For as long as I can remember there have been two fresh starts for me during the year. The first being the beginning of the academic calendar and then the start of the New Year. This year was no different. The excitement of new students and the return of the upperclass students always get the adrenaline pumping and bring newfound energy.
January is a bit different as we are bombarded with the idea of resolutions and commitments to lose weight, workout more, eat healthy, volunteer to help others, and manage our finances more effectively. All of these are resolutions I have made throughout my lifetime. This year was going to be different. No resolutions for me!
As I began to reflect, I chose to listen to mindfulness CDs, read a meditation book, and pay more attention to the wisdom of a mentor in my life. I am learning to grow in two areas. The first is to stay fully present in the moment. The second, even more challenging, is to be accepting of my current circumstances whatever they may be. Both of these continue to bring about life-changing experiences.
Buddhist teacher and author Pema Chödrön writes, “Being fully present isn’t something that happens once and then you have achieved it; it’s being awake to the ebb and flow and movement and creation of life, being alive to the process of life itself.” I find this helpful in my work, whether meeting with a student or presenting at a board meeting. I look in people’s eyes more and try hard not to think ahead and finish their story. I am less worried about what is next on my schedule and more present to now. The result is feeling more connected, energized, and open to conclusions that were unexpected.
The meditation book I spoke of I would like to share and recommend that you read it along with me. It is The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo. He writes each day about different ways to be present in all situations. In his words,
“To be alive, to look out from these small canyons called eyes, to receive light from the sun off the water and feel it shimmer on the common water that fills my heart. To listen to the silence waiting under our stories, long enough that all the vanished words said over time simmer up in a scent that, for a second, makes me feel journeys that are not mine. Till I surface before you with a stumbled sense of happiness. Not because I’m any closer to what I want, or even know what I want. But because in the flood of all that is living, I am electrified—the way a muscle dreams under the skin of lifting what-ever needs to be lifted.”
The second area of growth is that of accepting current circumstances, whatever they may be. To think of the events happening in our world, to accept the suffering in and around us is not an easy journey. Again, I turn to Chödrön as she writes,
“This is what we are here to see for ourselves. Both the brilliance and the suffering are here all the time; they interpenetrate each other. For a fully enlightened being, the difference between what is neurosis and what is wisdom is very hard to perceive, because somehow the energy underlying both of them is the same. The basic creative energy of life … bubbles up and courses through all of existence. It can be experienced as open, free, unburden-ed, full of possibility, energizing. Or this very same energy can be experienced as petty, narrow, stuck,caught…”
We experience this with the men and women we work with. We hear their stories and the ways lives are being changed, and we struggle when we see brilliant, accomplished students be consumed by their dual disorders. Yet truth can be found in each experience. Judgment is actually not about “the truth;” it merely reflects the individual’s own history and experience of what is happening.
If you are willing to practice accepting what is, without judgment, individuals as well as organizations, like the Association of Recovery in Higher Education (ARHE), will become more skilled in helping students succeed in growing into compassionate, caring, and self-accepting human beings able to negotiate whatever life presents.