Mindfulness

12 Feb

Last time I wrote was before my 2nd daughter was born. Now she is 2years 7months old.

My reasons for not writing are plentiful with numerous emotions involved. But the crux of the truth is- I’ve lacked mindfulness.

Mindfullness defined by Dan Harris in Meditation for the Fidgety Skeptic is:

”the ability to see what’s happening in your head at any given moment, so that you don’t get carried away by it.”

And later elaborates with:

”Another way to think about this concept is to visualize the mind as a waterfall. The water represents your nonstop stream of consciousness, which consists mostly of “me, me, me” thoughts. Mindfulness is the area behind the waterfall, which allows you to step out of the cascade and view your urges, impulses, and desires without getting caught up in it all.”

“What mindfulness has allowed me to do is respond wisely to things, instead of reacting impulsively. Respond, not react: this is a game changer.“

Enter Meditation. Welcome to the party, Meditation!

If you don’t know who Dan Harris is, well, he’s a famous ABC News journalist that was eventually broken down by anxiety, naivety, a drive to be perfect, depression, anger & self-medication. He broke down on air with an unexpected heavy anxiety attack. If you’ve suffered from this you will immediately have your heart sink by watching this clip of the anxiety bomb dropping mid-report, where he does the sadly familiar “pretend like it’s not happening and push through even though you know it is snowballing out of control”:

This anxiety is something I’ve struggled with at times, too. I’m not positive exactly where/when this anxiety embedded in my brain. What I do know is that I have been immersed in rumination and wandering of the mind since I was a teen. I’ve been an over-analyzer with a big side of Virginia Beach ego and I’ve successfully shielded my struggles from anyone except those closest to me.

I’ve struggled with self analysis. It hurts to objectively critique ones self and behavior and it can be embarrassing. But I did a deep dive into this with feedback from those closest to me.

Self-assessment either isn’t practiced, is half-assed, or your truth is kept a big personal secret because most people are embarrassed and their ego will not allow honesty with yourself. But if you can begin honest meditation, just a small, simple daily practice, the layers of the onion we know as “Me” unpeel (and yes it may make you cry!).  However, it takes time and that’s the quest I’m on currently.

Meditation is a daily moment where I sit in peace in a chair and I focus solely on my physical breath.  When my mind wanders (or sprints in panic) I cut that noise off and simply return my attention to my breathing- the sound, the feeling of the air passing, the natural rhythm, the rest of my body’s synergy with the conductor of the band- my breath.

Meditation, helps train and refine mindfulness.  Mindfulness helps me respond not react. I now practice recognizing what my brain wants me to react with and stop short, and respond with kindness, care, and compassion. This is tough and a work in progress, but science backs the subsequent results of the practice. And let’s face it, I owe it to myself and everyone around me to always be a better me.

So in time, I will update you folks with exactly where I am in life and career and personal goals and performance.  But for now, check out Dan Harris and his work (author, easy meditation app called 10% happier) for yourself and see how you can change your life. He’s a funny guy. It feels good.

Best,

Pete

 

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The Sunrise.

29 Mar

Holy crap, I haven’t written a blog in over 2 years.

Have you ever stayed up all night and into the early morning hours just to see the sunrise? I can recall doing this many, many times in my highschool and college years. Remember that feeling, though? You’re so damn tired, but you know it’s for a good reason. When that sucker pops up just above the horizon, it’s a unique feeling. Well that’s how I feel.

I’m going to give a quick life catch up, since so much has changed between when I wrote last to now. I’ll keep this somewhat brief, but that will require me to pack lots of info into a small space, so bear with me.

So in Jan 2013 I was a teacher and was quickly losing my patience with so many aspects of my job. I enjoyed working with the headmaster of my school (private school), but was not pleased with my direct reports and unfortunately realized the situation would not be changing anytime soon. They didn’t have the vision I had for improving the quality of work we needed to be doing and they fundamentally did not embrace the diversity and real-world content we needed to be addressing with our students. Another major factor was I simply could not support Mollie (pregnant with Emma) and a growing family on the salary they offered. So, I left after the 2012-2013 school year.

I took a huge gamble and transitioned from education to the non-profit sector in August of 2013. The work I was doing was still health education focused, yet it was directed at college and high school students as well as low-income communities and detention centers. I was hired to educate the public and manage the marketing and web presence of the organization. I met some incredibly genuine and respectable individuals from who I learned so much and gained a wealth of experience. We worked hard together, motivated each other, and were proud of our accomplishments. Our team made a measurable impact on the community, established great relationships, and it felt good. After about 10 months into the job, the non-profit decided to merge with another and the entire leadership team I worked beside was purged. I was allowed to stay, since the other organization didn’t have anyone to fill my position at the time. The entire process was frustrating and depressing and seemed to bring so much anxiety into my life that it was no longer healthy to stick around (not to mention the new staff was horribly toxic). After 1 year and 3 months, I left. It sucked.

So, in a bizarre twist of fate (some would say coincidence, but I believe things happen for a reason) my father-in-law, an autobody shop owner turning 60, decided to begin pursuing a plan of action for someone to continue the business after he decides to “retire” in the years ahead. He contacted me in the spring of 2014 to discuss his plan. He proposed ideas of how I could assist him with building a marketing plan, establishing a web strategy, learning the industry, managing the business, and eventually taking the helm in administration at the shop. Amid all of the craziness at my job in VA, I didn’t know exactly how that would work out, or how exactly I felt about such a career change. I’ve spent my working days in customer service, general contracting, corporate sales, managing marketing and fundraising plans, being a face and voice while educating the public– but never repairing cars and fighting insurance companies. After much thought and many, many, many questions from me to him, we decided this was going to be our new adventure. I left my job, sold my house, and moved to upstate NY. No big deal, right?

Yeah that was a rather large detail: selling a house in VA and moving to a new one in NY, 9 hours away (without traffic).

Long story shorter: sold my house in Chesapeake, VA in 30 days, we moved up to stay with my mother-in-law in NY for about 5 months while Bella stayed with an amazing friend who took such good care of her, I began working with my father-in-law, bought a house, drove Bella up to NY and moved the family in this weekend.  MAJOR event to add is that Mollie is pregnant with our second daughter and is due June 28th!

Getting back to the sunrise feeling. It’s just beginning to set in (no pun intended). I’m extremely fatigued. It’s been an exhausting process, both physically and emotionally. It’s been tough especially, since I am so excited to have another daughter in just a few months and I feel I haven’t been able to be present with Mollie the way I was when she was pregnant with Emma and as a fully focused dad to Emma. I’ve been physically present, but it’s tough to compartmentalize a racing mind during all this change and stress- something I’m always working on.

The proverbial sunrise is just beginning to peek from below the horizon. My family can see it and it feels worth it all. Next up, we’re ready for some sleep!

Missing the Point

23 Jan

Well, we’ve certainly come a long way in education.  Teachers are taught not to spend class time having students read the text aloud (remember that?!) and there are tests that determine whether teachers are meeting the state’s goals in learning.  However, there are quite a few issues that are being praised on the news that are not giving us an accurate depiction of education in the US.

I recently saw a new statistic on the NBC Nightly news following the inauguration joy stating that high school graduate rates have increased in the past year.  Immediately, red flags went up in my head.  At face value this seems like another joyful piece of news, but I have an inside look that reveals the truth.  Both my wife and I teach on the high school level.  I teach middle and high school grades at a private school and my wife teaches at a gang ridden public high school.  Needless to say, we see a broad spectrum in education, a big picture.

So what’s the problem with the news announcement?  Well it’s not that the statistic is false.  The problem lies with how we got to this high school graduate level.  Recently, my wife and I have been comparing notes and revealing the “behind the scenes” going-ons and it’s not pretty.

First,  students are skipping their midterms and SOL tests and allowed to “make up” the tests at a later date, yes, after their friends have shared the answered and info.  The integrity of these tests have been ruined, but the country is not told this on the news.  Also, if you fail the test you get to take it again.  If you fail that the student has to log 15 hours of “tutoring” on the computer and meet a minimum score of around a 50% to “pass” the test and move on to the next grade.  One student in my wife’s school logged onto the “tutor computer” and spent the hours roaming the school and talking with friends elsewhere.  Luckily, she was caught.  Why do you think she would try this?  Is this lack of ethic unusual?  Is it encouraged, maybe even inadvertently?

One public school in the district is allowing any late work to be made up by the student at the end of the quarter to limit failing grades.  So deadlines set and enforced by the teachers become irrelevant and the student now can copy all answers from their friends and submit- learning none of the material.  

District wide, students are now allowed to make up all work missed during 10-day suspensions and it is the teacher’s responsibility to try to contact these students when they are out via the parent (good luck with that) where, again, the student will copy the work from a friend who was present in class.  Students suspended for this are those that skip school or fight.  So if you don’t like to go to school, just don’t.  No need to worry, you’ll just be given a 10-day vacation and your grade will not be affected.  In fact it may improve when you’re not there.

Finally, students who cannot read and/or write are being pushed through from 8th grade to 9th (that’s middle school to high school).  There are rules that have been set in place that once 16 yrs old, the student is moved on to high school.  They don’t want a 16 yr old in 8th grade giving his 11 yr old 6th grade girlfriend a ride to school.  So instead, we send the unequipped student without basic reading skills to a higher level of learning.

So what is it we’re looking at when we see the news proudly announcing higher graduation rate in the US?  Here’s what teachers see:

A crafted and manipulated environment where superintendents change the rules to keep their jobs. Students are not being taught “21st century job skills”.  Instead they are permitted an environment where they do not need to learn to read because at 16 they’ll be moved ahead to a place where they can skip school, be sentenced to stay home, copy homework from someone who can read, and then get a passing grade.  Next stop- graduation.

The joke of it all was that the theory the news gave for the increased graduation rate was that students are no longer tempted to drop out by the lure of jobs available (because now the unemployment rate is so high).  The truth is we’re just afraid of failing students who don’t try.  Our country, in our claim to advance in technology and product quality, is actually growing workers who lack ethic and drive.  The students are being shown there’s no consequence for apathy and absence- instead we’ll praise it.  Why don’t I, the teacher, make the change?  I focus on small successes in the classroom because as we in the education workforce know well- some problems are far above our pay grade.

 

Where will this trend take us?  How does this affect employers?  What will this do to future generations when these students become parents?

Almost a Year Later…

17 Dec

And so it’s begun- I’ve now set on a path that has absolutely nothing to do with my college major.  What was that major you ask?  It’s education, specifically health and physical education.  Finding my path toward that college graduation goal was a big deal for me.  It took many years of searching to figure out exactly what I cared most about.  It turns out the common theme in my life is that I care about helping people.  If I trace my vocational history from age 13 to 31, it looks something like this:  manual labor, restaurant industry, sales, personal training, coaching, and finally health education.  It’s gratifying to help people and I simply enjoy the mission of attaining a product that other people appreciate.  I’ve always been the type that finishes a project and needs to take a minute to look back and appreciate what I’ve accomplished.  Not in a self-indulgent way, but in a motivational way that encourages me to keep on helping.  I’m simply convincing myself that there is reason to continue driving ahead.

I have been looking at the current trend in education on a daily basis.  Heck, I’m part of that trend as I literally teach for 270 minutes, Monday-Friday and solve children’s and adult’s problems for the other 190 minutes of the school day.  In this full emersion, I see what is happening in education.  I observe the dynamic between the teachers, administrators, and parents.  Painfully, I see the product of schools as a whole in this region.  Objectively, our teaching is not making the change we’re setting out to achieve.  The graduation rates and SOL scores demonstrate this.  Subjectively, I’m just not content with the amount of effort and heart teachers must put into their work compared to the product that it yields.  There are so many daily successes and victories in my teaching that I look back on and I am pleased.  Yet, this pales in comparison to the negativity and apathy that are clearly shared and demonstrated by the students and parents alike (I know, not you, but trust me there are many who just don’t care).  So whatever shall I do?  I’m not interested in quitting.  I believe I do well at what I do and I truly want to help any way I can.  I do feel that there’s so much more ahead of me in  future success beyond teaching in secondary schools.

As mentioned in my post (almost a year ago!), I have been collaborating with my brother-in-law about an idea I have.  I’ll tell you what it’s based on- helping people.  I have a feeling I’m going to love the product and in turn love what I do.  Simply put, I know what is needed and I would be the only one standing in my way of fully achieving my vision.  Life’s too short not to pursue dreams.

Yes, again- details coming soon…

Happy holidays to everyone!

Ideas dancing in my head

28 Dec

Ok, so it’s been quite a while since my last post. However, I’ve been a busy man. Wrapping up classes, traveling the east coast, running and celebrating holidays with the family have been the agenda of late.

I have dedicated a few moments to an idea that has crossed my mind a few times in the past. I can’t really discuss the details at this point, but after a little more research and work My brother-in-law and I hope to have made enough progress to present our concept. A hint- it’s athletic performance related and for men.

Oh yes, and marathon training is back in full swing after weeks of adjustments during my crazy schedule. I am very grateful for the new shoes my NY family gave me (free run+2 shields for wet winter weather & lunaracers for my tuneup races). Looking forward to the new year and my many victories and accomplishments ahead!

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A New Page

4 Dec

Well, we’re venturing into new territory… sort of.

Mollie and I are very excited to announce a new path we’re headed down- online training and coaching!

I say “we”, but really Mollie is doing the coaching and writing the training plans. I am officially in charge of everything else in the business. We had a great reason to start everything up- a need for change. We’ve been driving all over the east coast pulled between our families that live 9 hours away from each other and we find ourselves always weighing out the pros an cons of wherever we are currently driving. We’ve lived in the northeast and VA and know that “the grass is always greener…” What is the bummer about where you find yourself living sometimes is that you feel a need for change, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you can just get up and go! Good ol’ home ownership, careers, responsibilities… you know the deal.

A little trip to Maui, HI

Amid all of “wishes” for different pursuits, it doesn’t mean a little creativity can’t help you on your way to a real adventure! Mollie decided to use her professional running, training and coaching background to go after something she loves. She loves to run, she loves to achieve goals, and she loves to help others join her on the trip. I know I appear biased because I’m her spouse, but if you’ve ever spent time around her you’ll pick up on how she’s extremely successful at whatever she sets her mind to. I don’t mean like “Good job” successful. I mean more like “Holy crap, how’d you do that?!” successful.

From the first day I met her, I’ve realized one thing- she’s a perfect wave. You either catch that wave or you miss out. I’ve been a personal trainer and coach myself for years and I can truly say she’s the one you want. I look to her as powerhouse in the industry and so do many others who have been training for years, even decades. So we’re off on a new adventure- one that’s right up our alley. Let’s see how this one goes!

You’ll find the link at the top right of my page, but here it is again:

Check out the site & get involved- https://sites.google.com/site/pieceofcakerunning/

Busy Season!

28 Nov

Wow, I have been busy over the past 2 weeks. Usually it gets better when cross country coaching ends. I’ve been combining full time student teaching with 16 credit hours of courses- it’s adding up. However, the last-minute push for completing semester work is a friendly reminder that the end is near. It will be a great day when I can have the accomplishment of completing my final classes before graduation under my belt. It’s been a long time coming. In the spirit of Thanksgiving I’d like to say that I’m very thankful for every one who has supported or contributed to my progress thus far.

The training has begun again and my last week required 38 miles. We were able to run a lot of it in NY, which is hilly but beautiful. No crazy race stories about the Turkey Trot this year! It was a good race overall and I ran how I had planned, only a little slower finish time than I’d preferred and boy was it chilly! Looking forward to the next few weeks blurring by so we can enjoy the next holiday (where I will be watching Home Alone on repeat!).