Leaving Home

There was a time when, if I were to be petty at work, a colleague might affectionately ask me, “Does Princess need a cookie?” Now, I do not have the luxury of being petty at work. I am the new person.

For the past thirteen years, working as an English professor, department chair, conference organizer, and center director at a small New England university, I have benefited from my colleagues’ generous and perhaps faulty memories and assumptions about me, the power of which I’m only just now coming to recognize.

I got very used to my colleagues knowing I am a hard worker, believing my intentions to be benevolent, and assuming my actions had integrity. Now– working in a new role, in a new state, at a new institution– I find myself operating without this safety net. It’s hard.

Rather than my slip-ups being generously read as a momentary lapse in an otherwise long and distinguished career of “getting it right,” I feel like my slip-ups now are magnified as potentially pattern-setting character deficits. They have the power to define me to colleagues I have only just met. And, being new, I slip-up. Often.

I gotta say: I got used to people thinking I’m awesome.

Or, at least treating me like they do.

This move has been great in a lot of ways. But once in a while I find myself struggling with identity issues and homesickness. It’s times like these I am grateful I have a practice that requires me to pause, reflect, digest.

Spring in Virginia

After contemplative practice, I am reminded that one of the reasons I left my cozy, tenured New England paradise was that I had wanted to be stretched and challenged. I knew I had been resting on my laurels and suspected I was getting… less awesome. And, after practice, I feel inspired to embrace this stretch and challenge.

But also, while people had treated me like I was awesome, some part of me knew I wasn’t actually being awesome. I wasn’t working as hard as I could. I wasn’t as sharp as I could have been. Don’t get me wrong: I have no interest in over-working or self-flagellation. And I did a good job. More precisely, I was comfortable but I wasn’t flourishing.

I recognize the ridiculous amount of privilege I have to even write such words. Ouch.

And so, this new environment, while challenging, is … well… challenging! And that is awesome. I am re-learning humility as I watch myself screw up this and that little detail. I also have a chance to examine my enaction of integrity and devotion– two key words for me in my practice. I also get to feel fear arise as I now, without tenure, vulnerable to budget cuts and the vacillations of administrative whims, navigate new dangers.

All of this is to say: I miss my peeps. I am excited by this challenge. I am fearful of being inadequate. I am human. I am feeling. I am privileged. I am struggling. I am grateful.

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Plans for the Fall semester

Here’s a copy of the recent email I circulated, sketching our plan for the semester.
I’ve gotten some excellent feedback and ideas and volunteers– horrah! So, here’s what the semester looks like so far.
1. Reflective Practice: Annette and I would like to start a reflective practice group. Let us know if you’re interested and we’ll figure out a time/day that works and post info to this list.
2. Meditation: Hridaya will be organizing Meditation Mondays this semester. Meditations will be facilitated by rotating volunteers. You’ll hear more from Hridaya on that front.
3. Book Club: Brigid has volunteered to organize a weekly book club based around “Integral Education” in a chapter-a-week kind of format. You’ll hear more from Brigid soon.
4. Discussion: We have a blog! Let’s keep it active as a hub for conversation, questions, and development of ideas. You can post comments anytime but also consider being a guest blogger! I can “invite” people at any time, so let me know if you’re interested. This will be our main form of community building and I would love for it to track the development of our thinking as well as the movement on campus. Please do participate. If you’ve read a book or article or attended a workshop, please consider posting your notes so we can all learn together.
5. Retreat: We’d like to organize a two-day retreat for January at Waterville. Kathleen and I will get back to you on details.
6. Future reading: Nancy has recommended The Living Classroom and we also have Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness, and Radical Presence: Teaching as Contemplative Practice on our radar. Perhaps these can be discussed on the blog or at our retreat.
7. New name: we’re going to adopt the blog name as our group name: “College contemplative.” Contemplative/Mindfulness Pedagogy, while descriptive, is just getting too cumbersome and wordy. So, emails will have “College contemplative” on the subject line from now on.
8. Mayhem: There is talk of an end-of-semester podium-burning party (held off campus). You have been warned.