Cultivating Solitude

Once upon a time there was a teacher who had worked at a school with young children for many years. One day, after break duty, she needed to gather all the Grade Rs together to take them to their sports lesson. So she went from child to child, asking “Are you in Grade R?”, “How about you, are you in Grade R?”, and saying “All Grade Rs gather around here for your lesson!” Eventually, after watching the teacher rushing around like a mother hen chasing her little chicks, one little five year old shyly offered some advice. “Teacher, if you want a simple way of knowing who is in Grade R, just look at our shirts. All the Grade Rs wear a green shirt.” The teacher was dumbfounded. How could she have missed that Grade Rs were the only ones who wore green after all these years at the school!

The point of this little story is that all too often we can overlook something simple that can make our lives easier to understand. All too often, we are too busy running around trying to complete too many tasks. Sometimes, the best thing to do is simply sit back and reflect, and observe, and allow little details to seep into our consciousness. Another thing to consider is how we can assume that we have all the necessary experience and knowledge, and we can forget that even the greenest student can offer valuable insight and information about how to solve problems.

It is important to cultivate little pockets of stillness in which we can simply be. It is in these quiet moments that we can reflect on action, and put together all the puzzle pieces of information we have been gathering. I am reminded of one of my favourite quotes from a well-known poem:

“For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude”
(William Wordsworth, “I wondered lonely as a Cloud”)

Truths like this can be neglected because they are so well known. However, being overfamiliar can blind us to what is truly going on. The Romantics had the right idea. This poem is about many things, but one thing I would like to emphasise is this cultivated reflection and solitude that is too often missing in our lifestyles. Not only can this improve our teaching practice, but it can help us become more holistic and balanced people.

In the last few days, I have been running around like a headless chicken. I am going to Cambodia in a week to begin teaching, and I obviously have a few hundred things to do. The last few months I have been working really hard on my studies; I have been trying to get as much done as I could, so it wouldn’t be too stressful trying not only to balance work and studies, but also adjusting to a new culture and country. I have been reading study guides, summarising textbooks, writing assignments, videotaping lessons, and trying to prepare myself for a new adventure. I was quite tempted to skip an update this week. However, amidst all this busyness, I need to make time for stillness. It is important to create a space for stillness and reflection no matter what is happening. It is not a luxury, but a necessity. Otherwise I might too easily overlook a simple marker like a green shirt that can make my life easier to manage.

Wordsworth, W. (1998). “I wondered lonely as a Cloud”. In William Wordsworth Selected Poetry. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


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