Photo of Liu
April 23, 2020

The Workshop: Liu ’20's Week 1 Reflection

Not Too Loose, Not Too Tight: What I Learned About Trying Too Hard
by Liu ’20, Workshop student

The Workshop at Andover is an immersive term-long learning experience. Spring-term seniors stop all traditional academic courses and instead work closely with peers and faculty on a series of linked, interdisciplinary projects that revolve around a single subject. This term the subject is Community, Class, and Carbon.

The following is a student reflection from the first week of the program. (There are three more student reflections in the Week 1 series: Skylar ’20, Sophie ’20, and Isabel ’20. Please click on each student’s name to read their work.)

Liu ’20 is working at his home in Jacksonville, Florida, where he also does yoga and plays lots of board games with his family.

I’ve spent several hours writing this blog post today. Scrapping drafts, groaning, and taking breaks, I have found it difficult both today and other days to do work I would have easily completed at Andover (at least I think). One of the biggest things I’ve learned during week one—and the reason I’ve finally decided to write this blog post—is that it’s best not to force things.

Earlier this week I wanted to do our group’s reading from Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities but found myself drifting off and getting distracted with other things in my house. I blamed Anderson for being too abstract and academic, I blamed myself for having a cluttered and undisciplined brain, and I blamed the coronavirus for putting the world in these unfortunate conditions. However, the more excuses I made and the more I pushed myself to read and buckle down to write this blog post, the more frustrated I grew and the more I was caught in the undertow of an unpleasant spin cycle.

I’ve learned this week that sometimes I need to step back and not try so hard. As I learned in my Global Buddhisms class with Mr. [Andy] Housiaux, the Middle Way is sometimes a powerful concept to recall in situations like these. I remembered the story he told our class about a monk who meditated for hours trying desperately trying to find meaning and enlightenment. His master tells him he is trying too hard, but he also says he shouldn’t be like some of the other monks who only half-heartedly meditate once in a great while. “Not too loose, not too tight” is the phrase that resonated with me from the lesson. This week I’ve found a major part of the Middle Way to mean being kinder to and more understanding of myself. I am currently adjusting to a new way of living and learning in light of events occurring that are largely out of my control: coronavirus is continuing to worsen here and school was cancelled for the term. Rather than push myself in spite of these new realities, I found that if I step back when I get frustrated or distracted and realize that that’s okay, l work more mindfully overall and spend less time churning in my frustrations.

I also learned that adjustment takes time and that some things come easier than others. For instance, I have found posting things like the daily Flipgrid check-ins as very manageable and I really enjoy doing it because I’ve found the genuineness and reflectiveness everyone has put forth to be refreshing and heartening. The same goes with this blog post I’m writing now. Written in a cloud of self-recrimination and growing ill humor, earlier versions were full of overthinking, convoluted and poorly expressed thoughts, and repeated revisions. After stepping back, I realized I could write about my very troubles. I stopped fretting over every word and academic conventions and writing this has turned out to be straightforward and enjoyable.

As I continue to adjust to a new environment, learning what works and what doesn’t, learning to resist the power of the strange mental fog and lassitude that accompanies the coronavirus (a most baleful and unpleasant side-effect), I’ll seek to leave frustration behind, embracing kindness and real enjoyment for the work I do for myself, the group, and the community. I am optimistic for the future and hope we can learn from Anderson and create a virtual, imagined community that gives us a strong and very real sense of togetherness to help us through this pandemic.

Final thought: excerpt from Laozi’s Daodejing passage 57 (my dad told me to read it when I told him why I was groaning so much today):

The more taboos there are in the empire

The poorer the people;

The more sharpened tools the people have

The more benighted the state;

The more skills the people have

The further novelties multiply;

The better known the laws and edicts

The more thieves and robbers there are.

Hence the sage says,

I take no action and the people are transformed of themselves;

I prefer stillness and the people are rectified of themselves;

I am not meddlesome and the people prosper of themselves;

I am free from desire and the people of themselves become simple like the

uncarved block.

There’s a lesson in here. Sometimes less is more. Sometimes simplicity yields an answer. I’ll remain still and take no action, emptying my mind, exhale, and hope that the future brings less clutter and more clarity.

To learn more about the Workshop, read Tang Institute Director Andy Housiaux's recent update here.

*We look forward to updating you on the ways we are (re)imagining the Workshop, our connection with students, and our approaches to teaching and learning. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Medium. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter, Notes on Learning.

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