For teachers and students today, a new GPA: Grounded, Present, and Aware

By Dr. Jon Singletary, GSSW Dean
April 9, 2020
Inner Forces
Can you experience grounded, present, awareness? So much is changing around us. How are you handling it?

Higher education has been in flux for many years with financial and technological upheavals changing so much of what we as faculty and staff understand about ourselves in our institutions of teaching and learning. To this, the crisis of Coronavirus is completely overwhelming. Financial burdens are even more significant. Our dependence on technology is all-encompassing. Students struggle with the anxiety of it all and we are hardly prepared to respond given our own anxieties.

Anxiety, however, is exactly what we are supposed to feel in a situation like this. It is absolutely to be expected that we experience fear, uncertainty, and doubts about all that is happening around us, and to us. We cannot do anything to control it. We cannot make sense of it intellectually. Our feelings seem to overwhelm us. We can all expect to experience anxiety in a situation like this.
As students and colleagues live in the anxiety of our Covid-19 pandemic, I join them in seeking to trust God and recognize that all shall be well. How do we get there? How do we let ourselves trust that?

Our challenge lies in our ability to slow down and recognize the anxiety, to name it, to feel the feelings for what they are, and not to let it completely overcome us. In the moments when anxiety seems to have its tightest grip, can you be grounded in what you are feeling? Can you be present in that moment and take a deep breath? Can you be aware of what it is and what it is not? It is anxiety, it is real, but it is not all that there is.

In institutions of higher education rooted in a faith tradition, we are no less likely to experience anxiety in these moments. We have reminders in scripture to trust in the Lord and not worry about tomorrow, but it is precisely because God knows that even in our faith we will experience the kinds of situations that inevitably produce anxiety. How can we learn to acknowledge our feelings and to recognize our anxiety for what it is?

One response is to pray with Julian of Norwich, who also practiced social distancing during England’s 14th-century bubonic plague, known as the Black Death. Julian, author of the first surviving book by a woman in English, writes: “All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” Julian wrote these words in her Revelations of Divine Love, where she emphasizes God’s loving presence in all things. The need to repeat the sentiment of hope (“all shall be well”) and breathe deeply while uttering that prayer, the need to utter it at all, is grounded in recognition that our anxiety is real and that God is present with us in it.

As students and colleagues live in the anxiety of our Covid-19 pandemic, I join them in seeking to trust God and recognize that all shall be well. How do we get there? How do we let ourselves trust that?
Take a few minutes to breathe, to connect your breath and your body, and to be grounded in the place where you are alive and well.

A reminder that works for me and is easily remembered by any of us in working in education is to pause and consider our GPA. Not our grades, but our ability to be grounded, present, and aware. Students are fretting right now over how online learning will shape their grade point average. Before we join them in worry about this, as well as our approach to online teaching, let us pause and reflect on a different GPA.

What does it mean to be grounded? Can you experience a connection to the ground? to your chair? to your body? As you breathe, where do you feel your breath? Only in your nose and mouth? Can you feel it in your chest? Can you sense your torso rising as you breathe in? and can you feel it release as you breathe out? Take a few minutes to breathe, to connect your breath and your body, and to be grounded in the place where you are alive and well.

And then, what does it mean to be present? As you breathe, as you feel yourself breathing, pause and be still in the present moment. You are alive in this moment and all shall be well. We may not know what the future holds, but God holds us in the present. Can we breathe and pray with gratitude that we exist in this present moment?

Finally, can you be aware of what is happening as you are grounded and present? What do you see? Smell? Sense? Allow yourself to simply experience with genuine awareness all that surrounds you right now. Take it in. Let it be.

David Rome tells us more about these experiences in his book Your Body Knows the Answer. Stay present in your body. Stay in this position of mindfulness. This ability to be grounded, present, and aware is the place where God can offer us peace. This is the place and moment where we can recognize that “all shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

“And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, it seemed, and it was as round as any ball. I looked thereupon with the eye of my understanding, and I thought, 'What may this be?' And it was answered generally thus: 'It is all that is made.' I wondered how it could last, for I thought it might suddenly fall to nothing for little cause. And I was answered in my understanding: 'It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it; and so everything has its beginning by the love of God.' In this little thing I saw three properties; the first is that God made it; the second is that God loves it; and the third is that God keeps it.” – Julian of Norwich
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