Thursday, March 21, 2013

30th Year Reflections/39: Spring Break

“True silence is the rest of the mind, and is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.” — William Penn

This week the campus is quiet. We are on Spring Break. The rest of the working world does not enjoy such a break; it is a thing peculiar to educators and students. Those of us in the library do not enjoy time off. We have plenty to keep us busy. But we take advantage of this “down” time to catch up on work we’ve avoided since our last break or attend to projects and tasks requiring larger blocks of time. Unfortunately for me, the hiatus corresponded with the arrival of a late winter cold. So my week has been less than productive, at least in terms of work accomplished.

On the other hand, the time was not wasted. My illness provided large patches of quiet time, of silence and rest. We need these times, what Penn called periods of “nourishment and refreshment.” For example, since August I have been writing a book. Thoughts and ideas about this monograph, not to mention time spent researching and writing, occupied almost every free moment. I squeezed these efforts into early mornings, lunch breaks, and late into the night. About two weeks ago I finished the first draft. Almost immediately I found myself going through the entire work, editing, tightening the language, deleting now irrelevant passages, tinkering. I would have continued in this vein were it not for some sage advice from a friend and colleague. “Let it rest,” she said. Put it on the back burner for a month. Get it out of your mind. Attend to other things. Give it a fresh start. She was right. I’ve been wrapped up in this work for nearly eight months. I need to let it rest. I need to rest.

Resting gives us a new perspective. It recharges our batteries and allows us to attack something with a passion similar to that with which we started. A period of rest gives us the chance (and permission) to perform a kind of “brain dump,” to flush our systems, get rid of extraneous matter, start with a clean slate. (I realize I’m pouring out all kinds of metaphors, but you get the idea.) A break is healthy. It is good for mind, body, and spirit.

For me this break comes at a good time. Winter continues to hang on. We have more snow on the ground now than at any time during the season. Temperatures are unseasonably cold. Cabin fever has set in. As much as I enjoy Winter, I long for Spring. Opening day of the baseball season is less than two weeks away. “March Madness” is upon us. (I still need to complete my brackets for the basketball tournament.) A break is necessary.

The key to Penn’s observation is found in the words “true silence.” Such a silence is my friend. Others may be threatened by solitude, or have never experienced it. They have no sense of what it offers. My experience over these few decades is that solitude is a gift. Those profound silences come in our asking. We should ask for the opportunity. Solitude also comes in our seeking. We need to look for the opportunity. However it comes—in the asking or seeking—we should embrace it as a time of rest. I will avoid any prescriptive comments on how to practice or experience those moments of quiet. For me, the monastic tradition provides some guidance, in the form of retreats. But I have also been able to translate those practices in quiet walks through the woods, while fishing in a boat, or even strolling around campus.

Breaks, be they “Spring” or otherwise, are good things, true gifts, and worthy of pursuit. We will be better professionals if we find and take advantage of those times to rest the mind.

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