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.