Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Jesse, can we meditate?

It's afternoon, last block.  We have an hour left.  The kids are rowdy, rambunctious.  The weather is SO NICE and we all would rather be outside.  My co-teacher is away at a conference in California and everyone is jealous, even though the weather is nice here too.  We imagine him beaching and sunning and relaxing and doing nothing, even though of course he is working hard and northern California is probably colder than New York.

And I'm thinking to myself, this is the kind of class that could feel bad.  But I don't want to feel bad, and I've been practicing letting other people off the hook for making me happy.  I've been practicing letting my students off the hook for making me happy.  That's a revelation.  I'm thinking, whatever they do today, I am going to be happy.

So it's from that place that I ask them, "What can I do?  Here we are in math class, with all these understandable but non-mathematical circumstances distracting us.  What can we do today?"
I'm sincere, not frustrated, and that feels good.

So TD says, can we meditate?  He sounds so eager, frustrated almost, like "alright already, can we just do something useful?"  We've been meditating and eating cookies every test day all year.  But this is  just regular math class.  WHAT?!  This is the best day yet.  Yes, we can meditate.  I turn out the lights.  The kids put their heads down or close their eyes.  I tell them it's just fine if they fall asleep when we're meditating.  We'll wake them up gently later.  They don't have to do anything right now, they don't even have to listen to me.  They just have to close their eyes and relax.

I lead them in, slowly, lots of space between sentences.  Like I'm just telling them a bedtime story...

"Relax your bodies, just feel what it's like to be in your own skin right now, antsy or hungry or tired.  However you are, just notice that, really feel it.
How happy are you?"
(someone calls out something that sounds like 65%)
"OK, so if you're 65% happy, let's say.  Is it possible for you to increase your happiness to 70%?  Just by focusing on it, just by choosing to be a little bit happier?  Just see.  Is happiness something that you can decide to change?
Use your imagination to envision something that you want, something that would make you happy.  It could be small or big, it doesn't matter.  See yourself having this thing, let the image be really vivid, and feel what it's like to have this thing, feel the joy of having it, feel it in your fingers and feet.
What does it do to your happiness to just imagine having this thing that you want?
If you can, I'm here to tell you that this is the single most important thing: to be as happy as you can be. You all deserve to be so happy.
Now feel how even if the room were totally silent, and I stopped speaking, that even with your eyes closed you would know that you aren't alone, you can feel that there are people around you.  That's a mystery, that connection.  Feel it, even imagine that there are lines connecting you to everyone else in the room.
Send happiness down those lines.  Make a wish that the people around you be happy.  Make a wish that  the people around you receive whatever would make them happy.
Then feel the people around you wishing you happiness.
What does that feel like?  Let yourself just take that all in.  You deserve all those good wishes and more.  Just soak it up.
And when you're ready you can pick your heads up."

Then I rang the singing bowl and just let it sing.  Usually I gong it at the end.  They were all waiting for that.  I didn't.  When it stopped resonating I told them that the sound of that simple resonance is the reason for the bowl: it's used to begin and end meditations, and I use it to get their attention because I wish that joy for them always.

Then, folks, seriously...then they all did the most beautiful work I've ever seen.  Maybe it was just chance, but I walked around the room and everywhere all I saw was perfect, diligent work.  The most beautiful graphs I've ever seen these kids do.

Nice day.
May you all be as happy as possible all the time.


  1. Jesse, you might just convince me to try this in my college classes. (Not yet. But some day...)

  2. Do it, Sue, I love that idea.

  3. Jesse this is awesome.

    There's a lot going on in this post but what's striking me right now is how (a) having taken on the practice of being responsible for your own happiness made it possible for you to make them responsible for theirs, and, maybe even more importantly, (b) the way you know yourself as a meditation teacher and practitioner is teaching you about yourself as a classroom teacher. Do you know what I mean? I'm reading in a little here, so you can tell me if this is off the wall, but having seen you in both contexts I just can't help but read this as a story about you carrying the experience of yourself as a meditation teacher - the confidence, the sense of peace, the sense that everything (about you, about the world) is as it should be - into the classroom. I love this.

  4. This is simply beautiful. Although I've taught meditation for many years, I've been afraid to do so in math class. Thank you for the courage to do this and to write about it.

    - Elizabeth (aka @cheesemonkeysf on Twitter)