Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Former English professor Abbe Blum returned to Swarthmore on Wednesday evening to give a lecture and presentation called “Taking off the Cape of Dread: How to Write and Finish Things.” Designed to help students find “where” procrastination comes from within them, the presentation included a walk-through of a meditative process intended to identify and understand the mental blockages that may be stopping students from completing things.
“Procrastination,” Professor Blum explained to a large group of students in Kohlberg’s Scheuer Room, “is often the result of some obstacle in life enveloping a person’s entire concentration.” To overcome this, Blum encouraged her audience to develop “a sense of larger self”—one that is bigger than life’s seemingly all-consuming obstacles.
After 18 years of teaching English at Swarthmore, Blum left her tenured position to explore ways that people can better themselves through meditative techniques. She served as Program Director for the Buddhist Institute before returning to Swarthmore to teach again for a few semesters. Upon her return, Blum noticed that students had changed over the years, and that they had “many more hoops to jump through.”
She became interested in finding ways for students to “sustain themselves,” and found herself using her meditative knowledge and experience to help students overcome the obstacles of procrastination. She has pursued this research partly through her position in Psychology and Humanistic Studies at Saybrook University.
As an example, Professor Blum told the story of a student at Swarthmore that had procrastinated writing an annotated bibliography for a term paper until the due date. Frantic and concerned, the student called Blum, and Blum guided him towards finding and quelling the source of his procrastination.
Using kinesthetic imagery, Professor Blum asked the student to find “where” the blockage was. Did he feel it heavy on his chest? Was it in his legs, or perhaps sitting next to him? After it was determined that the blockage was “hiding behind a curtain,” Blum asked the student to lure it out and become familiar with it. The meditative process continued until this particular student realized that his “blockage” stemmed from an irrational fear of losing his identity as a student. The blockage was holding him back from finishing the paper, and ultimately, holding him back from graduating.
Members of the audience were asked to identify something in their own lives that they need to do, but are not doing. This could include writing a paper, making a phone call, or any other task. Then Professor Blum guided the audience through a similar process of finding their “blockage.”
Members of the audience were instructed to identify the part of themselves that wants to complete their tasks, and recognize that there is a “self” larger than and separate from their blockage. With the audience members’ eyes closed, Blum led them through the meditative process of treating their blockage like an intelligent being, with its own concerns and viewpoint — however irrational those concerns may be.
Blum stressed that the goal was not to eliminate or find willpower over the blockage, but rather to find the positive in it and learn from its concerns.
“I had never thought of my writing stress as its own being,” says Mariana Stavig ’14. “You realize, with her techniques, that you are not the problem, and that you have the power to counter what is hindering you.”
Professor Blum will be directing a 3-hour workshop on the topic of “How to Integrate Mindfulness and Relaxation into Hectic Daily Life (Really)” on Saturday at 2:00 p.m. On Tuesday she will be presenting another lecture and presentation entitled “Reducing Stress: Getting a Good Night’s Sleep.” Both events will take place in the Scheuer Room in Kohlberg Hall. All three events are sponsored by the College’s Wellness Awareness Team.