Four years ago at Christmas, my sister treated us both to an aerial yoga class. At the end of the class we were instructed to wrap ourselves in our hammocks for a suspended relaxation exercise. It was blissful. The instructor asked us to think about one thing that we needed to add or subtract from our lives in order to feel happier in the coming year. As I floated in my hammock, and tried to clear my mind, two things happened. First, tears came to my eyes. Thinking intentionally about happiness was a very moving experience. Second, the phrase “one-on-one” floated into my mind. The phrase was accompanied by a deeply felt need to do more direct helping work.
At the time I was teaching full time, working as the treasurer of my faculty union, volunteering as a strategist for Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance, and of course navigating my own personal life. Each of those activities brought satisfaction, but each also came with its own peculiar frustrations. Over the course of the winter break I thought a lot about that moment in the hammock and as I did, it became less and less surprising. I love working with students in the classroom, but what I love even more about teaching is the one-on-one work I do when a student needs advising or individual help with course material. I loved my work with the union, but the things I loved most about it were our small executive committee meetings, where we’d solve problems and plan for the future, and the times I’d be able to sit with an individual faculty member to address a troubling workplace issue. And I love just about everything about working with Woodhull, but what I love most are my one-on-one strategy calls and meetings with Ricci Levy, our Executive Director.
About six months after that Christmas, my mother got sick and I took time off from work to help take care of her. I learned a lot during the last months of my mother’s life. There were lessons in the importance of love, the intensity of caregiving, in the complexity of health care and in the vagaries of mortality. And there was a radical break from my everyday life during which, out of necessity, I stepped away from the classroom, the union, and even to some degree from Woodhull.
After my mother’s death at the end of 2012, I began to slowly reassemble my routines. I went back to the classroom, but not back to the union. I picked my Woodhull work back up with a renewed passion. I noticed where I was feeling the most fulfillment and where I was experiencing the greatest frustrations. I started to wonder about a life beyond full-time teaching. Then I was awarded a year-long sabbatical to write a book about my mother, and in the process of writing that book I thought more and more about how to shape my life so that I can have more of what I wanted all those years ago in that hammock.
And slowly, that is what I’m building towards. This launch is not a sudden change, but rather an outgrowth of deliberate and strategic thinking. My intent is to build slowly, thoughtfully, and carefully while opening myself to the risks of starting something new. If it surprises me and grows like a proverbial weed, I’m confident that I can keep up with it. It will mean that I focus less on stability and more on resilience, something I’ll write more about in my next post. And it means that while the future looks less certain than it once did, it also looks brighter and happier.
Close your eyes. Quiet your mind. Let yourself think of one thing you need to add or subtract from your life in order to feel happier. What do you see? What will it take? Is there anything I can do to help?