Summer is often a time for renewal, reflection and restoration for educators as the calendar turns and our focus shifts to the new year. After months filled with unknown and challenge as we navigated COVID-19 without awareness of an endpoint, we struggled to find that space. Juxtaposed, summer 2020 (and now 2021) found many of us in survival mode, in a cycle of planning, adjustment and problem-solving. We were (are) tired, depleted and not quite certain where to find new energy to fuel ourselves and share with our communities.
While self-care, and specifically the absence of it in many of our work spaces and cultures, is not a new challenge in our field; it has been placed under the spotlight. A radical shift from “would be nice” to “need” to “priority”—we entered a new reality which requires that our self-care is non-negotiable and that our communities must put this at the center as we support ourselves and each other.
Time: We have awoken to the ways in which we plan, interact and cultivate our schedules. Rather than neglecting or lacking intentionality toward the “in-between,” we acknowledge the role it plays while helping us transition and prepare. While living, working, eating and resting in the same physical spaces, we rose to the challenge to redefine and recommit to our values and priorities. Where could we find micro-moments for inspiration and connection? How could we challenge ourselves to detach from our calendars and task lists, finding energy in opportunities to fill our personal buckets?
Relationships: When the day-to-day shifts and our surroundings change, how does that impact the relationships that fill our lives? Suddenly spending more time with ourselves and less in physical proximity with others did not have to equate to feeling disconnected, alone or distant. It took some time to develop new comfort levels and approaches, but we gradually found new opportunities for connection and belonging. What am I seeking to gain from the relationships in my life? Who in my circles share and prioritize the values that I hold? How can I build and deepen relationships with others while being physically distant? What does inclusivity and belonging look like in these new and redefined spaces? When am I able to create time and space to prioritize relationships?
Fear: We have been conditioned to perform and excel, with passion adding further fuel for extended hours. The invisible effect of working under stress for long periods of time can make a significant impact on our overall well-being. The feelings we experience when notifications and alerts appear on our screens have become part of daily life. These modes of urgency, perfectionism and competition are not ours, they are not natural to us, and as we’ve become more aware through learning and unlearning around racial equity education, these work styles have been taught to us by larger systems of oppression in our country. So, we ask ourselves, is Shabbat, a rest period of 25 hours once a week, enough? How can we shape our culture to support the needs of our well-being? How can we center wellness and self-care practices in Jewish communal spaces? Where can we normalize community care that celebrates rest and health over burnout and over-achievement?
As we emerge from this period of time, we must recalibrate to where we find ourselves right now. Taking our learnings from the past months, this is a moment to ask ourselves: What do we need to achieve balance for ourselves, holding space for the keva (structure) and kavanah (intention)? With the call of the shofar, the sweetness of Rosh Hashanah and opportunity to look within through heshbon hanefesh, we awake to new opportunities.
In the past, we may not have been as intentional as we might want to be in how we interact with each other, space, time and ourselves. In the new year, we strive to navigate our days with awareness and compassion—for ourselves and those around us.
In the past, we have struggled with caring for ourselves and each other. In the new year, we strive to prioritize (without reason or guilt) the basic needs of our minds, bodies, souls and hearts.
In the past, we have not felt like we were able to say “no” when we needed or wanted to. In the new year, we strive to listen to our needs and honor them.
In the past, we have stretched and pushed ourselves past our limits. In the new year, we must remind ourselves to put on our own oxygen masks (with thanks to Dr. Betsy Stone) so that we can then support others.
May this new year bring us awareness, intention and a greater sense of shleimut (wholeness) and peace.
This post is part of a series of reflections found in “Awakenings: Our Memoir of Transformation,” a compilation of essays, poetry, artwork and Jewish sources from M2: The Institute for Experiential Jewish Education.
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