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Reso-flections for the New Year

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I always hear two big themes around this time of year – reflections on the past year, and/or resolutions people are going to make.  As a general practice, I think reflecting is a good exercise. It’s good to go back and remember both the great things and challenges that I have been through.  Resolutions are a bit different for me.  I always hear people “swear” they will stick to them this year and often this is followed by a litany of reasons (ahem, excuses) as to why things didn’t work out the previous year. Making new year’s resolutions has not been something I have ever been in the habit of doing. Occasionally I might, in my mind, think about what I would make as my resolutions, but I don’t actually declare it.  Maybe because I’m afraid I won’t be able to hold to it. It feels a bit like setting yourself up for failure, I suppose.

I don’t want to appear as noncommittal, because that’s actually not true. In fact, I value commitment as a character trait. I think what it really comes down to is: will I be able to fully commit to “X” in the way that I want to? There’s a choice to be made: dabble in a lot of things and spread myself around, or deeply commit to a few things. For me, I’ve discovered the importance of the latter over the last few years. Two of my biggest fears in life are failing, and letting others down. As a result of these inherent fears, I’ve gravitated towards wanting to commit to fewer things instead of having multiple surface interests. Over the last several years, the biggest commitment I have made is to lead a life that is defined by nonviolence. My trip to India and southeast Asia last year was a humbling experience as I was able to see and experience things I couldn’t even imagine until being over there. That trip only reaffirmed my pledge to nonviolence and I can honestly say it is the one thing I am still fully committed to.  Gandhi said, “Nonviolence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. It’s seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our being.”

In the spirit of resolutions, I am going to publicly declare some actions I need to work on in order to help further my obligation to nonviolence.  I think it’s important to note that these are directly related to my personal reflections of what turned out to be a challenging 2013 for me.  So I’ve dubbed the term “reso-flections” to capture the idea of resolving to help improve who I am by reflecting on things from this past year. I welcome anyone who would like to join me in any of these reso-flections to please do so.  Most importantly, I’m urging my friends and fellow ahimsakas to hold me accountable to these things. So here they are – in no particular order:

BE MORE PATIENT

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“Patience and perseverance, if we have them, overcome mountains of difficulties.” – Gandhi.  I confess that I lose my patience more than I care to admit. Over the past year I have been realizing that being impatient doesn’t ever fix anything – it really just makes me more aggravated. Transitioning from teaching to traveling to returning to grad school has taught me some valuable lessons about patience. Stepping back and remembering that I don’t know what’s going on in a situation or with a person I come in contact with reminds me that I need to exercise patience the same way I hope people will with me.

HAVE MORE COMPASSION

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For me, this means being less judgmental and more compassionate. This one is closely connected to being more patient. I am trying to train myself to respond to situations with compassion first – because I would hope that others would respond to me the same way. I love the Plato quote above because it’s so true.  I don’t know the trials others are facing when I meet them, but if I err on the side of compassion I will hopefully not add to that person’s challenges.

CONSISTENTLY LOOK FOR THE POSITIVE

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This is one I have recently picked up from a friend of mine. He is constantly pushing what I like to call the ‘positive agenda’ and it is actually a great habit to get into.  I remember I was visiting him in Virginia in August and I was trying to make a decision. He was listing the positives of both options and when he was done I said, “Okay, and the cons are?” His partner said, “No.  He doesn’t do cons. He just focuses on the positives.” I still think about that comment a lot, and recently saw this quote that sums it up well: “Nothing positive will come from being negative, and nothing negative will come from being positive.”

WATCH MY WORDS

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There are a lot of elements to this one and I have a future blog post brewing on this. My personal goal is to eliminate cursing – even (especially) in sarcastic ways.  Another element I am working on is choosing my words carefully, realizing that while some words may not be taken literally every time, there are subtle implications in the use of words.  For example, I have become more conscious about not casually using the word ‘hate’ (‘I hate traffic.’), ‘shoot’ (‘Just shoot me a text), and any form of the word ‘kill’ (‘Jon Stewart really killed it on last night’s show.’) Instead, I’m striving to always speak with a language of love, and swapping out the powerful negative words, for richer, more constructive ones. Mother Teresa said, “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.

LOVE OTHERS

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This is something I definitely am guilty of not doing enough. When I am impatient, lack compassion, or don’t watch my words, I lose my ability to love others the way I should. Love always wins in the end, and that’s the way it should be. I want to be a person who loves others first – before making assumptions or judgments. I am grateful for the friends in my life who consistently model this and they serve as reminders that I need to do it more. I am hopeful that like other things in my life, the more I do it, the better I’ll get at it. 

ALLOW OTHERS TO LOVE ME

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This is a really hard one for me and I’m still trying to figure out how to make this happen. I find it infinitely easier to love others as opposed to allowing others to love me.  However, the events from this past April left me in a space where I had to allow others to love me in order to get through it all.  When I reflect back on the first few weeks of the aftermath, I am still struck by the way others loved me. I remember the texts, emails and phone calls, I remember people opening their homes to me so I wouldn’t have to be alone, I remember the meals I shared with friends because they knew I was too distracted to think about eating, and I remember the visits from friends months later who came to check-in on me. But most of all, I remember the immense amount of love I felt. Friends from the other side of the world and the other side of the country were constantly reminding me that I am loved and it was powerful thing when I felt like my back was up against a wall.  While the circumstances that led to this outpouring of love are not ideal, I will forever be thankful for the reminder. It allowed me to see know that it’s okay to let others love me.

BUILD AND INVEST IN A BELOVED COMMUNITY

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Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolence, named ‘Kingian Nonviolence’ is described in his first book, Stride Toward Freedom.  One of the principles is: “The Beloved Community is the framework for the future.” This nonviolent concept is an overall effort to achieve a reconciled world by raising the level of relationships among people to a height where justice prevails and people attain their full human potential. When I first heard about the Beloved Community, I was immediately attracted to what it stands for. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, ‘beloved’ is defined as “dearly loved or dear to the heart” and ‘community’ defined as “a unified body of individuals”.  If you put those definitions together, I think it becomes a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. really wanted: a dearly loved unified body of individuals.  There is a quote from the book Freedom Song, by Mary King, that I think does a nice job of describing what Beloved community could look like: “What sustained us from day to day was an intense feeling of interdependency – the sense that we had only one another to rely on – and a spirit of comradeship.” I also think of this Mother Teresa quote:

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I am striving to build this Beloved community and I hope you will join me.

So there you have it – my reso-flections at the dusk of 2013 and the dawn of 2014. I am grateful for all that the past year has taught me and looking forward to the adventures that lie ahead. Thanks for joining me on the journey – it’s been a much richer experience being able to share it with you. I’m wishing all of you health, happiness, love, and peace in the New Year!

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Long Walk to Freedom: Remembering Mandela

Dear Ms. Moo,
I was wondering if you are going to make any more posts. I really enjoy reading them because they are very informing and comforting. I think Nelson Mandela would be a good topic because I know that he wanted peace but I don’t know much else. I hope to hear from you soon!

When I received this email, I realized I had never taken the time to write about the passing of Nelson Mandela. It also was a good reminder that there are people reading my blog and I should be better about posting. So big thanks to the friend who sent me the email – I needed some motivation! 🙂

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One of the reasons why I didn’t write about Nelson Mandela closer to when he died, was because the impact it had on me was profound. I have been a longtime admirer of his, and for me he was one of the last living ahimsakas in our world. But I am glad to hear you’re interested in learning more. There is so much to tell about Nelson Mandela and his life, I’m not entirely sure where to start.  If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know I always enjoy talking about Gandhi and his life.  I thought I would share about Gandhi’s time in South Africa and how his commitment to nonviolence was established while there, as well as how part of Mandela’s legacy was rooted in work Gandhi had accomplished while he was in South Africa.

Gandhi in South Africa

At age 23, Gandhi left India and traveled to South Africa, hoping to earn a little bit of money and to learn more about being a lawyer.

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Only one week after he arrived, he was asked to go on a long journey that included transportation by train and stagecoach. When Gandhi boarded the first train of this journey, railroad officials told him that he needed to transfer to the third-class passenger car.  When Gandhi, who was holding first-class passenger tickets, refused to move, a policeman came and threw him off the train. That was not the last of the injustices Gandhi suffered on this trip.  As Gandhi talked to other Indians in South Africa (derogatorily called “coolies”), he found that his experiences were not isolated incidents but rather, these types of situations were common. During that first night of his trip, sitting in the cold of the railroad station after being thrown off the train, Gandhi contemplated whether he should go back home to India or to fight the discrimination.  After much though, Gandhi decided that he could not let these injustices continue and that he was going to fight against the discrimination. Gandhi spent the next 20 years working to better Indians’ rights in South Africa.

Birth of Satyagraha

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It was during his time in South Africa that Gandhi founded the phrase ‘satyagraha’, which means ‘soul force’.  Gandhi’s philosophy of satyagraha is both a personal and social struggle to realize the Truth, which he identified as God, the Absolute Morality.  Gandhi sought this Truth, not in isolation, self-centeredly, but with the people. He said, “I want to find God, and because I want to find God, I have to find God along with other people. I don’t believe I can find God alone.  If I did, I would be running to the Himalayas to find God in some cave there. But since I believe that nobody can find God alone, I have to work with people. I have to take them with me. Alone I can’t come to Him.”

In practice, satyagraha was a focused and forceful nonviolent resistance to a particular injustice.  A satyagrahi (a person using satyagraha) would resist the injustice by refusing to follow an unjust law.  In doing so, he would not be angry, would put up freely with physical assaults to his person and the confiscation of his property, and would not use foul language to smear his opponent.  A practitioner of satyagraha also would never take advantage of an opponent’s problems.  The goal was not for there to be a winner and loser of the battle, but rather, that all would eventually see and understand the “truth” and agree to rescind the unjust law.

Gandhi’s 20 years in South Africa helping fight discrimination was foundational in his development of satyagraha, which would later help lead India to its independence.

Mandela in South Africa: The prisoner who became president


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Mandela grew up in South Africa during apartheid (in the language Afrikaans, the word apartheid means ‘the state of being apart’), which was a social system in South Africa that forced white and non-white people to live in separate areas.  Non-white people meant black people, people from Asia and people of mixed race.  A white and a black person could not marry.  Black and white people could not share a table in a restaurant or sit together on a bus.  Black children and white children went to different schools, and sports teams were all-white or all-black, never mixed. When Mandela was growing up, black people had little say in how South Africa was run. The government was whites-only.  Most black people were poor and worked as servants – they worked on farms and in factories and gold mines.

In 1944, Nelson Mandela joined the African National Congress, or ANC.  The ANC wanted black South Africans to have the same human rights as whites.  Mandela led young people in the ANC.

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Many white people, as well as black people, spoke out against apartheid.  Mandela admired Gandhi, who had used peaceful protest in India.  Mandela thought that perhaps peaceful protest could get rid of apartheid, without fighting.  Speaking out was dangerous though – in 1956, Mandela and 155 other people were arrested for treason. (Treason means attempting to overthrow the government of one’s country.) After a trial lasting five years, he was set free in 1961.

In 1960, people held a demonstration against apartheid at Sharpeville, near Johannesburg, and the police shot dead 69 black people.  The government blamed the ANC and banned them from existing. As a result, Mandela had to hide and use disguises since he was being hunted by the police. Meanwhile, millions of people in other countries supported the anti-apartheid movement.  Many nations stopped trade with South Africa, and sports teams and entertainers refused to go there. But the government still refused to change.

sharpeville 1960

In 1962, Nelson Mandela was arrested again and accused of plotting to overthrow the government.  In 1964,  he was given a life sentence in prison.Mandela was sent to prison on Robben Island, along with other ANC leaders.  He spent a total of 27 years in prison, and was allowed one visitor every 6 months.

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Mandela became the most famous prisoner in the world.  He did not give up – even the prison guards admired him.  From around the world, the calls got louder: Free Nelson Mandela!

free_mandela    Berlin, Weltgewerkschaftskongress, Probe des Festprogramms

In 1990, South Africa’s new president FW de Klerk set Nelson Mandela free.

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One of most amazing things about Mandela was his ability to keep fighting for what he knew was right, despite his circumstances. Even after being imprisoned for 27 years, he was able to walk away with and not look back. One of my favorite quotes is this one, which I believe speaks to the power of forgiveness:

as i walked out the door

Mandela and de Klerk agreed: no more fighting. Mandela called on all South Africans to work together in peace.

mandela and de klerk

In 1991, Mandela became leader of the ANC.

ANC youths wait for ANC President Nelson Mandela a

In the 1994 elections, all black people in South Africa were able to vote for the first time, and the ANC won the election.  mandela votes

A new government took over and in May 1994, Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president – he was 75 years old. Among many of the things he accomplished while in office, he is credited with helping the country of South Africa become a multiracial democracy.

mandela in May 1994

Gandhi and Mandela

Gandhi-Mandela together

Gandhi has been called “the liberator of India in South Africa” and is also seen as a founding father of Mandela’s South Africa of equal rights for all people.  Gandhi and Mandela came to a shared conviction that all suppressed people, whatever their differences of religion or ethnicity or caste, must stand together against their oppressors and, in Gandhi’s words, “cease to play the part of the ruled.”  Only a changed mindset could change the structure of white, colonial power.  Mandela many time referenced Gandhi as his biggest inspiration and he considered him his role model.  Nelson Mandela has been compared to the Father of the Nation of India by many historians and experts. There are striking similarities between both  great leaders that brought them international repute and followers.  The path of nonviolence trekked by them to free their country of slavery and dominance raised them to the same pedestal.

In a recent article on fansofindia.com, (click here for the full text), the author does a nice job of showing ways in which Gandhi inspired Mandela. Here are some highlights:

  • Both Gandhi and Mandela are considered world leaders for their undying efforts towards the liberation of their country and bringing justice to the countless fellow countrymen.  Neither of them sought violence for achieveing the freedom of their land. Their morals were high and clear-cut about fighting for the nation in a dignified and nonviolent manner.
  • Mandela is referred to as a true Gandhian by the Indian democrats and diplomats.  He is famous as one of the heirs of the Gandhian ideology of nonviolence and struggle for human rights.  They both spent a lot of time in the same prison in Johannesburg, Fort Prison.  Morever, Gandhi lived in South Africa from 1893 to 1914 and was also a victim of racial hatred while traveling in the country.  Gandhi and Mandela were both lawyers and Mandela went on to establish the first black law firm in South Africa.
  • Gandhi had always believed that there would be someone in South Africa to take up the cause of the blacks and work towards the freedom of the country from oppression.  Social and political injustice would be shunned by the masses and the land would be free.  On receiving the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize, Mandela spoke profoundly of Mahatma Gandhi and how his teachings helped South Africa overcome Apartheid.
  • Both these leaders are respectively hailed as the Father of the Nation in their countries.  They are loved and respected across the masses and ages.  They are paid homage by the international community for sacrificing their lives for their country and taking the cause of humanity to different corners of the globe.

Both Gandhi & Mandela demonstrated to the world they could build inclusive societies, in which all Indians and South Africans would have a stake and whose strength, they argued, was a guarantee against disunity.  They both left legacies behind that we can learn from.  For me, the most striking thing is how they both walked a long road to freedom, and all the while stayed committed to nonviolence. I hope my fellow ahimsakas will join me in continuing to learn from these two great leaders as we strive to make the world more peaceful.

Gandhi and Mandela 2

7 Months of #missingmarting

Dear Miss Moo,

Can you tell the real story on your blog about Martin and that poster? Tell how we learned about peace and ahimsa. Tell the part about Trayvon Martin and walking with Mr. Constantino. Tell about us walking like Gandhi did for the Salt March.  Talk about why peace and ahimsa are important. Talk about our Top 10 wall. And also, can you come back and teach peace again? You were supposed to teach me all about what you learned while you were in India. I want to finish learning about peace because not everyone gets it so I want to help teach it like you did to me. You were always telling us that the more ahimsakas, the better…right? I wish you were still teaching, Miss Moo. It’s just not the same without you.

I received this email a few days ago from one of my ahimsakas. The timing was interesting to me because I had just come back from spending a few days with some good friends, and I was talking with them about whether teaching peace matters in the long run – whether anything I taught was ever going to be important to anyone. When I read this email, I realized that teaching peace does matter.

I will do my best to tell the “real” story about the photo of Martin, but I want to encourage my ahimsakas to tell the story too, because really it’s your story to tell. You are the ones who helped create and make the story. On February 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in Florida. I think most people remember this tragic story so I won’t go into more detail. A friend of mine, Bobby (the kids called him Mr. Constantino) was planning a march on foot from Boston to Sanford, FL in protest to the fact that at the time, George Zimmerman had not been arrested.  His march was modeled after James Meredith’s 1966 March Against Fear, when he started out alone from Memphis, TN to Jackson, MS to protest segregation and other forms of racism. ImageImage

As timing would have it, my second graders had been learning about The Salt March, which was based upon Gandhi’s principles of nonviolent protest called satyagraha, which he loosely translated as “truth-force.” The Salt March was an important part of the Indian independence movement and was a direct action campaign of nonviolent protest against the British salt monopoly in colonial India.

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It has been noted that the satyagraha teachers of Gandhi and The Salt March had a significant influence on American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., and his fight for civil rights for blacks and other minority groups in the 1960s.

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Bobby began his march in Boston and my classroom was his first stop on his first full day of walk. (To read his reflection about that day, you can read his blog post about it here.) It was that morning that Martin created that poster. And I remember sitting with him while he was carefully picking out which color markers he was going to use – “The hearts have to be red, Miss Moo, because it’s love.” I also remember his poster started off with one peace sign, but right before we walked out the door, he added one more. He said, “Love and peace are equal.” Once everyone had a poster, the entire class walked with Bobby for a few blocks and helped him get started on his walk to Florida. That is pretty much the story behind the poster.

The writer of the email above asked me to talk about why peace and ahimsa matter. I think if you were in my class you already know why it matters. I told you over and over again that one of the ways to help make the world a better place is to love others – even when its hard.  We reminded each other everyday as we read our Gandhi wall which had:

“Gandhi’s Top 10 Things for Changing the World”

  1. Change: “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”
  2. Control: “Nobody can hurt me without my permission.”
  3. Forgiveness: “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”
  4. Action: “An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.”
  5. The present moment: “I do not want to foresee the future. I am concerned with taking care of the present.”
  6. Everyone is human: “It is unwise to be unsure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.”
  7. Persist: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
  8. Goodness: “I look only to the good qualities of men. Not being faultless myself, I won’t presume to probe into the faults of others.”
  9. Truth: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

10. Development: “Constant development is the law of life.”

Lastly, I wanted to say that I am humbled you miss having me as a teacher, but I know for a fact that you are in a school full of wonderful teachers so I think you should focus on what they have to teach you, because I can guarantee you will learn a lot. As for teaching peace, it’s something that everyone can do. That’s why we called ourselves ahimsakas – because we were always learning from and teaching others about nonviolence and peace. The great thing about it is that you don’t have to have books or be a grown-up to help others learn. You can teach others by your actions and the way you treat others. And at first, there will be many people to don’t “get it”, but if you are intentional in treating others with love and peace, they will experience that and ultimately, that is what matters.  Martin was really good at loving others and promoting peace, so let’s do continue what he started. “No more hurting people. Peace.”

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State of Grace (Dedicated to Martin Richard)

Dear Martin,

Mr. Anglin finished the video for “State of Grace”, the song written for and dedicated to you. It was such an honor to be a part of this video project. I hope we all represented you well…this is for you, my friend. We miss you everyday, but know that you continue to inspire us everyday as we pledge to spread you message of peace, love, and ahimsa.

Much love,
Miss Moo
#stateofgrace #bostonstrong #bostonandbeyond #missingmartin

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6 Months of #missingmartin

A few days ago I received an email and here is part of what it said:

“Miss Moo, it’s going to be 6 months on Tuesday. 6 months without my best friend Martin. Why does it feel like it’s been forever? Is it bad that I can’t remember having him here? I want to. I want him to come back”

In the spirit of honesty, I initially didn’t know how to react, so I couldn’t write back straightaway. I shared this portion of the email with a friend and he told me, “That is sorrow.” As I mulled over both the email and my friend’s comment, I realized he was right. And I also realized that I felt ill-equipped to explain what sorrow means. It is different than being sad – sadness is more of a temporary feeling. You might feel sad when you don’t get Student Spotlight the week you think you should, or maybe you’re sad that it’s raining and your soccer game got canceled. But eventually, things get better and you forget the sad feelings. Sorrow is different- it’s like a sadness that stays with you longer – you might have moments when you feel better, but then other times you feel really sad all over again. The dictionary defines ‘sorrow’ as “deep distress or sadness- especially for the loss of someone loved.” As I was contemplating how to explain sorrow, I thought about the book we read together, Because of Winn-Dixie. I know it’s been a while, but I’m sure most of you remember the story. At one point, Opal is remembering her mother:

“Thinking about her was the same as the hole you keep on feeling with your tongue after you lose a tooth. Time after time, my mind kept going to that empty spot, the spot where I felt like she should be.”

I think Opal was experiencing sorrow when it came to recalling her mother. And I think similarly, all of us are experiencing sorrow when we remember Martin. Time after time we feel that empty space where we want him to still be. And while we have lots of great, happy memories of Martin, sometimes these same memories can cause us to feel deep sadness.  In the last few weeks, I’ve found myself thinking about what Martin would say if he knew we were all experiencing sorrow from missing him. I think he would probably start off saying, “Guys, the Sox tied it up…you should be happy!” I think he would also say something like, “Don’t be sad because you miss me…instead, go and love people who need it.”
I’ve recently been finding myself wanting to hear from Martin…wishing he was with me and I could talk with him. The closest I could come to that was to read over some writing he did when he was in my class. I found the following piece he wrote about a dream he had for the world to help make it a better place. I wanted to share it with you, because I think it really speaks to what Martin would want us to do – to go out and bring peace to help make the world a happier place. In your moments of deep sadness, I hope his voice can help console you, and also inspire you to not stay in the sorrow, but instead be prompted to help fulfill his dream. I promise to do it and I hope you will too – we can do it together.

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Happy Birthday, Gandhiji!!

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Today (October 2) is Gandhi’s birthday! In honor of that, it is also International Day of Nonviolence. While there are several noteworthy Gandhi quotes, this one was in my head when I woke up this morning:

“Nonviolence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our being.”

I hope everyone has a fantastic day filled with ahimsa, peace, and love!

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Pockets of Joy

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“Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.” – Marianne Williamson

Recently, I’ve had several conversations with friends about experiencing “pockets of joy.” The phrase itself was new to me until I heard my friend use it, but I understand what it means – finding moments (pockets) of time when you feel true joy.  I was trying to figure out how to distinguish between feeling happy and having joy, so I went to the one place that helps me define things: the dictionary.  Merriam-Webster defines happy as ‘favored by luck or fortune’ and defines joy as ‘a feeling of great happiness.’ For me, joy is something much deeper than just being happy – it’s a space that allows you to be completely free.  I think that sometimes there is a misconception of where joy comes from – like it has to be the result of a big, extravagant event or moment.  But I know for me, not only do these pockets of joy come when I least expect them, they are usually found in the simple, quiet moments. I think this is part of what distinguishes times of happiness from experiences of joy.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to really cherish the simpler things like quality time with friends and appreciating the beauty of nature, and it’s been in those moments that I have found pockets of joy.

Since the marathon bombings, I can say that I’ve had some happy moments, but I also have to admit that I have not been able to experience many pockets of joy.  It’s not that I haven’t wanted to, but circumstances have made it significantly harder to have that feeling. I was fortunate to stumble upon some pockets over the summer – watching July 4th fireworks with some friends in LA, learning from incredible ahimsakas in Nashville, and being with incredible people in DC.  Sometimes the joy has been fleeting, but it was there and I remember it.  And the memories of these moments has been what’s helped me get through the more challenging emotional roller coaster of the last 5 months.

I feel fortunate to have just experienced one incredible pocket of joy last weekend.  A dear friend from college who lives on the west coast was in Boston for an event. The honest truth is that I wasn’t anticipating getting to spend any time with him since he had so much going on.  As it turns out, I was gifted with a ‘pocket of joy’ while he was here. I got to spend some much-needed time chatting, hanging out, and enjoyed just being with him.  When it came time for him to head back to the west coast, while I was sad to say good-bye, I felt incredibly grateful and happy that I was able to have the time I did with him. 

Unfortunately, later that same day, I had an experience that occurred under some very unusual circumstances, and as a result, I felt like that feeling of joy was taken from me faster than it took for me to acquire it. I was frustrated, angry and crushed that I had such a great weekend, and then that joyful feeling was gone in a blink.  I was sharing with some other friends my frustrations around the unfortunate experience and how it made me feel, and I got an email from one who wrote and asked me, “Do you think you could recall what made your weekend so great? Or more importantly, what it FELT like to be happy?”  The email went on to share about the idea of “marking moments of happy as you come across them during the day,” which is something I hope to create into a habit. So I started this practice by answering her first questions about what made the weekend so great. Here are some things that stood out to me:

One thing I appreciated about time with my friend was the fact that neither of us were in a rush – as he said, “I’m not going anywhere,” and just knowing that I wasn’t under any time constraint was freeing.  I didn’t feel like I was being squeezed in between some other things he had to get to – I felt like he made the choice to hang out with me, and he was okay with it.  A second thing that is highlighted in my mind is that we were both present and very much not distracted by anything – even the constant frenzy of our phones was put to the side so we could actually listen to and hear each other.  Knowing that what I had to say was being heard was a powerful and meaningful thing for me.  The third thing that stood out to me was the fact that we were in the same physical place. I have been blessed with friends who live literally all over the world, and while it is exciting, nothing can replace being in the same physical space as a friend.  Living on opposite coasts makes this a challenge for us, so it was a gift to actually see him while we were talking and hanging out. All three of these things – not feeling rushed, not being distracted, and being in the same physical space –put together were what created this incredible pocket of joy. And I’m grateful for the email from my friend who asked those questions, because upon reflection, I was able to claim that joy back.

Another friend of mine said, “I think you have to recognize that you also provided some joy for him too.  Somewhere else, he is having a conversation with someone or is reflecting on how great it was to be able to spend time with you.” I never considered it from that perspective before.  I was so grateful for what a gift he had given me, that I never weighed the possibility that I could do the same thing for someone else.  After taking that into account, I realized that I want to be able to give joy to others as well, and that helped me reframe looking at joy.

One last thought about this pocket of joy from last weekend.  There were some photos posted on various social media outlets during my west coast friend’s big event.  The interesting part is I had multiple people say to me that they could see the joy on my face from photos that were posted.  They spoke about how my face, my smile, how I carried myself looked different because the joy I was experiencing was coming through in the photos.  In reflecting on these comments that were made to me, I think it’s all linked to the elements I mentioned before about what made the weekend so joyful.  But most importantly, it’s being in the same physical space that even made those photos possible. I am grateful to have those photos as a way to mark the moments of happiness and help me remember what the joy felt like.

I came across this image a few days ago and I think it precisely sums up what I need to do, in order to be able to experience more joy. I hope that you will all join me on life’s journey – things are always better when you can do them with others.

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5 Months of #missingmartin

I have intentionally avoided writing about the bombings and what happened to our friend Martin on this blog, because I know many of my students read this, and many of those students are Martin’s friends and classmates. I guess I’ve been trying to avoid any more sad feelings for any of you – I wanted to give you time and space to process things on your own without me saying anything.  I did receive an email last week though, in which someone wrote, “Miss Moo, how come you never talk about Martin? I keep waiting for you to say something about him. You’re always telling us to talk about how we’re feeling, but you stopped doing that with us.” When I read those words the first time, I literally couldn’t take my eyes off them. I realized that it was true…that maybe I wasn’t being completely honest because I wanted to guard you from feeling anymore sadness than necessary.

The truth is, not one day goes by that I haven’t thought about Martin – not one single day. Whenever I see a Pedroia shirt or a Bruins jersey, I think of him. When I run past the Savin Hill baseball fields or the flag football field, I think of Martin.  When I run past his house or NHCS, I think of him.  And sometimes – a lot of times – thoughts of him just pop into my head. And I miss him. A lot.  And when I think of him, I think of all of my ahimsakas. Which means I think about all of you as much as I think about him…every single day. 

When I think about all of you, I remember how you all wanted to become true ahimsakas and use peace to help “be the change” that Gandhi talked about. As I think about all of you, some new friends I met in August now come to mind. We met at conference (like a big meeting) in Nashville, and everyone there were organizers and activistst from all over the country, who are trying to bring justice to everyone who doesn’t have it, but they will only do it using nonviolence.  They too, are ahimsakas, striving for peace and justice, and remembering that loving others is the only way that we can be the change we want to see in the world.  When I think about Martin – and all of you – I think about these new friends of mine, because I think you would enjoy hearing about all of the ways they are trying to make the world a better place…they want to leave a place better than they found it. This is something I know was really important to Martin, and so when I miss him, I remember my friends around the country who are carrying out exactly what he would be doing if he was here.

I’m including a photo of the peace rally we held outside of city hall, so that my new friends can see who you all are.  And I’m also including a photo of the friends I met in Nashville so you can see their faces.  I hope one day you will be fortunate enough to cross paths. The community of ahimsakas is growing, and together we can carry Martin’s message of “No More Hurting People. Peace.”

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Remembering 9/11…12 Years Later

Yes, I realize this is a day late, but I wasn’t compelled to write until today. Yesterday was spent plugging “State of Grace” by Natural. (Please see yesterday’s post for more info.)

The tragedy of 9/11 has never really completely left my mind, nor do I expect it to. The events from that day are forever etched into my mind with such detail, it’s almost frightening. Like most people, I don’t like talking about it, because it’s hard to re-live and process all the emotions that go along with it. While I know several people who were lucky enough to not be affected, I do know several people who died, including a few people from my high school.  I remember the nightmare of trying to locate my dad, knowing his company was on one of the top floors of the second building. I remember instantly being brought back to the bombing of ’93 when we waited literally ALL DAY before we heard word that my dad had made it out safely – after walking down 103 stories in the dark as part of  human chain.  9/11 is a day I will never forget. This year though…remembering it this year feels different. I think it’s because I’m still processing the marathon bombings…it’s only been 5 months. What happened on April 15, 2013 directly impacted me on a personal level – more so than 9/11. But remembering the aftermath of September 11, 2001 feels more somber this year.

Yesterday I read a lot of posts of people’s reflections from that day 12 years ago…and the feelings remain quite fresh for some. The students that were in my class that day are now seniors in high school. I am fortunate to still be in touch with a good number of them. Whenever I hear from one of them, I remember 9/11 because that day forever changed me as a teacher.  I remember being outside on the blacktop, not knowing anything had happened, and suddenly seeing and hearing fighter jets fly overhead. As my kids stopped playing and we all looked up to watch them, I wouldn’t understand the significance behind those jets for a few more minutes.  Looking back, I wish the innocence and genuine excitement behind their viewing of the jets could have lasted for forever. “Look how fast they’re going, Miss Moo!”  I remember watching them for the next several months as they “played” out the tragic events in their own way. In the block area they would build two towers of blocks and then take toy planes and have them crash into the towers. Their drawings and writing had similar themes and I remember being heartbroken thinking that this was real scenario for them – that growing up this would be a defining moment of their childhood. 

I also can’t think about 9/11 without recognizing that the ultimate outcome of all of this madness was war. I have never been a supporter of war, but my study of nonviolence over the last several years has given me a deeper understanding as to why war – or any act of violence – is never the answer.  My hope is that somehow, some way, we can begin the journey of healing, and that along the way, we will all experience some peace.

 

 

 

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“State of Grace” release

This post comes courtesy of my friend Nat (a.k.a., Natural), who is probably one of the most amazingly talented individuals I have the privilege of calling my friend. Besides being an educator, he is a musical artist, and “State of Grace” is his latest, greatest project. I’ll leave the rest of the post in his words. Please spread the word via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, smoke signals…however you choose to interact with the world. Thanks for taking the time to read this!

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Boston and Beyond,

It has been almost six months since the Boston Marathon tragedy. In the time since Patriot’s Day, I have spent a huge amount of time reflecting on and thinking about the state of our wonderful city.

From personal connections to the tragedy itself, to the ongoing search for answers during the aftermath, the journey since April has been an arduous one for many. Though tragedy, loss and sorrow have certainly had their place, hallmarks of community have constantly been on display: Remarkable acts of kindness, generosity, empathy and peace.

It is from witnessing these amazing acts from my community in which I drew inspiration for the song “State Of Grace”.

The same elements of community that inspired “State Of Grace” are best exemplified in the memory of Martin Richard. Boston’s proud son was a wonderful little boy who was taken from us far too soon. The unforgettable image of Martin holding a sign urging “peace” serves as an unbelievably strong message and source of inspiration.

“State Of Grace” aims to honor Martin Richard’s memory and to carry forth his philosophy for peace. ALL PROCEEDS will be donated to the Richard Family Fund. (http://richardfamilyfund.org/) Additionally, there will be a benefit concert in the coming months.

We are asking for your help generating awareness and spreading the word in any way you can. Any and all help would be greatly appreciated. Your past, present and future support is held in the highest of regards. I felt this was the best way I could give back to a community that has inspired me so much. Love, blessings and peace from Boston, Massachusetts.

Sincerely,

        -Natural

@Natural617

www.naturalhiphop.com

facebook.com/naturalhiphop

iTUNES LINK: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/state-grace-feat.-april-stanford/id703753158

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