This past week I dreamed that I was standing before a group of students, guest-lecturing in a colleague’s class. In the dream, I was slurring and stumbling over words—making little to no sense. The colleague asked if I was confused, and I realized that I had a concussion. Not from any physical injury, but from the semester. The semester had given me a concussion!
I woke with a strong sense that the dream was symbolically true, metaphorically speaking to me. Because, yes: I’m not only experiencing exhaustion and emotional uprooting, but also the serious warnings about self-care that come with concussions.
Growing up, I had two competing understandings of concussions: (1) they were minor and something to be “played through” and (2) they were major and something that could result in serious injury or even death. Within the school year, I’m too often acting from this first understanding: that mental taxation and cognitive overload are things to be “played through” until summer. By the time I get to May, I’m drained—arguably experiencing burnout. So, my dream of having a concussion gets me wondering:
- What would it mean to operate from the second understanding?
- What would it mean to recognize the serious risks of “playing through the pain”?
- What might be differently required of me as an educator, as someone involved in learning-and-teaching?
This dream reminds me that we need education to be about more than the mind.
Certainly, there’s a LOT of writing about the mind/body split and the need for embodied education. I’ve written about this with my colleagues Jasmine Kar Tang and Moira Ozias in the article “Body + Power + Justice: Movement-Based Workshops for Critical Tutor Education.”
To take a cue from our article, it feels especially important to center the body—daily, in and out of school, throughout the academic year, and not just in the summer:
Our bodies and the spaces we inhabit shape our identities and carry legacies of social structuring, power, oppression, marginalization, injustice—deep inequities that are very much a part of our everyday lives in writing centers and in the teaching of writing. And yet through the production of whiteness and other dominant frameworks that render the body invisible, we can become so distanced from our bodies that we fail to recognize these links. We need to reckon with this disconnect across three spheres: (1) the personal sphere (how we relate within our own bodies); (2) the relational sphere (how our bodies relate with other bodies); and (3) the systemic sphere (how our bodies together represent and relate with/in institutional structures and larger body stories). Drawing attention to the body across these three spheres helps us counter the damage done when the intellect or institution is divorced from the body or when certain bodies are made invisible in our educational spaces. (“Body + Power + Justice” 62)
I’m thinking about how we divorce the mind from the body in school, as I am gifted this metaphorical/symbolic “concussion.” Concussions are so concerning because they cause cognitive and emotional impairments in addition to physical ones. A concussion can cause not only nausea, dizziness, and other physical complaints, but also irritability, depression, and difficulty with concentration and memory. A concussion can cause confusion, amnesia, and changes to one’s personality. It can literally disrupt the ability to learn, the ability to be in school. Yet, we continue acting like the body’s sole purpose is to be a head that holds, transports, and communicates learning. This disembodiment is deeply dehumanizing.
If a concussion (or at least my dream of having a concussion) serves as a warning, then it’s asking me to attend to my body, embodied knowledge, and the dangers of disembodiment.
If staying in one’s head can “cause a concussion” (which feels symbolically true), then I must attend to the whole body, the heart, head, and hands.
If I am to listen to my body’s wisdom (as gifted through the dream), then I must commit again to the healing process I’m journeying through with this blog. Doing so asks me to look at my own complicity, for it’s telling that the teacher is concussed. Doing so asks me to notice the relationship between wearing down the mind-and-body and wearing down one’s soul. Doing so asks me to become more aligned with commitments than conditioning. Doing so asks for a serious disruption of the mind/body split.
This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For support at the end of the school year, check out the e-course “Where Do I Put My Energy? Navigating End-of-the-Year Exhaustion and Resetting for Summer.”
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Oh, my dear! This is so aligned with a new vision of rejoining, allowing, supporting the whole. I am in awe of your ability to explain that in such a precise, uncomplicated way!
I feel I am being challenged to forgo the conditioning as well, praying that I can continue with the commitment of listening to and following what I call the Wild Body.
Thank you for such a well-written , engaging piece of your self-discovery! Sharing is caring!
Thanks so much! It’s really good to hear what resonates and why. May we continue on this journey of self-discovery, walking side-by-side. Deeply appreciative.
Here is what I wrote over on the Facebook PeerCentered post (for consistency!):
“Your piece got me thinking about academia as a contact sport, Beth. By that, I mean that academia, like football, seems to involve a level of violence that we need to seriously question. By that, I mean that traditional academia–at least at the graduate level–seems to be all about tearing “ideas” (read people) down rather than building them up. Thus, like a pro football player who is continually concussed, is a “pro academic” continually concussed? Am I off kilter on that assessment?”
Clint, I think you’re right on. Yes! And thanks for commenting. 🙂
Wow. I am not an academic, but there is also the “ramming down my throat” aspect of academic spaces; if I get to connect at all with bodies large or small, I must do it at a competitive level.
Imagine a teacher that pauses to look at their students, ask/allow them to become present before opening the teaching session. They would get complaints and great results if they resisted the urge to compete or hurry!
I think you’re right about the competition, which is also why Clint’s comment about contact sports resonates … We’re certainly looking at the violence of the “more, faster, better” paradigm. That said, I do try to slow down and be as present as possible with students — even doing meditation, writing, yoga, and other contemplative practices in the classroom … I don’t get complaints for this, but I still feel it’s not enough. Clearly, I’m still feeling concussed. 🙂 Thanks for this engagement and conversation! I’m deeply appreciative.