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Listening to Our Hearts: A Social & Emotional Learning Symposium Reflection

POSTED ON August 31, 2020

by April Miller, School’s Out Washington (August 21, 2020)

Recently, at the SEL Symposium I had an aha moment the very first day “heart day” when keynote Damithia Nieves, Founder and Educator at Thrive Yoga, spoke on “Listening to the Wisdom of Your Heart.” Damithia said, “We exist within systems designed to distract and extract every ounce of our time and our energy. Even our benevolent institutions, with all good intentions, often operate with the same sense of constant urgency that make silence and stillness difficult to access, and can set us on the path to spiritual exhaustion and burnout. It is never that our hearts cease to speak to us, but that over time we can forget how to listen.” She added, “We are speaking to the dominant narrative that says we are valued by what we produce.” 

When we moved into quarantine everything was rapidly changing around us and within my own organization we were encouraged to set short term goals. This in and of itself was a strategy to help us re-prioritize, focus, and better communicate in our work groups and with our supervisor. However, it was at this moment that I began to feel this sense of fear and anxiety that I needed to demonstrate productivity to protect my role in the organization. Many of you are familiar with the SMART goal framework. Smart goals are goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. So when I set my goals, I tried to use this framework as a model. I thought I had it covered. I set goals that had all of the “SMART” elements. Unfortunately, in the end they were not attainable or realistic. Sure, I was able to do it for a short time but I did not fully consider my own heart, mind and body. My SMART goal was not sustainable under the current climate we are experiencing. Like Damithia described, my goals were framed around the dominant narrative that I am valued by what I produce.  I was on the path to spiritual and physical exhaustion.  

This has been harmful to my own heart, mind and body. Since quarantine, I have had erratic sleep, anxiety, and pain in my body. Just a few short weeks ago I had acute appendicitis and had emergency surgery. After my procedure, I immediately returned to work half days rather than taking time to fully rest and recover. I did this. I made this choice. During this time I fell behind on all of my short term goals and began to experience apathy and exhaustion. Heart Day at the SEL Symposium was the turning point for me. The awareness struck me like a bolt of lightning.  This awareness brought with it pain. I believe that my unconscious engagement in this narrative has caused harm not only to myself but to my family and incredible colleagues whom I care for dearly.  

Damithia said, “We need to listen to our hearts so that our young people don’t forget how. We need to rest so that our young people will know how to rest. We need to center our healing so that our young people will know what healing looks like and how to heal themselves and to support the healing of others. And this is not simply for the sake of resilience this is not so that we can continue to endure and merely survive in this system. Transformation isn’t simply recovering more quickly from things that harm you. it is being strong and flexible enough to address the source of your suffering.” 

As we move into fall programming and the upcoming school year, what are you doing to care for yourselves as you care for others? Are the goals that you are setting for yourselves sustainable? Are the expectations you have of others or others have of you causing harm? Where is there room for supporting collective healing? What can this look like? What are ways we can set goals that are meaningful, relevant, and responsive that also are sustainable, encouraging and empowering? Damithia shared, “I believe that our hearts tell us all that we need to know about what is necessary for our healing, if we are able to listen.” Collectively, are we listening to our hearts? 

I believe that this process of reflection can bring clarity, renewed energy, possibility, and creativity.