- Ram Dass
I committed to writing this blog post a few months ago, without a clue as to what was coming and where we would all be finding ourselves at this time. Everything continues to change so quickly, a lesson in impermanence.
What do I know? What do I really have to say or share that will truly be of value to others right now? Who really knows anything? I think this is actually a good time for finding peace amidst so many unknowns. What do you think?
Our stories and experiences share so many things in common, and yet we each must navigate these times in our own best ways, being true to and tuning in to our most authentic selves, what we need, and what works best for who we each are, our particular circumstances and unique set of challenges. Underneath it all, the great task seems to be that we each have to re-remember how to BE HERE NOW. I feel like we have been handed an amazing opportunity to do just that.
With that said, I am writing from a place of great humility and a real awareness of my own not knowing. What I can share is where I personally am in all of this and what I am finding helpful as I ride and steer my little canoe through these stormy seas, with an eye out for calmer waters. This is a great time to learn from one another. We all are teachers after all. We are all students too, maybe now more than ever.
I have a husband, two teenagers, a few animals, and 195 students. What I often ask myself is “What do I need so that I can do this well? What will be most helpful for managing/reducing feelings of overwhelm? How can I best find a healthy balance? How can I best spend my time and direct my attention and intention so that I can find calm within, cultivate peacefulness, and be the best I can be for others as well as for myself?” In our own ways, we all ask ourselves these same questions. I think it is very important to give ourselves plenty of time to ponder them and to bestow upon ourselves kindness and plenty of patience as we discover what our own best answers are for now, for this moment.
For my part, I have focused on tuning in to my priorities, deciding what they are and what I want them to be. This means that I ask myself daily, “How can I make the most of this day, this moment? How can I be the best that I can be for my two teenagers stuck at home, my husband, my students, and myself?” For me, it has been really important to look at how I begin each day. For me, that includes writing in my journal, spending some time in meditation, and pulling a Tarot card or two. What about you? What is most helpful to you for beginning your day in a good way?
I have been getting outside as much as I can. I do as much of my school computer work as possible outside. When I join in on Zoom or other meetups with younger students and their teachers, I am outside. When one of the classroom teachers asks her students what they are going to do today or this weekend when it is my turn I say, “I am going to spend as much time as possible outside.” I say this because it is true, but equally importantly, I express this as an example that I hope will inspire the kids to get outside in the fresh air, listen to the birds, feel the sun on their skin, and then be inspired to do it again.
I have watched recorded meetups of my middle school students with their main classroom teachers. Seeing them all in their insulated and isolated pods, in their rooms, sleepy-looking on their beds... it is just too much! It makes my heart hurt. This image more than anything is what inspires me to give them something good. To deliver an entrance to a doorway towards contentment and freedom through the vehicle of creativity and art-making. Maybe some of them will open the door and walk on through, hop upon their magic carpets and go for a ride. I think many of them do and will, especially the kids that love art and are hungry to breathe more life into their creative souls, because, for many, this is where they can feel and know their fundamental aliveness. I want to meet them there. They are bogged down and stressed and I am inspired to do what I can to provide them with some kind of a possible ticket towards lifting themselves up and out if only just for a little while, even just for a moment. A beginning, a shift, something, anything.
Finding community and connecting in these times is not the same as before. Not for any of us and not for our students. I think that one of the most important roles that we play as educators at this time is to serve as mindful bastions of a bridge that crosses time and space, our solid presence offering a sense of normalcy in spite of it all. Through our presence, we hand them a gently and thoughtfully wrapped package that says “I’m still here. You can count on me. Everything is OK.” They need this. We can give our students and everyone else in our worlds so much simply by being truly present, simply by showing up, authentically, in the very best ways that we can.
I thought I would be making a lot of art; we have so much time all of a sudden, or so it seems. That is what I thought. But, I get caught up with schoolwork or something else and the day is gone. When there actually is time for my own art I keep encountering a sort of blankness, as if I am stunned, like a bird that has just flown into a window that it mistook for more sky. My creative brain goes kind of blank. But maybe what is really going on is that my creative soul simply has other things to tend to at this time. How to creatively meet those in my world, at home and virtually, how to most authentically meet and be in this life as it is now. What we are navigating now does, in fact, take a lot of creativity. We simply are being asked to use it in new ways and that takes an awful lot of ingenuity, resourcefulness, artistry, imagination, and many more descriptors than one word can possibly contain. That is not a bad thing. It is actually quite a gift.
I started working on my Master’s degree over a year ago. Normally I operate in that particular realm as an obsessive maniac, seeking/expecting perfection from myself and accepting nothing less. Now, it has taken a back seat and I am just doing the best I can and that is enough. Its high priority status has taken a rest out of necessity. I’m OK with that. It is actually a good shift. I like it. It feels so spacious stepping off of that freight train. I don’t have to be perfect and give it 500 million percent. I recognize how healthy that shift is. It comes out of necessity, but what I also see is that it is coming equally from a place of real choice. Feeling and recognizing that there is actually a choice factor is very important, even crucial I would say, in whatever we need to make decisions about. We can choose our priorities, right?
Being here for my family and for my students with a balancing dose of self-care is what is most important to me now. Making the most of now means those things for me. And more too. Kindness and compassion. Mindfulness. These are a few of my favorite things. What are yours? What do you want them to be? Whatever they may be, they most likely by nature point to some of your greatest gifts and what you can naturally share with those around you. How do you want to live your life? Think about these things in your own words. The fact that we happen to be pondering these questions in whatever our own way is at this time really is a magnificent opportunity.
Trusting in the river of life. I try to remember to remind myself that “All is as it should be”. To not fight the current but to let go and flow with it. That is a complex sentiment to stay with but I do it just the same because it is something that is helpful for me. What about you? What words bring you comfort, a sense of some kind of ease, or help you to simply relax and find yourself in something like acceptance? We are all so unique, each of us with our own ways of walking in this world. What is helpful to you in finding balance and something nearer to peacefulness anytime or now?
I was driving down our road recently for my once a week trip to town. Up ahead I saw a dog in the distance heading towards me, trotting along purposefully. As we came closer together I thought it had the distinct trimness and bounce of a coyote. It was a coyote, turning off into a field only at the last second. I see and hear coyotes all the time, but this was different. He acted as if he owned the place. Well, I thought, he does. I have heard various people commenting recently on the fact that the animals are coming out because people are not. That is as it should be, isn’t it? The animals are reclaiming their home. I hope that continues. I hope that we humans will take notice of what has been missing, and the wonder that returns when we are not the dominant presence. Maybe in all of this stillness, we will start noticing the natural world all around us in new ways. There it is again. The unexpected gift.
I suppose that at this point I could share all kinds of great articles with you, tips, suggestions, resources, but I’m not going to. Recognizing my own battle against drowning in information-overload, I will respectfully honor the fact that you all are most likely already trying to manage way more information than you can keep up with. And so, on that note, I simply send my honest expression of gratitude for your time and my hopes for abundant peacefulness to all.
Be who you want to be in the world. Now is the time. There’s no time like the present to practice being here now.
Leslie Warnick K-8 Art Educator Taos, New Mexico
“Be kind. Be connected. Be unafraid.” - Rivera Sun