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.
To a calling, deep inside.
Turning inward to notice.
No longer hidden–
A desire to connect.
With higher purpose.
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
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–
Learning to listen.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
In practicing yoga, the cue to “lead with your heart” often is interpreted to mean shoulders back and down, abdomen in to support a strong core, arms perhaps stretched out like wings or clasped behind your back and down, with heart-center the leading force of your physical movement. (Think of doing a forward fold swan diving with your heart leading the way, or a humble warrior bowing down in reverence and respect, heart forward.)
As a physical exercise it might feel vulnerable to lead with your heart, especially when energy levels aren’t grounded. On the other hand, if your heart energy is strong, it might be empowering and feel quite full and alive to lead with your heart.
I intend to lead with my heart both on and off my yoga mat.
As an educator leading with my heart brings a smile to my face. It means putting ego aside. It means embracing the unknown for whatever it is, not good or bad. It means working toward positive change, to bring greater joy from suffering. It means acknowledging the complexity of being human, of suffering, and of the possibility of transforming suffering into something beautiful.
Heart-centered in yoga and heart centered in mindfulness and heart centered in mathematics, need not be disparate ideas and practices. I find great beauty in working at the intersection of disciplines and practices.
For me, the way I see the world, yoga and mindfulness are everywhere. Art and mathematics are also everywhere. There is a subtly here that I wish to explain. It is my own lens that helps me “see” these practices in all that I do. And it is my intentionality to cultivate meaning through the practices of yoga and meditation, and through the practice of expressive mathematics, that help me to cultivate and strengthen my lenses.
I’m working on a new habit of opening my computer to continue my writing.
I’m working on a new habit of being OK
even when I’m in what I sense to be an uncomfortable situation.
With bells ringing, trucks beeping, people talking,
fans whirring, engines, motors, beings,
all conceivably in motion all at once all around me.
It is notable, however, that understanding of my experience is self-centered.
It is not too surprising, and I am not alone in this way of understanding my experience.
Of course I understand my experience from my own lens,
from my own person, from my own self.
It is in this sense that I am centered on self.
For being centered on self, I come to understand myself, my voice, my story.
However, one way to de-center from this lens is to notice what is, and to not take it in as my own.
The noises from the parking lot are not a part of me.
I can sense them.
I perceive of them.
I am aware of them.
But they are not me.
The story that I create about these sensations,
perceptions, and my awareness of them,
is something that I create myself.
Yet the story is not me.
It is a story.
With training, I can choose to separate myself from the experience of is-ness, of being right now, right here, breathing, typing, and my experience of sensations that are uncomfortable.
I do not believe that I am alone in being uncomfortable in noisy situations. I believe this discomfort has been created as a form of habitual patterning that has evolved from my experiences.
Being aware of this habitual patterning (loud noise, discomfort, distraction, frustration, discontent, ungrounded, anxiety, urge to flee from the situation… loud noise, discomfort, distraction, frustration, discontent, ungrounded, anxiety, urge to flee from the situation…) is a starting point.
It is from this awareness that I can work toward creating more productive patterns that spring from my intention to be at peace. To be at peace with myself in the world. With my decisions. With my being. With my work. With who I am.
I’m working on being ok in the stillness of my own typing.
Resting in the consciousness of my mind that I am sitting at my computer, I am typing.
To have clear train of thought I sometimes create an expectation that I need to be in silence, in isolation, or otherwise be uninterrupted.
The fact of the matter is that I do not live in a world of uninterrupted spaces, places, and experiences.
My experience of the world is largely interrupted all of the time.
The question then becomes – how do I form new habits that take me into the peaceful state of writing – of being – of meditation on thought – of getting the ideas down on the page – rather than existing outside of myself in a noisy and busy world?