Hiking in Cold Spring Harbor
From some recent fall adventures (Shelter Island and the Hamptons) ..
The best, best, best thing I’ve ever done in my professional career was attend the week-long Creative Connections Mindfulness Retreat in Yosemite last month. This beautifully conceived retreat was organized by colleagues/super-women Tanya Golash-Boza and Zulema Valdez at UC-Merced and France Winddance Twine at UC-Santa Barbara. Words cannot express how life-changing and life-affirming this experience was.. but I’ll try anyway 🙂
Our schedule included everything from workshops, yoga, hiking, swimming, professional massage and meditation. Every morning, we got up around 6 AM for breakfast. We were writing, in silence, by 7:30. We prepared and ate healthy meals together, supported each other’s work and laughed incessantly — all in an incredibly gorgeous environment surrounded by natural, rustic beauty.
One thing I know for sure is that I would not have been invited to participate in such an auspicious gathering if I had not “come out” about my spiritual practice and commitment to holistic well-being via this blog two years ago. Writing about my experience integrating mindfulness, self-care and meditation into my everyday life allowed me to build community with other scholars with similar perspectives. Those friendships, in turn, have fostered connections and opportunities I could have never imagined when I first sat down to pen this post.
One of the things that made this retreat such an incredible and unique academic environment is that it was a completely bullshit-free zone. Amazingly, I was the only junior scholar in attendance (someone actually got tenure during the retreat!) While everyone else there (with the exception of yours truly :)) was a senior scholar/rockstar, we all left our professional identities at the door. There was no sense of “you should know who I am”, no “Dr. this” or “professor that”. There was simply an assumed knowledge that everyone in attendance was valued and valuable on multiple levels.
This attention to creating a holistic space for creativity and productivity was evident in details big and small. The conveners of the retreat selected participants with overlapping interests and areas of expertise. Our small-groups were organized around specific themes pertaining to our research. Every morning, we discussed issues of wellness, self-care and handling professional dilemmas. We worked together to cook delicious meals and keep our cabin clean. The space we created was fun, productive, friendly and nurturing. I wrote everyday, had breakthroughs with my book project and left feeling refreshed, invigorated, cared for, inspired and encouraged. Most importantly? I left with new and renewed friendships as well as a sense of community unlike anything I’ve ever seen in academia before.
Here are some of the highlights…
These days find me writing 8, 10, sometimes 12 hours a day. At times, I find myself so excited about my work, so alive with ideas, that I feel physically overwhelmed with energy. This excitement can manifest as restlessness, tension, a slightly elevated heart rate — even nervousness.
In the past, I was unsure of what to do with this restless energy. At times I felt frustrated — as though I should not feel so physically affected by intellectual labor. And yet, the more mindfulness I bring into my academic work, the more I have come to compassionately accept that the brain is part of the body … as are the neck and shoulders that support that brain .. and the hands that do the typing. Mental work is always physical. Beginning here, accepting what is, I found my intuition leading me to move when overcome with intellectual energy — or when the body felt too tense or tired to continue writing.
And so it is that I’ve taken to regular autumnal walks before, between and after writing sessions. Being in nature brings things into perspective. It’s also an important tool in an academic’s arsenal of self-care. Fresh air. Soft rain. Blue skies. Skate clouds. Whatever comes, I lovingly embrace. Getting out of my office and out into the world during the work day keeps me sane and grounded. Sometimes I practice mindful walking. I’m always consciously breathing. But mostly, I simply allow myself to be in the flow of Life. In awe of the majesty of it all. Sunkissed by the glory.
When the spirit moves me – as it often does – I whip out my smart phone, click the microphone app – and begin to speak. Ideas about whatever I’m writing continue to manifest, crystallize and work themselves out in this way. And so it is that mindful walking has become another way of writing — an intuituve blending of mind and body, intellect and physicality .. corporal consciousness.
Tulips make me happy.
Have you ever seen anything so perfect? So effortlessly beautiful?
The colors . . . the textures. Have you ever touched a tulip? Caressed its petals? Communed with its spirit?
Wait. Scroll back up. Did you see that yellow? I mean . . . Lord. Have mercy.
To imagine: the Big Bang banged Itself into a tulip. A million tulips. And it also banged Itself into you and me. How awesome is that.
I love how bad-ass tulips are with their beauty. They jut out the earth, crowned in all their glory on some: “Yeah, I’m gorgeous and amazing. What?”