My daughter recently sent me a photo that she had taken on her college campus. The image shows a big expanse of space with lots and lots of students in it. What was the most striking feature in the shot? Everyone is on their phone. Beneath the photo she wrote; “The Zombie Apocalypse Is Upon Us.”
This so heart-breakingly exemplifies my experience of late teaching at the college level. For the very first time in over a decade, I am beginning to wonder how long I will continue teaching. I am questioning what I do not because I am burnt out, or out of passion for what I teach, or lacking in creative ideas for lesson plans. I am not considering life out of academia because I am retiring, or because I am wanting to do something else. It is purely because I do not know how much longer I can teach to students who are so rarely in a position to learn. Based on recent conversations with other teachers at both the college and secondary level, I am not alone.
Regularly, students come to class exhausted, sick and hungry. Regularly, students show up expecting the information to be predigested and then down-loaded to them. Add to this the technologies. Right up to the moment that they step into class, they are on their phones. And then, it is the first thing they go to when class lets out. Many have told me that even when it is not with them in the room (as it cannot be in the class I teach) it is what they are thinking about nonetheless. Recently a student told me that she cannot wait to get out of class to rush back to her apartment so that she can be freely on her phone without interruption. She has noticed how much she is just dying to get back to catch up on what has happened, on what she has missed for the last hour or two; only to be left too often with an empty feeling and a wondering about why it is that she is doing this.
I am watching myself very, very closely now. I am asking myself to be aware of when it is that I am the hardest working person in the room. I am also watching them very, very closely to see if I can discern when it is that they cross over into some place where there is no coming back from. A place where the human call can no longer reach them. A place where they officially have become zombies, interested only in the call of their master; the screen.
Every Wednesday I take a yoga class where the teacher guides us through many postures that I know well. She also guides us in postures that not only have I never done before, but that I also have never seen or heard of. I like this. Why? Because every week lots and lots gets revealed to me about me, and the ways I most want to live.
For instance, lately I am seeing that there are those extreme, rare, and unique shapes to put my body and mind into that run parallel to what I encounter in life. And while I can sometimes believe that I need to prepare and know ahead of time how to approach or manage everything that comes my way, I can see that this is not true. I can see that there is another way.
How this shows up on the mat is that when I am practicing never before encountered poses, what is required of me falls into two categories. First, I am asked to engage in a kind of presence, openness, willingness and receptiveness as the leading response to what I am involved with no matter how challenging, foreign, or out of my comfort zone.
Second, these out of my comfort zone experiences demand a kind of baseline strength, balance, and flexibility that is honed through my daily habits and practices. What this looks like on the yoga mat is that the fundamental skills that I have developed over years of practice put me in a better position to attempt, be with, and oftentimes be “successful” with postures that I have never done before.
What I am suggesting here is the dual work of daily finding opportunities to both open and strengthen yourself in ways that allow you to be with all of you, and with all of life’s challenges. This approach relies on the development of a kind of inner strength and confidence that is built on attending daily to what needs strengthening in your life. To what is calling for more balance. And to what is demanding more flexibility on your part.
I am laying in bed, not sleeping for the umpteenth night in a row. Why? Because I am brainstorming about how I can take care of the excessive light that is coming into our bedroom at night. Since moving into our new home, we have gone from a dark cave to a brilliantly lit room. Lovely during the day. Intrusive at night.
On one particular night, I catch myself. I hear what is underneath all the ruminating I am doing in my mind about this. Beyond the realities of the importance of a dark room for a good night’s sleep, I begin to sense something else. That being, that all of this trying to manage something is my way of trying to get it all just so, so that I can finally be OK.
The sheer recognition of this loosens something inside, creating enough inner space for me to wonder; Even with things as they are, could I still choose to be OK right now without anything needing to change? Could I choose to make the adjustments that are within my power to make, when the opportunities to do so present themselves, and then be willing to be with things exactly as they are? Could I let go of all of the obsessive fixing, fussing, and rearranging that I am doing in my mind? Could I let go of needing things outside of myself to be a certain way? This is no easy thing to do, programmed as I am, to believe that life must line up just so in certain areas of my life.
It is such a human thing to try and improve upon things in our outer circumstances. It is so very normal to imagine how things could be different. In and of itself, this is not a problem. The problem arises when we live as if we cannot be OK unless… Or until… We can even go so far as to build a whole life based on trying to get things to turn out how we think we need them to be.