Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Waning Summer

There are signs that the summer is drawing to a close. I always regard these signs with mixed feelings. In the academic life, the summer can offer precious contemplative time.

I realize too, that for myself, I appreciate the emotional break. What do I mean? Well, I am one of those people who gets profoundly emotionally caught up in the lives of the people around me. During the academic year, I am surrounded by large numbers of stressed-out people -- both my students and my colleagues! Even if I am getting better at cultivating my own inner calm (or maybe because I am getting better at this!), I cannot help but be affected by the emotional turmoil of everyone I care about. While I have not been entirely free of this during the summer, the amount and intensity of it is much reduced. And I have appreciated that relief. My soul has, most of all, needed time to rest and breathe.

Yet, I also always get excited and charged up by the start of a new school year! This has been true all my life, and yet it astonishes me anew every year. At the beginning of the summer, I know it will fly by quickly (and it always does), and I am usually so exhausted that I can not imagine ever wanting the school year to start up again. So, when August settles in and I find myself happy and excited by the e-mails announcing the start of school year events, I am just amazed.

It reminds me of my bicycle tour days. Sometimes I would get really exhausted, but I wouldn't let myself stop, sure that once I did stop, I would never be able to get going again. But finally I would just have to stop. Wearily I'd sit there and sip some water and munch on a roll and treasure every whisper of a breeze. After eating, I would just sit there and gaze around, trying not to think about anything, but just be. And then, after a rest of about a half-an-hour, I'd pack up again and get back on, and would be just astounded at how refreshed I did feel.

This is how I am feeling now. On the one hand, I am a little dismayed not to have accomplished all that I had hoped to accomplish this summer, but my happiness at the approach of the new school year tells me that the summer was not at all wasted.

The trips I took were each valuable and important. And I have accomplished some of what I hoped to accomplish.

And there is still time to accomplish a little more.

So, here are my current burning questions:

  • How do I more effectively face the aspects of my job that frighten me? When you have a really complex job with lots of demands, it is all too easy to keep veering away from the aspects that are comparatively anxiety-producing. You turn your attention instead to other dimensions of your work, and say you are "too busy" to attend to those scary tasks, until they loom with more urgency (making them more frightening). So, what are good ways to face the more stressful dimensions of one's work?
  • How can I be supportive of those around me without getting as emotionally burnt out as I became by the end of this past academic year?
  • How do I cultivate nurturing and supportive friendships and relationships for myself as well?

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