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.