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It’s December and I am on a mission! There is a bunch of stuff I need to get done to wrap up the year. I have added new goals and resolutions to this month’s spreadsheet.
Today I decided to tackle the toy collection that is taking over my office.
With the closet and cabinets crammed with tests and materials, the bathtub has become a make-shift toy box.
I went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond hoping to find inspiration to organize this mess. For under $50, I came up with this solution:
I’m not done yet! I need a couple more hanging organizers, but already that feels sooooo much better!
We show up,
burn brightly in the moment,
hold nothing back,
and when the moment is over,
when our work is done,
we step back,
and we let go.
-Rolfe Gates, Meditations from the Mat
Beneath those flames
the charred remains
of four years of work.
Therein the ash and smoke
lie thousands of hours of
The fire ate them all
with no regard
for the size or shape of the ideas.
I stood and fed the greedy tongues
as they hissed and sputtered,
devouring it all indiscriminately–
the fire and I whispering
all of your names
on the wind.
And within the course of a week life went abruptly from this
This was the first summer in a bunch of years I didn’t teach a summer course, which freed up a considerable amount of time, energy, and brain power. I know exactly where all that extra time, energy and brain power went because I am still keeping my weird little daily spreadsheet to track the time spent on my goals/resolutions. For the month of July it went like this:
- 24 hours PRACTICE MANAGEMENT — This excludes the time spent in sessions with clients. I recently started tracking this because I was curious how much unbillable time I spend doing things for the practice. Now I know.
- 20 hours DANCING — Teaching, practicing new choreographies, reviving old choreographies. This includes drills, exercises, rehearsals.
- 16 hours GARDENING –Watering, weeding, harvesting, planting, watching butterflies, cutting flowers. In recent weeks there has been a lot of violent killing. I have fed literally hundreds of Japanese beetles to the ducks and chickens. I have squashed squash bug daddies and mommas and their babies while cursing their ancestors. No poison was involved; I didn’t want to accidentally kill the good bugs or bees or do any damage to the birds or frogs, so the violence has been all up-close and personal. It’s a terrible thing and I’m not proud of it, but it happened. This whole garden thing is probably wreaking havoc on my karma. But I give away a good portion of the spoils, so maybe it all balances out?
- 12 hours RESEARCH for the book I’m writing and 8 hours of WRITING the book. I really need to increase the time spent actually writing.
- 10 hours COOKING…pickles. Yes, it was all spent making pickles from the garden cucumbers. I canned some bread-n-butter pickles last Thursday. The horrible squash bugs completely wiped out the squash plants before I became aggressive with them. Now they have found their way to my cucumber plants, so that may be it for pickling this year.
- 4 hours MEDITATION.
When I showed El-D the spreadsheet last night he said, “Geeze, you could work for the government. The engineers would love you.” They really like spreadsheets too apparently. And then he asked, “How many hours did you spend putting numbers in your spreadsheet?”
Hmph. A couple seconds a day! The spreadsheet, as lovely as it is, isn’t the goal, it’s just a tool to help me understand where my time and attention go. It also gives me insight into how I flow across time. For example, fifteen minutes of meditation is forever long. Sitting around doing nothing but listening to my own thoughts is horrendous most days. Truly. Sitting down to write at a computer – not much better and sometimes worse. Sitting down to write on paper, doable and sometimes enjoyable, and sometimes absolutely necessary. I flow way differently in the garden. I’ll set a timer inside then step out the door and become completely absorbed by everything until I get hunger pains or it starts raining or somebody shows up and stares at me expectantly, or something else happens that draws me back into a world where there is such a thing as a clock ticking. Today I disappeared into a game of peek-a-boo with a praying mantis for who knows how long? Anyway, I guess the point is time is a weird concept. Or maybe it’s that spreadsheets are great.
“You haven’t the time? Time is all you have, your life energy to spend as you will.”
Love called me here.
–Dante, The Inferno
Our lives improve only when we take chances — and the first and most difficult risk we can take is to be honest with ourselves… [The] greatest risk of all: to be vulnerable, to allow others to see us as we really are.
My palms got a little sweaty just typing the title of this post – that’s how nervous putting this resolution “out there” makes me.
Someone near and dear explained this same feeling during a conversation earlier this week. Regarding an idea for a project he had been keeping top secret, he said, “I didn’t want to speak it into being because once I tell everybody, then I’m basically bound to make it so. People will start asking me about it.” The idea of being held accountable for pursuing your dreams is a scary prospect indeed.
Writing has been a recurring theme in my resolutions over the years. “Write everyday” and “get my work published” are just a couple of the variations. My work has seen publication several times now – once in dissertation form and several times in the form of co-authored articles in academic journals. I will not minimize these accomplishments. It was rigorous work and I have a lot of respect for science and the people who toil and revel in it. If I had been honest with myself though, I would have abandoned that work long ago instead of getting caught up in other people’s notions of who I am and what I should be doing with my time. Being invited into collaboration was thrilling to the ego and working within an institution provided a fair degree of comfort and security. I learned a tremendous amount through the process, but I never felt particularly free or autonomous enough to write the things I wanted to write in that context.
Writing is something I do on an almost daily basis whether I’ve resolved to do it or not. It’s how I process things. I think the format of a book will help keep me organized and focused. Because it is an independent project, it will require more self-discipline. This is why I decided to put this one “out there” instead of keeping it personal – I don’t want to back out of it or make the usual excuses to myself.
The topic of the book evolved from a presentation proposal I submitted on a whim to a yoga conference. I never thought it would actually be accepted, but to my horror and delight it was. After I spent several months researching and preparing for the talk, the conference was cancelled. I was both devastated and relieved – devastated because I had been looking forward to the conference and the trip and I had invested a lot of time and work into the topic and I wanted to share it. I was relieved from having to deal with a somewhat stressful situation. I was way out of my comfort zone. Public speaking does not come naturally to me. Also, this conference was business-oriented instead of the academic/research-oriented type I’d experienced in the past. The good thing about the stress was that it kept my effort sustained and moving in one direction. That direction felt right. Now it’s a matter of changing the format and continuing the effort in book form.
I had a magical woodland fairy moment last night.
I stepped into the back yard at dusk, my mind all a-flutter with at least 15 different undone things on my daily ToDo List. I don’t remember why I was headed out back…the ducks were fed, so what could I possibly have had to do out there at nightfall? What I do remember is looking down at the ground and being so lost in a swirl of thoughts that I was seeing, yet not seeing. Then suddenly I lifted my gaze and my attention snapped back into the living, breathing world as a family of deer – two adults and two babies – came bounding out of the treeline and into the little meadow on the other side of the pond. I stopped in my tracks and they in theirs as we all stood looking dumbfounded at each other by this chance encounter. After an eternity or maybe a few seconds, the adults sauntered on through the clearing on their spindly legs and the two babies frolicked, literally frolicked, on as if the word had been invented just for them and they had to show everyone what it meant. It was so ridiculous and adorable, I could hardly stand it.
Prior to all that I was having “one of those days.” I had an afternoon class to teach and I had spent all morning- from 6 a.m. ’til noon – preparing for it, and when it was nearing time to leave, I did a final mirror check and realized I had glitter all over my face. My attempt to brush it off succeeded only in adding considerably more sparkle and smearing it around, for the glitter was all over my hand as well. Apparently one of my little friends had overturned a jar of glitter in a drawer I had been digging around in for supplies. Another glance in the mirror revealed little chocolate polka dots all along the backside of my skirt. I had sat in my own chocolate chip cookie crumbs. On my race to the kitchen to check the time (there was none left) I stepped on a tailless lizard that Yip had been torturing in the living room. It was on its back – still somehow alive and waving its front lizard foot at me as if trying to tell me there was no time left for either of us. “Go on, go on…” his little gesture seemed to be saying.
So I did.
And I taught my class sparkling like a Stephany Meyers vampire, smelling of chocolate, with lizard blood on my shoes. I wonder what this will do to my teaching evals.
“…have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…Live the questions…live your way into the answer.”
–Rainer Maria Rilke
Last year Parker Palmer shined my teacher’s heart when it when was tarnished. His book The Courage to Teach got me through a teacher’s heart crisis and showed me how to teach (and live) with greater integrity.
Though untarnished this year at semester’s end I figured the teacher’s heart was due for routine maintenance, so I picked up a copy of The Heart of Higher Education: A Call to Renewal. Physicist Arthur Zajonc joins Palmer to bring educators back to the big questions underlying what we do. In this work lives the question: “How do we promote educational efforts that address the whole human being (mind, heart, and spirit) in ways that contribute best to our future on this fragile planet?”
This and other questions posed in their work remind us that education is transformation. It is not merely “the conveyance of information concerning objects, but a leading…through the manifold layers of experience and reason to occasions of epiphany…to the exalted experience of genuine insight.”
They remind us that community and conversation are often the driving force behind this transformative experience. They remind us what conversation can bring about when done well, “The point is not to convert, but to cultivate the possible by collaboring with people who hope to bring it into being.”
Twice this week I’ve come across the Bantu word ubuntu – once in this book and then later in Boyd Varty’s wonderful tribute to Nelson Mandela (see video below). Varty’s story gets at the essence of the word’s meaning: I am because of you.
I am; because of you. If you want a real education, try living that one.
And yet for transformation to truly take hold, we must strike a balance between community and solitude. Our institutions and culture have a growing tendency to encourage living at a frenetic-pace. When left to our own devices (and I do mean devices) we are increasingly engaged in a world that keeps us pathologically distracted and distanced from our own minds. Abha Dawesar makes this point by distinguishing between two nows: the present now and the one that technology provides us, which she calls the “digital now.”
Parker and Zajonc remind us that we need ample time for “quietude that allows for real reflection on what we have seen and heard, felt and thought.” They promote a contemplative pedagogy that creates time and space for silence with practices that develop concentration and deepen understanding because:
“Education is a vital, demanding, and precious undertaking….if true to the human being education must reflect our nature in all its subtlety and complexity. Every human faculty must be taken seriously, including the intellect, emotions, and our capacity for relational, contemplative, and bodily knowing.”
And if you managed to read this far, thank you. 🙂 Ubuntu. Please share what’s on your mind.
December is half over and I have had too little farmy fun to show for it.
My work life this semester was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. For starters there were over 800 preschoolers involved. I wish I was exaggerating, but I’m not. I stopped counting at the beginning of November when we were at 786. Add to that my little afternoon friends who I visit, the usual weekly yoga classes, and a new teaching gig: a university course called “Piyo.” When I was asked to apply for the job I had no idea what “Piyo” was or how univeristy physical education courses worked as I had never taken any as a student. Piyo turned out to be a blend of Pilates and yoga, and I invented the curriculum as I went. After chaotic mornings with preschoolers, Piyo was my saving grace. The course turned out to be the most fun and authentic teaching experience I’ve ever had. I got to completely nerd-out on anatomy and delve deeply into somatic learning. And while I have taught several college courses, I have never before taught one barefoot. After teaching the course barefoot all semester, I’ve come to the conclusion that shoes change everything about the teaching experience. Shoes make your feet all claustrophobic and rob you of sensation and connection to the environment. They make you teach like “I’m somebody wearing shoes”…which is to say all formal and like you have somewhere else to go or like you’re going to step on something disgusting or dangerous. Who knew? Anyway, it was just awesome to not have desks, to kick off shoes, to cut the lights and learn cool stuff. The students, freshmen and juniors, were the youngest college students I’ve ever taught and they were unexpectedly fabulous. They were an interesting, smart, fun, diverse, and engaged group that gave me much hope for the future. It was such great experience.
Today I finished grading, posted grades, and completed an article review. Tomorrow I meet the last of the preschoolers for 2013, write recommendation letters, and then I’m free from university obligations for this year and I intend to get back to farmy fun and hopefully experience some goaty goodness.
Author: Sheryl Sandberg
Synopsis: Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, gives women career advice. She also discusses the problems women face in getting leadership roles and how to overcome them.
Why I Read It: Someone at a convention raved about the book during a talk.
Full Disclosure: My opinions may be biased by my dislike of her employer. I don’t do Facebook; the whole phenomenon seems at best a waste of mental resources, and at worst a dismaying invasion of privacy. All that said, I read the book because Sandberg is an accomplished woman writing on a topic, women in leadership, which is interesting and relevant being that I’m a woman and all.
Highlights: It was a quick, easy, well-organized read. Every chapter is concentrated into its one sentence essence (so tidy!!), which made the content memorable. There were a couple of these that stood out:
- Don’t Leave before You Leave, in which she discusses the problem of being focused on some future event rather than on your present job, and
- It’s a Jungle Gym Not a Ladder, in which she discusses the trajectory of a career and how it’s ok to move laterally and all around instead of constantly climbing up, up, up. I appreciate the playfulness of this metaphor.
Lowlights: I had a hard time relating to Sandberg. First off, I am drawn to work that is academic and not corporate. My fields are already dominated by women. I’ve been mentored by women, promoted by women. Likewise, I teach women and promote them. As a result, sometimes the issues she wrote about seemed remote. Secondly, her writing style was safe and overly-processed….a little too polished.
Recommended to: 1.) Men – every last one of you should read it. 2.) Working women with children. 3.) Ambitious women just beginning their careers.
“It’s not about biology, but about consciousness”
If you want to learn more here’s a Ted Talk she gave on the topic.
This past week I fell out of a chair and into a bucket.
There was nothing extraordinary going on at the time – like I wasn’t making an attempt to test the limits of physics or anything. I simply reached back to grab a piece of paper on a table. Next thing I know I’m half-sitting in a bucket with my back and head against the wall. There were onlookers present, of course: a preschooler and the graduate student I was “supervising” (Har!). Both stopped what they were doing to gawk at me. I continued to sit in the bucket while they continued to stare at me well past the time that was comfortable for any of us.
The preschooler was the first to point out matter-of-factly, “You fell out of that chair.”
“Yes, I did.” I said with a little half-giggle.
“Are you ok?” The graduate student asked.
“Yes.” I lied, while continuing to sit in the bucket.
Truth be told, it hurt and I wasn’t ready to move yet. Plus having them stare at me was awkward, so I grabbed the piece of paper I had been reaching for and pretended to read it from my bucket perch.
When it became clear that I wouldn’t be following the bucket trick with a spectacular encore, or any further commentary, my audience went back to what they had been doing.
Eventually I got up.
I’m mostly ok, though my back has felt a bit bojangled ever since the incident. But I’m really proud of the bruise that is spreading in sunset-hued splendor across my outter thigh. No joke, it’s fantastic–everyday a different color. Yesterday it was mostly black with a splattering of angry red. Today it’s a splotch of midnight purple fading to a bluish-yellow haze around the periphery.
When I roll on my left side at night, the bruise wakes me with a blare of pain, shocking me in the wee hours of the morning into a sensibility that I’m injured, that something significant happened, and that it is happening still as my body forces me to be more conscious, so it can heal itself.
It’s the sort of pain that’s almost pleasant.