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I came home today and fell into our bed and slept until dinner time.  I am so blessed with a husband who remembers to plug in the slow cooker and makes an awesome sautéed snow peas and garlic!  But what a day…

I greeted my students as they arrived today, introducing myself and asking their names as I shook their hands.  They were all friendly, and I think it set a good tone of respect.  Respect became the theme of the day.

We started out by doing a Learner Profile Reflection.  The students rated themselves as to how they feel they show those qualities.  We then made table tents to help me remember their names.  I had them pass around their table tents to each student.  Each one wrote a positive quality they appreciated in that student from a list they had generated at the end of the last semester.  It took a lot longer then I thought it would because I didn’t have a good method of tracking who had written on whose table tent.  “Plan better” is the lesson.

Later in the morning we focused on creating our Essential Agreement, which I called “2.0” because I am taking over for a teacher who left before the winter break.  The students needed to have the idea that I am a different teacher and a different person reinforced, so we are updating the agreement to be between us.  They identified “respect” as one of the most important things to include as part of “how we treat each other.”  Throughout the day, I found myself asking them “Are we using respect as we listen to Janey?” or saying, “Sam, was what you just said respectful?”  They were so responsive to this!  They immediately took responsibility for showing respect, and changed their behavior.  So maybe it only last for 30 seconds, but they remained responsive throughout the day to that reminder.  I am in awe!  These students are so brave to take on a new teacher and a new environment, and to respond so well.

My main lead-learner lesson for the day was, “PLAN BETTER!”  I had planned for an hour of computer lab time, and didn’t get to the media arts center in time to sign up for the slot I planned.  So…a whole hour, I had to make up on on the spot.  It worked out well, thanks to National Geographic Explorer.  The students had been eager to read the January issue, so we did that instead.  Now I’m somewhat terrified that I don’t have the reading and writing materials I need to plan for the next week yet, so I have to do that in some kind of miraculous way in the 45 minute planning time I’ve got tomorrow, plus make photo copies for the math units we’re working on.

I knew there was a reason I resisted becoming a teacher for all those years.  This is exhausting and difficult!  But, dang… Maybe it sounds cliche, but the kids make it worth it.  They were shocked when I told them they were important to the world.  Some seem already so jaded and disillusioned, so beaten down.  I want them to know I mean it.  I want them to know they are “mines rich in gems of inestimable value.”  If just one of them gets the idea that there’s diamonds inside of them, it’s worth the exhaustion.

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children looking upAt least I hope I’m brave enough to face kids in a classroom.  I’ve been through a bit of…stuff…since my last post.  Quick re-cap:  After a working at the local university for a short time, I was hired by The International School at Mesa Del Sol to teach 5th grade in December.  This is an IB World School, so I’ll be integrating subjects within the context of a global perspective.  Exciting stuff. Can’t wait to see what happens!

One thing I am committed to is learning through this blog.  I plan to write a bit each day.  It may end up being, “Oh my, what have I gotten myself into?” on occasion, but I hope it will become a place of discussion.  I will share what I am learning, and hopefully you will share what you have learned during your IB journey.

Tomorrow is my first day in the classroom.  I will get to know the kids a little, and we’ll start on a path towards the Exhibition.  This community event at the end of the semester will share what the students have discovered about themselves and the world through the Primary Years Programme, and has prepared them to move into the Middle Years Programme. 

Wish me luck!

I have been faced with addiction of late, a serious, almost debilitating addiction.  It could ruin my health, my family’s health, and even shorten my life significantly.  The thing is, you might have the same problem, and not even know it.  My poison of choice: carbohydrates.

I know.  What’s the big deal, right? We need carbohydrates for energy.  What could be wrong with carbs?  And honestly, it’s not carbs that are the problem.  It’s our society’s addiction that is the problem, and the way we keep creating new and delicious ways to make them more addictive.  I wrote in my last post about the need for consciousness.  I have striven to cultivate more of it in many ways.  I pay much closer attention to sensation.  I take time to see details, to breathe in the smells that surround me, to listen and to seek silence, and to really feel what I am feeling.  Another important aspect of consciousness is tasting the food I’m eating.  I’ve changed my diet a lot, in seeking to wean myself from this nasty habit of high-glycemic foods.  (Food that are high on the glycemic index are the ones that increase the glucose in your blood more quickly than those that are low. To read more about how I’m doing that visit Dr. Wayne Andersen’s website on developing habits of health.)  I’ve gained a lot of energy and lost 12 pounds since I made this switch a month ago.  But my goal isn’t weight loss, it’s optimal health.  And ridding myself of addiction is a pretty important part of that.

Fear Addiction

In that last post, I talked about my ability to see since I’ve returned to America. And what I see is so sad.  People are addicted to fear.  And they are addicted to things that numb them from the fear.  The media pumps fear into our bodies with both real and imagined drama and trauma.

While living in China, I restricted my news media intake to scanning headlines to see if there was anything new or important happening.  In six years of living there, I think I opened less than a dozen news stories a year to learn more.   That doesn’t mean I was uninformed of what was happening, it means that I was more deeply informed of only those things that I felt really had an important impact in the world.  But America has multiple cable channels devoted to news, plus newscasts at every hour, for both local and national news.  Sadly, international news is generally covered very poorly with a very ethnocentric bias.  Compare any national news cast with coverage from BBC or Univision, and you’ll begin to see what I mean.  But what that means is that the “non-fiction” that we feed on daily is intended to feed an addiction to fear.  Broadcasters and publishers know that if they want to sell it, then “if it bleeds it leads.”  That’s what people want.  Is it their fault?  Who knows where the cycle begins…in the consumer that just wants to know “what’s going on” and “how to protect themselves” or in the media that gives the public what it wants. Add to that reality TV (which fosters a fear of humiliation) and most television drama, serving up a steady stream of violence and trauma, and you have a constant source to feed our addiction.

Regardless of where it begins, there is a common biological response to stress: we eat.  And we don’t choose lean chicken, fish or spinach, we choose chips and donuts and cookies.  We choose the highest glycemic index foods around.  And that makes a lot of sense, instinctively.  When you’re afraid, you need a good rush of sugar to make sure you can get to safety.  Much of our eating patterns are very biologically based.  It makes a lot of sense biologically to eat as much as you can and seek to rest as much as you can.  It makes sense if you have to chase down your food and gather roots and nuts and berries all day.

We are Cavemen

Well, my friends, I know it’s hard to believe with all the technology and industry surrounding us, but we are still cavemen.  Our bodies have changed very little over the last ten thousand years.  And they are just asking that we continue to treat them they way they are accustomed to being treated.  The problem is, our activity levels have changed…well, a bit…since we were required to spend energy in equal amounts to our consumption.  Man, if you could eat a thousand calories a day while lying around doing nothin’ back then, you were the king or queen of the cave.  Today, we don’t bat an eyelash to eating 1000 calories in one sitting, and then we keep on sitting and sitting and sitting.  So it’s not wonder there is an epidemic of obesity.  We feed our need for adrenaline by watching scary stuff, instead of living it.

But it is scary out there…

Everywhere we look we see the evidences of addiction:  addiction to sex, to alcohol, to any kind of drug you can ingest, to video games and social networking sites and entertainment.  We see families falling apart, or just struggling to stay afloat.  We see crimes that horrify and wars that make no sense.  We see an economy oriented towards protecting against our fears instead of educating to prevent our fears from becoming reality.  We see political, social and economic polarization so intense that it is without a doubt shattering our unity.

Ahhh…Unity

What I’ve noticed while I’ve been striving to stay conscious is that unity is really the only cure for our addictions.  When we see that we are one, not one family, not one people, but really one with everything (I know, takes you to that old Buddhist joke about the monk that goes to the hot dog stand and asks for one with everything, right?)…anyway, when we start paying attention, we see our connectedness, not just within our families and neighbors, but within the world.  What we eat affects the air we breathe, the water, the land.  And what happens to those things affects what we eat.  Where there is war, there is famine.  Where there is peace, there is excess.  And because there is such an imbalance in the world, we don’t even notice when a child starves to death.

So, once again, I’m advocating consciousness.  Try it for 30 days, or your money back.  Pay attention to what your body is telling you it needs to be healthy.  Pay attention to your community because it will also tell you the same thing.  And in doing so, maybe we can cure ourselves of our fear addiction and come closer to what we all want…a sense of nearness…to God, to our Source (or whatever you call that which centers you), to each other and to lasting security and peace.

For years, I haven’t felt the need to deal with my weight.  I’m tall, and that gave me a sense of, well, not thin, but certainly not obese, though my BMI would have told me otherwise if I had just paid attention.  Plus, my diet wasn’t so bad in China.  Lots of vegetables, rice and meat.  Frequent vegetarian meals. Not much junk.  China has very few desserts that appeal to me, plus I  walked a lot, and even started to run.  But being back in America, away from my loving and appreciative husband who ignores my big belly, and being suddenly surrounded  by people bigger than me, people who remind me of the passengers on the space cruiser in Disney’s WALL-E, has given me a wake-up call.

 The United Suck-holes of All-You-Can-Eat

Did ya’ll know you are constantly surrounded by junk?  It’s absolutely everywhere.  I know you hear this all the time.  But pay attention the next time you go to the grocery store.  I mean REALLY pay attention.  One corner of the store is devoted to fresh foods.  The rest is processed crap, with the exception of a few small sections grains and dairy products.  I’m sure it’s not that different in China, but when the potato chip aisle only has banana, blueberry  and barbecue chicken-flavored options, you tend to ignore them more.  I am currently blessed with eyes that see.  I see stuff that I used to just grab because I felt like it: Doritos, Pop-tarts, frozen pizza and pastas.  Cookies, crackers, soda and every kind of meal you could want just waiting for you to pop into your microwave, complete with high-glycemic, high fat, high salt and lots o’ chemicals.  And the messages on TV are constant:  “You should be hungry right now.  You should eat something.  Why not try our brand of crap?  Please ignore that craving for a good, long drink of water.  And please, don’t get up for anything other than getting a snack.  Don’t take a walk.  Don’t go to the gym or for a run.  And please, don’t turn off the TV!”

If the TV isn’t on, don’t worry.  There are billboards, radio ads, and built-in bad habits to keep you going for more.

Really.  This is the trap of this country.  And now, for a possibly a narrow window of time, I can see it for what it is.  But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been sucked in.  I have had Doritos.  And pop-tarts.  And, oh my gosh, America knows desserts!  It has to STOP!  Before I go completely blind, get even fatter, and start on this self-hatred loop of dieting and “falling off the wagon”.

So. “Amalia on Purpose” means I am building a more purposeful life-style, one that chooses optimum health over instant gratification.  God, that’s hard!  Getting exactly what you want when you want it such habit, and so completely encouraged everywhere here.  But there is a space between when my body says, “Oooh, yes! Dunkin Donuts!  It’s been too long, my darling!” and actually making the car turn in that direction.  In that space I have a choice to make.  What do I want more?  Spiritual and physical health and strength, or that coffee roll?  Right now, and hopefully for the rest of my life, the answer is the former.  If I am conscious, I make the right choice.

The Clincher: Consciousness

Yesterday, because of poor planning, I had no food with me after my daughter’s oral surgery.  I was starved, and I was an hour away from home.  She couldn’t go in a store with me in her state, so my “only” option was a drive-through.   She needed her pain meds as soon as we got home, and eating a salad while driving is not an option, so…you know the rest of the story.  Fat, fat and more fat.  Plus some sugar, because, oh my gosh, I can get Dr. Pepper in this country!  Woo hoo!  Consciousness was lacking in the morning before I left, the night before when I could have packed a more healthy lunch and snack, and in that moment, when I could have chosen a more healthy option than the “Son of the Baconator”.

Consciousness is essentially about the choices we make: what do we choose to do, and how do we choose to respond to the consequences of those actions.  What do I really want?  If I take time to become conscious, it becomes much more clear to me.  Why, then, do I wait, or hesitate, or ignore the choice to move towards what I want? Do I need permission?  Do I need to feel I deserve what I want?  Do I have to be perfectly ready, or in exactly the right time and place?  Or is it just bad habits? In other words, being on automatic pilot…being unconscious.

How do we cultivate consciousness over automatic habit?

What do you do to cultivate consciousness?  How do you think cultivating more consciousness would affect your life?  Your community?  The country and the world?

Moving Forward

Back home in New Mexico

Back home in New Mexico

I fell off the face of the planet a few months ago.  Not long after writing my last post, my husband and I made a radical, life-changing decision that left me reeling.  We decided to leave China.  Not only that, we decided that, because I was the more flexible of the two of us (read “unemployed”), I would return with our two children to live with my parents for half a year while he finishes his contract.  The reasons were many and important.  But most important was an educational opportunity for my son – a family school that is half-time public and half-time home-schooling, ideal for this kiddo and for us.

I climbed in bed for two days after making that decision.  I stayed under the covers and wept.  I would be leaving my home, my friends, my life, and worst of all, my husband, whose presence in my life has always been a blessing.  It was tortuous packing, planning and then saying good-bye.  But I did it, and I did it because we were looking forward, and sometimes to move forward we have to make difficult decisions.

So moving forward is my theme of late.  I am trying to focus on what I want for myself and what we want for our family.  When I started this blog, my intention was to live purposefully and to write about it here.  In a way, that started the gears moving towards this decision.  It lead to me to write about why I am not dead yet, which was about changing my life to live a more balanced and healthy life.  That led to learning about forgiveness, which is apparently a life-long lesson, but I am learning!  The soul-crushing grief that weighed me down for years has lifted.  I had dammed up a reservoir of resentment and anger that I quietly ignored and denied, and that reservoir is drying up now that I know how to hook up the pump and let the feelings flow out safely, without destroying any of the villages down-stream.  So now it’s time to lighten up the ol’ body.  So I’ll be writing about that over the next couple of posts.  Stay tuned if you’re interested in how that’s going.  Also, share what you’re doing to live on purpose.  This path is way too important to travel it alone.

A place of peace lying below the crusties in the desert of the soul

It’s a season of gratitude, and I am feelin’ the need.  Being buried under a pile of stress (in the form of graduate school applications and a job hunt) has given me a crusty feeling of general irritation and impatience.  I want to know what the future holds, already!  I could wallow in these feelings, letting my heart rate stay elevated and my children cringing at my entrance to a room.  I have been grumpy, to say the least.  From experience, I know that gratitude is often the solvent that wears away even the toughest crusties of the soul.  So I now turn to those people, experiences and circumstances that have ultimately lead to greater understanding, compassion and insight, or have just plain made me feel good.

To my husband: I am grateful for your patience.  You calmly take the children by the hand and lead them away from me when you see that we all need some space.  Your honesty and openness about your own fears and failings lends me more support that your achievements and success ever could.  Your smile, sincere and sparking with light from beyond your eyes, lifts me up when I need it most.  Many a man could learn from your example of husband- and fatherhood.

To my family: Without hesitation, you offer the roofs over your heads, the bread in your pantries and the encouragement of your hearts.  Your love is a hammock on a lazy summer afternoon – I am embraced and supported.

To my children: You teach me to be a better human, whether or not I am willing to study the lessons.  Thank you for every moment of your lives, shared or not.  I glory in your becoming…you.

There are people I could name that deserve humanitarian awards for the friendship and support they offer.  The list is long, and if I were to begin to write it, I would invariably miss obvious, extremely important people simply because my brain is fried.  So if you’re reading this, just add yourself to the list, and give yourself some kind of treat on my behalf…a latte from Starbucks, a Hershey’s kiss, a self-hug, or and extra 30 minutes of glorious reading time.  You deserve so much more.  Even if we’ve never met, maybe you can relate to what I’m saying here; maybe you’ve felt that aching pull of fear in your gut, or have been the friend that soothed it with the balm of loving words.  If so, you have my gratitude, because it means we’re compatriots in the common struggle of becoming more human, more refined, more Divine.

Finally, I am grateful to Life.  I use the capital ‘L’ because I am learning something about that Force that fires us, inspires us, and guides us from within.  Life is teaching me about forgiveness, and about a Love that holds the planets in their place, keeps the cells inside my bones inside my skin surrounded by the air…a Love the permeate us all.  Life is teaching me to stop and notice that behind the crusties of the stress, and the tightness of the chest, and the choking of the sobs, beneath the aching in the throat and clenching in the belly, there is a quiet flow of peace.  It may take chisels of gratitude to break through.  It could take shovel loads of service to others to dig down to it.  It might take singing with my children and dancing with my man, maybe even running through the grass with bare feet.  But what I am most grateful for is the lesson that I have the power to get there, and for the pure lightness of being when I arrive.

Bizarre or enchanting? Why do I have to choose?

I just came across two well-written and insightful articles.  The first was from  a long time resident of China who describes why he is leaving the country he used to love.  Clearly, the author is speaking from a lot of experience.  I imagine  many non-Chinese feel the same at times.  He cites pollution, corruption and all-consuming materialism as some of the reasons his family is leaving the country.  But his top reason is the quality of the education his children are receiving.  This man came to China with a love for the country many years ago. He has watched the country’s massive changes from the inside (as much as an outsider can, that is).  I have a lot of compassion for his sadness, and even understand his bitterness. The response the article was huge, and surprising to him.  It was also mostly supportive, though obviously there were people who were hurt by his judgements.

In response to this article, another author offered a different perspective on why she chooses to return to China.  She acknowledges that much of what the first author writes is true.  But she wants to stay to watch and be a part of China’s evolution.  It is more hopeful in tone, though the commentary that followed more often then not called her naive.

Now, here I am on the eve of submitting my applications to graduate school in pursuit of an MFA in creative writing.  None of these schools are in China.  But an important reason for me to pursue this degree is to hone my writing skills for China, and to better be able to teach effective English writing to Chinese students.  So though I will have to leave it is so I can return better prepared for a long-term career in China. I want to help give a voice to Chinese writers.  And the fact of the matter is that the world isn’t listening in Chinese.

I have said it many times in this blog.  China has much to offer the world.  But both these articles are examples of foreigners focusing on what China has to learn.  As I writer, I feel like I write best when I am learning.  And if China does anything for me, with its challenges, its blessings, its contradictions and its baffling ways, it teaches me.  When I am frustrated and disheartened and weary of China, I know, without a doubt, it is because I have stopped choosing to learn.

As I ponder leaving the country that is part of the world that I love, I wonder if there is a way to respond to China, or to anything in the world, (elections or football games, nature vs. nurture, science vs. religion, insert your controversy of choice here), without debating?  The authors of both articles have aspects of the truth that have helped me understand China better.  That, to me, is the whole point of differing perspectives.  “The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions.”

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