It can hardly be contested that music educators need to be zealous about self-care in the best of times, with the long hours associated with performances, and the high-stress quotient of so much of what we do. During a pandemic where our traditional methods of teaching have been turned on their head it is of even greater importance.
You’ve probably already gotten the traditional checklist of self-care, things like:
- Do more of the things you love
- Take care of your body by having good nutrition
- Don’t take work home
- Rest more
- Practice yoga, meditation, and happiness
Were you to ask me a year ago what I’d recommend for those of us battling burnout, the list would have been very much the same. In these slightly more challenging times I’d like to offer you a different approach. Let me illustrate it with a story.
One day, two monks set out for a temple in a valley beyond the woods. They came to a beautiful rise in the trail, and began to hear a flowing river. As they descended the valley toward the river, the sound became louder and louder. There, by the stream, a young woman sat weeping for she was afraid to cross the river alone.
Filled with compassion, and without a word, the elder monk picked her up and carried her across the river. He set her down on the other side and continued on his journey. The younger monk followed, berating the older monk for what he had done, for they had taken a vow to never touch a woman. This continued all day, and as sunset approached the older monk said, “I put her down as soon as we crossed the river. Why are you still carrying her?”
And with that, the elder monk turned and continued leading the way through the forest, leaving the younger monk to contemplate his words for the remainder of the journey. The compassion of the elder monk to put the needs of the maiden before his own spiritual practice, and his mental ability to then let go of the fact that he had strayed from the path of his personal commitment, without feeling guilty or disappointed, is a lesson for us all.
We mustn’t allow yesterday’s actions to affect today’s progress, because letting go of the past is necessary to truly thrive today. We must also accept the transient nature of life. Things are not the same as they were before and continuously trying to make them so prevents us from seeing things as they are now.
This is your self-care strategy: accept what is and let what was go. Stop trying. Accept the way things are and do what you can in the situation. That was the past, why would you let it distract from your present, or your future. Every time you think about how you wish things would be, you’re reminding yourself that it isn’t that way. It’s like you’re reinforcing what you don’t want. So much of what you’re experiencing can’t be changed, it’s out of your hands…so why are you still holding onto it?
You’ll find that when you stop trying all of the time things will tend to fall into place. Does that mean we stop caring? No. We affect change in the areas we can, but we can’t always be paddling upstream against the current, it can be exhausting.
So what does accepting and letting go look like in your life? Does it mean not taking on any new projects or setting new goals and just focusing on doing the essentials? Does it mean not getting upset when your building schedule changes but just adapting as quickly as possible? Does it mean practicing forgiveness when a parent, student, or fellow-teacher does something to upset you?
In the end, all we really have is right now, this very moment. Let us embrace it and appreciate it for whatever the moment is. It only is negative or positive as we decide it is so. Regardless of the situation you’re in right now, if you’re reading this you are still alive. You are still breathing. You are still making an impact on this world and that is a cherished position to be in. I hope that you accept what has been, don’t worry too much about what comes next, and can just be here, right now.
An experienced K8 music educator, Elisa Janson Jones specializes in helping music educators build, manage, and grow thriving school music programs and have long and happy careers. Elisa holds a bachelor of music, a master of business administration and is pursuing a Doctorate of Education in Instructional Design. Elisa has used her diverse skill set and passion for strategic thinking to help nonprofits, businesses, and music educators around the world. Her passion for professional learning and support for music educators is a hallmark of her work. In addition to her role at Conn-Selmer as Senior Manager of Online Learning, she serves as conductor of her local community band, a columnist for SBO Magazine, and founded the Music Educators Creating Online Learning social media group that now boasts more than 46,000 members. Elisa is an internationally recognized speaker, and has presented at national, state, and local conferences. She is author of The Music Educator’s Guide to Thrive, the host and producer of the Music Ed Mentor Podcast, and has founded multiple online music education conferences.