Compassion, Curiosity for Monsters.

Do you ever fall into patterns of negativity, self-doubt, or rumination on past or present?

Do you ever slip into states of discontent with no apparent way out?

I’ve recently found that curiosity and compassion have been two indispensable tools for seeing and releasing monsters I otherwise keep inside.

“I see you. I hear you. It is OK.”

mantra of compassion

Using this mantra helps when I find myself engaging in negative self talk. This monster seems to come out when I perceive that I am disappointing others, or my own self-determined expectations. By shining light on this monster, sharing my perceptions with others, it allows me to be kinder and gentler. Allowing this monster to be and express itself is Ok. For if I instead trap the monster in the dark, berate it for showing up, it only complicates the healing journey.

“It is OK to be here now. I notice the urge to be doing and giving more, or less. It is OK to give yourself time to be.”

mantra of curiosity

Another tendency I’ve noticed lately is the urge to be doing something qualitatively different than my current state or activity. “Do more” might sound like:

I’m not writing right now. I didn’t write yesterday. What if because I’m not writing right now, and don’t WANT to write right now, it means I’m no longer a writer.

Being patient with myself, I notice and remain curious about this voice. I share this frustration with a trusted friend. And when another friend serendipitously asked me “did you just come from writing?” and I instinctually said “yes” (even though I hadn’t) I then found myself writing for the first time later that day, and really enjoying my experience.

“This curiosity allowed me to approach writing like an old friend. Curious and gentle. Open and present.”

dedicated practices remain alive, even while seemingly dormant

By remaining curious about the call to do more, or the negative energy around doing less, I’m allowing myself time to be with what is.

Breathe in the “isness” of now. Sense the aliveness all around. Notice any calling to change what is. Release attachment to judgements of good or bad. This is the practice.

Showing up.

Showing up is important.
Not only showing up for other people,
but showing up for yourself.

Lately, I’ve been showing up for myself
by sharing my ideas.
By embracing the inevitable vulnerability of sharing
something personal–your art–
in a way that is open for public critique.

Preparing for a presentation to an international audience of
experts on theory, methods, and mathematics education research,
I found myself fastidiously creating an extra set of slides with my notes
ready for the inevitable disaster of a failed presentation.

Yet in walking to dinner the night before my talk,
I just started giving my talk – no slides, no notes,
I already knew it by heart.

So in showing up for myself, it was a matter of perspective.
I believe in my potential to share ideas in insightful ways.
It’s important to notice when our inner voice of doubt might
hamper an inner seed of creativity and expressive confidence.

It’s important to notice and to remain curious.

Another way I have been showing up for myself is in noticing the inner critique.
Sometimes the voice over shadows my presence — work more, do yoga in a studio, plan better, be more social, connect with others, buy a gift for the person you love, read that article, …
In noticing this inner voice, I can learn to not judge it, but simply welcome it, and remain curious.

From this place of curiosity…

I can practice yoga at home – without the “guilt” of it not being “good enough” because I’m not at a yoga studio.

I can write freely because I want to, not because I’m afraid of the consequences of not writing, or the judgement of others because of my choices.

I can take time to be at home, alone, without a social agenda and that is OK. Not every minute needs to be fixed and focused on goal-directed activity or socialization. It is OK to allow for free time to fluidly move in and out of tasks and to dos.

In learning to show up for myself, I am more attuned to showing up for others as well.


Gazing out a window.

The ability to gaze out a window.
To see onto a world, to impose meaning on it.
Is such a gift.
I cherish this gift, and position myself throughout the day to
have as much exposure as possible to nature and the outside world.

As a scholar and teacher I write and engage in indoor spaces.
I have the ability to shut the door to my office and not see the light of day.
Yet I find myself yearning for something more.

I’m learning to listen to  my anxieties.
To notice when I am tense.
Being gentle with myself I ask, what is it that is unsettling at this moment?
More often than not I learn that one or more of my basic needs are not met.

I am hungry.
I am thirsty.
I need to move.
I need to be connected to nature.

In winter months connection to nature means take a walk outdoors, however briefly, to fully experience and breath in fresh air.
It means sitting near a window and gazing lovingly at the outside world.
Its like living in a snow globe that I never have to leave.

Today is yet another reminder to be gentle.
To engage in routines that support my well-being.
To prioritize my health.
And to be grateful for the opportunity to live well.

Learning to listen.

Learning to listen.
To a calling, deep inside.
Turning inward to notice.
No longer hidden–
A desire to connect.
With higher purpose.

Through expression.
Through teaching.
Through silence.
Through sleep.

My dreams bring visions of
translations of Sanskrit verses
Yet here I am–awakened to the sounds of babes
Crying, whining, cajoling me back to awareness.
A reality a dream in and of itself.

Reaching out, reaching in.
Reflecting on photos and moments frozen in time.
Brings me back–transcending time and space
To inspire myself to do it again.

Grounded in the Earth
a homecoming.
Grounded in practices of expression.
Protecting ideas while playing the game.

Targeting “low hanging fruit”
While keeping an eye on stars in the sky
Dreams that will only come to light
The more I allow myself to feed them and
Help them grow

Wrestling between states of contemplation
Work, activity, doing
States of non-doing and
free space are few and far between

Wondering what drives me
Pulled in seemingly disparate directions
Yet alive and well,
I turn inward, to feel the flame burning
bright from within
An aliveness that no one–
not even my own inner critic–
can squelch.

Here now.
I listen.
Always learning.
Learning to listen.


Honoring the now.

Honoring the here and now.
Accepting what is.
Accepting what isn’t.

Noticing anticipation of what is to come.
The could be.
Noticing regret of what was.
The should have.

Come home to witness.
Honoring the now.

The sweetness of joy tastes sweeter.
The depth of frustration grips tighter.
The ebb and flow offer relief and perspective.
A continual cycle of impermanent states.

In accepting what is
Allowing a full embrace
A full-bodied presence of experience
A fully alive version of self.

I invite you in
to this vulnerable space
Without judgment or attachment.
Resting in the beauty of this state–now.
Noticing the potential.
Honoring the now.

Rx. Breathe, nature, self-care.

A student recently visited my office hours in a desolate condition. Complaints about a class, another class, another professor, poured out of their mouth no sooner than tears began streaming down their face. The world as they knew it was crashing in on them. Perseverating on fears, the unknown possibility of a dark future, seemingly unable to be here now…

I found myself calm, attuned, and open-hearted.  In listening and observing, I sought to see the student. I sought to provide a mirror, and offered the following “prescription” written on the front and back of an index card:

Practice non-judgement. Notice when your mind perseverates on something — an expectation, a perceived “failure.” Notice when it’s you against yourself in the ring. Yet in noticing, do not judge it. Just allow it to be, and move on. Ah, it is there, my teacher, how interesting. It is not good, it is not bad, it just is. #mindfulness

Notice nature. As you walk out into the world, look around you in nature. Notice. What is happening outside? The changing seasons, the falling of leaves, the preparation for winter, a cool brisk breeze… These are all beautiful reflections of letting go. Changes occurring in the macrocosm all around you on Earth, are also occurring within you as a microcosm. The antidote is always the opposite.  Ground into the earth, drink water, find a place to be, just be, without another agenda. #naturewalk

Breathe. Inhale for four counts, exhale for eight counts. Inhale for four counts, exhale for eight counts. Repeat this breath pattern and notice how your parasympathetic nervous system responds and relaxes into a calmer state with the power of the breath grounding you to the now. #breathe

Seek out support. Find another person in each class or group that you can confide in, and work through related difficulties together. Go directly to each of your teachers, mentors, or professors, and explain the trouble you are having. Visit health services and a counseling center. I recommend the “mind spa” which is a quiet room designed to cultivate relaxation, meditation, and a space to just be.

As the student left, he called over his shoulder saying, “I’ll see you next week.” I smiled. Mind you, this student is not on one of my class rosters. Instead, he found himself in my office during one of the prize times each week I hold space for students to be, to converse, to do math, to tell stories (i.e., office hours).

As I reflect on this experience, what stands out the most, is the oneness of human experience. We do such a great job of presenting our selves to the world (most of the time). As of late, these representations of self often come through shiny, filtered lenses and posts that portray the best of us. Yet these portrayals of self and of experience often fail to convey the totality of human experience–including the humanity in suffering.

Each of us has a story, has been stuck, has suffered affliction of one form or another. Our challenge then, remains an opportunity. See one another. Hold space for one another. Be. When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are one.

Tuning in.

I awoke this morning to notice.
I noticed restless slumber, so I read a book.
I noticed bodily aches, so I flowed on a yoga mat.
I noticed streams of thought, and am writing.

Tuning into emotional, bodily, and thoughtful awareness
I come into being, still guided by a sense of seeking.
Of seeking greater alignment.
Of clearer focus.
Of greater fulfillment.
Of holding space.

As I practice the art and science of noticing
I continue to learn about the fire inside
The motivation for action.

In conceptual work, I’m driven by a hunger for learning.
A deep curiosity.
Seeking to understand.
Seeking to change, and to improve.
Seeking to contribute to a collective wisdom.
Of research, and of practice.
Of moving from theory to praxis and back again.

In bodily work, I’m driven by tension.
Held trauma and stress, stored in the body.
My body implores me to release.
Through movement and breath.
I come into flow.
Driven by a dedication.
Rooted while reaching.

In emotional work, I’m driven by love.
Love for self.
Love for my children.
Love for my partner.
Love of life.

And so I continue.
A life long practice of tuning in.


How do you measure a day?

Breathing in and out, I sit to write as the day closes.

One babe just blinked his eyes closed, while another reads.
Today has brought both joy and frustration.
Compromises and love.

I find myself at the end of the day, happy, yet somehow unsatisfied.
I have writing projects that need attention.
I turn away from and avoid the ones that are difficult.
(Yet I know these are in some ways the most important.)
From this state I question my habitual patterning.

I wonder, how do you measure a day?
(*and yes, you should be quietly humming “Seasons of Love” from Rent while you ponder this question for yourself…)

If I measure the day from an assets-oriented framing of my experiences, it would go something like this:

I created and shared home cooked meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, to nourish and energize the entire family;

I engaged in and encouraged play and movement, yoga and biking, walking and greeting friendly neighbors, nourishment for mind, body, soul; and

I worked on my practices of writing and conceptualizing, letting go and giving in, reading and theorizing, conjecturing and wondering.

If I measure the day from a deficit-oriented framing of my experiences, it would go something like this:

I endured tantrums of a 2 year old screaming for his demands before every meal, before nap and bedtime, and the entire time we were in the car;

I sighed at the frustrations of a 6 year old who squints his face in unexpected ways, holding his breath and breathing rage like a dragon when someone (hint: he’s 2) pushes him or plays with his Legos ~in the wrong way~; and

I feel disappointment in not having (or taking?) enough time (or energy) to focus on more than one writing project, while enduring interruptions of my writing, reading, and conceptualizing.

From the first assets-oriented framing, I see and feel gratitude.

I smile, and reflect on a day well spent.
A balance of building family and scholarship.
Of friendship and well-being.

From the second deficit-oriented framing, I see and feel regret and disappointment.

I berate myself for not doing enough.
For not having answers to difficult questions.
Or somehow not living up to an expectation I’ve set.

I breathe in. I breathe out.

I recall an important assumption for life and living

You choose and create your own lens to make sense of your experiences.

From this assumption, I choose to measure the day in learning.
Today I have learned to love more deeply.
To express more openly.
To be gentler and kinder to myself, and to others.

And now I wonder, how do you measure a day?





Taking time.

When taking time to do something,
or be somewhere, or with someone
Time itself doesn’t matter;
it needn’t enter into consciousness.

My favorite ways of taking time
occur as bookends to the day.

A long breakfast, children shrieking and laughing,
only silent while eating.
Standing in the kitchen,
enjoying coffee while cooking.

Then again to close the day,
when all babes are asleep,
A long rest, writing, reading,
conversing quietly (or not at all).

By consciously noticing when
we take time to be,
To enjoy and fill up,
We gain insight into
what it takes to live

Through a habitual patterning
of taking time,
One can intentionally
Create a lifestyle.

A long writing session can occur at any time.
Mornings may bring some clarity,
but may also be slow to warm up.
By the evening, taking time to write and express
has become a craving.

While practiced at writing,
I am less practiced at
Patience and single-pointed focus.
Often I start a piece of writing and it somehow
Morphs into two pieces of writing.

I smile, acknowledging the complexity
and intertwined nature of
creative thought.
Of knowledge generation;
a non-linear process.

This is the practice.
Of taking time.
And of compassionate

Taking time to maintain an active lifestyle
also requires practice and habit forming.
One can start with an intention of
taking time for self-care,
but until it is acted upon with movement
through dedicated practice,
it remains a theory,
like a dream never realized.

And now as I move from bookend to bookend,
I smile and notice, and wonder, how the day will unfold.
How will I allow my habitual patterning to guide my focus
How will I push in new directions to create new habits
New directions that spur creativity, joy, and love.

Noticing and wondering.
I repeat the process.
Taking time to live.
Taking time to be.


Can you draw it? Sketchnotes 101

In my current projects on linking research and practice in mathematics education
I am called to create illustrations and visual manifestations of ideas.
I have also found this lens to be supportive in my teaching.
In reading student papers, where ideas are still forming, I ask:

Can you draw this idea? Create a sketch to illustrate the interconnection of these topics.

Sketching is a Moving Meditation

I treat drawing and sketching as a moving meditation.
Visual and creative playfulness.

How To_1
Sketchnotes are a form of visual play and creativity. Condense an idea into a single page or notecard. Aim for fun, not perfection.

As a meditation,
I work to flow and breathe,
with pen on the page in near constant motion.
This movement allows me to not overthink what I’m doing,
and instead to go with it.
To allow an unfolding.

Examples of Sketchnotes

Here are few examples to show what I mean by a Sketchnote.

I created this collection while observing another person give a professional talk (e.g., see Student Reasoning as a Source of Insight) or a classroom observation (e.g., Making Sense of Experience).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I also create sketchnotes from articles I read, and write, as a way to visually condense an entire paper into 1 page, or a short video.

I elaborate a few of these in blog posts such as: Keys to Playing the Publishing game, Dr. Nicky the Scientist. I also have a YouTube Channel with videos on Representational Fluency and Learning Trajectories (flowers!), to name a few.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.



I draw inspiration from several sources. Here are a few you might check out:

  • If you’re looking for a good starter for layouts and design ideas, check out Lindsay Braman’s website or Instagram feed. I got good at drawing banners and flags by working on her outline. She also uses different hand-lettering techniques that are good to play with.

  • I find graphic novels to be another source of inspiration for creative mixes of visuals and text. Check out the Zen Pencils website or Instagram feed. Another ideas is to read a really great book on making comics, such as the one by Scott McCloud.
  • Lynda Barry’s texts “What it is” and “Syllabus” got me inspired to think about where images come from. In some of my sketchnotes the images quite literally emerge without a clear sense of where they came from.

Seeking Connections
Seeking connection

  • An Innovator’s compass is another really fun tool to get ideas out on the page, and works well from initial conceptualization of ideas to more developed ways of thinking.

Center on people. Define principles. Dream. Design. Discover. Innovator’s Compass.

Lean In to Your Passions

Another key point to creating sketchnotes is that there is no perfect formula,
there are no “answers” in the sense of a sketch being “right or wrong.”
It is art. Creating a sketchnote is an artistic process.


Research and Practice
Lean in to your passions. Allow a creative process to unfold. Let go of attachment. Be true to you.

From this stance, you might find it helpful to think about

  • what inspires you?
  • where and when do you feel most alive?
  • what are you passionate about?
  • what do you have fun doing?

Tapping into what makes you YOU, your ISness, is key. For me, I’m inspired by nature, and specifically trees. I sketch trees all the time. And recently came across a great book from which I’m learning how to sketch trees with greater precision, and it’s fun!

Boy at tree.
Heart-centered. Lead with your heart.


Can you draw it? Get your pen.

Finally, sketchnotes are a versatile medium that can be used in many many contexts. Here are a few that I like. Give them a try!

  • Doodle. So you play with graphic organization in a mix of text and visuals. I always cary a pen and something to write on. I feel lost without the ability to write things down. Like an extension of my mind, these tools are essential for my practices of expressing, and of learning, and drawing meaning from experiences.

How To_2

  • Educate. As an educator I’m playing with how to incorporate sketchnotes into planning and design of mathematics teaching. For example, if you take a learning progressions stance (big ideas, core concepts, sequences of tasks, assessments, student learning), and use this to frame your “plan” fill in the details and voila – a quick research-informed guide for strengthening links between research and practice in mathematics.

How To_3
A Learning Progression as a Framework for Mathematics Education Lesson Design

  • Learn. My favorite thing to sketchnote is a live presentation of research findings. I find that it helps me learn. Often presentations are dynamic, and if you’re lucky, the speaker is well-prepared and has rehearsed the material ahead of time with dynamic visuals and cues. If you don’t have an opportunity to attend a talk (at a conference, or open meeting), watch a good speaker on YouTube. Try this one by Chris Emdin on reality pedagogy. What did you come up with? Here is what I made.



%d bloggers like this: