought to make it go away with anger. It took effort to stick with the original emotion and let it flow.

What I'm discovering is that dropping the stories I am constantly telling myself about what I should do or be or think or say makes my life much simpler. I am more able to move through my days in the moment and experience whatever comes as it does. I have always been the kind of person who feels things deeply - who has very high highs and very low lows - but this is a different phenomenon. This feels cleaner somehow. My emotions are very close to the surface, very accessible, and they don't hold as much sway over me as they once did. Without the stories weighing them down or the struggle to be allowed to show up (because I'm not trying to ignore them or make them come back later, when it's more appropriate), they are simply there. It's a lighter, easier feeling than I've ever had before and even if it means that I might start crying at the drop of a hat, I'm welcoming it.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

The Values of Belonging

I am reading the most fascinating book right now and it is spurring all sorts of wonderings in my mind. The book is "The Values of Belonging" by Carol L. Flinders and every paragraph is an opening and a widening and a deepening of understanding.

The Values of Belonging breaks new ground by examining human value systems from the perspective of how we live, not our gender. "There is a way of being in the world that recoils from aggressiveness, cunning, and greed," writes bestselling author Carol Lee Flinders. This way of being arose out of the relationships our hunter-gatherer ancestors had with the natural world, one another, and Spirit -- relationships that are most acutely understood in terms of trust, inclusion, and mutual reciprocity. This society's core values, which include intimate connection with the land, empathetic relationship with animals, self-restraint, balance, expressiveness, generosity, egalitarianism, playfulness, and nonviolent conflict resolution, are what Flinders calls the "values of Belonging."

She contrasts the "values of belonging" with the "values of enterprise" that came about when humans began cultivating the land and domesticating animals. She speaks of how profoundly this affected the way we saw our place in the world - changing us from believing we were one integral part of something bigger to a culture of ownership, of dominion, of power.

I have pages of notes and sketches. I dream about it.

It has prompted me to start asking questions about Enough.
What is Enough?
What can I take part in without owning it?
Do I need to own things? Do I need to control them?

Part of the trouble with owning things is that, if we ascribe a certain level of value to them, we then start to fear losing them. And when we're afraid of losing something, we often begin to believe that its value is greater than it once was. Then, we see anyone or anything that could potentially take those things away from us as a threat and this further severs us from a culture of belonging. Or, it means that we've created a new set of things to which we think we belong (and which belong to us) - inanimate objects or scraps of land, or even people, but this kind of belonging is ownership, not connection.

So many of the things that plague us today stem from a loss of connection. Depression and anxiety, relational aggression, climate change. These are all things that came about because of our desire to have, own, be in control of - these cultural values that make us believe we are safe and important. And they are tearing us apart. Owning land and cultivating it, drawing lines around "our" borders and rejecting those who we perceive to be a threat, these things might serve the short term purpose of feeding us and protecting us, but they are anathema to our long-term survival because no matter how hard we might try, we will never be separated from the natural world and each other. We are all intimately intertwined and, in fact, it is our biological imperative to live that way. Our brains are hard-wired to respond to connection by releasing hormones when we cuddle an animal, nurture our young, give or receive a hug. It is why, when we offer help to another person, we feel good about ourselves and when we walk in the woods our nervous systems calm down.

So how much is Enough?
How can we begin to return to each other and the natural world?
Can we integrate the values of belonging with the values of enterprise without destroying ourselves?

I hope so. I haven't finished the book yet, but for now, I am asking the questions and spending time noticing how I feel when I imagine more connection and less dominion.
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