We talk a lot these days about overstimulation. Mostly we talk about this in the context of the ever-present screens in our lives: the notifications, the messenger apps, SnapChat (which despite what my students think, I do vaguely know how to use), the constant barrage of news and pictures and the necessary responses.
I know sometimes living in a city (if you call Boulder a city) gets overwhelming to me. There are always people, lights, things to do; something is going on. This is less true than say, downtown Denver, but it’s still a lot more than somewhere like Steamboat.
But for me, being a teacher is also wildly overstimulating. There are usually over twenty-five people in the room with me, and they’re all looking at me. I’m making a million decisions, evaluating their emotional and cognitive abilities, trying to listen to the goofball behind me while helping the student in front of me, while tuning out the twelve other conversations happening in the room, watching for the phones to sneak out, and oh yeah, somewhere in there, I’m trying to remember the subtle beautiful nuances of a complex and intertwined story that is biology and convey that to other human beings.
My mom once sent me a Facebook post that said, “Teaching seems to require the sort of skills that would be required to pilot a bus full of live chickens backwards, with no breaks, down a rocky road through the Andes, while providing colorful and informative commentary on the scenery.” The quote is by Franklin Habit and while I find it hilarious, I also find it almost painfully accurate.
But one of the things I’ve been working on this year is going outside more. And I’ve realized something about going outside.
It’s incredibly, beautifully, wonderfully, understimulating.
There are fewer people. Even better, they usually don’t want to talk to me as much as I don’t want to talk to them. There aren’t a million conversations, and usually there’s no music. There aren’t the overpowering smells of the crazy processed artificial snacks my kids bring to class, and I don’t have to think. I just have to move my legs, whether I’m on foot or on my bike.
When I go outside, I have time to focus on the feeling of the sun on my face, listen to the wind in the needles of the pine trees, the smell of warm ponderosa bark as I lean against a tree. I love hearing the rush of blood behind my eardrums and feeling my pulse against my fingers, my throat, my cheeks.
When I get the glorious opportunity to go backpacking, it’s even better. Time stretches out so all I care about is when to eat and when to crawl in my warm sleeping bag. I absolutely love staring out over whatever scenery I’ve gotten myself back into.
This past weekend I wasn’t backpacking, but I got to go for a nine mile mountain bike ride in Golden Gate state park. The aspens were golden and rustled in the wind, when I could hear them over the rattling of my derailleur. The trail was rocky in places and hero dirt in others, and I was grinning like a crazy person the whole way. My brother Jeff and Jonathan came with me, and we spent as much time leaning on our handlebars appreciating the beauty around us as we did pedaling.
I love flying through a grove of aspens and watching the leaves swirl around my brother’s back tire. I love weaving through pines and climbing up around switchbacks and just generally being out in the forests. After being out there for five hours, coming back into a city seems colorful and noisy and fast-paced. It’s good to slow down.
To be fair, this particular definition of slowing down includes spiking my heart rate through the roof trying to keep up with two boys who are way stronger than I am. By the end of the ride my legs were tired and I was flailing around some corners. Jeff laughed very hard at my stupid clipless moment. (I have pedals that my shoes clip into, and if I don’t manage to unclip my foot before I stop, I fall over. Just…slow motion fall over.) But that’s also it’s own kind of fun.
Your homework this week: Go outside! Take a moment and see what you notice, and if your mind slows down a little bit.