Teaching students they are valuable, important, and not crazy

Today I talked to my college students about mindfulness.

The class is Intro to Social Work and today’s focus was noticing your thoughts, questioning the validity of your thoughts, and creating space between you and your thoughts.

Yes, I got a lot of blank stares throughout class, and I know that some of my students think I’m wacky, but honestly, I know this is something important for their lives.

And believe me, this is not my first day of blank stares - we’ve covered self love, personal awareness, laughter, forgiveness, taking responsibility, and practicing compassion.

The core of the curriculum is self understanding because how can these students become effective social workers if they don’t know who they are?  How can they help others heal if they don’t know what it takes to heal or what healing feels like?

But sometimes, when class is over, I sit down and feel crazy.  Sometimes I shake a little bit or I feel a little light headed – this also tends to happen after my husband and I tape a radio show, or after a parenting presentation, or after I push “publish” on a blog.

The crazy usually starts with a “what are you talking about?” and ends with a “who do you think you are?”

But here’s the funny thing – when I am talking, lecturing, writing, I don’t feel crazy….I’m just going with the flow and trusting what comes.

If you ask me to repeat what I just said or figure out where a sentence came from I usually can’t, but I know when it comes out it feels fluid, congruent, and loving.

Age and experience have taught me that I will often feel crazy, but that crazy is not really me. It’s just a big wad of fear and worry, old belief systems that still want a voice, and my best defense in these moments is humor and questioning.

Humor helps me disarm the negativity with some gentle self-effacing agreement (yes, your students think you are nuts, roll with it), and questioning allows me to disconnect from thoughts that say what I feel and teach isn’t correct, that who I am and what I have to share isn’t valid.

Because what I know for sure and what I want these students (and everybody else for that matter) to know for sure is that what you feel and who you are is valuable and important.

Do we know our importance and do we practice being our true selves? Do we really do what feels right or do we do what is expected? Do we say what we know will help or do we say what everybody agrees with?

Are we seen or do we blend to stay safe?  We all feel like blending once in awhile, that’s normal, but when we blend too much we lose touch with what feels right, we lose touch with our individual nature and we end up feeling less than whole.

And when we don’t feel whole, it’s difficult to offer ourselves to others.  It’s difficult to be great in our profession, in our parenting, in our studies.  It’s difficult to enjoy what we do when we don’t know who we are.

So while it’s important for my social work students to walk out the door knowing about Jane Addams, social work theory, and social class, it’s just as important that they leave considering and contemplating their own worthiness.

Because as future social workers and as citizens of the world they will face challenges and feel crazy sometimes, it’s inevitable.

But maybe they will question the crazy feeling rather than believe they are somehow flawed.  Maybe they will question the thoughts that disconnect them from what feels right and true.

Maybe they will find some humor, maintain their balance, and realize they have the tools to be of service to others while simultaneously enjoying their lives.


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