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The Right to Do Nothing

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this opinion article do not necessarily reflect the views of UTW or it's affiliates.

By Gabriel Costilla

I’ve dabbled in meditation and yoga in the past. I’ve read a few books (yes, including Meditation for Dummies). I’ve sat quietly in front of sunsets with my legs crossed. I’ve tried to count my breaths along with a soothing melody. 

I’ve dabbled, but I’ve never committed, and now, in the midst of this Stay At Home Order, I find myself wondering if maybe I need to try again.

I know that there are studies that show how effective it can be at relieving stress, and I know that it is more important than ever for me to take time for self-care, but I’ve got to be honest with you. I don’t know how I can possibly quiet my mind in these hectic times.

If I’m not waist deep in a plethora of Covid-19 news stories, I’m frantically trying to juggle teaching, taking care of my son, keeping up with friends and family, and figuring out how I can be the most useful to UTW in the midst of this crisis. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to relax my mind, and more than that, I struggle with even truly justifying the time it would take to do so.

It’s not that I don’t want to be able to quiet my mind. It’s more that I feel like I don’t deserve to do so. People are dying, struggling to find their next breath, and their next meal. How can I deserve the luxury of taking five minutes to practice mindful meditation? 

And yes, I know about the airplane oxygen mask analogy, but that analogy feels a little too black and white for me. Yes, it’s true that if we don’t take care of ourselves, we can hurt our effectiveness in all aspects of life, but in an emergency, how often is the right answer to sit still and do nothing?

Not that meditation is doing nothing. I know that it takes a great deal of patience and practice to meditate properly, but in the middle of this pandemic it sure feels like doing nothing.

So, these are my choices. I can do nothing about my anxious mind and stress levels, or I can do nothing (i.e. meditate). 

But here’s the thing, I’m beginning to think maybe I do deserve time to do nothing, to sit and let my mind focus on the moment. Maybe we all deserve that time. Maybe it’s something we’ve neglected because we’re so focused on the next thing and the next thing and the next. 

My son helped me to think about this in a different light when I started to create his schedule. I gave him plenty of break time throughout the day, and he was so grateful to have those little moments through-out his “school day” where he didn’t have to worry about assignments, or tests, or practicing. He’d never experienced that amount of freedom in his “normal” school life, and I noticed an almost instant turn-around in his overall mental well-being. Even in the midst of, arguably, one of the most stressful times in his life, I’ve watched him brighten up, and get less frustrated with all types of struggles. 

I see these changes in my son, and I realize that already, at age 11, he has a mountain of pressure on him (even without what’s happening with Covid-19), and I know without a doubt in my mind that he deserves time to unwind. I purposefully made those break times in his schedule. I continue to insist that he not work on any school work over the weekend (despite his teacher sending him weekend emails). I protect his right to do nothing.

So maybe, just maybe, I deserve that time as well. Maybe we all do. Maybe we all can’t make the time, but it sure seems like we ought to. I’m going to try. I can’t say I’ll succeed, but I’m going to try, for the first time in my life, to quiet my mind.

If you’re also feeling like this might be the time to practice some mindfulness in your life, then I’d recommend you check out Headspace. I discovered that this app offers their services for free to educators, education staff, and administrators. I can’t say that their material is really any better than other things that are out there, but I can’t turn down something when it’s free. It has a ton of different features to help you become more mindful, and I’m currently enjoying a particular “track” on restlessness. There’s even a playlist called “Weathering the Storm” made specifically for the current global crisis.

“Certainly work is not always required of a man. There is such a thing as a sacred idleness, the cultivation of which is now fearfully neglected.” ~George MacDonald

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