Out of office reply

I am on holiday in Penang, Malaysia, spending time with my family and myself.

I have set my automatic out of office reply.

I have turned off my iPhone work email notifications for the first time since I went back to work after my first period of parental leave, six and a half years ago. Perhaps I won’t turn them back on.

I am not going to write an education blog today.

I am going to luxuriate in my present time and place.

I am going to remember that my oneword for 2017 is nourish.

Enough said.

Some of my pics (below) tell a little of our holiday.

Monkey Beach

Lanterns on Lebuh Armenian

George Town mural

fishing boat

George Town street art

Batu Ferringhi sunset

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Taking time to take stock

seeing the wood from the trees (source: pixabay.com)

It is the last day of term. The last day of first semester in Australia. And for me the last day of the first semester of full-time work in seven years, since the birth of my first child.

I spent much of the day pondering a couple of coaching style questions:

  1. As you reflect on the last six months in your role at work, what are some celebrations?; and
  2. Fast forward to the end of the year. What are the things you ideally see as having been achieved, and of what might you need to be mindful in order to get there?

Today I posed these to a couple of people with whom I work closely, and also to myself. These questions are a deliberate tool for looking back and looking forward. They use the aspects of mediative questions recommended by Cognitive Coaching:

  • Plural forms (What are some celebrations …?);
  • Positive presuppositions – the assumption that the person has been successful and has the capacity to reflect on their success (As you reflect …);
  • Tentative language (Of what might you need to be mindful …?); and
  • Open-ended (What are the …?, rather than, Have you …?).

Asking these questions on the last day of first semester was a mechanism for pausing to take stock. Schools move at a cracking pace, and those working in schools are often racing to keep up. Stopping to look back over our shoulder at how far we have come, and in what direction, can help us to realise what we have (or perhaps haven’t) achieved. It can help to anchor us in reality, to consider possibilities, and to re-orient us as we move into the future. I remember doing this from time to time during my PhD: looking back, wondering how I’d come so far, and remembering that it was just by taking one little step at a time.

My own reflections were around a shift in perceptions of my role between the beginning of the year and now. Mine is a new role to the school—Dean of Research and Pedagogy—and in January it felt a bit nebulous. A fuzzy outline of a role. A job description yet to come to life.

I initially spent a lot of time teasing out the crux of what this role was about; its strategy, its deliverables, and how I might gauge my progress in fulfilling its mandate. Looking back at my initial strategic and operational planning is gratifying; most of it has come to life, becoming breath in my work and in the life of the school, on which I can now build.

One of the indicators of how my role has evolved in this short time is the increasing list of those from across the school—from the classroom to the boardroom—who are approaching me for support in their area. I’m especially pleased at some of the unexpected impacts of my work.

Reflecting takes time, but it’s time worth carving out. I was recently reminded that my one word for 2017 was meant to be ‘nourish’. I have lost track of that along the way this year, but am hoping to regain some capacity for nourishment in this coming week when I’m with my family on a South-East Asian island for some time together and some time out.

For wellbeing & productivity: breathe. pause. be.

Come forth into the light of things, let Nature be your teacher. ~ William Wordsworth

Shark Bay, by @debsnet

Like many educators, I love my work and I love to work. Not only that, as a PhD researcher I love my PhD, treating it like a luxury, a privilege and precious ‘me time’.

Shell Beach, by @debsnet

While I’ve acknowledged before that we need to give ourselves permission to take a break, I’m often not very good at it. Sometimes I have to force myself to take a break.

long shadows in red dirt, by @debsnet

After an eleven week term, at the end of which I spent an entire weekend slogging away at my thesis, I was obsessed. Obsessed because all my waking and teeth-grinding-sleeping moments were taken up with work or PhD. My thoughts about my doctoral research were permeating every crevice of my mind and each nook of my time.

Hamelin Pool Stromatolites, by @debsnet

I was delighting in this immersion. I was happy to be thinking about the thesis on my walks, in the car, in the shower, in my sleep. I felt like it was a super-productive push-to-the-end mindset. My mind was on all the time. PhD-wise, I was excited about my findings, my conclusions, my writing. But I was also exhausted.

Monkey Mia, by @debsnet

And then school holidays were upon me, and with them a pre-planned outback road trip with my husband and my two-under-five. I considered taking my doctoral work with me. I have so much to do, I thought. A thesis to revise, a conference paper to write. Just imagine how much reading and editing I could get done in long car trips or at the campsite.

Shell Beach, by @debsnet

As someone who considers blogging or participating in education Twitter chats as ‘down time’ (I know – how relaxing!), how could I contemplate a complete break? How could I go from an escape dedicated to working on my PhD ~ my recent PhD writing and revision retreat ~ to a trip taking an enforced break from it?

Monkey Mia dolphin, by @debsnet

I knew it was healthier to take a rest. Pause. Cut the cord for six days of just being, exploring and adventuring. Breathe.

fiction pile on Shell Beach, by @debsnet

Thinking back to my 3 words which set my intentions for this year, taking an outdoor-family-faraway break fits best with presence. Embodying human being rather than human doing. It was about being with my husband and kids, and being in nature.

green turtle, Shark Bay, by @debsnet

There are some studies, like this and this, which explore how and why being in nature makes us feel better, improves wellbeing and enhances mental health. Anecdotally, most of us would attest to feeling ourselves melting into a more relaxed state when we spend time grounding ourselves outdoors. Curling our toes in soil, sand or snow.

Straya animals, by @debsnet

I’ve written before about spaces and places that make me feel grounded, inspired or joyful, but this trip was to somewhere I hadn’t been before: Shark Bay, a UNESCO World-Heritage listed peninsula on the most westerly point of Australia.

iron corrugations, by @debsnet

I allowed myself to luxuriate in this time out and time away. I read fiction (not academic texts or student papers!). We hand fed dolphins, visited a beach covered in pristine white shells as far as the eye could see, stomped through red dirt, went star gazing, saw the world’s oldest living fossils. The pictures in this post give you a sense of what I experienced.

Ocean Park, Shark Bay, by @debsnet

And so I have returned feeling intellectually and physically invigorated. Ready for the next round of PhD and school work, including teaching and leading my school’s new coaching model. I’ve stepped out of my obsessive space for enough time to allow for some recovery, but I’m aware that I need to nestle back into a place of productivity.

wire against blue sky, by @debsnet

As when I returned from Bali earlier this year, I’m hoping I can hold onto my present feeling of increased clarity and renewed wellbeing, channelling this into self-care as well as productivity.

Thong Shack, Denham, by @debsnet

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

 

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