Erica Marcus, yoga and mindfulness teacher, painter, blogger and former English teacher in a Washington DC public middle school, currently makes her home in Portland, Maine. This post originated as part of her ongoing series of reflections on her work with youth.
The room of high school students practicing that day seemed particularly squirrelly. Though most students were silent, one boy gently poked himself in the cheek, two girls repressed giggles as they looked towards one another, and a third flipped over her cell phone and surreptitiously checked her mail. When I called out one of the giggling ladies, she responded, “Well, I couldn’t help it. When I opened my eyes and looked around, everyone was doing something totally insane.” She was right. If you asked me as I walked out of that classroom if mindfulness classes were working, I would probably have sounded discouraged. On that day, I didn’t see anything that suggested the majority of students were interested or engaged in the practice.
Indeed, if I judged my practice by my “bad” days, or even my “bad” months, the same could be said for me. I check the timer incessantly. I fidget and wiggle. Sometimes I even cut my formal sit off short with a desperate need to accomplish something RIGHT NOW. I don’t always want to sit, to pay attention, to put everything aside to make time for it.
But I keep coming back, to my own practice and to the students. I know that I experience my life differently when I make space for sitting with an anchor, whether it be my breath, my body, or the sounds around me. A formal sitting practice creates space around my struggles with myself and the world. It helps me catch the moments I’d otherwise miss and see bad choices before I make them.
I keep coming back to the students because Dina has stayed and participated a number of times during the mindfulness period, even though she often leaves. I keep coming back because Dylan admitted in private that he uses the anchoring practices at night when he has trouble sleeping, even though he needs a reminder to remove his earbuds when we practice in class. I keep coming back because I believe that students are connecting to and using mindfulness in ways that may not be obvious to us.
For me, doing the work of mindfulness requires trust: trust that continuing my practice, even when it’s hard, ultimately provides clarity in my life, and trust that my students will find what they need from the practice I provide, even if it doesn’t always seem that way.