Attending to One's Inner Needs


Educators in leadership positions daily encounter overwhelming job demands, including higher expectations for exemplary student performance. Because of the stress created by these increased demands, are there days when you doubt your effectiveness, your impact to make a difference? Are you experiencing an increasing sense of loss of purpose, meaning, enthusiasm and passion about your work? Do you ever ask yourself, "What am I here to do?" or "Why am I here?"

If you are experiencing stress, tension and feelings of frustration and despair, consider conducting a self-assessment. You may be suffering from an ailment described by Albert Schweitzer as "sleeping sickness of the soul." In noting Schweitzer’s description of this malady, Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal, in their book Leading With Soul: An Uncommon Journey of Spirit, stated: "When individuals live superficially, pursue no goals deeper than material success and never stop to listen to their inner voices, they block their spiritual development."

In recent years a movement has emerged in the worlds of business and education that offers hope for educational leaders--something that’s been named "caring for the soul." At an annual conference of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development several years ago, one keynote speaker recommended a book, Care of the Soul, by Thomas Moore. At that time in my professional career, I was experiencing some symptoms of "sleeping sickness of the soul" so I read Moore’s work, which has been described by one reviewer as a book which "is just a peaceful little island of good sense in a world where such a commodity is in all-too-short supply."

This book has enabled me to focus on aspects of life I had ignored. After more than 30 years of service in the education profession, I realized I had largely missed the "inner life." Joseph Campbell, in his book The Power of Myth, states: "When you get to be older and the concerns of the day have all been attended to and you turn to your inner life … well, if you don’t know where it is, you’ll be sorry."

Soul-Searching Ideas
Based on personal experiences that followed my "awakening," I offer these suggestions as ways leaders in education can attend to their inner lives and care for their souls.

  • Take the time to read and reflect on books related to caring for the soul.

    Thomas Moore’s additional books include Soul Mates (my favorite) and The Reenchantment of Everyday Life. Jennifer James’ Visions From the Heart, is a compelling book in which she describes a journey: "Throughout time, individuals with heart and passion have sought greater power, intimate connections with the universe and a sense of their own destiny." (I bought this work at the bookstore at the AASA National Conference on Education in New Orleans in 1995.) Bolman and Deal’s book, cited earlier, should be read by all educational leaders. Readers will enjoy reflecting on the authors’ chronicles of the journey of Steve, a dispirited leader.

  • Care for your soul by being attentive to friendships.

    Moore has stated that "if the body is in pain, one of the first things to look for is infection; if the soul is in pain, we might look for lack of friendship." It is important that amidst all the demands and challenges of our profession, we find time to nurture soulfulness through our friendships. We need to engage in more experiences and activities with our friends and in simple things like finding time to enjoy good food and satisfying conversations. Build experiences with genuine friends that will remain in your memory and touch your heart. The chapter on "Friendship and Community" in Moore’s Soul Mates will assist you in viewing friendship as a "vessel of soulmaking."

  • Discover ways to give everyday life depth, meaning and sacredness.

    Slow down and find the beauty in daily experiences. Jean Bolen, in an essay in Handbook for the Soul, described it this way: "When we catch a glimpse of soul, beauty is there. Anytime we catch our breath and feel ‘how beautiful,’ soul is present." Moore, in The Reenchantment of Everyday Life, says that "the soul has an absolute, unforgiving need for excursions into enchantment." Enchantment can come from stories, ritual, place and nature.

    Educational leaders must become more soulful, more reflective and more attentive to their inner lives. We cannot give what we do not have. Empty vessels cannot produce nourishment and sustenance. Those around us are dependent upon healthy and soulful leaders. When we care for the soul, we will experience change. We also will experience growth and discover deep satisfaction and peace.

    In a chapter entitled, "Transformation," Jennifer James, in Visions From the Heart, cited these signs and symptoms of inner peace:

  • Tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than from fear based on past experiences,

  • An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment,

  • Loss of interest in judging other people,

  • Loss of interest in judging self,

  • Loss of interest in interpreting the action of others,

  • Loss of interest in conflict,

  • Loss of ability to worry,

  • Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation,

  • Content feelings of connection with others and nature,

  • Increasing tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen, and

  • Increased susceptibility to love extended by others, as well as the uncontrollable urge to extend it.

  • Starting a Journey
    How are you doing in this regard? What are your possibilities? Are you listening to your heart?

    Lead with soul and you will discover, as Bolman and Deal suggest, that you will be "giving gifts from the heart that breathe spirit and passion into your life and organization." Best wishes on your journey!

    Charles Patterson is superintendent of the Killeen Independent School District, P.O. Box 967, Killeen, Texas 76540-0967. E-mail: He is a former president of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.