The Annual Work-Plan as Contemplative Practice (or: Why I love Sabbatical)

Sabbatical has offered many gifts. But I have to say the greatest has been the time to synthesize information from a broad range of experiences and readings into a new vision. These syntheses have enabled creative, transformative experiences to unfold for me in my professional, personal, and relational realms. I feel grateful.

This morning I had coffee with local yogi Karen, a woman I’ve known very casually for the past few years but with whom I am just starting a friendship. We chatted excitedly about her plans to craft a local yoga studio/gathering space on Tenney Mountain. An hour later I joined a group of PSU folk on campus for a conversation about chapter four of Tobin Hart’s From Information to Transformation.

On the drive home, I was struck by how my engagement in these two different (community-based) conversations were linked to one another by the theme of “creating and sustaining community” through conversations. May I share?

Kathleen mentioned how hiring, eating lunch with, and working with volunteers from the Nicaragua Club opened space for authentic and fulfilling reflection and engagement among students and faculty. Kathleen’s reflections reminded me of the idea that had been floated during the conversation many of us had approx. two years ago re: The Heart of Higher Education. Someone had suggested that we should link up with Residential Life to see if students would want to collaborate with us to hold conversations (open to anyone—PSU-affiliated or not) around topics of meaning in the dorm lounges. Mark Fischler reminded us that his father Mike, with a group of Plymouth people, had done something like that many years ago. At the time we were all interested in the idea but it didn’t get off the ground. Today, I sensed some energy around that idea—well, around ideas about how we can foster inter-community conversations about meaning– and I became hopeful that something like that could be launched.

But I’m not going to launch it.

I must admit that earlier today, over coffee with Karen, I had been flirting with the idea of organizing community conversations through the UU, or at Karen’s potential Tenney Mountain space, or with Res Life in the dorms.

But this afternoon I’ve decided to walk the contemplative talk and am choosing instead to sustain what I currently have and to help it thrive. It’s enough that right now I’m doing this College Contemplative thing—sending emails, participating in workshops and book groups, organizing this or that. I don’t need to grow this thing, yet. Really, when it comes down to it, I just need to do a kick ass job teaching, get the current research work into the publication pipeline, and keep doing this College Contemplative thing. That agenda is enriching and rewarding and it is serving, and that, frankly, is enough.

I love that sustained engagement with contemplative pedagogy over my sabbatical has given me so many “luxuries”: time to have that chat with Karen, community from which to gain the historical perspective of PSU folk such as the Fischlers, and perspective to link threads between common books we’ve read. I saw today how, clearly, the energy around The Heart of Higher Ed conversations speak to a yen for inter-community dialogue around questions of meaning that’s being expressed on multiple fronts in Plymouth right now.

My experiences today also foregrounded the resonances between these two different spheres of my life—the personal/relational/spiritual (my chat with Karen) and the professional (the contemplative pedagogy group). The resonance—and connection—for me personally is “service.” My passion to serve manifests itself as “making connections”: Making connections between people, between disciplines, between academics and non-academics…. And, huzzah! What do you know? I’m currently doing that very work.

I realized this afternoon that I should recognize, honor, and sit with that work for a while rather than leap to the next expansion. My gosh–  that’s a sustainable business model! Which brings me back to the chat with Karen this morning, and how I thought she had such reasonable and clear expectations for her self and her local yogi business….but I could go down this “connections” rabbit hole forever. 🙂

And so instead I’ll state explicitly that all of this stuff is personally rewarding and professionally enriching. But these things I ramble about are incidental (or accidental?) outcomes of the pursuit of contemplative pedagogy that I couldn’t have foreseen or planned.

And that’s what the Contemplative Pedagogy group can do for all of us: hold space in our work-plans for whatever arises. Maybe the anticipatory line-item “learn more about contemplative pedagogy” manifests itself as reading an article, or incorporating one assignment or activity into just one of your classes, or attending Meditation Mondays. Whatever that looks like in the line-item, the actual outcome will be a surprise.

So, “Contemplative pedagogy” in whatever form can hold a legit space in our work-plans for reflection, spontaneity, and creative play in our professional selves. Put that down on your work-plan and then, a year later, see what happens.

Huh—funny! If I set down an open intention and then see what comes from it, then the act of creating a work-plan itself becomes an act of contemplative practice! Ahhh. I love dashing down rabbit-holes.  🙂