A strange year
It has been a strange year and as it’s end approaches I am wondering what to make of it all. How to make sense of it and the impact COVID-19 has had on all our lives. We have each woven our own thread yet it has also been a collective experience. Having COVID in common seems to have created, in some contexts at least, more of a willingness to permit space for our shared vulnerability and valuing collective endeavour. However, I am not suggesting, in a naïve way, that we have all ‘been in this together’, had the same experience or that people have become more cohesive. This year has been notable for unveiling and sharpening social, political and economic divisions and entrenching views.
For me, working as an educator in higher education has been both anxiety provoking and exciting too. The move online has meant that many of my pedagogic preferences have had to be let go, enabling me to engage with the possibilities rather than getting stuck in how I wish things could be. I have been encouraged by the way that many educators are taking the time to really consider what it means to look after students and impressed by the creativity of teaching activities. This was central to our explorations at the contemplative pedagogy symposium at the end of the summer.
But I am also struck by the tension of providing sufficient support for students whilst looking after ourselves. I know I am not alone in feeling caught between student needs, institutional pressures, the responsibilities and commitments of my personal life and the need for rest and recreation. This is the year where we have literally been bringing our students in to our homes and vice versa. Discussing the role of the personal and public in teaching Palmer notes: ‘…teaching is always done at the dangerous intersection of personal and public life…a good teacher must stand where personal and public meet, dealing with the thundering flow of traffic at an intersection where “weaving a web of connectedness” feels more like crossing a freeway on foot’ (Palmer 2007) He is describing how, even in ‘normal’ circumstances we cannot teach without revealing something of ourselves, but this year has meant revealing something of our homes and families and as a result touched on our vulnerabilities too.
Beyond our individual experiences, COVID has had a significant impact on the higher education sector more broadly. The financial precariousness of the sector has been highlighted as income sources were curtailed and staff faced pay freezes, reductions in hours and in some cases redundancies. This raises important questions for all of us that can feel particularly challenging to engage in when we are each struggling to do our day jobs!
Making sense together…
Last week I realised that I wanted to create some time to reflect on this year. To consider what my experience has been, what I have learned, what I have enjoyed as well as what I have resisted and resented! Contemplative practice can help us put down the busyness of our lives and find stillness. This opens the door to exploring and reflecting on our experience, helping us to find meaning, make sense and start to feel our way ahead. But I realised that I didn’t want to do this on my own but with other educators working with contemplative practice. So, in short, you are invited to:
Finding stillness to take the next step
An evening of practice, reflection and community
Wednesday 16th December 19.00-20.30pm
Join me online (via Zoom) for an evening of shared meditation practice, creative reflection and community discussion to explore and make sense of our work as educators in higher education at this time. The practices will be designed to facilitate stillness and spaciousness to give us the perspective to see what we want to leave behind and identify the inspiration we wish to take forward. I hope that it will be an insightful and supportive evening that helps us to connect with our own experience as well as feeling part of a community. Please bring a pen and paper and whatever you might need to be comfortable meditating for up to 15 minutes.
Please note: if you are suffering with acute mental illness, anxiety, or have experienced recent trauma, it may not be the best time to try meditation practice for the first time. Do get in touch if you have questions or concerns.
To register for the event: members of the Contemplative Pedagogy Network will have received an email inviting them to register for this event. If you are not yet a member of the network but would like to attend or you did not receive the invitation please email me directly and I will send you the link.