Written by Villanova Freshman Ava Ruggieri
Athletes and sports fanatics all over the world have heard the phenomenon of being in “the zone”. Being in “the zone”, when it comes to sports, is being able to block out all distractions and become fully focused on performing and executing the skills of the game being played. The greatest athletes strive to reach this “zone” mentally because that is when they are at peak performance.
My name is Ava Ruggieri and I play for the Villanova Women’s Lacrosse team. Over the summer, my coach had our team read The Mindful Athlete: Secrets to Pure Performance written by George Mumford, who has taught mindfulness to notable athletes such as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant- two of the greatest basketball players to ever play the game. I have already experienced the benefits that meditating has on everyday life, but as I read this book, I was amazed at the connection made between meditating and sports.
After reading the book, I reached out to my coach and told her that my high school physics teacher teaches mindfulness. Then, after practice one day, everyone on my team ended up hopping on Zoom and Mr. Shelton led us through a guided meditation. This was the first time that many of my teammates meditated, and I was so excited that they had the opportunity to experience this.
Ever since we had that Zoom meditation with Mr. Shelton, my coach has really encouraged us to use this practice more often. For example, at the end of each lacrosse practice, my coach has all of us find a comfortable position, close our eyes, and practice our breathing for a few minutes. If we ever feel “off” during a drill in practice, she encourages us to just take a moment, step to the side, and breathe to regain focus. It’s these small breathing techniques and longer meditations that we do at the end of practice that I believe will benefit our team in the long run. Many times, athletes get frustrated at some point in their game and it is hard for them to pull themselves together, regain focus, and perform at their best. Now that my team and I have practiced our meditation and have these small breathing techniques in our back pockets, we are going to know how to focus our inner selves during games, remain calm, and stay in “the zone” so we may perform to our best abilities.
Written by Padua Senior Isabella E.
2020 was a crazy year for all of us. Uncertainties filled the air as our daily lives were changing. For myself and many others, these uncertain times brought a lot of anxiety and angst. Will I get Covid? Will a loved one get Covid? How am I going to stay motivated to do schoolwork? Will we ever go back to school full time? How long will this last? All these questions and many more were all up in air with no answers.
Having meditation and mindfulness techniques truly helped me calm down the emotions that filled my body. I bought myself a notebook and began to journal my thoughts and feelings, as well as to do lists. This kept me feeling balanced and helped motivate me to get things done, instead of laying in bed all day. I also began listening to mindfulness podcasts when I went for walks, when I was driving, doing homework, or simply just cleaning my room. My favorite podcast was one made by Spotify called “Daily Wellness”, which incorporated meditation, uplifting words, and your favorite music. Listening to these podcasts filled me with positive affirmations and mental clarity. I think as teenagers, social media can be so toxic for our mental health at times, so it is important to make sure what you are watching or listening to is beneficial to your mind. Finally I used guided meditation either through Youtube, Spotify, or the Calm app. Simple 5 minute meditation sessions focused my mind and allowed me to be in tune with my body.
I am so grateful for mindfulness techniques like journaling, podcasts, and mediation for making me feel balanced and whole within. I truly believe that if anyone incorporates at least one of these techniques in their life, they will find a bit of peace within themselves during these unprecedented times. We can’t change the past, the future is yet to happen, so live in the present with love and kindness!
Written by Johanna GB Jackson, Head of Operations of the global MS Mindfulness at Morgan Stanley.
I’m a first generation American. My family is from Chile. We came over here around the 1970s when the political situation was very unstable over there to give me and my sisters a better life. I wish I could say life was easy once we got here but it wasn’t. I grew up in a very challenging household with poverty and a lot of limiting beliefs. Dr. Jim Doty says it best when he said poverty robs individuals of their dignity and spirit through despair and hopelessness. So I can tell you that I have a personal relationship with stress and understand it very very well.
One of the best things my mom did for me and my sisters was work 3 jobs to put us in Catholic school. She wanted us to have a better life than she did. So she did whatever she had to do to at least give us an education which in turn would give us better opportunities. I had the privilege of attending Padua for 3 years. I went to public school for my senior year. I have to say that going to public school was an eye opener for me. I didn’t really appreciate the education I was getting at Padua till it was gone. It was such a different experience. I remember thinking how the teachers cared so much more at Padua. Sometimes you don’t know what you have till it’s gone. But the 3 years I did have at Padua I would say definitely set me up for success that would serve me for the rest of my life.
I consider myself a humanist. I believe every human has a right to flourish, to have dignity and to thrive regardless of where they come from. So it wasn’t till very late in my life that I believed thriving was my right. At a very low point in my life when I was going through my divorce I started seeking solutions. As they say, when the student is ready, the teacher will come. That’s when I discovered meditation and it changed my life. I went from a life of limited possibilities to one of unlimited possibilities.
Most of us focus so much on the external world that we rarely pay attention to our internal landscape. When we do that we become disconnected and fragmented. This can result in things like anxiety, depression and lots of self-doubt just to name a few. Now some of us had to because of the environment we grew up in. I know I did! So we learned to dismiss our own needs and our own knowing. But it’s critical to quiet down the noise and get back to the silence. Why? It’s when we do, that we get centered and more balanced and it’s a gateway to answers and guidance. This usually leads to more happiness and peace. Now some of us are afraid to get quiet because we don’t want to face what we hear and know inside to be true. I get that. I was one of those people. But there’s no one that cares more about you than yourself. The level of care you give to yourself will be matched by the people around you. Because here’s the thing! Your external world is a mere reflection of your internal world.
Now meditation is not new. It’s been around for thousands of years. There is so much data that supports why it not only helps you on a physical level but also helps your mental and emotional well-being. I will tell you that when I first started it was hard to sit still and quiet my mind. But the more I did it the better I got at it. And now I crave it every day. I have a daily meditation practice which on average is about 20 minutes, but if I only have 5 minutes, I’ll take it, or on the other hand if I have an hour, I’ll take it. And the times of day varies because there’s never a bad time to meditate if you ask me.
I’ve noticed that my intuition is much sharper, I get clear on things and I am much more at peace. It really does help you get into a flow. That is because it’s in the stillness that creativity, ideas, peace and joy are able to come in. Now that I was experiencing this myself I wanted to share it with the world. So the first group of people I wanted to share it with were my colleagues.
When I started group meditation in my office, I was doing my research on companies that already offer this to their employees and I came across a great article on how it improves performance at work. They talked about how Harvard Business Review says it’s no longer a “nice-to-have” for business leaders but a “must-have”. And they mention how neuroscientists are now showing the benefits in relation to the body and brain. But here’s the thing…it’s not just for business leaders…it’s for everyone. Why? Because it taps into the most precious resource in any organization: ATTENTION. It’s a huge resource that we use all day everywhere…at work, at home and yes at school.
So if and when you start you will most likely find, like I did, that it is harder than you think. But don’t get discouraged. Your brain is a generator and receiver of thought so be gentle with yourself. Keep at it. It’s like a muscle. You have to go to the gym to build up your muscles. You have to practice with meditation. You can try guided meditations to help you get started. I also use binaural beats sometimes to help me meditate. But ultimately you want to get still and quiet. Start with just a few minutes and keep extending it. That’s what I did. The goal is to allow space to come in between the thoughts. So an easy way to do that is to just focus on your breath. Thoughts will come in and when they do just put the focus back on your breath. Then you will start seeing the world from the inside out. It’s a very different view, I can tell you that, and it is amazing!
An interesting story I will share. Steve Jobs planned every detail of his memorial service down to the farewell gift he gave to each attendee. It was the book Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. This book is about self-realization and meditation. It’s about the journey from your individual self (ego) and realizing your true universal self. I’m not surprised that Steve Jobs was into this. Many accomplished men and women subscribe to meditation. If you ask me why, it’s because meditation helps you get out of your own way to success. We self-sabotage so much. We often get in the way of our own happiness and success. We overthink. We get lost in the noise.
I want to leave you with some words that I wished someone told me when I was still in high school. Well-being, abundance and prosperity are your birthright. Once you believe they are, they will begin to show up in your experience. So as you continue your journey in Padua, I want to remind you that your journey in fact is just beginning. Your life is unfolding in a way that is unique to you. Trust the process and enjoy every minute of it! Be true to yourself first and foremost. Be your best authentic self in everything that you do. If you focus on what brings you joy the rest will follow. The world needs more people that are passionate about what they do. As Marc Anthony said “when you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I wish you all the best in your amazing life experience.
Written by Padua Senior Emily G.
As I sit here on the very last day of this crazy year, I want to reflect. When reflecting on 2020, it is so easy to think of all of the negatives, or the things that “ruined” my senior year. Although these thoughts are relevant, it is also SO important to realize everything this year to be thankful for. Personally, I am beyond grateful for my health and the health of those around me. I am grateful for the Padua community, and the ability of students and staff to grow during a period like this. I am grateful for everyone who worked during this time, whether it was in person or virtually.
Most importantly, I am grateful for the gift of mindfulness during this stressful year. Meditation genuinely got me through 2020. It helped me learn how to treat others, understanding that they are going through the same, if not a worse situation. It is easy to simply isolate yourself and feel completely alone with whatever you’re going through, but mindfulness helped me to stay connected.
I strongly believe that part of my ability to stay healthy was due to mindfulness, keeping my mental health strong as the days went by. When there is chaos all around us, it can be difficult to recenter ourselves. Although it was sometimes hard to focus or find calm within my thoughts, I continued practicing because I knew it would get better if I simply didn’t give up. Simply not giving up is something that meditation has taught me and it is one of the most important lessons I took with me everyday this year. No matter what is going on around us, no matter how chaotic, be nice to yourself, and simply do not give up.
Fear and loneliness are a vicious combination. Typically, when we’re afraid or lonely, we seek the comfort of our family and friends, and when we encounter someone who is afraid or lonely, we instinctively comfort them. The pandemic wrinkle encouraging compassionate separation creates a contradictory message: Don’t seek or provide physical comfort because that will cause COVID to spread. While quarantining and social distancing are necessary to save lives, this isolation causes each of us to battle our internal emotions alone, or simply become numb to the whole situation. After 9 months of spiraling emotions, it feels like most of us are surviving in numbness, only functioning at the surface level of our feelings. When all you have are zoom and socially distanced interactions, it’s hard to stay emotionally connect to ourselves and others.
The vaccine has brought some hope to 2021, but it remains unclear how we will thaw from this numbness while overcoming our bottled up emotions. Paving a positive path forward within our communities will take an abundance of patience and love for ourselves and others. There is hope, but we have our work cut out for us. Feelings of fear, anger, and greed have sparked disagreements and division throughout society. As we unpack these emotions, there is a strong possibility that we will continue to stoke the many varieties of division in our country, but if we want to build a better future, we need to find a way to come together through love.
Love is the vehicle that will help us rebuild our communities, but when emotions like fear and anger are running high, we forget about the importance of our human connections. Love is strong but soft, so we need to quiet our minds to connect to our hearts. For many, quarantine survival has depended on the distractions of streaming and scrolling. If you’re interested in connecting to a higher purpose as human interactions transition back to normal, it may be time to reduce the distractions and start to look inward.
There are many ways to connect to love, but the most potent strategy for me is meditation. Training the mind to slow down and listen creates a natural connection to the heart and love. The adventure of exploring the emotions buried within us is often turbulent, but the destination is a more calm and loving mind. If we can connect to the love within us, we will discover the love that connects us, and be able to build the brighter future we’re all looking for. As you set your New Year’s resolutions, you may want to include meditation on your list. May we all find our own way to connect to love and the people in our lives in 2021. Happy New Year!
Over the last 5 years, meditation has transformed my physics classroom at Padua Academy. After a 2 week introduction in September, my students typically choose to continue meditating 3 minutes to start each class. At times, small groups of students and teachers have gathered to meet before and after school to meditate, and we now gather twice a week virtually. This semester my students and I decided to start this blog to inspire others to give meditation a try. We have published posts from 16 students, 7 teachers, 5 alumnae, and 2 parents. Each one is a personal anecdote of the benefits of this simple practice. Please read them to see for yourself. We look forward to starting a new year of meditating together in the fall!
Written by Padua Science Teacher Carolyn Keefe
My colleague Ryan introduced me to meditation a year ago. I’ll admit that I haven’t made a totally regular schedule of it, but there are moments throughout my day when the meditation techniques I learned from him – like focusing on the breath – are particularly helpful. When my mind’s focus sprawls too far and is spread too thin, it is such a helpful skill to shrink that frame of focus. First I shrink it down to my surroundings, then down to the rhythms of my own body, and then finally zeroing in on the breath coming in and out of my nose and mouth.
Now seems like an especially appropriate time to reign in the scope of my mind and focus on breath. This pandemic has turned me into an obsessive news-checker and worrier. Within moments, I jump from worldwide infection curves, to political developments in DC, to the latest coronavirus updates where family and friends live. While it’s critical to be well-informed, my daily news briefings can quickly spiral into dark hours of worry, sadness, and frustration. When meditating, however, I can reign in that sprawling frenzy. I shrink it down to the borders of my own home, then to the outline of my own body, then finally just to the small triangle of space from the tip of my nose to the corners of my mouth. Breathing smoothly in and out, I feel newfound appreciation for the simple gift of normal, rhythmic breath, when I know that so many with COVID-19 struggle for air. I feel a wave of gratitude to be sitting safe and still in my home, when I know that essential employees are working long hours and coming home exhausted, and many people endure a home that is chaotic or unsafe.
My worries and my to-do list are real, and my thirst for information is ever-present. These do not disappear when meditating. Rather, I gently clear space among my jumbled thoughts to savor the exact moment of space and time that I am occupying. Ironically, as my concentration shrinks down to a narrow focus on breath, this meditative experience ends up giving me a much wider perspective on the shared struggles of this pandemic. I emerge less frustrated and more appreciative, less frantic and more hopeful.
Written by Padua Junior Sienna D.
I think it is safe to say that everyone’s lives have been turned upside down in the past month. The fear of losing your job, not being with your loved ones, or even the possibility of getting sick makes us stress about things we never had to worry about before. Right now, it is tough to stay positive and calm about these unforeseen events, but I have found comfort through meditation.
In times like this, it has been very hard to stay happy. Recently, I have become stressed about things I cannot control and I’ve found myself empty and lost when searching for things to look forward to. For the first two weeks of quarantine, I found myself in a situation I had never been in before. I have had trouble falling and staying asleep at night. As a teenager, sleeping has come very easy to me so struggling to sleep was very alarming. I began to find myself awake until 4 AM and other nights waking up at 5 AM. I was not able to fall back asleep because of the constant thoughts running through my head.
I began to research ways that I could destress and improve my sleep cycle. It is important that I get the proper amount of sleep, especially for my body. I found myself looking deeper into meditation and the benefits of it. I had been involved in the after school mediation sessions already and always found myself more calm and relaxed after meditating. I was worried at first that I would struggle to meditate by myself and not in a group, which I was used to doing. I started doing the virtual mediation sessions that were offered to the students, two times a week. This introduced me to the world of independent meditation.
After a couple of these sessions, I finally felt comfortable meditating by myself in hopes that I could ease my stress before sleeping. After the first couple of times, I found that my mind was more clear and I was at peace before falling asleep. Originally, I had started independent meditation in hopes to sleep better, but have found myself using it throughout the day whenever I feel stressed. I have used meditation so frequently in the past month that it has become a part of my essential routine to get through this quarantine and I am so grateful that I have discovered it.
Written by Padua Junior Emily G.
Due to the fact that our world is somewhat chaotic right now, I wanted to take the time to write about how easy it can be for us to become lost in the crazy, and how I have been dealing with everything going on.
When this all began (COVID-19 outbreak) I truly did not think much of it, I continued with my everyday life, maybe washed my hands a little more often, but that was it. That was until it became extremely real. From working at an “essential business” I got the first-hand experience of the stress and anxiety that people were overcome with, which ultimately began to affect my mindset as well. Group influence is real, and sadly, I found myself giving into it. My anxieties began to flood my mind with thoughts and fears of what was to come. Eventually, though, I realized how these thoughts were overtaking me, and I decided that the best thing for me was to take a step back and try to calm my mind of these constant anxieties. The perfect tool for this was meditation. At the end of each day, or sometimes even in the middle, depending how I felt, I would close my eyes and focus on my breath, accepting these negative feelings and allowing them to dissolve. As humans, we get so distraught at the idea of not knowing what’s next, and not being on a schedule, so taking a moment to calm our minds is truly beneficial. With all that is going on, many people are struggling to find peace within themselves, and instead, they continue to think of worst-case scenarios.
I believe that mindfulness is one of the most important and beneficial tools we can all use during times like these. Being able to take a deeper breath and gain a more positive perspective for the future would be so helpful for society. Through meditation, I found my peace and understood how to accept reality how it is, and I am truly thankful for this tool at a time like this.
Written by 2017 Padua Alumna Becky Romanies
What a crazy time to be alive. I didn’t want to dwell on the virus, but for me this global crisis has been really the only thing on my mind. Throughout this quarantine, working at CVS pharmacy full time and being a part-time student, I have never been more busy in my life. After a long shift, what I have been doing to keep myself sane is meditate. The great thing about meditation is that you can do it anywhere. For me that means in the car on breaks from CVS. I find that turning the radio all the way down and just sitting with my thoughts helps me decompress.
Sometimes my mind wanders during my meditation, due to different customers I interact with or the major crisis that is hitting the world right now, but bringing myself back to the present, and clearing my mind helps me pinpoint all the stressors I have going on. Throughout this pandemic, I have felt pretty helpless and vulnerable. It’s hard not to feel like it’s the end of the world, which is such a scary thought. Pinpointing the stressors helps me focus on what I can do to be the change I wish to see. I feel that doing my part as someone who is “essential” to society, is to stay positive and healthy. That is easier said than done, but telling a little joke through my N95 mask brightens people’s day. To help my state of mind I deleted all the social media apps off my phone because I couldn’t keep refreshing my feed about COVID 60 times a day.
At first I thought meditation was difficult. I could not sit in silence and push everything out of my mind without thinking of all the things on my to do list. But I kept practicing and it became easier. I find meditation helps me reflect on where I am as a person and where I want to be. I find that having a few minutes to myself and clearing my mind to think about absolutely nothing, helps me put everything else in perspective.
Throughout my experience at university I tried to meditate more often. I spent most of my time in my dorm room or at the library which were both quiet enough where I could fit in a session of mediation. I believe that mediation has helped me be a better student and overall a better human being. When I was stressed out with homework or kept myself up at all hours of the night studying, I found that if I could clear my mind completely, even for just a few minutes, I could find some peace. Not only would I feel so much less stressed about my upcoming exam but when I would meditate before, I always did better. Meditation has helped me focus, relax and be a better more productive person.
My favorite place to meditate is outside and lately I have been bringing my dog with me because my good boy loves the sun. Here is a photo of Romeo Romanies after a meditation session, enjoying the moment.
Written by Padua Junior Isabella E.
While most people can agree on the universal benefits meditation brings, everyone has different experiences when they try it. I love to mediate because of how it makes me feel, physically and mentally, as well as how it has changed my perspective on life.
After meditating for just 3 minutes in each physics class, I started seeing the benefits it brought into my life. It sparked my interest to learn more about it and inspired me to participate in more meditation sessions. When we were in school, part of our meditation club at Padua included 10-minute after school sessions of mediation every other Tuesday. By implementing this into my life, I have seen positive changes in my mood, overall thought process, and in being more mindful.
Outside of school I make it a priority in my life to meditate at least once a day, even if it is just 3 minutes. At home, I use the guided meditation app “Insight”, or I allow myself time to close my eyes and focus on my breath. When I don’t meditate, I find myself full of anxiety and stress. With the craziness of life, balancing school, work, volunteering, friends, and family, it can be hectic. If everyone dedicated a little bit of time each day to mediation or even just a moment to focus on their breath, I believe we would all be more mindful and at peace.
In regards to the current virus spreading, COVID-19, it is very important that we as humans stay healthy. As well as washing my hands frequently and self isolating, I have continued meditating at home to help my mental health. Through our meditation club, we are holding 10 minute guided virtual meditation sessions via Google Meet every Monday and Thursday. With the big changes we are facing as these weeks pass, it is normal to feel angst and to be fearful of what the future holds. By meditating I feel my worries decrease and begin to think of more mindful thoughts. It is important that during this intimidating time we listen to our thoughts carefully and come together as a community, even if it is through Google Meet!
Written by Padua Teacher Ryan Shelton
This lockdown feels like an inconvenience getting in the way of our routines and traditions. The growing number of infections are just numbers on a computer screen that haven’t touched me yet. Very soon, I fear that these numbers will come to life as people I know start to get infected and possibly die. Instead of simply waiting for the quarantine to lift so we can return to normal life, I wonder how “normal” will be forever changed.
The principles that define our lives are being challenged. Is a growing economy the mark of success? Is flattening the curve and decreasing the death rate our singular purpose? As we face our personal mortalities and the vulnerability of our species, I wonder what virtues I want to define my life and drive my actions. Lives are defined and remembered by how people respond to difficult circumstances. Do I have the strength and courage to respond in the right ways?
If we can look past our own fears and insecurities and accept the magnitude of the challenge ahead, we have the opportunity to connect with truth and love in its purest form. Many businesses will go bankrupt, and many people in my community will become ill and die. If you were to face these difficulties, how meaningful would it be for someone else to extend their hand to you? How painful would it be to be abandoned and forgotten? Are we afraid to die, or afraid to die alone?
Isolated within our homes, I can’t remember a more important time to stay connected to the people I love, and available to people in need. I’m not a healthcare worker, elected official, public safety officer, or food provider, but I can help people face fear and loneliness simply by listening, empathizing, and connecting with the truth of our new reality. When things are hard, I will try to stay calm, peaceful, and loving. If we can stay connected and compassionate, we will find peace in our new reality. Stay safe and love one another.
Written by Padua Junior Jennifer C.
As a junior in high school, it is very easy to be consumed by the stress that comes with trying to stay on top of everything. Being able to get good grades, do well on the SAT and ACT, participate in extracurriculars, and maintain a social life are some of the things high school students have to keep up with. It’s hard to stay calm and worry-free trying to juggle all these tasks, and it is even harder to find time to take a break from everything. Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to learn how to meditate, and it has greatly helped me and my peers.
My views on meditation used to be very stereotypical and I never thought it was something I could benefit from. Being able to actively engage in meditation in Mr. Shelton’s class changed my entire mindset on it. On the first day of school, when I entered the Physics classroom, hearing my teacher say we could meditate for three minutes every day was the last thing I expected. I was shocked to think that a teacher would spend that much time on something other than the curriculum. At the same time, it was refreshing to hear a teacher suggest something like that. Even though I still had my doubts, and was already planning to use those three minutes as nap time, I was excited to see how meditation could work for me.
In the beginning, it was very hard to relax and keep my mind empty but as time went on I figured out how to effectively use my time during meditation. In just three minutes I am able to block out the rest of the world and clear my mind. It helps me get ready to focus in class and opens my mind to learning. I forget whatever I was worrying about just a couple of seconds before, and let myself take time to breathe. Normally I get very anxious easily and let my worries about the small things consume my mind, but meditation gives me time where I can be separate from my thoughts.
Having never meditated before, I am very happy that I was introduced to it and all its benefits. While meditating I can feel everything on my mind disappear and a feeling of peace takes over. It helps me forget about my worries and focus on being calm. I am very grateful that I was able to partake in such an amazing experience these past few months, and I am excited to see where my meditation journey will bring me.
Written by Carrcroft Elementary Principal Mark Overly
Carrcroft Elementary is a Title One school in the Brandywine School District of Wilmington, Delaware. What makes Carrcroft amazing is the diversity of students that attend our school. Our number one priority is to make Carrcroft feel like a safe place for students to grow academically and personally. We focus on climate and culture as an equally important priority as high academic expectations.
The priorities we practice are the result of the last five years of building a support system to meet the social and emotional needs of our students and staff. When I began as Principal five years ago, I saw that Carrcroft struggled with a high number of behavior problems and teacher burnout. The same old approach to behavior and discipline was not working and our teachers were frustrated and exhausted. I needed something different and I needed an approach that both students and teachers would see benefits.
My college roommate and fellow education major, James Butler, was a pre k teacher in Austin, Texas who had been using mindfulness with his four year olds pre-kindergarten class for years. He was finding so much success that the Austin School District created a district Mindfulness coach position, and James started traveling to the 84 elementary schools in Austin to train teachers on bringing mindfulness into their classroom. James and I spoke frequently about different strategies for meeting the needs of our kids and James’s success with mindfulness and teaching self-regulating skills became the obvious direction I wanted to pursue for Carrcroft.
At the time, Carrcroft was in the process of writing a Focus School Plan, an academic improvement plan mandated by the state for lack of achievement for students that were African American, Special Education, and Low-income. Part of our strategy was to redirect the way we were supporting the social and emotional challenges of students, specifically those in our target category. I invited James to Delaware to conduct workshops with my teachers, students, and families. James led classes on daily mindful activities that students and teachers could do together in the classroom. Staff and students adopted a common language for mindful breathing strategies and we saw remarkable differences in how students in a behavior crisis were able to calm themselves down and breathe. Pretty soon, parents began requesting more information about using mindfulness strategies at home and so James helped us lead parent instructional nights as well.
After five years, what started out as an unprecedented approach to behavior, some even called it another short-sighted initiative that would lose momentum, continues with a normalcy that has become a part of Carrcroft’s culture. We start every morning off with student lead mindful breaths on the morning announcements. Mindful activities are built into academic transitions, teachers incorporate student led mindful stretches in morning meetings, and we continue to defer to mindful breathing and calmness when redirecting behavior. The school community worked together to forge a beautiful mindfulness trail through the woods, complete with sensory stations and an outdoor classroom. Also, we now have mindfulness leaders in each class, and all teachers have created mindful/calm down areas in each classroom that replaces the traditional and ineffective time out corners of the past.
I was doing an observation this year in a fourth grade classroom. The students were working together in small groups. I could see one student getting upset with his group and his demeanor changed quickly from frustration to agitation. I was preparing to step in and remove the student. I had already anticipated how I would remove him from the classroom. The student would miss class instruction time, the intervention would cause a scene, ultimately embarrassing him and further isolating him from his peers. I expected that it would take at least an hour to calm the student down, parents would be called, and the student would have difficulty reentering the class tomorrow. What I saw next was not the usual turn of events.
The teacher saw the student was growing upset and losing composure. She calmly asked him if he wanted to go to the calm down area to take a break. The student was upset but verbally said, “yes.” No student even batted an eyelash as the student went over to the mindful calm down area. I observed as the student quietly took breaths as the lesson continued. The student returned to his chair after a short time and even answered a question. I left the room in shock. The culture that had been built in this room was one of mindfulness and the culture worked. It was OK for the student to feel his emotions, and he was able to use the mindful practices to prevent those emotions from leading to negative consequences.
That experience is just one of many stories that shows the power of mindfulness in Carrcoft. And the benefits are not just seen with the kids. Personally, my own daily morning duty is greeting 500 students as they enter the building. Many times, students are upset with their bus ride or are amped up transitioning into the morning routine. I practice mindful breathing and ground myself from the mounting anxiety which allows me to approach my responsibilities with more positive energy and patience. Of course, the behavior referral drop and improvement in staff morale were two terrific results as well, and now, Carrcroft has adopted the motto “Carrcroft is Calm.”
Written by Padua Junior Kiera M.
On the first day of school this year, I had no idea what I was walking into when I stepped into room 406. I was expecting a hard class of honors physics full of math and stress, which I was somewhat right about. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was to learn a new skill that would change my life. I am a junior at Padua Academy this year and I’m generally an anxious person with a bit of a control issue. Everything I do must be done to perfection and when I can’t control the events in my life, I freak out. One of the ways that meditation has helped me so much is through teaching me how to calm down and focus on my breathing whenever life gets too hard. Another way that meditation has impacted my life is through helping me with my creative writing.
A huge part of my identity is that I am a writer. The summer between my freshman and sophomore year of high school, I wrote my first novel (three hundred pages in the span of three months). Needless to say, I didn’t stop and figure out what was going to happen next. I just wrote it as quick as I could and then I was done. During my sophomore year, I went through six drafts of that story and piled up about six rejections from literary agents. Finally, at the end of May 2019, I was given an opportunity to enter into a short story writing contest about space, my two favorite things combined. The day before the story was due, I had something written but I hated it. I decided that night to scrap it and restart. The problem? I couldn’t come up with a single idea that I liked. Not even a day before the deadline, I climbed out onto my roof and meditated, focusing on nothing but the air surrounding me. I had no idea that I was meditating then. I thought meditating meant you had to be sitting cross-legged muttering “hmm”. Nevertheless, the idea came. I wrote and submitted it in less than twenty-four hours, titling it INCONCEIVABLE at the last second.
It won first place.
Meditating has changed the way I write. It has helped me to stop and be more conscious of the words I’m putting on the page in front of me. Learning how to breath and focus this year has also allowed me to decrease my anxious thoughts and calm down, especially in these chaotic times. Junior year has been one of the most stress inducing and busy times of my life, so getting the tool of meditation came at the perfect time.
The night after I submitted the short story, I began my second novel. However, instead of rushing through the story this time, attempting to get my thoughts on paper as fast as I can, I stopped and meditated to work out how it was going to lay out. I wrote whatever scene I wanted to instead of just putting in filler to get the story moving to the scene I actually wanted to write. Over the summer, especially in August, I didn’t have much time to write and work on my story due to cross country and summer work. And once school started, I fought with wicked writer’s block. I couldn’t write without getting really frustrated and feeling like I should have been doing something else. It was strange to me because writing was the one thing I enjoyed doing, the one thing that didn’t feel like a chore.
And so the school year kept moving and I kept working, not really writing but still thinking about my story a lot. When we started meditating in physics, everytime I went to clear my mind, the characters would come floating up into my consciousness. And like magic, the words came back. It was slow at first. I would be sitting there, focusing on feeling my breath leave my nose and relaxing my body, and my main antagonist would pop up in the back of my mind. For about a month, every time we meditated in physics, new ideas would flow.
It took a long time to get back into the rhythm of writing and even now, six months after my writer’s block started, I still have difficulty writing like I used to. But thanks to meditation, I kept thinking and working on my novel, even if it was in my head. Recently, I’ve reverted to using paper and pen instead of typing and honestly, it’s been easier to write. Whenever I want to write but have trouble focusing or thinking, I turn off everything and meditate until the ideas come to me. I write stories in my head, pretending I’m submerged in the words and what’s happening to the characters is happening to me during meditation sometimes. Using the skills I’ve learned from meditation, like the body scans and observing what’s around me, not only have I flourished in my writing, but I’ve improved as a person.
Here is a link to INCONCEIVABLE: https://dehumanities.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/McCormick-Short-Story-Submission.pdf
Written by Vicki Samluk Land, a current Padua parent and class of 1988 alumna.
When Mr. Shelton sent an email to the parents of his Physics students, he explained that his students were learning how to incorporate Mindfulness into their classes. The goal is to have the students be more focused and to reduce their anxiety levels. My daughter, Robin, admits that it is difficult to turn off her brain and focus all of her energy solely on her breathing.
How does Mindfulness work? Neuroscientist Sara Lazar researched how practicing meditation and mindfulness over as little as a few weeks have improved parts of the auditory and sensory areas of the brain. Paying attention to your breathing allows you to be in the present moment, which helps you block out any worries or anxiety. Another benefit to mindfulness is that it helps your brain stay young by increasing the amount of grey matter in the frontal cortex.
During the early 2000s, I began attending a Baby and Me Support Group at the Eugene du Pont Preventive Medicine & Rehabilitation Institute at Pelleport. During that time, I had experienced postpartum depression and was feeling lost. This class taught me to put my life back into focus as my thoughts would rampantly jump from one topic to another. It was then that I started to begin to learn how to put myself first by quieting my thoughts.
Breathing is often taken for granted until we experience a cold or allergy that restricts our breathing. One well-known, simple breathing technique is the ‘4-7-8 Breath’ taught by Dr. Andrew Weil. The ‘4-7-8 Breath’ method is to inhale oxygen into your lungs for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, then exhale for 8 seconds. Repeat four times. By performing this exercise, you will feel a sense of clarity and be refreshed.
To me, Mindfulness is about being kind to yourself by silencing your inner critic and negative thoughts that hold you back from enjoying life. Mindfulness can lead you on a journey of personal growth and stability. By learning Mindfulness, Mr. Shelton’s students have a new tool to develop self-control, self-esteem, and self-acceptance throughout their lives.
Written by Padua Junior Krissy K.
Meditate: (verb) “think deeply or focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.” In the past, I regularly dismissed meditation, deeming it pointless and unhelpful. Struggling with anxiety, I always had what seemed like a million thoughts on my mind, and constantly had another task to complete. I didn’t understand how seemingly sitting down and doing nothing was supposed to benefit me, when I could instead be doing something productive. At the beginning of my junior year, Mr. Shelton began to help me realize how wrong I was.
On our first day of physics, when I discovered we would be practicing and learning more about meditation, I was a bit skeptical. I instantly thought of my past experiences with it and how I felt that it only increased my anxiety. Needless to say, I was not excited. Though I had my doubts, Mr. Shelton was so passionate about it, so I decided to try it. After completing our first session, I discovered that I genuinely enjoyed it. During those three minutes, I was able to focus and maintain a peace of mind. It was an experience that I had never felt before.
Following the first successful session, I began to take a greater interest in the practice. As we get later into the school year and the stress begins to pile on, I am able to resort to meditation to bring me back to center. I no longer view it as a waste of time, rather as a way to step away from the hustle of reality and focus on my breath. Ever since I began to do it in class, I have searched for more opportunities to meditate. I attend the after school sessions as often as possible, and I have even begun to do it on my own.
Before taking the time to truly understand the practice of meditation and its benefits, I simply disregarded it. Now that I have taken the opportunity to become educated on it and to practice it, I have found that it has made a noticeable impact on my life. Meditation has evidently improved my mental health, reminding me that it’s acceptable to take a break from the constant commotion and focus on myself. It has become a great way to practice mindfulness and cope with stress and anxieties and I am glad to have had the opportunity to try it.
Written by Padua parent and Senior Vice President at CSC, Jenn Kenton
Two years ago, I remember Paige coming home from the first day of her internship with Angela Duckworth’s Character Lab in Philadelphia, mentioning that some of the Padua teachers, including Padua science teacher Ryan Shelton, were going to be making presentations to the interns. She wondered how their chosen topics would relate to the Character Lab’s mission – “to connect researchers with educators to create greater knowledge about the conditions that lead to social, emotional, academic, and physical well-being for young people throughout the country”.
I also vividly remember the look on Paige’s face when I got home from work the day Ryan Shelton gave his presentation. She could not wait to share with me how impressed she was with the topics Mr. Shelton chose to discuss. Her excitement was directly due to how strongly Mr. Shelton’s presentation resonated with her, and each of her peers at the Character Lab. She and her peers were very familiar with the stress he spoke about. His discussion included a number of topics that Paige understood very deeply, such as not being able to find joy in her accomplishments, due to being too focused on what would come next, and rarely taking the time to celebrate a job well done. She was relieved and excited to know that she was not alone, and that breathing, taking a step back, taking three or more minutes to clear your mind, every day, would lead to peace and joy, and the ability to focus on what’s truly important.
In my opinion, Paige received some life changing information from Ryan Shelton that day. Living mindfully means possessing the ability to focus on what’s truly important in your life, rather than allowing your thoughts to spin out of control, due to dwelling on past mistakes and things we cannot change, or worrying about the future and events that have not yet transpired.
Ryan Shelton’s presentation “hit home” for me too. I knew all too well what Paige meant when she talked about feeling stressed and overwhelmed. I knew how anger and remorse could creep in and take over. I knew how the opinions of others could be allowed to matter far too much. I knew that trying to please others, and always saying yes, could make life far less joyful.
To be honest, when Paige came home and told me what Ryan Shelton discussed, I cried. I cried because I was so very grateful that Paige and the other high school students were being given an opportunity to learn how to deal with their feelings – pleasant, unpleasant and neutral feelings – much earlier than I did. She and the others were being shown that they had choices, and that focusing on how you live your life is what matters most. Are you proud of what you did today, how you acted, how you helped, how you loved, how you shared, how you listened, how you dedicated yourself? These are the types of questions you should be asking yourself every day.
When I turned fifty, I realized I had to find a way to “smell the roses.” I was generally frustrated, short-tempered, and very focused on getting the next thing done. Thanks to a close friend, I was introduced to the book Peace is Every Step, by Thich Nhat Hanh. Reading it was a real turning point in my life. It showed me how critical it was to continually strive to live mindfully in order to find peace and joy in life. An example of trying to incorporate this philosophy into my life, is how much better I’ve become with dealing with the unfortunate circumstances that sometimes arise while traveling – circumstances which are truly out of my control. I no longer waste time being angry or frustrated that my flight is cancelled. Instead, I grab a saucy book to read, go to the quick spa and get a manicure, call a friend I haven’t talked to in a while, read a People magazine, or just sit back and think about the things that made me happy that day or week. It’s not always easy, but it’s critical for me to work on not wasting energy on negative thinking, because it can be crippling, and can steal your life and mental health. Believe me, I am still a work in progress, and far from Thich Nhat Hanh’s ideal, but I’m constantly striving to do better.
In summation, Ryan Shelton is doing amazing work. I’m so very grateful for all that he’s done. He’s helping our youth understand the critical importance of the mind and mental health. He’s giving them tools that will help them find joy and peace in their lives. If your daughter attends Padua, you should strongly encourage her to seek out Ryan Shelton and his teachings.
Written by a junior in a dual BA program between Columbia University and Sciences Po and a 2017 Padua Alumna, Maya Shenoy
In 2018, I was repeatedly sexually assaulted by an abusive partner. In addition, my abuser employed various strategies of control such as: kicking me out of our shared apartment in an unsafe neighborhood late at night, emotionally berating me, psychological manipulation, and public degradation. After my partner left me, I first felt everything: sobbing uncontrollably and forgetting to eat in my misery. I lost 15 pounds in the first two weeks after I was dumped. But soon, I noticed a shift that was more disturbing and unsettling than the initial flood of emotions: an acute sense of emptiness.
It took many months to explain how I was so deeply detached from the trauma this experience caused me. When I was finally diagnosed with PTSD I found myself scoffing. The ordeal I had been through, while painful, was not uncommon: plenty of my friends had survived terrible partners and seemingly retained their humanity. It was my own fault for being overly dramatic about this breakup with my first boyfriend. However, as time passed, the disease robbed me of something fundamental to my grounding in the world: my sense of self. I use this term in the physiological and psychological senses: I was both unable to feel myself being present in any situation, and I was further blocked from viewing myself in any type of positive light.
When I pictured myself, I felt an overwhelming feeling of revulsion and fear. When I was in social situations I was unable to experience comfort; my body acclimated to being on extreme alert at all times and I would quickly snap into being angry or fearful as a response to any stimulus. This constant resting state of fight flight or freeze would then contribute to my already negative self perception by proving my toxic beliefs about myself: I was a bad person because I reacted in inappropriate ways. This was not the person I had been before. I feared I would see that person again.
My life and health were profoundly changed by the integration of meditation into my life. My therapist recommended meditation to me as a means of coping better with my attention deficit disorder (ADD), and while this has been an invaluable tool in managing that aspect of my life, its ability to return me to my body has been its most important contribution to my daily wellbeing. Using meditation, particularly loving kindness meditation, was at first uncomfortable – almost itchy. There was something deeply uncomfortable about saying nice things to myself and believing them. Some days, it would make me jittery and I would squirm my way through a ten minute practice. With time, however, the practice of loving kindness forced me to put love out into the world and wish the best for those I loved. I had to send love and wishes of wellbeing to myself, then others I loved, and the world. This practice, of externalizing my ability to love others- particularly my friends, allowed me to gradually bring myself into the fold of people I loved.
However, this practice would have been empty without my ability to regain control over my life and responses to stimuli. Before this particular relationship, I had been a generally kind and passionate person. In its aftermath, I found myself to be the exact opposite: detached and angry, particularly towards those who loved me. I could only react to shows of care or interest in my wellbeing with vicious reticence. This stemmed from the psychological betrayal of having a partner treat me with cruelty, but at the time it truly felt like I was a mean and vicious person.
Meditation was, in this case, the antidote to my inability to be present. Keeping with the breath was a crucial tool in reducing the physiological symptoms of being in a state of anxiety. My body physically slowed down. I was able to be present with my body, feel my heart beating and my chest rising and falling. This change was the first in many steps to learning how to be emotionally present. At first, all human interaction was incredibly stress inducing and thus triggered a survival response. With meditation, I was able to slowly process these situations and forgive myself for past reactions. Eventually, I was able to build up to being mindful in the moment and, after months of daily practice, I was able to react to situations with the kindness I had so strongly associated with before my trauma.
It has been almost two years now since the end of that relationship. In that time, I have regained a sense of presence in the world and love for myself. The process of rebuilding these feelings was gradual and often made me uncomfortable, but if I have learned anything about the practice of meditation it is this: it is not meant to be easy. There is no state of nirvana that meditators have over those who don’t practice: we have not reached enlightenment. We continually grapple with the trials of being human. However, meditation has given me a power which I value immensely: control over my perception. I am able to control my perceptions of anxiety, time, and myself. It is far easier to prevent myself from spiralling into dangerous territory when I am aware of where it is going. For this reason, I am incredibly grateful to meditation for returning me to my body and allowing me to cherish being in that place.
Written by Padua Academy Director of Advancement and Alumnae, Shana Rossi
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
I have been a seeker my entire life. I have “explored” almost every religion, philosophy, and belief system, seeking THE answer. It was exhausting and unfulfilling.
What a relief meditation has been for me. What a paradox of perfection: in surrender I find strength; in silence I hear answers; and in stillness I arrive.
Through meditation, I deepen my relationship with God. The practice of trusting brings me closer to God the Father. The practice of opening my heart brings me closer to Jesus. The practice of focusing on my breath brings me closer to the Holy Spirit.
Practice, practice, practice. Meditation is humbling, but my commitment is bearing fruit. Sometimes, I feel as though all I have achieved is a restful moment for my soul. Other times, by going within during meditation, my perceived solitude is graciously transformed into communion with all of creation. Both are a gift, and so is every variation between the two.
When I first began meditating, I felt selfish and indulgent for taking time away from my work or my family to meditate, but I have come to realize that the gifts of meditation are not limited to those who meditate. Rather, all are blessed by my practice, whether directly or indirectly.
Through meditation, I “cease from exploration” and focus on being rather than doing. I am reminded that I am inherently worthy — that I am God’s beloved child and so is everyone I encounter. We are all BEloved.
Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Written by Padua Senior Lauren O.
I couldn’t help but chuckle when my doctor gave me quite the unusual prescription: meditation. After sustaining an abnormally long concussion Freshman year that left me with months of incurable headaches, my team of medical professionals and I were endlessly looking for solutions. From different medications to reducing activity it seemed like I had tried it all, which is why I thought meditation was surely just my doctor grasping at straws.
Perhaps my doubtfulness in meditation had come from my ignorance to what it actually is, and only thinking about the stereotypical view of it. You see, when I thought of meditation I pictured a bunch of hippies “finding themselves,” which I now know is not reality. In all honesty, my first attempts at meditation were probably not from the book, but I just did whatever felt right. Every night before bed I turned on white noise and just laid down with my eyes closed, trying to shut off my thoughts. It’s a lot easier said than done. Meditation doesn’t come naturally because our minds are always racing. However, I learned that the more I did it, the easier it became.
Although meditation didn’t magically cure my headaches, it helped to relieve a lot of stress and anxiety that was a byproduct of my concussion. I found myself not only meditating at night, but whenever I felt overwhelmed. Being able to slow myself down and pause my mind became a very useful technique to combat a lot of the stress I dealt with. I never would have pictured my meditations going in this direction.
Although I fell out of my meditation habits after Freshman year, I was glad to try to pick them back up again when I was in Mr Shelton’s physics class. Not only did we learn about meditation and what it can do for you, we actually DID it and experienced the results for ourselves. As a class, we all agreed that the few minutes of meditation before class greatly aided our ability to focus and relieve stress. I also learned what meditation aims to do and who does it. Meditation is all about turning off your thoughts and observing them without judgement. I realized that it’s not just hippies trying to “find themselves,” and that I was too quick to judge my doctor’s recommendation. Most importantly, I learned that anyone can do it!
Written by 2019 Padua Alumna Ally Dorsey
Walking into Room 406 on my first day as a Padua senior, I was initially very intimidated by AP Physics. AP Physics? What was I thinking? I found a seat and remember feeling overwhelmed by the sight of written on the board.
Mr. Shelton proceeded to explain the course structure, but more importantly, how we were going to start each class with 3 minutes of meditation. I was now thinking AP Physics: one of the best decisions I’ve made. I had heard of meditation and mindfulness, tried it here and there using different apps on my phone, but never was able to dedicate the time or energy to it because, I now know, I wasn’t doing it properly. I was too focused on my wandering thoughts, the notifications on my phone, and the idea of ‘meditating correctly.’
My struggle with anxiety began freshman year of high school. I remember times when I should have been thinking about softball practice or what movie to see on Friday, but my mind was preoccupied with all the “what ifs.” I was convinced I wasn’t good enough, I was going to fail anything I tried, and that people would judge me for the way my mind worked. I decided I was strong enough to overcome these feelings on my own. Or so I thought, as a naive fifteen-year-old.
When the struggle of fighting these thoughts became too overwhelming towards the end of freshman year, I told my parents, who were more understanding than anyone can imagine. With their help, I knew I wasn’t alone. I tried a variety of different techniques and practices to “cure” my mental troubles. Chiropractic care was the one thing that year that helped me put a physical bandage on an injury no one could see. I felt so much better and continued with weekly adjustments.
But, it wasn’t until senior year that I found a true release in stress, anxiety, and a boost in confidence through meditation. Mr. Shelton created a safe place where we learned how to meditate and had time dedicated to clearing our minds and focusing on the present moment. He made our mental health and well-being a priority opening each and every class with a pause in our day. He emphasized the importance of simply being present and recalling our minds back when they began to wander, not getting upset with ourselves when it happened. (And especially, disconnecting from technology to connect with our minds and selves.) I truly saw a huge improvement in my mood and confidence as well as a decrease in my anxious thoughts.
Since graduation in May, it has been more difficult to dedicate the time and energy to meditation, but my 2020 resolution has been to get back in a routine of mindfulness after seeing the blog posts from other Padua women. I have seen the same positive effects I was receiving from the practice as I did during my time at Padua. I look forward to continuing the practice throughout the rest of my time at Villanova and into my future career as a nurse, hopefully teaching patients about the numerous advantages that accompany meditation. I am beyond blessed to have had Mr. Shelton as my AP Physics teacher because that’s where I learned to meditate. I highly encourage high school students, especially the young women at Padua, to take advantage of the time dedicated to meditation during and after school. Learning the practice early has so many benefits, and I hope each student has a similar experience as I did in 406. Thanks to meditation, my mental health and overall well-being are in a positive place, and I know what to do if any difficulties return.
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.
Written by Padua Academy World Languages Teacher Susan Burris
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.
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.
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.”
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.
A letter written by former Padua Head of School Cindy Mann
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,