Saturday, August 25, 2012

Control Issues

Paddle boarding in the surf is one of the most fun, thrilling and spiritual experiences in my life... it also is one of the most painful and humiliating. Unlike most SUP chicks I didn’t grow up surfing, and although I’ve been kayaking in the ocean for many decades, my learning curve for riding waves has been very steep. As a calculated risk taker (with some major control issues),  I'm flat out intimidated by the uncertainty of the surf zone. I feel like I'm back in Kindergarten, at the beginning of a long, complicated curriculum.
Perhaps my deepest fear is that I will look ridiculous and embarrass myself. Thoughts go through my head, “why is a fifty something year old woman even trying to surf.” Comparing myself to the other women in the lineup, everyone looks younger, stronger and more courageous...certainly "hotter".
My husband thinks my attitude is what’s getting in my way and he’s right. I possess the ingredients to catch waves: ocean experience, timing, feel, balance and paddling strength. It’s the giving up of control and my unwillingness to do something imperfectly that is my obstacle. My fear is not about getting hurt. As a savvy paddler, I know my limits and simply would not go out in dangerous conditions. No, my fear it is more about leaving my comfort zone and being in a role where I am a D student rather than top of the class. As a college educator with multiple degrees, it feels natural to be on the honor roll, the A student. My challenge is to let go of all my perfectionism, abandon my insecurities and just accept that I am at step one and there are no short cuts.
For the past two days the ocean temp at Cardiff Reef has been hovering around 72 and the surf conditions are perfect for playing in the 2-3 ft. gently rolling waves. I decide it's time to tackle my control issues and spend a couple hours each day practicing in the surf.  My 11 ft. Liquid Shredder SUP is very stable and when I am able to turn quickly, trust my instincts and paddle like hell, I succeed in catching a ride. But for every wave I successfully catch, 10 take offs result in a wipeout, tumbling me off my board into the surging whitewater.
Once my board pearled and I went flying over the front and the force of the wave pulled my wetsuit top up to my neck. Stuck in the surf zone half naked, I chuckled to myself that since my fear of being embarrassed was realized, it was time to get back on the board and try again. After twenty or so more take offs, I catch a perfect wave and ride its green unbroken face to shore. Sore and bruised, I felt high with a sense of confidence that only comes from leaping outside of the familiar and expanding the limits of my comfort zone.  I made it to step one and that was good enough.
In the surf zone, I was a vulnerable learner and it made me empathize with how defenseless it really was to be in that position. Apprehensive, uncertain about my abilities, plagued with irrational fears, I thought about how my students must feel. Many of them are returning to school after decades and with interrupted academic backgrounds...they may compare themselves to those around them and think everyone else is younger, smarter and more confident. So, when I return to my college classroom on Monday, I will bring with me a  sensitivity about what my new learners may be facing as they start the semester. I may even ask my students to discuss these questions:
What makes you uncomfortable about coming to this class? What things do you think are outside your comfort zone? 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Liquid Classroom

After two days of being an indoor educator, it was restorative to my spirit to return to my liquid classroom. When I stepped into Mother Ocean this morning, I was quickly reminded that she could be full of surprises. After spotting a ray hiding in the sand, I did the “stingray shuffle” before jumping on my board and paddling out.  Getting through the “surf zone” is always the most exhilarating part of my day, requiring a determined mindfulness; for those few minutes my complete attention is observing every swell and breaking wave. Timing and quality paddle strokes are critical and today I gracefully got through the zone with no problem. Paddling in a slow meditative ocean sweeping rhythm, I spent the next couple hours becoming one with the sea.

Back at the beach, I wash off the salt and sand, load my board and wait for Dan to return from his expression session in the surf. Checking my iPhone for messages I see one of my new students has sent me an email. It reads, “ I enjoyed our first class together. I am looking forward to absorbing all that you have to offer us, before you ride off into the sunset.” The message made me chuckle and feel like some sort of limited edition instructional guru, heading off at the end of the school year to an endless summer adventure. My students were obviously paying attention when I announced with enthusiasm that this was my last year as an educator.

Daring to start my classes in uncharacteristic style this semester turned out to be easier than I imagined. I discovered something I should have realized a long time ago: Students really don’t care that much about me. What they really want to know are answers to questions like, How will I be evaluated?  When is the break? and How anal will the teacher be about me using a cell phone in class?  Why I ever thought that my credentials, accomplishments or even personal interests were important I do not know. Perhaps I wanted to establish some sort of credibility, now I understand that it is far more important to form a connection.  

So, on the first night of class I took a Face Book approach and created an opportunity for each student to post something about themselves to the group. My role was simply the timekeeper and facilitator. When students were sharing, I again practiced mindfulness and listened with compassion. With a non-judgment attitude, I looked beyond the wild tattoos to see the courageous beings that had arrived in my classroom for mentorship.   

With no PowerPoint slides to distract my attention, I started to sense the intense emotions my students were experiencing: anxiety, anticipation, and guarded optimism. Looking around at the student’s faces I was amazed at the diversity represented in the class (age, race, background). Some students talked about hardship (poverty, homelessness, gang affiliation, drug addiction), some recently returned from war, a few from prison.

Teaching in the field of Addiction Studies, my classes are generally filled with students who, before returning to school, have endured agonizing journeys through addiction to recovery. As I interacted with each of my new students, I gently focused my attention to be fully present, aware and awake. The process was as stimulating as paddling through the surf zone. For the first time in a long time, I left campus feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and eager for the enchanting year ahead.

Monday, August 20, 2012

SUP chick heads back to school

A salty start to the first day of school

Going back to school (as a student or later as a teacher) has been a staple part of my life for the past 53 years. Today classes start and what makes it special to me is that it will be my last year as an educator. Teaching has been a wonderful honor, but I’m ready to leave the Ivory Tower, get out of the academia box, and become a “global citizen.”  More on that in a future blog.

The day started in a typical summer mode, up early and off to the beach for a paddle board/surf session with Dan. First stop, VG’s Donuts, the Starbuck alternative for locals, for a $1 cup of coffee. Monday am at Cardiff Reef State Park is quiet with a handful of ocean enthusiasts out in the water by 8am. Dan and I sip coffee, survey the surf and gradually get geared up for some aquatic fun. Being an ocean sweeper or SUP chick (Stand Up Paddleboard ) is the coolest part of my identity. It is natural for me to be in the water element, maybe because I was born in the year of the water snake, or perhaps because I was exposed to boats and water sports growing up. Sunny skies, no wind, great water visibility and temps around 70 make for a perfect day at sea. Dan and I are out for about 75 minutes getting ocean kissed. Seeing Dan catch a wave and living vicariously through his endorphin rush, I smile and think, this is as good as it gets! 

The challenge is to keep my energy up and brain cells fully functioning for this evening’s class. Teaching evening (6-9 pm) classes has been my reality for the past several years, but three hours is a long stretch to keep students engaged in the process of learning. It’s a time when our natural biorhythms are screaming it’s time for dinner and winding down. This year, being my swan song in academia, I vow to do things differently. I’m going to class lighter than usual, no props and no Powerpoint, no boring pictures of my summer vacation. 

Without the threat of another tenure review, my mantra is to “be real”  and  not hide behind my role as the authority figure. What I really do know is, students teach, as much or more, than I pass along to them. So, school bells are ringing and it's time to get the salt out of my hair and the sand from between my toes, and head out to Palomar College.