Setting Intentions for a Mindful School Year

Hi, my name is Robert Thomas and I’m the Executive Director of Mindful Schools. On behalf of the Mindful Schools team and the Mindful Schools community of educators, I’d like to welcome you to back to school! We are a virtual community of practice that is here to support you as a mindful educator to be able to practice together with others and then develop, deepen, and grow your practice.

As I sit here, I am very aware of the fact that the summer is quickly coming to a close, and I just imagine as an educator you are even more attuned to this fact and feeling it even more acutely than even I am. You are probably aligning all aspects of your life with the fact that you will be back in school soon – back with your students, peers, teachers, friends, and colleagues. And then you have to align your body and mind with that fact and get yourself ready to be able to do that work. I just want to say that we’re here to support that.

The whole purpose of this community of practice, that we’re creating together, is to support you in a way that aligns with your deepest intentions and gives you a chance to meet situations with kindness, compassion, patience, wisdom, and understanding. This practice gives you a chance to to respond effectively in ways that are profoundly beneficial and transformative for people, whether they be a kindergartener, high schooler, peer, or one of your school leaders. The school environment is so rich with interactions, challenges, and events that ask us to meet them with the full capacity of our being – to be available and to benefit and impact positively. We’re here to support that and to support you.

Today, I invite you to listen to my talk on intention. I’ll talk a little bit about how to practice with intention – how to think about intention and especially how to connect or align ourselves with our deepest intentions as we enter into this period of transition together. You may also read the full transcript of my talk below.

Setting an Intention This Week

This week, ask yourself: “What is my deepest intention here?”

You can ask yourself this question before you sit down, while you’re sitting, after you’re sitting, or anytime during your day. Then notice what comes, without judgement.

Throughout the week, we hope that you’ll be able to join us in a community sharing exercise at our discussion group here.


Full Transcript of Robert’s Talk:

Hi, my name is Robert Thomas and I’m the Executive Director of Mindful Schools. On behalf of the Mindful Schools team and the Mindful Schools community of educators, I’d like to welcome you to back to school. We are a virtual community of practice that is here to support you as a mindful educator to be able to practice together with others and then develop, deepen, and grow your practice.

As I sit here, I am very aware of the fact that the summer is quickly coming to a close, and I just imagine as an educator you are even more attuned to this fact and feeling it even more acutely than even I am. You are probably aligning all aspects of your life with the fact that you will be back in school soon – back with your students, peers, teachers, friends, and colleagues. And then you have to align your body and mind with that fact and get yourself ready to be able to do that work. I just want to say that we’re here to support that.

The whole purpose of this community of practice, that we’re creating together, is to support you in a way that aligns with your deepest intentions and gives you a chance to meet situations with kindness, compassion, patience, wisdom, and understanding. This practice gives you a chance to to respond effectively in ways that are profoundly beneficial and transformative for people, whether they be a kindergartener, high schooler, peer, or one of your school leaders. The school environment is so rich with interactions, challenges, and events that ask us to meet them with the full capacity of our being – to be available and to benefit and impact positively. We’re here to support that and to support you.

Today I’d like to say a little bit more about how to practice with intention – how to think about intention and especially how to connect or align ourselves with our deepest intentions as we enter into this period of transition together.

Creating Transformational Learning Environments

I’d like to say just a couple things about Mindful Schools because while some of you may be coming into this community very familiar with Mindful Schools – the offerings that we have, our style of practice, and our approach to practice, for many of you this is your first experience with Mindful Schools. So I’d just like to share a little bit about how we think about mindfulness practice, what our approach is to practice, and why we think that doing the work that we do – to be able to support teachers to have a mindfulness practice – is so terribly important.

Our goal as a small nonprofit organization is to help teachers integrate the practice of mindfulness into school-based learning environments. The key thing is we’re helping teachers, educators, and members of the school community establish their own mindfulness practice. And we’re helping educators gain the knowledge, tools and experiences to share that practice with others, whether they’re a kindergartner, high schooler, peer, parent, teacher, or principal.

We want to give you the tools to be able to meet each interaction, each situation, and each challenge with mindfulness, compassion, kindness, and an ability to be helpful.

We focus on teachers because we know that an individual with a mindfulness practice has tremendous and unique capacities to impact and benefit the school environment. When an educator with a mindfulness practice walks into a room, they have the ability to affect that room, to influence those who they meet, and to create an environment that is transformational. This is very different than having somebody else come into a classroom for a few minutes, talking about something that you read in a book, or pressing play on an app. This is actually an educator standing together with other people and embodying and expressing the wisdom and compassion of a mindfulness practice themselves. A mindfulness practice affects how they speak, teach, listen – how they meet, on all levels, the people they’re with. This is profound and has the ability to change entire classrooms and also entire school communities and entire school climates. So that’s what we’re supporting here at Mindful Schools. That’s our intention.

Over time, thousands of educators have taken a step to establish their own personal mindfulness practice and many, many, many educators are now helping other educators transform entire school communities to becoming mindful schools.

We invite you to join us on this experiment to live our mindfulness practice and our deepest intentions with each other. Together, we’ll see how it can benefit the world and create learning environments that give our kids a chance and our teachers a chance to sustain themselves.

Mindfulness and Interconnection

I want to say a few things about mindfulness practice and aligning our practice with our intention. Our practice has two aspects that we can also think of as one, but I’m going to talk about them as two different aspects for now.

One of these aspects relates to our sense of ourselves as an individual, as a unique separate body and mind that we call Robert or Sally or Mary or Don. This aspect of our own individual self is the sense of ourselves that we usually have throughout the day. I am me, and you are you. I do this, I’m responsible for this, I’m accountable for this, I’m happy I do this, I know this. So there’s a sense of our intention that aligns with this sense of ourselves as an individual being.

There’s another aspect of our practice that aligns with the fact that we are not separate from everything around us. In fact, we are part of something larger. We are intimately and inextricably connected with everything else around us. So our practice also has a sense of ourselves as part of a larger body, a larger humankind.

This doesn’t mean that there are two parts of our mindfulness practice – one which is very much just about myself and then another that’s about how I’m connected to the wider world. It’s not quite like that. It means that the whole entirety of our practice is here at the same time in an individual sense and also a wider sense. At the exact same time. Simultaneously.

We are here in both a contained sense and a more universal or boundlessly interconnected sense. It’s kind of like a hand. We could see our hand as individual fingers having different functions, different names even – and they’re also part of the hand. When we look at it from one perspective we could just think about this finger, but the same exact finger is also only this finger because it’s together with these other fingers that make up the hand. Our life is like this too.

When we practice, we start to align ourselves with this sense of this interconnected, boundless, larger sense of ourselves. Naturally when we sit down, take a step back, and turn our attention really towards ourselves – it’s not that we actually start to see ourselves as more like this separate individual, but actually we start to see ourselves, know ourselves, and have a direct experience of ourselves as actually bigger than that. It’s this strange paradox that happens. When we turn our attention back on ourselves to watch, listen, and notice what our own experience is like, we become much more attuned to the feelings, emotions, and sensations of our body as well as how those feelings, emotions, and sensations are also connected with the wider world. We have a direct experience that we are actually not separate and that we are interdependent.

We are dependent on everything around us to be able to live. Not only the air that we breathe and the water we drink, but also the people and relationships that we have – we’re dependent on all of this for our life, happiness, joy, meaning, and purpose in our lives. When we practice, we wake up to this fact that we actually aren’t just this individual finger, but at the same time we’re also the hand.

The challenge is that we often just see ourselves as the individual. And from that place where we’re just seeing ourselves as an individual human being – we have things to worry about. We’re afraid, or somebody gets more than us, or we’re in competition, or we’re not being respected, or we’re not being seen. When we stay this individual, all kinds of things can unfold from there, and life can be very challenging.

One aspect of being able to practice is to sit down and remember that we are not actually, in reality, just the individual, but that we’re also the hand. We’re part of this larger body where we aren’t separate, and where we’re not able to actually exist without each other. Although this is the reality of our life, usually in our day to day experience we’re not even really aware of this. Maybe in small moments, and then the window closes. We usually just focus on the fact that we are this individual self and don’t see or appreciate the fact that we are this larger being.

What I’m sharing here is background or context for me to be able to talk about intention, or the role of intention in our practice.

Setting Your Intention

The meaning of the word “intention” is “purpose” or “attention.” It also means “leaning towards” or “stretching into.” Most of all it’s a sense of fixing our mind purposefully around something. The power of intention comes from being able use our mind to orient ourselves to that which is most important.

I invite you in this period of transition, as you enter back into the school year, to really use your human capacity to be able to fix your mind or lean into this period of time with purposefulness. And feel – have a way of feeling. Find your feeling for your deepest intention.

Our mindfulness practice is not really about setting goals and achieving goals. It has much more to do with letting go and opening up to what is already there, to what is our basic human capacity that is already there within us, but is somehow not getting seen, not getting met, not getting activated, not fully allowed to flower or be present in our life. It’s through that actualizing, that stepping back and opening up, that we start to actualize the wisdom and compassion that we already have.

When I was new to practice 20 or 25 years ago, somebody encouraged me to ask myself what my deepest intention was. I went off and did that, and I’d have to say that was a turning point in my life. It was like there was a fork in the road, and I could continue to go down the path of not being aware of, aligned to, or attuned with a deeper sense of my intention. That path – not being attuned – was basically just making myself happy – getting more of what I wanted to get and less of what I didn’t want to get. This other path that started to appear to me, if I went down that path to discover what my deepest intention was, would be different. I made a commitment to myself in that moment to take that path – that path that would reveal itself or unfold if I actually asked myself, “What is my deepest intention?” Then I stuck around for the answer. Here’s the trick with mindfulness practice: there’s no one answer – there’s not a right and wrong answer or just one answer that we need to discover. Our practice is to just ask the question and then see what comes.

I’d like to really encourage you to – as part of your sitting practice and as part of how you extend that sitting practice into every moment of your day – really ask yourself that question: what is my deepest intention? And then don’t do anything. Whatever comes, just notice it. Just notice it, and don’t start judging yourself. Don’t start grading what comes – “oh, that’s not deep enough” or “that’s really important, I need to remember that.” Actually just see what comes, and meet that with your practice. Meet that with the full capacity of yourself to be aware, to notice, to receive, and to accept. Start accepting that which comes, and what you’ll notice is that which starts to come in response to this question of “what is my deepest intention?” will surprise you. Sometimes it may be very clear, and it may come from some part of your body or some memory or some feeling. Other times it may be very vague and fuzzy, but just listen to that, watch that, accept it, allow it to come, and see what there is to learn from that.

If we allow ourselves to ask ourselves this question as a practice, we’ll notice that those intentions which just stay about ourselves as an individual are actually not going to be our deepest intentions. Those intentions that just come from this sense of ourselves – as an individual trying to get by in life, make ourselves happy, and do what we need to do – are not going to be our deepest intentions. Those intentions that actually are attuned with this sense of ourselves as interconnected with everything else will have a different quality. They’ll have a quality that has the power or ability to really inspire us to practice and really change our whole view and perspective of life.

I invite you to take this up as a practice. Just ask yourself either before you sit down, while you’re while you’re sitting, after you’re sitting, or anytime during your day. Sometimes I’m even in a meeting with people, and maybe I’m even getting upset, but before I say something, I ask myself “what is my deepest intention here?” The minute I do that, everything is different.

Our deepest intentions quite naturally align with both aspects: this wider sense of ourselves as participating in something bigger than ourselves and also with our own individual self, which is not a bad thing. It’s only not so helpful if it just stays within this small frame. The minute our individual self gets complemented with the sense of ourselves as participating in something bigger – something interconnected boundlessly with everybody and everything around us – it becomes beneficial in a very different way. We can access that by asking ourselves “what is my deepest intention?” So I encourage you to take up this practice.

Thank you very much for joining back to school. I look forward to practicing together with you, and we look forward to supporting your practice. Let us know how we can do that. Thank you very much.