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In my book The Zen Teacher: Creating Focus, Simplicity, and Tranquility in the Classroom, I talk about a quote by the Heraclitus, who said, “You can’t step twice into the same stream.”

The idea is that – even though it seems to be the same stream – every time you step into it, the WORLD is different, YOU are different, and yes, even the SPACE is difference.

Ergo, your EXPERIENCE can be different and, if you’re lucky, it can be more interesting, intriguing, and/or entertaining.

Even if it’s the same stream you always step in.

This has never been more true for us as teachers than during the last few weeks when most of us have been hunkered down in our houses and an immediate and often chaotic transition to “distance” learning has completely blurred the lines between work and home.

It’s easy to think, “This is so boring. I’m always here. What could be new about THIS?”

But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s easy to assume that because we’ve spent so much time in our houses and yards, our living and dining rooms, and our bedrooms and family rooms, that there is nothing new to see.

But that’s just not true.

There’s plenty to see. If you know how to look for it.

Here’s how you can re-engage with the familiar:

  1. Stop
  2. Breathe (always breathe)
  3. Tune into your senses
  4. Look around
  5. What is something new that you see in the room? That you hear? That you smell? That you can taste (probably in the kitchen, but I don’t judge)?
  6. Identify one detail, one object, one space that you typically don’t acknowledge or notice.
  7. What is special, different, or interesting about that detail, object, or space?
  8. How can you interact or engage with it in a new way?
  9. How many new experiences can you notice, count, and document in your “familiar” space that you’ve been in a million times.

Case-in-point: For awhile now I have been keeping my eye out for a lost watch. It was a blue, solar-powered Citizen-brand watch. It didn’t have any particular sentimental value, but I liked it a lot and I’d lost it. The other day I was doing some tutoring online (because that’s what you do now) and I had to adjust the blinds to increase the light for the video and, there on the window sill, was my “lost” watch. Since it was a solar-powered watch, I had set it on the window sill to recharge and, upon closing the blinds had forgotten all about it (and yes, I know the women reading this are now facepalming. #guiltyascharged). It had probably been sitting there for months. But because the current situation forced me to interact with my usual environment in an unusual way, I had a wildly different experience and discovered something new (or, in this case, old).

Finding my watch was an accident.

But what if you did it intentionally?

What if you chose to open blinds that were usually closed, peek into a closet whose door is always shut, dig through the junk drawer, explore the garage, sit under your apple tree in the backyard, grab an old book off the bookshelf and sit and read it, or. . .well, you get the idea.

You might find the keys you were looking for, remember an ingredient in the back of the pantry for those cookies you love to make (and now have time to bake), a board game you forgot you had, or any other number of other surprises.

There IS a way to find the new in the old.

Here’s what I say on page 78-79 about Heraclitus’ quote:

Even when I read this quote for the first time, the meaning behind it took my breath away. Instantly, I knew how much I’d been taking for granted, how much I had failed to see, to realize, to know. As if a light switch had flipped, I suddenly saw how routine and mundane my days had become by assuming that, merely because I’ve been somewhere before, there couldn’t possibly be anything new to experience.

            I was wrong. . .

. . .Even as I write this at my desk [in my classroom] and take a break to go outside, I see the way the afternoon sunlight falls at a slant on the building across the grass, I watch the leaves’ shadows dance on the sidewalk, and I hear students’ laughter echoing in the hallways.

Every time I step out, I see something new.

Same stream. New experience.

So when you’re going a little stir crazy and the cabin fever gets to be a little overwhelming, tune into your environment and see it fresh.

Ask yourself: What am I taking for granted in this space?

How can I experience it in a new and fresh way?

In what way can I explore it more deeply and thoroughly?

How can I get to KNOW it better?

And don’t even get me started on what happens when we apply these questions to the PEOPLE we’ve been quarantined with. TZT

I hope you and your loved ones are staying safe, healthy, and calm. We’ll get through this.

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Deborah Bermudez
Deborah Bermudez
4 years ago

Thank you for taking the time to express this concept.