|The First Day in a New School|
Five weeks ago school started for us and for so many families. For our family, we crossed the threshold to a new school: Lakewood Elementary in the Dallas Independent School District. After five wonderful years at the nearby Episcopal School, our family made a decision to "Go Public".
This transition was a hard one for me, and unknowingly I pulled my own experience from 1983 forward 34 years: my experience leaving a private school in the middle of the sixth grade and moving into the Highland Park School System. I realized--through Baker's fourth grade graduation ceremony (titled Rite of Passage), the last day of school and buying uniforms for the new school, that the rite of passage was mine. The heartbreak I was creating all around us was just my story. My story that I was bringing to the boys unnecessarily.
As the antidote to this sadness, I meditated and prayed. A lot. I wrote about it. And I called us to our first official Family Meeting of the academic year. It started with a bell. Now, five weeks into this new practice, I share this offering with you of five ways to create the meaningful, mindful Family Meeting:
1. Start with the Bell. The bell, whether one you have in the home or a bell from your smart phone, can herald attention, create silence and invite a centering space around it. This practice can become the literal, and figurative, mindfulness bell. Invite others to manage the bell: anytime you can create participation, do. This is the gift of the family meeting.
2. Enjoy the Silence. Offer the bell both as a start to the meeting but also the bookends to a period of silence. Start with 30 seconds or a minute. The Insight Meditation Timer is a wonderful app with easy-to-use settings for short (and longer) meditations). We usually sit for three minutes. I invite our boys to settle in, close their eyes and follow their breath.. It's that simple. If you are breathing you are meditating.
3. Write. At our first meeting we wrote for 3 minutes with hopes and wishes for the year. At our second, we wrote about how the second week could be better than the first. We followed that exercise with offers to each other around how that second week was going to be better. We've also written appreciations for each other. (We call it Watering the Flowers: a tradition I learned from Thich Nhat Hanh's teachers at Plum Village). Once a family member reads aloud, the person to their right or left will "recall" a sentence or two from the other person's reading. This supports deeper listening and acknowledgement.
4. Talk. Ask a "more beautiful question" that everyone can respond to. Share moods and experiences. Say a prayer or meditation together. Invite others to lead this "circle time". Listen for loving speech and awareness. You will be amazed.
5. Close with a plan for being together again soon. Set the next meeting (and the intention for the next meeting) and close with the bell. Create the bookend to this sacred time together. We had a couple of meetings where we didn't have a closure and it really does make the difference. Invite one of your children to host the closing. You might ask them to bring a quote or a prayer to send the family off into the next space. Don't forget to breathe.
Our Family Meetings are usually 15-30 minutes. The length of time matters: stay present with what your family is up for taking into the context of this time: how awake or tired, interested or bored. I try to pull forward some of the work of the last meeting into the present one: little dotted lines of connection and attention. We usually have our family meetings just after dinner on Sundays.
The Mindful Practice is working because of the Mindful Family Meeting. This is our precious time in this wild and precious life (*Summer Day, Mary Oliver). Our meetings are creating more connection, awareness and love every time we ring the bell.
Gratitude to Nancy Dorrier for first teaching me about the beautiful, Mindful Meeting.