Thanks For Being Here(Aug. 2018)

(Nancy Bromley)

Image result for Hilton falls

Today I was given a gift in a few simple words.  The gift was the acknowledgment of the power of ‘showing up’.

I am currently out in Ontario, visiting a man, in the hopes of figuring out if it can work as a long distance relationship.  Some friends celebrated my gumption in going and giving it a try, others thought I was crazy to waste my time even considering it.  Neither perspective, nor outcome matter because it is simply about ‘showing up’.

I was feeling a little stir crazy because the said man, has to work during the day and I was using the time to catch up on my, existent in intention only, yoga and meditation practice. I did some school work and some preparation for my upcoming foray into podcasting but mostly fought boredom.  Today however I decided to take him up on his offer to borrow his car and explore.

Being in Ontario in the first place was ‘showing up’ number one but borrowing his car was showing up number two.  He takes his cars very seriously.  They are his pride and joy.  I could sense his hesitation in lending it to me.  He was quite worried about whether or not I could drive a standard.  I reassured him emphatically that I did, as my first car was a standard and at one point, I even drove a VW bus. In all honesty there was a part of me that was nervous about it and almost didn’t do it.  The thought that staying in all day for another day would drive me to madness, made me show up.  For the record, I had no problems driving the vehicle and it was returned safe and sound. 

The first place I went was to a tiny local lake.  It was small, maybe even man made, and right beside the highway. I could have complained about that but instead I was there.  I had ‘shown up’ so I was going to make the best of it.  I rented a Kayak and started to paddle.  About half an hour into the journey around the lake, the skies opened up and it poured.  Not just little rain drops, but a downpour.  Within seconds I was soaked and it was beautiful!  The rain was refreshing because it was so hot, it was beautiful as it bounced off the surface of the water, completely changing the scenery.  Again, I could have complained, “Just my luck, the rain ruins everything” kind of thing.  But instead I showed up and celebrated the moment.  I actually found myself laughing out loud in celebration. The rain eventually stopped and I came in at the normal time I was allowed.

I wasn’t quite ready to go back to the quiet of the house yet, so thanks to google, I found another nature reserve nearby.  I took his precious car and decided to explore further.  The trail was very beautiful.  It was only about an hour hike but the dense forest after a warm rain was so fragrant and glorious, it was easy to lose myself in that moment.  I saw giant, beautiful butterflies, and gorgeous ferns.  On numerous occasions I wished that I had brought my phone so that I could take photos.   I had for some reason, which later became clear, decided to leave my phone in the car.  I told myself at the time that it was because of the rain and I didn’t want to wreck my phone, but I think it had more to do with being genuinely present.  As it was, I was surprised how often I worded my experiences in my head as a Facebook status.

As I walked, I was thinking about my next steps.  What I wanted to really do with my life.  I have always wanted to be an inspirational speaker.  Whether through teaching, consulting, tea leaf reading, or performing with Vibe Tribe, I have wanted to make my life mission to inspire and empower others.  I was asking for guidance as to what my next steps should be.

I got to the top of this very tiny but beautiful waterfall.  It was small and unassuming but had an almost sacredness to its more ordinary demeanor.  There was beautiful mossy rocks, shimmering sunlit water, happy, jumping frogs.  It was humid and warm and the brook leading to the little falls sounded like it was sharing its wisdom for anyone to hear.

I sat on a fallen log and immersed myself in that experience. I showed up.  I decided to try to meditate and that went like most of my attempts to meditate. People came and went, a photographer, a family, a couple and a First Nation’s man.  I thought he seemed first nations for some reason and later that was confirmed.  We never had any type of interaction, didn’t even make eye contact, but I did notice him because he seemed to have the same reverence for the place that I was experiencing.

He also left like the others, and I am not even sure when.  Then a few minutes later, he came back and called out to me.  “Hey,” he said, “Thanks for being here.” Then he left.

At first I was startled, what an odd thing to say.  I awkwardly called back “thank you.”

Somehow that statement lifted my heart tremendously.  Thank you for being here.  Those words permeated my being.  Thank you for being here.

I began to thank the waterfall for being there and then myself for deciding to come there.  I was thankful to the man for saying those words.  As I walked the trail back I realized that here was my topic.  It is all about showing up!

We need to show up for our lives.  The good, the bad, the opportunities, the risks, we need to show up for it all and truly live.  Too often we are overshadowed by the day to day, the what makes sense, the shoulds and shouldn’ts and we don’t show up.  When I look back on my life the most amazing experiences from the magical to the mundane happened because I showed up. Life has given me lots of knocks but each time I show up and face it.  It has given me true gifts and again I show up and accept them.  When my life is not what I want it to be, it is always because I am not showing up.

I have no idea who I am even writing this for but whoever is reading it, I encourage you to show up.  Show up and really experience what is being offered to you no matter what it is.  Whether it is a difficult life lesson to learn from or moments of bliss, truly show up and live it.

I am glad you are here.

Discovering Serenity (March 2014)

(Nancy Bromley)

When you give yourself the gift of being open to experiences, inspiration can come from anywhere. By not having every moment of everyday mapped out there is room for magic to grow.

     One morning I was feeling particularly rushed, my kids were being a little slow, making me a little later for work than I would like. I decided to play some music that was meditative, "Chants to Awaken the Spirit", it was called, while I was setting up the classroom. My classroom has always appeared to be a little more like a living room than a typical classroom. No matter where I am teaching I usually have a couch, a carpet, pillows, beanbags chairs, shelves with decorations and plants and most importantly lamps rather than the overhead fluorescents.

     I was just finishing the lamps when I was called away to come to the office. I didn't think it would take long so I didn't bother turning off the music. I was wrong and by the time I was returning to the class, the students were already going to be in the room. I remembered the music and was mentally preparing myself that the kids would be making fun of it. I was warning myself not to take it personally and use it as a teaching opportunity. I took a deep breath and opened the door.

     I was amazed.

     The room was silent, the students were all organizing their things then reading, writing or drawing as was our morning routine. Even though that was our routine, it often took a few carefully placed reminders to make it all happen.

     One boy was standing looking at the ipod player, let's call him Carl. Carl was a lot of fun to have in the class but I will say that he was one of my more active boys. He lived and breathed hockey and his body preferred to be moving. All the time. Others looked up to him and often did what he did. Here he was just standing, looking and listening.

     He turned to me, "What is this?" he asked.

     I try to explain what Buddhist chant music was, saying it was kind of like prayers, meant to relax people.

     "I like it." he murmured.

     "Do you want me to keep it on?"

     "Sure." He shrugged and slowly moved on to the couch, his regular perch, but not in his regular way. I asked the rest of the class and they all agreed that they wanted to leave it on too. So I did. In a moment Carl came and said, "I feel like I should be meditating or something."

     "Go ahead if you want to, we can add meditate to our read, write, draw time." I replied pointing to the carpet.

     "What do you do?" he asked. I had to think, how do you explain meditation for the first time to a 10 year old, when I barely understand it myself. The best I could do was to tell him that, it was sitting quiet, your body still, while you attempt to empty your mind of thoughts so you can be open to what is in you heart.

    He shrugged, "Ok." and proceeded to sit cross legged on one of the big pillows on the floor.

    What happened next was beyond words, and now I have to try to describe it. Within seconds his body changed, his face became the face of pure, calm, bliss. He was perfectly still. Even when his friends were moving around him at first trying to distract him and then, giving up, trying to join him. I let it go on for a while, just watching. He sat for more than 10 minutes that first day. Perfectly still inside and out. After that day, our day started with: agendas, organize yourself, then read, write, draw or meditate. Others began to join in and on any giving day there were up to 8 children meditating on the carpet first thing in the morning. It was beautiful, and just being near them filled me with a sense of peace.

     The whole class began to change, become more aware somehow. That awareness became apparent about a month later. We were on a ski trip to a local hill and when it was time to go we were hurrying to get all the students on the bus so that we could leave on time. Just as we had the bus loaded, one of the teachers wanted to just make sure that she didn't misunderstand a parent and accidentally leave someone behind. She stepped off the bus just as I was getting on. I had one foot on the bus and one foot on the sidewalk. The bus driver exploded.

     He started yelling that he was going to be late and started to put the bus in gear with me halfway out and the other teacher absent. I tried to tell him that he couldn't just leave and he began to yell and say it was a dictatorship and we were all racist.  That was even more interesting because I had no idea what race he even was.  He looked no different in coloring than my dark haired polish uncle.

    The other teacher came back and we both jumped in the bus 'Dukes of Hazard' style just as it was pulling away. He yelled the whole way to the school calling us white supremacists, fascists, racists. We were all scared. I was wondering what I needed to do. Call for help? Get the kids off the bus? Meanwhile the students are asking me what white supremacist and fascist meant. We made it safely back the to school and the bus driver jumped off the bus shutting the door behind him. It took me a panicked minute to figure out how to open the door. I got the kids safely out and into the classroom, and there was a lot of nervous energy in the room, from me included. It was terrifying. The students excitedly crowded around me looking for direction. I was just trying to manage my own heart rate. Then Carl spoke up.

     He was a student that was a natural leader, if he was motivated, others were. If he was fooling around, others were. Up until this point, I will be honest and say he didn't always use his natural leadership abilities wisely. However this time was different.

     He said, "I bet that guy has been treated badly before and so he thinks everyone is treating him badly even when they are not. I am not scared of him, I feel sorry for him." Then he asked if we could meditate and send him love.

     I almost cried. My anger melted instantly and I sat down on the carpet. Everyone else sat down too. We lit a candle and sat quietly and in our own ways sent that man some love. I never did hear anything more about him but that was a lesson I will never forget. 

*photo of student was used with permission from his parents. 

Learning How to Teach From a 6 Year Old (Dec. 2014)

Nancy Bromley

      When I was teaching grade 2 I was taught a really powerful lesson about student choice, empowerment and motivation.  My class that year was a challenging one.  I had every mix of needs available all in one class; OCD, ADD, Tourette's, learning disabilities, ESL learners, you name it.  My approach to teaching was very much a constructivist project approach, allowing student interest to lead the curriculum content.  I figured if I could do it with that wonderful bunch then I could do it anywhere.  I discovered that giving choice not only worked to significantly reduce negative behaviors, but also increased on task focus and student motivation.  My shining moment of validation for this approach came to me via a young girl named Beth. 

       Beth was a wonderful girl from a wonderful family but she had significant struggles with anxiety and OCD.  It was essential for her to feel like she had some control over her environment in order to thrive.  My Language Arts curriculum that year was taught using free choice centers.  There were a number of choices from research or story writing to alphabetizing or drama. Almost the entire LA curriculum was contained in these free choice, work at your own pace centers.  The students worked on projects either on their own or with groups.  When they were done we would present and evaluate together.  There were a number of times that I wanted to jump in and control, organize, 'make it more efficient', etc.  But I found that sometimes magic happened when I waited and watched with support.

      Beth decided she wanted to work on creating a play from a book.  There were two other girls that were finished their projects around the same time so they decided to work together. I was interested to see how things would play out as the other two girls had very strong personalities.  They both liked to be in charge and have control.  Beth needed to feel like she had some control in order to manage her anxiety.  The added challenge was that the book they chose to work from was very difficult to transform into a script as there was very little dialogue and the concept was abstract.  I decided not to jump in and manage but observe with support and let things unfold. 

       Because they needed a little more space to work, they set up to work in the hallway, just outside the door. I would leave them to work for a while and check on them periodically.  Every time I checked on them they were busy working but there was definitely some competition for who was in charge.  They were struggling a little with each person wanting their idea used but it was still productive and I could see that they were starting to recognize that problem themselves. 

      At one point the girls surprised me by coming and asking if John could be part of their group.  Now John was full of energy and highly distractible.  He was capable but very difficult to keep focused.  At times he could be quite disagreeable and enjoyed creating a challenge.   I was interested to understand why they were requesting him as it was not a usual request.  They explained that he looked most like the character in the book.  John was very excited to be asked into a group and jumped at the chance to join. 

      Now I was even more curious as to how this would play out.  Knowing that John was now with them and they were in the hallway, I made checking on them a more regular occurrence.  It wasn't long before I was surprised to find them all focused and working and Beth was now the director.  I was amazed that John was on task and the two girls who liked to be in charge were deferring to Beth as the leader.  I wanted to know how this all happened so I asked them.

      I started with the two other girls.  I pointed out that Beth seemed to be the director and I was wondering how that came to be.  They both told me that they realized that she had the most experience in doing plays because she had done some in grade 1.  They saw her experience and in their determination to do a good job they recognized her leadership as a way to get there.  What amazing learning.  These to girls who are natural leaders understood the value of deferring to someone who knows more or has more experience.  They learned that it is ok not to lead all the time, and developed strong collaboration skills.  At that point, I was wishing that some of my adult colleagues could have that insight.

   The more powerful insight came when talking to Beth.  I asked her how, as the director, she was managing to keep John on task.  She told me that she had figured some things out.  She realized that John was off task most when he either didn't know what to do or didn't know how to do it.  She told me how she just makes sure he is always busy, and makes sure he always knows exactly how to do something, even if she needed to explain it in different ways.  She told me that it also helps if he can feel proud of himself, so he makes sure he does.

   I had shivers after that response.  I took a look at some of the children that were challenging me at the time and asked myself:  Do they really know what to do?  Do they understand how to do it? Do they feel valued? I made some small changes to great effect.

    Those three little questions have become my mantra now when working with highly distractible children and it works. 

   Thanks Beth!


Taking A Chance (Dec. 2014)

(Nancy Bromley)

     Early in my career I was teaching in a segregated special needs classroom. For certain subjects my students were integrated into their regular grade classroom and during that time I was given the opportunity to teach a wide variety of subjects at various grade levels.  Grade four science, social and math, grade one gym and art,  and junior high art and drama.  Drama was taught in the basement of the school and was timetabled at the same time as french and so I had over forty students in some of the classes and the drama clubs I ran had up to eighty students one year.  I had never really been allowed to explore fine arts much as a kid so it was so powerful to witness the transformative power of the arts.  The most profound example was Ryan.  It still get choked up twenty some years later when I think about him. 

            Ryan was a kid that no body wanted in their classes.  Rough, somewhat mean and worst of all apathetic.  He didn't care about anything.  I will take attention issues, impulsivity, learning disorders of any kind, anything, over apathy.  That is is the hardest thing to overcome.  Ryan was apathetic.  He was rarely in school and when he was he  did very little.  He ended up in my drama class.  At first it was hard, the best days were when he wasn't there.  However the group nature of drama made it challenging to figure out what to do with him when he came back. But he started to show up.  More and more, almost to the point of regularity. He would skip all his other classes and show up to drama.  I am not sure why, it was not that he really did anything.  I think he simply enjoyed the entertainment.  He laughed and started to give suggestions. Eventually he started to get involved, as much as involved could look for him at the time.  In the spring, as the drama teacher I was asked to coordinate something for the open house.  The goal being to advertise and bring in more students.  I called a meeting of any grade 9 students that were interested in doing something for the open house.  To my surprise and horror, Ryan came.  My first thought I realized was not, no way, but what the heck am I going to do with him?  I was so happy he showed up but clueless as to what he could do.  So I did what I do now when I don't know what to do.  I asked him, "What do you want to do?"

            I did not realize but somehow through the drama students, Ryan, had developed quite a reputation for rapping.  I guess he was considered very good at it.  The others that showed up to put something together knew this and calmed my unspoken fears by not only praising his ability but coming up with an idea that would fit a rap into it.  I had no choice but to agree.  My next thought was, how am I going to sell this to the principal.  The kids were excited though, so i rode their wave.  They decided to take a popular song and rewrite the words.  They added lyrics all about the virtues of the school and how awesome it was.  I was thoroughly impressed as it was way beyond my ability as a non musician. They added a space in the song where Ryan got to break into a rap.  I had to set some parameters in that I had to be able to see all the lyrics and approve them before we would commit to the idea.  I was nervous and a big part of me was already trying to figure out what was going to happen when I told him he couldn't be in it.  I didn't need to do that.  I was blown away.  The rap was really good.  I don't know whether he had help or not, but he had aspects of the school in it that I had no idea he was even aware of.  There was one line that touched me in particular.  It was something about teachers who care that let you be who you are.  I realized that is what I was doing.  I was letting Ryan be who he was, but I was also allowing others to celebrate who he was as well.  The principal was not very excited about the idea of giving Ryan a microphone in front of 150 grade 6 students.  He almost flatly refused.  I begged and pleaded and he finally trusted me.  I was so grateful and I now understand the magnitude of that trust.

            I was so nervous.  During rehearsal to an empty gym he messed up and swore right into the mic.  Barely breathing and dripping sweat, I told him that wasn't allowed to do that.  He apologized and tried again.  That was huge.  He didn't flip out and leave blaming others for his mistake.  He just apologized and tried again.   

            Then the students came.  Ryan was nervous, I was probably more nervous. The principal looked like he was near to a heart attack.  They were amazing.

      The students that were singing performed it like the popular bands of the day.  The 'hot' one sat on the stage crooning to the audience while the others carefully executed choreographed dance moves.  The students loved it.  Then Ryan jumped in and started his rap right on cue.  The kids went crazy, they clapped and cheered so hard when it was done, it was deafening.  Ryan felt like a rock star and I let go of the breath I didn't know I was holding.

         It was a lesson to me on empowerment that I will never forget.  I don't know what ever happened to Ryan but I know he walked a little taller that day.

* The image was taken from google images to represent the Ryan experience