Gone are the business-casual clothes of the Western World that Dr. Joshua Fisher, assistant professor of art history, used to wear.
In its place are the looser fitting clothes of India and beyond. He meditates, and has started doing yoga. He has tea every morning, sitting on floor cushions, while ambient sounds play on his office computer.
What is immediately noticeable—the clothes, the music, the tea—aren’t the most important changes that Fisher has made. These outward changes are signs of a deeper, conscious choice to seek internal peace every day.
Stress and insomnia sent Fisher looking for answers during the summer of 2015. Fast forward three months, and he appeared a changed man.
“It was pretty sudden, actually,” Fisher said. “It all came about in trying to deal with my insomnia and my level of stress. You know, I used to think that I thrived on stress, but I think that was sort of the man in me wanting to be tough, wanting to feel like really hard challenges just made me stronger, but I realized there are good challenges and there are challenges that are harmful,” Fisher said. “So yeah, it happened all pretty quickly over the course of a summer, but it’s still an ongoing process.”
Key to his new lifestyle is a focus on the present.
“I’ve tried not being fixated on things, not being attached to things, just sort of living in the present,” Fisher said.
“Not focusing on the future. I think we can be so goal oriented, especially in a job like this where there’s opportunities for advancement, opportunities for promotion, and especially when we’re surrounded by students who I think are goal oriented people. They want to get certain grades; they want to get certain jobs,” Fisher said.
“Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that going to school or teaching or doing research is a good thing in itself, and it’s the experience and the challenge that’s the real reward and not the goal or the accomplishment that comes at the end of all that.”
It was in Woodstock, a rural town in New York, where Fisher first picked up the beginnings of his new wardrobe, which features loose linens and kurtas.
“It’s just an environment where it was okay to be who you are. You’ll walk down the street or drive down the street and people will be flashing the peace sign as they walk by along the road. I’m from rural New York myself so it was a place that felt more like home to me and so I want to bring a little bit of that home here.”
The peace he was able to find in Woodstock came back with him to his office, where he has since made drastic changes. Visitors will now see his computer tucked into a corner, with the focal point of the room being the floor cushions in the center of floor. It is here that he has his morning tea, which is open to students too. His time for students is divided between tea time and regular office hours. Office hours are for class business; tea time is for larger thought.
“They can sort of slow down, take a step back and think about what their life means as a whole and how what they do here connects with that. This space and this time is supposed to be sort of a bridge between the world inside and the world outside, and that’s why I make this space kind of like an office but kind of not.”
“Now of course if somebody comes in during office hours and wants to talk about a tea-time sort of thing or comes in during tea-time and wants to talk about an office hours kind of thing, I don’t say ‘hey, you’re here at the wrong time,’ but tea time is to kind of just take a moment to de-stress, to be mindful.”
Indeed, his office is a space like none other on campus. A sign outside the door describes Fisher’s space not as an office, but as a shrine of peace and enlightenment—a place for work as well as a place for peace. The two can coincide, Fisher asserts.
“I don’t really feel like anymore that my work life and my home life are separate from each other, you know. I think a lot of people think of work, whether it be their job or students with their school work, they think work as stress and then everything else as time to destress but I don’t see that. I see myself as living one life.”
Fisher said he hopes his commitment to peacefulness will come out in the classroom too.
“Well for one thing, I feel like, well I hope at least, my tranquil state, my peaceful state will rub off on my students and that they won’t be so stressed… I think I’m sensing that.”