A few weeks ago, I enrolled in an online mindfulness course provided by Mindful Schools called Mindfulness Fundamentals. I’ve been super-impressed with the quality of the instruction and resources, and the great job they do fostering a sense of community among the learners enrolled. You can read about my experiences in the first few weeks here:
Mindfulness Fundamentals @ Mindful Schools – Introduction
Mindfulness Fundamentals @ Mindful Schools – Week 1
Mindfulness Fundamentals @ Mindful Schools – Week 2
I'm still on winter break from teaching, but that just means I'm in full-time dad mode for my 9-month-old son! This week, the focus in our Mindfulness Fundamentals course was ‘Mindfulness of Emotions’. I've noticed since becoming a father that I'm a lot more sensitive to my emotions in general, but especially about my son. As coursework, I enjoyed exploring my positive emotions during the time I spent singing him to sleep.
My wife has the magic touch for getting him to pass out, but my job is to walk around carrying him and singing to him to get him to chill out before that. I've been practicing mindful walking, a technique we learned in Week 2 of the course, while pacing back and forth singing, so I decided to focus on my emotions while doing it last week. I know that these moments schlepping him around as a baby will be memories that I'll cherish when he's grown, so I think it's important that I fully immerse myself in the experience with mindfulness.
Amidst all the cuddles and hugs, I had an unexpected encounter with grief during my practice.
I’m always adding new songs to our bedtime ‘playlist’ to keep things interesting and prolong our cuddles. I sing songs that I used to play when I’d jam with my buddies in university, and it's been fun to revisit some oldies with my kid.
The other day, I started to sing 'In My Life' by the Beatles. I got to the line "Some are dead and some are living…" and immediately felt twisting in my guts and heat rising through my chest. I felt a lump in my throat and my eyes and face felt hot. I was remembering my friend Richard.
Richard and I were friends since 9th grade, roommates in university, and jammed in a band together. We saw each other just about every day for over a decade. When we were roomies, we often played songs by David Bowie and the Beatles on our acoustic guitars till late in the night, sitting around in our pajamas eating day-old doughnuts. It sounds silly, but these are some of my best memories of my life in Canada.
Richard passed away last April from liver cancer. From when they discovered the cancer to the time he passed was only about a month, and, since I'm overseas in Korea, I didn't find out until around a week before he died. I couldn’t speak to him or say goodbye since he was on powerful painkillers at the end.
I grieved a bit, but I was finishing my MEd at the time, doing double duty as a teacher and curriculum coordinator at work, and my son was born less than a month later, so I had a lot on the go. Singing that song to my son last week made me think of Richard, and mindfulness helped me to really experience the feelings that came.
Like the mindfulness curriculum advised, I tried to just feel the feelings rather than thinking about them or being taken over by them. I noticed that while I was experiencing the sadness of losing my friend, I was also feeling a lot of positive feelings from holding and singing to my son. It's hard to put into words, but I I felt a feeling of relief and acceptance. It was sad, but nice.
I thought that I'd dealt with my feelings about Richard's death, but this was a new experience and I think that it showed me how practicing mindfulness can enrich and enliven my emotional life. I owe it to the people that I love and the people that I've lost to really feel my feelings about them.
As teachers, we’re lucky to be witnesses to our students as they begin to grow the friendships that will sustain and support them through their lives. We owe it to our students to provide them with the opportunity to celebrate their lives and their friendships when they can, especially in Korea where kids are so busy and have so many responsibilities. The friendships and memories that they make in our classrooms are worth taking the time to nurture.
See you next week with more Mindful Schools reflections!
Matthew Boomhower is a mid-career educator with 15 years of classroom teaching and educational leadership experience. He is a Program Manager at a private elementary school. in South Korea. Matthew has lived in Seoul since 2004, and is a proud husband and father.