Professor and dean emerita Dr. Jane O'Dea served for ten years from 2000-2010 as Dean of the Faculty of Education. She remembers of her first days on campus: "I was completely won over, realizing that I had found in the University of Lethbridge, a diverse, inclusive, creative community of scholars, where an artist-philosopher and Irish immigrant could find a home and a sense of belonging." Dr. O'Dea has always advocated that education entails nurturing the life of the mind, and that teachers are (and have always been) guardians of that life. She believed with a passion that the Faculty of Education had a legacy of commitment to enduring traditions, and to the spirit of innovation that was responsive to challenges and change—evident in the current state of its navigating and adaptation to the challenges of COVID-19. Dr. O’Dea now divides her time between homes in Ireland and Vancouver Island with husband and former faculty member Dr. Brian Titley.
What does the word wellness mean for you? Wellness for me is stillness—the kind of stillness that occurs when you are utterly and completely absorbed in something you love, or are fascinated by, to the point where time stands still and external rewards, consequences, and expectations go out the window. Instead, you are totally concentrated and absorbed, at one with your activity and filled with a profound sense of peace and calmness as your mind and body work in perfect harmony creating a unique, aesthetic, sensual experience.
Such experiences can happen writing an academic article, playing Chopin’s Prelude No. 4 on the piano, standing contemplating the stars in Southern Alberta’s big sky country, or sitting and looking at the sea in County Clare, Ireland. In truth, the ways are myriad.
Can you discuss the notion of slowing down? Heidegger suggested that the capacity for such deep, still thought is profoundly human and important. But it requires slowing down and simply “being”, a notion totally at odds with the fast-paced, achievement-driven, globalized world in which we were living before COVID. It’s often said of older people that they are “slowing down,” a statement, however, rarely construed as complimentary. More usually it indicates the reverse—the notion that as we move inexorably towards death, our experiences inevitably become less vibrant, less interesting, much less engaging. I remember I used to fear retirement for exactly that reason . . .
But, aging, retirement—and even you too, COVID—have taught me that “it ain’t necessarily so.” Instead, in the enforced slowness and isolation of the COVID environment, all of us, old and young, have been given the time to contemplate fully that which fascinates and moves us. In so doing, it provides a unique opportunity to think deeply and well—the very essence of knowledge and wisdom.
On Thoreau, Rousseau, and Eliot. The value of such thought has always had its advocates. Thoreau urged us to spend time alone in the forest. Rousseau championed long, solitary walks. Eliot wrote “teach us to sit still.” Sage advice fashioned for the time of COVID. Perhaps we should listen . . .
Related story links to the Faculty of Education Wellness Initiative series:
• The Faculty of Education WELLNESS INITIATIVE: Supporting a Focus on Health and Well-Being
• Wellness is Coping with Stress Through Art and Music: Jenn Pellerin
• Wellness During the COVID-19 Experience, PSII, and Staying Connected: Kelsey Shoults
• Wellness is Being in the Moment: Kenneth Oppel
• Wellness is About Having a Consistent Routine: Alex Funk (BEd '17)
• Wellness is Spiritual: David Slomp
• Wellness is Ranching: Danny Balderson
• Coping with COVID-19: Harnessing our Natural Stress Response
• Coping with COVID-19: Loneliness
Writer: Darcy Tamayose | Photograph courtesy of Jane O'Dea
Learn more about the Faculty of Education: Legacy Magazine (2008-2019)
Twitter: @ULethbridgeEdu Website: uleth.ca/education
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