A Way of Teaching and Being

Meet Alan Brown, a Dean and English teacher at a progressive high school in New York City. He took a deep dive into mindfulness and it changed his teaching and his ability to create peace within himself.

Alan Brown teaches mindfulness to three high school students.I came to the Year-Long because I wanted first and foremost to bring a mindfulness tool kit to my students—something that could help with their academic stress as well as the emotional roller coaster of their social lives. While I understood this meant I had to practice mindfulness myself, I couldn’t have anticipated how much it would change my own life.

Our first retreat of our Year-Long began with a deep dive into silence and personal practice.  The panoramic mountaintop vistas and beautiful redwoods were easy to appreciate; it was much more difficult to just sit and examine my inner landscape.  Both my body and my mind were so agitated—fidgety, uncomfortable, unsettled—that by the end of the first day, I was strongly questioning my judgment in committing to a whole year of this.  But somewhere in the second day, continuing to pay attention to that agitation helped me see what I was actually agitated about—the parts of my experience to which I’d not given proper time or space before then.  I had no idea how upset I was with a colleague until I noticed the thought of arguing with him recur every five minutes or so.  I had no idea of just how much I was overeating until—with quite literally nothing else to notice—I saw that I was already full after my first helping and yet still went back for another portion.

To my surprise, the more I simply observed the agitation, the hunger, the anger, arise in my body, the more they also began to dissolve on their own.  This natural healing power of the body amazed me, and it gave way to a profound sense of stillness.  The teaching made sense in a whole new way, and only then could I understand that it was this sense of peace—not any breathing or bell-ringing exercise—that was the most important thing I could bring back to my students.  Before teaching them to breathe or calm down or focus or anything else, I had to show up differently as a non-reactive, present adult in their lives.  It was a way of teaching and being; not teaching a way to be.

New York City is a far cry from the quiet and peaceful mountaintop retreat setting, and upon my return to school, it took real work to cultivate that same sense of stillness.  But all of the stimulus of the city and all of the chaos of a school environment simply became part of my personal practice—noticing my reaction when I was frustrated with a student or how I felt when a lesson wasn’t going well.  In the face of all of these challenges, I learned to show up mindfully, both to my classroom and my life, and in so doing, I found precisely the tool kit I’d been looking for—one which had been there all along.

Alan graduated from the Year-Long Certification Program in 2013. Stay tuned for more graduate stories in coming weeks.