In my 40's, I've finally learned some ways to check my thoughts. I could and can get totally caught up by my own thinking. I also have the ability to catastrophize. A wise old women I knew put it best when she said, "I worried about 100 things. 99 of them didn't happen and one almost did." Like my friend Marian, I did this all the time. Election season bring back some of these bad habits. I can be a politics junkie if I am not careful.
Prayer, breathing, meditation, mindfulness and self-awareness have give me a tool-kit to get out of my own head and out of my own way. This election season in particular has tested this ability. I checked Nate Silver's 538 about 8 times a day until about a week ago when I just had to stop making myself worried.
I canvassed today for my preferred candidate. I'll vote. But I have to realize that I can do very little to change the outcome. My vote is statistically insignificant. One of millions. I convinced one unlikely voter to vote today while canvassing. Or maybe this woman was just being polite.
My son failed his first 4 driving tests. (In his defense, I blame his second failure fully on the test-giver) With each failure, future failure become more likely. His anxiety rose. On the sad car ride back from the testing site after the 4th failure, I talked to him about some of the tools I now use to calm myself and relax. Maybe this helped him as he took his 5th test, because he passed it. I asked him if he used some of the tools. He said they really helped.
For me, these tools are spiritual in nature because that's the vocabulary that makes the most sense to me. These tools can have a secular vocabulary. I convinced the mindfulness movement is getting at some of the same things Buddhists have been doing for millennia. Many Recovery programs are also based on teaching this self-awareness and teach "letting go". As someone raised in the Catholic tradition, I am most comfortable using Christian language to do this.
I teach 12th graders who are freaking out about college. Wouldn't it be great if they had a toolkit to help them navigate this year? These aren't intellectual tools; they are self-awareness tools.
I took a step in this direction this week by playing for my students David Foster Wallace's This is Water speech to help them understand that they construct their own realities and can control how they perceive and react to the world. (I embedded the lesson in a broader International Relations lesson on how nations and peoples can construct collective realities. Germans have a word for this spirit of an age, zeitgeist. )
Teaching always calls me to my best self. I am my least petty, most generous, most understanding and most open when I am working with students. I expect most good teachers are. I think this lesson for the students was at some level really a reminder to myself to get out of my own head. When I'm not self-absorbed and wrapped up in my own head, I'm clearly a better, happier person.
While writing the paragraph above, I realized something that should be so obvious but hitherto I have never thought of- while teaching, I go outside of myself thereby letting me be my best self. That's probably why teaching has always made me so happy.
I still hate elections.
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