SWS Alumni Spotlight: Dakota Lehman

Last week I had the chance to speak with SWS Class of 2009 Alumni Dakota Lehman.  Dakota just completed her Master’s Degree in Art Therapy at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada.  I don’t think I could have found a better person to kick off our SWS Alumni Spotlight Series given the many emotional and psychological challenges our community --and the whole world-- now faces because of the coronavirus.  Her optimism and tenacity shines through the uncertainty; and I was present to the spirit of Waldorf in her words.

Her Story Begins At Susquehanna Waldorf School

Upon graduation from Susquehanna Waldorf School, Dakota and her family moved to Asheville, N.C.; she transitioned from a class of eight students at SWS to a massive high school comprising eight buildings! She welcomed the change. Near the end of her high school career, she enrolled in a psychology class which peaked her interest in the mental health field and by the time she entered college, her vision had become clear.  Integrating her two passions, she went on to complete her Undergraduate studies at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington with a B.A. Psychology and minor in Visual Arts.  No stranger to making moves, Dakota decided to head to Canada for her Master’s program; she is now in the process of completing her licensure and in the meantime, is ready for her next Big Adventure.

Here’s Our Conversation

Diane: What’s special to you about Waldorf?

Dakota: The community aspect, support from my class, the arts, and the rituals...from the festivals with the bigger community to taking moments to come together in a circle during school. Getting moments to take a second to just breathe and be with yourself. I am not naturally a “take a moment person,” I am a stress and anxiety person! So I remember holding those moments of stillness and togetherness and positivity. 

As an adult I’ve been able to make really good connections with people my age. Waldorf taught me the importance of social-emotional learning, like learning to navigate hard times or  friendship issues.  We learned to navigate that at an early age, we had the support of teachers and parents which allowed me to learn how to make better connections as an adult. 

Diane: How has the Waldorf Methodology inspired you in your work or in your life?

Dakota: My Waldorf education gave me a way to process information in the world and in myself through so many different approaches to learning. Sometimes I will sit and knit or crochet as a way to process my day or something that I am going through. That’s something that I had the privilege of learning early in life and I’ve learned to use that skill as an adult.

Making art in my early years helped me to understand in high school and college that others may learn in different ways.  I was given the tools to be able to adjust and adapt to learning in different environments and I wanted to be able to give the experience of using art mediums in different ways to others.  I now work with children, and especially with the influence of technology, it’s important to have other options as new ways to process and explore life. 

Diane:  What are you up to in your career?

Dakota:  I want to work as an Art Therapist but I have to get my license, so it may take a while to find the job that I really love in Art Therapy. So I am applying for art teacher and school counselor positions right now. I love working with children so going back into a school environment would be wonderful. 

I would love to work in a Waldorf environment because of how like minded that community can be.  However, I worked with the equivalent of child protective services in Canada and learned the value of providing those services and resources to young people who wouldn't normally have access to them.  Being able to give and share is so rewarding; to work with kids who haven't even had access to art materials before is special. You meet these kids and see their resilience. 

So I am open to the possibilities. 

Diane:  Did your experience at SWS and the Waldorf ethos of service help to inspire you to seek your career path in some way? Or would you say that service is just a part of your personality?

Dakota: I don’t see myself as a service-giving person, but I really like connecting with people. I have definitely always been like that. I see myself as someone who wants to give space to others and I got that from Waldorf in different ways... going back to circle, the festivals and rituals, but I also think it’s just who I am.

Diane:  Do you remain connected with the SWS community?

Dakota: Yes! I am still close with my SWS cohort and teacher who I get to visit occasionally. And I had a video call with everyone from my class just the other day.

Thanks, Dakota, for sharing stories about your path with the Susquehanna Waldorf School Community! We wish you joy and peace as you continue your journey.

With Warmth and Support,

Diane Richards, Development and Alumni Coordinator

Diane Richards is a former K-12 Visual Arts Teacher, a Trauma-Aware Yoga and Mindfulness teacher and is a graduate student studying psychotherapy at Widener University


waldorf

Right Now I Feel: A Mindfulness Practice

waldorf

A "Waldorf Wellness" Blog Series to Help You Build Resilience

Right Now I Feel

How are you feeling right now? I mean this quite literally, if you closed your eyes for the next ten seconds and checked in and had to choose just ONE word from that inner-listening, what would it be?

Right now, I feel ________________.

It’s ok if you don’t quite know.  It’s ok if the idea of narrowing down your complex emotional state to one word feels impossible.  There is no “right way” to cope with the trauma, turmoil and anxieties of a crisis.  What IS important is that we do SOMETHING to get our inner states to shift.  And often this something can be a simple as a quick check in:

Right now, I feel________________.

In the midst of a crisis we can easily (and understandably) get caught up in a whirlwind of emotional overload. We are thinking about our stability on so many levels. We are thinking about the wellbeing of our families, the safety of our children, the health of our elders.  We are thinking about things we have never had to actually think about like breathing, social distancing, meticulously disinfecting, quarantining, distance learning, staying in place.  We may be thinking about those who are not thinking about these measures.

Humankind exists because of these thoughts/instincts about how to survive.  Our Central Nervous System (CNS) is hard-wired with functions to ensure that when a threat is posed to our safety, protective factors come online quickly to defend our ability to stay safe.  Our Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) is one of these protective brain/body functions. When this system is activated, it prepares us to FIGHT or FLEE from dangerous situations or people. Our Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) might come online and tell us to FREEZE when we are totally overwhelmed by a situation that feels out of our control.

If you were able to answer the question:  Right now I feel____________, what is the word that came up for you? 

(Here is a brief list of feeling words if you need some inspiration:  Exhausted, confused, silly, morose, helpless, optimistic, bored, frustrated, annoyed, inspired, motivated, distracted)

What’s the point?

I have found myself feeling “stuck” and “overwhelmed.” These are examples of a FREEZE survival response.

If you said “angry” or “irritated,” these are examples of a FIGHT response.

If you said “anxious” or “afraid,” these are examples of a FLEE response.

What I hope to offer you is the BIG EXHALE that all of this is normal and -- in fact -- these reactions to a crisis are the building blocks for our ability to cultivate RESILIENCE.  If we can pluck JUST ONE feeling from the whole tornado of emotions that surface as we navigate this crisis, we have something to respond to with intention and compassion.  We can get a little unstuck, we can soften our anger, we can calm our anxiety if even for just one moment.  

When we turn a thought into a word we have more power to get out of instinctual/survival-mode.  We can actually FREE UP a little room in our brains/minds (and therefore in our bodies and our spirits because it’s all connected) to help us move forward feeling a little calmer and a little more in control.

A Family/Community Wellness Practice

Try this “Right now I feel” exercise with your family members. 

  • Sit in a circle and each take a turn saying “Right now I feel_______”
  • Then, each person can spend five or so minutes sharing/exploring why that feeling is there - 
    • Could this feeling be because you miss your friends at school? 
    • Do you think your feeling came up because grandma is sick? 
    • Or because of stress learning how to work and learn from home?
  • After each person shares their “exploring why” a feeling has come up, go around the circle one more time.
  • Each person shares again: “Right now I feel________”
  • Has anything changed? Did a new word come up? Just pause to reflect quietly as a family or community. 
  • That’s it!

Sometimes moving forward in a hopeful way has nothing to do with doing a whole bunch of stuff! Simply working with ONE moment in time and ONE feeling can be really empowering and enlightening. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

I’ll offer some more “clearing” practices (including art therapy projects!) in this Waldorf Wellness blog post series so that we can continue to build resilience and connection, and inspire hope as individuals, families, and as a Waldorf Community.

With Warmth and Support,

Diane Richards, Development and Alumni Coordinator

Diane Richards is a former K-12 Visual Arts Teacher, a Trauma-Aware Yoga and Mindfulness teacher and is a graduate student studying psychotherapy at Widener University