Walking over a soft bed of pine needles and moss, over rocks and roots and mushrooms, I come to a clearing in the woods and inhale the hint of the tide going out. The sun is rising over the water, the air is cold and damp.
Back at camp my Tevas, drenched in morning dew, have remnants of the forest floor and lawn stuck to them as I walk up the steps through two squeaky hinged door into an old wooden building with vaulted ceilings. There's books lining the walls, tons of folding chairs, a podium and a projection screen pulled down in front of the original stone fireplace.
Three women follow me in and start folding and stacking chairs against the wall. We are at Hog Island Audobon Camp's Educator Week, where teachers from all over the country came to learn first hand how to incorporate environmental education and nature into their traditional and non-traditional classrooms. Fatefully, the camp director took me up on my offer to teach classes before activities began each day. Class took place in the "Fish House" where there is such a rich sense of educational energy infusing the place that you can smell it.
We were all teachers from different backgrounds and experiences, but we were all there because we believed our experience would enhance our teaching and ultimately help our students. Teachers give. They give a lot. Sometimes more than they should. In my experience educators complain about administration, laws, policies and regulations. Teachers will tell you that they are doing too much planning, attending too many meetings, implementing too many nonsensical initiatives, and that's its taking away from teaching their kids; and It's true! But, amongst all of these complaints, I don't think I've ever heard someone say that they're dishing out too much compassion for a child. We are in it for the kids. Regardless there IS a fine line between going above and beyond with an open heart for the children in front of you, and doing too much. When you overextend yourself, the result is a big mess. You crash. You get overwhelmed, overstressed and you can't sleep no matter how tired you are. This often results in some bad teaching practices. Look where you've gotten yourself; you've done SO MUCH, to help your kids, but it's backfired. Balancing a life's work as an educator is easier said than done. That's why we need yoga. We need to have compassion for our bodies and minds. We need to acknowledge current and permanent limitations. We need to recognized when we have given too much, and need to receive. I explained to my fellow educators sitting on the wooden floor in front of me that in order to help others, its ESSENTIAL to help yourself first.
We were on that island to develop ourselves professionally for our careers, but we were also there for ourselves. For me, what was equally as important as learning concrete ways to get kids in touch with nature, was breathing the clean Maine air, connecting with others, feeling the moss beneath my bare feet, fishing plankton out of the ocean, feeling the energy of the forest, acknowledging trees and leaves, tasting berries, feeling the change of temperature, noticing the moon, swimming in the ocean. I am charged with healing energy after being on that island. Energy that I can use to keep myself sane, while I help others.
Before this experience, I hadn't deeply considered the great difference teaching children and adults. I've worked with kids at camps, schools and community programs for about 8 years now, as soon as I was old enough to be considered a teacher at the age of 19. Teaching Art, Elementary education and now yoga, I've started to encounter the inevitable phenomena of bumping into kids when they've "grown up." Every once in a while a kid will look at me with a sense of gratitude behind their eye when they recognize that I was trying to make the best experience possible for them in my classroom. It's different teaching adults. They recognize connections and compassion immediately instead of 20 years down the road. Because our time was fleeting, the sincere "thank yous" and kind expressions of positive impact came immediately, as well.
Blessed with a Gift
It's amazing being able to make an impact on other people's lives. Teaching really is a gift, equally to the learner and the teacher. This is why I feel blessed. Before I started doing yoga regularly I never used any form of the verb "to bless/be blessed," unless someone near me had just sneezed. I always heard it in a religious context before getting in touch with yoga, but a blessing doesn't have to be religious. I experience blessings from the earth and nature, from the air, from individuals, happenstance, coincidence. I feel universal energy blessing me every day when I see the sun and the moon. Walking through the woods on Hog Island at moonrise, sunrise or in the dead of night, was a blessing. Receiving the opportunity to teach yoga on a beautiful 300 acre island on the coast of Maine for one week with likeminded people eager to learn, was absolutely a blessing. I can't feel more gratitude toward these individuals who volunteered to be my students each morning at 6am before a full and exhausting day of environmental education and exploration.
My teachers told me that over time the right people would gravitate to me and my teaching. You end up teaching the people you're meant to teach. It's amazing how it's already begun to happen.
THANK YOU to the yoga students, staff, volunteers and teacher-campers at Hog Island, for a most memorable and meaningful experience.<3 And a special thank you to Central Westchester Audubon for the scholarship opportunity.