It seems to happen every year. I start to get into the swing of things, keeping up with my homework and going to class (nearly) everyday, and suddenly the seasons change and next thing I know, finals are blindsiding me with 12 page reports and novel-length study guides. The anxiety starts early and rarely ceases. The whole semester’s worth of information put into multiple-choice format, it almost seems impractical. But now I have a tool to fight the cramming blues, I have experience, I have found the outdoors.
It happened two years ago as I was struggling to write a ten-page paper on Buddhism’s effect on Western culture. I had planned plenty of time to write the paper, but for ten days I hadn’t written a thing. The ideas were all in my head, but I just couldn’t articulate any of them. And suddenly with one day left to write the entire thing, I was awkwardly sweating with anxiety.
In the morning I went to the library but to no avail. Writer’s block, end of the year apathy, laziness; call it what you want, I was stuck. I knew I needed to change something up. I left the neon-lighted library and walked out the door. I didn’t know where I was going, only that that I was running away from my problems. That is how I ended up by the Iowa River.
It could have been the swirling currents that pulled me in, but as soon as the walkway I was on reached a bench by the banks, I took a seat. I sat there for a long moment, still clouded with a jumble of thoughts and worries about the paper I had yet to write. But the longer I sat there, the more my thoughts acted as the river itself. My ideas and notions, my doubts and frustrations flowed like the river down stream, always moving and always changing, adjusting to the environment and splashing against the shore. Two geese flew above my head and honked between themselves while the grass below my feet moved with the world of anthills and tiny workers. I breathed a deep relief into my lungs, I remembered the world was much bigger then me and my own problems.
And then it happened as naturally as the clouds parting overhead, it hit me. I pulled out my notebook and before I knew it, an outline for the paper appeared before me. And suddenly my introduction paragraph was complete. I blinked and the first page was done before me. Then another, and another, and within enough time to regret not bringing sunscreen, my entire rough draft sat wet with ink in my lap.
It wasn’t completed by any means, it sill needed some editing and some rounding of the corners, but I couldn’t believe the sudden free flow of information that came out of me. It could have been coincidental timing, to be at the river at the right time, but ever since then I’ve never taken for granted the value of study breaks outside and the effects of positive learning environments.