Mindful Summer: Changes and Transitions

Welcome to Mindful Summer! As summer is often a time for changes and transitions in the lives of teachers and educators, we are starting out Mindful Summer with a discussion on how we can use the practice of mindfulness to transform our relationship to change. If you’re completely new to mindfulness, you might want to check out this Introduction to Mindfulness article first.

If you’re ready to get started, listen to my talk on Changes and Transitions. You can also read the transcript below.

Setting an Intention This Week

This week, set an intention to establish a regular mindfulness practice.

Try setting aside 15 minutes a day. Start by picking a time, putting it in your calendar, and doing either your own practice or one of the three guided practices in this article.

Use this guided mindfulness practice on Responding to Change a few times this week.

We understand that life can get in the way – do your best, keeping in mind that part of the practice is remembering to start again without judgement.

Join the Community Discussion!

Join Our Online LIVE Guided Practice on July 3rd

We’re inviting our community to join Enrique and the Mindful Schools Team for an online guided practice on Tuesday, July 3 at 4pm PST / 7pm EST. If you’re unable to join us, we’ll post the recording of the guided practice here and also in the Mindful Summer community. RSVP here for more details.

Here is the recording of the guided practice:

About Enrique

Enrique Collazo is a new generation mindfulness teacher. He spends most of his energy bringing the practice of mindfulness to teens. He is well loved and known for his work at Challenge Day during the school year where he facilitates social and emotional learning workshops for thousands of young people each year. Enrique teaches teens internationally for Inward Bound Mindfulness Education. He’s also on the guiding teacher counsel and equity and interdependence committee for IBme. Enrique has facilitated several 6 week teen series for Spirit Rock and is a passionate advocate for bringing meditative interventions into jails and addiction treatment facilities. He is also a guiding teacher at the Mindful Schools summer grad retreat.

Enrique gives young people pathways that align with their passions, opening their eyes to what possible, changing the negative internal narrative to a positive one. He believes deeply in the power of marginalized voices to change the world. 

Transcript of Enrique’s recording:

What’s up everyone!? My name is Enrique Collazo, and I’ll be your guide for this week of practice. I feel honored and blessed to be getting to practice with you all in this way. I’ve been working with youth for about 10 years and practicing mindfulness for 13 years. I teach social and emotional learning workshops in middle and high schools, and I teach mindfulness on retreat settings for teens – kind of like camps. Similar to retreats you’ve been on perhaps. But I am not a teacher in the same way you are, and I just want to say I have the utmost admiration and respect for the work you do with our children day in and day out. I know that you probably got into education because you care deeply about young people and people in general. (certainly not for the money!).

The fact that you have chosen to embark on this journey of a lifetime, your mindfulness practice, also tells me that you care deeply about yourself and understand that the more we fill our own cup, the more that we are resourced and taking care of ourselves, the more we have the capacity to show up as teachers and mentors for children. When we practice self-care our children feel that. Desmond Tutu says that “a person becomes a person through other people.” I really love that.

“A person becomes a person through other people.” – Desmond Tutu

Oh and congratulations! You’ve completed another year of school. I imagine that cultivating a mindfulness practice may have helped you flow with the ups and downs of life and the school year with a little more ease, internal balance, and compassion. If you haven’t had the time to establish a regular practice, summer is a great time to do that.

I’ve been charged with the task of starting Mindful Summer off with a discussion topic of Change and Transition: the difficulty of change and how we can use the practice of mindfulness to change our relationship to change.

We all know that things change on intellectual level right? We understand that everything is constantly changing and that nothing is permanent, but this practice invites us to know this truth on a deeper, cellular level. To deeply accept or realize, to make real, this truth of change. If we understood this on a deep level, when things changed we wouldn’t struggle so much. We would accept it, feel the loss fully, but not fight against it. We’d know that it’s just the way things are, and there would be less pain around change. So we experience less pain around change. Not no pain. We’re not saying just accept it and not feel anything about it. It’s to feel, grieve the loss fully, and allowing it to have its own natural process – a birth, a life, and a death.

Simple and straightforward, right? Just accept change and we struggle less. No, not simple or straightforward. It’s hard and complex, but I believe it’s so important and worth working towards. Change isn’t always bad news. It’s good news and bad news. When things really suck and are painful and unpleasant, the fact that everything changes is great news. When things are going well and are pleasant, when we like what’s happening, the fact that everything changes is not so good. Across the board, human nature is to not like it when something is pleasant changes. When something that’s difficult changes, we like it. We want more of what feels good and less of what feels bad.

Why is this? Is there something wrong with us? We should know better, right? NO. It makes sense. It’s human nature. There’s nothing wrong with us. It’s biological – a survival mechanism. When something feels good, we want more. When something doesn’t feel good, we want less.

I’ve been practicing mindfulness for relatively a long time and when something that I’m enjoying changes or I think about it changing, a lot of the time my first reaction is to hold on. To fight reality. And you know, reality always wins. Let me give an example. I love good food. When I’m eating a good meal… that last bite… man. Suffering. How often do we turn a moment of pleasure into pain? I was seeing one of my favorite artists at a concert the other night. Enjoying it, super present. That last song… struggle. In that moment I was hating life. The narrative was – how can this be happening? I can’t believe this is ending. I went from being fully present in the moment. Joyful, pleasant sensation. In a snap, it turned into pain.

A metaphor that’s commonly used to describe this is holding onto a rope. If your grip is too strong, you get rope burn. Our mindfulness practice allows us to loosen our grip when it comes to change. In this example of the concert I went to, my first instinct was to hold on, to cling. Because of my practice, I had a mindfulness bell that went off. I realized that this doesn’t feel good and that I had agency. So in that moment I came back to the present moment. What happened was that I went to the future. Did a little time traveling, and I came back. I came back to what was happening. It was the last song – I was enjoying it, and there was a beautiful emotional moment when I wept a little bit because it was so beautiful. I was free again to enjoy this moment that was never going to happen again.

The irony is that we’re enjoying this moment that doesn’t last. But we’re going to the future, into this narrative, and we’re out of the moment. There’s a kind of balance that we’re trying to find. This is a quote by Donna Faulds: “I try and find the balance between opening to the wonder and letting go as the moment passes by. Allowing joy and a hint of sadness to co-exist side by side.” I think that’s beautiful, and I think it’s really important that we don’t go to the other extreme or end of the spectrum.

I remember once I was leaving Big Sur, one of my favorite places on the earth, and I was starting to get so sad. My rational mind came online and was like “everything changes, and I shouldn’t be sad.” I was telling myself that I shouldn’t be sad. I know that everything changes. That’s not being asked of us. It’s to feel the sadness. It’s sad. I know everything changes, and it makes sense that I’m sad. What we’re trying to discern is this initial rising of sadness and allowing it to exist between the sadness and the clinging… how do I make it last, and how do I control and fight. There’s a big difference.

There’s a quote by Victor Frankl that says,

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

So how do we create that space? Here are some tools and practices to help transform our relationship to change.

Formal mindfulness practice.

Training the mind to be present. Training the mind muscle. Sit down and have an intention to pay attention to your chosen anchor – breath, sound, body, contact. When the mind wanders, which it will inevitably do – this practice is not about not thinking. It’s about when you do start thinking and planning. When you do leave the present moment, with a friendly attitude return to the present moment. Every time. This is the training. You’ll get stronger, stronger, and stronger. You get to a point when you don’t even think about it, and the mindfulness bell just goes off. You notice what’s happening and get to choose how you want to respond.

For me, I’ve tried fighting, avoiding, suppressing to escape reality. All these things that don’t work for me. I choose to practice this other way. I found for myself that this brings more peace, ease, and freedom in my life.

Cognitive self-reflection.

Another way to work with this relationship to change is more cognitive. It’s asking myself what am I running from, or what am I unwilling to feel? A lot of that is fear of feeling what’s there to be felt. Here’s an acronym that’s useful: STOP. S for stop, T for take a breath, O for observe, P for proceed. So you stop, take a breath – pause. Observe what’s happening in the mind and body, getting really curious without judging or needing it to be different. Once you have the capacity just to observe, you see that it shifts and changes, and then you proceed. But it’s not easy to stop and pause. It’s quite painful. We have such a complicated relationship to pain.

Through our mindfulness practice we get to see clearly that the only wise response to pain is care – is compassion. And really understand that being human is just hard sometimes. It’s full of joy, pleasant feelings, bliss, and it’s really intense, painful, and hard. This is another thing we’re just being asked to accept. Understanding, believing, and learning that we have the capacity to hold and be with discomfort without running away from it, avoid it, suppressing it. It’s hard to stop. And it’s a practice. It begins on the cushion and then transitions out into our waking life. Our open-eyed practice. I’ve found that our sitting practice is a microcosm of the macro. Everything that’s happening internally as we shift and change our relationship to pain, discomfort, and unpleasant sensations internally has a profound effect on seemingly mundane things in our life. Traffic, lines, relationships, and the infinite amount of things that are changing in our day to day lives.

Saying yes to what’s present.

Opening to allow the pain, grief, sadness, and whatever difficult emotion to arise. This allows us to heal. You have to feel it to heal it. Allowing the healing process to happen as change arises and the emotions around the change arise. All the fighting, pushing away, holding on, all that is an avoidance strategy to feeling what’s there. If we let go of those avoidance strategies and allow ourselves to feel, then we allow ourselves to heal. When we get caught in our reaction, it’s really hard to be with what’s underneath.

Find beauty in change.

We have no idea what’s good or bad. We may believe that we have a story around a situation and label it bad or good, but we have no idea what we’re going to learn from or come from something that we label “bad.” We get into this narrow, fixed view of a situation, and the invitation is to expand that view with the wise response of “we’ll see.” You might think of a time in the past where you’ve fought and struggled with some change, but what came out of that change?

Another vein is that because things are constantly changing – in our humanity and mortality, is that tomorrow is not guaranteed. I’m not saying that to be a bummer or morbid. I say this to light a fire underneath us to go out there and soak up life. I think of Mary Oliver’s quote “what are you going to do with this one wild and precious life?” If we’re fighting, struggling, and resisting, we’re not experiencing life.

In conclusion.

We get to look this week at our relationship to change. We get to see that the human condition to change is resistance. If there’s something that we’re experiencing that we like, we resist change. If there’s something that we’re experiencing that we don’t like, we want to push away that experience. We want to make it change. Make it change into something pleasant.

This pleasure / pain elimination project. Trying to set up the conditions of our lives so that it’s always feeling good and pleasant. Try to investigate to see if that project is working for you. And if it’s not you get to turn inward, investigate, and slowly start changing your relationship to change. As you get caught in the trance of resistance, as we leave our presence and ourselves, we can turn inwards and see if we can start to let go of the control. Let go of the resistance and just allow the experience to arise and pass away. Everything has a birth, a life, and a death. Everything is constantly changing.

In our sitting practice, we get to watch this. We get to watch our reaction. We get to slowly transition this reaction into response. We’ll have more space. We’ll get to practice this inwardly and externally. It is a practice. There are so many different layers and examples, and when I speak to this relaxing, letting go, and accepting… those things don’t mean we don’t take action in our lives. This practice doesn’t mean that we’re passive or a doormat. We discern what actions we can take and also understand that we have to let go if there’s nothing we can do other than the practice in itself – it’s allowing. There’s nuance.

In the world that we’re living in right now with all the change that’s going on, there’s social justice. Absolutely, we do what we can and fight for what we think is right but also learn not to suffer around that. Whatever reason you choose to step into this mindfulness path, I have some sense that the reason it represents is freedom.

Everything we’re going to hear throughout the summer are ways to embody more freedom. The way we practice is to not let any struggle go by without learning from it. Our ordinary way of relating to life is survival mode. Always scanning for danger, stuck in our prison of preferences, driven by this powerful sense of wanting to be comfortable. In mindfulness, we’re invited to relate to life in a different way. To relate to our moment to moment experience in a very different way.

I leave you with a poem.

Adrift by Mark Nepo

Everything is beautiful and I am so sad.
This is how the heart makes a duet of
wonder and grief. The light spraying
through the lace of the fern is as delicate
as the fibers of memory forming their web
around the knot in my throat. The breeze
makes the birds move from branch to branch
as this ache makes me look for those I’ve lost
in the next room, in the next song, in the laugh
of the next stranger. In the very center, under
it all, what we have that no one can take
away and all that we’ve lost face each other.
It is there that I’m adrift, feeling punctured
by a holiness that exists inside everything.
I am so sad and everything is beautiful.

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