I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. However, one theme that presents itself frequently in my Buddhist meditation practice and my yoga classes is that of “setting an intention.” Why am I doing this? What do I want from it? Where will I place my effort?
So before the kicks to the head begin, I thought I’d “set some intentions” for the semester. What am I going to focus on when the going gets rough?
1. I will work hard.
Teachers will look at #1 and say, “Like you’ll have a choice.” Fair enough. However, one of my greatest struggles is that I resist work and resent it. What will happen if I decide that I want to work hard? What if I look at every stack of papers and every test that needs to be prepared and I think, “Here’s another chance to work hard, just like I wanted”?
2. I will not count the days until the end of the semester.
I need to stop wishing my life away. I need to see my work life for what it is: the place where I learn and grow more than I do anywhere else.
3. I will approach my students as people, not problems.
Registration is in progress, and today I checked my student lists, which are about half complete. So far, two familiar names caused my heart to sink a little.
Am I going to walk in anticipating difficulties? Or am I going to walk in with the attitude that these students are complex, evolving beings who are bound to surprise me in one way or another? If I can truly be present with my students, I can help them more and they, in turn, can teach me something.
4. I will meditate. Every morning, if possible.
Meditation keeps me grounded and sane. It gives me perspective and helps me to stop working myself into a lather. I have an early schedule this semester – my classes often begin at 8 a.m. – and I prefer to meditate in the mornings, so it will be tricky. But even 10 minutes a day makes a big difference, so I need to work it in somehow.
5. I will take care of my body.
Exercise is the first thing to go when I get busy. I love my yoga classes, but I often skip them when there are too many other things on my plate. I also love to ski and to jog, and doing these things makes me feel better about everything. Besides, I’m getting married in September, and I’d like shopping for a dress to be something other than a continuous pounding of my self-esteem. So I need to exercise, if not every day (that might be asking too much), then at least as regularly as I can manage.
6. I will not forget about my friends.
I find it very difficult, during the semester, to maintain a social life outside of work. I’m too stressed to enjoy parties, and even scheduling coffee or dinner feels like a chore rather than a break. I need to change my perspective on this. My obligations to my work community are important, but so are my connections to my larger community. Spending time with friends gives me distance from whatever’s going on at work.
7. I will find enjoyment in even difficult or tedious tasks.
There are things about teaching that I hate. It is possible to hate them less by taking joy in small or big things.
I hate grading essays, but I do like playing with different coloured pens, Post-Its, rubber stamps and other stationery bits. I also enjoy methodical tasks like grading MLA formatting, where I don’t need to think, but can just turn on some fun music and check things off a checklist.
I hate dealing with conflict. However, a conflict with a student is an opportunity to examine myself more closely and learn something. If I’m stressed about dealing with a difficult person, I often reconnect with my meditation practice, do more exercise, write more blog posts, and generally invest in activities that help me work through the problem. Difficult people can be seen as “enemies” or as “gurus.” If I can stop fighting the problem and instead sink into it fully and be curious about it, I can actually take some pleasure in the process.
8. I will take care of my environment.
My offices, both at work and at home, need to be cleaned and reorganized. My apartment also needs to be thoroughly scrubbed – I’m actually considering hiring someone to do this. I detest cleaning, but I also detest living in grubby conditions. I need to set the world around me in order. It helps me feel better.
9. I will be grateful.
I have a great job and a great life. I need to actively remind myself of that, again and again.
I recently made a half-hearted attempt at a “gratitude journal.” Every evening, I made a list of ten things (or more) that had happened that day that I was grateful for. It was never difficult to come up with ten things; my list often extended to twenty items and beyond, and doing it made me feel great.
Last night, The Fiancé and I watched a segment of Dan Gilbert’s “This Emotional Life” in which he presents some of the techniques of “positive psychology.” Taking time each day to note down things that went well is one practice that positive psychology teaches. So it’s not just me – there’s some scientific backing for this. One way or another, it improves my outlook.
10. I will set an intention every morning.
There are going to be problems. Teaching is hard, and teaching well is especially hard, because it involves real engagement with real people, and real people are challenging. There will be days when my stomach will be knotted with dread from the moment I wake up. Setting an intention for the day – What do I want to learn? How will I set that learning in motion? – can untie that knot and allow it to blossom into useful energy.
In the evening I can then examine my intention and how it shaped my day. If I carried it out in some way, I can feel glad; if I avoided it altogether, I can feel glad that I have the insight to recognize that. Buddhists call this daily activity of setting and examining intentions “one at the beginning, one at the end.”
I need to post this list up somewhere, and add to it. A fifteen-week semester equals seventy-five school days. If I can engage in each day with mindfulness, curiosity and effort, instead of just allowing the days to happen to me, I may be able to love what I do all the time.
Even when I feel like punching someone. Which is bound to happen.
Image by Chutiporn Chaitachawong