There is Life After the Thesis

After chronicling my thoughts, feelings, ideas, and experiences throughout the thesis process on this blog (formerly entitled Rites of a Thesis), it seemed odd to me to simply let the blog go just because I had turned in my thesis and graduated. I don't want to merely "shelve" my thesis nor do I want all that I got from my time at Naropa to lie dormant. I want my thesis to continue to live and breathe and become, and I would like all the teachings and experiences I had during my time at Naropa to do the same. So I am keeping the blog (changing the title), and am commiting to myself to (w)rite on as I journey forward.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Coming From Where I Am, Meeting People Where They Are

A dandelion never apologizes for itself. ~ Alexandra Shenpen

It's been a few weeks since I last wrote. My plan was to post consistently on this blog - at least once a week - to be delightfully disciplined in chronicling my thoughts, feelings, and experiences, post-thesis. However, as I currently sit at my computer I am thinking of the gentle 12-Step reminder to "plan the plans, not the outcome." And, per usual, the way most things happen in my life are not due to my arrangement of plans, but how I flow with the experiences.

Am I in "flow" now? Hmmm...somewhat. In some ways, I believe I am allowing myself to be and welcoming whatever is yet to come (this is actually an aspiration I created for myself just over a year ago when I left my second summer intensive at Naropa). I would chalk that up to my daily sitting practice, daily readings of all kinds of spiritual materials (books, articles, affirmations), and my willingness - more times than not - to pause and breathe before I allow myself to impulsively react.

That being said, the other "somewhat" here is that so often I feel exhausted. I am not sure if this is simply a part of my "coming down" process from the whole experience of going, going for two straight years: creating a new curriculum, teaching full-time +, attending to my own Masters studies and writing a thesis, or if there is something else going on, such as 105-113 degree days on end while adjusting to a new schedule/new mind-set at work (I am teaching two sections of sixth graders and three sections of twelfth graders drama, as opposed to teaching in a - mostly self-contained sixth grade classroom) this year. Or, perhaps, it's a combination of these things...or even something else (what that would be, I do not know).

So what I am saying is I don't feel quite like I am "joyfully exerting" myself. On the other hand, I am also enjoying my work and my students. I am experiencing paradox. I am hoping for a Parker Palmer insight to install itself into this paragraph. And I am also thinking that a little Pema-ism (as in, Chödrön) is in order here (i.e. "Start where you are.").

So here I am: feeling generous of spirit, wanting to joyfully exert myself, being more patient than usual (but still wanting it all "now" and "my way," don'tcha know), being semi-disciplined (sitting meditation, yes, everything else: here and there), and yet feeling lethargic, numb, and worn out.

I am also noticing my reactions in different situations. I read an article by Noah Levine (founding teacher of the Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society) in the September issue of Shambhala Sun where he uses the term "response-ability." That struck a chord in me. When I breathe, pause, and truly listen - to myself (my gut, my heart), and to others - my ability to respond comes from a place of compassion, from a wiser place than "my thinking is right" mind. I have noticed my internal response is reaction: defense sprung from fear. I have noticed when I wait, when I pause, when I remain truly present to the experience of self and others, my ability to respond with an open mind and heart is a much better - and even more practical - way to acknowledge and behave.

I gave my Department Head, Ed, at school two ten-minute plays that I was thinking about using with my Senior students for their semester performances. A few mornings ago Ed said to me in a very serious tone, "Nicky, I'd like to make some time to talk to you about those plays you are considering." Immediately I felt my defenses go up. "What's wrong with the plays?" I thought. "He thinks I make bad choices. He's sorry he thought I'd be a good choice for drama teacher." I walked around feeling agitated all day with these thoughts and feelings.

After school that day, I met with Ed. He told me he really enjoyed the pieces I gave him (though he said, I should cut the expletives and the reference to masturbation - which I was planning to do anyway). He said he just felt like it was his responsibility to let me know that we work in a very, very conservative community and he wanted to be my advocate and make sure I made choices (he said he would never tell me what I should and shouldn't do) that wouldn't cause me to have to deal with negative backlash.


Thank you, Ed. And thank you, Universe, for another lesson learned. Pause. Listen.

I was so grateful for that dialogue. The next day I brought in one of the pieces for my students to read. One section had a completely negative response to the piece. One section was split, and the third found it humorous though they didn't quite get all the cultural/theatrical references. I decided to nix that piece. Though I want to challenge my students, I also want to meet them on their terms - where they are.

I have heard from several people who graduated the Naropa program the year before I did, that their year teaching post-graduation was a really difficult one...for a few different reasons. My friend, Joan, theorized that the difficulty may come from something that is actually a "good" thing: we are über-aware, and therefore, our sensitivity to everything is heightened. I have a feeling that I may have a somewhat-difficult year just from all that I noted at the beginning of this post. However, knowing that I can practice the paramitas of patience, generosity, discipline, meditation, joyful exertion, and prajna in order to ride the year with some grace (hopefully) and ease, allows me to believe that this year will unfold as it should and all will be well even with bumps along the way.

Do not fear the winds of adversity. Remember: A kite rises against the wind rather than with it.
~ Author Unknown

Each difficult moment has the potential to open my eyes and open my heart.
~ Myla Kabat-Zinn

I ask not for a lighter burden, but for broader shoulders.
~ Jewish Proverb

This is where I am. Today.

Happy to be here.

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