Travel and presence: doors to clarity and joy in life and work

offerings, Canggu, Bali, by @debsnet

table of offerings being made

Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe. ~ Anatole France

In 1964 Baudelaire described the flâneur (or for my purposes, the flâneuse) as “lover of universal life” who “enters into the crowd as though it were an immense reservoir of electrical energy.” He describes flânerie as the mirroring of crowd and environs, in which the flâneur is a “kaleidoscope gifted with consciousness, responding … and reproducing the multiplicity of life and the flickering grace of all the elements of life.”

Oh the places you'll go! Canggu mural

Oh the places you’ll go!

As the édu flâneuse, then, I am mindful of channelling this notion of the reflective mirror or refractive kaleidoscope, of being an absorber of words, worlds and wonders. While I try to find awe and gratitude in the everyday, travel is the perfect opportunity for practising the flânerial mindset of intense attentiveness and expansive wide-openness.

Tanah Lot, Bali, by @debsnet

Tanah Lot temple

My recent trip to Bali, in which I gave myself permission to take a break from work and PhD study (and also blogging and even engaging professionally on Twitter), was the perfect opportunity to embrace flânerie and presence (one of my 3 words of 2015). As well as unplugging from constant mental and physical engagement in work and study, I was focused on the travelling mindset, defined by Alain de Botton as being about heightened receptivity. As Adriano di Prato writes on his blog ‘Permission is Triumph’ we must each say ‘yes’ to living our lives in the way we choose.

offerings on Echo Beach rocks

offerings on Echo Beach rocks

While I left home in a flurry of jumbled thoughts, to-do lists, marking piles and thesis pages, I have returned almost delirious with relaxation, centeredness and acute awareness of the present moment. The act of travel, and its immersion in people and places, has allowed me to re-ground myself, reflect and practise receptivity, allowing me to (hopefully) return to daily life, work and research with renewed clarity, purpose and joy.

Ayana Resort infinity pool, Bali, by @debsnet

infinity pool at Ayana Resort, Jimbaran

My experiences away included those with my husband, children and friends. But they also included solo flânerial entanglements in environment. Early morning walks often provide these moments for me. In the past I have watched the sun rise above iconic landmarks including Venice’s St Mark’s Basilica and Prague’s Charles Bridge. There is something magical about being alone in the first quiet golden light of day, watching a city wake up, before it is caught in the throes and machinations of its daily grind. This trip was no exception.

Tumpek Wayang ceremony, Seminyak, Bali, by @debsnet

Tumpek Wayang ceremony, Seminyak

One morning, as I wandered through the streets of Seminyak at dawn, I happened upon a Tumpek Wayang ceremony in which three individuals were led by a holy man in ritual. I was first drawn to this small ceremony by the sounds – the pealing of bells and the twittering of a small caged bird. I drew closer and sat nearby to watch as the ceremony continued, with prayers, offerings and sacred rites conducted with grace and in luxuriant colour. I have since discovered that Tumpek Wayang occurs every 210 days and that its purpose is to honour the god of art and artists, Sanghyang Iswara. After it had finished I was able to talk to the people about the ceremony, its significance and what it meant to them, such as the use of holy rice (bija) for blessings and to bring their god to themselves by placing the rice on their forehead and also by eating it.

basket of petals, Bali, by @debsnet

basket of petals

Another morning, wandering through Canggu rice paddies at sunrise, I encountered a Balinese man, or he encountered me, and we began to talk. He asked me if I was a spiritual person, and we spent the rest of the walk discussing spirituality, blessings, meditation, music and love. ‘Love,’ he said, ‘is when the heart smiles.’ We talked about the meaning of Engelbert Humperdinck’s lyrics ‘there goes my everything’ and the role of music in life and self. I don’t speak Indonesian and this man’s English was limited, but we connected at a moment in time and managed to communicate across cultural and language barriers.

Echo Beach sunset, Bali, by @debsnet

Echo Beach, far away in time

These experiences, as well as other small moments like watching the sunset colours change or talking to a woman as she made the morning’s offerings from baskets of soft petals, allowed me to connect presence, self and world, experiencing it in open, receptive and reflective ways.

Vue Beach Club, Canggu, Bali, by @debsnet

beach club sunset

I have returned from my trip hopeful that I can hold on to this feeling of openness-to-noticing and use my flânerial Spidey senses as a tool to keep me centred on my axis. I am considering how I might bring the idea of paramaterising my commitments to work and PhD into my weekly existence. How might I make attentive noticing and openness to unexpected conversation a daily practice? How might I take more regular self-care breaks in order to restore clarity, increase productivity and protect wellness?

When you take your attention into the present moment, a certain alertness arises. You become more conscious of what’s around you, but also, strangely, a sense of presence that is both within and without. ~ Eckhart Tolle

Canggu rice paddies, Bali, by @debsnet

Canggu rice paddies

 

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Giving ourselves permission for a break: time away as self-care and strategic productivity

“What day is it?” asked Winnie the Pooh. “It’s today,” squeaked Piglet. “My favorite day,” said Pooh” ~ A.A. Milne

Villa Artis, Bali by @debsnet

Early tomorrow morning I will be on a plane to an island destination for a holiday with family and friends. I should be dreaming of silky cool pool water, fire-coloured sunsets over the ocean, meandering rice paddies reflecting blue skies, the sizzle of seafood on the beach and the clink of ice blocks in cocktail glasses.

Canggu beach, by @debsnet

And yet I have been thrashing around trying to decide whether or not to work or study or blog while I am away. Or whether I can leave it all behind and take a real break, despite ceaseless deadlines. I wonder if this is a common phenomenon in a world in which we are constantly connected to each other, constantly available to our workplaces and constantly curating, creating and sharing vignetted content of our lives and work. While flexible working hours can allow us to make adaptable life choices and social media can allow us to connect with others, do they also contribute to a cycle of relentlessness which we find difficult to break away from?

rice paddies, Umalas, by @debsnet

I have decided that I need to take a full thinking, writing, marking, everything break from my worlds of work, research and writing. One of my three words of 2015 is ‘presence’, so partly this break is about a commitment to being present with my children, husband and friends during our trip. But it is also about being ok with taking an actual break and with a commitment to self-care. I am someone who sees blogging as a break from PhD writing. Or PhD writing as a break from marking. So the idea of a break from all-of-the-things is foreign and has taken some self-convincing.

offerings, Bali, by @debsnet

There are others who have reflected on the importance of self-care, even as we catapult ourselves towards our goals. Raul Pacheco-Vega wrote on self-care in academia and the importance of privileging your own health and wellbeing. New Zealand author Celia Lashlie, who I’ve had the pleasure of hearing speak about her work, died in February after releasing a statement which read, “My wish is that others will learn to stop before I did, to take into account the limitations of their physical bodies and to take the time to listen to the yearnings of their soul. It is in the taking care of ourselves we learn the ability to take care of others.”

Seminyak sunset, by @debsnet

I love my work and my research, and most of the time I find a tenuous work-family balance. I wrote on the PhD Talk blog about the way that normally it works for me to have many things on the go, as doing any one of them feels like a holiday from the others. I also spoke there about the importance of quiet in-between times. That is, often I make the most cognitive or creative progress, on my PhD thesis or a strategic work problem, when I am walking, or driving, or taking time to be quiet and still. So luxuriating in a full, unadulterated, brazen break is also a strategy to vacation, to vacate the demands of everyday life, in order that I might return with some mental clarity and physical energy to tackle the rest of this year, which includes for me, finishing my PhD thesis and successfully implementing the professional learning and growth model at my school.

So give yourself permission for a break, small or large. To unplug from emails, tweeting, writing or planning. To take care of yourself, curl your toes in the earth and immerse yourself in somewhere, somehow or someone that gives you joy.

(Photos in this post are from a previous trip.)

(How did it go? The post-script to this post can be found here.)

Sea Circus, Bali, by @debsnet

Presence, Sharing, Strength: 3 words for 2015

presence * sharing * strength ~ words for 2015 against the backdrop of my New Year's Day

presence * sharing * strength ~ my words for 2015 against the backdrop of my New Year’s Day

Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, ‘It will be happier.’ ~ Alfred Tennyson 

We have passed across the threshold of the year to come. The new year is upon us.

While I tend to reflect constantly and set small, achievable goals, it’s been a while since I have set a New Year’s resolution (and I don’t intend to start here; what follows is an alternative approach to finding focus at the inception of another trip around the sun). While I love a good list, and an inspiring goal, I also love a good vision. Like organisations, individuals function optimally when we align our words and actions with a clear, coherent sense of identity and vision. Chris Brogan advocates for a simple personal visioning exercise to develop our own personal vision for the year ahead: ‘3 words’. Interestingly, some people (like educator Kirsten Wilson here) use this approach intuitively.

This is my first year of utilising the 3 words approach, and here they are:

Presence

This is a year of being present for me; of hereness, mindfulness and breathing into each moment. Presence, as I wrote about here, is an ongoing daily focus for me. My life, like most lives, is filled with competing, overlapping commitments, including my family, teaching, leadership role, PhD research, wellbeing and relationships. I have written about how I approach doing a PhD and my thinking around finding work-family commitment. My intention is to commit to being absolutely present in each of these spaces. If I can minimise distractions and focus fully on experiencing the person or task at hand, I can be immersed, productive and joyful. I can nurture relationships and be effective in my work and writing. I don’t want to see 2015 as a mad juggle of life’s components, but as a kind of ecosystem of interconnected wonderfulness in which all elements can be honoured and enjoyed. In amongst the doing needs to be the being.

Sharing

Sharing is reciprocal and collaborative. I read what others share. I share my thoughts on social media and on this blog. I share the stories of others in my PhD (which uses narrative research to examine transformative adult learning and school change). This word could have been ‘connecting’, ‘storytelling’, ‘expression’, ‘conversation’, ‘communication’, ‘collaboration’ or ‘tribe’ but none of those capture quite what I mean by ‘sharing’. In 2015 I am sharing – hopes, dreams, stories, pedagogy, beliefs, leadership approaches, writing strategies – with my friends, family, PhD, supervisors, PLN, Twitterverse, blogosphere and hopefully even some thesis examiners (although that might not be until 2016). As I discussed in my post about writing dangerously, I will be writing various texts in various styles to be shared with various audiences. Sharing our own thinking makes connections, starts conversations and builds collaboration. Sharing is viral, organic and transformational.

Strength

In 2015 I want to be strong in body, convicted in belief, confident in voice and resilient in character. A strength regime therefore involves physical bodily exercise including strength training, development of writerly voice (especially important in the final stages of my PhD), honouring my deeply held beliefs, and confidence in sharing my thinking in blogs, at conferences and in academic articles. Strength in myself and my identity means being able to stand up for my ideas, believe in my approach and be accepting of my own idiosyncracies, my own creative ways of thinking, my own imperfections and my own brand of ‘lovably weird’.

If you are looking for more visioning inspiration, check out the 2015 #3words blog posts of C. C. Chapman, Joyce Sullivan and Sheree Martin. Educators, check out Dave Burgess’s Teach like a PIRATE: Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask & analyse, Transformation and Enthusiasm – kind of a vision and a list all rolled into one acronym. ‘Piracy’ would be a pretty good word.

What are your 3 words for 2015? I would love to hear them.

It is a mistake to try to look too far ahead. The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time. ~ Winston Churchill

into the future we go

into the future we go