Teacher Tales #3: Seeing Resistance as Information
The themes of heartful connection and resilience that unfold through a mindfulness practice have been converging, both in my teaching practice and in my own growing awareness (and trust) of the information coming from my emotions, circumstances and the 'stories' I create about them. This work has been a gift.
In one of the last weeks of the school year, I set an intention to release the pressure I was feeling to help a student overcome his uncharacteristic and deep resistance to an end of the year writing project.
Where I might be quick to fill silences with words in hopes of galvanizing him to consider new perspectives, I payed greater attention to the information he was sharing: his words, his facial expressions, what he did and didn't share.
Fifteen minutes into our time together on this particular day, the slower pace I was offering us had opened up a powerful conversation about the layers of emotions he was experiencing as we came to the end of year: confusion, overwhelm, fear, frustration, sadness, relief.
I felt my chest expand as I breathed in empathy and recognition of the tangled web of emotions he had been holding. I listened and watched as he unloaded. He was holding both sides of his head as he shared as if to convey: it's too much.
I asked familiar questions more slowly, leaving longer pauses for him to reflect and share, as I listened intently. More pauses. This time, they seemed to land more resonantly. I stopped trying to hustle us forward out of the web and let us just hang out there. As he verged closer to his fear, I dared to ask about the "worst case scenario" of not completing his project... and felt his relief as he realized it wouldn't be unbearable. Disappointing, but nothing more.
He started pulling himself out of the web. He wanted to have a project to share. He just didn't feel inspired by his ideas. "Chasing inspiration makes me feel the same way, especially when I'm feeling confused or overwhelmed," I said. "When was the last time you felt inspired?" Pause.
His eyes sparkle. I reflect his sparkle back with my eyes, adding some eyebrows for silly drama.
"I see a fun thought. What can we do right now to enjoy ourselves and leave us open to inspiration? There's no pressure to write." I feel relief at my own new found flexibility.
Why have I been performing as if the stakes are so high?
"Hang on. I need a minute to think," he says, wheels already in motion. I wait with hope and adoration for him.
His head pops back into the screen with excitement: "What if... What if I just made up a story? That's writing!"
"That is absolutely writing and also you don't have to write, remember? We are only welcoming ideas. It sounds like you have one. Would you like to share?"
I'm entertained by the fact that his own revelation is literally a comment I repeated every week for the past couple of weeks, only now he is actually in a place to receive it. I love letting him think this is a novel notion as his ideas spill forth.
He proceeds to share Food World, a clever multi-chapter mystery comprised entirely of food characters like Mr. Cheeze-Its and Mrs. Baby Carrot, immersed in the search for their lost friend Mr. Pasta and Meatball dog... last seen on Cheesy Bread Ln.
I am delighted by his creativity and more so by the relief I can see and hear as he shares his unfettered brilliance. I feel his relief in my shoulders and as we say goodbye, can feel tears of tender happiness brimming at his breakthrough...