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Mid-Year Adjustments – Please Proceed

By Christine Mason

January – Schools need to change. Instruction needs to change.  There is work to be done.

Even in the best of times, teachers have entered the January-March stretch almost as if it is the “dark night of the soul,”a spiritual crisis.  Eckert Tolle  (October 2011) describes the dark night of the soul as what “one could call a collapse of a perceived meaning in life’…an eruption into your life of a deep sense of meaninglessness.”  For teachers and students, what often happens is that we enter into  December-January with existential questions, “What is the meaning of life? What is our purpose?”  Even the most dedicated teachers, who have enthusiastically embraced the return to school in the fall, may have been caught up short by any of a number of situations at school – apathetic students, continued pressure to produce, even problems with technology. And after a couple of weeks away from the daily grind, teachers and students may be less eager to reengage in our respective roles in schools.

Looking at the academic timeline from an existential lens:  Autumn, a time of hope, is followed by December, when almost everyone is ready for winter break. Unfortunately for some, the break ends up being a time of rushing to complete holiday chores, perhaps even a time of traveling that can be frought with its own difficulties, and for teachers who are parents, not only is there the joy of spending more time with our children, but sometimes we are also faced 24/7 with the needs and demands of our children. Which can be wearing. For others, for oh so many reasons, it may be a time of sadness, or grief when the holidays don’t live up to the fairytales of our dreams.  So in the blink of the eye, our vacation is over and it is back to our own reality show.

If we listen to our inner wisdom, how do we embrace the emotions that arise in these circumstances?  What steps do we take to “start anew,” to use January to regroup?  As a consultant, recognizing the promise of beginning again in January, I have often found this to be a precious opportunity to guide teachers and administrators through  a cycle of reflection and reinvention. As a teacher, I can remember entering middle school classrooms in January and guiding students through our own reflections, analysis, and reframing.  It can be a remarkable time of honest sharing, leading to new hopes and reminders to listen to our souls.  Could this even be the best of plans?

Gaining Clarity. So for me the dark night of the soul is a time to tune into our inner wisdom.  Instead of shoving down the thoughts about how fruitless our quest has become, let these thoughts bubble up. And then take some time to examine them. Look for clarity about our roles, our destiny. Why are we with this group of students and teachers, at this school?  What is our contribution?

Tolle summarizes the opportunity  in his October 2011 newsletter, “You are meant to arrive at a place of conceptual meaninglessness.  Or one could say a state of ignorance ‘“ where things lose the meaning that you had given them, which was all conditioned and cultural and so on.  Then you can look upon the world without imposing a mind-made framework of meaning.  It looks of course as if you no longer understand anything.  That’s why it’s so scary when it happens to you, instead of you actually consciously embracing it.  It can bring about the dark night of the soul ‘“ to go around the Universe without any longer interpreting it compulsively, as an innocent presence.”  However, as Tolle indicates, out of the dark night can come  incredible knowledge and renewal,  “You look upon events, people, and so on with a deep sense of aliveness.  You sense the aliveness through your own sense of aliveness, but you are not trying to fit your experience into a conceptual framework anymore.”

From darkness to light. January, a time for us.


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