Saturday, September 27, 2008

Tentatively Embracing Complexity Again?

I continue to be on track with my running (pun intended!). I haven't progressed beyond ten minutes in one go; but since one of my goals is not to push myself too hard, I can say that I am making great progress in my goal of not pushing myself too hard! Steady progress in running ability is not actually possible. Many training schedules include a week of holding steady or even cutting back a little every few weeks. After my initial steady improvement, I am not surprised to find myself hitting a plateau now.

I'm having a hard time finding time for research, though. My life has gotten immensely busy again. Because of lots of interest from students, former students, faculty members, and the president of my university, I decided that I could not let go of our plan to construct a Peace Studies minor where I teach. Besides, I am teaching a Peace Studies course again, and revisiting the material has been very good for me. I am also amazed all over again to witness the effect of this course on my students. This weekend is family weekend, and the parents of one of my students came by my office to say that the Peace Studies course is their daughter's favorite course, and they asked me for reading recommendations so that they could talk with her intelligently about this material.

I'm still putting in some time for research -- having some real deadlines helps keep me focused! I have a paper I have to finish this weekend. I should be working on it right now. So I will.

Busy though I have been, I am reasonably happy. My decision to resume with Peace Studies has made me happier than I expected. It had been a good plan when I thought I would be relieved of chairing my department. But when I learned that I had to continue as Chair of Philosophy for two more years, I considered letting go of the Peace Studies plan, at least temporarily. Deciding not to let it go does complicate my life. But it feels really important, and that gives me energy.

And my life as Chair of my department is in fact better this year. We have a new faculty member who has brought good energy to our department, and I am amazed at how much of a difference this has made. I've been carrying so much of the weight of our department for so long that I honestly did not know that things could be different if others had time and were willing to take some initiative in departmental projects. I've always liked my colleagues, but they've tended to either be focused on their teaching and research or highly involved in other initiatives in our university. Having someone who has taken interest in our department and wants to help it develop to its full potential is making a huge difference. Our department now gets together for lunch every week, and we have set up a schedule of sharing our research with each other once a month.

So, I'm busy, but things are looking up, and I am very glad about this.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Running Update

My running is still going well. I've now kept to my schedule for four weeks, and I'm up to being able to run for 10 minutes in my first stretch of running. Then I walk a bit and run about three more times in shorter spells. The total time of this run-walk is about 20 minutes, framed by 5-10 minutes of walking to warm up and again to cool down.

I'm pleased. I did not expect to be able to do this well this soon. And I do not feel like I'm pushing myself too hard. I'll continue not to push myself too hard -- I'm kind of happy with 10 minutes and will let myself stay at this stage for a while if I need to, extending it only very gradually. Instead of pushing to extend longest run, I'm gradually extending the duration of the run-walk part.

I think there must be something to theories of "body memory." Because there were significant times in my past during which I did run regularly, my body in some sense remembers this and is able to adapt more quickly to my running again than if I were only just now in life starting for the first time. I'm still a long way from the level of fitness I once had, but, like I said, I'm surprised that I'm progressing faster than I expected.

I'm also really happy about how well the running has improved my overall energy and my spirits.

Another good sign is that I find myself at times throughout the day thinking, "I'd rather be running," and looking forward to the next time I go. My times of running are transcendent moments. I connect with nature and with a wider perspective in which my own problems become recontextualized as small, local, and manageable, losing the inflated cosmic proportions they can sometimes assume during my moments of despair. Despair itself becomes reconceptualized as merely human.

As I run, I feel like a very small dot, moving slowly in a huge landscape. I feel both tired and powerful as I propel myself across the face of the earth. Illusions fall away in such a pure physical encounter with exactly what I can and cannot do. There it is. I see what I can do, but I also experience exactly how difficult it is. It is difficult and easy, both. At every moment, I can choose how hard to push. I watch too how I make these decisions. I try simply to notice rather than judge. In this, I learn about who I am in new ways.

For example, I used to have a habit of pushing myself very hard. But after my encounter with burnout, something in me has changed. I see it reflected in my running. Keeping the running going is too important to me now to risk injury. I am not as inclined to push as hard as I used to do, and I see in this the growth of a very real self-compassion.

I saw an article in our local paper not long ago about an 82 year old woman who has been running for 30 years. There was a photo of her, and she looked great: not only fit, but happy. I thought: "I want to be like her when I'm her age!"

Keeping with it is much more important than how quickly I progress.

I will have to keep telling myself this, because it will get harder as the daylight hours get shorter and the weather gets colder. And so I remind myself too that this is an opportunity to notice the changing seasons more vividly. That is part of the journey too.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Running, Yes; Research, Well, Er...

My running still goes well and is still on track!

But my research plan? Well, er, once I realized that I'd lost momentum, I decided to pour energy this week into getting caught up and even ahead in certain lingering administrative matters (mostly having to do with my ever fascinating life as department chair), vowing to myself to get back on track with the research this coming week for sure!

But it's a dangerous tactic. Since of course I didn't quite accomplish all I wanted to accomplish, it's awfully tempting to put it off one more week. But that quickly would become a slippery slope! So I will do my best to resist that temptation.

Besides, a big part of my lack of success this week at accomplishing all that I wanted to accomplish was that I wasn't working very efficiently, in large part because I was swimming in the molasses of depressive symptoms again, which in turn I think was mainly due to losing a sense of who I am and what I feel called to do in life, which itself is due mostly to the fact that I've lost momentum on my research.

So, the solution to all of my woes is to follow my research schedule strictly again next week!

I've started by working on it a bit today. And it's helping my mood significantly.

Surprisingly, despite all of this background drama in my life, the teaching is going very well. I am grateful for that. My students this semester are really splendid!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

More on Running

Strangely enough, one of the new features of my running program that helps make it work for me is my required days off. On the days that are not my required days off, if I'm tired and having trouble getting up, I think to myself, "Look, I have to take tomorrow off, so I really need to go today," and, surprisingly, that works!

My previous system was to go at least four times a week, but with the implication that more was better, and without specifying which days (except that I could take no more than two days off in a row, but only rarely: preferably only one).

Nice and flexible, yet clear, right?

But in the morning waking-up haze of having to make a new decision each day, it was too much for me. It became far too easy to find excuses not to go, especially as the semester wore on, time pressures intensified, and the days got shorter and colder. If two days elapsed without running, I knew that I'd have to run now a few days in a row to make my four-times-per-week goal, and so the pressure to go every day would increase. But if (when) that pressure became too much for me and I let myself slip to missing more than two days, then I realized that my next time out would be perceptibly harder. Going out would confirm this, which was discouraging, and so before I knew it, I found myself well along the path of giving up entirely.

The feature that is working surprisingly well for me this time is my specifying exactly which days I must run, and exactly which days I must not run. No new decisions to make. The decision is already made. I just comply. And if I'm grumpy about having to go out, I remind myself that I'll be glad I did, and I also remind myself that tomorrow I get to stay in, and there I go. Simple.

It's funny that this is kind of negative when I usually try to find positive motivations, but, hey, it's working for me right now, so I'll accept it!

And I also trust that the positive addiction (that I'm already seeing signs of) will grow as my fitness level increases.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Semester is Rolling

The semester is fully underway now.

I've been keeping up with my running schedule! I've now had two weeks of 4 times of going out for a 30-minute walk/run, and can run continuously for 5 minutes. I then add in other times of running as I am able to manage for the next 10-15 minutes. This walk/run is framed by 10 minutes each of walking to warm up and cool down. I am really really happy that I have been able to do this. To succeed for two weeks is a solid step along the way of instituting something as a new habit in one's life.

My classes are starting off pretty well, I think. One course I'm teaching is part of a new experimental program we might institute, and I was pleased to receive permission to teach it as a pass/fail course. This will greatly simplify my life, because I can give students feedback without being evaluative about it!

Shockingly enough, one student dropped the course, claiming that it was too demanding in her already demanding schedule! But also, interestingly enough, already I could tell on the first day that she wasn't really going to do this. What put her off? Mostly I have very good rapport with my students, but every now and then I do encounter a student who, so to speak, takes one look at me and runs as fast as possible in the opposite direction. I try not to take the personally. Since they don't really know me yet, maybe it just indicates that somehow I remind them of someone in their past that they had a bad experience with. While I know to give people the benefit of the doubt until I really do get to know them, young people especially maybe haven't learned this in life yet.

But I have to admit that the design of this course is pretty intense. It's a chance for sophomores to connect philosophy with real life. (The course is called, "The Meaning of Life.") And I think students see that I'm really serious about this, and some students are really drawn to this and find it exciting, but others are terrified -- and maybe for good reason!

At any rate, to be honest, I'm kind of pleased to be able to say to some of my dubious colleagues, "I scared one student away from my pass/fail course," because most of my colleagues think that pass/fail courses are fluff courses. Those who know me and have examined my teaching know that all of my courses are demanding, in very good ways. But those who don't know me so well still do know that I question our grading system (I'm kind of famous on campus for that), and so they are inclined to scrutinize my various experiments with grading somewhat critically. I don't mind. I think this is healthy and important. I totally agree with them that we don't want to change our system unless we are sure that doing so would genuinely improve the effectiveness of the kind of education we want to provide. And I know that I haven't myself figured out how to do this, and so I don't presume that my experiments so far are anything more than experiments. I have not developed a system I myself am fully happy with yet.

My research did stall out last week, not so much because of the busyness of the start of a new semester, but because of new extraordinary events in my life. But I think that things are calming down again, and I did find some time to work on research again yesterday.

Just when I was starting to think that I had calmed the forces that bear down on me imposing great pressure upon me, they begin to intensify again. In counseling, I continue to work on trying to understand my own role in all of this, and how to deal with it effectively.

Meanwhile, I haven't been oblivious to current events in the world around me. I just haven't been blogging about them. There's a lot I could say about politics, for example, but, well, don't get me started...