High School Students Sharing Strategies That Support Their Healthy and Happy Lives
Author: Ryan Shelton
While my job description is to lead the science department and teach physics at Padua Academy in Wilmington, DE, my calling is to prepare teenagers to lead their communities towards a vibrant and healthy future. This purpose has lead to the creation of Loving Lives Delaware.
Before becoming a teacher, I explored many careers and had many adventures in search of the best way to make a difference in the world. I hiked over 1700 miles, traveled to 5 continents, managed a bakery, started a meditation center, counseled troubled teens, attended Duke, UNC, and Harvard, protected forests as a wildland firefighter, volunteered thousands of hours with Americorps, rafted the Grand Canyon, and SCUBA dived on the Great Barrier Reef.
My next adventure is starting a family with my beautiful wife in our Wilmington home. I'm sure there will be many mistakes along the way, but I hope we're able to create a loving household that's a beacon of support and clarity for others in our community. Thank you for all of your support throughout our journey.
Junior year, when I was deciding which classes to take for my senior year, Optimistic Mindset was one of the first classes Mrs. T offered me. I’m not going to lie, at first I was a little skeptical of it, but some of my friends who were taking that class at the time were saying nothing but great things, not just about the class, but the teacher as well. I figured I would give it a shot and see how it goes. The first day I was in the class we meditated which I had never done before. I never thought that doing something that simple could have such a strong impact on me, mentally and physically. Optimistic Mindset is just a healthy class in general. It is a judge-free safe zone. Speaking on behalf of my class, I know we all feel pretty comfortable with each other which takes a lot of stress off right from the start.
This class was interesting at first because it wasn’t just strictly a senior class. We have all grades from freshman to seniors here which I enjoy because you can see the maturity levels in each person, and how certain situations are handled. Regardless of our ages in the room, all of our opinions are heard, every voice matters, and nobody’s feelings are minimized. I learned that it is okay to have different opinions from people, but that shouldn’t change how you act or present yourself towards that person. It is okay to disagree which is something I’ve always had a hard time accepting. Just the simple things such as getting exercise, getting good sleep, being kind to others – it all sounds cliche but these are all life skills which are important to practice. It caught my attention that these lessons were taught in this class. The Random Acts of Kindness Requirement encouraged me to actually do something kind each day. I learned that the simple things in life are the best things, and even the littlest things can go the longest way.
This class has also brought great attention to the mental health of teenagers and even just people in general. Social media is a huge factor in teens’ mental health. Basing your happiness off of how many likes you get, how many followers you have, and who viewed your posts takes a huge toll on people and it’s becoming easily recognizable. Optimistic Mindset offers many solutions to fixing this problem including deleting social media, or even just taking a break from it. It’s crucial to not give in to the toxicity of social media, and to know you are worth far more than the amount of likes you get. You have to be able to love yourself before anything. This class has taught me to make the best of life and each situation, and to see the positive in everything because there is always good in every bad. I highly recommend and encourage everyone to take this class. It has great benefits to offer you!
When I started taking this course, I thought I would be learning just general strategies about different aspects of a teenager’s life. Instead, I have been learning tips that you can easily do and are more important to improving your quality in life than you realize. For instance, meditation. I have heard about meditation many times in the past, even from my close family members, but never really put interest into it. Now that I have actually practiced it a couple times in class, I can say that it helps me relax a bit and takes my mind off of everything that is going on for 5 to 10 minutes, especially on stressful days. Another topic that I found value in was writing in a gratitude journal. Sometimes I tend to worry or complain about small things that are irrelevant compared to what is really important in life. We can easily lose track of the great things that we have that are right in front of us. I would recommend this class to all DMA cadets because it is nice to have a class in your schedule that is different from other classes where you can take a mental pause in your day and disconnect from schoolwork, but at the same time, learn how to be a better version of yourself and live a better life.
I have had a great time in Optimistic Mindset. From the first day of class, I knew it was going to be a block where you can talk freely and discuss things with the class that you usually wouldn’t in another class. Mr. Shelton taught the class how to have civil discussions about confrontational subjects without getting upset and learning to understand where the other person is coming from. I have made new friends in this class too that I think will stick with me throughout high school. This class never stresses me out with a crazy load of homework or an insane amount of classwork. Walking from my 3rd block to my 4th block lightens up my day because it gives me a break from the classic school style and puts me somewhere where learning new things is fun. We have watched many videos in Optimistic Mindset that go perfectly with the lessons and genuinely help me in my day-to-day life with just little simple tips. Some important values that this class taught me are: how to keep your composure when having discussions, how to improve your well-being with social connections, and how getting more sleep can lead to countless benefits. Simple things we have gone over each day have led to a monumental impact on my day-to-day life. Me and my classmates all have a similar goal now and it’s to help the mental health of our generation. We need to start with spreading the word and listening to and understanding others’ problems to help. I want to thank Mr. Shelton and this great group of students for this opportunity in my freshman year. It’s also crazy how I was able to have a class with my sister who is a senior and I’m a freshman. My sister introduced me to a couple new friends and cool classmates that I wouldn’t have been as comfortable talking to if she wasn’t there to introduce me.
This class helped me a lot when it comes to my mental health. In class, sometimes we meditate 10 minutes before class. Now I’m not going to lie. I didn’t stick through with it every time. In the beginning I was all in, but then I started to not participate with the rest of the class. It was only due to what I was going through outside of school, but after doing our reflection papers (another topic we do in class), it reminded me that I should’ve participated even when I was going through a rough time. I say this because when I meditated, I felt relaxed and unworried. Meditation helped me relieve stress and realize not everything that’s bad now will be bad forever.
When we did an exercise rewirement where we had to do something active for 30 minutes, it helped me physically. I would take these 30 minutes to just stretch. As an athlete in season it is important to stretch coming from a person who didn’t take stretching as seriously and had a lot of dumb injuries during the season. I was still able to play through them, but I do know that if I stretched more I would’ve been healthier. I would say to anybody who wants to learn about mental health and ways to get through it, you should take this class. Mr. Shelton is a great teacher who is unique because he has been around all parts of the world, he’s seen it all, and he carries a lot of wisdom with him. This class has made me realize you can’t change something without putting the effort in to change it.
In my sophomore year, I joined a class called Science of Happiness. I didn’t really understand what the class was about when I first signed up for it but I’m glad I did. Science of Happiness taught me that not everything you think will make you happy actually makes you happy. For example, if I asked you right now what would make you happier you would probably tell me money, better grades, or your dream house/car. In reality, those things only make you happy for a short period of time, and then you’re back to where you were before you got what you thought would make you happy. This class has helped me look at a lot of things differently. I’ve also helped others cope in better ways by sharing with them how I look at things now. Meditating in this class has also helped me. I personally did not like doing it in school due to the distractions but Mr.Shelton made us do it as an assignment at home and as I started doing it for a week it really helped. It helps reduce stress and stop the mind from wandering. At our age this is a big due to all the things going on in today’s society and all the things us teens worry about. Overall, this class has taught me to make the best of life in every situation and that there is always something good in every bad situation, even if we don’t realize it at that moment. I would definitely recommend this class to anyone. It has great benefits for you personally and teaches you ways to help others.
Live authentically. Those two words are what I have learned most from this Optimistic Mindset class. Embrace all of you and all of your faults, but enhance the good parts and create good habits. One way to understand your thoughts and your body is to start meditating. We all tried meditating to have a few minutes of focusing on our body and breathing, and not letting distractions get in the way. Meditation has many benefits like self-awareness, focusing on the present, patience, and gratitude. All these things are what can lead us into living with love and authenticity. Gaining all these things from meditation can also help build better relationships and make more social connections with new people. Instead of staying on your phone and avoiding people, you should start conversations. Also, while in conversations with people, you should be open to sharing different opinions. We as a society have learned to steer away from certain topics, but why not embrace those topics. Why not be understanding and loving to new opinions and ideas. In Optimistic Mindset we were able to be open about “controversial” topics and became comfortable with having very civil and understanding conversations. We also learned ways to make our mental health way better by doing simple things like working out more, not using social media, just getting sleep, and practicing our signature strengths. Our signature strengths are characteristics that are most essential to who we are. For example, if one of your top strengths is kindness, you should do some kind acts. Doing more kind acts will lead to you feeling happier because you are doing something that is a prominent part of your character. Just putting the things you enjoy into action will lead you to be happier. These new techniques have helped me to become more authentic, loving, and happy.
The point of Science of Happiness is to learn ways to protect and help people’s mental health. Having Science of Happiness in the middle of my school day is definitely a positive experience. It gives me a chance to just reset and have a good end of the day. This class has also taught me a lot. I’ve learned ways to help control my mind and the best way was by meditating. In the beginning of the year, we would start class by meditating for 5 minutes. I saw a big decrease in my emotions and it was a huge benefit in my days at school.
I also really enjoyed learning PSYCHPROTIPS. Mr. Shelton introduced us to 27 PSYCHPROTIPS and I learned a lot from them. These 27 tips just give you suggestions on how to live your life. The ones I liked the most were: #21 Just get some damn sleep, #5 Increase the variety in your life, #16 Savor your important connections in high school before it’s too late, and #18 Start meditating and turn it into a practice. These and many more psychprotips gave me daily reminders on how to have a happy life.
Overall, I’d say that taking this course was a big benefit to the first half of the school year. As a high school student, taking a 40-minute class to just learn ways to control your mental health is very needed. I also feel that Mr. Shelton teaches this class really well and without his lessons and this class I don’t think I’d have the better perspective on my life that I do now.
Going into this class I was confused. It was a class that I didn’t sign up for nor knew anything about. I learned on day one it was exactly how it sounded: the study of how one enjoys life and makes it worth living. Mr. Shelton told the class about himself and the things he does to become happy: family, friends, hiking, teaching, and finally meditation. The first ones stuck with me since they were very similar to mine, besides the last one – meditation. I heard of it before but I never tried it. I thought it would have no effect on me, until he had us try it out. I found it nice how quiet it was to just rest. He had proven me wrong. The thing that I thought wouldn’t affect me turned out to do the opposite. Mr. Shelton opened my mind up to new opportunities to be happy, so I listened more to what he had to say. He gave us these activities every week called Rewirements which made us try new things every day and record how it made us feel. The ones that affected me the most was “exercise at least once every day.” I had already done this so I decided to push myself to do even more each day. It felt rewarding everyday knowing that I was bettering myself each time I exercised. Going into this class, I thought it would be like all the others – do the work to get the grade and move on – but I was wrong. It did more for me than I could have ever expected.
My experience with this course in the beginning was very rocky. I didn’t like doing work and I thought this class was going to be doing fun stuff. My opinion has changed throughout the course. I think that it is very helpful in an unknown way. I didn’t know how much this course has changed me in a positive way until writing this. I became a way nicer person and started realizing more things happening around me. I was reminded to treat people the way I want to be treated, and that I am not the only one going through things at home. There’s a lot of people going through harder stuff than me. It is not ok to treat people with disrespect when I know dang well you wouldn’t want to be treated like that. If everyone had the mindset to treat people the way they want to be treated, it will make this world a way better place to live. I am very concerned about mental health and this class teaches some concepts to help you if you are struggling. It is ok to not be ok. But it is not ok to suffer in silence. Bottling up your emotions will only make them stronger; speaking out will help you in ways you don’t even know. Overall this class has a bunch of potential. I just think if we want to make a change we need to bring this to a bigger audience. For right now I like being in this class and I am excited to keep learning.
In my sophomore year of high school, I signed up to take a course called Science of Happiness. In this class, I learned helpful tools to use in my everyday life going forward. I learned fun facts about our brain and how it tricks us into seeing and thinking certain things. All brains are different and therefore different things will make different people happy. Our brains make us think that certain things will make us happy, but when it comes down to it, they don’t. If I were to ask you right now what would make you happy, you would probably say a large amount of money, good grades, or society’s expectations of a “perfect body”. We learned that in the moment, these things would most likely make you happy, but no matter what, you will always want more. You just got a better job as the boss? Well now you can aim for being the boss’s boss. The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. In this class we are taught to make memories and relish in the small moments that make us happy. We learn that not every piece of happiness has to do with big changes in your life like being the boss or getting plastic surgery, but the small things that we remember for the rest of our lives. Science of Happiness will teach you to be proud of where you are in your life right now, and to take advantage of the opportunities that are currently available to you. Science of Happiness will change the way you perceive happiness in many different ways.
Going into school on my first day of high school I was wondering what classes I would have. When I saw one of my classes was Optimistic Mindset, I was wondering what it was about because I had never heard about it. When I got there on the first day and heard what the class was about, I was surprised because in this class we get to talk about things that we would never really be able to talk about like mental health, meditation, and how to just be happier.
We learn a lot of this through psychprotips which basically teach us ways to live a happier life. One psychprotip I’ve liked is, “Start meditating and turn it into a practice.” I have started to meditate more, and now I feel less stressed and more happy when doing things. Another one of the other psychprotips that I liked was, “Just get some sleep.” As I have started to go to bed earlier, I have noticed a difference in how focused I am in class and everything else I do. I have also felt better about doing the things that I like to do after school because I am not as tired.
Each week in class, we get a new Rewirement to focus and it makes us really do some of the things we talk about in class. So far we’ve done a Gratitude Journal Rewirement which makes us think about all the small things that we are grateful for, the Meditation Rewirement which makes us meditate once a day, and the Exercise Rewirement which makes us exercise for a little bit each day. These are just a few of the amazing Requirements we have talked about so far.
Overall this class has taught me so many things that I would never have learned anywhere else. I am extremely thankful to have been in this class. It has taught me so many things that I will be able to use in high school and as I go through life. This class has been one of my favorite classes I have ever taken. I can not wait to learn more ways of becoming happier in the next few months.
Taking this course has led me to implement strategies and new habits in my everyday life. The slideshows and videos we watched informed me on different ways to improve my well-being and also provided facts about things that increase your happiness. There are many things that I learned that are helpful but I believe the rewirements are the most helpful. We did many different rewirements throughout the marking period including signature strengths, gratitude journal, and exercise. These rewirement let me look back on my week and reflect on the good things I did. For example, the exercise rewirement let me reflect on the activities I did and it created a habit to always get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. Doing this could increase my happiness and well-being. Another rewirement we did was the gratitude journal. This one is probably the most helpful to me because I was able to think about things that I am grateful for. If you do this every day and really think about what you are grateful for, I believe that you will be more appreciative of what you have. For example, if you are super grateful for your family, the gratitude journal gives you the chance to think about them and be more thankful for them and all they do. I believe that reflecting on things that are important to you can help you be a better person. You can see what you need to do to work on yourself while also seeing what you accomplished and should feel good about. For me the rewirements were very helpful and contributed to making myself a better person. I am glad that I took this class and was introduced to habits and information that can be used to increase my well-being.
I found this class really interesting and unique. Out of all the classes at DMA, this is the class that surprised me the most. I think it’s because I’ve never taken a class like this before and the topics are somewhat intriguing. One thing I found helpful is meditating. Just meditating 5 minutes a day helps me relieve stress that I collect throughout the long tiring days. I also find keeping my phone away from me when sleeping helps me with my mental health. It helps me fall asleep faster, and also get better sleep, which as I found out in this class, is super important to your mental health. I also think doing random acts of kindness is great for everyone. It makes my relationships with others better, and makes me feel better. For example, it makes me feel good knowing that I helped out my sisters with their homework which makes them more relieved and happier. One final thing I found super helpful in this class is splitting my gains and combining my losses. It’s a lot easier to get an assignment done if you do it all at once and just get it done rather than splitting it up into 15 minute sessions and then having breaks in between. This helps me because I have less distractions to worry about. In this class, I found these exercises and activities to be helpful for me and also for others.
I feel like the Rewirement activities in the Optimistic Mindset class have helped me in multiple ways. For example, while doing the Signature Strengths Rewirement, I found that I am focusing more on cheer and school rather than myself, and I need to take care of myself. While doing the Random Acts of Kindness Rewirement, it felt nice at the end of the week to look at the things I did for people. It made me feel like a better person. When we did the Gratitude Journal Rewirement, I learned about things I am truly thankful for, like my mom, as she does so much for me. It made me feel like a better person for realizing how much I appreciate the people who support my life with their actions. When we did the Social Connection Rewirement, I realized how little interaction I get with people outside my household because I am always home. I realize that if I start talking to more people I will gain more confidence. I really enjoy this class because I’m learning content that will help me as I pursue a psychology major in college. I also like how laid back the class is compared to others. It’s a refresher because it’s close to the end of the day, and after having stressful classes, it’s nice to relax and take a break where it’s not stressful. It’s definitely one of my favorite classes this year, so I would for sure recommend it to others when they choose their schedule.
In my senior year of high school, I began taking a course called Optimistic Mindset. Now, I have never heard of such a course and I had no idea what to expect going in. Honestly, I really enjoy the class, and I actually find what I learn to be quite useful in my day to day life. We learn about different aspects of human psychology as well as how we can use them to our advantage! For instance, did you know that you will most likely relieve a lot of stress by meditating on a regular basis? I actually started meditating more, and I really did notice a decrease in my stress levels. Another activity that I found to be beneficial to my mental health was recording things that we are grateful for in an online journal. Personally I found the reflection aspect of this practice to be really happy and uplifting. I love looking back at all of the happy things that I’ve been grateful for in my life. For example, it makes me really happy to just think about how grateful I am for my friends. I have so much love for people, and I love to let them know, so this exercise is a nice little reminder for me.
When I first heard about Optimistic Mindset, my first thoughts were, “This class will probably be a study hall or a free period.” I soon came to realize that this was a pretty interesting class to have. It goes into depth about the dos and don’ts to living a stress-free life and teaches you about the invisible bad habits we all seem to have. From owning social media accounts to watching a lot of TV; these things just aren’t good for the brain. I wouldn’t have even known that if this course wasn’t on my schedule. This has caused me to cut down on not only watching T.V but using apps like twitter and snapchat. I’ve started to try to cherish my experiences rather than waste the memories on my phone. I’ll take a quick picture or video, then put it down and go back to doing what I was doing. I began having a lot more fun with my friends when I started being more grateful for the time I have with them. I am going to have to learn to live without seeing them as frequently because I will be going off to college to play baseball. It’s a hard time coming to realize that this will be happening, but this course has made it a lot easier.
Taking Optimistic Mindset as one of my electives my senior year was one of the best choices I have made. It is a safe place where you can simply express your feelings, give your opinions, and get to know others. In this class we take time to meditate for 5-10 minutes a day. At our age doing this helps you in so many ways especially being in the middle of the school day. In most classes you get a ton of information thrown at you for 7 hours, so the 5-10 minutes we take to let go of everything on our minds is crucial.
In this course you will basically learn how to stay happy, how to avoid depression, and other things along those lines. You will learn how important it is to do things that will make you happy while not focusing on the negative things/people in your life. We also talk about some political issues and everyone states your opinion and you will learn how to state your opinion without arguing your opninion.
Overall, this class has helped me open up to others, practice positive thinking, and has given me the opportunity to regroup myself when needed. I think that this is a class all high school students should consider, and I feel as if they will not regret it.
I heard from my senior friends last year that I should take this class so I did. I had no clue what to expect but wasn’t opposed to the idea of trying new things. The first few days, we started by meditating. I really had no clue what I was doing but it was relaxing. The more I did it, the more I felt like I was getting the hang of it. It became so relaxing and enjoyable. We would watch video lectures by a Yale professor, Dr. Santos, and she introduced us to Psych Pro Tips. These are scientifically proven tips that we can use in our everyday lives to make us happier. Some examples include: keep a gratitude journal, random acts of kindness work, and move your body for 20-30 minutes a day. My favorite tip was “just get some damn sleep”. I’ve learned how important sleep is for our body. Sleep deprivation is really harmful causing more heart disease, strokes, and mental illnesses among other concerns. Getting good sleep really keeps us functioning right. With this semester coming to an end, I’m really going to miss this class and the people. Aside from the learning part, I got to have this class with freshmen which is really cool. Since they are not in the same building as upperclassmen, it was nice to see some of them every day and get to know them. Lastly, I just want to say a huge thank you to Mr. Shelton because this class wouldn’t be possible without him!
As the new physics teacher at Delaware Military Academy last year, I was asked if there was an elective I would like to create to fill out my schedule. I proposed teaching a course based off of Yale University’s extremely successful course called Psychology and the Good Life taught by Dr. Laurie Santos. Last year I taught one section of this course we decided to call Optimistic Mindset. One year later, enrollment has skyrocketed allowing me to teach 2 sections of the Optimistic Mindset and 2 additional sections of a half credit version called Science of Happiness.
Student mental health has been challenged by many obstacles these last handful of years. I’m honored to have the opportunity to teach a class that offers students strategies to help them live happy and healthy lives. I’m excited that students are finding these strategies helpful. I’m hopeful that allowing my students to share the strategies that have helped them on this blog will allow more teenagers to learn and apply these helpful tools.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.