The work of an educator is always challenging. Yes, it does get easier over time—perhaps because we acquire more strategies to manage the challenges? But it’s always going to be hard. Change is hard, and that’s one thing we can count on if we work in schools.
Being human is also hard at times. The best thing we can do is to learn how to respond to the difficult moments and bank every positive, joyful, and satisfying moment. Winter is the optimal time to engage in contemplation—a key strategy for cultivating emotional resilience.
Myles Horton was the founder of the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, a training ground of sorts for civil rights protesters and later for people beginning the environmental movement. When asked what he did to develop resilience or get a break from the pressure of his work, he said, “I look at the mountains. I just sit back and look at the mountains.”
The Power of Contemplation
Traditionally, when you think of contemplative practices you might think about meditation, prayer, stillness, and silence. But we can widen the definition of this concept and perhaps find that there are other activities we might try that achieve the same purpose—to slow down, turn inward, and reflect on who we are and on life, to appreciate and celebrate the little joys, and to connect with other living and nonliving beings.
This morning, as I thought about writing this post, my cat settled into my lap. I put the computer down and found myself absorbed in petting her soft, fluffy fur and listening to her low purr. I watched her eyes slowly close as she fell asleep and her head dropped onto her paws. I lost track of time for a few minutes and found myself in deep appreciation for this creature that lives with me. I felt calm, peaceful, and happy. And then I realized that I was engaging in a contemplative activity.
Contemplation in Action
The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society offers a Tree of Contemplative Practices that suggests seven branches of practice: stillness, generative, creative, activist, relational, movement, and ritual.
Among the activities included are singing, storytelling, visualization, journaling, drawing, dance, and bearing witness. This resource also reminds us that activities like eating an apple, weeding the garden, or preparing a meal can be done in a contemplative fashion when done with the intent of cultivating awareness and wisdom.
Which kinds of contemplative strategies do you already use? Which do you really enjoy? What else might you try?
When you carve out time to pause, turn inward, or connect deeply with others, you are fueling your reserves of resilience—emotionally, physically, and perhaps spiritually. The key is to engage in the practice with intention, with presence and focus.
Perhaps with the short winter days and the break from school you can find some time to cultivate contemplative practices that can continue in the new year.