I want to share something that has been really transformative for me over the past couple of months.
It’s about releasing the things that aren’t serving you well and thinking of that process as a letting go, rather than as something you need to try to accomplish or become.
While we often have goals for things we’d like to accomplish or habits we’d like to create, there’s a lot of power in releasing. So when you think about things you feel need to be done in order to be a better teacher or a better parent or a better partner, I want you to consider letting go instead of trying harder.
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Here’s what I mean by that:
Think back to some moments you are most proud of as a teacher. They were most likely times when you were fully present as your most essential self. Those were times when you were authentically YOU.
During those moments, you were vulnerable, took risks, and totally immersed yourself in caring for and supporting your students. That is your essential self. It’s unburdened by to-do lists, standards, and outside expectations. It’s free from unhelpful stories about what is and isn’t possible. It’s you in your most authentic state: present, loving, and filled with purpose.
You don’t have to try to be anything that you are not. And that includes the positive ways of being that you wish you embodied. You can let go of the striving.
Focus instead on just being your true, whole, healed, essential self … letting go of any thoughts, beliefs, and actions that don’t serve the highest good. At your core, you are loving, patient, kind, and compassionate. You are full of life and energy and purpose.
All the traits that are counter to that are simply baggage and coping mechanisms you’ve picked up along the way in your journey through life in a very challenging world. They’re reactions you’ve developed as a result of fear, emotional wounds, defensiveness, prejudice, biases, outside expectations, and so on.
You’ve accumulated triggers — things that set you off so you don’t respond in the way you wish you could. You’ve accumulated habits and patterns that aren’t serving you well.
You’re responding from a place of pain or as a result of trauma and suffering.
That’s part of the journey of being human.
But those things aren’t really you. At your core, you have a beautiful spirit or soul or essential self, however you choose to see it.
So you don’t have to constantly work hard to become a better teacher (or partner, or parent). You’re not becoming anything. You’re simply releasing all the habits and patterns that aren’t really you. Being yourself — your true essential self — is always enough. It’s always exactly what’s needed at any given moment.
So instead of getting down on yourself when you don’t make the choices that you wish you had, I want you to think about what you need to release. Think about what is holding you back from doing what you want and need to do. For example, when you find yourself yelling at a student, remember that your natural state — the real you — is calm, and patient, and loving. What happened to pull you out of that state?
Were you replaying all the times in the past when that student pushed your buttons, or projecting ahead to the future and thinking about how you couldn’t possibly keep dealing with that behavior until June?
Were you maybe caught off guard — trying to focus on something else in the moment, and unprepared to handle the situation with the full presence and calmness that was needed?
Release yourself from judgment, and simply notice the cause, notice what pulled you out of your natural state and into a reactive behavior or habit or pattern that you don’t like. Awareness is the goal.
Often the reasons why we don’t follow through with what we wish we could do — be it eating healthy, or exercising, or being patient with others, or getting work done instead of procrastinating — often it’s because we’re weighed down with a bunch of stuff that we need to let go of.
We’ve accumulated habits in the evenings that waste time and keep us from getting a good night sleep. We’ve fallen into patterns of buying junk food and not nourishing our bodies properly. We’ve defaulted into taking care of everyone else’s needs and never noticing what our bodies, hearts, and minds are crying out for us to do.
We’re not really keyed into our senses and the things that bring us joy. When you return to those things — when you take a moment to breathe, or meditate, or stare out the window, or take a hot bath, or light a candle and watch the flame flicker, or savor a meal with someone you care about — those things allow us to return to our essential selves. These types of things feed our souls, they remind us of who we are, what really matters. They bring us back to the present moment.
What we need is less about doing something or becoming something, and more about loving who we are and accepting ourselves. We can release ourselves from expectations, habits, and patterns that aren’t serving us.
And it’s simply a moment-by-moment choice. When you feel things spinning out of control, take that moment to recenter yourself. Observe what’s happening, and tune into what you need in that moment: a quick break, a drink of water, to switch to another task, and so on. Pay attention to your own needs instead of just trying to push through.
When you do that, you’re able to return to your essential self more quickly. That’s the natural state you want to spend as much time in as possible, where you are able to respond to the world around you from an active rather than reactive space.
The beautiful thing about learning to treat yourself with this much compassion and kindness is that it helps you treat others in that way, too. As you practice releasing yourself from judgment, you can do the same for people around you.
Take your students, for example. At their cores, they have beautiful souls and kind hearts. What is happening to pull them out of that state? How can you meet them with understanding so that they, too, can become more mindful of their habits and triggers and patterns?
Releasing yourself, your students, your colleagues, your family members, your partner — anyone in your life — from judgment is a practice but it will change your life. At least, it’s changed mine.
It’s been a small mindset shift that ripples out into every aspect of my life. There is a big difference in the way it feels when you see yourself as inherently flawed and in need of constant fixing and improvement, and instead, choosing to see your essential self — or the divine part of you inside — as perfect, as trustworthy, as always knowing exactly how to respond and act.
Growing as a person then becomes an act of returning to yourself and embracing who you really are, instead of trying to constantly change or improve yourself. Your very existence, your presence in the classroom, has value. And the more that you show up with an open heart and mind, free from limiting beliefs about yourself, your students, and your school, the more your essential self will shine through.
My hope for you is that this new year would be a time of less effort, less striving, less doing … and more being. That requires a transition and some new habits and patterns, but each day you bring your awareness to that goal, the more it becomes a reality in your life. It’s not always going to be easy, but it’s going to be worth it.
This episode is sponsored by Brains On. Ever listen to podcasts with your students? It’s a great way to engage their minds and spark their imagination without relying on screens.
The kids’ history show Forever Ago dives into the fascinating backstory of everyday things like clocks, shoes, and skateboards to teach kids to think critically about the past. Forever Ago use games, skits, and real kids to keep kids engaged while teaching important lessons along the way.
You can listen for free to Forever Ago as well as a kids science podcast called Brains On at brainson.org or wherever you get your podcasts.
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