How Meditation Has Become My Stress Reliever

Written by Padua Junior Mia C.

As high school students, we can be stressed over all the challenging obstacles we face in today’s world. We’re trying to balance school work, sports, extracurriculars, maybe a part time job, and sometimes just trying to hang out with our friends can become stressful. Entering my junior year all these thoughts ran through my head constantly and worried me for the year ahead. As I continued through my junior year, I found my stress reliever. Meditation.

I started my meditation journey in Mr. Shelton’s classroom on the first day of Physics. I was very skeptical in attempting meditation because I genuinely did not think it would work for me. As I continued to participate in meditation in the beginning of class, I did not realize how much 3 minutes can affect my mental and physical being. For those 3 minutes I am taken to a different place where all my worries float away and I am brought to a state of serenity. I physically become less tense and feel the weight start to lift off my shoulders. After taking time to meditate, I am able to reflect on everything going on and plan my next steps effectively.
Meditation has become a part of my daily process to help my anxiety, worries, and stress. I am typically a very anxious person who constantly overreacts about the littlest things. I now am able to take a moment in my day to stop, focus on my breathing, and let all my concerns dissolve away. However, when there is a lot on my mind it can be hard to concentrate on my meditation, but if I really focus, I am still able to meditate and the benefits outweigh the difficulties.

After just a few short months of practicing meditation, I have learned a new technique to use when I am feeling overwhelmed. Coming from someone who has never meditated before, I am eternally thankful that I have had an opportunity to experience meditation. If you feel like a million things are running through your mind and you need a moment of clarity, I would highly recommend giving meditation a chance.

At Peace With Myself Through Mindfulness

Written by Padua Academy World Languages Teacher Susan Burris
Susan
I don’t think anyone who knows me would describe me as ‘calm.’ I feel my emotions (all of them) in extremes and I always have. At almost 40 years old, I’ve finally embraced this about myself, and practicing mindfulness has helped.

I’ve suffered with anxiety and depression since I was a student. In my early adult life I struggled with finding a balance in my life; anxiety seemed to always take over. Talk therapy helped me manage my feelings and emotions, but the anxiety and depression was always there under the surface (and many times breaking through and disrupting my life). Sometimes I felt hopeless that I would never be free from the highs and the lows. I wanted to find more peace with myself and maybe that would help me understand my anxiety and depression better.

When Ryan Shelton offered the mindfulness sessions after school at Padua I signed up. On the first day, despite distractions and deadlines, I showed up. I wasn’t sure it was going to be for me, but I was hopeful. Truthfully, I did not know very much about meditation. In my ignorance I pictured a wizened soul sitting silently and zoning out, with maybe some chanting thrown in for good measure. I don’t do sitting still, or silence. I’m boisterous and I love to talk and laugh. Reverence is not a skill I have developed despite years (DECADES) of learning and working in Catholic schools.

At our first meeting we were joined by Shannon Ayres. Shannon is an Air Force veteran and licensed counselor specializing in PTSD, who also teaches Mindfulness Meditation to school teachers. Shannon began our meeting talking about the types of meditation. I was shocked that you don’t have to sit silently; sometimes you can move or walk. There can be music or silence. You might like guided meditation with someone gently leading you, or maybe you simply count your breaths in and out. Shannon also pointed out to us that many of our most familiar Catholic saints’ writings and prayers are really talking about being mindful with God. Over the next few weeks, I continued to show up to the meetings. I even started to do some meditation at home using YouTube videos. I listened to parts of Teresa of Avila’s autobiography too (they’re available in English on YouTube). This Doctor of the Catholic Church talks about her own struggles to find peace in herself. In addition, I downloaded the Calm app so I could practice at home. This year I used some of the Calm app sessions with my students before midterm exams. The feedback was good! Students liked 3-5 minutes to settle themselves before class began. I liked that too!

My favorite part of learning to be more mindful is that you don’t have to ever master the practice. Imperfection is almost required. There are days I will be really good and stay focused the whole time (woo hoo Mindful Master!). Other days I just have to keep coming back to the breath resetting myself over and over. Isn’t that just like life? Some days we have it all together. Other days we’re thrown a curveball and get off track. We rush and we hurry through things that require patience. Emotions and situations can be all over the place and make us feel out of control.

I’m confident that my mindfulness practice has helped me accept myself just how I am. I’m learning to be gentle with my imperfections. I understand my students’ needs better, and I’m more present with my family. When I feel anxiety or depression creeping in, instead of denying them and pushing my feelings away, I start breathing. I give my emotions more space now. I think about what I’m feeling and why, breathe, make a change if I need to, and move on. Sometimes, I just breathe and I don’t do very much investigating at all. I’m not perfect, nor is my mindfulness practice. What is different, is now I know and accept that in my everyday life, and practice, I only need to bring myself back to the breath, re-set, and try again.

My Journey from Dismissing to Embracing Meditation

Written by Padua Junior Chelsea V.

When I first heard that I would be meditating in my physics class, I had no interest in participating. When my mom asked about it, I told her that I didn’t really care about it and wasn’t going to try to understand what it was all about. I even told my friends how much I was dreading going to class. However, when my physics class and I meditated for the first time I actually really enjoyed it. After that class, we continued to meditate and I began to actually take an interest in meditation. I started going to some of the after school sessions that were longer than the ones in class.

Every time I meditate in class, I’m able to shut off the the rest of my worries and just focus on what is present around me. I am someone who stresses about everything and overfocuses on every little detail going on in my life. I’m usually a very busy person and I’m always thinking about what I have to do next and how many things need to be done in the week. Meditation allows me to shut out those worries and concentrate on my breath. I really feel a sense of peace when I sit down to meditate. Lately when I’m at home and my life starts to feel hectic and rushed, I just sit down and start meditating for a couple of minutes. It helps me to organize my thoughts, and then afterwards, I know what is important and what I don’t need to think about.

Even though I really enjoy meditation, sometimes it can be really hard to practice it. I still have some of those thoughts that meditation can be a waste of time and that I need to be productive. I also sometimes would rather sleep away my stress than meditate for just a couple of minutes. But what I’ve realized over the past couple of months is that when I just meditate for a couple of minutes, I feel so much better and way less stressed. I’m able to get my homework done quicker and am able to do so without feeling anxious. When I sleep to not face my stress, I only wake feeling more rushed and hectic. Meditation can be hard to implement into my life sometimes, but I really try and make time for it because I know once I do it, I’ll feel better.

From someone who originally dismissed meditation as a waste of time, I would extremely recommend trying it to see its benefits. Meditation has helped me through some really stressful times, and practicing it has really helped my mental health. Even when I’m not in physics class I try and practice mediation and mindfulness. Meditation has really benefited me this year and I’m glad that I have a new technique to cope with stress.

Elementary School Students Experience the Benefits of Mindfulness

Minds Over Matter Initiative has been conducting successful mindfulness trainings for students and teachers in Southern Delaware since 2014. Below, students between 2nd and 6th grade from H.O. Brittingham Elementary, The Jefferson School, Milton Elementary, Rehoboth Elementary, and Richard A. Shields Elementary share their experiences following some mindfulness training.

“I have used mindfulness before my karate testing and mindfulness helped me calm down and be less nervous. I’ve also used it during dinner for mindful eating, and I taught it to my family.”

“I used mindfulness when I was taking a test. I was on a really hard question and instead of freaking out, I did mindful breathing and I got through the question. At the end of the test, I had a perfect score.”

“Last night I had the hiccups and I used mindfulness and they went away.”

“Mindfulness has helped me control my anger and whenever I fight with my cousins I go somewhere else or to my room and I take my cat (if I’m in my house) and get quiet and sometimes I hear my heart or my cat’s heart.”

“My favorite part about mindfulness is mindful breathing because my brother is literally the most annoying person I have ever known and we get into fights a lot. I use mindful breathing to calm down so I don’t start another fight.”

“My favorite thing about mindfulness is sending nice thoughts. One of my cousins’ aunt just died and she was a special person in my life. So everyday I send nice thoughts to her saying she was a good aunt to my cousin.”

“My favorite thing about mindfulness is that it helps you feel happy in the moment. You’re in the present moment because it doesn’t make you think of the future or what’s going to happen next or the sad past times. It just helps you enjoy life.”

“My favorite thing about mindfulness was mindful seeing because it was cool seeing things I never saw in a room I go in everyday.”

“My favorite thing about mindfulness is mindful walking because you feel a whole lot of stuff everywhere in your body.”

“Once in social studies everybody was talking when we were supposed to be working, and I used my anchor to get my attention back on my work.”

“One time before I went on vacation I couldn’t fall asleep because I was so excited for the trip. I used mindful breathing to help me fall asleep.”

“One time I used mindfulness to help me because in swimming I was going against 2 very fast kids. So I used mindfulness and I won.”

“One time I used Mindfulness was when I was looking for weird things to draw because Mindfulness lets me think about everything, making it easy to think of weird things.”

“One time there was a spider in our house. Me, my friend, and my brother were screaming so I told my friend and my brother to use mindfulness to calm us down.”

“I get angry at my brother a lot, I mean a lot, a lot. When I found out what mindful breathing is it prevented those fights with my brother. Same thing when I play any types of sports I love. I’m normally a sore loser but thanks to mindfulness I am not a sore loser.”

“When I get nervous on a test I use mindfulness to calm me down. When I have a bad day or when I’m angry, I also use mindfulness to calm me down. One time I said a terrible thing to someone and then I sent kind thoughts to that person. One day I had a nightmare. It made me cry. I usually go to my parents bedroom when I have a bad dream. But now with mindfulness I stay put in my bed and breathe in and out to get me to sleep.”

“A time I used mindfulness was when my brother was annoying me but I used mindfulness just in time to not say the F word.”

Meditation Has Changed My Attitude and My Life

Written by Padua Senior Tabitha C.

It seems as if we are always expected to succeed in order to prepare for the next stage in life. In grade school, we are told to get good grades to attend a reputable high school. In high school, there is an incredible amount of pressure to get into a good college, and after college to get a good job, and after you get a job to have a family, and the cycle continues. However, it is not possible for someone to always be in overdrive. If we never stop, pause, and take a break every once in a while, we will burn ourselves out.

This is where meditation has helped me. No matter how much I worked ahead, I always felt like there was something else I had to be doing. Meditation in Mr. Shelton’s Physics class helps me to pause everything going on in my life. For those three minutes, all I have to worry about is focusing on my breathing and clearing my mind. After those three minutes, my to-do list almost always seems to be more clear and organized. Instead of worrying about my other homework or upcoming assessments, I can focus on the activities and labs in physics class, and I end up having an increased understanding of the information.

After learning to meditate in physics class, I began to implement it in other aspects of my life. Before I give a presentation, I typically feel nervous, which causes my heart and mind to race. This year, I began using the breathing exercises that I learned in Mr. Shelton’s class to help me. I close my eyes, take a few deep breaths, and I almost instantly feel my mind clear. After I clear my mind of self-doubt and nervousness, I can focus on my presentation, and do my absolute best.

I am incredibly grateful that I have had the opportunity to learn to meditate. Before physics class, I had never meditated before. I heard that it had helped others, but I never truly believed it until I tried it. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to feel more present and mindful throughout the day. If you simply give yourself three minutes each day to meditate, you can change your day, your attitude, and eventually, your life.

Breathing Helped Me Transition Into Retirement

IMG-0905A letter written by former Padua Head of School Cindy Mann

Hi Everyone,

My name is Cindy Mann. As of this year, I am the FORMER Head of School for Padua Academy. To say that I miss the students, parents, and faculty of Padua is a huge understatement! After forty years in education, all of a sudden I am alone. This is not quite an accurate statement, but it is how I feel. During the fall, as the days ticked by, I felt more and more depressed. How does one tackle these feelings – I didn’t know until one day, while sitting alone on a bench in the forest of White Clay Creek State Park, I remembered to BREATHE!

I realize this sounds ridiculous, but I remembered a Padua teacher, Ryan Shelton, and what he taught me about mindfulness, meditation and just plain breathing in and out. That was a turning point in my beginning days of this new page in my life called retirement. Mindfulness was an avenue to walk down and fearlessly face my aging. In her book, The Gift of Years – Growing Older Gracefully, Joan Chittister states, “It is fear of getting older that plagues us. Instead of seeing a long life as a gateway to the flowering of the spirit, the growing of the soul, we are far more likely in a culture geared toward movement and dexterity, physical beauty and public achievement, to see it as the coming of a wasteland.” That is so well put. It expressed exactly how I was feeling – until I remembered to BREATHE!

It was on that day, while sitting on the bench in the woods, that I decided to get off the path of feeling sorry for myself and begin to walk towards a new adventure of the “fresh life within me”. Breathe in and think about all of the beauty around me – Breathe out and thank God for the splendor He reveals to me. Breathe in and let the fear leave my body and Breath out – let the Holy Spirit enter my being inside and out.

It is by stopping to breathe, that I am now on freedom’s road to great beauty, joy and gratefulness. All it took was to allow my spirit the time and space to seek freedom and peace.

This practice of breathing, of seeking, of letting go of fear, opens new doorways no matter your age. At any of life’s crossroads, we are challenged by fear. I promise you, by breathing in and out, centering prayer, and trusting God, you will experience the glory that God intends for you everyday.

I hope you take me up on the adventure of mindfulness and meditation. Life is full of miracles, but we must take time to experience them.

Take care my friends,
Cindy Mann
cmannhome1337@gmail.com

An Easy Technique to Calm Your Mind

Written by Padua Senior Ava R.

As a student, we face many challenges in life such as striving to achieve in academics and sports, working jobs outside of school, and finding time to spend with family and friends. Trying to balance all of these activities can be overwhelming but there is a simple solution: meditation!

Before I began meditating in Mr. Shelton’s class, I was quite ignorant of the reality of how easy it was to simply focus on my breath and calm my mind. I always thought meditating had to be done by yourself in a secluded room for hours and hours. After being properly introduced to meditation, I have now learned that one can meditate anywhere, anytime, with any number of people in the room. I am fortunate to be in one of Mr. Shelton’s physics classes where everyone meditates for three minutes before class begins. In those three minutes each day, I am able to forget about the stress present in my life and simply clear my mind; I end up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the tasks at hand for that day.

Unfortunately, our hectic lives can be an obstacle to meditating. It is quite easy to meditate in class because the room is quiet, everyone around me is participating, and Mr. Shelton is there to guide us to concentrate on our breathing. However, outside of class, I often find myself rushing from sports practice to home, then shower, eat and begin the hefty amount of homework for the night; I simply forget to take a moment to meditate. Fortunately, I believe this obstacle can be overcome. By educating individuals about the power of meditation, I think more people would be willing to try it and it will eventually become an essential and routine way for students to relieve themselves of stress. For example, if all of my teachers learned of the benefits of meditation, they might dedicate time during each class to engage in this practice. In turn, this would become a daily part of my routine and I would be more likely to turn to meditation at home when I am feeling stressed.

All in all, meditating is an easy way to free your mind from any stress impacting your life at that moment in time. From meditating for just three minutes each day, I feel calmer and have a sense that everything is going to be okay, no matter what is going on in my life at that moment. I now feel comfortable enough to be able to take a moment, close my eyes, focus on my breath, and forget about the world, wherever I am at. I am excited to take this technique with me as I travel to college and am presented with new challenges in life.

Meditation Helped Me Overcome Anxiety and Organize My Life

IMG_5511Written by 2018 Padua Alumna Natalie Onesi:

There’s something so amazing, almost magical, about putting conscious intention into setting your day in the morning. Hello everyone, my name is Natalie Onesi and I am currently a Sophomore at the University of Delaware! I am a double major in Neuroscience and Psychology with a minor in Theatre Studies, and I also balance about three jobs (that I love so much) at any given moment. Needless to say, I am a busy busy person. However, one thing that I have carried with me to make this less stressful is the techniques that I learned with Mr. Shelton both within his classroom and within our Meditation Club at Padua Academy. I am beyond thankful for the things I learned from these techniques because they help me stay on top of everything I have to do and approach it from a more stable and calm position rather than trying to approach it from a frantic and stressed point of view. One of the biggest things I remember about the techniques Mr. Shelton taught us is about relieving pressure on ourselves when we lose focus. When our minds started to wander, Mr. Shelton reassured us that it was okay, and we shouldn’t put so much pressure on staying on one track because putting that pressure on ourselves actually has more deleterious effects when we are trying to practice mindfulness. He would always say, those thoughts are trying to be there, don’t block them from coming, rather try to redirect yourself by thinking the phrase “inhale, exhale” and trying to focus on the area of our face that we were directing our breathing. While this was a technique we used during meditation when our mind started to wander, it was something I applied to everyday life. In life, losing focus on things and losing your way can be scary and frustrating but ultimately you have to balance yourself in order to move on in a productive way. So in moments when everything got very overwhelming, I remembered to just take a breath and redirect my energy.

Meditation has so many benefits. So, so many! And the experience differs for everyone. Personally I struggle with pretty significant anxiety that can sometimes even present itself in physical pain. Meditation was something that actually helped me reduce the intensity and duration of these pains. By being able to put myself into the right mindset and tame the anxiety, I was able to lower the severity. This was huge for me and I am eternally grateful for it! In addition to that, I noticed an increased amount of energy throughout the day, generally better mood, and ability to focus more. Practicing mindfulness lead to all of these things for me and in turn lead to healthier and more positive interactions with myself and the people around me. Good luck to all of you practicing mindfulness. It truly can change your life!

The Challenges of Meditating for Teenagers

Written by Padua Junior Diana K.

Meditation has always been an idea that I’ve wanted to try but never followed through with. In the past, I’ve attempted meditation but didn’t see the benefits until I started my physics class with Mr. Shelton. I find that as a teenager, it’s really hard to take a break, but just taking 3 minutes before each class to reset has really helped me and my classmates focus. 

Although I could talk about stress reduction, relaxation, and the other benefits of meditation, I want to focus on its challenges. As someone who constantly feels pulled in a thousand directions, it is difficult to quiet your mind and focus on the moment. I always used to think of meditation as something you are either good at or you’re not (I considered myself as the ‘not’ group). However, if you practice quieting your mind and focusing on the moment, that feeling of being pulled in a thousand directions will start to decrease. I have seen that meditation is something one must practice, and I find that having the patience to practice is more challenging than simply deciding that one is ‘good or not’ at it. 

Why is that the case? Most people, especially teenagers, would rather accept that something is not possible than patiently practice it. Not because they are lazy, but because there are other things they need to prioritize, they need to move onto the next thing. Teens are in an odd and important state in their lives. They are learning about the world, expected to make life changing decisions, and are working hard at their grades and lives. That idea of being pulled in a thousand directions is extremely present for high school students. That’s why it’s so hard to make time to patiently practice meditation. The act of meditating is difficult because everyone always feels guilty for not being productive, and the concept of practicing not being productive is what meditation is! Even if someone knows he or she needs to make time to relax, watching Netflix for an hour is still perceived as more productive than meditating for 10 minutes. 

This is why meditation is so challenging and it’s why one needs to patiently practice it. So, today I challenge you to make time to quiet your mind, focus on the moment, not worry about being unproductive, and patiently practice meditation.

Practicing Mindfulness During Lent

Vanessa Vavala, a religion and social justice teacher at Padua Academy, shares her experience introducing meditation to her sophomore classes during Lent:

image.pngA few years ago, a friend of mine told me she was making a conscious change in how she looked at life. She noticed that all too often when asked, “How are you?” or “How’s everything going?” her response, and that of so many others, was about busyness. So she decided to eliminate the word busy from her answer. After all, she asked, “Who isn’t busy? And why have we decided to make being busy a badge of honor as if being overwhelmed by the pace of life is something we should achieve?”

The more I’ve worked with the practice of mindfulness, the more I’m reminded of this conversation. Sadly, this isn’t just a phenomenon adults experience; I see it all too often in my high school students. They seem to have bought into the lie that if they just do enough things, they will achieve everything they want. And they are overwhelmed. So, at the encouragement of my colleague, Ryan, who introduced mindfulness to our school community, I decided to introduce meditation in my sophomore classes. Lent was about to begin and it seemed the perfect season to take a few minutes at the beginning of class to focus on being still and being present.

All of my students, except one, were willing to give it a try. At first they thought it was strange to simply stop and focus on nothing except their breathing for a couple of minutes. But what a difference it made. For a little while, they stopped worrying about the grade that might have been posted, the assignment they’d just been given, the upcoming performance, the game that night, or anything else. For a few minutes, they stopped spinning. For a few minutes they were simply present to the reality of the moment. When class began, they were in a totally different place. They were more focused and less distracted. For a couple of minutes, they understood what it was like to be at peace with oneself and the world. We can teach our students many things, but if we can teach them to be at peace, we have given them something they can carry with them for a lifetime.

How Meditation Has Impacted My Life

Written by Padua Senior Shannon W.

Before practicing meditation in Mr. Shelton’s Honors Physics class this year, I was very stressed out about my senior year at Padua Academy. With new harder classes and college applications, I didn’t know what to expect or how I would manage to handle all of my responsibilities. Now one semester into my senior year, I’ve been amazed by the results of meditating for just three minutes at the beginning of each physics class. The most prominent benefit is my improved stress and time management. Whenever I have a stressful or challenging class, I anticipate meditating in Physics because it allows me to relax, refocus my mind, and prepare for the coming class. This break in between classes has made me a more productive student by making it easier to learn, participate, and perform in class.

Another difficulty meditation is helping me with in my senior year is preparing for the transition from teenager to adult. In a few months, I’ll be heading to college to face new challenges like living on my own and meeting new people. Through this overwhelming transition, I know that I can rely on meditation to help me stay in the moment and overcome any challenges that I face. When I feel overwhelmed or stressed with classes and activities, my breath helps me to relax and refocus. With meditation, I’m now looking forward to the transition to college.

It’s amazing to see how just three minutes at the beginning of class has created such an impact in the mood and environment of my physics class. Compared to other classes which do not start with meditation, this class feels more enjoyable, fun, and interesting because of the unique mindset of my peers. With meditation, we’re able to calm ourselves and re-energize our minds for the difficult class ahead. Even though physics isn’t easy, we actually enjoy the experience. This has been an amazing transformation.

I hope to see meditation continue to grow throughout Padua. If meditation can spread to more teachers and classes, I believe they will experience similar transformations. I hope more students will get involved and experience the benefits of meditation, so as a community, we can grow even further together. I’m looking forward to continuing to learn and grow with meditation along with our community for the rest of my time at Padua and into the future.

Carrying Meditation Lessons into College

Written by 2017 Padua Alumna Alysse Young
Alysse

Hi everyone!

My name is Alysse Young and I am a current junior at Saint Joseph’s University. I had the pleasure of having Mr. Shelton as my Physics and Environmental Science teacher during my time at Padua Academy.  What really struck me about Mr. Shelton’s classes and his method of teaching, is that he implemented lessons that his students could apply to their lives outside of the classroom. Some of the skills he taught us included meditation and self-reflection. Mr. Shelton reminded us that in life it is easy to get caught up in the stresses and daily to- do’s, but it is important to take a step back and put everything into perspective.  These lessons began to resonate with me, so I decided to continue these practices for the rest of my time at Padua and into my college years. This past semester I had the joy of taking a yoga/ meditation course to satisfy my religious difference requirements. I was able to use the knowledge I gained from Mr. Shelton’s class and build on that knowledge throughout my class this past semester. Ever since putting meditation into my daily routine I have noticed significant and positive changes in my life.  Some of these changes include increased energy, less stress, and overall increased happiness. If I could give some advice to anyone trying to incorporate meditation into their life, it’s to let things come and go when you meditate. It’s easy to get frustrated when you can’t silence the thoughts that come to your mind. This is something that I really struggled with when I first started my practice. The best thing to do is to allow thoughts to come and go and to not try so hard to block them out. Meditation can really change your life if you are open to it.  I hope writing about my experiences can help some of you reading this. I wish you all the best in your meditation journey! 

Namaste! 

Meditation Inspires a Junior Research Paper

Current Padua Academy Junior Emily G. shares her thoughts about meditation:

This year I tried meditation for the first time. Although I’ve always been familiar with meditation, I had never really taken an interest in it until Mr. Shelton’s Physics class. After listening to his talks and participating in daily three-minute meditations I began to see a change in attitude in not just myself, but also my classmates. These three minutes set a tone for the rest of the class, and the classroom environment became clearly calmer. With a calmer environment, my classmates and I were able to maintain focus and have a better learning experience increasing our overall productivity. After noticing these changes, my curiosity grew and I realized that I wanted to find out more about what meditation is and what it does for the mind and body. I had a lot of questions, so when I saw that Mr. Shelton had a club for meditation, I decided to join. My friend Isabella E. and I told Mr. Shelton about our interests in the club and he gave us the opportunity to become co-leaders. I also brought my ideas and interests in meditation into my Junior research paper. My paper explained how meditation would be beneficial for students if implemented into classrooms nationwide. From writing this, I began to understand so much more about meditation. I learned more about its history and read about actual studies on its benefits. I soon concluded that the benefits of meditation outweigh any of the doubts, and implementing it into our lives would help our schools and society overall. (Read Emily’s research paper here) As a society, we definitely struggle with finding love within ourselves and within others, and I believe if more people meditated, society would become more peaceful and relationships would be stronger. I am excited to be involved with this club, to share my thoughts and experiences with others, and to learn even more about meditation. I hope to see the club grow, letting more people experience the benefits of meditation, and in the end, create positive changes in the community.

Learning to Meditate at Padua Academy

Isabella E. shared her experience learning to meditate with Delaware Changing Lives here. The text can be found below.

“My name is Isabella Elliott, and I’m a high school junior at Padua Academy. In Mr. Shelton’s Honors Physics class, we’ve started each class with 3 minutes of meditation since the beginning of the year. I want to tell you about my journey and how this small change has benefitted me and my classmates. When Mr. Shelton first introduced meditation to our class, I was open to the idea because I had tried apps for meditation, however, I never could seem to stick to a schedule. After only a few classes of meditation, I began to look forward to class every day. Not only to learn physics but also to get the feeling of relief and calmness that meditation brought. That’s when I realized how meaningful meditation truly is.

After a few months of meditating in class, I noticed it got easier and easier to settle down and focus. I was able to put my restless thoughts at ease and focus on myself as a whole. After each session, in addition to feeling mentally relieved, my body was physically calmer and I felt more focused for class. I noticed that meditation was helping other students too. Everyone was able to settle down, and give their undivided attention to learning. Due to how stressful a high school environment can be, I believe it is very beneficial for students to have meditation, even if it is just 3 minutes a day.

I was not surprised that meditation greatly benefits one’s mental health. I tend to overthink a lot about my day and the future, however, with daily meditation I have come to realize that my daily stresses are much smaller than I think. After participating in one 10 minute session of meditation after school, I noticed that the feelings of frustration and worry that dwelled in my mind all day had vanished. It truly felt like I had come out of a trance when the session ended. My mind felt free as if it were a blank slate that I could build upon with only positive thoughts. I believe that people in our society struggle with creating these positive thoughts and finding peace with themselves and one another. If more people meditated, I believe our society would be more open-minded and people would be able to live more freely.

To help more students and teachers experience the benefits of meditation, Emily Gallo and I are partnering with Mr. Shelton to have a monthly 10-minute after-school meditation for anyone who wants to try it. In our first session, we had about 20 people! We’re planning to put up posters to spread the word about our December session with the student body and faculty in hopes of having an even better turn out. We’re excited to see what happens next on this journey!”

Student Perspectives on Meditation

Four of my students shared their experiences with Delaware Changing Lives here. Below are some additional thoughts from my students.

Lauren O. – 2 years ago, I sustained a concussion that lasted 9 months and severely affected both my physical and mental health. I had horrible headaches and nothing seemed to help, so one of my doctors suggested meditation. It had not only helped to ease my headaches, but it calmed my mind of the anxiousness that overtook me every day. I continue to practice meditation in school and in life, and have found countless benefits. 

Riley H. – I had never experienced meditation before Mr. Shelton introduced it to me in class. Being a junior in high school with an extremely busy schedule, meditation has allowed me to let go and feel relaxed about all my struggles and worries. Meditating at least once during a hectic day allows me to see the bigger picture and appreciate what is actually important in life. I now meditate everyday due to the positive effects it has had on my life.

Olivia R.- Mr. Shelton introduced a three minute meditation session to my physics class this year, and while at first I was hesitant, I have learned that it really has helped me with my everyday life. I have realized that those three minutes help me to let go of pointless worries that I have and allow me to focus on the most important things in my life. 

Cristina H.- Meditation has been a way for me to clear my mind of all the stress and worries in my life. It has been a way for me to step back from the mayhem going on in my daily life and relax. In physics class every morning we have been practicing meditation and it has been a nice way to relax before a stressful day of classes or just been a way to take a few moments to focus on myself rather than other things going on in my life. 

Jess C.- I never liked meditation before Mr. Shelton’s class.  I thought it was a waste of time and I could never quite settle myself enough to get what the whole thing was about.  Through the guided meditation in his class and the just three minutes we take before class starts I have been able to really realize how quieting your mind can help you feel more relaxed, collected, and focused on the task at hand.  Thanks to the way that Mr. Shelton guides the class in meditation I have realized how useful a tool meditation is and why it is so helpfully implemented into his class. 

Maggie P.- Before this year, meditation has never really been something that was a part of my life. However, after being introduced to it by my physics teacher, Mr. Shelton, it has had a positive effect on me and my relaxation level throughout the day at school. Those three minutes of meditation before class have allowed me to focus on only myself and no other outside worries. Meditation, personally, has also challenged me to try to put everything else out of my mind. I’ve  grown from my experience and become a better meditater. In addition, I have also started to meditate after long stressful days of school and at very stressful times of my life just to calm myself enough to focus on my next task at hand. 

Naja M.- Meditation was introduced to me through my physics teacher, Mr. Shelton. We would begin classes with a short meditation to help center ourselves before class. These short meditations sparked an interest in me. I now use meditation in my daily life, in the mornings and before bed, and in the process I’ve learned how to calm myself and prepare for the day ahead of me.

Vanessa B.- Meditation has really opened my mind. I have learned how to mentally step away from the chaos of the day for just a few moments. With practice over time, I have developed an increased mindfulness and realized how simple life really is. Meditation helps me to embrace who I am through a feeling of inner peace and satisfaction, in addition to being a major stress reliever.

Ally D.- I was introduced to meditation and mindfulness when I was suffering from severe anxiety during Freshman year. It helped me take control of my thoughts and my feelings. Since learning how to cope with my emotions and nervousness, I honestly didn’t make as much time to meditate. Since beginning Physics with Mr. Shelton, I have been exposed and given the opportunity to meditate and practice mindfulness on a daily basis. The three minutes of class that we are able to focus on ourselves and just breathe deeply has helped me to relieve stress and calm myself during a difficult day.

Katie H.- This year I was introduced to meditation through Mr. Shelton’s physics class. I have always been a person who experiences a lot of stress and anxiety due to my extremely busy schedule with schoolwork and sports. I was surprised and happy to see that in a normally stressful class, like physics, the teacher focused a lot on mental health and well-being along with obviously the classwork. At first, I did not think 3 minutes of meditation every class was going to have any effect on me, but I found myself refreshed and less stressed coming into class.

Leading with Love is Powerful and Scary

Rules, titles, money, and competition bring order and compliance to society because they give us the illusion of understanding and control. If we follow the rules our lives will improve. If we break the rules our lives will suffer. By the time we discover the fallacy of these statements, it’s too hard to walk away. We discover that the humans in power create rules that benefit themselves, and we follow because we don’t have the power or understanding to create change. If logic was our only tool to impact the world, we would be stuck, but love presents a scary and exciting alternative path.

Unconditional love it a truth beyond human constructs. Love is not concerned with rules, titles, and money; Love is about acceptance, understanding, and compassion. Love starts within our own mind and body and projects out into the world. When someone is connected to unconditional love, titles projected on them by society are powerless. Love has the potential to transcend the nuanced difficulties of our communities.

When a person leads with power, they push subordinates in a desired direction based on rules, punishments, and rewards. When a person leads with love, people follow because they’re attracted to their leader’s qualities. Leading with love is not easy because it requires a person to surrender control, honor the people in their lives, and hope for a positive and unified direction. This may sound weak, but a small group of people listening to internal truth, embracing love, and living compassionately have the power to show the most privileged humans a quality of life that will attract them.

Unconditional love for oneself and others is the ultimate treasure worth discovering for everyone. Seeking love and truth is scary and humbling as you discover that your beliefs and the entire human construct are full of holes and weaknesses, but if you open yourself up to the natural truth, you will discover a tool strong enough to guide you and our world in a healthy direction for all. We can do this!

Love Can Unite Us

Following two more mass shootings, I am determined not to respond with fear or anger because I know that love is the only action that can reunite this country. It would be wonderful if swift action, like a new law or new leadership, could quickly resolve these problems, but our struggles run deeper than that. Anger, fear, greed, apathy, loneliness, hatred, and selfishness can be found in diverse people throughout our country, and they need help, but we need to help ourselves first. If these events trigger destructive emotions inside of us, we are only adding to the collective struggles. We must connect to a higher purpose that’s more important than our personal needs to bring stability to our communities.

In a country that discarded God decades ago, has started to discard science, and is constantly witnessing tragedy and sensationalized news, how can people find grounding and stability? I think it’s driving us all a little crazy. Love is the one tool strong enough to draw people out of the darkness and into a healthy and stable place. Love is peaceful, eternal, and beyond life and death. Love can guide us out of this misery.

People connect with love in different ways: religion, family, and community service to name a few. The challenge is to expand these pockets of love towards continuous unconditional love for all. We can’t be loving if we’re feeling anger, fear, or greed, so we need to learn how to manage these feelings. I believe there are many successful strategies that can help people grow in love, but the one that is most helpful to me is meditation.

Meditation gives me a tool to observe and weaken harmful emotions within myself without burying them or dumping them on someone else. Meditating with a group provides the same individual benefits, but also unites the group in the mission of peace, unity, and love. Since meditation is simply a technique to discover the truth within, we can bypass the complicated and divisive arguments between various philosophical and religious beliefs and join together with the simple purpose of connecting to love. The spread of meditation through different compartments of society gives me hope.

Unfortunately, many more people will die from gun violence in the coming years. If we can respond to these tragedies with love, compassion, and peace, we will be building the foundation for a future full of love, compassion, and peace. If we respond with hatred, fear, and blame, our future will carry these same qualities forward. Let’s be diligent in discovering how to bring love into this world together.

What I Learned From Six Years of Hell: My Personal Story of Survival

It was the summer before my senior year of high school. I was sixteen years old and my high school sweetheart broke my heart. He said the spark was gone. We all know what that means in teenage boy language. I felt heartbroken and alone. Soon after, I had surgery on the back of my calf to fix a scar and then had my wisdom teeth out one week later. I was having trouble eating while recovering from the surgery, but even when my mouth started feeling better, I still wanted to restrict food. I was losing weight. It felt good. Something had clicked.

My battle with food started slowly. At first, I was restricting carbs and then fats. I insisted that anything I ate was fat free. This WAS the 90’s, so fat free was the diet craze. It wasn’t hard to find fat free substitutes for just about anything.  Within months, I progressed to eating only vegetables or lettuce dipped in yellow mustard. 600 calories per day became my absolute limit. That’s about one-third of what an active teenager of my height should take in.

The calorie counting started to consume my every thought. My family was getting worried and constantly nagging me to eat. My friends were nagging me to eat, but finally gave up, and eventually gave up on me in the process. I felt so alone.

Why won’t you eat? You look horrible. Why are you doing this to yourself? Why are you doing this to us? Why are you doing this to me? The truth is, I didn’t know. For once in my young life, I felt in control of something. Counting calories and losing weight felt good. I remember sitting in classes adding every last calorie in the margins of my notebooks. I was obsessed, and had no idea why.

At some point during the fall of my senior year, my weight dropped dangerously low, and my mom insisted I start therapy.  I remember sitting in the therapist’s office talking about my dietary needs, but never much about my emotional needs. I couldn’t rationalize why I was terrified to eat or why I was so depressed? I was so focused on controlling calories that I was unable to focus on the emotional healing I so desperately needed.

In the spring of my junior year of high school, I was named First Team All State for softball. I was a star center fielder, who was already being recruited by many Division One programs. I was also a starter on our varsity basketball team. I was fast and tough. By the time fall rolled around, I was fully consumed by anorexia and could hardly walk up and down steps without getting winded. When senior year basketball started, I was severely underweight. Coaches from opposing teams, who had watched me play for years, expressed their concern. My mom was horrified. This was a wake up call. I slowly started to recover, but still kept a close eye on the scale.

See, that’s the thing about anorexia. It may have appeared that, as I put weight back on, I was healing. When I got close enough to my original healthy weight, my family and friends breathed a sigh of relief, even declaring me “recovered”, but the eating disorder- that voice in my head- was still there, just lurking.

Eating disorders, while so visibly physical, require so much more emotional work to overcome. At this point, I had not done the emotional work. I had no idea why I was so focused on calories and my weight. It took quite a few years to finally reach the clarity to realize I needed to focus on those calories to keep my mind from focusing on emotional pain.

By the time I went off to college, I was back to my original weight and was seemingly healthy and recovered. My family was fooled. I was fooled. I went off to college as a pre-med Chemistry major, taking 18 credits in my first semester. I was also playing Division One softball, which was a full-time job in and of itself. Our practice field was a 45 minute ride from campus to boot. Often times, I would return back to campus in the evening and the dining hall would already have closed for dinner. I had to survive on microwave Chef Boyardee meals or anything my roommates could remember to bring me from the dining hall. My classes were hard. Keeping up with make up work when we traveled for games and tournaments was hard. Softball was hard. I wasn’t the star anymore.  My game was really struggling, as I think the anorexia had done more damage physically than we realized. My self-esteem was shot. I was feeling out of control again. In a big way.

Flash forward to spring of my freshman year of college and I was starting to lose weight again. That summer and throughout sophomore year, my anorexia was back and even worse than it had been in high school. I decided not to play softball anymore. I just wasn’t healthy enough. I am 5’8” and my weight went down to below 100 pounds. I had been very outgoing and social during my freshman year, but now I was fully isolating myself. I was commuting home every weekend so it wasn’t obvious to my friends that I was staying in my room. I think a part of me was also a scared, hurting little girl who needed her mom. It’s weird, but I remember going home and feeling like my parents hated to look at me. When I was at school, I felt like my friends and classmates couldn’t look at me either. I felt like a total freak.

I made it through my sophomore year. My grades, surprisingly, were not suffering. I was consistently making the Dean’s List. All of my brain power and energy must have been going to counting calories and studying. I had none left over for socializing or just being a normal college kid. I was sleeping a lot. I was no longer menstruating.

When I went home for winter break during my junior year of college, I was struggling with the thought of going back. I felt like a freak, like a loser. I did go back to school in January but quickly withdrew for the semester.

I went home and had no idea who I was anymore. I didn’t have school. I was no longer a competitive athlete. I was still just a hurt little girl.

The next few years were full of ups and downs with my eating disorder and resulted in multiple hospital stays. The emotional work had finally begun. It was painful, and I will never forget those incredibly brave, strong young women who were there in the hospital with me as we all leaned on each other while trying to battle our demons together. No one else can understand the conflicted feelings of hating your eating disorder with every ounce of your being, but desperately needing it at the same time. I didn’t want to feel that way. None of us did, but we needed it.

When you hear, as a parent, that what your children hear from you is what they become, it’s true. Growing up, I constantly heard, from one of the people who should have loved me most in the world, that I wasn’t ever good enough and I believed it. I never felt like I was good enough. Excelling in sports wasn’t good enough. Making honor roll by busting my butt wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t pretty enough. I was a “moron.”  See, that sticks with a kid. I was never good enough for my father so I would never be good enough for me.

My eating disorder helped me to quiet that voice. I’m not a medical professional, but I do see the parallels between eating disorders and drug and alcohol addiction. Drugs and alcohol help to quiet those painful inner voices too. I was a teenager and in my early twenties when I was truly suffering, but inside I was just a little girl in pain who needed to heal. I needed to learn that that voice and that pain did not define me.

I remember my mom was so terrified that I was going to die. At one point I ended up in the coronary care unit of a hospital in Philadelphia. My EKG had no p-waves, which was the evidence that I was damaging my heart. I wasn’t feeding my body enough to keep my heart beating regularly. This was rock bottom. Here’s the thing: I didn’t care. I didn’t want to be alive. It was all too much. I needed a break from the pain.

It was a roller coaster six to seven years, but I did finally go on to fully recover. I finished college and after quite a few years of soul-searching, I found my purpose. My purpose was to survive and to help people. I had to make sense of the hell that I had been through and use what I had learned to help others.

I still don’t know what saved me, what kept me from finally giving up completely. Why did my story end so differently than so many others? What I do know is that I am here for a reason and I want to share my story. I went through hell, the deepest, darkest depression, the experience of not wanting to live another day, and I came out on the other side of it. It didn’t happen overnight, but it happened.

In many ways, I am grateful for my eating disorder. Without it, I am not sure I would have ever faced what I needed to face to heal emotionally. The emotional pain and trauma manifested itself in such a physically obvious way, and so quickly, I had to face it. This was the most difficult challenge I had ever faced in my life. I faced death, wanting to die, and I survived. The new me- forever changed- was stronger, braver, and more in touch with who I was and what I wanted my life to mean. I wanted to take my experiences and help others. It took me a while to feel comfortable enough in my own skin to share my story, and that’s okay.

I am now happily married with three strong, brave, amazing little girls who think I am a hero. I now let that be my voice. They believe in me. They need me to believe in myself. They inspire me to be better every day. I also teach at an all girls’ high school. I am strong. I run marathons and have recently discovered triathlons. I am in awe of what my body can do. I am so blessed in so many ways. I truly love my life. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I could love my life and feel proud of the woman that I am. I still struggle with anxiety everyday, but I know how to manage it and I know my triggers. I know who I am. I love who I am.

No matter how hopeless you might feel, there is always hope. Focus on what you want out of life when you get to the other side, hold on to it, and don’t let go. Fight for it. Don’t give up. When you have lost the strength and desire to fight, let someone you love do it for you. You are worth it. You are good enough. The world needs you. Remember my story. Your pain doesn’t have to define you. Someone else’s voice doesn’t have to define you. Life can be so beautiful if you fight your way through the darkness and allow your soul to heal.

Meditation Helps Us Live From The Heart

Meditation is more than a tool to decrease stress and increase productivity. As technology speeds up the world and opinions become more divisive, I believe meditation will be the tool that allows us to stay connected to our hearts and our communities so we can create a beautiful future for everyone on our planet. This may seem a bit idealistic given our current political and social climate, so let me explain how this could work.

As technology speeds up the world, we’re expected to make decisions and take actions more rapidly. This speed emphasizes the processing power of the brain and devalues the depth and strength of the slower moving heart. When we feel discomfort, the brain tells us how to quickly escape it with easy distractions like scrolling social media or watching Netflix. While this diversion can be helpful at times, by avoiding negative feelings, we’re often simply delaying dealing with something like work, relationship struggles, or other responsibilities. Negative feelings are messages that we need to hear and process to reach our potential, and while the brain avoids them, the heart has the tools to skillfully listen and act.

People connect with their hearts in different ways: taking walks in nature, reading poetry, or sharing tea with a friend. Even the brief pauses between events, like a car ride or waiting in line, used to allow processing time for our hearts to talk to us, but most of these breaks have been eliminated by technology. Yes, technology has made many monotonous tasks more efficient in a wonderful way, but this processing speed is causing us to lose connection to the heart resulting in an increase in mental health concerns.

While there are many ways to passively connect with the heart, meditation is an active conscious effort to create the space in our day to make this connection. Instead of letting the same thoughts repeatedly spin through the brain, or completely shutting down by turning to the Internet, meditation allows people to stay present with their body while mental tension naturally unwinds. In the process, the heart, which was previously being ignored, gets recharged and reintegrated.

As the world struggles to navigate difficult large-scale challenges, it’s essential that we reconnect to our hearts so we can reconnect to love, compassion, community, and faith. If we’re always stuck in our brains, it’s easy to become self-centered, afraid, angry, or greedy because it’s not our brain that connects us to other people. Building a healthy future for our planet requires our ability to connect with one another through our hearts. Meditation is the strongest tool I’ve discovered to strengthen my connection to my heart. Maybe it can help you too!

 

 

Choose Love

Another mass shooting. We know there will be more. How do we feel? Anger? Fear? Apathy? How do we respond? Do we fight back? Do we hide? None of these thoughts and feelings seem to make me feel any better. I grew up in an America full of hope and promise; Now we seem to be waiting for our turn to experience tragedy. We escape to artificial virtual realities and live at the surface of our emotions to avoid the depth of our pain, but deep down, we know we must face these feelings and circumstances head on.

Our current reality isn’t the one I hoped for. If I had a choice, I wouldn’t have picked this situation, but this is my life, and my life gains meaning by my response to challenges that present themselves, not the privilege that was handed to me. I’m not on this planet to simply take in oxygen and consume nutrients. I’ve been given this opportunity to make the world a better place, and the more difficult the path, the stronger my conviction must become.

Our world is so full of anger that individuals are choosing to fire repeated rounds into crowds of innocent people and often take their own lives shortly afterwards. I can’t simply chalk this up to mental health or gun access; It’s happening too frequently. Instead, I believe people are in so much pain that this outburst of aggression provides an emotional release. Individuals are choosing these types of action because they believe the results are the best their life has to offer. I feel bad for anyone who feels so tortured that this seems like their best path forward.

I wish I had a solution that could solve these problems quickly. I don’t, but I do have a solution. We need to rebuild a world full of hope and inspiration. As distant as this dream seems, all it requires is for people to purposefully stand together and walk in the direction of love. We must put into context all of the minor difficulties of our lives, we must create space to take care of our own mental and social well being, and we must invest in the people in our communities so they have better opportunities and choices. Instead of burying our emotions or letting them overpower us, we must use them to fuel us to act in positive ways. Things are only going to get better when we start to invest in one another and start believing in a peaceful and compassionate future for all people. Let us walk together with love knowing that the challenges ahead won’t be easy, but knowing that the future is worth the investment. When tragedy hits, let’s focus our energy on becoming a stronger community that supports all of our members. Let us have faith that with good intentions and right actions we will produce positive outcomes. Let us stand together to build the future of our collective dreams.

A Needed Conversation

Healthy relations depend on the mental and physical health of both partners. If a woman is unsafe, unsupported, and unprotected, it will be difficult for her to feel healthy, strong, and confident in her life. I work at an all-girls high school with 650 students, and the current message in the press that a girl’s body is not valued and is unnecessary to protect is simply unacceptable. We need to find a way to do better. As a teacher, I have a responsibility to help my students skillfully navigate our complicated world. As a male, I need to join the conversation about how we can best support women. If I want to live in a healthy society, I need to support a positive growth environment for all of its members, and I believe that starts with a conversation.

We are constantly persuaded by advertisements to seek out quick thrills. Watch this movie! Eat this dessert! Drive this car! Wear these clothes! Drink this beverage! It feels good, so live in the moment, and go for it! We promote the thrill of sex in the same way by separating the feelings of sex from the long-term implications of intimacy, and I think this opens the door for sexual abuse. Individuals are seeking sexual thrills, but intimacy requires two people, and for intimacy to be healthy, both participants must consent. Personal connection gets reduced when there is loud music, dimmed lights, and intoxication, and it’s completely lost when an individual is using someone else’s body as a tool to produce a thrill.

We need to help boys and girls realize that intimacy is more nuanced than a temporary thrill, and we need to be able to talk about it. We need to explore how certain situations or behaviors make people feel uncomfortable, and we need to learn new strategies to promote the formation of healthy relationships. We need to learn how to create safe environments for women to live in while promoting a culture that prioritizes mental and physical health for everyone. By teaching boys how to become better human beings, we will help girls feel safe, and support vibrant relationships. We can make improvements in our communities that will benefit all of its members, but we need to start by having a conversation.

Boys Will Be Boys With Respect for Boundaries

I recently read about an experiment performed by social researcher, Jackson Katz. He asked the male members of his audience what they do on a daily basis to prevent sexual assault. He was met at first with silence and then some awkward laughter, but it was clear that the men were simply unaware of what he was asking. Katz then posed the same question to the female members of the audience and nearly every hand went up resulting in a lengthy list of, think 30 to 40, responses. The men were stunned.

Women learn at a very young age to constantly be on guard to prevent sexual assault. We subconsciously make choices in our daily routines and I am not sure we are even fully aware how much of our day is spent trying to stay safe. I, in particular, check my backseat when I get in my car, immediately lock my car doors, carry a taser when I run alone or in the dark, think way too much about whether my running clothes are too revealing, avoid parking garages when possible, and obsessively check that the doors to our house are locked and the outside lights are on. Until I read about Katz’s experiments, I had never thought much about the fact that men simply don’t have to factor in these decisions or this fear into their daily routines.

About four years ago, I was out for a run early on a Sunday morning. It was daylight but I was running in an area that is pretty quiet at that time of day on the weekend. All of a sudden, I heard male voices behind me. I looked back and they were walking, wearing jeans, and carrying backpacks, all of which seemed a bit off to me. I got that uneasy feeling, to which most women can relate. The hair on the back of your neck stands up. Your heart starts racing, and you just have that debilitating feeling of fear. I kept running forward trying not to let onto the fact that I was absolutely terrified and certain that I was going to be attacked. Finally, after a few minutes of total panic, I saw a group of three runners heading toward me on the other side of the road. I crossed the road and asked if I could run back toward town with them for a bit. The three runners included a female college student and her parents. They said as soon as they saw me, and the two men behind me, they had a funny feeling and were glad I crossed the road to join them. After that day, I carried a taser with me anytime I ran alone, for almost two years. My point in recounting this story is to ask you to consider whether or not a man who was running alone would have even thought twice about two other men walking behind him. Why am I, and most women I know, so conditioned to make choices every day out of the fear of being sexually assaulted?

How do we change something that is so ingrained in our culture, accepted as status quo, or even “common sense” safety measures? We need to start by stopping the “boys will be boys” rhetoric in its tracks. Boys should be held to the same high standards for appropriate behavior, particularly as it pertains to the treatment of girls, from a very young age. Let’s stop giving them a pass for making girls feel uncomfortable simply because they are boys and cannot be trusted to respect boundaries or adhere to societal rules for appropriate behavior. Parents, teach your boys from a young age the meaning of abusive behavior. Abusive behavior can be verbal or physical. Boys must learn to take cues from girls what might make one feel uncomfortable and not another.

And what about our girls? Do they even know what constitutes abusive behavior? When we get uncomfortable due to the behavior of a man, unwanted verbal or physical attention, we are taught to just “lighten up”, to giggle awkwardly, and to not be such a prude. Most of us even remember being told from a young age, for me it was elementary school, that when a boy teased you or picked on you, it meant that he had a crush on you. This is how it starts. Boys get a pass and girls are taught to just accept it as the status quo.

I think back to my first experience with boundaries being violated. I was sitting at my desk in third grade, and I turned around in my desk to see that they boy sitting behind me had cut off my hair. I don’t remember the exact response from school administration, or even from our parents, but I do remember the message of “boys will be boys” being communicated. Was this somehow my fault? Was my hair so shiny and full and long that he simply couldn’t resist? Should I not have let my guard down while learning my multiplication tables? Here I was, an eight year old girl, my boundaries were violated, a boy had made a decision to violate my body without my consent, and the message was planted, internalized, firmly rooted in my subconscious that he was just a boy and didn’t know better. What if the school administrators had given him firm consequences and communicated that this was abusive behavior? What if his parents started the conversations at this age about appropriate behavior and how to respect a girl’s boundaries? Maybe by the time he was in 6th grade he would think twice before snapping a girl’s bra strap. Maybe by 8th grade he would choose not to slap a girl’s butt. Maybe by the time he was in 10th grade, he would choose not to ask a girl to send him nude photos. Maybe by the time he was at a college frat party, he would know that he needed a girl’s consent for any physical contact.

As for my family, for my three daughters, I will teach them that they get to decide what is acceptable behavior for them. They get to decide whether or not a boy’s comments to them are disrespectful or even abusive. They get to decide on the boundaries for their bodies. They will learn how to speak up and that they don’t have to settle for the “boys will be boys” rhetoric and standards. They shouldn’t have to make choices everyday to stay safe simply because our society has allowed for boys to have lower standards for their behavior or because our society has taught girls that they are somehow at fault for it. As a mother of three daughters, I am starting at home.

This is all about boundaries. Teach your girls to have them, to stand up for them, to insist on them. Teach your boys to respect them.

Presenting Loving Lives to Angela Duckworth’s Lab at UPenn

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From left to right: Caitlin Baxter, Maureen Haffey, Madelyn Williams, Lauren Gempp, Michelle Keefe, Christine Campbell, Mike McAteer, Mike Sheehan, and Ryan Shelton

Our Loving Lives team of 4 students and 5 teachers travelled to the University of Pennsylvania to share our story with Angela Duckworth and the Character Lab. While all the teachers did a great job, our students stole the show by sharing their personal stories through powerful speeches (copied below). As a high school teacher, I never guessed I would be leading a presentation at UPenn and receiving compliments from someone like Angela Duckworth while trying to help my community tackle difficult issues like teen suicide and school shootings, but here I am, and I can’t wait to discover the next chapter of our journey.

You can find the presentation slides here. Student speeches are below.

Lauren Gempp – Seeing the Loving Lives presentation for the first time (slide 12)

This idea was introduced to us in the fall of our Junior year. The day of the first presentation, I sat in the classroom ready to complete a physics lab and learn more formulas. I had upcoming tests and quizzes on my mind, in other words, the usual Junior year stress. As you can see on this slide, “Before” the presentation I was distracted by many obligations- academics, volunteering, sports practices, and time for friends.

Then, Mr. Shelton began this presentation. First, I realized how my goals and many of those around me were in line with the left. Get good grades, find a great job, build a good resume. I was so surprised to hear a teacher point these out and show that everyone was similar in this sense. Usually, students today are used to hearing about the importance of high success academically and in extra curriculars, so I was trying to process what he was pointing out.

As he continued, the right side goals were goals that many of us in the classroom WANTED to have. Do your best, but accept yourself, help society not just yourself. Throughout this, my mind was hearing what he was saying, yet I was still thinking about my upcoming obligations. By the end, I felt confused- a teacher telling us that we don’t need the best grades or the greatest job. But it was also a relief, as seen in the last image on the slide. I can do my best and accept that even if it isn’t the best of the group, and be content with whatever the results may be. I should always lift those around me up. His presentation showed us that a happy life doesn’t need to include being rich and winning awards. You can be the best possible version of yourself, help those around you and still be successful and happy in a different way. We need to put standards aside and work as a cohesive group to better the world around us. If people are smarter, more talented, or more experienced than you, you must take it and learn from it.

This took me time to comprehend and I am still understanding it fully now. But the main things taken away from this first presentation was that one’s goals do not have to be “me focused” to be successful.

Maureen Haffey – Navigating the Parkland school shooting together (slide 19)

When hearing about school shootings, we as students often feel afraid and helpless, and it can feel as if we have no one to talk to.

Our talks about the Parkland shooting that we had during school really helped students to clear their minds and talk about the fears that come with hearing about school shootings.

For me personally, only 2 of my teachers allowed us to openly talk with them about the shooting. I know many students wished more teachers (and other adults in general) talked to us about these tragedies because talking about these things with adults that we trust gives us a sense of security and we feel less alone.

We also talked about how we always feel as if we “live in a bubble” and nothing will happen to us or our school, but we really can’t control what happens, so it’s very possible it could happen to us.

The social contract helped us to focus our energy more on having an open mind and thinking about a positive future, rather than living in fear that something dangerous could happen to us or our school.

Seeing that 20% of faculty signed the contract definitely made students feel more confident about it, because although not all teachers will openly talk about these difficult topics, it shows that they really do support us and want to lessen our fears in order to help us make a more positive future.

I know students attitudes about school shootings and just tragedies in general definitely changed after the social contract and our discussions, and they were more focused on helping create a positive future. Now, after all the talks we’ve had, we are ready to take on any challenges we may encounter, and we know we are not alone while facing them because we have the support of not only our peers but the adults in our lives as well.

Madelyn Williams – Integrating meditation into the classroom (slide 23)

Good Afternoon everyone. My name is Madelyn Williams and I was a student in Mr. Shelton’s Physics class this past school year so I was involved in his Loving Lives meditation study.

Meditation gave our students an outlet to find themselves, become grounded, and regroup for the tasks ahead. We had discussions about our feelings on current events and how things beyond our control, like the Parkland shooting and our current political state, were in a way controlling us and making us feel unsafe, confused, paranoid, or even scared. By implementing meditation techniques throughout the year and having open discussions, our class reported feeling much more aware and in touch with ourselves, more powerful, and in control. We reported less stress and more contentment with our course work and our life outside of school. Meditation created a class environment where we all felt safe and supported when bringing up such hot button issues. These in class discussions really allowed us to reveal our true views and concerns without judgement or reprisal. As a representation of our student body, I feel that implementing meditation techniques to encourage free thinking and dialogue between all kinds of people can not only help pave a new path towards compromise and clear a troubled mind, but can also create a focused and relaxed environment for everyone to excel and be their best. For me personally, my meditation experience started a few years before this class, but regularly meditating with a group of people was definitely an empowering experience, unlike what I was used to before. But not only was it empowering, it also gave our girls the opportunity to feel in control and gave them a chance to really engage in current events on their own so they didn’t feel so helpless. It gave our students the level-headedness and clear mindedness to really delve deep into our society’s issues and discuss them as a class in a way we wouldn’t be able to in a class that didn’t implement these meditation techniques. Thank you.

Caitlin Baxter – Seeing parents, teachers, and students supporting Loving Lives (slide 35)

Growing up, I was the girl who had to get straight As, had to make no mistakes in sports, had to be perfect. Success, in my head, was defined by the previously discussed individual goals. I constantly placed this pressure on myself as I did not want to disappoint my parents, who sacrifice so much for me. I would compare myself to my siblings and I knew my grades had to stay up to remain eligible for athletics. When Mr. Shelton first started talking to us about Loving Lives, I was hesitant to buy in. It did not seem feasible that others would get on board. Influenced by the people in my life and some movies, I noticed the focus on individual goals, from getting into the great college to the perfect happily ever after. However, as he continued to show his passion for creating this new mindset, I started to develop a belief that it was possible. Seeing the statistics come back from the surveys increased my hopes too. I noticed that the majority of all students, teachers, and parents wanted to see a focus on community goals rather than individual goals, the opposite of what I had always felt. During this past school year, my parents noticed me getting really overwhelmed and stressed managing school, sports, and a social life. It was very interesting to me because the first thing that they told me was that my health and overall happiness triumphs over any of the previous things. I had just heard Mr. Shelton’s talk and here my parents were reiterating what he had said, without me ever bringing it up. They have also mentioned that I don’t need to be the smartest or be making the most money to be successful. They preached that as long as I was doing something that made me happy and being a civil, good person, I was a success. It relieved a lot of stress and pressure knowing that my parents were more focused on me gaining experience and retaining useful information rather than just a grade. This is not something that can shift overnight, but it is slowly becoming easier for me to think about community centered goals. As the Loving Lives message spreads, hopefully, little by little, more people will incorporate community goals into their lives allowing them to decrease stress and increase confidence.