The Gathering

Inspired by Bruno Pirecki’s debut novel Town Lawe as well as Ben Franklin’s Junto (which later became the American Philosophical Society), I decided to start my own communal gathering. Both the examples listed depict people coming together to discuss ideas and pursue wisdom. And that’s what I wanted to do.

As someone who naturally resonates with the lone wolf archetype, I am often drawn to self-sufficiency out of fear that the need for community is based in weakness. But ultimately humans are communal creatures, and the cultivation of a healthy community can be incredibly life giving. I reached out to some friends individually to pitch the idea to them: I wanted to start a weekly gathering to build community and to pursue wisdom through the discussion of various topics.

Some people attend once and others come every week; I usually provide a charcuterie board of sorts so no one needs to leave hungry. Through my commitment to set aside this time and space on a weekly basis, a small group of about three or four of us meet to talk, often late into the night, about our questions, observations, frustrations, and celebrations in life. Sometimes the conversation doesn’t go very deep; other times I find myself revealing vulnerable truths I wrestle with as I search for growth and healing. The whole process has felt like a necessary part of leaning into what it means to be human, at least for me.

And as I have sought to offer value to others, I have found that blessing returning to me as well. There have been times I felt exhausted, and a friend furnished and prepared the snacks for me so I didn’t have to. As I have attempted to cultivate an environment of trust for others, so I have found I am able to express more vulnerable parts of myself and allow others to speak encouragement into my insecurities. This, I believe, is part of what it means to pursue wisdom.

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Little Girl

Little Girl, what do you need from me?

I need to feel safe. I need to feel loved. I need to know I won’t be neglected.

How can I make you feel safe? How can I make you feel loved? How can I assure you you won’t be neglected?

By holding space for me. By nurturing me. By continuing to show up and not leave me alone.

How can I hold space for you?

By listening to me when I need to cry. By rocking me gently back and forth. By helping me to breathe again.

How can I nurture you?

Tell me a bedtime story in the evenings. Greet me in the morning with a yummy breakfast. Let me wear bows in my hair and necklaces made of dandelion chains. Feed me when I’m hungry. Wrap me up in blankets during thunderstorms. Light candles when it gets dark. Let me dance and twirl and have tea parties and eat ice cream.

How can I continue to show up and not leave you alone?

Keep asking these questions. Spend time with me. Ask what I need. Take care of me.

Little Girl, how do you feel right now?

I feel tight in my chest.

Can you take a few breaths? Can you tell me what’s wrong?

I feel scared. I feel sad. I feel abandoned.

Why do you feel scared?

I’m scared I’m going to go hungry. I’m scared I’m going to be ignored. I’m scared I’m going to be laughed at.

Why do you feel sad?

I’m sad because I don’t feel cared for and that hurts.

Why do you feel abandoned?

I feel abandoned because I have been forgotten. I am overlooked. I am invisible.

If I take better care of you, do you think you can be visible again?

Yes, I think I can.

Little Girl, what is one thing we can do right now that will make you feel good?

Let’s cuddle up in blankets and fall asleep.

We can do that. Will that make you feel safe?

Yes.

Will that make you feel loved?

Yes.

Will that make you feel like you won’t be neglected?

Yes.

Okay, Little Girl. I’m here; I’m going to take care of you. I’m not going to abandon you.

Snapshot: My Lovely Saturday Night

“I’ll be taking wonderful care of you tonight,” my waiter said as he opened his notepad and readied his pen. My order was simple: water, lobster bisque, and biscuits. He dashed off to the kitchen, his feet almost as quick as his speech.

Alone with my thoughts, I took in my surroundings: the soft thump, thump, thump of the base drum on the radio, the low lighting creating an air of privacy, the Canadian man sitting behind me talking about his trip to Florida. A baby cried in an adjacent room. Nearby, some servers gathered around one of the cash registers to share a joke. I wondered if anyone would find it strange for a woman to eat dinner alone in a restaurant, but it didn’t seem to matter.

Wearing my new (to me) sweater and sporting a fresh haircut, I figured tonight was as much a night as any to celebrate. It had been awhile since I’d taken myself “out on a date,” and the gift card I had received gave me the perfect opportunity to do so. I would not look at my phone tonight. Instead, I savored the environment – the mainstream, commercialized bistro I had learned to love from childhood – and drew comfort from its familiarity. I basked in gratefulness for the beauty of these moments, moments I hadn’t experienced in a long time.

I had lost sight of something. Of myself. I had forgotten how nice it felt to do something special – by myself. Here, now, I could be fully present, and present I was – well, at least until I realized I had almost finished my soup. It was so good I nearly forgot to enjoy it. The bisque tasted like the sea and like a warm hug all at once, and the cheesy, buttery biscuits melted in my mouth.

I thought about how I had no one to talk to there, but I didn’t mind. My soul was content to rest and reflect and simply be, without having to focus on conversation. Sometimes loneliness is a beautiful thing.

The waiter gave me a small bag to pack up the extra biscuits; I gave him an extra tip for his sweet demeanor. My spirit was overflowing with joy from being fully alive and fully myself. It really was a quick supper – I was in and out in under and hour – but my heart was full. And so was my belly.

Trapped in Education

“I could just run away,” I thought to myself, “yet I’d still feel a need to finish my homework first.” -my brain between classes as I looked out a window to the campus below.

It’s amazing how different it feels walking on a school campus after graduation in comparison to before. I wander the brick pavement, taking my time, while students rush around me to class. I can finally relax because I’m on the outside looking in.

As a student, the stress of never being done gnawed away at my soul. There was always another assignment, always more reading material, always something exhausting my mental energy. There was no relishing in what I learned because I always had more to do. Even times of rest were laden with the knowledge I would have to get back to work soon. There was no clocking out until suddenly everything ended for break.

When people say school prepares you for life, I suppose they are referring to stereotypical 70-hours-per-week jobs. The ones where you wear a suit and stay late out of a need for constant busyness and endless production. I am not envious of them. People say school (college years) are the best years of your life, but I have never been more relieved to not have homework looming over my head.

Too often we trap young people in constant to-do lists that probably prohibit their growth rather than aid it. This can happen in adulthood too, but adults tend to have a little more control over it. I empathize with young people who are still bound by academic responsibilities. And while I am a huge advocate for learning and growing, I am so glad to not be in a formal school setting anymore.

In my limited life experience, I find I much prefer independent adulthood than the stress of student-hood/childhood. Going through high school and college was mentally and emotionally draining, not just because of the endless cognitive workload, but also because of the development that was happening within my own body and brain. Life is still immensely draining now, but I feel much more equipped to handle it now that I don’t have homework to worry about.

Creating an Ideal Day

I often think of things I wish I could accomplish in a given day if I could only muster the motivation to do them. Sometimes they are even things I enjoy doing but haven’t developed the discipline for turning them into regular habits. Therefore, I have decided to list tasks I would love to accomplish in my ideal day:

  • Write in my blog/practice writing in general
  • Read 50 pages or so in any given book
  • Devote time to a yoga practice
  • Practice harp/work on reading music
  • Draw
  • Work on quilt or some craft project
  • Write to a friend
  • Create (bake) something in the kitchen
  • Practice singing
  • Clean/organize something around the house
  • Devote time to spiritual reflection/reading/prayer
  • Bask in sunshine

Last year I had made a list of goals (resolutions, perhaps) which I did not accomplish in 12 months time, other than reading 15 books and cleaning out my car (for I had to get rid of it). This year I want to focus on furthering my self care routines. Since one of the most common New Year’s resolutions this year is to “become a better person,” which is ridiculously vague, I have decided to create my own goals to strive for and grow into.

My list above is not one I can realistically expect to complete daily; however, it helps to outline my ideal day. Because of this, I have something tangible to work toward in making every day an ideal day, whether I complete the list or not.

 

 

Long Hunter Pow Wow

My tires matted the grass as I turned off the main road, into the middle of nowhere, also known as Long Hunter State park. From the moment I stepped out of my car, I could hear the mournful voice of a Native American flute winding its way through the trees and to my anxious ears. I had gotten a great parking spot by the entrance of the festival, and my first destination while there was the bleachers surrounding the small stage where the performance was taking place.

While walking through the clearing in the wood, I felt overcome with a sweet sadness I didn’t know how to reconcile. My soul wept with the sky in my loneliness, and yet I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Seeing the livelihood of a people who are too often invisible to me reminded me of my need to connect with nature, to bask in the beauty of the earth. Solitude has a way of doing that to you: of wringing your heart free of the shallowness of petty problems and leaving behind a core of raw emotion, an essence of what it means to be human.

I walked around the field for hours, visiting the different vendors and admiring their art. Not wanting to leave, yet not wanting to stay, I had to tear myself away like a child from her mother. Something inside me connected to this culture, to the stories, the traditions, the heartache. A connection which only a deep loneliness could reveal in its rugged beauty.

2016 Reading Challenge

If you know me well, you know I love to read. That’s why when I found out about the Goodreads app, I was all over it. One of its features is the ability to set annual challenges for yourself to read a certain number of books. While I wouldn’t say I read large amounts at a time, I do try to be consistent in taking time to read regularly. This year I resolved to read 15 books. Here is some of what I’ve read so far:

The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories
A collection of writings by a woman who died young, it was both thought-provoking and entertaining. Since the essays and stories were relatively short, it made for a quick, easy read. Sometimes I would have to pause at the end of a story to process what I had just read, and I pondered with awe how this girl came up with so many creative ideas and put them onto paper so beautifully.

Released from Shame: Moving Beyond the Pain of the Past
I bought this book for under a dollar, and I loved it. Right now I’m going through a phase of being fascinated by nonfiction that focuses on psychology, emotional health, personal growth, etc. This definitely beckons you to face the darkness of your past, or it teaches you how to better relate to those who have had a challenging past. While full of sadness, it also offers hope and healing to weary souls.

Women Who Run with the Wolves
This one took me months to read. I started it sometime last year and didn’t finish it until just a couple months ago. But I mean that in a good way. This was a long, dense, but amazing read. It explores ancient folklore and reveals psychological lessons we can learn from various stories. Written primarily for a female audience, it challenges women to embrace their femininity to the fullest. If you decide to read this book, take your time and savor it. Don’t pressure yourself to rush through it or it may become overwhelming.

Sunny Side Up
I guess this is technically a graphic novel. I haven’t read much in this genre, but I really enjoyed it. I was able to breeze through it in a day, and it provided somewhat of a mental break after the other longer books I had been reading. I actually was able to get a galley free from a library sale. Set in the ’70s, the story follows a girl who travels to Florida for summer vacation. It was seemingly light-hearted at first, but I soon realized  it included a more somber twist. Thought-provoking, yet tender as well.

Dreamtreaders
The first book in the Dreamtreaders’ series, this adventure novel explores the world beyond waking reality. It brings the dream world to life in a way I hadn’t thought about before. This was a great book to read before my bedtime to help me wind down at the end of the day. It was exciting and fun, and I can’t wait to read the next book in the series.

Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality
Spirituality is another subject I love reading about. The author is irreverent but genuine, and he brings up some excellent points and questions about the Christian faith. The book follows his journey between his fundamentalist Christian upbringing and his explorations of less conservative, more “worldly” lifestyles. The author’s relatability and honesty about his doubts makes the Christian faith seem less intimidating. An enjoyable read that made me think.

I have other books that I’m reading or have read, but the above list is a handful of the ones that have really stuck with me. Share in the comments what you’re reading this year!

Dear Mentor

Dear Mentor,

I am hoping and praying for your presence in my life, and the sooner the better. Yes, I have plenty of mentor-like figures who have influenced my life, and yet I am desiring one to whom I can reveal myself more fully and openly on a regular basis. While I used to see a therapist, I eventually concluded that I did not want to pay money for someone to be my friend, to do life with me. I wanted to build a more personal relationship than that which is healthy in a therapist-patient connection.

I fear I may be too picky in the kind of person I want. I want God to give me a mentor, and yet I want it to be the kind of mentor I would like. Although I don’t know for sure exactly what I want, I have some ideas on what I don’t want, and I fear that might be just the thing God places in front of me.

I guess I want someone who will take the time to understand me and my background. Someone who has an understanding of and appreciation for mental and emotional health. I don’t want the vomiting of proverbs without the process of digesting them first, in order to make them concrete, applicable. Even the deepest wisdom is useless to the ears of one who does not understand the language.

I prefer someone who has a sense of humor, and doesn’t mind an occasional curse word here and there. Debate the morality of each if you wish, but I believe one must be genuine in order to experience growth. And sometimes being genuine entails exposing the crudeness and less reverent side of life.

I have begun every paragraph so far with the word I. I want to have a healthier view of myself and also of others. I possess a yearning for growth and for someone to help nurture me in my journey. And I need you, mentor, to challenge me while I challenge you, in hopes we can both become better versions of ourselves.

Sacred and Sexy

When I think of the word sacred, my mind tends to shoot directly to those of religious status. Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, perhaps you would agree that those whom you see dressed in religious garb elicit a different response from you than that of your interactions with friends. I see a woman with her head covered or a man with a priest’s collar and I interact with them differently than I would with the average joe. Not in a discriminatory way, but such that I try to be respectful of their traditions, whatever they may be.

On the other hand, many religious organizations in Western culture have become much more casual in the last century, even in the last decade. When I was a little girl, I saw lots of people dressing up to go to church on Sundays. Now, churches encourage people to wear jeans and t-shirts, promoting a “come as you are” vibe.

Neither of these are necessarily bad. Because how one dresses is a very concrete idea, it seems convenient to draw on that example of how the idea of sacredness has changed in our culture. Of course one can receive and give and participate in sacred experiences regardless of what he or she is wearing. I am not trying to bash people based on their clothing choices.

What I am trying to say is that Western culture’s idea of sacredness has dramatically diminished. Men used to take off their hats in the presence of a woman. Women used to avoid revealing their knees in public. While I am glad dress codes have become much more relaxed, what does the word sacred even mean anymore?

I have thought about joining a nudist community because I love the human body, and I love my body. But at the same time, I believe the human body is sacred, so I hesitate to reveal my entire body to the general public.

I believe sex can be a sacred act in the sense that it is one of the most intimate expressions of love one can give another.

I believe health is sacred because it is as we are pursuing our own personal wellness that we can be the most giving and helpful to others.

I believe we can be sacred and sexy at the same time. I’m just not completely sure how yet.

I Yearn for More

The question “How are you?” has morphed into a shallow greeting not meant to elicit an honest response. Those who do wish for an honest response have to probe further to uncover the mysteries that lie beneath the masks. Perhaps the more appropriate question to ask would be “How is your soul?”

If I am honest with myself, my likely answer to that question is “My soul is groaning.” I can tell you what my daily stressors are and why my life is hard, but that barely scratches the surface. Beneath the top soil of my heart lies the tough clay surrounding the root of my struggles, which sometimes not even I can define. Words are not sufficient to describe my feelings, my yearning for something I do not know how to find. And often this translates to depression.

I do not deny that chronic depression is an illness, a chemical imbalance of the brain that should be addressed. It is a battle I have fought for many years. Those who wrestle with depression feel differently from those who do not, even if it entails periods of numbness. There is a depth to the darkness that lasts indefinitely, casting a spell of fog upon those who experience that darkness. One could even argue that those who are depressed feel more deeply in certain ways. But suppose this is not a bad thing? Suppose we looked at depression from a different lens?

What if depression is not merely an illness, but a deeper realization of what it means to groan for eternity? That my soul longs for an unearthly love not yet realized? The material woes and issues of this life are but a thumbnail of a bigger picture which has yet to be revealed. A rocky relationship may propel me to fear that I am not loved and will therefore be alone. A dwindling bank account may scare me into thinking I will not be provided for.

Often we realize and express these anxieties only on the surface level, hoping that if we could just make more money or get along better in a relationship that our problems will be solved. We cling to these tangible issues because they are the some of the only ways we know how to express the deeper feelings of our hearts.

Truthfully, solving the issues on the surface may make life more convenient, but it will not satisfy the underlying ache that permeates the very fibers of my being. To place my hope of fulfillment on my surface saviors is a burden none of them were built to bear.

Many who aware of their deeper feelings have come to this realization, that nothing on this earth can fully meet their most intimate needs. As a result, people have ended their lives as a sign of giving up on this world, longing for a sense of relief and rest. They are right to realize the emptiness of life, but as most therapists will say, suicide is not the answer. What is has been debated over centuries, because this life as we know it is simply too limited for us to completely understand the human spirit. This much is clear: we are meant for something greater; what that entails remains to be discovered.