Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Making Plans and Taking Steps

Life is one plan after another, one decision after another, one step after another. How we approach these plans, decisions, and steps is up to us. If we want the best for ourselves, if we want a life of emotional, mental, social, physical, financial, and spiritual well-being, we keep this well-being at the forefront of our planning, decision making, and stepping. When things go awry as they are apt to do, we can think clearly and calmly and move forward with composure and confidence. We do this by looking within and recognizing our thoughts for what they are: most often ungrounded in reality and what never actually happens. We might have doubts and fears, but we keep planning, deciding, and stepping forward. We feel the fear and do it anyway, as Susan Jeffers advises in her invaluable book of the same title, because otherwise, we never do the things we want to do. Fear will slow down or stop our lives.

This may not sound like Zen but it is. Zen is not passive acceptance or inertia. Zen is not detachment or non-attachment in the sense of not caring or giving up. Zen is not just sitting on a cushion and meditating. Zen is about waking up to our lives. Zen is about positive action for a meaningful, contented life. Zen is about being in the moment as you are doing the moment. That moment constantly changes, sometimes to our liking and sometimes not to our liking. Nonetheless, we must step forward wholeheartedly and appreciatively.

Walking meditation, or kinhin in Japanese, reminds of this. We just take the next step forward over and over again into the present moment. Robert Maurer explains in his book, One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way, that we can do anything we put our minds to if we just do the next small thing we need to do and take the next small step we need to take. We can go forward in life with serenity instead of anxiety and confidence rather than uncertainty. This is kaizen. When we practice kaizen we take the next step necessary to continue on our spiritual path in a way that is meaningful and mindful to us. Kaizen is kinhin (walking meditation) in our every day daily lives.

 The ability to adapt to the ever-changing future and to know that we can handle whatever comes our day is a crucial skill to have. Adapting often means changing our minds about a situation and making a decision that creates a new and better reality. When we do this we create well-being in our lives. Well-being is the ultimate goal of Zen and of all spirituality and religion.

Friday, May 30, 2014

When We Practice Mindfulness

When we practice mindfulness we develop well being in all aspects of our lives, relieve stress because we realize that we create it, increase emotional health, and discover and express our true nature.

When we practice mindfulness we focus on our breath and body, view our thoughts and feeling as friends temporarily visiting us, acknowledge our senses, and let go of our thoughts, feelings, and senses over and over again as we return to our breath.

When we practice mindfulness we remind ourselves that we don't stop our thinking but rather we compassionately and patiently train our minds to think without attachment and judgment, always remaining in the present moment.

When we practice mindfulness we gain insight because we see the impermanence of our thoughts, often illusory in their discontent, dissatisfaction, and desire, and we see the interconnection and impermanence of our lives and all of life.

Monday, March 17, 2014

My Teaching Vision Statement

Recently at a staff meeting, our middle school's principal shared with us her vision statement about education.  I liked that she did this.  Her statement revealed her passion.  Since then, I've thought a lot about my own vision statement for my teaching with more a mindfulness and kindness based philosophy. Right now it is this:

I teach students to think, read, and write 
critically, creatively, and contemplatively. 
I teach students to think, speak, and act
with kindness toward themselves and others. 
I teach students that learning is life long.
I teach students that life is about
becoming the best person they can become.
I teach students that there are wise people and wisdom
to teach them throughout life if they are willing to learn.
I teach students that life is amazing.
I teach student to appreciate each and every moment in their lives, 
including now.

The Door into My Classroom This Winter

I thought of the idea. My sixth grade advisory students created the image.  All of them had to do at least one part. It was fun to see creativity and cooperation from twenty three students.  

The Smallest Connections

This past Friday afternoon during my prep period I walked from the middle school where I teach to the copying center at the high school.  A long hallway connects the two schools.  After I dropped off my copying requests, and I was walking through the high school atrium, a high school student said, “Hi Mr. Eich.  Do you remember me?” 

It's a question I often get from high school students.  I taught them as seventh or sixth graders, and so often I don't remember them.  It's been sometimes five years since I've seen them and they've changed, grown from a middle school student into a high school student, a child into a teen.  Depending upon which year I taught them,  I taught either 300 or 150 students each  year, so it's easy to forget names and often I do. 

“I'm sorry, I don't,” I said to the boy. 

He told me his name and then said, “Do you still like Steely Dan?”

“I do,” I said. 

Then it clicked.  I remembered him. I taught him in the seventh grade.  I have my students write down personal information at the beginning of each year to get to know them better, and he had written that his favorite band was Steely Dan. It was such an unusual choice for a twelve year old boy. I told him I liked Steely Dan and asked him how he knew about this band.  He said his dad took him to a concert.    I brought in a CD of their greatest hits and gave it to him.  This student, now a senior, remembers me because I made a connection with music and gave him a used CD of mine from when I taught him five years ago.  This small connection is what he remembered about me, something I had forgotten, something that really took little effort on my part.

The moment was a great reminder to me as a teacher and as a person—and for all of us—that what we say or do for other people, no matter how small, can make a difference and often is remembered by them long after we forgot.  

Saturday, March 1, 2014


Two strategies for achieving happiness: one is to change the external environment to meet the needs (or wants) of the organism; the other is to change the internal state of the organism to adapt itself to the environment.  We can either change the world to satisfy our desires or change our desires by adapting to the world.  Both strategies aim at removing the agitation of desires, one by fulfilling them and the other by relinquishing them. 

From Unlimited Mind: The Radical Experiential Psychology of Buddhism
by Andrew Olendzki (2010)

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace.

from The Serenity Prayer
by Reinhold Niebuhr (1943)

A Walk Outside My Home