Improving performance. Break stress. Build wellness.
Improving performance. Break stress. Build wellness.
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In 1990 Dances with Wolves came out and was a highly influential film earning the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1991.

It earned Kevin Costner Academy Awards as both the Best Actor and the Best Director. It was an emotionally moving film with great historical value as well. By all accounts, this film was memorable. Memorable for me also because I earned a nickname from that movie from my beloved brothers – Tatanka. For those of you who have forgotten or are too young to have seen the film, “Tatanka” is the word for buffalo in the language of the native Lokota. Growing up with three brothers builds thick skin.

Dances with Wolves was one of many westerns that came out during my childhood leaving a big impression. Silverado is my personal favorite. It is a western with an updated feel in both its production and storyline from the westerns of the 60’s. There was also humor in how the characters interacted and were portrayed. It was an adventure.

This movie captured me and my brothers when we were kids when it came out in 1985. This may have been the first western that caught my attention, but it was the start to my affinity for the entire genre. Tombstone came out almost a decade later. Val Kilmer plays the tuberculous ridden Doc Holliday. Wyatt Earp, also with Kevin Costner, was a favorite.

But there was also Young Guns and Young Guns II. Clint Eastwood starred in Unforgiven and only a few more years down the line in 2007, the dashing Brad Pitt was Jesse James in the Assassination of Jesse James .

Now, when I can’t sleep, I put on a western. In my 30’s I’ve really grown to appreciate Clint Eastwood’s portfolio of films. The Good the Bad and the Ugly is an absolute classic in it’s theme song alone – you know the one, it sounds a little like a howling coyote. “Wiki wiki woooo, da da daaaahhh.” In the middle of the night was when I first watched Hang ‘Em High which became one of my Clint Eastwood favs. It also is an example of how my stress shows itself through lack of sleep.

In my 30’s I gave birth to all three of my babies. I earned two major promotions from teacher to assistant principal and from AP to principal. I worked 70 hour work weeks regularly and often was at work when my children were tucked in to bed by their dad as I was supervising a high school dance or basketball game. I was learning how to be a mom, a good wife, and attempting to navigate the land of administrative leadership.

I carried great weights of self-doubt, self-ridicule, and lack of conviction. My job role included ( and still includes) leading teachers, creating school systems, evaluating teachers, disciplining students, partnering with the community and supervising many school activities. My mind was consumed with questions.

  • Was that discipline too severe?
  • Was that discipline too light?
  • What will my supervisor think?
  • What will my teacher think?
  • I want to say no, do you think they will be mad?
  • What does this parent want to meet with me about?
  • Why did I say that in that meeting?
  • Why didn’t I say that in that meeting?

And on and on. I cried a lot when I came home. In my role I speak with students who are depressed, sometimes suicidal. In my role I hear about home lives that are very difficult. In my role, I am a mandatory reporter and work with police and child protective services. In my role, I teach teachers and students how to defend themselves if a gunman were to enter the building. I have led lockdowns and I have evacuated students from buildings that were on fire. I have stood by my teacher employees who struggle through divorce, trauma and even as they experience the loss of their own children. So, yeah, the role carries some weight that is sometimes overwhelming to deal with, while also trying to mom and get the laundry done for soccer on Saturday.

When this stress shows itself in the middle of the night in the form of overthinking, I attempt to quietly walk out of my bedroom as to not disturb my husband and I cozy up on the couch with a fresh glass of water and I turn on a western. Sometimes, it’s my good ‘ol Silverado, and sometimes I look for the deep cuts from the 60’s. For some reason westerns can captivate my stressed out brain and change the subject consuming and mangaling my mind.

In my 30’s I am sure that I was so ridden with overthinking in the middle of the night that I was watching a western a week for months at a time. Now, I maybe resort to this strategy once a quarter. The only attributing factor to this positive change is meditation.

Through mindfulness and meditation I have learned how to talk myself back to sleep without resorting to my western strategy of the past. I have learned to coach myself through the stressful moments of 1am and to actually get back to sleep. I also have lived a more calm day with more happy reactions giving me the ability to be more calm in general. I have also learned skills to combate self-doubt.

I think that a misconception about being calm is that there is then no feeling. That is not true. I still experience fear, self-doubt, sadness, and lack of confidence. I am just now more prepared to move forward from that moment in a healthier and often happier way due to my practices. I no longer live in the saddness. I am no longer consumed with self-doubt. I am no longer a victim to that stupid thing I said to my boss. I still feel bad about these things, I still experience these things, I just don’t live with them. It has helped me to be present with my children, to take one task like the laundry at a time, it has opened time for self-care and exercise, and it has helped me to sleep.

One thing is disappointing. Meditation has taken away my western game. Now, I have to wait for a rainy day…and in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona….well, it will be a while before I meet again with poor ‘ol Doc Holliday and his tuberculosis.


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