Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What to Do When Facing the Stress of a New School Year

“The Sacred Pause is the practice of creating a moment to respond more consciously---such as by breathing, attending, waiting, and considering things objectively---before reacting.” Lama Surya Das
In the rush of beginning a new school year as an administrator or a teacher, it is so easy to get caught in the busyness and bustle of all the things that need to be done. I confess, I find myself becoming frazzled and short-tempered in those moments at year’s beginning when I am faced with what seems like a thousand choices and decisions to be made at once. For example, ten parents send you emails wanting their children’s schedules changed, even though those changes are nearly impossible due to full classes. Someone from the central office sends multiple reminders to complete a survey that you've yet to find time to complete. The custodian rushes in and asks when you are going to order more paper towels for the third of fourth time. The cafeteria manager calls and wants to know when you are going to get the lunch count to them. And so goes the list of demands of a typical day as administrator. It is too easy to let the frustration take hold and become angry, yelling, “Hold on, there’s only one of me. I’ll get to it as soon as I can!”

It is in these times, practicing what Lama Surya Das calls the "Sacred Pause” becomes a key to making sure that instead of reacting with anger, that you’ll later regret does not happen, your respond with wisdom and understanding. Practicing the “Sacred Pause” will ensure that you give yourself time to become fully conscious of what is happening now so that your response is wise and in line with current reality.

How do you practice the “Sacred Pause?” Here's my version that I've found helpful, but obviously not foolproof.

1-Begin with the intention and commitment to work by being present and mindful of your actions. Commit to being present as much as possible. Of course, when you slip up, don’t bash yourself for messing up. Just return to your commitment to acting and working mindfully.

2. Be aware of when the stress level starts rising and pause to breath deeply, counting your breaths for a few moments. This action will start to move your attention away from the stories your mind is creating around the stress, and refocus it on the now. You don’t want to make decisions based on the “stories” your mind creates, so breathing takes you out of the those stories and brings you back to the moment.

3. Once you’re back in the present, acknowledge and accept your emotions of stress and frustration. It is OK to feel all of these things. They are not a sign of things gone bad. They are part of the business of being a school leader. Give yourself permission to feel frustration and stress; just do not engage in all the stories surrounding those feelings.

4. Finally, once you feel back in the present, “engage the next moment without an agenda.” This means responding by using all your wisdom and understanding, instead of reacting out of anger and frustration.

In these busy times at the beginning of the year, one does not have to be Buddhist to recognize the need to practice the “Sacred Pause.” Practicing the "Sacred Pause" will mean the difference between making a bad situation worse, or engaging life with wisdom and understanding.

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