Reconsidering Mindfulness: ‘I Love Stress’
Label me an masochist, but I wouldn’t do anything to alter my stress level. As a teacher constantly surrounded by potentially stressful situations, why do I feel this way?
In recent weeks, terrific articles have been published about “The Mindful Revolution.” In fact, that’s the headline of this week’s lead story in Time. I also enjoyed reading last week’s Edutopia article by Dr. Lisa Flook, titled, The Oasis Within: Mindfulness Practice for Teachers.
“A handful of studies with educators have found reductions in stress, increased compassion for oneself and others, improved focus and attention, and more effective teaching practices, even after just eight weeks of mindfulness training,” writes Flook, who serves as an assistant scientist for the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds
I don’t doubt the value of mindfulness training, or the scientific research and studies that back its effectiveness. Still, I want my stress, a crucial element in helping me get work done. Without it, I wouldn’t be nearly as productive.
To help teachers learn how to cope with stress, several years ago, a colleague led our faculty through a 10-minute meditation exercise. We were told to empty our thoughts (or at least imagine something positive), concentrate on breathing, and be as still as possible.
But after three of four minutes, I grew uneasy with the calmness. My only thoughts included how I could or should be making more productive use of my time. I had papers to grade, stories to write, and people to talk to. As if my body had activated some involuntary defense mechanism, not unlike the flight-or-fight response, I burst out of my chair, yelling, “I want my stress. I love my stress. Please, don’t take away my stress.”
Without question, I felt embarrassed. But deep within, I feared losing my stress. Most sensible people would likely ask, “Why”?
For one, nothing motivates me to get out of bed more effectively than a passion for teaching. I love what I do, and that comes across to most who know me — especially my students. But coming in as a close second, stress gets me into the daily morning routine. Stress, worry, fear, and other related emotions remind me that I need to leave sufficient time to shower, brush my teeth, get dressed, and buy a Cup o’ Joe at my local Starbucks.
Label me an outlier or outright masochist, but I wouldn’t do anything to alter my stress level one iota. As a teacher constantly surrounded by potentially stressful situations, why do I feel this way?
Students expect me to return work in a timely fashion (as they should), and nothing motivates me more than stress to help make this happen. When I finish grading an assignment, I think fondly of the giant-sized quotation by science fiction writer Douglas Adams that sat above my editor’s desk at The Justice, the student paper of Brandeis University: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
I can already hear proponents of mindfulness telling me that slowing down, for however long, would soothe my spirits and help me become even more productive. But I’m a very happy person, and I neither need nor want soothing. For me, stress doesn’t correlate with “unhappiness,” at least not often.
I don’t require mindfulness, simply because stress doesn’t burn me out. It fuels me. I mean that literally. At the end of a long teaching day, stress motivates me to continue on with another two hours of coaching. I don’t just sit on the sidelines; I run with my slowest and fastest cross country runners. On a typical day, I clock about 5–6 miles, averaging 6:15 per mile. In the summer, stress pushes me to train even harder so that I can keep up.
At the risk of sounding even more boastful, I not only teach five classes, but I also serve as a Teacher of the Future for the National Association of Independent Schools, as well as manage and write for Spin Education. My writing has also appeared in The Atlantic, Edutopia, PBS, and Independent School Magazine. I know many who do a lot more.
Though some who know me may disagree, I even manage to have a successful and rewarding social life. All the while, I dare say, I do a more than halfway decent job with everything on my plate.
I don’t possess even the slightest degree of Dr. Flook’s training, and I even struggled with science in high-school. But based on my 30 years of life (for whatever that’s worth), I’ve realized that stress is a very big factor of what constitutes “motivation,” which a quick Google-search defines as “the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving a particular way.”
Well, this person neither wants nor finds any reason to change his behavior. He believes that stress isn’t necessarily all bad, and, in fact, that it can be entirely necessary to become and remain successful in life.
What do you think? In addition to practicing mindfulness to reduce stress, should teachers also consider how to channel stress into helping them become even more effective, efficient, and energetic?
This story originally appeared as a Feb. 8, 2014 post on the author’s blog, Spin Education.