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I Am Because We Are

Living on the six hundred acres that comprises Westtown School’s  campus is an absolute gift. I have the privilege of walking through myriad paths and trails on the campus each and every day. It is during these walks that I do my deepest thinking, ponderings, and wonderings about most any aspect of life. The other day I set out my walk with a rather simple question: What does the world need right now?  My question was  prompted both by the ongoing challenges of the pandemic and the recent —though long-standing— battle against racism in our country.  For the first ten minutes or so, my brain rambled and came up with a number of “heady” responses, none of which informed my gut that it was an “aha” moment or a meaningful revelation of any sort. So I decided to shut down my “monkey brain,” as many meditation teachers call our active noise-making noggins, and focused my attention on the winding path beneath my feet. When I choose to quiet my mind,  it is not uncommon for songs to pop up out of nowhere. My childhood memories are filled with music and song as I come from a very musical ancestry; my maternal aunts and uncles were the Cuban version of the VonTrapp family in The Sound of Music. I began to hum a tune that my mother would harmonize to when I was a child. My mother, Antonia, had this uncanny ability to harmonize to anything that possessed a melody and so her voice echoed in my ear:

What the world needs now is love, sweet love

It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of

What the world needs now is love, sweet love

No not just for some but for everyone.”

-Words by H. David and Music by Bacarach in 1965

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Say Yes to Change with Radical Acceptance

In March of 2000, I was in Washington, D.C. and overheard a colleague speaking about a Buddhist psychologist named Tara Brach who would be speaking that evening at an after-dinner event. Instantly hooked by the Buddhist-psychologist combo, I decided to attend. Within minutes, I was mesmerized by this small, soft-spoken, gentle woman whose quiet, melodic voice and light green compassionate eyes immediately sent me into a highly relaxed state. In her talk on radical acceptance, she spoke about the idea of moving towards what upsets us rather than moving away from it (with the use of denial, distraction, or otherwise). In fact, she recommended a most revolutionary idea which came to her as she was speaking to us (talk about being present in the moment and how creativity springs forth). Dr. Brach instructed us: “Invite your fear to tea.” I have practiced this approach and have taught this to so many patients over the years and it is a game changer! You may wonder, How can I apply this to our current situation?  The script can sound something like:  “Hello, Coronavirus, would you like to come to my porch and discuss some items over tea?  Perhaps we can chat about what’s been going on in the world. Where you are going with this, because I am scared, disoriented, sad, and weary and after all, I do have a life to get back to.o, scratch that, reset…I have to accept you are here and that I need to make some adjustments and changes in my life, so that I can then see a new way forward with possibilities that can ground me and center me back into life again.”

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The Power of Perception

We humans are meaning-making machines and it is ultimately our perception (or what our mind chooses to see) that informs the story we tell ourselves and others about what is happening and what it means. As a graduate student of psychology, perception was an area of study that I did not fully appreciate and simply experienced as a topic to review and file away. Thirty years later, I believe that perception is everything and that it is one of the most powerful tools that human beings possess. Perception determines and drives our approach, attitude, and actions in any given situation. The current global pandemic we are facing —and our varying responses to it— is a testament to the power of perception and how it impacts our experience, our behaviors, and the choices we make moment to moment. Even though our perceptions are informed and shaped by our personal life experiences, we humans have the capacity and the freedom to choose what we see, what we hear, and how we feel. These become the threads that weave the story that we tell.

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Finding Peace (and Hope) at School

Quakers use queries in different ways to encourage self-awareness for individuals and the community, to gain clarity, and to guide decision making. The first query of the year for the Lower Schoolers at Westtown School focused on the Quaker testimony of peace. For several days, students reflected on the query through class discussions and journal writing. Below is an excerpt from the minutes of a special Meeting for Worship called a Meeting for Business where students and faculty shared their thoughts on how to describe peace and how to work through conflict respectfully.

Lower School students believe that peace is something to strive for. They describe peace in many different ways, such as:

Peace is joy, peace is friendship.

Peace is respect.

Peace is stars and fireflies at night time.

Peace is taking care of promises you have made to the people around you.

Peace in your heart is acting with kindness, patience, and empathy for all.

Peace feels calm, kind, and quiet.

Students shared that Meeting for Worship and Quiet Time are good times to find peace while at school. Several students spoke of the importance of helping others and sharing feelings openly with friends. By acting this way, you will feel warm and fuzzy inside, and not cold and prickly. Another way of sharing and spreading peace is to help people who are in need, the way the Lower School is by collecting food for the Kennett Food Cupboard.

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The Power of Emotions

In Meeting for Worship, a first grader was moved to share the message bubbling up in her. “Every day isn’t always going to be cupcakes and rainbows.  Some days you have to pause and take a moment for your emotions.”

Emotions are a full-blown reality for children.  Happiness, frustration, anger, joy, silliness, excitement, disappointment.  They swirl around in their minds and bodies.

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Tips on Managing The Teen Mood Swing

When your teenager is grumpy, monosyllabic and irritable, do you find yourself taking it personally, and then, perhaps, even confronting them about it only to find it may have made things worse? Please keep in mind that their grouchiness almost always has nothing to do with you. The answer is to not engage, yet our temptation is to over engage! Here are some tips for staying out of our teenager’s moods and allowing them to get on with the important business of adolescent development:

  • Teenagers are often grumpy simply due to the incredible chemical mix of hormones careening through their bloodstream, not to mention rapid changes to their brain composition. They really can’t help it! Just keeping this in mind can stave off the temptation to take it personally.

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