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covid-19 and a grounding practice for educators

episode 11

Sarah Pottle

written by

(or anyone, really)

Hey everyone, how is everyone doing out there? I hope that, if you’re well enough to listen to this, it means that, right now, in this moment, you are okay. It doesn’t mean we’re not afraid, because this is a scary thing, right? AND,  in this moment, since I have the capacity to record a podcast, it tells me that, in this very moment, I’m okay. And, right now, since you have the capacity to listen to this podcast, you are generally okay in this very present moment. I have been reminding myself of that a lot since this whole thing really started heating up in the US in the last two weeks, which has been totally, totally disorienting. 

When I start to feel like the world is spinning out of control, but I’m simply listening to a news report about coronavirus on my front porch, I have to acknowledge that right now, I am okay. And, it’s often at that point, that I actually have to turn it off and just sit and listen to the birds or dance in my kitchen or hug my kiddo. 

I started outlining a regenerative ed podcast related to this pandemic two weeks ago and if you’re in the same place as me right now, that feels like eons ago! SO many things, like the importance of local economy and how we can use what we’re learning here to regenerate our systems… Then, I just couldn’t bring myself to touch it for a while, which is usually not the case with these podcasts-- outlining them literally gets me out of bed in the morning! But, I just couldn’t get in the headspace, ya know?

Uncertainty was gripping me too-- the constant changing information, all of it. In the midst of the bajillion thoughts swirling around in my head, I just didn’t have the headspace to process and outline it and-- ya know-- throw homeschooling while working at home on top of it. It’s a lot to hammer out. 

So, I sort of put it down. I’ve been jotting scattered notes throughout all of this on my phone-- It feels like an eternity of conversation-starters jammed into a mere two weeks-- this whole world-wide crisis is devastating and eye-opening at the same time, all of the uncertainty is gripping our family, and, at the same time, I’m feeling a little free even though my time is in more demand than ever with work projects (helping teachers I work with move stuff online!) and now with homeschooling. I wonder if anyone else out there is feeling that way? Terrified AND free? How can two things that seem so different exist at the same time? The answer: I don’t know, but I know it can. I don’t know how I can feel two different things at once. I dont know about a lot right now. A

That’s really the essence of what I want to talk about today because it seems like a great place to enter this pandemic conversation: I don’t know. 

I know we’ve all been muttering these three words a lot right now. If you’re like me, you’ve been muttering those words with your 16th carb of the day in your mouth, but, like seirously, I don’t know. It’s really comforting to practice saying it and being okay with it. It’s freeing.

I tried a little variation on a journal exercise at the beginning of my meditation this morning. The journal exercise I usually do, which I learned from Jess, is just like a stream-of-consciousness bulleted list of things that i’m afraid of. The point of when I journal like this is to allow me to move my anxieties and my fears from a static place in my head, physically down through my body, and out onto a pen. It’s not only movement, which is a good thing to do when the body is feeling an activated feeling (albeit writing is a very small movement), but this also gives me the opportunity to allow myself to feel these fears because when I write them down, I’m validating them. I mean, what we know from neuroscience is that my amygdala is sensing danger, and all it’s trying to do, really, is keep me safe. It’s my brain trying to protect my life.  And so it’s shouting danger, danger, and when I allow it the space to have it’s little voice, and I allow it to flow out of my body as energy into my pen, it’s a release. 

Then, typically, I close my journal and push it to the other side of the table, sort of as a signal that I don’t need to give much credence to these activating fears right now-- I’ve acknowledged them, sometimes I’ll even say a little “thank you for keeping me safe” at the end, and then I push it away so I can ground myself in the presence and give my brain a little break from the anxiety. It works wonders, and I highly recommend you try it (and, also, bonus, you can use this with your students at the beginning of class- even if you’re meeting live on Zoom now, it’s a great intro.)

So, anyways, the variation I did today when I did this quick journaling practice, is  I started all of the bullets on my list with the phrase “I don’t know” since I recognized that most of my fears come from that place anyways, I thought I’d just crystalize it. 

Here’s the beginning of my slightly longer list:

I don’t know how long this will last, and since I don’t know that...

I don’t know the next time Owen will play with another kid (since he’s an only child). 

I don’t know if Mike’s shop is going to make enough money to stay afloat through what will likely be months

I don’t know if I’ll get to see my little niece who will be born in a few weeks

I don’t know if my favorite restaurants will open back up

I don’t know if anyone I know will get very sick

I don’t know what is happening to the students my teachers serve.

What writing down this list did for me:

After writing the list, I re-read it. Then, I immediately hated myself. I realized that RESTAURANTS came before loved ones getting sick. Also, I recalled that I actually didn’t write down “balayage my hair” because I thought “no, too selfish”. Additionally, after I reviewed, I felt the need to write “in no specific order” at the top of the list. I stopped myself, but I almost did-- why? To whom was I trying to make clear that I’m not an asshole in my own personal journal? I realized how much judgment I have on myself for however I’m dealing with this pandemic, and really, it’s not helpful. Self compassion in this crisis is key, because we need to be allowed to grieve.  In our culture, we often shy away from these feelings because-- gosh, I don’t know-- they’re bad. I heard one teacher of mine say that we may feel like these feelings are contaigous-- and I really like that analogy because we don’t want to sit with them, let them grow, or sit with other people who are feeling those feelings. To do that, we need compassion, and, especially in this time where we’re all feeling more isolated than ever, we’re needing more self-compassion than ever. 

The phrase I don’t know  is an incredibly powerful one. How often, as educators, are we trying to be the ones who know? How often are we getting our kids to focus on the concept of knowing. Right? It’s everything. It’s actually anti I-don’t-know. I mean, if we’re great teachers, we foster students saying “I don’t know” but then our next step after they say “huh, I don’t know” is well, figure it out using this method or this research site or blah blah blah. Now that’s truly well and good for our content areas, I believe. But, in this time of not knowing, it also has me wonderign: how are we preparing our students for a world of not knowing?

Surely, after this is all over, there will be another time in their lives where an event-- either personal or global-- will have them scratching their heads orbiting their nails or  clawing at their own faces for an answer. Will we have taken any opportunities at all, with the opportunity we have as the place where students spend most of their waking lives, to allow them to be comfortable with the phrase “I don’t know”? To allow them to just sit with it with self-compassion? To allow it to be okay for them to not have the answer right now, and instead, to try a different appraoch?

Our culture of get-it-done and work-to-the-bone and business and American ingenuity-- these can be really great traits when we need them, and we don’t have to trade them in to have students sitting like buddhist monks and saying “I don’t know but I welcome the chaos”, BUT, there has to be a balance, right? We can all learn how to sit more comfortably with the “I don’t knows” in life-- I mean, I am only starting this practice of being okay with “I don’t knows” really in the last few years, and especially now, but I wish I had been practicing it since my school age! And how can we help our students with this if WE are so uncomfortable with saying “I don’t know”, not as a defeatist, but as a way of accepting what we can’t know. 

This is the perfect opportunity for you to simply share with your students, as a mentor, that it’s okay right now to feel like you do not know. To not have all the answers. You can tell them “Hey, I’m the teacher whose always trying to make sure you figure out the answers, and right now, I’m telling you that this is a great learning opportunity in your life to sit with “i don’t konw” and just allow yourself to grieve it.” 

You can do the journal activity I did with students at the beginning of your zoom classes (or anytime something like this happens!) or you coul d have them just write about what they’re grieiving the future loss of for 5 mintues, and just share with tehm that it’s okay to feel that grief right now-- it’s okay to not have the answers. It’s okay to sit with that for a little bit before geting back to work and controlling what you have the power to control, and focusing in on that. 

Short and sweet today everyone because i DON”T KNOW what is going on, haha, and I hope you’re okay with not knowing either. This is a practice for me, of course. I’m trying to allow myself to sit in it, but, of course, grief isn’t a linear progression and some days I’m going to feel worse about not having answers than others, but at least if I acknowledge it, I can allow myself to move through these feelings in a much more organized way, and I can move on with the things in my life that are still giving me joy and purpose and meaning and a feeling of control. Regenerative ed is about the hope that we can all understand how interwoven we all are, and how that makes us resilient. Let’s allow this to be one of the tools in our back pocket to help us stay resilient when we just dont konw what the ef is happening, right?

If you have any thoughts about this, I would love love loveto hear them! Leave a voicemail at www.groundedteaching.com or you can dm us on instagram @groundedteaching. And a few free things coming up because we are really feeling this call to get together and ease anxiety and see each other and connect and all that stuff. SO every Monday at 7pm ET and every Thursday at noon ET we are doing a 20-25 mintue meet-up and meditate. We spend the first few minutes seeing each other on zoom, sharing out what’s up in our lives, making connections, and then we go into a quick journal and then a guided meditation, live and together. It’s awesom!  If you want to sign up for that, you can head to our website or check our our instagram profile. You have to sign up to get the zoom link, and Hess and I would love to see your faces and connect!

Another thing we have coming up is our second offering of Releasing Anxiety and Fear workshop, which we’re offering for free right now because, well, I mean, yeah! If you’re listening to this podcast right when it comes out, it’s going to be this week, and if you’re listening to this and you miss it, it’s likely that we’ll be offering it again for free during this really intense season. You can check out the details on our website groundedteaching.com.

Thanks so much for all that you’re doing right now to be responsible and socially distance as possible, though it is so hard, and for washing your hands and coughing into your sleeve, and more importantly for prayers and positive vibes and healing rest and learning to be quiet. 

I hope to hear from you soon, in love and peace. 

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