September 11, 2012

Back-to-School Slow Down

What's your reaction when you hear the phrase "back to school"? My mind quickly fills with certain words: excitement, busyness, anew, planning, learning, bustle. At Lawrence, the students bring a wonderful energy to campus. They're excited to reconnect with friends and get back in the classroom, and I appreciate their enthusiasm. But if I ride that excitement too far, then my daily life becomes too busy, too urgent, too much. 

Radical idea: what if I slow down as everything else ratchets up? What if I bring mindfulness to the first day of school? Stay present, pause, listen, look, and take breaks. What do I notice? How does my experience shift? These questions set my intention for yesterday--the first day of classes.
Slow-down musings from the first day of school:

  • Nature is oblivious to the first day of classes. The morning light glows, chipmunks and squirrels seek food, birds chirp and tweet, and fall blooms deepen in color. The rhythms of the natural world don't change according to the academic schedule. I find comfort and grounding in nature--it provides a bigger perspective (and gets me out of the "me" story).
  • Sunshine on my face gives me a burst of energy, always.
  • At 8:37am, the campus is peaceful and quiet. Interesting contrast to the bustle my mind associates with back to school. Inside the class buildings, rooms are filled with attentive students. 
  • My relationship to the computer is complicated. It's a vital tool for me as I prepare my courses, yet it's also a pathway to an unfocused, multi-tasking, doing-things-too-quickly mode. If I'm not mindful, I attempt too many things too quickly, which leads to irritation and movement away from my work intention: my students. 
  • If I pause more, listen more, and let students fully ask questions or explain situations, then the entire experience feels more authentic and much less urgent.
  • When I purposefully slow down, I'm more present in the classroom and less exhausted outside the classroom. (This result is not surprising, but often I know these things in my mind, but I don't actually put them into practice. It takes repeated experiential learning for me to form a new habit--even if I already know the habit is positive.)
  • At the end of my school day I attend Pilates at the Rec Center. Typically I arrive in a rushed state of mind. But yesterday was different. I allowed more space and a few breaks; I let student laughter (during the butt-squeezing exercise) wash over me like a balm.
  • On my bike ride home, I slowed to smile at a little girl playing in her yard. She smiled back; her face softly lit by the rays of sunset. That brief moment was a lovely snapshot of my entire day.


  1. I aspire to that kind of presence. It sounds like you are off to a wonderful start to the year! For me, "back to school" is about trying to reestablish some order after the lazy, carefree days of summer. Making plans. Creating lists. Tidying up life a bit so it's easier to keep moving forward. (I also LOVE all the stationary supplies and treat myself to some new books and pens and such to celebrate!) Thanks for the reminder to slow down and enjoy everything rather than jumping right into "busybusybusy" mode. =)

  2. Kate: You are very welcome. I, too, love the back-to-school supplies. Those are great fun.