Spring 2020 Final Thoughts

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!

 

Shrinking the Focus of My Frenzied Mind

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.

The Effects of Meditation on My Sleep

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.

Finding Calm During Chaos

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.

Meditation Is Keeping Me Sane

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.  

becky

 

Implementing Meditation Into My Daily Life

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!

Facing COVID-19 With Love

Written by Padua Teacher Ryan Shelton

FamilyPhotoThis 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. 

How Only 3 Minutes of Meditation Can Lessen My Stress

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.

Mindfulness at Carrcroft Elementary

Written by Carrcroft Elementary Principal Mark Overly

CarrcroftCarrcroft 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.”

If you are interested in contacting Mindfulness author and coach, James Butler, he can be reached at james@mindfulclassrooms.com. Also, check out his website at www.mindfulclassrooms.com.

 

Meditation Is Helping My Creative Writing

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

I’m Glad My Daughter is Learning Mindfulness at Padua

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.

Discovering the Value of Meditation

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.

The Important Life Lessons My Daughter Is Learning At Padua Academy

KentonWritten 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.

Finding the Breath, Finding Myself

Written by a junior in a dual BA program between Columbia University and Sciences Po and a 2017 Padua Alumna, Maya Shenoy

89114050_2490238674521465_7542476490382770176_nIn 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.

Meditation: A Journey of Stillness

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.”

T.S. Eliot

slrI 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.
Be still.
Be.

Meditation Helps Relieve Concussion Byproducts

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!

A Boost in Confidence and Release from Anxiety

Written by 2019 Padua Alumna Ally Dorsey

86694625_565543754303153_5482234060640092160_n

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   Screen Shot 2020-02-16 at 1.52.37 PM   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.

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.