Updated: Mar 30, 2020
Good Morning Families, today is Tuesday March 24th 2020, and it is now time for our morning moment of SEL.
How are you feeling?
I want to start today by telling you how the Shoreline Costco tried to destroy my life and my marriage. And, let me tell you up front, it was entirely my fault. Well, not entirely, have you been to the Shoreline Costco at the “Aurora Village”? – NOT a village! You park a mile away from the entrance. You pause every few steps on your way in, so you and some rando driver can frenetically wave to one another to “go on”, “No you go on!” You wrestle out a cart that will somehow transform from too big as you go in, to too small as you go out. And at the gaping, Grave Digger size doorway you show them that you’re worth admission because you’ve already paid them, for nothing yet! But you can’t focus on that because once you’ve “abandoned all hope” and entered you’ve got 50 enormous 8K TVs blasting Star Wars and Football and Planet Earth, always looping the colorful but deadly poison dart frog, which is probably a corporate insider joke. Well, no one’s laughing.
By the time I get back to the paper towels I’m toast; the carts, the crowds, the lighting, the fact that the Social Contract has been fully eroded by the potential of snagging a Lit’l Smokie. I feel danger and I want to flee. Which, by the way, is why I also share with my students, if they see me rushing out of Costco on Sunday, we can talk about it on Monday.
I told Zoe I would no longer go to Costco. She should go and drag the boys. And of course, she supported me, until she realized she’d been duped. My feelings had very little to do with Costco and instead, in Truth, had everything to do with a very mindless, me.
Here’s what would really happen. When I would think about going, hours before I my mind would start booting up pages and pages of thoughts and feelings related to my cultural expectations, Seattle cultural expectations, the cultural expectations from my childhood in West Virginia, a legacy of familial poverty, my issues of class, my nurturant parent morals, my “Emperor Has No Clothes” anti-authority, disaffected youth, artist in torture, and a variety of other, more personal experiences, leaving me with quite an emotional load. And again, I hadn’t even left the house.
So, let me ask you what Zoe asked me. For the task at hand, which was getting groceries, do you think that if I were to go into the store in that state, I would be successful? How would you suggest that the weight of those thoughts and feelings would help me get the 5 lb bag of Quinoa my family “desperately” needed? I would in fact be quite “mindless” of what it was I physically doing and instead be quite triggered into a state of fight or flight or just panic.
When my system is feeling this sense of danger it directs my body to do all sorts of things to help it survive; be vigilant, scan for threats, increase the heart rate, take in more oxygen, send more oxygen to muscles, use my cart as a battering ram if necessary. In this state I am not able to do much shopping.
Okay, pause from Costco now in order to imagine how, if those same types of feelings were happening for students at school, how would they be able to learn? If those same types of feelings are present for any of us now, how will be present for our loved ones? These are important questions because many of us could be experiencing aspects of this during this strange time. It would well be within reason considering all that is currently going on in our world.
Here’s what I finally did to help myself and, I hope, if you are experiencing some unease or discomfort you would consider trying this for yourself. First, let me tell you, once Zoe discovered that I was really just avoiding my anxiety, and thusly increasing it, and that was making her go to Costco…ON A SUNDAY, well I needed to do some clean-up. So I began the process of using mindful breathing to help me self-manage. All of the baggage I carry, I work on that in many different ways, but when it’s time to Costco, I use mindful breathing. I turn my attention and focus to my breath.
I start by letting my gaze fall away, I’m not big on closing my eyes. Especially not with kids around, fool me once Finn! I close my mouth and relax the jaw and shoulders. First, I take a slow breath in through the nose and I let it be as deep and filling as it will. Then, I let it out with a little bit of tone; either a sigh, or a sound, or just an exaggerated rush of air. After that first breath, I take another inhale, again slowly, and this time, once it’s complete, hold it for just one second and then exhale a little slower than I inhaled, back out through the nose. While I’m doing this, I try to experience not thinking. That is, if I notice a thought at all, I just label it, “thinking” and dismiss it. I don’t judge it, or interact with it, I just recognize it, and let it go. Then, I focus back to my breathing. I repeat that second breath pattern 10 times and each time try to make the inhale and the exhale a little slower and longer than the first couple. Once I’m feeling calm or regulated, I go to the store.
When I am in the store, I use my breath to help settle if worried or panic thoughts sneak up. The slow and regulated breathing helps create a space for me to choose a part of me that can be present for the task at hand. *
This practice was transformative for me and I’ve heard for others as well. I mean, it’s been around for a while (I didn’t invent it) and I think about how it could be helpful now for students. Many students carry similar baggage or have similar experiences to mine at Costco, but for them, at school. If we can make the time to provide a space for students to also learn how to interact with their emotional and thoughtful selves, then they can gain the same skills it’s taken me 40 some years to understand. I think, during this time of social distancing, maybe providing some space to practice this style of mindful breathing might help all of us. Particularly for when we do find ourselves back in the classroom. Or in my case, back at Costco. Zoe doesn’t have to go anymore. Lucky.
We don’t always know when emotions will come on, how intense they will be, or how long they will last. However, if we provide our students, and ourselves access to skills that allow them/us to interact with whatever comes up, they/we will be able to learn to manage in real-time.
I hope this is helpful for you and yours. I wish you the very best and look forward to connecting in whatever way we can, tomorrow.
Until tomorrow, best wishes,
*Please note, my experience in Costco does not actually present any real danger to me or others. Also please know that I use Costco therapeutically as an Exposure/Response to help me manage my anxiety. I would not suggest that you should put yourself in emotional tumult without also giving yourself ample time to explore where your mental messaging is coming from, and what is best for you. I would suggest that mindfulness practice can help you discover those things, as can working with a professional counselor, therapist, or clinician.