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Alleviating the Summer “Monkey Mind”

This post is written by NCTE student member  Kristeen Cherney. 

KristeenCherneyThat first week after classes were over, I had a small sense of freedom: temporarily, my need to wake up at 4:30 or 5:00 a.m. had ceased, as well as the sleepless nights that were often required to perfect my teaching plans and provide adequate feedback on student papers. I also relished the fact that my faculty email account was relatively quiet at the end of the semester. Teaching combined with my doctoral studies had definitely placed my brain on overload, a state which Buddhists often refer to as the “monkey mind.”

But then something strange happened a week after classes were over: I entered a state of depression. While I didn’t miss those late nights grading followed by early mornings to beat Atlanta traffic to get to my university, I began missing my students and the teaching process. I started to question the commitment I had made to myself to take the summer off—should I have signed up for teaching summer classes, too?

I found myself in a strange state, one that combined depression and brain overload. I soon became too tired to tackle my summer to-do list; this consisted of creating a classroom website, multimodal assignment sheets, and brand-new reading assignments. The fear that my summer would be a total waste was further stressing me out.

I decided I had to do something, so I started placing my spring semester items in a box for storage. As I was literally taping up the box of the semester, I realized that this cleansing measure meant more than just organizing my office. It was essentially a metaphorical cleansing mechanism to help me prepare for fall semester. I didn’t simply toss all of the papers in the box; I read through these items, including some student assignments. This helped me generate ideas for the next academic year. Also, the constant motion helped soothe my mind.

As I create space in my office for fall, I am also creating space in my mind to better prepare myself and my students for a successful semester. While summer traditionally calls for us to relax and put our books away, I find that these methods of organization are a better way of starting over. Additionally, I plan on exploring more ways I might apply my meditative practices to my classes starting next fall. In this sense, meditation has transformed into an intentional practice that eases my summer “monkey mind,” while also creating space to prepare myself for the next round of composition classes.

Kristeen Cherney is a doctoral student in rhetoric and composition at Georgia State University, where she also teaches first-year composition. Her research interests include mindfulness and the composition classroom, disability studies, rhetorics of health, and literacy studies.