There is a beautiful stream that flows down the street from my home – it enters from one end, flows under the street bridge and emerges on the other side. I love going to stand on the side of the bridge where the water flows away from me – though most of the time, it looks quite still. For the last three years, I would spend some time looking around at the greenery that grows around the stream and enjoying the sound of the water. This past summer I became very curious about whether fish and other animals lived in the stream. I had wondered about what lives here before but the water was so murky that I just never bothered to look for any signs of life for longer than a minute.
But this time, I had also gone to the stream with a different purpose in mind. It was to unwind after the school year and allow my mind to rest – not doing anything in particular… just being in the moment, taking in all that nature presented before me. So, I just stood and enjoyed the water. Its murkiness, the occasional ripples, and then of course all the sounds of life around the stream – rustling leaves and different bird calls. Just watching, just being…
Before I knew it, I began to see rocks on the floor of the stream and the texture of the floor became more apparent. I was actually seeing through the water. Minutes passed…
And wow! There was a fish… and then two…three…ten! Just watching, just being…
A school of fish came into sight in the once murky waters. It was as if the water had mysteriously become clear. A man who was walking by also stopped to peer into the stream. I told him about my experience and we both watched the stream. After a while he said, “Look at those crab-like fish.” I looked, and where I had once seen rocks, I saw crab-like fish moving ever so slowly into holes between rocks and making their journey from one rock to the next. I stood there, continuing to watch as the moments unfolded, immersed in the sites within the murky waters and sounds around the stream.
I began visiting the stream everyday and the same process would unfold. The water would look murky, mixed with mud, and slowly grow lucid. The clutter would fall away and life in the water would come to life. As 15 or 20 minutes passed by, it felt as if the chaos of dirt mixing with water fell away and left a clear view of the life that truly existed in the stream. On one occasion, what looked like a large rock turned out to be a snapper turtle.
There is a big IF to the experience of course. IF I allowed myself to be still and immersed in the present moment, then the underlying clarity of the water revealed itself. IF I had gone on Twitter or my email and texts, I would have never penetrated the initial murkiness that veiled what truly existed.
I keep thinking of these times at the stream as schools around the country are opening and classes are starting. The transition from summer vacation to the school year is a process of moving into uncertainty and overwhelm at times. Who will my new teachers be? What exactly makes up the course I am taking? What do I wear to school so I “fit in”? Will the school year be filled with nourishing relationships with peers, teachers, counselors, principals, etc.? Will I be able to do it? Who will I sit with at lunch? How will I get my lunch? Who do I go to if I need help? How do I meet new expectations as I enter the next grade level? There are SO many more questions I could list here. On top of the “newness” in this transition, you may be avidly checking Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, email inbox, and endless texts so you don’t miss any of the “organized chaos” of the start of the year.
Wow! Just writing of a tiny slice of the tons of questions and social media outlets made me want to take a step back and take a deep inhale and full exhale. So how does this have anything to do with the stream?
Well, the transition to school is complex – it’s murky. It’s chaotic and not grounding at first. The feelings that arise about the next 10 months and the bombardment of social media cloud the clear calm waters of the mind. Feelings about a new year (an unknown) rise and fall. Thoughts about your first encounters at school are in flux. Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, shopping, an endless stream of negative “breaking news” fill the mind, stimulating it and leaving it restless.
This overabundance of stimulation hinders our ability to think clearly and see what truly enlivens our beings. Our minds, as murky as the stream water now, struggle to see beyond the constant flux of thoughts, emotions, and external stimulations. To see through the murky stream of a new school year, we must step back and unplug for a bit. As a teacher, my preparation for the new year starts when the previous school year ends. But it’s during the weeks that precede the new school year that we also feel some of the same things students feel.
We all are, at the core, learners and subject to the same experiences that manifest themselves in different ways depending on our position – student or teacher, business owner or employee, artist or technician (the list goes on).
So, I sat down a month ago and started a three-week social media fast. I also restarted several grounding rituals that I had dropped over the summer. I did not read the news for about a month. I spent time with my family, spent time tending my plants, and also experienced Ayurveda – the sister science of yoga – an extremely powerful antidote to some of the unsettling effects of modern life. In this process, the chaos and murky waters of my mind began to subside into stillness.
I began to see what tasks truly need my attention to move forward during this transition and beyond with confidence and clarity. For me, this included the following:
- A filling breakfast.
- Earlier dinners so I can sleep earlier.
- Not multitasking when eating.
- Turning off ALL notifications on my phone apps.
- Regular exercise and breathwork.
- Regularly connecting with family/friends
I was so surprised that, after making my list, and beginning to implement it (many of the items are old habits with some tweaks), LIFE FELT MUCH SIMPLER. I was unplugging from what was unnecessary. *joyful sigh of relief*
What can students do at this time? Let’s take a look at “Action for this post” (below).
Action for this post:
Try at least one of the following. If you can do more that one that is great! But making lifestyle changes towards simplicity and clarity are best made in small steps so that we can build long-lasting healthy habits.
- Turn off notifications from as many social media apps as possible.
- Keep your phone beyond arms reach at night.
- Turn your phones off and do not keep them out in class (it’s best to keep them in your lockers!). The mind is in a habit of checking the phone and feels a sense of urgency to do so – this will significantly undermine your efforts to learn.
- Do not touch your phone unless necessary past 7 pm.
- Engage in positive social company by avoiding negativity and unkind gossip.
- Organize all of your binders, notebooks, schedules, and keep an organized list of when each teacher is free for extra help. Keep this organization going by re-organizing as needed every two weeks.
- Identify and get to know a few trusted adults that you feel comfortable going to if challenging situations arise.
- Make self-care a priority – take deep breaths every morning and every evening and stretch or exercise for 5 minutes before school.
- Set an intention that you will not give up even when things get very challenging and remind yourself of this intention on a regular basis.
This next bullet, over time, has tremendous positive and powerful effects on the way you think about yourself:
- Stop saying “I’m stupid/dumb/an idiot/not good enough” or “I’ll never get this” or “No one likes me” or “Why should I try?”. Not saying these things (which aren’t true about anyone!!) will weaken their wiring in your mind.
- Come up with your own lifestyle change that you think will support your ability to stay grounded and don’t hesitate to reach out to a trusted person when you feel overwhelmed.
NOTE: In the next blog post, I will present a reflective meditation to help the mind assimilate the material in this article! Stay tuned!