Breaking the trance of busyness

Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings blog is one of my favorite sites for inspiration. I find in it solace when the daily news seems so bleak. Today’s blog discusses the wisdom of Herman Hesse, writing a hundred years before all humanity became obsessed with the 24/7 news cycle. In today’s world when we all seem to be more interested in staring at screens than talking to each other, this could not be more relevant:

“Just try it once — a tree, or at least a considerable section of sky, is to be seen anywhere. It does not even have to be blue sky; in some way or another the light of the sun always makes itself felt. Accustom yourself every morning to look for a moment at the sky and suddenly you will be aware of the air around you, the scent of morning freshness that is bestowed on you between sleep and labor. You will find every day that the gable of every house has its own particular look, its own special lighting. Pay it some heed if you will have for the rest of the day a remnant of satisfaction and a touch of coexistence with nature. Gradually and without effort the eye trains itself to transmit many small delights, to contemplate nature and the city streets, to appreciate the inexhaustible fun of daily life. From there on to the fully trained artistic eye is the smaller half of the journey; the principal thing is the beginning, the opening of the eyes.”

My immigrant students are certainly nervous in this climate of fear and hatred that has been unleashed since Inauguration Day. I see it in the increased physical aggression between the newcomers and those who’ve been here longer, I hear it in the little murmurs from the back of the classroom. Sometimes it’s overt. One of my (nonimmigrant) students wears an anti-Trump button pinned to his lapel. They stand now for the Pledge – I think I have taught them that the flag is a symbol for an entire country, not just for one man.

But back to busyness and inattention. I am one of the worst victims of this disease. It’s usually at this time of year, when the weather starts to turn, that I immerse myself in activities after school – rowing, coaching, writer’s groups, extracurricular activities. I can’t seem to say no to doing everything. I volunteer my time to the point of exhaustion. I think I need to take up the Hessian approach to seeking out the small joys, stopping to smell the flowers or listening to the “prattle of children.” (Well, I have the pleasure of that little joy every day – and my Spanish has improved dramatically.)

It’s supposed to snow tomorrow, but the daffodils, the forsythia and even the cherry trees are already blooming. I anticipate a particularly joyful day when they call a snow emergency and I am forced to stay home with nothing to do and nowhere to go. I am looking forward to a snow day so that I can “… seek out each day as many as possible of the small joys, and thriftily save up the larger, more demanding pleasures for holidays and appropriate hours. It is the small joys first of all that are granted us for recreation, for daily relief and disburdenment, not the great ones.” Thank you Brain Pickings for today’s inspiration. I think we all need a day of disburdenment.

Accustom yourself every morning to look for a moment at the sky and suddenly you will be aware of the air around you.

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Eva K. Sullivan teaches English Language Learners in Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland. She was an English Language Fellow with U.S. Department of State during the 2017-2018 school year, working with the Ministry of Education in Laos, Southeast Asia. She writes short stories, personal essays, and has completed a memoir about her experiences as an expat in West Africa in the 1990s.

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