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!

Once Was a Woman

I’ve been doing a little series of short-form poems with the idea of a middle-aged woman at the center of a fairy tale. I have been playing with writing prose fairy tales on the subject, but short-form poetry works more easily into my schedule, and the condensed qualities of poetic forms lend themselves to the cryptic and mythic thinking of the fairy tale. In these beginning stages of perimenopause, I fine myself comparing notes with my younger self at menarche, noting the ways that the hormonal shifts affect me: energy pits, headaches, emotional bounces, self-doubt, bursts of confidence. I’ve done quite a lot of fairy tale analysis over the years, from feminist reinterpretations, to Jungian dream-style considerations, to uncovering layers that reveal ancient goddess stories. The constant through most of the stories is the girl, the girl, the girl. I’m walking out the other side of the woods now, or walking into a different woods altogether. I feel a need of re-imagining the girl-hero’s journey as she begins her croning time.


Gratitude List:
1. Fairy tales and what lies beneath them
2. Warm blankets
3. Stir fry on noodles, with hot sauce. The other night, we added brussel sprouts to the stir fry, and the boys just ate it up without comment or complaint. And they chose chopsticks over forks. For some reason, that made me especially happy.
4. People around the world who are standing up for human rights and for the planet.
5. Tiny little personal escapes throughout the busy moments of the day. Five minutes into a poem. Two minutes into a deep breath. A glance through a Luci Shaw or Jean Janzen book on the writing process, a quick dip into the world of a beautiful picture, a quick friendly chat with a colleague or student.

May we walk in Beauty!

In the Dreamtime, Day 8

At one of the moments of waking in the night, I had netted a dreamlike catching a fish, and thought I would hold it until morning, but it has slipped away into the shallows of my dream-brain. I think last night’s dreams were mostly the to-ing and fro-ing, the hither-and-yonning, of a mind gearing up to get the necessary work done. No images stand out from the chatter.

From yesterday’s meditations, I have pulled up the image of the Messenger or Page, the archetypal communicator, tasked with carrying messages throughout the royal household and beyond. While my outer life is all about communication and getting the messages across, I think that what has broken down for me in the past few months is the communicative process between my Deep self and my Surface self. The surface me did not quite know or believe that the deeper regions of my psyche were sad and overwhelmed and world-weary. I wasn’t keeping those pages working, moving between regions of my inner household to keep all the important pieces of me informed. I, who can sometimes live a little too intensely in the emotional realm, was getting cut off from my emotional self, not listening to the messages that the Deep self, which usually feeds me, was hungry and cut off. To be completely truthful, I think my Surface self was actually aware that things were getting out of order in the rooms deeper in, but didn’t quite know how to go about the process of daily living while tending to the work that needed to be done. Thankfully, Christmas Break has come along.

That’s a lot of navel-gazing, but the point is: To keep a healthy inner life, it’s really important to maintain regular times for meditation and contemplation and noticing the deepest inner places. It’s important for me to find and practice regular spiritual techniques in order to maintain inner balance. As a teacher, I sometimes get so compartmentalized that I push off my serious contemplative work to my breaks, thinking I’ll recharge and reconnect then, but without regular noticing, that inner space can get pretty messy and uninhabitable. The quick daily gratitude list hasn’t been enough for me to sustain the lines of communication. I am going to need to build in another regular practice in the coming months to keep myself healthy.

If I look back at what I have been writing in the past week, I think that part of what has been rampaging through my inner rooms is the untold stories. One solution for me will be to find focused time to work on this novel in the coming weeks. I need to either take it up or put it down, but I have to stop trying to keep it locked in the attic. It’s too destructive up there.

And sometimes inner turmoil can be symptomatic of other issues, ones we might not be able to see on our own. It might be time to schedule a check-up with a mental health counselor as well. Why don’t our health care plans include regular mental health check-ups as well as physical health check-ups? It would be a good idea to build it into our health care plans.


Gratitude List:
1. Purring Cat. When I woke up at four with the weight of the world on my chest, certain I would never get back to sleep, a little cat sensed my state of mind, settled on my chest, and purred me back to sleep. Never mind that an hour later, he woke me again with an angsty rendition of some teen-cat emo song. It was short, and I got back to sleep again then, too.
2. The Messengers, outer and inner
3. Rest. Such a little word for something so important
4. Grapefruit
5. Listening

May we walk in Beauty!


Words for the Fifth Day of Kwanzaa:
Today’s word is Nia: Purpose. This refers to the purpose of building African culture through community endeavor. As a white person, this is another reminder to me to take a learning and listening posture, and to use the privilege culturally stamped on my skin to give space and voice to others.


“Being curious is the most important part of being a journalist. It might be the most important part of being anything.” —Lemony Snicket


“And when I had asked the name of the river from the brakeman, and heard that it was called the Susquehanna, the beauty of the name seemed to be part and parcel of the beauty of the land. That was the name, as no other could be, for that shining river and desirable valley.” —Robert Louis Stevenson, 1879


The New Song
by W. S. Merwin

For some time I thought there was time
and that there would always be time
for what I had a mind to do
and what I could imagine
going back to and finding it
as I had found it the first time
but by this time I do not know
what I thought when I thought back then
there is no time yet it grows less
there is the sound of rain at night
arriving unknown in the leaves
once without before or after
then I hear the thrush waking
at daybreak singing the new song


SABBATHS 2000: V
by Wendell Berry

I know for a while again
the health of self-forgetfulness,
looking out at the sky through
a notch in the valleyside,
the black woods wintry on
the hills, small clouds at sunset
passing across. And I know
that this is one of the thresholds
between Earth and Heaven,
from which even I may step
forth and be free.


“We need wilderness and extravagance. Whatever shuts a human being away from the waterfall and the tiger will kill [her].” —Robert Bly


“Know that the same spark of life that is within you, is within all of our animal friends, the desire to live is the same within all of us…” ―Rai Aren

Into the Dark, December 8

Every year at this time, I feel the anxiety and restlessness begin to rise within me, and the cold settles into my bones. Every year, I need to consciously ease my spirit into the season. This year, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, I will set it down here on the blog. May we journey into the darkness with intention and tenderness.

Making space. Those will be my words for today. Clearing kitchen and floors, getting ready for the Yule tree. If nothing else, getting a Christmas tree into the house each year demands that we rethink our daily clutter and find a way to shift the mess. Last weekend, Josiah decided that since we weren’t yet getting a tree, he would decorate anyway, and decorate he did, forcing us to begin the process of clearing and shifting. He set up the mantelpiece to look like a city street, with the carolers and the nutcracker, the Bavarian gnome from his uncle, and his grandmother’s wooden Santa.

Here is a poem by spiritual director Martha Postlewaite about making space:

Clearing
by Martha Postlewaite

Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
Instead, create
a clearing
in the dense forest
of your life
and wait there
patiently,
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world
so worth of rescue.


Gratitude List:
1. Space
2. Silence
3. Breathing
4. Spice
5. Solitude

May we walk in Beauty!


“You can’t oppress someone who is not afraid anymore.” —Cesar Chavez


“Among wolves, no matter how sick, no matter how cornered, no matter how alone, afraid or weakened, the wolf will continue. She will lope, even with a broken leg. She will strenuously outwait, outwit, outrun and outlast whatever is bedeviling her. She will put her all in taking breath after breath. The hallmark of the wild nature is that it goes on.” —Clarissa Pinkola Estes


“If a child is to keep alive [her] inborn sense of wonder, [she] needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with [her] the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.” –Rachel Carson


“When women were birds, we knew otherwise. We knew our greatest freedom was in taking flight at night, when we could steal the heavenly darkness for ourselves, navigating through the intelligence of Stars and the constellations of our own making in the delight and terror of our uncertainty.” —Terry Tempest Williams


“But this sorrow and rage will not inflame us to seek retribution; rather they will inflame our art. Our music will never again be quite the same. This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” —Leonard Bernstein

Time Out of Time

Gratitude of Resistance Twenty-Six:
This Break. This Rest. This Time out of Time. I will do my work, yes, but I will also sit here in my pajamas and watch the sun come into the holler. I will go to the post office to mail some things, and then walk down to the coffee shop at the bike shop and drink something special. I will have some time when it is only me in my own head. And I will spend beloved time with my beloveds.

May we walk in Beauty!

Holding Presence

Gratitude List:
1. Did you see that sunrise this morning? The magenta clouds shot through with a golden ray?
2. An extra nap for the bad cold. Complete with cats.
3. The humidifier–may it last the whole winter.
4. Warm blankets
5. All the colors that we painted these rooms. Colors feed me through winter.

May we walk in Beauty!


Quotations for Today:
“You loose your grip
and then you slip
into the Masterpiece…”
—Leonard Cohen
***
“Your life and my life flow into each other as wave flows into wave, and unless there is peace and joy and freedom for you, there can be no real peace or joy or freedom for me. To see reality-not as we expect it to be but as it is-is to see that unless we live for each other and in and through each other, we do not really live very satisfactorily; that there can really be life only where there really is, in just this sense, love.” ―Frederick Buechner
***
Toko-pa, quoting and reflecting on Marion Woodman:
“Marion Woodman—Jungian, author, teacher, crone—taught me that what is most missing from our culture is the Mature Feminine. Mature Feminine, she says, is the ability to ‘hold presence.’ It is not divided attention, like the sort you feel when someone is psychically composing their grocery instead of listening to you. “I don’t have time for that,” she says. Holding Presence “is to love the other exactly as they are, not as you want them to be.” It is love without judging, without getting the other tangled up in your own unconscious, unlived life. “Holding presence is to create room so the other can grow into their destiny. They can feel that.””
***
This one is not just for mothers. I know people, men and women, single and married, parent and nonparent, who see all children as their own. I know that parenting has heightened this for me personally:

“Becoming a mother makes you the mother of all children. From now on each wounded, abandoned, frightened child is yours. You live in the suffering mothers of every race and creed and weep with them. You long to comfort all who are desolate.” —Charlotte Gray

Finding the Map Home

Repeating some questions I asked myself a year ago:

When have you felt yourself to be your best self?
When have you been most comfortable being who you are?
What would it take to find your way back into that house of yourself?
Did you leave yourself a map?
Is there an old photograph in a dusty album somewhere in your heart
that you can use to guide yourself back to that place?
It might be as simple as taking three deep breaths,
clicking your sneaker-clad heels together three times,
and chanting, “I want to go home, I want to go home,
I want to go home.”
Shall we try it?


A series of Random Musings for a Snowy Day:

“We use language to build the structures upon which we hang our ideas. Language is the scaffold upon which we develop whole structures of thought. Language anchors and shapes and breathes life into thought and idea. Conventional thinking, and conventional language, can end up being a pretty tight little box of a windowless building that doesn’t let in the light. The air in there gets pretty stale. When language—and its attendant ideas—become calcified and crippled into arthritic patterns, poetic image and word-use can find new ways to say things, can break windows into the walls of those airless rooms and build ornate new additions onto the old structures. Poetry jars the cart of language out of its constricting wheel ruts. This is why poets and writers can make good revolutionaries—if they know their work and do their jobs well.” —Beth Weaver-Kreider, 2014
***
“The nuclear arms race is like two sworn enemies standing waist-deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five.” —Carl Sagan
***
Mary Oliver, on the Great Horned Owl: “I know this bird. If it could, it would eat the whole world.” And then: “The world where the owl is endlessly hungry and endlessly on the hunt is the world in which I too live. There is only one world.”
***
Fierce Wild Joy
by Beth Weaver-Kreider, 2016

May this year bring you joy
like crows rising from the fields

fierce
wild joy

yelling full-voice
into the wind

rowing through the tempest
with nothing but feathers.
***
“Have patience with everything
that remains unsolved in your heart.
Try to love the questions themselves,
like locked rooms and like books
written in a foreign language.
Do not now look for the answers.
They cannot now be given to you
because you could not live them.
It is a question of experiencing everything.
At present you need to live the question.
Perhaps you will gradually,
without even noticing it,
find yourself experiencing the answer,
some distant day.”
―Rainer Maria Rilke
***
“With life as short as a half-taken breath, don’t plant anything but love.”
―Jalaluddin Rumi


Gratitude List:
1. Two-hour delays. They wreak havoc on the teachers’ end-of-semester schedules, but 10 o’clock is such a humane hour to begin the work day. Breathe. Sleep in.
2. Bhangra Dance. It’s so joyful, so full of life. I’ve been looking up How-to videos on bhangra dancing. It’s all very funny-looking on my part at this point, because I have both the Mennoniteness and the hobbity-ness to contend with, but at least I get a little exercise, and I entertain the family while I practice.
3. Home remedies. I still have an uncomfortable cold, but I have a hunch all the home remedies helped get me past the trampled-by-rhinos phase.
4. Cold weather. Odd thing for me to say, because I really hate being cold, but it feels right that January be cold. After the mildness of November and early December, this feels right. Still, I will be glad for Spring to begin showing her feathers.
5. Good literature.

May we walk in Beauty!

Walking Into the Dark

This week, weaning myself from the keyboard, I jumped back into my handwritten journal-book, with pens and colored pencils, and the slower, reflective pacing of handwriting.

I have been dreaming and writing dreams, feeling the shadows of dreams flitting around my head even when the images and plotlines escape me. Vultures and daughters, bees and small children–the dream-symbols have been feeding me as I walk into the darkness of winter.

During the years when we were both farming full-time, when winter was truly a resting time, I think I had my most satisfying winters. I was able then to hibernate, to draw myself inward, to slow way down. Now in these years, when the days are so busy, and the evenings hold lists of necessary tasks, I lose myself a bit in winter. I struggle to focus in the outer world, but I don’t have the inner space to really slow down. Not really.

And so I am taking a bit of an Advent Break, shifting up my morning and evening routines, letting myself drift out of the social media spheres. It has been a good thing to take this break, to shift my habits. In the coming weeks between now and Epiphany, I will continue to make occasional forays onto this page, occasional steps into the world of Facebook, but I am going to breathe and rest and meditate and dream as I need to in these days, and hold myself to as few schedules as possible..

Blessings on your own Advent, your Dark Time, your Inward Journey. May your dreams be fruitful, and your visions be keen.

Much love.


Gratitude List:
1. Shadows and darkness
2. Dreams and visions
3. Rest and Quiet
4. Joy and Peace
5. Waiting and Anticipation

May we walk in Beauty!

Remembering How to Dream

“I would like to paint the way a bird sings.”
–Claude Monet
*
“If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” –Vincent van Gogh
*
“Do unto those downstream as you would have those downstream do unto you.” –Wendell Berry
*
Every step you take is a doorway to somewhere new,
a choice between what was and what will be.
Do not fear the darkness behind you
nor the mists that rise in your path.
Pause on the threshold a moment.
Take a deep and aching breath,
and straighten your shoulders.
Release the past with gratitude
for all that it has taught you,
and step forward in strength and beauty.
–Beth Weaver-Kreider
*
Mary Oliver:
“Soon now, I’ll turn and start for home.
And who knows, maybe I’ll be singing.”


Gratitude List:
1. Rest
2. Dreaming
3. Work
4. Play
5. Silence

May we walk in Beauty!