Finding Zen

Finding Zen

After spending a few minutes this morning scrolling through social media on which I marked articles on The Hague, SmartPhone AddictionAllowing Students Freedom of Choice in Reading, and a Zen Stress Reduction Program at a middle school, my swirling brain continued with ideas of what to write about being spun off this way and that. When one has eclectic tastes and interests, occasionally it is hard to choose one topic over another.

I pondered on what topic I would write about today.  Should it be the Kahoot I made and played with students for the first time yesterday? The structure of a mini- lesson? The need to find a personal routine that does not bend every single time some one thinks they need me?  The reasons spouses end up watching TV separately? Or, the Zen hallway in Bermuda?

Since I seem to be under some stress and can note stress in family members and others who cross my path daily, I settled on reframing the use of Zen.  In the last couple of years, the word Zen has freely come to my mind given the peculiarities of certain locations on vacation.  First, it was on the Door County Peninsula in a shared County-State Park where stones are stacked and balanced in graduated fashion, left for mother nature to tumble or leave as she desires. Each member of our family took turns stacking the stones, finding a balance, and marveling at our creations as well as those of others. It was somehow relaxing – balancing the stones against the forces of nature.

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Then, when my husband and I visited Bermuda last summer, the word Zen again came to mind when we walked through one of the lower corridors in our resort hotel. Soft music was playing, not exactly elevator music but something that was flowing  and filled with relaxing tones, but without words. This hallway also had a particular scent that filled the air when you travelled through it to reach the indoor pool or go beyond to the beach (it was not chlorine).  Walking this corridor became part of our daily experience on Bermuda, not only to reach parts of the hotel we were destined for but also to get our daily dose of Zen.  I dubbed it the “Zen Hallway”  and even recall going as far to say that we need a Zen hallway at home! It smelled so good, and sounded so peaceful that in the space of just two hundred feet, you found yourself relaxed!

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Of course, vacations end and one returns home to the daily routine and stressors of life. But this morning, as I read an article from a librarian on how she constructed a Week of Zen for her middle school students during testing – a week she recognized as being stressful for them, my own interest in Zen returned.  She provided fun, no-pressure activities in the relaxed, drop in atmosphere of the library prior to each school day for 30 minutes. Given my own experiences that I attributed to Zen, I decided it was a good time to learn more in hopes to implement some Zen in my daily life.

Upon looking it up, Merriam Webster’s online dictionary defines Zen as “having or showing qualities (such as meditative calmness and an attitude of acceptance) popularly associated with practitioners of Zen Buddhism.” Well, fine. But, that’s not very helpful, is it? Not when, it came to me so naturally in those other instances.  As it turns out, the concept of Zen is pretty complicated. Although associated with Buddhism, it is not the religion itself. It is a practice, something I suppose, akin to mindfulness or meditation. This is as much as I can gather from my cursory readings.

All I know is that I felt different balancing the stones and walking the sweetly odiferous, melodic hallway (which naturally led one past the spa) at the hotel.  How to I replicate that feeling? How do I let go of my thoughts and focus on the intangible aspects of the universe? Or focus on nothing at all? Perhaps that was the key of what I am calling my Zen experiences! Nothing. I was in the moment, a vacation moment. The moment was mine and shared with those I love, those who care for me – just as the librarian was caring for her students by sharing fun activities to focus on other than their exams.

Zen. I am not exactly sure what it is, but I want it.

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Almost Unplugged

Almost Unplugged

We got to the cabin just before noon on Friday. It is an easy three-hour trip from driveway to driveway. What a week it was! We have been so busy running around since school got out in early June that I thought all of us needed this long weekend at the cabin. To make it more special, my sister and her family were joining us at our ten-year old timber frame in the woods for the first time!

Prepared to have another couple and their two teenagers with us for three nights took a little planning. What if the weather was rainy? What if they were bored? What if they didn’t get along? My sister lives in Western New York, only a few hours from where we grew up. They were traveling a long way to see her husband’s family and us for a vacation.

I stocked up – wine, wine, wine. Oh, some beer. Three alarm pepper cheese, stick salami and pepperoni, chips, salsa,  stuff for s’mores, coffee, milk, freezy pops, and of course food for meals.  A trip to Michael’s Craft Store was made for tie dye supplies. A few games were packed, books and magazines thrown in for good measure. My camera. My computer. I would need to continue to work on my final course project during their visit, I explained to my sister over a text. I tried to get it done but was unsuccessful. I needed my computer to final my wayside panel design and submit it. She understood.

Shortly after arriving, the Northwoods began its magic. I saw a Monarch Butterfly! It is the first I have seen this season. I have a milkweed patch in our yard at the cabin and spied the iconic orange and black butterfly flitting amongst its stems when I looked out our kitchen window! Next, I found a monarch caterpillar! It was only a few days old for sure! Very tiny!

Soon, my sister’s family arrived. Would you believe that for three full days, the television/DVD player was never, ever turned on?! It is true! Three teens and no T.V.. We even offered to have them watch a movie. No, instead, they found the canoes, the kayaks, fishing, making s’mores, playing ping-pong, air hockey, and pool all more interesting than a screen!

The weather cooperated and we took walks, had campfires, and boat rides. We even got in a little star-gazing last night! Each afternoon, we had pre-dinner snacks and a relaxing glass of wine with some great conversation. Sometimes the kids joined us, sometimes they didn’t. But, they were unplugged! For the most part, the three teens – two 15 year olds and a 17 year old were keeping themselves busy by engaging in nature and each other – not through snap chat or instagram or Facebook, but real-live interactions!

It was both rejuvenating and restful to spend time with my sister, her family and mine, in the Northwoods where we were able to forget about soccer practice, job responsibilities, and the stress of daily life. We were unplugged. I highly recommend you try it!