by Blakeney Schick
Many, many years ago, in my Montessori preschool, teachers would ring a bell to get the children’s attention and the words that followed were always, “Stop and give yourself a hug.” The teachers rang the bell to call us to circle time, to share important announcements, and — I suspect — to calm things down. And it worked. It could quickly turn a noisy, bustling classroom into a calm, fairly quiet place, full of children listening.
Two weeks ago these words popped into my head and I understood for the first time why it is potentially such a powerful instruction. Not only are you being told to pause, you’re being asked to draw inward, to center yourself a little bit. That’s really important when you’re a distracted child in a busy classroom. It’s also really important when life rings the bell for us as adults — when things get a little out of hand or there’s an important change or we just need to gather together with our friends, our family, our support. How often, when things get uncomfortable, do we want to keep going, constantly moving and reaching outward, instead of standing still? When all we want to do is react, can we pause before we do so?
Then there’s the hug part, which has additional meaning for an adult. This year, showing a little kindness toward myself has made all the difference. Instead of focusing on what I think I should be doing or what someone else is doing, I have learned the value of checking in with where I am instead, how I actually feel in that moment, and then I have tried to be gentle with whatever the answer is.
All of this allows us to listen. As a young child I couldn’t really listen unless I paused, and the truth is, I still can’t take in the world around me without slowing down. And when I have, I’ve been amazed by what I’ve seen and heard this year. Whether it was hearing the first bird song in Lower Manhattan 2 days after Hurricane Sandy struck, or watching this community and many others come together to help neighbors in that storm’s wake, there have been quiet moments of beauty and many small kindnesses. These make our world go round as much as the headline-grabbing calamities do. And they’re just as important.
I left my Montessori school 25 years ago, but it wasn’t until this year that I really learned the lesson. Putting it into practice hasn’t been easy. When things are busy and when I’m moving fast, I don’t always pause and I don’t always give myself a hug. But 2012 has been the year when I realized that I have never regretted doing either.
Blakeney Schick is a public radio producer who follows events and elections. She started going to yoga 8 years ago in the hopes that it would help her stand up straighter. It has. But she’s stayed on the mat because yoga’s also made her stronger in every possible way. Blakeney found her way to Mala in late 2007, and finished Mala’s 200-hour teacher training in 2012. She is also a regular contributor to the Mala Yoga blog.