#HamstraHighlights

Leadership · Curriculum · STEM

I’ll never forget this conversation I was having with a colleague a few months ago.

Given these unique times of 2020-2021, our friendly banter grew into a little more.

We were talking about stress and self-care.

“Sometimes, I wonder how anyone can hold it all together, all the time,” I reflected.

“Once in a while, you have to be able to take a few moments for yourself. For your own health and sanity, you have to slow the heart-rate. You have to find peace,” I remember responding.

Here’s where it got interesting. This was the part where a few jokes and silly anecdotes went from figurative fluff to literal real life. Discussion became dialogue. Theory transitioned into potential practice:

“There are places you can go to that are so special to you, that they bring you peace. You can relax so deeply that you can hear your own heartbeat. You can feel the silence. You can fully exhale. You can totally let go. You can be in the moment. You can be. And you can embrace the overwhelming calm that restores your heart, mind, body, and soul. A spiritual experience of sorts, it’s hard to put it into words. But when you get there, when you get to that place, you know…

I can think of a few places like this. What about you? Where are your places of peace?” Our dialogue would dive so much deeper. Yet, for personal reasons expressed and received, I’m going to let it be.

My Top 10 Places of Peace

Here were a few examples I shared in the moment, and a few more I added later.

Number 10: The Colorado River

A moving body of water might make much noise. Yet, I got to experience a slow-water boat ride with momentary meanders so memorable, it felt like heaven on earth. The warm sun on my back, clear blue skies, low humidity, green waters slowly floating me alongside gorgeous gorges, and a calm peace like a river attending my way. I felt it there.

The experience inspired me to co-construct Grand Canyon models to research “slow and fast processes that change earth’s surfaces,” especially weathering, erosion, and deposition with fifth graders in science class.

Number 9: The National Cathedral

With a youthful sense of adventure, I prided myself on pounding the pavement all over the place. It was nice to go to DC with my girlfriend, yet, if we’re going, then we’re going to go ALL OUT! We’d have to be ALL IN on this mission. We’d leave no stone unturned. We must see every square inch of DC. There is no other way! Hurry!

This was my approach for many years. Yet, I didn’t realize one of our favorite moments of that trip until now. It wasn’t even on our To Do List, schedule, or things to see. We hadn’t planned on going there. It just happened.

In the middle of one our many tours and among all the attractions, we found ourselves a bit off the beaten path, so to speak. We were in The National Cathedral. By ourselves. We got to self-pace the place. I remember rushing around until we arrived at a small room in the very interior. A chapel. We were the only ones there. We sat down. Just for a moment. And then for a few long moments more. Total silence. I closed my eyes. I folded my hands. An exhale from the bustling business and petty politics. An overwhelming calm. I felt it there.

I haven’t written about it until now.

Number 8: Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

Mighty, mysterious, and majestic all at the same time, the ocean needs no introduction.

It’s a gentle sea breeze upon your face, a continuous crashing and creating of waves, a salty taste in the air.

It’s the sand between your toes, the seashells for which you comb, and your wander with wonder along the shore.

It’s where the water meets the sky, the moon commands the tide, and the great wide open anchors deeply within your soul.

From my first ocean experience, I felt it there.

Growing up in overcast Indiana, going to the beach was only a fantasy of my wildest of dreams. It was only something to see in the movies. It was only for the rich and famous. It was only something… I ended appreciating so much more than I could have ever imagined. Moving to North Carolina in 2002, a day trip to the beach and back is still special. It’s worth it. At least a few times a year, our family spends four hours on the road just to spend three hours on the beach.

Now, to figure out how to own property there one day… A boy can dream. Again.

Number 7: Crabtree Falls, North Carolina

Arriving at the trail, we could hear the waterfall from a mile away.

Meandering through the mountainside, my wife and I would descend to the depths below.

With every step, twist, and turn, a crescendo of water falling off a cliff.

Finally, we made it. We stood in it. We rested all around it. A few moments of reflection. I felt it there.

Number 6: An Indiana Corn Field

Part of me will always feel Back Home Again in Indiana.

Driving through The Crossroads of America, you’re likely to see cornfields. A lot of them. With a few fields of soybeans to rotate the crops. At first glance, that’s all it is. But it means so much more to me.

There’s something so serene about a glance over the countryside. It can be a glimpse inside the soul.

An Indiana cornfield brings me back to my childhood. There are so many memories and traditions that run deep.

An Indiana cornfield reminds me of:

  • Waking up at 5:00am to rogue fields and weed gardens with Grandpa.
  • How Dad used to be a farmer before he was a carpenter.
  • How “There’s more than corn in Indiana.”
  • How “Knee-high by the Fourth of July” eventually became outdated.
  • How weather determined livelihood, was always the talk of the town, and why I’m obsessed with weather to this day.
  • Detasseling corn in the wide open spaces out by the Kankakee River.
  • How my brothers and I used to watch the combines arrive on our yard in a cool October afternoon after school, and how the driver would invite us to ride along. And then…
  • After the field–which was half of our front yard–was harvested, we would walk through each row, step on each stalk and husk, and find about a hundred ears that the combine missed. We combed our field for ears of corn in Indiana back then just like I comb the beaches for seashells in North Carolina today. And then…
  • How we would take these ears of corn and put them through the grinder in the barn, sprinkling kernels on squirrel stands. And…
  • How I would take some of these ears up to my treehouse for even more squirrels.
  • Swinging for homeruns in our front yard, every other year (because of soybean rotation), as if the first row of the field was the fence in a famous baseball field.
  • The movie Hoosiers, and how I used to play basketball for thousands of hours in the hayloft, which was the second story of our largest barn in the backyard.
  • How the landscape means as much or more than the overcast skies in overcoming seasonal affect disorder, depression, melancholy, and overall mental health. Indeed, the eyes are the windows to the soul.
  • How a small town farm boy ever made it on his own, 600 miles away from every person and every thing that he ever knew in life, and at the adventurous age of 22. About 20 years later, I still miss it. I still reflect on the journey.

To this day, and whenever I’ve gone home, I felt it there.

Numbers 5, 4, 3, 2, 1: Private

These places are so special, so meaningful, so personal, and so peaceful to me, that I won’t share them.

Where Are Your Places of Peace?

While I’m still not totally sure what self-care means or exactly how to define it in this particular era, one thing I do know is that you have to find ways to take care of yourself. Experiencing places of peace is a little less about checking out of the spaces that bring you stress and a little more about checking in with the depths of your purpose, being, and soul.

Maybe you don’t have to travel anywhere. Maybe it’s your front porch or a room in your home. Maybe, it’s a mental moment in your mind.

As much as I want to go on and on with my own favorite experiences, equally, I want to challenge you to find your own places of peace. And to visit them. Frequently.

Peace be with you.

What are your thoughts? Comment here!

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