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Sunday, July 21, 2024

Rising Above the Noise—A Midterms Meditation

It’s that time again; midterms are upon us. I know many of you have had some already, and I hope they went great. For those of us who have a few left, however, I’d like to share some insight that helps me regain a little clarity around midterms and finals. Hopefully, some of you will find it helpful too.

The problem as I’ve come to know it is that in these times of intense stress and knowledge-stuffing, we all too often find ourselves caught up in the machinations of our tired and worried minds. And it’s completely understandable — the sheer number of facts and considerations we need to keep together in order to do well is nearly impossible to handle without mechanizing our thoughts a bit to maintain order. But in my experience, the whirring and clicking of that machine inevitably grow into a buzz of white noise that drowns out any hope of productivity and hinders the goal of success it was designed to promote. Surrounded by this deafening array of details, I lose my ability to focus on anything at all, and any perspective that could help me make sense of it all is out of sight.

When I face this problem, only one thing helps me regain perspective and it’s something I love to do: getting outdoors. There are so many beautiful places close to Davis, I just hop in my car and head to one. One night it was Cosumnes; another night it’s fields far south on the 113.  Once I caught a sunrise over Donner Lake in the Sierras, and sometimes I just drive and take in the scenery along the way.  But each time I go out to clear my head, I always make a point to stop somewhere that’s wild and get out of the car.  Planting my feet on the ground, I feel the earth’s energy coursing underneath me.  And then… something wonderful happens.

Standing in the great outdoors recognizing that I’m there, it’s like I sense my being as the whole of its parts, and stepping out of my head I can remember what I’m really made of. As I reconnect with the earth, I feel myself in its context again, and I can rise out of the noise in my brain to see who and what I am again, and just how beautiful the place where I’m standing is. I can’t hope to adequately describe what this feels like, but to go out there and really feel your place in the world again is something I promise does wonders to rescue your mind out of the worried mess school can create.

The only problem with that, as I’m well aware, is that I am very privileged to be able to go out and do these things when I need or want to. Not only do I have a car that can take me places, I also somehow have had the time, money and extra energy necessary to do these things when I need them. And I know that many people definitely do not have that luxury.

But what’s amazing about perspective, and what is too often forgotten, is that it’s not just about where you’re standing; it’s about where you’re looking. A mountaintop view might not be impressive if you’re staring at your feet, and if you only look east you’ll never see a sunset. I’ve come to see that just like in our minds, underneath all the clutter and noise around us there is a quiet heart of earth waiting to be found. It’s there wherever life grows; every tree, every flower, every bush comes from the same earth. Even in the midst of the city of our troubles, the earth can’t been stifled, and to feel it again we must look no further than our own front yards.

So whenever you’re feeling lost and hopelessly entangled in the entrapments of your mind, I urge you to stand outside — don’t worry, it won’t take too long. Find the nearest tree, and plant your feet on the ground beneath it, letting its roots caress yours as they deepen. Feel it growing, and feel your own being alongside it.  You’re growing too, from the same quiet heart of the same green earth.

I know it’s possible that the clarity I gain from this activity is something true for me alone, and I’m sorry if that is the case. But even if this perspective can’t fully help you regain the clarity you seek, it still seems to me that it’s mighty nice to know.

Look up, look out, look around — perspective is in our nature.

Nick Jensen can be reached at njensen@ucdavis.edu.


Graphic by Sandra Bae.


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