The Integrity Diet

The calendar I never kept. Lipstick? Really?
The calendar I never kept. Lipstick? Really?

Throughout this year I have spent a fair amount of time wondering about what it is I am actually supposed to be doing. For about 8 more weeks I will still be working, living and learning entirely on my own dime. Time away from the classroom has brought an astounding degree of freedom and plenty of thinking and dreaming space. As this designated phase draws to a close, I am looking for the list of achievements I can hang my hat on; evidence of my productive use of this precious time. I keep asking myself: so where is the evidence? What have you actually done with yourself this year?

A valid question, yet not the ideal. Rather, to ask about what I gained, how I grew and which capacities I strengthened – these are the questions that bring me closer to understanding the value of this time better than lists of what I did and made. And on closer inspection, I see that above all – I changed my diet. I paid closer attention to what I was taking in, how it affected me and this in turn changed what came out. I didn’t realize it while it was happening but now I see that this year had everything to do with my integrity – how I live my life as my whole self and how I express and share that whole self with the outside world. I treated myself to an integrity diet.

I recently shared one of my biggest revelations on Twitter:

I joined social media, specifically Twitter, to “hang out” in a sense but instead got “caught up” as I described in a recent post. The deeper and wider my education-related conversations became, the greater my interest and focus on the very things that school and education, in and of themselves, can hardly fix or solve. In fact, the more I engaged with educators, journalists, activists and academics around these topics, the more keenly aware I became of the potential for school systems and political systems to harm students, exacerbate disparities and claim ignorance about how such circumstances (i.e., school-to-prison pipeline, excessive police brutality against black and brown people, also in schools) could come to pass. Internally, I note a shift in myself from accommodating to critical. While I love the idea of speaking to a broad audience,  it has become more important for me as a person, as a writer and as an educator to speak out and speak up and accept that not everyone will feel included, or comfortable, or agree with what I have to say. I am now willing to run that risk. My ego may take a hit but my integrity finds sustenance.

While I feed my integrity, where does the time go?

It seems to me that I read for hours on end each day: books, articles, blog posts, e-mail. I read and I seek to become wiser, better informed. I read in search of nuance and depth. I read in search of examples of healthy daily coping. I follow my friends’ recommendations. I develop opinions and then read on to have those same opinions challenged. When I find nuance and depth, I am grateful and compelled to share. One think piece that struck me in particular was Why Women Talk Less because the author did not leave well enough alone. Rather, she  examined research and arguments from various angles refusing to sum up her findings in tidy tweetable bullet points. She let the reader grapple along with her as she laid out the complexity and stickiness of the options that women appear to have in choosing to speak out and up. This type of reading is like a good workout. It leaves you a little tired and mentally sweaty but satisfied. And stronger; ready for the next solid think piece to come along and start something. And there goes the time. I read,  feel edified, and wonder where all this reading may be leading me.

Where?

Into the arms of writing, it would seem. The other chunk of time when I am not reading, I am seated at my laptop, pecking my thoughts out onto white screens with hyper-interactive sidebars. I used to write in journals, on paper. I do less of that now and tend to go straight to the screen. Since June 2014 I have published 65 posts on this blog and about a dozen on Medium.  At the outset I was fairly sure that I would be writing about coaching and teaching. But the most passionate pieces are best characterized as responses. Something I read or saw or thought about struck a chord and affected me. Like when a post by Audrey Watters nearly sent me over the edge (in a good and slightly revivalist way). Or when I  needed to dissect the reactions I was seeing on Twitter and elsewhere to a NYT piece on Success Charter Schools. Or most recently when I felt a little out of my depth venturing to take higher education to task but I did it anyway and am glad  that I did. In all of these pieces there was an emotional boiling point which made writing imperative and allowed me to push past the weighty apprehension I typically feel before I click “Publish.” Writing this year has meant jumping over my own shadow. Repeatedly. And with bigger and bigger leaps.

What did I do with myself this year?

I grew and I learned. I have found that my interests extend far beyond where I thought my borders were. In my reading and writing, in fact, I’ve gone abroad. I have ventured into unfamiliar and often uncomfortable territory. I have gained a new appreciation for this wonderful brown skin I am living in.  I have come to better understand and value the ways in which it interacts and intersects with all the other aspects of who I am and how I identify.  I have explored aspects of my otherness while finding commonalities in likely and unlikely places. Opportunities to get down on the ground and truly wrestle with my most stubborn biases and blind spots have been multiple and recurring. I have made many friends and so far, very few enemies. I have come to value questions and responses over supposed answers and solutions. I have found a deeper desire to connect not simply with people but to their ideas and  connect those ideas to other people who may not be seeing the same things.

At the end of this year I have no product to market, no book to pitch, no course of study to offer. What I do have is the well nourished integrity of my intellectual, social and artistic pursuits. Perhaps I have never been as fully myself as I am right now. My integrity has never been in better shape.

Why “Teaching People, Not Poses” Matters

Teaching People, Not Poses by Jay Fields offers 12 principles for teaching yoga with integrity.  When I picked up the book three weeks ago at a friend’s apartment, I got chills as I began reading. Much more than a book about yoga, this concise manual unpacks some truths that lie at the heart of teaching.  Here are her 12 principles:

  • Be yourself.teaching-people-not-poses-home
  • Practice.
  • Show your vulnerability and your expertise.
  • Teach from your own experience.
  • If you don’t know, say you don’t know.
  • Stay in your body.
  • Don’t take it all so seriously.
  • Remember that your students are people.
  • Learn anatomy.
  • Plan enough so that you can be spontaneous.
  • Remember who and what supports you.
  • Don’t try to please everyone.

http://graceandgrityoga.com/read-the-principles/

While you may have to think a moment about how “Stay in your body” and “learn anatomy” transfer to the classroom, when you read the explanations that follow, it’s likely that you will discover what applies to you and your situation. “Learn your subject matter” is what came to my mind instead of anatomy, for instance.

What’s so remarkable about reading Jay’s fully open and honest account of her own journey as a yoga practitioner and teacher, is that she makes you feel right at home. She describes the awkwardness, vulnerability, hubris of teaching as readily as she captures the actual miracle of connection that applying the principles affords.

I could go on but I’d rather let Jay have the floor. (From the conclusion):

When it comes down to it, Teaching People, Not Poses is about having integrity. Integrity in the sense of being more whole. More yourself. Bringing together all the parts of you and not hiding or holding back.

But also integrity in terms of alignment. In this case, alignment with your truth, as opposed to contorting yourself to fit what other people expect of you…

If you’re willing as a teacher to go to the places that scare you, to soften when you want to get hard and to attend to the complexity of your life through your practice, your students will also learn to do so. And that means more people in your community and in our world who dare to live in integrity. And that, my friends, we need for oh so many reasons…

At the end of the day, Teaching People, Not Poses isn’t really only about teaching yoga. It’s about playing your part to help create a world full of people who have the courage and spirit to set aside fear and to live in alignment with their deepest, truest most full self.

It happens one person at a time. And it starts with you. You as you are right now, no transformation necessary.

Shine.

Of all the resources available for teachers on how to improve our skills and develop our expertise, too few, I fear, address the needs of our teaching souls. Kid President can’t do it alone. The 12 principles offer nourishment and sustenance for teachers at every level. More tech and professional development and stiffer standards do not nourish teachers. If we want more teachers to stay for longer, we need to actively foster and strengthen each other’s capacity to live and teach with integrity. We have to do this because the system certainly will not.  Reading and sharing Teaching People, Not Poses is an excellent first step in that direction.

Teaching People, Not Poses by Jay Fields, 2012

Special thanks go to my dear friend and soul mate, Cathleen O’Connell, who introduced me to this life changing text.