I’m exhausted by the holiday, how will I survive going back to work? My 5 step plan

Life is hard work. I’ve read several social media posts today by people who’ve been on a fantastic holiday, had the most amazing time, but have come back so exhausted they need another holiday to recover. Even when we’re having fun it’s hard work!

Life is hard work. There’s the times when we’re not having fun, when work is relentless, homelife feels a bit thankless, there’s life’s sadnesses and sorrows, sickness, bereavement, traumas. Of course work is rewarding too, family life is often joyous, there’s life’s celebrations and gladtimes. Parties are tiring though. It’s hard work being alive.

My holiday has been a bit up and down. Some wonderful things have happened, but also some difficult and upsetting things. However, a holiday from work isn’t a holiday from life. And life is…hard work. This is why we have to be fit and ready for each new day. It occurred to me this evening all we need to do some important stuff to prepare ourselves. We have to look after ourselves. It’s essential. This is what I do:

1) Practise yoga. I love asana yoga and I’ve been practising for several years. It’s a safe haven time for me when I’m practising. Plus I’m stronger, fitter, more flexible. Everyone ought to do yoga, but you don’t necessarily have to bend and stretch and touch your toes to do yoga. Whether it’s the traditional exercise yoga everyone first thinks of, or if it’s service to others yoga, or prayer, devotion and mediation yoga, or reading scripture and wisdom literature yoga…or any combination of these; it can all be yoga. You can therefore practice yoga on an exercise mat, or caring for your friends and family, or sitting quietly listening to the rain on the windowpane, or walking your dog, or reading something that is good. Yoga is for everybody. It’s a discipline though. We have to choose to do it, it won’t just happen on its own.

Yoga means to yoke oneself. I think we need to yoke ourselves to the present moment and connect with our inner selves and with others. When we are fully occupied and concentrating on the present moment, yoked to the present, we are paradoxically liberated, detached from the past and the present. A witness, not a slave. Yoga is to be aware of things within us and around us, but also to be free of these things.

2) Drink water. It’s good for you. You don’t have to go mad with it, but enjoy fresh water.

3) Eat nicely. Enjoy your food. Try to prepare it lovingly and eat it thankfully. Think of all the people who have contributed to bringing the food to your plate. Cooks, shop workers, suppliers, animals. Think of the soil and the sun and the rain. Then eat.

4) Bathe. If you have time, soak in the bath. Try to make time. If you don’t have a bath, find somewhere every now and then when you can immerse yourself in hot water. It’s good for you. Sometimes cold water can be good too. A river, the sea…it’s exhilarating. Hot water is best though. I think so.

5) Sleep. Lie down. Take rest. If you can’t sleep don’t force it. Just close your eyes, breathe deeply and think of someone or something for which you are grateful.

When you wake, it’s a whole new day. You’ll be tired at the end. Go well x

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Teachers, are you fretting about results tomorrow? Read this and get to bed!

I’ve been reading lots of social media from teachers today who are really fretting about results. There’s a growing culture in our profession that suggests that what validates us as professionals are the results our students achieve. It creates a lot of anxiety I think. It’s also why performance related pay for teachers is such a bad idea. I know I’ve said this before, but teaching is the only profession where the performance related pay is pay related to someone else’s performance! Yes, we prepare children to sit exams. Yes, we teach them what they need to know and understand. Yes, we ensure they have good notes. Yes, we set them practice essays and mark them. However, when they go on study leave our work is done. They are on their own. That’s the whole point of an exam. What they write on their papers is between them and the exam board.

If you can honestly say that in the timetabled lessons you were allocated you did your best for your students; if you spent an acceptable amount of time marking and preparing whilst still allowing yourself to have a sensible work life balance, you have done enough. Whatever grade your student achieved, you did enough. You did your job. The grades my students get belong to them, not to me.

There was talk in the press last weekend about Ofsted shifting its focus away from results as the most important indicator of a school’s success. If true, this is all to the good. I think though that this culture of teachers beating themselves up over someone else’s results is deeply ingrained into people’s minds. It needs to end.

So I say to all my teaching colleagues this evening: well done on your sterling work. The results are not even out, but you are already to be congratulated. You did your job as best you could. It’s not just public exam teachers, but my colleagues that work hard in EYF, KS1,2 and 3 too. Together we do a cracking job for the young people we work with. And tomorrow we will see what happens. Sleep well xx

Honour Your Teacher Day

Today is Guru Purmina. In Indian tradition it is a day when your Guru, your spiritual (and indeed academic) teachers are honoured.
Yesterday it occurred to me that we are our own teachers, our own gurus. With special attention to our bodies, and our souls, with a listening and discerning heart, we can learn so much. It seems to me, therefore that our first duty is to honour ourselves.
Next, honour those immediately around you today. They are there to teach you patience and compassion. It mightn’t seem so…but even very young children, even people we encounter in the street, even difficult people…they too are our teachers. You don’t have to like someone to honour them.
There’s a full moon tonight but also it’s a lunar eclipse. It’s an auspicious time I think. The moon will turn red. Or at least of perception of it will. It’s as if we see the moon with rose tinted glasses. Maybe I shall keep them on all day. xx

Even the most powerful people in the world are not that powerful

 

Where should you place your mat in a yoga studio? I nearly went to the back in my practice tonight. I felt problems weighing on my shoulders. I actually felt really tearful. Hot yoga is handy is for that. You can have a quiet cry in a dimly lit, super hot and humid studio and no one notices. Everyone’s face is rolling with sweat anyway. A bit more saltwater passes without comment. I felt like I needed to hide in a corner tonight though. However, there was a space in front of the statue of the Buddha. I knew that’s where I wanted to be.

I found it hard to concentrate and meditate in the poses tonight. ‘Oh, Lord Buddha. I need some wisdom. What should I do? What is the answer to my problems?’

He didn’t answer, didn’t say anything. He didn’t move at all. He just sat. Kept his zen. What else did I expect? It’s just a flipping statue. I guess that is the answer though. Keep your zen. People can hurt you, but they can’t control how you react to the hurt. Even the most powerful people in the world are not that powerful.

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A cold windy day – a blessing

So so cold today. I found myself standing about a lot on freezing train platforms and waiting and waiting. I was glad of my great big old coat. It’s an ancient thing. I think it’s fifth hand. My mum had it, and her friend Rosemary before her, and I think it belonged to her mother and grandmother. It’s a massive thing. I can only wear it on the very coldest of days. Pulling it round and snuggling into the high collar, it doesn’t matter how low the temperature goes, it’s always cosy. Do you remember that children’s story, when the sun and the wind have a competition to see who can get the man to remove his cloak? The wind arrogantly thinks he’ll easily be the stronger, but the harder he puffs and blows the tighter the man pulls that cloak! I guess the wind reminds us that we have a duty to love and cherish ourselves. It’s good to have a bit of help though. I thought about this poem by John O Donoghue, “May the protection of the ancestors be yours. And so may a slow wind work these words of love around you, an invisible cloak to mind your life. “

Blessing –

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.
And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.
John O’Donohue

How will I know I’ve arrived?

Wise men? They look pretty dumb to me. Setting out across the desert, following a star, looking for….not sure really. I guess it’s not so weird. It’s the ancient equivalent of sat nav. You can only see a tiny fraction of the map – who knows where the woman with the strident voice and bossy tone will take you. Yet we put our faith in her, even in her diversions, trusting in her satellite omniscience. I often wonder if the wise men argued amongst themselves on the journey. ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ How can you answer that question when you don’t even know where you’re going? I wonder if any of the group turned back on the way, exhausted from the aimless wandering along in search of a mystery. Or perhaps something in them had become so enlivened they were prepared to go in pursuit of a dream whatever it took? It’s a heartening idea if you’ve made resolutions this week. The new way of living really is possible.
John O Donoghue explains it thus:-

“Once the soul awakens, the search begins and you can never go back. From then on, you are inflamed with a special longing that will never again let you linger in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfillment. The eternal makes you urgent. You are loath to let compromise or the threat of danger hold you back from striving toward the summit of fulfillment.” (From Anam Cara)

Perhaps January isn’t the time for mere resolutions. It’s a time for soul awakening. We need to meditate on who we wish to be, not what we will do. The wise men must have questioned what their objective was. How will we even know when we’ve found what we’re looking for?’ they must have asked themselves. ‘We will just, er, know.’ Hmm. Wisdom indeed.

How will I know who I need to be? I suppose I will just know. John O Donoghue describes love and friendship not as an act of will or intention, but a moment of recognition. That’s so true. There’s some people like that. The moment you open the door and meet them you know straight away that you treasure them. It’s an epiphany moment. I wonder whether the message of Epiphany isn’t about having a moment of revelation and recognition of ourselves, and treasuring ourselves. The expensive gold, frankincense and myrrh turn out to be gifts for us, richer still in their symbolism.

Epiphany is a great festival to start the year, and connect with who we really are. The craziness of Christmas seems long ago, it’s back to work and normality now. The magic of Christmas continues in subtler ways in this season, and maybe is all the more powerful for that. January mornings are even darker than in December, the days lengthen in the afternoons before we start to wake up in the light. It makes it really hard to get up and get going and start the day. There’s so much optimism in the story of the Magi though. People of good faith blindly walking stumble across what they’re looking for. Yet it’s no accident, it was written in the stars. ‘Keep going’, the Wise Men seem to be urging us, the light is coming, and you’ll discover your faith in who you really are is well founded.

But how will we know when we’ve found what we are looking for? When you see it you will know. All will be revealed. Happy Epiphany x

 

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A new start, a sight, transforming

I needed a bit of quiet space yesterday so stopped by RHS Wisley Gardens. Wisley is always beautiful, but it did feel a bit melancholy yesterday with steely skies. Maybe it was just me. There were some moments of simple abundance though. The  fragile December roses that had somehow survived the winter to give the faintest golden dream of summer. In the glasshouse were Christmas trees decorated by local schools – the humid air made the pine fragrance sing, and I felt more Christmassy in that moment than I have done in a long time. The glorious Christmas scent of them in the warmth of the glasshousehouse and the sheer loveliness of them lifted my whole soul. A transformation.

My wise friend Mary made an excellent observation after her visit the other day.  These trees were not ‘perfectly’ decorated. Everyone’s work was on display, not just the super dooper arty kids’ work. All the better they were for that. The imperfection of the individual decorations made perfect Christmas trees. A mysterious transformation indeed.

It strikes me that Christmas is all about transformation. The bare branches of the tree that take on light and sparkle and magic. The limp empty stocking that mysteriously fills with abundant good things overnight. But more than that. The Christmas story tells us that God who is absolute and perfect and powerful, becomes one of us. God becomes frail and vulnerable, a little baby. When God becomes humble like a human, the great mystery is that God is not diminished. Rather humans are raised up. The transformation of Christmas is ours, through our association with the divine.

Maybe you don’t go along with this story, you don’t believe in it at all, it’s not a credible idea, perhaps it’s just a myth. You’re probably right, but I don’t think it really matters at all if it’s really true. Living as if it’s true is the important thing. Because it makes us good enough. You could wait forever and a day for your family to appreciate the efforts you’ve gone to to make Christmas special – the gifts perfectly chosen, perfectly wrapped, and the perfect food, perfectly cooked, perfectly presented. The fact of it is, the more we try, the more we fail. Giving someone the perfect Christmas won’t make them love you. If we have the courage to surrender to stop and be still and silent, to concentrate just on being fully human, and are content with that, we might perceive the transformation. We’re good enough just as we are.

I always find myself turning to Rilke at New Year. This, from Sonnets to Orpheus seems to fit what I’ve been thinking about. You can see from Cima da Conegliano’s lovely ink drawing of Orpheus that as our hero plays his lyre and sings to the creatures, they become cultured; transfixed by the beauty of the music they become transformed – no longer mere dumb animals. They aren’t silent because they fear attack, they are quiet because they are becoming enlivened. Even the trees become transformed to something more. What I think Rilke is trying to say is that just as Orpheus’ singing awakens and energises all life, so too might the awakening and energising of our perceptions of ourselves bring us, ‘a new start, a sight, transforming’. Happy New Year x

There upped a tree. O absolute outstripping!
O Orpheus singing! O tall tree in the ear!
And all things hushed. Yet even under cover
came a new start, a sight, transforming.

From their stillness, creatures of lair and nest
pushing forward through the clear lit forest
so quietly and this – not out of cunning,
not silenced by fear – but coming

rather to listen. Bellow, shriek and roaring
shrank in their hearts. And where they stood
no more than a shed to receive them,

a shelter in response to their darkest need
with its entrance, its door-frame shaken,
there you built them this Temple of Hearing.

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