Catching Our Breath

Dr. Jessie Barrie, Head of School
I hope that you had the chance to catch your breath over the Thanksgiving holiday. We have all been facing completely novel feelings of exhaustion over recent months. While we may have found ourselves relieved of past stress that came from travel, late-night social engagements, and running around town for meetings, we are now facing new kinds of weariness borne from medical concerns, worry for and separation from loved ones, social and political unrest, and pandemic fatigue. 

One of the ways I have been recharging over recent months has been with long walks in the Los Poblanos fields with my dogs and podcasts. One of my favorites is Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast. If you are not familiar with Dr. Brené Brown, she is a professor, researcher, a best-selling author, and has one of the world’s most-watched TED talks on “The Power of Vulnerability.” Her research largely focuses on vulnerability, courage, empathy, and shame. She has a very approachable way of sharing her research, and her podcasts are welcoming and relatable as she connects concepts to relationships, parenting, leadership, and purpose. In a recent episode titled “Strong Backs, Soft Fronts, and Wild Hearts,” she shared a story about a conversation she had with Joan Halifax, a Buddhist teacher she met when they were both presenting at an event at New York’s Omega Institute in New York:

“As we were leaving this technical rehearsal for the event that we were going to do together, I turned to her and said, ‘Wooh, I’m wiped, but I guess it’s off to the meet and greet.’ And she looked at me and said, ‘I’m not going to the meet and greet. I’m going to my room to rest before tonight. Why don’t you do the same? And that sounded so great to me, I’m like, you know, if there’s one thing that you should not sign me up for, it’s a meet and greet, it is an introvert’s nightmare. Small talk, meeting strangers, moving around. Oh, no, uh-uh, I’m just not good at it. So I was like, ‘That sounds really good, but I feel really bad to say no, like I felt bad, so I said yes.’ And I’ll never forget what she said back to me. She looked at me and she said, ‘Tonight, we will exhale and teach. Now, it’s time to inhale. There is the in-breath and there is the out-breath, and it’s easy to believe that we must exhale all the time without ever inhaling. But the inhale is absolutely essential if you want to continue to exhale.’ ”

I was listening to this podcast the week before Thanksgiving, and it took my breath away when I heard this passage. I have always been the person who feels the responsibility to go to the “meet and greet” (in whatever form it may take) even if I was at a point of exhaustion. I have never given myself permission to opt-out of responsibilities for all the conflicting feelings of shame and disappointment that would cause. I stopped in my tracks when I heard this, rewound the passage, and listened to it very intently two more times, allowing Joan Halifax’s words to seep into my consciousness: “There is the in-breath and there is the out-breath, and it’s easy to believe that we must exhale all the time without ever inhaling. But the inhale is absolutely essential if you want to continue to exhale.” 

I shared this passage with our staffulty before our break with a hope that after months of furious exhaling—as they adapted to constantly evolving models of teaching and learning, working through the anxiety of a pandemic, and so many personal and professional challenges—they would find the time and the gift of a deep inhale over the break.

As we transition into the remaining three weeks of our first semester and the final month of an inconceivable 2020,  I hope you can carve out the moments that help you recenter, that help you inhale, and that bring you peace. In a recent communication with one of our grandparents about the challenges of this year, she shared with me “Remember, tough times don’t last, but tough people do.” 

We are working our way through these tough times, one step at a time, with the strength of our shared community and commitments to our students, our mission, and each other.

Stay healthy. Stay Connected. 

With gratitude,

Jessie Barrie, PhD
Head of School