Close Your Eyes

It’s a short list, but the older I get, the longer it becomes. 

Jeff Buckley’s “Last Goodbye.”

Pearl Jam’s “Release.”

James’s “Out To Get You.”

Regardless of where I am (except in the car; I’m not a lunatic) or what’s happening in my life, there are certain songs that make me close my eyes. A reaction both genuinely involuntary and intimately purposeful. A strange, dichotomous shutting off of one sense in favor of another, telling our eyes to sit this one out while our ears do the heavy lifting. 

And then there’s the goosebumps. The sensation, dubbed frisson, is triggered by a dopamine flood measuring 4-5 seconds associated with seeing, hearing, or experiencing something that triggers an emotional response. Interestingly, the brain elicits the same reaction to fear. 

I like to think about it as moment recognition. My conscious decision to dim everything else in an effort to brighten the experience of a deeply personal, infinitely resonant moment in my life. But in order for it to take hold, to really matter, I have to remember that moment, often at a random, unrelated or loosely connected time. 

So I do. 

And it works. 

Now, while I don’t walk around my school, eyes shut, meditating on moment recognition, the practice itself has made its way into my leadership. Instead of song lyrics, however, it’s small moments with kids, staff, and community. 

When a kindergartener found out he would be repeating this year, he said, “it’s okay. I love kindergarten, and Mr. Kulak is my best friend.” 

When I responded to a twitter question about leadership catchphrases, a teacher chimed in that I often say, “I trust you” and don’t even realize it. Now, I do. 

During promotion, a Tatem OG, whose final child was leaving, approached me sheepishly and asked for a hug. I told her to bring it in, and she cried while we hugged. 

Education, unlike any other profession, is a mosaic of these experiences. Without the predictability or isolation of other fields, we have daily opportunities to create and store these brief moments of zen. And the best part? They will always include other people.

So do it. Find small moments for which you close your eyes, literally or figuratively, and store them up. There will come a time, and it might be soon, when you want to close your eyes because of frustration or fatigue, and when you do, behind your eyelids and just within reach will be these moments of frisson. 

Close your eyes. 

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