In June, right after school was over, and before I had even completed my grading, I went on silent retreat at the Jesuit Center at Wernersville, probably my last time there, as the Jesuits are selling the building and grounds. I needed that healing time.
In the weeks since, I have been taking stock, clearing out my hoard (fabric, mostly, but more will come), and working on getting healthy.
Here is a little photo essay of my time on retreat:
I took along a white cloth and some red thread. I have been inspired by several instagrammer embroiderers to begin to create a story cloth, something that’s not specifically functional, but is more of a journal, a dialogue with my inner self. On one of the first days there, I was meditating on something I’d read, a Buddhist idea about the base of the spine being where the three rivers meet. I began to consider what my three rivers are. Along with embodiment, I received creativity, and magic/mysticism. So I began embroidering the flowering hand image I found framed on the wall–for creativity. Then I embroidered a full body–my body–with wings and a crown, to represent embodiment, being alive within this body. And later, I embroidered my stump, the center of my current magical work, representing the inner work and the spiritual connection to the Source of All Life. All three are connected to a center cauldron, which is the place where the three rivers meet. Other images above include some collages I made while meditating, a painting (“You can become all flame,” said the ancient desert abba), and the back of my #alonetogether sweater, which I completed during retreat.
More than almost anything, perhaps, I will miss this grand cathedral beech.
Toko-pa Turner: In the Quechua tradition, when you feel grateful, you say, “There is a small bird in my heart.”
Gratitude List: 1. Looking forward to Good Work 2. Having time do focus inward and do inner work 3. A restful pace 4. I got a lovely view of a female Baltimore oriole yesterday–such a beautiful gentle orange, and that means that the lighter greenish-yellow oriole I have been seeing must have been a female orchard oriole. 5. Playing games with the family yesterday, even if it was Monopoly (which I really don’t like).
May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly–in Beauty!
“Whenever there is a strong lock used there is something extremely precious hidden. The thicker the veil, the more valuable the jewel. A hoard of treasure is guarded by a large snake; do not dwell on the hideousness of the snake, contemplate the dazzling and the priceless things you’ll discover in the treasure.” —Rumi
“If your religion requires you to hate someone, you need a new religion.” ―Glennon Doyle
“Let everything happen to you Beauty and terror Just keep going No feeling is final” ―Rainer Maria Rilke
“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” ―W. B. Yeats
“It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.” ―Patrick Rothfuss
“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.” ―Sue Monk Kidd
Since I have been working from home, I have noticed–along with the uncomfortable energies of anxiety and irritability and grieving–a positive energy shift. In normal life, I am often exhausted and worn down. I can’t sleep past 5:30. I get home, and all I want to do is sleep. I try to get to the big grading projects, and it’s like trying to walk through a wall inside my brain. I start to feel like I am a lazy procrastinator. The sense of inadequacy makes me feel more tired and run-down.
In the two and a half weeks since I’ve been working at home, I find that I have to remind myself to stop working. I have to make it a point to take breaks. I feel like I have the energy to work like I need to, to do ALL the grading.
As I have been pondering it, I realize that the energy shift has to do with introversion and extraversion, with being an ambivert–both intro and extra. I think that in many public spaces I present primarily as an extravert, and I love that part of myself. When I am teaching, the interaction with students, whether one-on-one or in a class setting, is one of my great joys. I love pushing myself outward, meeting the other, making connection. But the constant extraversion, and the need to be “on” all the time, takes a toll on my emotional energy. The introvert never gets fed.
Grading, while it’s a solitary sort of task, is (I think) an extension of the extraverted element of the working day. In normal life, I just hit a wall and can’t seem to get past it to push myself out there to do the next thing. My extravert side is exhausted and run-down, and my introvert can’t find the energy to get back into balance.
These days, the grading and the school communicating is pretty much all I have for that crucial connected part of my work-life. My introvert is being fed with lots of quietness and stillness, even in this crowded house. I pace myself. I have re-taught my body to sleep until 6:30. The grading and the school communications give my life purpose and structure. The wall between me and the grading projects is gone. I just sit down and do the next thing. I actually feel (mostly) adequate to these particular tasks.
But I miss my students terribly. I can hardly bear that I might never see some of them again. I know that some of them are hurting and struggling, and I don’t know how to be Present through a computer. When this is over, I will happily go back to physical school. Despite what I am learning about myself and my energy, I don’t think I am meant to be a cyber-school teacher. I need faces and classrooms. While I think that my teaching can be perfectly adequate from home, there’s nothing like the magic of exploring ideas about literature and writing in a real-time class. And there are costs to this kind of work. I NEED to have a life outside of school, and now that school has invaded my home, there is almost nothing that is not school. I must set boundaries, and leave some work unfinished.
I think I will need to hold some of this sense of empowerment and adequacy that I am gaining in my introverted time when I return to extraverted life. Perhaps this current sense of being adequate to the grading tasks will stick to me a little more solidly and I will be able to manage my ambiverted self with a little more balance and grace.
Gratitude List: 1. National Poetry Month! Something to break up the steady monotony of constant school. Today’s prompt is to write a new world poem. 2. Chipping sparrows. They’re so sweet, sort of timid, smaller than the white throats, and they wear those rusty caps. When they come in to the bird feeder, they sometimes hover for a couple seconds before they alight. 3. The sound of a woodpecker rat-a-tatting in the walnut tree. 4. Vanilla in my coffee. I make coffee shakes in the mornings: hot coffee, a little butter a little coconut oil, half-and-half (if I have it), and a scoopful of vanilla protein powder. Blend and drink. 5. How the altered times are teaching me things about myself, things I knew in my head, but didn’t have the space within which to explore the deeper truths.
Take care of each other!
Words for the Day of the Holy Fool: “The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything.” —Julian of Norwich
“Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.” —Carl Jung
“The historical Jesus probably looked like an average Syrian refugee. You know…the ones we turn away.” —Rebecca James Hecking
“Poems are maps to the place where you already are.” —Jane Hirshfield
“Be still, and the world is bound to turn herself inside out to entertain you. Everywhere you look, joyful noise is clanging to drown out quiet desperation. The choice is to draw the blinds and shut it all out, or believe.” —Barbara Kingsolver, High Tide in Tucson
“When you do not know you need mercy and forgiveness yourself, you invariably become stingy in sharing it with others. So make sure you are always waiting with hands widely cupped under the waterfall of mercy.” —Richard Rohr
“All four gospels insist that when all the other disciples are fleeing, Mary Magdalene does not run. She stands firm. She does not betray or lie about her commitment to Jesus—she witnesses. Hers is clearly a demonstration of either the deepest human love or the highest spiritual understanding of what Jesus was teaching—perhaps both. But why—one wonders–do Holy Week liturgies tell and re-tell the story of Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus, while the steady and unwavering witness of Magdalene is passed over—not even noticed? How would our understanding of the paschal story change if instead of reflecting upon Jesus dying alone and rejected if we were to reinforce the fact that one person stood by him and did not leave? For this story of Mary Magdalene is as firmly stated in scripture as the denial story. How would this change the emotional timbre of the day? How would it affect our feeling of ourselves? How would it reflect upon how we have viewed, and still view, women in the church? About the nature of redemptive love?” —Cynthia Bourgeault, Episcopal Priest
“When I feel this fog rolling in on me, I light fires of affection in the hearts of others. I tell them in tangible ways how the life they live makes me live mine differently, how precious and important they are to the rest of us. That fire then becomes like a beacon which burns through the grey and which I can sail towards.” –Toko-pa Turner
It’s good to leave each day behind, like flowing water, free of sadness. Yesterday is gone and its tale told. Today new seeds are growing. —Rumi
I had all sorts of ideas about items for today’s list, but here in the foggy-brained morning, they’ve fled. It’s nice to know that I have been actively feeling gratitude, even if I can’t remember the exact moments.
Gratitude List: 1. At first, it felt like “Oh no! This again?!” when an internal itch came back. I thought I had resolved that, packed it up, and put it to rest, for Pete’s sake. But Pete or someone else had other ideas, and I’ve reopened the case on it. When conflicts and obsessions and simmering rages that I thought I had finished with come roaring back to life, it means they’re not really done yet. They’ve got more work to do in the psyche. So instead of panicking and getting back into the frenzied cycle, I can tell myself that time and distance enable me to be more circumspect now, to find the deeper themes and meanings, and to turn myself even more directly toward grace, to spiral more toward my center. So, I will be grateful for the next level of messages and learning that come. 2. LeVar Burton’s podcast. Short stories! Read by one of my favorite voices of all time. 3. Aging. Changing. Entering the doorway of the Crone’s Hut. It’s time to take up the threads of the fairy tales again. 4. Oak trees. Really, these are the people you need to be noticing right now, how they hold their leaves and spin them into leather of rich colors. Not the shiny brights like the maples, but equally sumptuous and eye-catching, if you look. 5. Morning quiet. Always, the morning quiet. My brain is alone for a little while every day in this morning quiet.
November was going to be for morning serious writing sessions for me. I was going to get right down to writing, first thing, before the household wakes up. Somehow it hasn’t quite unfolded with the grace I had hoped for. My mornings have been more frantic and last minute as I try to rearrange my brain from that deep space to the focus of the day. Easier to continue to focus my morning writing on the quick little projects that I usually work on. I don’t feel like this is a failure so much as a recognition that the work that I normally do in this time is all writing practice. It’s just not writing toward a particular end goal. I have to find a different time of day for the goal-centered writing.
And editing. This is not the first time I have been working with the goddesses who descend–with Innana/Ishtar, with Persephone–and I feel a little like I am rewriting, like what I need to to organize what I have already written before I start the new stories.
Today, I am going to set myself a little writing goal. I am going to write Skinny poems: They’re eleven lines long. Line 1 is a phrase that catches your attention. Lines 2-10 are one word each. Lines 2, 6, and 10 are the same word. Line 11 uses the exact same words as the phrase in line 1, and these can be in any order that works for you. Le Hinton introduced us to this form on Friday, and it’s captured my attention, especially since I have gone googling Le’s Skinnys.
Gratitude List: 1. Inner work that helps me to bear the walk into the darkness. 2. I received a sweet gratitude from a student yesterday, something that reminded me of who I am and what my purpose is. 3. Yellow labyrinth-spiral of leaves beneath the maple tree. 4. Reaching small goals. 5. Rice and refried beans wrapped in a tortilla with all the fixings. It’s simple comfort.
White Supremacy is an ancient and virulent virus that has infected this country since its founding. It began with a “Manifest Destiny” that wiped out any humans that stood in the way of the European conquest of the New World and continued with an “all men [sic] are created equal” that didn’t recognize all the humans as human, ignoring the inhumanity of brutally enslaving thousands of African people.
White people, we are all infected to some degree. We have absorbed it in the images we have seen, the media we have consumed, the education we have received, and even the sermons we have heard in our churches. It’s everywhere. It’s no longer slavery or wholesale slaughter of the First Nations. It’s no longer explicitly codified in apartheid-style laws. It’s subtler, more insidious.
Oh, it’s also obvious. The woman on the video spewing the n-word and saying she’d say it again. The white people calling the police on black and brown people for simply existing in public spaces. The police officers who shoot first, shoot pre-emptively, and walk free of the murders they commit. And the epidemic (yes) of white men slaughtering people with their weapons of mass destruction–we have reached the point when it’s no surprise to discover that the madman with the AK-47 is a self-avowed White Supremacist.
And while we have been searching for ways to combat the virus within ourselves and our communities, the president and his cronies in the halls of power in this country are feeding the virus, adding to its virulence and strength. From his tweets to their shrugs and tepid explanations, the virus is being fortified and given room to bloom. When frat boys pose in celebration in front of a memorial to a black boy killed for the color of his skin, when people sworn to defend and protect all people are serving up vileness and hatred on the internet, when our nation is caging brown children and people of faith say they deserved it, when a raging and disaffected youth posts a manifesto about race and then picks up a gun to kill as many people as he can before he goes down in a blaze of non-glory, it’s not only the virus itself that is to blame. It is those who spread and nourish it.
I call out the president of the United States for spreading the virus of white supremacy, for normalizing it, for egging on his weak-minded followers to vile and horrendous acts. He and his enablers must be held accountable for their words and actions.
I’m not letting myself off the hook. I’m not letting you off the hook. All of us whose skin gives us privilege have a responsibility to deal with the virus within ourselves, within our communities, within this nation.
If you are white, I urge you to join me in several actions. First, let’s look inside and keep opening doors of awareness. It’s never enough to simply call out the racists out there. We need to look at the racists inside ourselves. When we feel defensive or self-righteous, those are clues that we are holding on to our own privilege in unhealthy ways. Examine. Repent. Let go. Grow. Move on. Repeat.
And then, let’s find one thing, or two, or twenty, that we can use to identify white supremacy in clear and articulate ways. Let’s call it out. Post it on our social media. Speak out. Open conversations. Teach our children. Spread the word. We need to kill this virus.
Another dancing fire picture from last week. This one is a little dragony.
Gratitude List: 1. Homemade pizza. With onions and fresh basil on top.
2. Inner exploration. I am finishing this semester with my Creative Writers with an autobiographical piece, using lots and lots of writing prompts to explore their identity, to really look at what makes them who they are. I think that self-reflection can help us to develop into more mature and healthy people.
3. Good Ethiopian Coffee to start my morning
4. Waking up, and then waking up, and then waking up. There are always new rooms to awaken within.
5. How the stories that we read and listen to intertwine themselves with our own. Sometimes this process is more intense than others. I can remember the beautiful language and imagery of certain books with pleasure, but it’s when I am working a book–not just reading it–that I really thoroughly absorb it and take it in. It happened to me at a young age with the Narnia books, and much later with the Lord of the Rings. The Odyssey. Perhaps it’s epics and journey stories that do it mostly. We ourselves become part of the meta-myth.