Several years ago, we had a grand trip to the ancient land of Greece. As we traveled with our small group, the response to any problem or impediment to our journey from our Greek hosts and friends was, “Slowly, slowly.” Driving up a mountainous pass? Slowly, slowly. Rooms not ready? Slowly, slowly. Walking on treacherous cobblestones after several glasses of diaphanous Greek wine? Slowly, slowly. This response was met with a lack of comprehension that only a speedy American group could generate. We are used to the New York minute, the 60-hour workweek, and the two-week vacation allocation. “Slowly” doesn’t compute for us.
I encountered this conflict closer to home on the Pine Ridge Reservation a mere nine hours’ drive from here in South Dakota. Sitting with women from the reservation we told our jokes too fast, sped through personal stories, and speedily suggested quick fixes to the many, many problems in this very, very challenged place. Bemused, the women at our picnic table slowed the storytelling down, drew out the laughs in length, and patiently explained why our solutions were slightly dim and had all been tried. Slowly, slowly we experienced a way of relating that was new to us.
In summer, the days are long but the months go fast. It has changed, this week. We may see more warmth and the water will hold its glow for a few more days, but the golden center is gone. A teacher’s life is still governed by summer. Days to reflect on the previous year, retrain via workshops and classes, look ahead to a new start. I know it’s based on a farm calendar long gone, but I love this rhythm and the slow way I can start each day. I wish it on every career and wage earner. Three precious months to structure as you will, learn what you need and are required to know, and gather up experiences like lilies in a field to bring to schoolrooms in the fall.
I’ve been trying the latest new thing: mindfulness. A way of using quiet meditation to quiet the mind, focus energy, and cope with life’s rolling hills. There are true experts in this field, but for me, it means breathing in what I am doing. If that is cooking the evening’s meal, it’s the only thing I am doing and I admire the eggplant while I’m sautéing it. If it’s walking, I’m acknowledging the leaves and the many colors they put on. If swimming, the water and its surface, calm and supportive or wavy and cantankerous. We’ve even done it in the room with my preschool little ones, and guess what, they love it too! Taking minutes at the end of the day to listen to music, hear a relaxation story, or just to do yoga quietly. I can see and feel the day’s learning settle into young minds; faces relax and eyelashes flutter as they review their day.
I worried at first that this might be a waste of time; surely we should be cramming in knowledge and learning. But I think back to my half-day kindergarten of the ’60s; we had snack and we all had to lie down on our towels for rest time. It’s OK to stop, breathe, reflect, and build energy for the next task. It’s in that quiet space that ideas bubble up, connections are made, healing happens, learning solidifies. Of all the gifts teaching preschool has given me, this may be the biggest and most valuable of all. That I need to slow me down, so that I can better observe the true and deepest learning needs of the children in the room that particular day. No longer the young sage on a stage that I felt I had to be to garner the respect of the students who were taller then me in my first teaching years.
Slowly, let’s let summer go. Take a moment — or many — to just breathe; sitting or lying down, breathe deep, breathe in pure air, or music, or sky. Ground yourself, feet firmly on earth, appreciating this moment. Allow yourself moments, at least, of no planning, no worrying, no thinking. Step off the grid, leave the competition, clear the way. For fall, for innovation, for a better response in a challenging moment. Slowly, slowly, step in to fall.
Kris Potter lives in South Minneapolis, where she teaches at a play-based preschool.
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