Mental Health Break

Today, I am taking a day of work-rest. With stacks of grading that are somehow not grading themselves, I asked to take this day off so that I could catch up to myself. It will not be a day of rest, exactly, but it will be restful. It will be at my pace, though I need to keep it moving so I get as much work accomplished as possible.

And it will be silence. Hours of silence. Me and the cats and the papers. No one needing anything from me except for an occasional head-rub. I need a mini-vacation from being needed. And it’s strange, when my work is words, when the spoken word is my favorite art form to observe and to do, that the rest that I crave is a break from speech. I long for this coming day of silence.

I have begun looking at the mini-breaks that I take in my day, trying to mark and acknowledge them and live into them, so that I can feel them as balm and not simply as escape. In that thirty seconds after the room empties and I need to head off to chapel, can I take three intentional deep breaths? Instead of walking down the hall to lunch, might I detour outside for a moment and greet the Three Magnolia Trees in the corner behind the old classroom building? Can I take three minutes of my prep period to listen to a piece of music every day? Or open my journal and do a five-minute word-dump or fast-write?

What if we were to try to see our moments, or breaks in the day, as little vacations instead of as escapes? If we were to intentionally stop and take breaths, make art, feel silence, listen to our heartbeats, put our feet on earth, commune with plant-beings? I think this will be my plan for the shadow journey ahead.


Gratitude List:
1. The earnestness of Lancaster people to resist injustice and to create compassion. Last night I attended a public meeting of Wing, a local group begun to try to develop community responses to the crisis created by recent immigration policies. The meeting was held at my church, and we filled the parking lot and the edges of the parking lot and the grassy spaces along the lot, and people parked down the streets and walked to the church. There is good energy in this community to do something to help those who are suffering as a result of this country’s harsh immigration detention policies.
2. Women in Black. I am heartened by this group of women who are committed to standing in protest of violence. Last night we stood with a sign proclaiming our solidarity with Kurdish women who are suffering in the wake of Turkish incursions.
3. Poetry and story. The weaving of words.
4. Yesterday, after I asked for today off, I felt such a release of tension and pressure. I’m grateful for understanding administrators and colleagues. I will be a much better colleague and teacher myself for having this day to breathe and catch up.
5. Dawn. The coming of light into the day.

May we walk in Beauty!

Resilience and Resistance

Friends I met on my walk yesterday:
1. Crow. Crow reminds me to get the wide perspective, to take on the adventure that any wind offers, to speak my mind. Crows don’t take heed for nothing.
2. Dogbane. Dogbane reminds me to be resourceful, to take note of the helpers who are always present, and to spin: cord, stories, prayers. . .
3. Deer. She ran across Schmuck Road, causing an SUV to brake. She reminds me to pause. She reminds me to love myself unconditionally, to live from the heart, to listen.
4. Monarch. He reminds me of resilience, how fragility and strength are not mutually exclusive. He reminds me to always look for beauty in everything.
5. Scarlet Pimpernel. A tiny five-petaled scarlet flower found in the grasses. When I was in college, I watched the old black and white movie The Scarlet Pimpernel, about a French dandy who uses disguises to rescue aristocrats condemned to the guillotine. What I took away from the movie is the importance of resisting the machines vengeance and death-dealing. Be surprising. Pop up wherever you’re needed.

What messages is the world sending your way?

Voices Made of Fire

If you could trust your voice completely,
if you didn’t have to consider how how others would respond,
if you didn’t have to be safe, to be tame, to be docile and
humble, acceptable and charming and quiet,
if you had not been trained to make your words
into an easy chair, to turn your voice to honey:
What would you say?

Open Hearts Are Brave Hearts

For the month leading up to Thanksgiving, I followed the lead of a friend and committed to daily gratitude practice that viewed gratitude as an act of resistance, to publicly and intentionally seek out things to be grateful for in the face of forces that seek to demoralize and oppress. To label each grateful paragraph in the first part of the month of November as an act of resistance helped me to keep that perspective, that to be grateful and kind and hopeful in the face of all that seeks to destroy goodness in the world is a primal act of  resistance.

Yesterday, in conversation with some of my beloveds, we talked about resistance, about the man who jumped across a police barrier to take down a confederate flag, about the Dutch church that has been holding services for twenty-seven days to protect a family from deportation, about people who are writing letters and protesting on behalf of someone who has experienced a shameful injustice. 

We may not be committing the big acts of bold resistance at this moment. Your life may be caught in the business of staying afloat or tending to the needs of your beloveds. Still, we can make it all a resistance. Small acts, little conversations, openness to the moment—opportunities to resist despair and destruction and to create new patterns and stories abound:

* Smile at people and make eye contact.  Ask them about themselves. Open hearts are a great antidote to the fear and rage that float around us in our environment.

* Offer people food. Share meals. Experience the flavors of the world together. Develop culinary curiosity about foodways around the world. Watch Anthony Bourdain together.

* Keep your eyes on those who turn inward, who keep to the corners. Be a safe place, a docking spot for ships that are sailing through hostile waters.

*Build bridges with your words. I don’t have to agree with someone to be civil. I can be kind and open in conversation and still maintain a fierce and steady stance on the side of justice. Disagreeing with someone doesn’t always mean attacking. I am more likely to change someone’s mind in a civil conversation than in a battlefield conversation.

* It IS about changing minds and hearts. It is about setting fears and anxieties to rest. The destroyers rely on fear. They’ve weaponized and monetized it. We can walk into the world with courage and draw out the bravery of those around us. Open hearts are brave hearts.

* Speak up for justice. We don’t have to go into conversations blazing with fury and rage against the president. But we can (and should) call out the racist and misogynistic and xenophobic language. We can graciously and civilly state our own desire for more grace and civility and diversity.

* Don’t be afraid to call out your own “side.” Politicians on every side make greedy and unjust choices. Name it when you see it.

* Be grateful. Be joyful. Dance. Find delight and awe in nature. And children. And small animals. All of that—joy and delight and tenderness and curiosity and awe—is active resistance to the tide of destruction.

* Be ready. There may come moments when we are called upon to take the bigger step, the bolder step, the more dangerous or fierce step. We can position ourselves so we are ready to do the thing that must be done when we are called upon to do it.

* Support those who are taking the big and fierce steps right now. Letters and public praise for the ones who taking public stands for justice go a long way to establishing a culture that resists destruction.

*What are your daily acts of resistance?


Gratitude List:
1. Small and large acts of Resistance. Acts of love. Acts of hope. Acts of kindness.
2. Oak trees
3. Family time: games, food, stories, puppy and cat, laughter, wrangling the serious issues
4. Shelter
5. A good rest

May we walk in Beauty!


Sunday’s Treats:
“Let my anger be the celebration we were never / supposed to have.” —Jacqui Germain


I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness. It’s right in front of me, if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.
—Brené Brown


“The eyes of the Future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time.” —Terry Tempest Williams


“You’ve seen my descent.
Now watch my rising.”
—Rumi


“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.”—Thomas Merton


“For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.” —Mary Oliver

Please Participate

Gratitude of Resistance Eleven:
So much feels broken. So much feels wrong. Polarized. Staged. Rigged.

Still, we have these tools of democracy: Freedom of the Press. Freedom of Speech. The Right to Vote. I believe in the potential of these processes to create a just and more equal society. I believe in the idea of a participatory democracy. I am grateful today for the participants, those who have thrown themselves heart and soul into working to make it so. Today, I will participate by casting my vote for the candidates I believe will cause the least harm, for people who are most likely to  create policy that offers a safety net for the poorest among us, that offers all of us the hope of health care that will not financially destroy us, that welcomes the stranger, that makes our children safer. I urge you to join me.

May we walk in Beauty.

Gratitude as Resistance

Perhaps I am going to sound a little like a conspiracy theorist here, but I think it holds pretty true, actually. Those who are in power, those trying to consolidate their economic and political power against the people, rely on our anxiety and fear, our disillusionment and angst, our impotent rage and our divisive talk, to paralyze us against positive and just action. I don’t think this means I have to entirely give up my outrage and worry, my despair and angst–they’re the feels I feel, and I won’t cut off my feelings. Still, I can surf them instead of getting sucked into their vortex–which is, I think, what the destroyers want of us.

I have practiced the writing of gratitude lists for about ten years now, on and off, sometimes religiously writing a list a day, sometimes settling into a weekly or bi-weekly pattern. As I have written before, this particular spiritual practice has helped to ground and deepen me, particularly in times of stress and rage and grief. In recent weeks, when the practice might have been extremely helpful, I have been very sparse in my gratitude-contemplations, and I think I have had trouble finding my way back to center. I think it correlates.

This morning, my friend Karen wrote that every day between now and Thanksgiving, she will write one simple gratitude as an act of resistance. That gives the Work of Gratitude a whole new layer of inner empowerment, doesn’t it? Gratitude as Resistance. What better way to resist the destroyers’ dependence on our paralysis?

In order to find my way back toward equilibrium, and to maintain the magical/prayerful intention of resistance, I will follow Karen’s wise example in the coming month and post One Gratitude as Resistance each day in the month leading up to Thanksgiving. Thank you, Karen, for leading me into a new space.


Gratitude One:
Guidance Counselors: Guidance Counselors are superheroes. I have no doubt that you save lives. As a teacher, I am comforted to know that you are there, a safety net, offering solace and help for students in their pain and troubles. At least twice this week, I have been able to rest in the knowledge that someone was taking care of a student who was in a crisis. And when I was helping a student perfect her college application essays, she kept telling me things that her guidance counselor had helped her to think about as she wrote. I’m glad you’re in my village, both my local school village, and in other schools.

May we walk in Beauty!


Here’s a little self-touting:
I’m actually not sure what it means. It’s not a publishing thing, and it doesn’t have prize money or certificates attached to it, but it’s satisfying. I try not to doubt my poetic voice, but when mostly what I have in response to sending poems for publication is a long list of rejections, I sometimes struggle to keep me sense of my poetic self intact. So it was a good morale boost for me to discover yesterday, sort of by accident, that I had won last year’s Poetic Asides November Poem-a-Day Challenge Chapbook contest. The little book is called Shapeshifting, and it contains thirteen poems that I wrote during last November’s challenge.

Here’s the link to the announcement.

Cool Air

  

Gratitude List:
1. The large list of students who signed up to take the ASL Club that our deaf student is leading at school.
2. Breaking through the walls. People wear walls on their faces, and the walls are meant for protection, but they hinder belongingness and tenderness and community. I don’t think I am good at knowing the exact thing that will break through a wall, but yesterday, two of my attempts were successful, and the joy of those moments of connection with hidden souls made my day.
3. COOL AIR!
4. Kind words.
5. The Resistance. Keep resisting, keep pushing for kindness, for goodness, for compassion, for community, for humaneness. You give others heart and hope whenever you stand against the tide of unpleasantness and crassness and greed. You may not always feel it, but thousands are standing with you.
6. (Did I mention cool air? I can think better in cool air.)

May we walk in Beauty!


“Fear does not prevent death. It prevents life.” —Naguib Mahfouz
*****
“Humans are vulnerable and rely on the kindnesses of the earth and the sun; we exist together in a sacred field of meaning.” —Joy Harjo
*****
“Everything I love most happens most every day.” —Howard Norman
*****
“I was just thinking
one morning
during meditation
how much alike
hope
and baking powder are:
quietly
getting what is
best in me
to rise,
awakening
the hint of eternity
within.” —Macrina Wiederkehr
*****
The Wild Geese
by Wendell Berry

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer’s end. In time’s maze
over fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed’s marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.
*****
“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” —William Wordsworth
*****
“Death is an ascension to a better library.” —John Donne

I’m Still Here


It’s been a good start to the school year, but the focus and exhaustion of beginning a new year has kept me away from the blog for a couple weeks.


Gratitude List:
1. Owls calling in the bosque.
2. Cats that sleep on their backs. Such soft bellies.
3. Strong community everywhere.
4. An earnest and bright-eyed crew of students.
5. Earnest and intentional colleagues.
. . .and monarchs. . .and sunflowers. . .and de-stressing decisions. . .and air conditioning. . .and the indigo throat of the morning glory. . .and long weekends. . .

May we walk in Beauty!
 
You get to choose the names that you wear, like you choose the clothes you wear. I am going to stop wearing Messy and Disorganized. I have too much to accomplish to be held back by those old rags. I will be She Who Walks Rooted. I will be Seeker of the Open Door. I will be Re-Sister and Per-Sister. I will be Snuggler of Cats.