Teaching Freely

We sit in a circle in a classroom that overlooks trees and homemade play structures with boulders and sand. I greet each child with a handshake, introduction, and a tour of our digs for the week ahead. Some parents mill about unsure of when to leave. Others are through the door after a quick wave or hug. The children take to one another immediately. They smile, look through their goody bags, and answer my silly questions about pets and potential siblings.

For the last few weeks prior, I met with the other lead youth instructor (a screenwriter) and an intern from Naropa University (a poet) to develop curriculum for the creative writing summer camps. We are hosting the summer programs at an independent school in Boulder that is filled with children’s artwork and signs touting the benefits of mindfulness.

And as I sit watching these kids write wildly, some lying down, other hunched at wooden tables, I realize I am here for selfish reasons. I feel free. Free to teach in a way unlike the norm in traditional settings. Here, I sit by their side, writing along with them. Here, I make jokes and laugh when they laugh. Here, there are no bells, evaluations, or standardized tests. Here, they call me “Libbi”. Here they write next to my young daughter.

We have uninterrupted time to learn, play, practice, and be together: Writer to writer.

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Slowing Down

“If you’re having difficulty coming up with new ideas, then slow down. For me, slowing down has been a tremendous source of creativity. It has allowed me to open up — to know that there’s life under the earth and that I have to let it come through me in a new way. Creativity exists in the present moment. You can’t find it anywhere else.”

Natalie Goldberg

A dear friend once told me that happiness is about floating down the river of life. If in doubt, just float, he would encourage.

Lately though, the water has been choppy, and the idea of floating hasn’t been as appealing. So, I am trying to be more at peace with what life brings my way, and perhaps, through that openness, I will find the inspiration to write more consistently. Writing, for me, is both cathartic and creative. So, here is my commitment to…slowing down. Slowing down to see the stories right in front me, and not being afraid to write them down.


“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open. ”

-Natalie Goldberg

An announcement

(No, I am not pregnant.)

I poured a bowl of cereal because it just seemed fitting.

When I was in college and working in the newspaper office into the wee hours of morning, I would come back to my dorm/townhouse/suite and eat Special K (with berries!) in a bright, hardened plastic bowl before heading to bed. It was a ritual that allowed for reflection as I ate in the silence of the room.

I was reminded of those moments as I was lying with my daughter in her toddler bed tonight. Stories, words, and ideas zipped through my mind as I thought with excitement about this new endeavor. I didn’t get much of a chance to consider it in its entirety while Linnea was still awake. There were errands that needed to be run (library, gas, groceries), dinner that needed to be made (omelettes, toast, fruit) and bedtime stories that needed to be told (Madeline, a family photo book, and Winnie the Pooh).

A number with a Denver area code flashed on the screen of my iphone at 4:39. When the nice lady said, “Denver Post”, I thought for sure they were trying to update our subscription. But, then she asked, “Am I talking to ‘motormouth'” before introducing herself as the editorial page news editor. I knew then she was referring to my cover letter for the writing contest: “…the older I grew, the more I was able to channel my incessant chatter and thoughtful opinions into words on paper.” was how I partially explained the nickname.

“Congratulations–you were selected as one of 16 Colorado Voices for the Denver Post”…and I was elated.

When I told Linnea the exciting news, she burst into tears and said, “I don’t want you to be a writer. I want you to stay a teacher.” (She misunderstood that I would be doing this alongside teaching…) And somewhere between more tears and her insistence that I do not know how to use a computer, I realized she was just tired from a not-long-enough nap.

So, it was only fitting that after I put her down for (an earlier) bedtime, I carved some time for that silent reflection in my life once more.

More cereal and more writing. Life is good.

Shavasana

Tonight I wished for a pedometer on the white rocker in Linnea’s room. I wondered to myself, her body heavy in my arms, just how many times I had sat in that same position. Forward and back. Forward and back. In silence and in darkness. I think I have put so many miles in that chair because it has become meditative for me. My daughter snuggled closely and my body free from outside distraction…

I enrolled in a writer’s workshop at Lighthouse in Denver earlier this month. The workshop, “Writing Class Asana” was led by Wendy Wunder, a Young Adult (YA) author. And. I. Loved. Her. I still feel so new at making a routine out of writing that when meeting a published author, I feel like a middle schooler at a One Direction concert in their presence. Meeting approachable writers like Wendy make a writing practice goal seem less lofty. (Case in point: She wrote while teaching yoga and raising a daughter, and now hopes to become a high school English teacher. Writing, to her, doesn’t seem extravagant, it just seems essential.)

The workshop was divided into two parts: Wendy first led us through an Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga practice and then into an hour of free writing and sharing. She quoted Natalie Goldberg on numerous occasions (another reason I was sold since I reference her in my own classes) with my favorite quote being the reason we did yoga in the first place. She shared its purpose is “to get you down to a body level and out of your monkey mind”. This same sentiment was connected to the end of our yoga practice: Shavasana.

Shavasana means “corpse pose” where one lies flat on their back with hands and legs extended, and it is the end to a yoga routine. In few words, Wendy explained that the whole purpose of yoga is to get to shavasana, the point where relaxation, and thus true meditation, can take place. And through the writing portion of the class, I could not take my focus away from this concept. In my head, I kept thinking about how The purpose of yoga AND life is to get to a place of shavasana…

My writing notebook was messy, but filled with the word, shavasana. (Well, to be honest, it was filled with the word, “Chivasana” since I had only heard it spoken.) I wondered how it was possible to live in a constant state of shavasana. How does one live in a way that the mind can be free of distraction? And I realized that I have some fabulous role models in my life for how one can achieve this. The secret is that we all have our own yoga practice, the activity or passion that engulfs our whole being and allows us to live in the present moment. When we take part in such activities, we can live a more authentic life because we are not worrying about the past or the future, but just enjoying what is in front of us:

I thought of my husband, Ben when he watches and analyzes a World Cup match or a Husker game; I thought of my neighbor and friend, Becky (“BB”, as Linnea lovingly refers to her), who can carefully tend to her garden for hours on end; I thought of my other neighbor and friend, Amy, who is so thoughtful with her crafty creations that she can turn a few pieces of material into a practical and beautiful item; I thought of my mom who gets lost in the caring for and tending to of family members; I thought of my stepdad, Dennis who sees a vision and takes no time at all in building it with his own hands; I thought of my dad, Mark, who volunteers whenever someone needs help with their car because he loves tinkering around in the garage; I thought of my brother-in-law who loves to fly an airplane more than anything else; I thought of my brother, Andy, who has a brain for technology and can get lost on a computer project for days; I thought of my sister who loves to paint and scrapbook, and does both in such creative ways; I thought of my dearest friend, Alli, who loves to read, garden, bake and create extraordinary items; I thought of my Grandpa John who tends to the most beautiful roses and potted plants I have ever seen; I thought of my Grandma Lorrie who creates magnificent quilts and extensive scrapbooks; I thought of my almost 90-year-old Grandpa Pete who feels like a kid when he windsurfs; I thought of my Grandma Ginny who rocks and knits and finds such peace in both; And I thought of my friend, Mary, who loves yoga so much, she is spending her valuable summer vacation to be trained to be a certified instructor, and….

I thought of my daughter who lives more in the moment than anyone I have ever known. Everything seems to be shavasana for her.

Which brings me to my own example: Rocking her. Rocking Linnea like I have done, every night for the last, roughly 970 days. I love many things, but I feel utterly relaxed and at peace when I am rocking her at night, in the darkness and in the silence. Listening only to the rhythm of the chair going forward and back. Forward and back.

P.S. Nothing disrupts a yoga class more than having a photographer in the room. To see a picture of me in action at the workshop (in the background, thank goodness) or to read more about the workshop itself, check it out here.