Rest & Respite in 2020? Self-care for the Long Game
At the height of the pandemic, we saw our colleagues in higher education running as fast as they could to keep up with the spiritual, educational and physical needs of their institutions’ students, staff and faculty. The radical shift to online learning and student life made it harder to leave work back in the office; even as news that higher education was in crisis sent a not so subtle message to staff that their jobs might be on the line. The result, we fear, is an endless wheel of work serving the needs of the community at a time when our colleagues need time to rest.
Our topic has been compounded by the death of George Floyd and the swelling protests against systemic racism and police brutality, which raise the related crucial question of the role of rest within movements for societal transformation. What is the need for rest and respite, especially for Black colleagues and students, who too often feel they can least afford to take it?
The conversation below, between Dr. Shakeer Abdullah, Dr. Gail Stearns and Yael Shy, addresses these many questions and offers practical ideas for ensuring rest for higher education professionals, and wisdom from their own religious traditions on the value of rest. Throughout, the three panelists highlighted the need to pay attention to the unequal way that people are able to access rest, and why it is more important than ever to ensure that all, especially Black colleagues, are able to take the time for self-care that each of us deserves.
Yael Shy (Senior Director of Global Spiritual Life at New York University and the Founder and Director of MindfulNYU)
I’m Jewish, and I am also Buddhist. There is this very central practice of the Sabbath in Judaism where you are—it’s completely countercultural, counter-capitalist—and what it says is like you, for this little period of 24 hours you are not to do work, you’re not to create anything new. And the liturgy around the Sabbath talks about how, it’s not that you work all week to have a Sabbath, it’s that Sabbath that, all the week exists for the Sabbath. So, the Sabbath doesn't exist to make you a better worker. The whole point of everything is about who you are on the Sabbath. I have been thinking about that, because what actually happens in the moments of respite, and in the moments of rest, when you really get in touch with who you are. It does feel to me like a profoundly counter-capitalist, counter-White supremacist practice because it says we are worth more than what we do, and we're essentially valuable not just from what we're producing and what we're doing.
Dr. Shakeer Abdullah (Vice President of Student Affairs at Clayton State University)
Personally, it was a unique year for me in terms of Ramadan. You know, Ramadan is the Muslim holy month of fasting. It’s the month when the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. And during that month, you know, reflection, rest, those are all things that you are working on, and you are trying to do. It was very different because I was working from home. So, there was some extra benefit in terms of being able to be around family and do some more things personally. We started a garden. I mean, there's a lot of things that we were able to do to work on that. And the other piece that I realized is that I gained a lot more time. I didn't have the drive to work and because places of worship were closed down I didn't have time lost in those drives and things like that. There was more time for more to reflect and to rest. I thought that was critical for me. And I think that the interesting thing for me, right at the conclusion of the celebration, the Eid, following Ramadan, was when George Floyd was killed. You go from that, that high of the spiritual high and the celebration, and all of a sudden the reality that there is still much to do, there is still much going on.
But, I think rest and respite are critical. Because you are no good to anyone if you are burnt out. You’re no good to whatever causes you are committed to if you’re burnt out. So, I encouraged my people that I work with to make sure to take their days and make you take your days, and I want you to be fully rested and have some energy. And I think one of the things we have to do is, we have to let go of the guilt that comes along with the rest. We have to let go of the guilt that comes along with checking out.
Dr. Gail Stearns (Irvin C. and Edy Chapman Dean of the Wallace All Faiths Chapel and Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Chapman University)
Often, our students talk about spirituality as a kind of personal part. Religion is the community. Spirituality is personal. And I always challenge that... Spirituality is what connects us and connects with what is deeper within ourselves and connects us with our community. So, if you think about prayer, prayer has been a practice of people through the centuries. When I pray, I am not praying alone. I pray with people throughout the centuries. Meditation, you think about the month of Ramadan, I mean, what an incredible practice, and that is connecting you with people for centuries, and it's connecting throughout the world right now, and I think that's true with all of our spiritual practices. When we do those, we're actually in a sense connecting with that energy. Tapping into the divine. Tapping into the people around us. And so, finding ways of respite that are not just withdrawal.
>> Paul: Hello everyone! My name is Paul Raushenbush, and I’m the Senior Advisor for Public Affairs and Innovation at Interfaith Youth Core. It is my privilege to welcome you here today and to moderate this important discussion, Rest and Respite in Summer 2020: Self-care for the Long Game.
We envisioned this topic and the webinar several weeks ago at the height of the pandemic, when many of you who work in higher education were feeling a great deal of urgency and stress in caring for your students, connecting them with opportunities to continue learning, recognizing that each of them was going home to different situations. It was an incredibly difficult, stressful time. And then, the fact that we were all online made it different than past years where perhaps students might leave the campus, and you might be able to feel like, okay, now I can have downtime. Then, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, and the many protests that erupted, and the important work against the systemic racism that has been happening, we've only had an increased amount of people calling upon our time. The time of [those working in] higher ed, to help people navigate, to understand, to work through this. And so, this idea of self-care feels incredibly important as we continue to deal with the critical challenges of our moment, what do rest and respite mean? What role do rest and respite play in that work? Joining me today are three powerful leaders who help their campus communities.
Dr. Shakeer Abdullah serves as the Vice President of Student Affairs at Clayton State University. In his role, he is the chief student affairs officer and advisor to the president on all matters pertaining to student life. Yael Shy is the Senior Director of Global Spiritual Life at New York University and the founder and director of MindfulNYU, the largest campus-wide mindfulness initiative in the country. And Dr. Gail Stearns is the Dean of the Wallace All Faiths Chapel, and Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Chapman University. They each have done many, many things and have robust and long CVs and they are going to be put in the chat, so you will know more about them.
I want to start today's conversation with a broad check-in with our panelist, first of all, how you are doing, and a report out from your campus, the staff, the faculty, and the students. How your intuitions are doing right in this time of important upheaval? And also, how they're envisioning self-care and rest and respite in the midst of it. Dr. Abdullah, I would like to start with you.
>> Shakeer: So, good afternoon, everybody. Thanks for the introduction and thanks for the opportunity to be here today to really have this conversation. We're really seeing a convergence of circumstances that may be unprecedented in our lifetimes. And I think the challenges that we're facing are reaching us all in many different ways.
I think for me, you know, I am obviously tasked with the work of a Vice President of Student Affairs. Much of my time this summer has been spent planning for a return in the fall. We're working on the safety of our students and the safety of our campus community to make sure that folks can come back and live in the residence halls and we can have classes and we can have activities. All of these things have consumed a lot of my time, and really about two weeks ago my focuses had to shift. We’ve seen what has happened, not just with the killing of George Floyd, but here in Georgia, the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, and the killing of Breonna Taylor, all have impacted us in ways that, if we don't stop to reflect, we may lose sight of what is happening with us, and what is happening with our world, our country, and I think it's important that we do that.
Many of us come from spaces and traditions where we help, we engage, and we speak up, we speak out for injustice. I come from the Islamic tradition, and the Prophet Mohammad tells us, if you see an injustice, change with your hand. If you can’t change it with your hand, speak out against it. If you can't speak out against it, they hate it in your heart, and that is the weakest level of faith. So, for me, I appreciate an opportunity to speak out against the things that are happening in our world. I want to work to change it with my hands, and I certainly hate it in my heart.
I think the reality is that there are so many folks that dislike what they're seeing today. We have had some virtual forums with students, and students really just—I mean, their hearts are broken. We have a range of students at Clayton State University where I work. Some of the students on the call were parents. Some of the students were frustrated, young folks. Some of the students who I’ve heard from our veterans and have remembered marches in the '60s and things like that. So, all of these things are happening on our campuses. In our world and in our communities. We really cannot overlook them.
I spent almost five years in the Twin Cities working at the University of Minnesota as the Assistant Vice President for Equity and Diversity. I am hearing from my friends on a regular basis. I am hearing about their struggles and I’m hearing about the challenges that are being presented. This is a unique time in our lives. And I am grateful for the opportunity to help process that now and to help process it with you all and to hear from my colleagues today as we talk through these.
So, I am both challenged and am both hopeful at this moment.
>> Paul: Thank you for that. Doctor Stearns, could you tell us how you're processing this at Chapman?
>> Gail: Yeah, thank you. And again, I will echo Shakeer. Thank you so much for the opportunity today. Chapman University never does anything in slow motion, I'll say that right now. So, the minute we grab something, we grab it and go. So, all the things that Shakeer was talking about, you know, about 14 or 16 task forces to think about reopening and how we’re going to do that care has been really important. So, that's where a lot of energy has been for me.
The energy has been, as soon as we shifted in March to online, our chaplain staff, and they're between part-time and full-time, 10 people on the staff now, really shifted all of our efforts online. We all picked up something we would do every week—whether it was the Qur’an study or a chat with a chaplain or mindfulness—and created a whole program. What I have found is that the university is very receptive and eager and accepts pretty much anything we're doing right now. It reminds me of my years as a hospital chaplain when the Doctors couldn't do anything anymore, so they called in the chaplain. And so, in some ways, that's happening. We are so in demand to do mindfulness and all of those kinds of things.
And, then again, two weeks ago, I was ready to take time off, and it didn't happen because all of a sudden we were thrown into grief, really facing our racist present and past in this country, in ways that I have never seen us, as a country, be facing. So, again, Chapman jumped into it. Already the president has made statements on what he plans to change. And I think the issue, and we'll get into this later, will be—how do we do this for the long haul? It's easy to say, “I will hire a certain number of Black professors,” and that sort of thing—but how do we really change the culture?
So, I am looking forward to that. I will talk a little more about this later, but I have also personally just been thinking about—what does it mean to be grieving? What does it mean to be all of the kinds of things Shakeer mentioned? All of the emotions people are feeling and the anxiety, the uncertainty? What does it mean to understand that stress in our culture is not equally distributed, even though we're all feeling stress? And that's been something that I, as a White person, have really thought a lot about and struggled with. What does it mean that I have stressors, but nothing like some of my colleagues and friends and people who I love dearly, and people I don't know, deal with every single day? So, this is a challenge that will be a huge challenge for our universities—to not just do a few things but to really think about those kinds of questions. And how do we deal with our grief and anxiety and insecurity and solidarity?
>> Paul: Yael, will you join us in sharing your opening thoughts about this moment?
>> Yael: Sure. Well, I am not going to repeat it, I just want to say that I find resonances in both of my colleagues’ descriptions on what is happening on campus. I am noticing that there has been like kind of competing hunger throughout the time of this pandemic, and especially now, in this moment, this rise for Black lives and for a real systemic shift of society. And the hunger are definitely for some kind of grounding, some kind of sense of like what's going to carry us through, and that's, I think, what Gail is talking about, about the, like the uptick in desire for more mindfulness programs, and we have seen that as well. So, there's that, there's kind of like a deep wish for rest, and also a kind of competing, not just desire, but demand for a real revolution. For like, this is enough, we do not want to live in this world anymore, and we're not going to, and, like, it is time for a change. And I think the response, I want to be, from the places where we, where I at NYU have the power, I want to be able to respond and meet those different fits of hunger. And also hold and recognize that the things that different populations need, the things that like my Black students and Black colleagues need are perhaps more spaces of healing and sustenance than what the White or non-Black students, faculty, staff need. And there's just these conversations. There's not always one conversation to be had, but that everyone, you know, it's certainly like I think the reason that this panel is in existence is that everyone needs to find their own way into this moment. And if we're not careful, I really agree with what you are saying, Shakeer, we could just, you know, rush right through it, and we don't want to do that. Because that will just replicate systems of White supremacy and other systems that we've just been living in for so long. I think our task is to have the rest within the revolution. And have the two be in conversation with each other.
>> Paul: That's a great spark for the next series of responses. What role does rest play in the revolution? And it is important to think about for—especially for many of the people on this call who are working in higher education—is there, is it allowed given the need to actually take time for rest, for rejuvenation, for recreation, and how will that happen? Is that a conversation that is happening on your campuses? Like what does it mean in a moment when there's a lot of fear in higher ed, like higher ed’s changing, everything’s changing and underneath that sometimes there's a fear of, is my job safe? Am I going here next year? Can I take time off?
So, I just want to name that and say, what does it mean for you three this summer to say, I actually am going to sign off for "X" amount of time because I need to breathe. I need to think. I need to play. I need to dance. You know, like the role of dance in the revolution, if I can't dance in your revolution, I don't want to be a part of it. And I just want to encourage like let's explicitly address that because I think a lot of people are scared to take time off. It may not be—sorry, it may not just be fear—it may also feel like there's too much need. I can't take time off, because I need to meet the need. So, I just wanted to like, let's address that head-on and see what you say. That's for anyone. Whoever wants to start.
>> Shakeer: I will jump in because this has been a pretty unique year in higher education for me. But then, personally, it was a unique year for me in terms of Ramadan. You know, Ramadan is the Muslim holy month of fasting. It’s the month when the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. And during that month, you know, reflection, rest, those are all things that you are working on, and you are trying to do. It was very different because I was working from home. So, there was some extra benefit in terms of being able to be around family and do some more things personally. We started a garden. I mean, there's a lot of things that we were able to do to work on that. And the other piece that I realized is that I gained a lot more time. I didn't have the drive to work and because places of worship were closed down I didn't have time lost in those drives and things like that. There was more time for more to reflect and to rest. I thought that was critical for me. And I think that the interesting thing for me, right at the conclusion of the celebration, the Eid, following Ramadan, was when George Floyd was killed. You go from that, that high of the spiritual high and the celebration, and all of a sudden the reality that there is still much to do, there is still much going on.
But, I think rest and respite are critical. Because you are no good to anyone if you are burnt out. You’re no good to whatever causes you are committed to if you’re burnt out. So, I encouraged my people that I work with to make sure to take their days and make you take your days, and I want you to be fully rested and have some energy. And I think one of the things we have to do is, we have to let go of the guilt that comes along with the rest. We have to let go of the guilt that comes along with checking out. So, one of the things that I do, during the month of Ramadan, is I get off of social media. I don't watch TV or anything like that, because it helps me to focus. Those are some of the things that I would advise people do even now. Some days you don't need to be on TV, some days you don’t need to be on social media, because you are constantly inundated with images, with stories and things like that, that are always refreshing your rage. You've got to get to space where you temper the rage. You have to go figure out what those things are. Whether it's reading a book, whether it’s working out, whether it’s taking a road trip. Whatever those things may be, go do those things, take full advantage of those things because we need you whole.
Yael mentioned rest within the revolution. It made me think of kind of a wrestling tag team situation, where, you know, I’m going to tag you in to keep the work going while I take a break. I think that comes with communication. It really comes with intentionality. I encourage folks to be intentional about their rest and their respite. And it just reminds me again of a saying of the Prophet Mohammad. He says, takes advantage of 5 before 5. Take advantage of your youth before your old age. Take advantage of your health before you are sick. Take advantage of your free time before you are busy. Take advantage of your wealth before you are poor. And take advantage of your life before your death. And I think that is a reminder not only for the current time with Covid-19, but also understanding what we need to do to be engaged and functional in the midst of what might be perceived as a revolution, and I wouldn't call it a revolution, I would call it a correction. And a revisit of promises not kept.
>> Gail: Thank you. That's inspiring. I have been thinking a lot about those things that we do to take rest and respite. So, getting off social media, because I saw some comments from old friends, old high school friends that enraged me. I don't always take those people off… but had I to get off social media for about five days. It was that bad. And we do those—I think that's really important. So many things we can do. And every one of them, as I began to think about them, are really spiritual practices.
And often our students talk about spirituality as a kind of personal part. Religion is the community. Spirituality is personal. And I always challenge that. I am… spirituality is what connects us and connects with what is deeper within ourselves and connects us with our community. So, if you think about prayer, prayer has been a practice of people through the centuries. When I pray, I am not praying alone. I pray with people throughout the centuries. Meditation, you think about the month of Ramadan, I mean, what an incredible practice, and that is connecting you with people for centuries, and it's connecting throughout the world right now, and I think that's true with all of our spiritual practices. When we do those, we're actually in a sense connecting with that energy. Tapping into the divine. Tapping into the people around us.
And so, finding ways of respite that are not just withdrawal. I think that's how we think of them in our culture because we're so much into the self-help sort of thing. And sometimes as a mindfulness teacher, I criticize mindfulness for that, that it's not just about me, but it's actually a way to connects us.
So, a couple of weeks ago for the first time, the trails were open here. You know, they've all been closed, the hiking trails. And I'm urban, so even on a hiking trail, I can hear a little bit of traffic. But, I couldn't believe what an hour out there did for me. It was like all of a sudden I was part of the world again. And being able to get into nature is one of the best ways to reconnect. And now we can see the stars here, you know, in ways that we couldn't. Take advantage of that. Breathe the air. Any practice that helps you to get some rest, helps you to get deeper, is also connecting you. It's connecting you with the earth. With the divine. With one another.
And I began to—I can do lots and lots—I began to write a list with so many different things. But, even the reaching out and the Zoom calls with friends. Anything that we can do. And activism, I got to go to a protest on Saturday, which was organized in part by Chapman students. And was really so incredibly energizing. So, I think we just have to think about our limitations right now, we have to balance Covid and we have to balance activism. If we can't go personally—that was the only one I felt I could actually go to personally—if we can’t go, we can donate, we can write. But, do the thing that brings you energy. And as it does, it will connect you with others.
>> Yael: I think—I’ve been thinking a lot about—so, I practice in the Jewish, I’m Jewish, and I am also Buddhist. There is this very central practice of the Sabbath in Judaism where you are—it’s completely countercultural, counter-capitalist—and what it says is like you, for this little period of 24 hours you are not to do work, you’re not to create anything new. And the liturgy around the Sabbath talks about how, it’s not that you work all week to have a Sabbath, it’s that Sabbath that, all the week exists for the Sabbath. So, the Sabbath doesn't exist to make you a better worker. The whole point of everything is about who you are on the Sabbath. I have been thinking about that, because what actually happens in the moments of respite, and in the moments of rest, when you really get in touch with who you are. It does feel to me like a profoundly counter-capitalist, counter-White supremacist practice because it says we are worth more than what we do, and we're essentially valuable not just from what we're producing and what we're doing. And then, I think, if I really touch into that practice and bring it out into the world, the nature of the work that I do in the world changes. From that perspective, when I am deeply rooted in my own sense of worth.
And so, I don't really know where I am going with that, but I am just aware that in a system like my system, my university, we definitely having people telling us all the time—like we had someone the other day tell us from senior leadership—don’t expect to take any vacations this summer. You have to, like, this is a summer of nonstop work. And so, it's real. That pressure is real. I wish I had leadership like you in many ways, Shakeer. Telling us, take your breaks. Take your rests. And I do in some corners, but other messages that we're getting, either directly or indirectly, like this is really kind of countercultural. And so, I think we have to kind of bring the education from these sources and these wise teachers, these teachers that say like this is what the revolution is made of, or the correction—I love that—is made of. It's kind of like saying, we do not ascribe to this, that this is the only way that our worth is measured.
>> Paul: I really appreciate the direction that you all have all taken this in. And I’m wondering, and this doesn't have to be for everyone, but are there avenues to talk about this in part of what it means to do an education in America today? You know, a lot of what it means to be educated, we have to kind interrogate that. And I think the idea of, what does it mean to incorporate the importance of rest, the importance of worth outside of work, and all of these kinds of—I think these messages are really important for young people today who are so much trying to find out like what makes me worthwhile as a human? And I am just wondering—we don't even have to answer this, but I think the fact that you are getting that message, Yael, from NYU, and I know it's not universally, but there are ways that that comes across. And I think everyone is getting that message. Do more, do more, ask do more. And I actually think in some ways, yes, obviously we need to do more. The question is how do we continue to be whole selves in this?
I don't want to spend too much time on this, but I am curious. Are there ways that you feel that technology is helping and hurting? Gail, you got into this a little bit. I am just wondering, like, would it feel different if we hadn’t had Covid, if we had to do everything removed. Would we feel less like on an endless cycle of Zoom calls or—I want to interrogate the use of technology, and I know we want to be in touch with people constantly and we want to offer everything online, but in some ways that's also a great deal of pressure for our constant connectivity in a kind of connectivity that might not always be life giving in an ultimate sense.
So, I am curious if you all have thought about technology in ways that feels like it has affected your work. And if it might be another part of the conversation of what long-term rest and respite will be with Higher Ed professionals.
>> Gail: I have a couple thoughts about that, Paul, just quickly. And I have a feeling that Yael could say more about this because of the incredible mindfulness program you put together. But one of the things we're working on, of course, which is why we're so busy right now, but is a new program called The Three Rs, which is, now all of a sudden I can't remember what they are... which is, ready, resilient, and reflective. And creating a program that for our students for fall, that will be different tracks that they can learn either mindfulness or yoga or a spiritual practice or something like that. The first thing that the organizers, Doctor Jay Kumar is our director of contemplative practice and well-being, the first thing he said was we have to create an app. We have to have an app for our students.
So, I am seeing the beauty of technology. I’m seeing how this will help them to know – what we’re trying to do for students is help them to learn how to take breaks and do that pause. My students in a mindfulness course this spring said to me in the end one of the most important things they learned was that mindfulness isn’t just sitting there for so many minutes at a time but it’s throughout your day. You know, it's taking the pauses.
I think technology is huge. Especially with young people.
So, learning to be discerning in terms of how we use that and how do we not get completely sucked in but how can that be useful in helping us take those pauses and that rest is really important. I just don't think we can imagine what this moment in time would have been without Covid. I mean, there's something about the whole world was on technology and saw that video of George Floyd.
I don't think—I just wonder if the country would be with the numbers of people out protesting as we have because people would be at work, right? We would have been in our normal sort of rush, and we might have missed it. I don't think we had would have missed it completely, but they're so intertwined right now, and they’re intertwined with technology. So, the good and the bad. And discernment will be so important as we move forward.
>> Paul: I want to ask, one more question, and I am looking forward to, and hoping that some of our colleagues who are on the call will have questions for the panel or can start conversation.
But what is your long-term strategy for talking about, or bringing this kind of conversation into your higher education institution? And what do you think broadly Higher Ed should be doing as far as like not only for its own employees but for the educational mission. How do we talk about the role of rest? I love the way that your three diverse religious traditions have come into the conversation. That seems to be one really good way. But are there also ways that just good work practices require rest?
One of my great grandfathers who was Louis Brandeis, was a Supreme Court justice. He had a famous saying that said I can do 12 months of work in 11 months, but not in 12. The week before he died. He said, the two biggest mistakes people make and the way people make wrong decisions is they don't know how to say no and they don't take the rest they need so that they can make the right choices for them.
And so, he was a hard worker. This is not coming out of a place of slothfulness. This is what it means to be an effective worker, to take time off and to build ourselves as human beings and be with our beloveds. So, I just wanted to—I wanted to open up that conversation of what does this mean. Even if we are—once we get, if we ever get—we'll never get to the promised land, well, hopefully we will, and that work will be ongoing, but how can we introduce this into the future of education as part of what it means to be a prepared citizen and a prepared professional?
>> Shakeer: Paul, I will say we need to interrogate this notion of being busy. I think we have put being busy and being a hard worker on a pedestal… are you hustling, do you have a side hustle, and you can't eat, you can’t sleep, you know, it's such a focus on busy for the sake of busy. And rest and respite are looked down upon. I am going to go back to, you know, 1863, 1865, upon emancipation of Black folks from slavery, one of the largest critiques and challenges they faced was this notion of, oh, now Black folks are going to be shiftless and lazy because you don't have someone tasking you.
This is a real challenge. And I think it sticks with us to this day that we think that working for the sake of working has value in it. The reality is we have to have some balance. We can't be engaged with our families and our friends if we don't take the time. If we are constantly working just for the sake of a paycheck or constantly working just so we look busy, that can be problematic.
I am going to take another step back to your previous question because this whole notion of leisure and this whole notion of technology, these are both classist perspective and we have to pay attention to that. Because we have a lot of students at my institution, almost 70% are Pell eligible, so technology was a challenge for some of our students. And while technology is a boon for these meetings and some of these opportunities, but the reality is that it's not equal. And leisure is not equal. There are folks who have never taken a formal vacation in their lives because they can’t afford to. And these are things that we have to pay attention to. Finding the multiple ways that people can rest and the multiple ways that people can take advantage of technology. I can't complain. I am in a position of privilege when it comes to that. But I am observing that. And I am aware of that. And I think we have to pay attention to the definitions of things that we're putting out there. Because leisure is sometimes just seen as an option for rich folks. But the reality is that leisure is necessary for all of us to be successful.
And sometimes you have first-generation professionals who don't realize that or don't understand it and think that I have to constantly look busy or I won't have a job. I think this summer may put some extra pressure on people. I know we had to cut our budgets at our institution. I was grateful I didn't have to cut positions but other department in other schools did. So, all of these things are, you know, it's a challenge. So, they're coming together in such a perfect storm that I think it's important that we address these and continue to talk through these.
>> Yael: I definitely agree. I think the only thing I would add is in my personal spheres, I am trying to kind of model it, to lead it, to like look within of like when does it come up in me, that sense of, must get done immediately, must—you know, make sure everybody else is always working—that kind of cult of busyness that you’re referring to. And trying to really interrogate it, really break it apart, and trying to live it as much as possible, and see how much we can push the wider institution.
>> Paul: So, I want to encourage, again, questions from the—there are several dozen of you out there. We would love to hear from you, for thoughts that you have about this topic. And how you are recommending rest for your colleagues. So please feel free to write us questions or put them in the comments.
As we start to close our conversation, I am curious like what are you three doing this summer for your own rest and taking care of yourself? You don't have to give us your, you know, your full vacation itinerary, and it might not take that form, but I am just wondering what are one or two things that you hope you will do to make yourself feel well. And sustained during this time.
>> Yael: For me, it's a matter of - certainly if I can to take a day here or there. And then I think it's a lot of reading. There's an author named Jaiya John it's just, it’s actually called "Medicine for a Revolution." And it really feels like medicine to me.
Reading other authors and teachers and meditating, which is part of my practice. And trying to just building it in and putting in so I can't not do it. That's what has been really sustaining for me. And drinking a lot of water.
>> Paul: I do want to just comment on that idea of incorporating it into our calendars. That it's not like, oh, I have this empty space that I am going to do this with, but feel free to schedule over that. But actually, to kind of say, no, this part of my calendar is not available to you. I am doing this so that I can have the next meeting with you, I think is really, really smart.
>> Shakeer: And I know for me, I am being strategic. I have thrown some days on my calendar, opportunities to connect with my family. Some of my friend s reached out for new opportunities for leisure. I'm looking forward to that. And I’m taking advantage of technology as well. One of the things that I do when I go running, I am listening to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, "The Water Dancer." These kinds of things, I mean, I have gotten hooked on the app Audible. So, every month it’s a new book, and I really appreciate that. And I do that while I’m trying to take care of myself physically and I’m also, you know, getting a chance to have some mental stimulation. And I mentioned the garden that we planted. And I love getting out there, you know, harvesting some of the things that we planted, then cooking it into our meals. Those are some of the things that I have been deliberately doing. Got a few road trips set up.
But I am purposefully claiming my days on my calendar. The days that I am going to take off, because I recognize that I do need that down time.
>> Gail: And I would just say… thank you. Those are really great ideas. A couple weeks ago my plan this summer was to work on a book that I started last fall. I had some sabbatical time. I was going to take this time off, take you know two weeks and write, and it didn’t happen. Because there was so much going on at work.
And I finally thought, you know what, why can't I just think about this as a time when I am actually, in kind of study leave in a sense. So, I am doing my job—but now other than this morning, I am blocking off mornings. And I thought, I’ve got to just work this in because it's not going to happen at least for another month that I get to just take the time. And even when I do, I can't quite figure out how to go somewhere and it’s hard to sit at home and not work because I’m so used to it. I may figure it out. But what I found is that it energized me so much to do that research and that reading.
It's actually on a lot of criticism of some of the mindfulness of self-help for the lack of social awareness in race and class and gender. So, it's really pertinent right now. And I found within two weeks, even the two weeks that have been crazy, by just taking some time each day to do that each day, I feel much more refreshed. It's just where I go into those books and that reading.
So, I think it just has to—this just has to be a summer of, in a sense, kind of hibernating and taking that leave and doing that. As well as doing my job.
So that's what I am challenged to do, tis o do both. The other thing is just a lot of things you’re mentioning. My dog and I get out and walk all the time, couple times a day.
And I do needlepoint in front of Netflix. When I’m working during the year, I don’t have time - I never watch TV. So, I am catching up, doing some needle point, just some fun activities like that. Mostly getting outside. And relaxing when I can.
And prioritizing people. Friends, family. Some are now across the globe. And I am really taking time whenever I can in the evenings for them, which has been so—it's so much of what gives me heart as well as my meditation has really shifted back to a spiritual meditation. I am doing centering prayer, which I did many years ago from mindfulness. Although I teach mindfulness, but I’ve just found that I need that connection, I need that grounding.
So, anyway, I think the thing that I found, and maybe Shakeer mentioned this, without the commute, without the evening events and without all the weekend events, that's where there actually is more time. Even though I am working, and I am tired and Zoom makes me tired, there really is more time in the day and challenging that notion of - that we have to be constantly stressed and busy, I don't believe it. I think we can really challenge that.
>> Paul: Can I ask each of you to give one—if you could do it in one line, that would be great. One or two lines of advice for anyone who is watching this or who you think is—you would like to have a—what you would like to have them learn or enact in their life around rest and respite.
>> Shakeer: So really quickly, I would say be as purposeful in your respite as you are in your work.
>> Yael: I think I would say like—listen—like listen. Do real deep listening for what is needed for your life in this moment. For where you want to lend your efforts and where your gifts are needed in this world and take that time to really listen and then act accordingly.
>> Gail: I am so glad they said both of those and I can say a third thing, because I am absolutely building on those. One of the things I am realizing is this constant need to be busy and stressful are cultural constructions. And I think part of a system that is unjust for all of us. We're holding each other to that. And maybe we're able now to find those a little bit of kind of spaciousness in our lives, and wherever we can find that, learn from it. Just learn from it. If you have evenings and you didn't, whatever it is, begin to learn from that and begin to learn that we don't have to think of our lives as constant stress but actually we can think of them as ways to do exactly what the two of you just mentioned. Look deep inside and see how we can truly contribute and be the strongest that we can.
>> Paul: Thank you. There have been a couple questions. A few good questions that have come in, so I wanted to go through those before we end.
There was a question about the comment, can there be rest in the revolution that you mentioned, Yael. I wonder if you can explain more about that, and what you meant by that question.
>> Yael: Well, I guess I want to kind of distinguish rest from, especially in the role that White people can play. This kind of false equivalency of rest and complacency or just being like on a bypass. Where you bypass your own role in the system by being like, oh, I am just meditating this away, or taking my rest. I don't need to be a part of this.
And I do think rest is critical for everyone. But I want to—I think for me, from my spiritual location, why I meditate and what my teachers like Zen angel Kyoto wiliams, and Zenju Earthlyn Manuell, two incredible Black meditation teachers have kind of been saying over and over again.
It's like this is not about bypassing. This meditation and finding that like deep place of rest is about being with what is. And what is right now in our country is not acceptable. And it's a sickness. And that's what we have to sit with.
And the more that we can kind of like be with and sit with that sickness, that I think my Black friends, my Black students know in their bones and they live it every day, I think that those of us that are White have to really practice really staying with it, and staying with the pain of it so that we can start to dismantle it. And so that's sort of what I meant by it.
And I think from my understanding, is that this is really—it just goes very, very deep. It goes very deep the ways that White supremacy operates within us, within—primarily White folks to say like rest is not a possibility and that, so, that's what I meant.
>> Paul: Thank you. We have one comment that asked about ... let me see ... someone says recently I found it hard to find the sense of worth, spiritual connection and trust that I usually experience in my quiet Sabbath practices.
And so, I am wondering if—when you go into whatever spiritual practice you have—and maybe it's not working as well, or how do you know how to adjust it? This could be for anyone really. Or could be for Yael, but it could be for anyone.
When things are no longer working, what are ways to continue to adjust so that you feel like you are—it gives you the respite and the rejuvenation that are you looking for, even in the face of a lot of difficulty.
>> Shakeer: So, I would just say, quickly, I think it's important to refresh your worship every now and then. What I mean by that is find some alternative ways to get to the space that you are used to being in. For some, habit can get rote, and it's always the same thing all the time. One of the things I like to do is look for different teachers and different teachers will give you different tools in terms of being able to reflect and refine your worship process. And I think that is something that I appreciate doing. I would encourage folks to do that, if you start to feel a little bit stale in your worship.
>> Paul: Thank you. And last question is, Kirk van Guilder asks, I want to return to what Gail mentioned about having stressors but not having the same intensity of stressors I see in others. Kirk says ‘as a White person I see my students and colleagues who are Black, Latinx Asian, and indigenous struggling with an onslaught of this summer that never rests and wonder how to point towards meaningful respite for them without making it an additional task to do in all of the things that they have to do.’ Like I think that's really interesting.
You know creating rest as a task that you have to do this. Now do it right. Do it well. And tell us when you are done with it. So, Gail, that was addressed, responding to you. And curious what you thought about that.
>> Gail: Wow. That's a really, that's a difficult question. I was just really reflecting. I think with Ahmaud Arbery it struck me that I have known fear in my life. When my son was a young budding film maker in high school, he and his friends would be doing films and they would, you know, spray-paint toy guns Black and go to a site of a home that was being build, and they would be filming and, you know, someone would call the police. Or in an alley somewhere and the police would come. And they called the person whose home it was, and the police would be sitting there, and the person would go, oh, you know, I know who those kids are, let them go. So, I know the fear of that when I hear about that as a mother, but I don't know the grief that my son didn't live through that, that he was shot because, you know, he was White. And the more I thought about that, you know, I thought stress is—I know fear, I know the grief of losing people who I love deeply, but I didn't lose them because of the injustice in the same way. And so, I think that I can dig into that fear. I can dig into—I know what grief is, but I also have to recognize that I don't know what that is as a Black person in America. It's not the same. And I have—you know privilege that has made that fear not turn into such horrible grief.
So, to think about that, I think we tend to do this false division as Yael said. A false division that rest means completely escaping everything somehow. And just pretending that there's nothing there. And I don't think that's the case. I think rest is - for all of us has to be reaching out to our communities and really being surrounded by our communities about - by our friends, by our family. And when we're there, just truly be there. Just truly be with those people. Absolutely allow ourselves the places where we can be absolutely who we are. People that know us that love us and know exactly what our fears and griefs are. Rather than thinking, oh, you should just go take a vacation. That's so easy to do.
But—and I am not even sure I know how to answer the last part of the question totally, except surround yourself with the people that do understand, and the rest of us I think do the same thing. Surrounds ourselves with people who love us, and also fortify ourselves so that we can actually have compassion so that we can understand that there are levels of experience that we can only support and stand behind but not necessarily completely know.
That sounds like it was a lot of rambling. I am not sure where that went. Maybe Yael or Shakeer have comments on that. How would you encourage someone like that?
>> Shakeer: I think the hard part is trying to fill the space that doesn't need to be filled or can't be filled. Sometimes the silence and the listening is exactly what is needed.
>> Gail: Right.
>> Shakeer: To try to project understanding, sometimes diminishes the moment. Listening is a really good tool. Talking in your own circle about the shifts and the changes that can be made. That's what makes a difference. I would just encourage folks to be thoughtful about that. To be thoughtful about what political action can take place. What kind of economic justice could be put in place? Those are the things that are productive, as opposed to trying to really empathize or feel what your students and your friends of color are experiencing, because it can't be experienced except through experience.
And so, more productive options would be to be politically engaged, to be engaged in your own community, amongst your own folks and talk about those things that for too long haven’t been believed. Talk about the stories and those feelings that for too long have been dismissed. I think that's probably the way forward.
>> Paul: Well, I want to take this moment to thank each of you for your time on this panel and for your wisdom and for your suggestions. And thank all of our participants who have been with us on this webinar. You will be getting a video of this tomorrow. And so hopefully it'll be edifying for you in the next two dozen times you watch it. But it has been a pleasure.
And I thank you for blessing all of us. And I hope that all of you have a beautiful rest of your day. And in this moment. And do find ways to bring life into your world, into your personal world, into your communities’ world, and into our collective existence together.
So, thank you very much.
And thank you to Carolynn for closed captioning. And thank you all.
>> Shakeer: Appreciate it. Thank you for the opportunity.
>> Yael: Thank you so much. Really good to be here.
>> Gail: Thank you so much, Paul. Thank you.
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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.