December 1, 2017

A Month of Peace Full Practices

As part of SoulSpark’s dedication to supporting the well-being of students and educators, each day this December we will share one of our practices for creating peace within ourselves and our communities.

Since transitions in our nation’s political climate over the past year, we have noticed children and educators are reporting feeling more on edge. In some ways, progress is being made as some of society’s dark history is being brought to light. At the same time, there are highly visible leaders who continue abusive and injurious behaviors seemingly without understanding of the impact of their actions on others or worse, knowingly and without remorse. This challenges each of us to maintain disciplined focus on creating peace. This sounds simple, but is not easy.

Photo by Jonathan Stout

When we are in a toxic environment surrounded by individuals engaging in oppressive practices, the natural reaction is often to invest energy in that direction, into preparing for the fight. Yet, as Einstein eloquently states above, when we do, it is contrary to the goal of creating more harmonious communities.

Likewise, when an organization or community has become accustomed to suffering, well-being can feel unfamiliar and abnormal. Even with a shift to a clear intention for creating a nurturing environment, it is easy to inadvertently return to the stunting status quo. We honor the complexity of each individual and context and understand health is a privilege that comes with responsibilities. Recent current events remind us that without ongoing practice, it is easy to regress. To that end, we begin a month of sharing some of the practices that create feelings of peace in the educators and students we serve with wishes they have the same effect within you.

PRACTICE #1: The Kundalini Frog Pose 12.1.17

Practicing the Kundalini Frog pose can help when you are feeling gunky or stuck; some yoga practitioners state it aligns your heart, body and spirit. Others claim it increases self-esteem and creativity and that the pose aids in releasing fears.

We challenge you to spend 2 minutes practicing the kundalini frog pose today. If you have never tried it before, here is an INTRODUCTORY VIDEO to explain how.

Taking a few minutes to do the frog pose when when we are exposed to violence or suffering helps maintain a calm environment conducive to growth and learning. Stay tuned for more over the course of the next 30 days.

PRACTICE #2: Smile 12.2.17

This one is easy. When I was a young girl, my grandfather encouraged me to engage in simple social experiments. If I practiced smiling more, what impact would it have on my mood? On my relationships? On my ability to get work done?

Since then, neuroscience has taught us more about the relationship between our thoughts, emotions and the physical sensations in our body. Amy Cuddy’s popular, Ted Talk, Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are, provided a small window into how.

Try it yourself. What impact does the practice of smiling have on you?

PRACTICE #3: Get Outside 12.3.17

 Literally, all you have to do is get outside and voila, you will feel the benefits of nature. There is a reason we crave time outdoors. Whether you are called to the forest, river, garden or natural sunlight, there are both physical and psychological benefits to being outside. Some call this eco-therapy.

Reported positive benefits range from lower stress levels, improved sleep quality, increased fitness (if exercising) and feelings of connection. The Japanese practice of forest bathing, spending time in the forest, has been shown to benefit the nervous system and boost immune system functioning.

Today’s challenge is to spend at least 30 minutes outside. Better yet, can you commit to getting outdoors every single day for the rest of 2017? Knowing the feelings of peace this practice creates has us on our way out the door.

PRACTICE #4 Watch a Sunrise (or Sunset) or Gaze at the Moon 12.4.17

All it took was one glance at last night’s supermoon to remind us of the feelings of peace the sun and moon create. Witnessing the sun make her first or last appearance of the day is awe-inspiring. Don’t have access to a skyline? Looking at images can have a similar effect. At night, turn your eyes towards the sky and bath in the moon’s glow.

whitman quote revised

PRACTICE #5: Feel Pain 12.5.17

It is easy to numb ourselves to both our own pain and the pain of others: the pain of hungry children, of victims of abuse or neglect, of people who have lost their homes to fires, hurricanes or floods or worse; the list goes on and on. Society is replete with pain avoidance tools: alcohol, tv, pot (easily accessible here in Colorado), social media, overeating and more. We are often taught to stuff the pain down, place it on hold or sweep it under the rug. It is easy for pain to go unrecognized, lingering undercover like a fox watching a hen house. When unexamined and unfelt, pain can prey on us and those we love.

Suppression of pain leads to prolonged suffering. If we are brave enough to feel it, pain moves through us more quickly.

What does your emotional pain feel like? I have experienced pain as tightness in my chest, literally in my heart. I have also felt pain like hands around my throat making it difficult to breathe or speak. Pain has moved through me in the form of a waterfall of cleansing tears, sweat, the soothing vibrations of Tibetan singing bowls, comforting sips of tea, cleansing salt baths, writing poetry and through meditation. Each of us has a unique process. Cry, dance, bake or paint – do whatever you need to in order to let pain out and create more space for peace within.

Practice #6: Visualize 12.6.17

Visualize yourself experiencing peace and hold that feeling as sacred.

Also known as mental rehearsal, visualization is known to improve performance. Whether you are an educator preparing lessons, a student about to deliver a speech to your class, a doctor getting ready for surgery or a musician about to preform on stage, imagining yourself realizing success can both transform nervous energy into calm focus and improve outcomes.

The same holds true for our interactions with one another. Behavior related conversations among administrators, educators and parents can become especially contentious. At the end of the year there are often increased demands on families and schools alike. Resources are spread thin. Visualize yourself in the student’s shoes and communicate understanding. Empathy is the root of trust. Exercising compassion builds discipline better than any traditional reward and punishment system.

Practice #7: Get Adequate Sleep 12.7.17

Getting adequate sleep helps our brains function better.

We may think we are supporting a group’s efforts by continuing to work even when our body is screaming at us to sleep, but when we hurt ourselves, we hurt those around us too.

Highly sensitive individuals may have different needs for sleep than others. Listen to your body and trust feelings of fatigue mean it is time to rest and replenish.

Practice #8: Examine Biases 12.8.17

Flaws in our thinking can inadvertently reduce effectiveness or worse, cause harm.

For example, evolutionary biology can lead to us caring the most about people similar to ourselves. The bias of concern reflects our cultural values. For example, some social scientists report Americans hold more concern for domestic animals than farm animals and therefore may have different ethical standards of care for each.

At times, this bias is evident in donation patterns. We often donate more (time and money) to causes when there are real or perceived benefits to ourselves or those we care for. Sometimes the bias of concern results in these investments not being maximized. For those with financial abundance, this is something to consider during end of year giving.

Click here for an overview of frequent biases. Talking about the various biases that influence decision making grows awareness of how we can positively impact more lives.

Practice #9: Count Blessings 12.9.17

Gratitude practices improve both our well-being and our relationships. These can be done privately through journaling, reflections and sending positive thoughts to someone we care for or through more traditional thank you notes and public acknowledgements.

A simple sticky note can work wonders. This message left on my desk only took a few seconds for a colleague to write, but had a greater positive impact on me than perhaps any prior public recognition. Reflecting on our blessings and extending gratitude plants seeds of peace.

With that we are off to write a list of people who have made a significant impact in our lives recently and send each a thank you note by the end of the day.

Practice #10: Grow Awareness of Empathy Avoidance 12.10.17

Empathy avoidance happens at those times we focus on our own feelings of upset to avoid feeling another person’s pain. Nick Cooney, effective charity activist and author, shares a few of the ways human beings engage in empathy avoidance:

  • Diversion Strategies: To limit our exposure to unpleasant feelings
  • Apathy: Anything I do won’t make a difference anyways, so why try
  • Refusal of Guilt: It’s not my fault so therefore not my responsibility to work to fix
  • Projection: Blaming others
  • Victim Denigration: The more a person has suffered, the more society blames them

Victim denigration is driven by a desire to feel safe. If it is the victim’s fault, then the world feels more just. Interestingly, research shows providing evidence of the victim’s innocence is often counterproductive.

Recognizing empathy avoidance can help us shift to engagement.

Practice #11: Adventure to Some Place New 12.11.17

When we go someplace we have never been before, literally or metaphorically, it is an opportunity to grow the skill of mindfulness. In a new environment, we pay more attention to our surroundings.

Here’s to practicing being present and growing awareness!

Practice #12: Conscious Media Consumption 12.12.17

As citizens, we have responsibility to be aware of current events and to take action when injustices occur.

We also have responsibility to protect children and sensitive individuals from injury. Some films and media use violent images that can place people at risk of experiencing vicarious trauma. Witnessing violence can put the nervous system on edge, negatively impacting thinking and learning.

Being conscious of what we expose ourselves to can help in maintaining and spreading feelings of peace.

Practice #13: Keep Moving 12.13.17

Regular exercise supports mind and body integration. There is a significant body of data illustrating exercise enhances cognition, as well as improves physical and mental health.

Even those among us with regular exercise habits can be deterred by cold weather or additional end of year responsibilities. A short 30 minute walk refreshes and connects us to our surroundings.

Practice #14: Share a Hug 12.14.17

 We live at a time where pervasive inappropriate, unwanted and even tragically injurious physical touch is being brought to light. At the same time, people are craving connection.

My Father taught world history and psychology at a large urban high school in the Midwest for nearly half a century. Early in his career, he used to assign hug homework. Students were invited to hug a certain number of people a day and report the impact on their mood and relationships. Students reported this was one of their favorite assignments because of the joy it spread. At a point, this homework practice was no longer allowed because of legal concerns.

It goes without saying that permission should be asked prior to hugging. Today, educators are coached on the art of the sideways hug, how if a student approaches to hug, to turn sideways and receive them with a shoulder.

Experts working with highly sensitive, creative and gifted individuals report many have a higher need for physical touch than their peers. Some of my clients have written to their children’s educators asking them to please touch their child – place a hand on their arm or on their back between their shoulder blades when displaying signs of anxiety such as a bouncing leg or clenching a fist. Touch often brings relief.

This leaves us wondering, “If we had more appropriate, caring touch would there be less relational aggression and abuse among people?”

Practice #15: State What You Stand FOR 12.15.17

As the saying goes, “Where attention goes, energy flows.” In saying what we stand for, rather than what we are against, we direct valuable time and energy in that direction.

So simple, yet not easy, especially when confronted with violence.

Practice #16: Tend to a Plant 12.16.17

Tend to a plant. Our relationship with nature is reciprocal; when we take care of the earth and plants, they nourish us in return.

Practice #17: Try a New Creative Practice 12.17.17

Creative practices cultivate innovation skills, transform emotions and support the healing process. The range of creative practices span visual and performing arts. Crafting counts. The possibilities are endless: painting, baking, sculpting, whittling, making homemade lotions, sewing, photography, gardening, etc. Supplies can be found in nature or even in the trash or recycling bin.

Dedicate time and space to trying a new creative practice today and pay attention to your emotions. We are willing to bet you will feel more peaceful after.

Practice #18: Take an Optimistic View 12.18.17

Some believe that optimism and pessimism are fixed personality traits, but research and experience teach us otherwise.

Six Seconds and other research institutions illustrate optimism is in fact an emotional skill that can be measured and learned. In fact, the skill of optimism has a significant impact on life outcomes including health, achievement and relationship quality.

Practicing optimism comes easy with practice. Optimism is fundamentally about taking a perspective of choice and opportunity. This does not mean ignoring reality, but rather focusing on the aspects of a situation that are within our influence and our emotional relationship with these events.

Practice #19: Be Silly 12.19.17

“Laughter is the tonic, the surcease for pain.” –Charlie Chaplin

Laughter releases and transforms pain to joy.

Nearly 40 years ago, an article was published in the New England Journal of Medicine by Norman Cousins speaking to the potential medicinal benefits of humor and laughter. Patch Adams, renowned physician and social activist, pioneered putting humor into practice to better care for his patients. Adams continues to use play as a foundation in his work transforming the health care system in the United States.

Practice #20: Build a Cairn Tower 12.20.17

A cairn tower is a human made stack of rocks. In ancient times, cairn towers were built as monuments, trail markers and sometimes held astrological meanings. They can be created with small stones inside your home or backyard. The cairn tower in this image was built in a wash out area after a devastating flood. The practice of balancing rocks soothed.

Practice #21: Meditate 12.21.17

Joyful Winter Solstice!

We saved one of the most powerful peace practices for the day of the Winter Solstice, the mark of the start of a new season and the shortest day of the year.

Around the world celebrations and rituals are held on the solstice to welcome the return of light.  Symbolically, meditation  transforms our inner dark to light. There is an abundance of scientific evidence linking meditation to increased well-being. If meditation is not already part of your daily practice, we highly recommend trying it.

Have a hard time sitting still? Meditation can take various forms; a practice that works for one student, may not for another. Spiritual leaders and emotional intelligence practitioners are often good resources for one-on-one coaching. There are also a variety of applications that provide guided meditations including HeadSpace, The Mindfulness App and Calm. For some, taking a walk, knitting or even cleaning the dishes can be a meditative practice. Looking for a book? Moody Cow Meditates is a favorite. It is silly, practical and enjoyable for just about any age reader.

Practice #22: Hydrate 12.22.17

Hydration impacts mood and brain functioning. Surrounded by hustle and bustle, it can be easy to forget to drink enough water. How much water is enough for optimal hydration? That depends. This article from the Mayo Clinic provides some insight into how much might be right for you. In general, if you are feeling thirsty drink up!

Practice #23: Explore Crystals 12.23.17

Sesame Street consultant and gifted education pioneer Annemarie Roeper once wrote about how bright and empathic children are often drawn to rocks. I noticed the same in my work with highly sensitive and creative youth. In fact, when I taught at a school for gifted learners, I kept a book on the metaphysical properties of various crystals in my office. Children would often enter with excitement and then wonder, “How did the crystal know what I need?!?!?” The process of exploring rocks and crystals often connected children with their intuition or inner knowing.

 Many well-renowned clinicians and educators we collaborate with also use crystals in their work. Whether you believe the sources across cultures that proclaim the metaphysical properties of various rocks or not, growing a strong relationship with the natural world supports well-being. Here is a list of some crystals our friends and colleagues report using and their associated benefits (per Crystals by Jennie Harding):

Amethyst – to support in creating feelings of calm and alleviating stress

Clear quartz – to enhance peace and clarity

Moonstone – to balance, clear and support new beginnings

Rose quartz – to attract love and create harmony

Sodalite – to enhance decision making and provide a sense of fellowship in groups and enhance trust

Sunstone – to support mind / body integration and relieve anxiety

Turquoise – to protect and enhance love-based communication

Practice #24: Listen 12.22.17

Listening is one of the most undervalued and critical of the communication skills. Even the best listeners benefit from additional practice. Active listening pays attention to nuanced communication details including tone of voice and body language. In person communication always provides the richest data. Today we are going to actively listen to a friend for five minutes and then communicate back to them our understanding to assess our efficacy.

Want to deepen listening skills even further? Listen to your environment. What do the animals and plants tell you about your surroundings? Are the bees well fed? Did you know the presence of dragonflies is an indicator of environmental health?

Practice #25: Celebrate 12.25.17

Sing! Dance! Celebrate the people, places, events and practices that create peace in our world however you feel inspired. Try turning on some music – how does your body feel called to move?

Practice #26: Learn about a Different Culture 12.26.17

Growing understanding about how language and culture shapes how we experience the world creates peace by deepening connection. No matter how much we have traveled or collaborated with people of diverse backgrounds, there is always more to learn given the nuances and complexities within each culture. For example, the financially affluent within a culture likely have a very different experience than the food insecure.

Today marks the first day of Kwanzaa. For those unfamiliar, the seven days and candles represent the seven principles: unity, self-determination, collective responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. All are welcome to participate in Kwanzaa celebrations independent of religion or national origin. Practicing the seven principles supports in creating more harmonious communities.

Practice #27: Try Aromatherapy 12.27.17

Proust wrote about smell being a powerful memory trigger in his famous novel In Search of Lost Time. Some felt Proust was a neuroscientist of sorts ahead of his time.

Lavender is a scent well-known to support relaxation. Yet for some, this is not the case. I have worked with students for whom the scent was a trauma trigger. For others with olfactory sensitivities, any type of scent can be unsettling. Experiment to see what if any scents work to create feelings of calm for you.

Practice #28: Soak 12.28.17

Bathing is a health privilege not everyone is afforded; clean water is a luxury. Besides physical cleansing, baths or showers also create feelings of peace. You might also notice a positive change in young children’s behavior after playing with or in water.

Practice #29: Journal (or Doodle) 12.29.17

Writing letters or keeping journals is a practice that dates back to 10th century Japan. There is increasing evidence of the positive impact journaling has on health and well-being. Reported benefits include increased self-awareness, stress management, improved relationships and enhanced creativity. In fact, in the best selling book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron believes so strongly in journaling that she advocates for a daily practice she calls morning pages. Cameron hypothesizes creativity is awakened through stream of consciousness, unedited handwriting each morning.

Practice #30: Listen to Tibetan Singing Bowls 12.30.17

Found in monasteries and temples around the world, Tibetan signing bowl music is said to balance the left and right side of the brain. Reduced anxiety, lower blood pressure, improved circulation and increased clarity are among the other associated benefits. Some practitioners have built entire businesses around sound healing using not only Tibetan singing bowls, but also gongs. Never heard these sounds before? Many recordings are available for free through YouTube, as is Calmness of the Mind (a Tibetan singing bowl recording) through ITunes.

Practice #31: Love 12.31.17

Let love be your guide. Always.


Peace, Joy and Blessings to You in the New Year!