The Importance of Space

I am a teacher. You probably hear teachers all over humming “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” around this time…SUMMER BREAK (unless you have year round school :-))!

Some days I wonder why I decided to go into this profession. Other days I am almost overwhelmed with gratitude that I get to earn money in such an agreeable way. One of my favorite things about being a teacher is the time off.

Surprise, surprise, I know! But seriously, the time off is not so much about not having to teach (although that is a welcome break too), but about infusing space in what is often a super cluttered world.

I think we have all had the experience of a stall of ideas and energy that suddenly begins to flow once we have a chance to relax and breathe. Much like exercise, if we continually provide a stimulus (training) without adequate recovery (sleep, relaxation, and food) we begin to accumulate fatigue. Similarly, if at all possible, we need to balance our mental-emotional training (work) with recovery (time with friends and family, drinks (in moderation), walks in the park, naps, video games, watching TV, hobbies, and just plain doing nothing!). I think we will find that a lot of our “problems of practice” will begin to unearth solutions once we can take our stimulation level down.

As with all things, balance is key. If we do not work enough, we become sluggish and less sharp. On the other hand, if we work too much, we ALSO get sluggish and less sharp! I think there is a universal truth pervading these ideas, one that is not so popular in American culture at the moment. The principle that life is cyclical. Every season is not (and should not be) a season of growth. Imagine a world with eternal summer. The trees and flowers would be begging for rain! Imagine an eternal winter. Nothing would grow! I think the same is true in our lives. We go through cycles of being super productive, and cycles of being less productive. Each is part of a bigger natural cycle that provides us with difficulties so we can find new ways of looking at and interacting with the world, and opportunities so that we can grow.

I think Jim Rohn said it best when he says “Six thousand years of recorded history reads like this: difficulty mixed with opportunity”. Sometimes there is more difficulty than opportunity, and sometimes there is more opportunity than difficulty. We don’t need to be uselessly optimistic and say we like difficulty. We don’t like difficulty any more than we like having a cold. Perhaps the best we can do is find a way to accept difficulty and look for opportunities to become stronger and wiser when our season of rest reappears.

Taking (or creating) space to balance stimulation and rest is a sure fire way to lead a happier life. What season are you in?

Until next time…

My One-Month Experience with Meditation

I have “known about” meditation for a number of years. My introduction probably started with reading books by Thich Nhat Hanh when I was in college 10 years ago. I never had a serious meditation practice though. I would attend a yoga class here or there and try following my breathing here and there, but never consistently. “Consistency is key” really rings true in my experience as within just one month of a 5-20 minute daily meditation practice, I have noticed some real benefits.

I Can Re-Center More Easily

The biggest and most impressive benefit I have noticed is “coming back to myself” quicker when confronted with a difficult situation, thought, or feeling. It is almost as if I can feel myself being pulled out of relative mindfulness, and it is easier to get back into it. I work as a middle school teacher so there are literally hundreds of moments of distraction in any given day. I am noticing that although I may still feel nervous, anxious, angry, etc., it is easier for me to notice and (depending on the weight of the situation) pull myself out of it by using a meditation anchor (breath, quotes/mantras, feeling the inner body).

I Look Forward to My Meditation Practice

This was quite unexpected at first but makes complete sense. I guess on a deeper level I can see the benefits in my life and don’t want to miss an opportunity to deepen my practice. I often find myself getting excited thinking about my 5-20 minutes of meditation like you would get excited about a concert or a nice dinner.

Meditation has Deepened other Areas of my Life

I began to notice rather quickly that I had more energy and willpower in other areas of my life (such as working out consistently and staying on top of my nutrition). Perhaps it is a positive feedback loop, but I began to make beneficial choices with relative ease (of course knowing what changes to make is a key part of that).

How I have been Meditating

My main practice is centered around guided meditations. I find body scans and following breathing to be the most beneficial. I have been using a number of apps this month, but my favorite has become the “Calm” app. Although the meditations often discuss ideas and content at the end, they always begin with some form of centering meditation. As I said earlier, most are 5-20 minutes long and I do them each night before bed (which doubles as a great way to wind down after the day).

Well, that has been my experience thus far with meditating consistently for one month. I look forward to talking more about my experience after 3, 6, and 12 months as well! Until next time…