Some other matters (other than exam prep that is) have swallowed enormous amounts of time and energy in the last 48 hours… and severely curtailed time available for studying. I’ll catch up, right?
So, I finished my first two week cycle this summer and now am beginning the second two-week cycle. I think I’ve mentioned on here that I’ve divvyed up the 18 questions I’ve written (6 for each of three major exams) into 6 sets of 3 and assigned each of these sets to a two week time period this summer. Every fifth week is slotted for catch-up tasks from work in either of the two sets covered in the four weeks prior (or, I suppose, as the summer unfolds I’ll be catching up from even earlier sets, perhaps!) Anyhow… I covered a lot of material in those first two weeks, but I have quite a list of catch up tasks waiting for me when this next cycle wraps up. If you follow me on facebook then you know that I had a day last week on which I set unreasonable goals for myself. I’m happy to say that out of 10 days, only one was an extremely bad case of this. I’m happy to say this because there is no better way to put me in a foul mood than when I set myself up for grand disappointment. I can tell myself “But Sarah, you made major progress!” all I want and still feel like I failed. I’m a girl who likes my goals. (If I set the bar too low sometimes I have trouble mustering energy for tasks not on the list for the day! But when I meet my goals and they are just right… happy, happy day!)
Anyhow… I came home from this day a bit sour though doing as much self-talk as possible to get over it. Caroline wanted to go out and see the garden and I thought that sounded like a good idea. Maybe I’d even do some weeding.
Lord, have mercy. Hadn’t been out to the garden in about a week and plenty of thunderstorms and hot days had resulted in lush, green, tangled weeds EVERYWHERE. I set to work, focusing in closely on a few particular areas and made major progress on those areas. I was thinking “This is a good thing to do today. I am seeing tangible progress for my efforts.” And then I stood up and surveyed the whole and felt like I had accomplished NOTHING because there was SO MUCH more to be done. Went right back to the sour spot in a jiffy.
Then I went inside and did some house cleaning, laundry, etc. while Caroline watched half an episode of Thomas the Train on netflix instant streaming (wow. what a gift.), we then ate dinner, and while she watched the other half of the episode I set to cleaning up the kitchen. I attacked that filthy kitchen with gusto. Her show ended and she came out and played in the kitchen while I continued to clean. I made major progress and was feeling pretty darn good about that kitchen. I then looked around the extraordinarily messy house and my heart sank again. “Damn it!” I thought “I have in my household activities replicated all the frustrations of this day!”
I was so busy weeding that I failed to pick and eat one of the newly emerging sugar snap peas. The next day I asked Kev to bring one to me. As I savored that pea it dawned on me exactly why gardening is so good for me… even when I don’t stay on top of the weeds. Even when there is so much more that needs to be done… there is produce. Delicious produce. My efforts, no matter how minor or incomplete, yield produce.
And so it will be with my studies this summer. So it will be.
I’ve become a bit of a yoga junkie. Even when I felt lousy on Friday afternoon, in the throes of an oncoming cold, I found the will to go to the Y and settle into a Hot Yoga class before turning in for the evening. I actually made it to a yoga class five days in a row last week. After being huddled over books or a computer screen hours on end, good, deep stretching makes a WORLD of difference. I’m not especially good at yoga. I’ve never been flexible. Remember those flexibility tests administered in elementary P.E. classes? I always had a negative score on them. It is only in the past few years that I’ve become able to touch my toes (on occasion). I did some prayerful stretching during my last year of ministry in my first call. And I did prenatal yoga with a d.v.d. throughout much of second (and third?) trimesters. But a class? No thank you. Wasn’t interested. Now I can’t get enough.
And I’ve been thinking that yoga practice is good for me, in part, because it is something that doesn’t come naturally or easily; it is a practice that reminds me of my weaknesses or limitations. BUT it is also a practice, through the gentle nudging of the teachers, that invites me to be present to myself/my body wherever it might be at any given moment, and to be non-judgmental of my self. One of the teachers I’ve had over the last several months (and there have been many, lots of turn over!) began classes by inviting us to set an intention of gratitude because when our hearts are grateful, it is hard for them to be anything else. And I think it was the same teacher who would invite us to go out into the world after the class trying not to judge ourselves or others for half an hour or ten minutes or even five. Wow. Hard charge.
Our pastor, fan of hard charges, charged everyone in the congregation to identify three things in our lives that need to die so that we might share in Christ’s resurrection. I struggled, for awhile, to get concrete about my “kill list.” But in responding to another charge to take an hour of prayer with a particular passage of scripture I arrived at my three things: 1) judgment- of self especially, but also of others; 2) anxiety- which I realized often has its roots in judgment; and 3) resentment- again, rooted in judgment. Number one… it is crucial! It has to go! Not that I want to cease to be able to make critical assessments of myself and others, but the over active voice of self-criticism and condemnation, that’s not constructive! It’s not healthy! It is not bringing life! And when I spend so much time (internally) talking to myself like this, surely it shapes the way I think about others (though I seriously don’t think I’m as harsh on others as I am on myself, but… I can be judgmental of others. I confess it.) If this distorted and destructive judgment mechanism could just die… I truly believe I would experience resurrection in my life.
So… yoga… where I try to do things I don’t think I can do all the time, in spite of that voice that says “YOU CAN’T DO THAT!” (Sometimes I don’t try… but more often I do!) And where I accept gentle correction on my postures. And where I quiet my mind more effectively than I do in any other practice. This is, I think, a good practice on my journey to new life.
But laughter yoga? There have been signs up at the Y the past several weeks announcing a new laughter yoga class. The teacher for that class came to a Zumba class (speaking of another good practice that has the same result- not a quiet mind, but I definitely have to get over myself and shut up my inner critic to do it!) a few weeks ago and told us about it. I figured, “Hey, I’m sure I don’t laugh enough, and as I’ll be buried in a library basement for most of the summer, deep belly laughs are probably going to be few and far between, this could be good for me.”
So I went this past Thursday at 5:30. At 5:30 I was the only student there with a rather… intense… teacher. I thought “Oh, dear. This is going to be awkward and uncomfortable.” A few more people showed up and then the teacher informed us we wouldn’t need our mats and encouraged us to stand in a circle. She explained all the health benefits of laughter combined with gentle stretching, and the fact that our bodies can’t tell the difference between real and fake laughter. She talked of the origins of the practice in Japan and of the fabulous laughter club in Laguna Beach, California (whose t-shirt she was sporting) where a HUGE group practices on the beach every morning. There was quite a bit of chatter to begin with… off putting… I’d rather just get into it. But it is a new thing, so… perhaps this is good. She explained that we would do various laughter exercises and then when they were complete (indicated by everyone having made eye contact with everyone else at least once) we’d swing down and clap our hands between our legs saying “Very Good! Very Good!” and then swing our hands over our hands saying “Yay!” Um… sounded like preschool. Oh well, I was there… I gave it a whirl.
The exercises were silly- telling the funniest story ever in total jibberish, consuming and throwing imaginary laughter pills at one another, operatic laughing, etc. It reminded me of drama exercises, which I enjoyed back in the day. But I didn’t know these women. And I felt silly. And wondered if I was being judged. And in fact was judging myself and others around me. It would be less awkward, perhaps, with more participants, but… it was awkward. BUT… I think this means I need to stick with it, for at least a few more weeks, because if I want to die to judgment… this is a good place to practice.
Maybe resurrection will take the shape of forced laughter becoming free and genuine.
I’ve said many times that I realized about six months into parish ministry that what I wanted more than anything else was a syllabus. I wanted someone to tell me what my priorities and goals were, by what date and time things needed to be accomplished, and by what standard I would be evaluated. Save for the year I took off between college and seminary I had been working off of syllabi for most of my life. And being totally on my own, in an office (or at large in the village), with seemingly limitless possibilities and needs, and no clear sense of what was most important in any given moment, that was HARD.
I did my best and suppose I created my own shifting syllabus as the years unfolded, and worked with the session to get a system of evaluation in place for me (more or less). But I retained that yearning for someone to give such structure to me all through my six years of ministry (to a greater or lesser degree).
When I first started my studies here, unlike some of my colleagues I was thrilled to do coursework. It had been so long since I had been enrolled as a student and I began my studies conscious of how much I want and need to learn. And I was tired of setting my own syllabus. Thinking about this stage of my journey, past coursework, when I would write my own exam questions and set my own course of study to prepare for exams, was terrifying.
But (as my last post suggests) I’m ready. I made my own syllabus for the summer and I am loving working it. Something has shifted in me. Am I just that much more mature? Secure?
Several faculty at my university have told me that the exam season was their favorite season in their doctoral programs. They liked working at their own pace, and challenging themselves to stretch to reach big intermediate goals, and bigger distant goals. They liked having the free pass that being a student in exams gives you “Oh, you’d like me to do that? Sorry, I’m prepping for exams.” They liked studying what they wanted to study when they wanted to study it. When they would say this to me in the past few years, I’d think, “I don’t know that that will be my experience.”
But, I think it is.
Thanks be to God.
(Oh, and that wall? I was coming down with a cold. Maybe my plan isn’t to blame!)
That’s the sound of me hitting a wall.
Hit a wall. On day four of week one.
Just couldn’t get up at 5 for my run this morning.
And then never left the house.
It wasn’t a total waste of a day. I read a lot of Calvin and re-read some Serene Jones. I made an appt with a prof for tomorrow. And I got a nap. Oh, and some good snuggles with Caroline and Alistair, the baby Kev cares for four days a week.
I don’t know if I need to change something in my plan because I didn’t even manage to make it through a full week without crashing. I guess I’ll give this plan one more week and if I hit another wall… I’ll have to build some more time for rest into the plan. Somehow.
I’ve really been enjoying week one. I’ve liked being methodical and disciplined. The timer goes off after 55 minutes and I walk upstairs, relieve myself, get some water, smile at a familiar face, and then shift to another thinker. I’ve not been making HUGE progress with any one thinker on any given day, but I’ve been chipping away at several which is gratifying and I’ve been able to see points of comparison emerging in real time this way.
It’s just hard to know if I’m making enough progress, if this pace is what is needed to get through the bulk of the reading/re-reading needed for these questions in two weeks. But… on the bright side, if there is still more to read come the end of these two weeks (and of course there likely will be), there will be nothing I haven’t at least read some of (or likely a fair bit of after several hour goes at it) AND I have a catch-up week scheduled three weeks hence… so… breathe.
Trying to listen to my body. And trust.
And have you noticed I’m blogging again? Blogging the mundane, but… I’m so much less social now… that I’m feeling the urge to reach out. It makes me wonder about the degree of isolation I was feeling in ministry when I was blogging almost daily. Of course I was social then… but… constrained in my sociality. Maybe these three years of coursework have been a relatively less isolated time for me. I’ve processed on drives to or from campus with friends, and in the lounge, and in the library… But this week… just me and my books… and occasional brief chats… Oh, and e-mail check-ins with a marvelous colleague here who has agreed to be an accountability buddy for the summer. That’s great. Anyhow… it is good to be back to the blog. Maybe I’ll even find some time to read a few blogs… Not sure.