Thursday, December 18, 2008


So this morning my ankles are sore, and I've got new thoughts about mindfulness.

Michael Stipe once said there were certain notes in some of his songs that he couldn't hit unless he was dancing, and I've decided there's a whole range of thinking that I can't tap into unless I'm walking. I walk to work every morning, which takes me half an hour, and this week, the walking conditions have changed with every new day. On Monday morning, I had to walk to work in several inches of snow, which, in many ways, resembles walking on the beach: soft footfalls, but drag between steps. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I had to pick my way over icy patches, lifting my feet and carefully planting them, testing each step for stability before putting down my weight. This morning, it was warm enough to rain, which meant I walked over some parts wet (but iceless) pavement, and some parts slush. People who do a lot of driving don't get as much chance to notice the different conditions as I do; by the end of my half-hour trek, the frame of mind I'm in has a lot to do with the terrain I've crossed.

And, as I wrote last February, the rules changed every day. On Monday, none of it was especially slippery. New snow is a change from dry pavement, but it's more or less problem-free. Tuesday and Wednesday, snow was safe, because it gives pretty good traction, but I had to take a careful look at any snowless patch and assess it for slipperiness. This morning, the last bits of snow were actually the dangerous part: the slush was very slippery, and I almost took a spill several times.

What this meant was, no autopilot, no routine. I had to invest more conscious effort in the walk than I do on most other days. But what caught my fancy was the signs of adjustment. Today my ankles were sore, because the walking I've done the past couple of days has exercised muscles that normally get left alone. Day after day, I step out my front door and swing into my stride, and it's a simple repetitive motion over and over; similarly, day after day I put my brain elsewhere and woolgather for half an hour until I find myself unlocking my office door.

But for the past couple of days, I've had to be very present through the entire trip. And that gets me to thinking about unexpected situations in teaching: students who are defiant, or who have particular needs, or scheduling circumstances that are new and different. Instead of swinging into my stride, I have to pick my way through those classes, and I do feel frustrated ("sore") at times, but it's just the building up of "muscles" that I've neglected.

Sometimes I get all ambitious about taking on more and more tasks, more and more commitments, more and more projects, but to free up capacity to attend to them, I have to compress the ones I've already got. I have to be more efficient and cut down the time and attention they require. I have to take my teaching and "swing into my stride," make it something automatic and unexamined, and I think sometimes what looks to me like maturity and growing professionalism is really a form of bureaucratized, mechanical, repetitive teaching that neglects some of the "muscles" I could be using.

Luckily, I can count on the school and the students to keep changing the rules. And they can count on me to keep getting sore about it. But it's a healthy thing.

No comments: