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The entire notion of ‘return to school’ this fall has taken on a new meaning in the context of the pandemic. For my daughter’s school, the conversation between administration, teachers, support staff, parents and local, state and health agencies has spanned most of the summer. Finally, this past Friday, school did reopen to students. The entire first day was spent in orientation sessions about new rules and guidelines.

And yet, about 15% of the students have chosen not to return ‘in-person’. They have chosen the ‘online’ option. In many ways, the ‘return to school’ has become a bit of a fragmented experience for the student community. Just like the world that they live in, school has become a brand new world for students. Wearing of masks and six-foot distances, taking turns while visiting their lockers, no large assemblies, no theater in the auditorium, no inter-school sports. It’s quite a bit to take in for the parents, let alone the school community.

However, inspite of all the changes and adjustments needed to make ‘in-person’ school possible, the ‘first-day survey’ says that the students are happy to back. The social bonding that happens in school cannot be duplicated online and is thus an important part of the educational experience. One may argue that some level of social bonding does happen in online (social media) interactions, but we can all agree that the ‘real life’ meeting is orders of magnitude more impactful. So, what does all this have to do with spirituality?

Well, that’s a good question. I guess one connection that comes to mind is the question – how have our spiritual practices served us in times of great change? Most students seem to have taken all these big changes in their ‘return to school’ process in stride, and with a good attitude. How do we adults handle great changes in our (learning) environments? Assuming that there are no setbacks, and that ‘in person school’ continues through the academic year, these fairly large changes will be in effect for a fairly long time. If we were in a similar situation, how would our spiritual practices be affected or undergo change(s)?

Let me share one personal example of change affecting spiritual practice. Ever since we brought a new puppy home six weeks ago, my morning meditation routine has had a ‘return to school’ experience. I had no idea how difficult it would be to try and sit quietly in the same space with a ten-week-old puppy. You see, the puppy wants to do the exact opposite of sitting still at 7am in the morning after a good night’s sleep! So, I had to change, adjust, and even school the puppy a bit. I would let her play for half an hour, let her burn off her energy, and then sit for my morning practice. And guess what?

After a few days, she caught on to the fact that this was my quiet time. I often found her curled up at my feet at the end of my morning sitting. I won’t go so far as to say that my original daily practice has been fully restored, but I am on my way back. It is a ‘return to school’ in a different environment for me and my practice. The timing and space where I practice varies depending on how the morning develops, and I have developed a new sense of gratitude for what I can accomplish on the days when I am able to practice.

That’s my short story. How about you? Have there been occasions where you’ve had to make small or big changes to your practices? Have you experienced a ‘spiritual return to school’ at any time and learnt new things about yourself and your environment? What did you learn in the process?

Kumud

P.S. I invite you to ‘return to school’ with the #SpiritChat community on Sunday, August 23 at 9amET on twitter. We will ask some old questions in new ways, and share some new answers. Maybe we will even get a bit of an education on taking change in stride and staying in school. Namaste – @AjmaniK

A flower for the Teacher