Hanging My Worries on the Willow

A string of worries hanging from the willow.

One of my most common school anxiety dreams is that the semester has begun, and I don’t get there until a few days or weeks or months in to the semester. Things have already begun without me. Other teachers are running the class. I basically have no idea what is going on.

One of my most common recurring dreams about doing my inner work involves discovering rooms or places filled with things that I have somehow inherited.

Last night’s dream includes both elements:
I am a couple weeks late to begin a new teaching assignment in a middle school. When I get there, the substitute is a man, a college professor, who is teaching them as though they understand deep literary critique, referencing obscure writers and texts. There’s also an assistant in the classroom, and she is sitting in the desk at the front of the room while the professor teaches.

I don’t really introduce myself when I come in, but I put on an audio story for them to listen to. It’s engrossing, very literary, and sort of mysterious. The kids and the other two teachers are immediately into it. Meanwhile, I start to clean up the two desks at the front of the room. The previous teacher left all her stuff, and the surface of the desks are covered with knick knacks. I actually want to look at each one and decide which ones I will keep. It’s kind of an exciting process. Underneath the desk are little hidden drawers and doors, and dozens of keys!

The story ends just as the children are to be dismissed for the day. I thank the other teachers, and tell the children we will have formal introductions tomorrow. I’m eager to meet them, and they seem ready to take me on as their teacher.

I am not nearly where I want to be in terms of fall planning. I’ve let my anxiety keep me whirling in a tornado of what-ifs, and I’ve found myself unable to focus on plans. This year demands stronger plans with more options, so I need to get myself together, and not show up to the party late. If I am to really connect with my students in this season, I need to leave the professor at home, and keep reeling them in with captivating narrative.

At the same time that I have not been getting a handle on the actual nuts and bolts preparation for the semester, I have been reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me and Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, the teen version of Kendi’s longer work Stamped from the Beginning. I think there are all sorts of inner doors and drawers that I am finding access to in the wake of these texts, new ways to frame how I can teach in antiracist ways, not self-consciously layering discussions of racism into literary discussion, but letting a deeper knowledge of US history infuse the ways I lead discussions about texts.

I’m not sure what the tchotchkes on the surface of the desk represent, unless it is simply that in the midst of my anxiety about opening school, I am looking forward to exploring all the little shining things that represent the everyday school experience.

A couple days ago, during a video-call, a cousin of mine exhorted me to be aware of how my worry affects me, to consider ways that I might proactively deal with the anxiety I am experiencing. He suggested giving myself one day a week to worry, making a list of the things my brain wants to worry about, and then checking in with the list on one day a week. Chances are, some of those worries might have evaporated week to week. Of course, the worry about school just gets bigger and bigger, but I am really moved and inspired by the encouragement to lay it down a bit. And yesterday, my pastor’s sermon was in a similar vein.

I need rituals to mark the inner work that I am doing, physical representations of the energies I am trying to shift. So today, I am going to meditate a little about the school worries, and then I am going to choose some ribbons to represent the things that most frighten me, and hang those on my willow tree. She is strong, and also not rigid. She flows. She listens well.

I can’t change the decisions that my school and my son’s school are making. I can be vocal about the safety issues that I see, asking for accountability to strong safety measures. In the end, unless I choose to strike or quit (which I just can’t do because I love my school and my administrators and teaching), I need to simply buckle down, do what I can to keep myself and my students safe, and find joy in the experience of reconnecting, of opening those little drawers and doors, of finding the right keys, of discovering the shiny things that will be part of everyday life back at school.

If you pray, if you do magic, if you work with energy, work prayers and magic and energy for our safety, please. For all the teachers and the students, for our families.


Gratitude List:
1. Social media posts about people’s food preservation. I haven’t done any of that this year, and I don’t plan to, but I can look at the beautiful rows of my friends’ canned beans and pickles and relish. I can see the binsful of corn transformed into baggies of golden sunshine that will wait in their freezers for winter. This makes me happy.
2. Kittens
3. Learning to push my body past its initial inertia, to get on the bike, to pedal even when its hard going.
4. Beloveds who remind me to deal with my worry and not just leave it lying around where it can keep pouncing on me.
5. Messages from dreams.

May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!


“We should ask ourselves: Do we know what enough is inside of our lives? Once I know that, it’s much harder for capitalism to catch me, right? Because I’m not susceptible to this constant sale of myself or my soul to any other force.” —adrienne maree brown


“I hold the line, the line of strength that pulls me through the fear.” —Peter Gabriel


“Children grow into the intellectual life of those around them.” —Lev Vygotsky


“It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” —James Baldwin


“Three things cannot be hidden: the Moon, the Sun and the Truth.” —Gautama Buddha


“Those doing soul work, who want the searing truth more than solace or applause, know each other right away. Those who want something else turn and take a seat in another room. Soul-makers find each other’s company.” —Rumi


“Going within is the only way out.” —Toko-pa Turner


“What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous.” —Thomas Merton


“Let me fall, if I must. The one I will become will catch me.” —Baal Shem Tov


“The sky itself
Reels with love.”
—Rumi


“That’s a tough spirituality. That’s not any kind of sweet-by-and-by spirituality. That’s a spirituality that takes on the world as it is and says, ‘I’m gonna figure this out one way or another.’ The mystic and the Moses.” —Vincent Harding (On Being interview)


“May you know the fearlessness of an open heart. May you never meet anyone you consider a stranger, and know that no matter what, you are not alone. May you have compassion for others’ suffering and joy in their delights. May you be free to give and receive love.” —Sharon Salzberg


“In our culture, we use the word ‘dreamy’ derogatively to describe someone who is unrealistic or without ambition. But what thrills and amazes me about dreamwork is how truly grounding it is. One of the reasons this is true, is because dreams are expressions of that larger ecosystem in which we are embedded, and which has a design for our lives within that greater context! So rather than taking our cues from consensus culture, instead we are listening to the mystery which combines us. As Jungian analyst Ann Bedford Ulanov puts it, “the Self is that within us that knows about God.” —Dreamwork with Toko-pa

In the Dreamtime, Day 4

This is a digitally enhanced fragment of the painting that was on the wall of the restaurant at yesterday’s 
Christmas dinner. I think it looks like the Susquehanna River Bridge.

I don’t know if anxiety dreams should count in the collection of images I gather for the coming year. Last night’s dreams were all about being unprepared, about having to wing it in front of school administrators and donors. Considering how helpful and supportive my school’s administrators are, it’s clear that these dreams are about my anxieties about myself rather than about my school. I suppose it’s important not to ignore the deep truth of these dreams–that I do not feel adequate to the task of teaching. This is not a revelation. It’s part of my every day reality. Whenever someone depends on me, I feel the weight of not performing, not mastering, not being perfectly suited to the task. No matter how much daytime work I do to convince myself that I am being sufficient to the tasks of my life, my dreams always tell me how much more work I have to do. Sigh.

In last night’s dreams, I actually did fairly well teaching a chapter from a book I had never read while administrators (they were clearly from my dream-school, not recognizably from my real life school) looked on. Then I gave a group of very sleepy donors a run-down of the work we do in our Advisory Groups. It actually woke them up and got them participating and laughing, even though I diverged into some topics I really knew nothing about. So maybe I will look at those dreams and remind myself: I am sufficient to the tasks I must accomplish. But today, at least, will be another day of stepping away from the necessary tasks I must complete in order to be sufficiently prepared to return to school next week.


Gratitude List:
1. My Christmas robe. It’s soft and toasty warm–the perfect thing to cope with winter.
2. Family. I know not to take these people in my life for granted. Family can be our greatest joy or our most intimate agony. If the latter is your story, I wish for you the discovery of healthy, joyful family that is formed by bonds not of blood, but of circumstance and friendship.
3. Time out of time
4. Darkness and light
5. Music of resistance

May we walk in Beauty!


Words for the first day of Kwanzaa:
Joyful Kwanzaa to my friends who are celebrating the first fruits: Today is Umoja, or Unity. Reflect on ways in which we can bring unity in divided situations in the coming year.


“You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” —Mary Oliver


“Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.” ―Susan Sontag


“People who own the world outright for profit will have to be stopped; by influence, by power, by us.” —Wendell Berry


“Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.” —Mary Oliver


“When you understand interconnectedness, it makes you more afraid of hating than of dying.”
—Robert A. F. Thurman


“It’s quiet now. So quiet that can almost hear other people’s dreams.” ―Gayle Forman


“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” ―Thich Nhat Hanh