Thursday, April 3, 2014

Seeking Stillness ~ Creating Community

Seeking Stillness

Do you have a sanctuary?  Do you have a place where you can be still?  Do you have a place where you feel safe?  For me, my physical sanctuary is my study, which is also the guest room.  I have carved out two little corners for myself in this sanctuary.  One corner contains my small desk where I write.

The other corner contains my reading chair.

Throughout my life, I have always had to have my solitude.  Along with that solitude, I've always needed a place where I could go to close out the world and connect with my inner world.  I connect best to that inner world through reading and writing.  Without stillness, and that place where I can just "be," I would never be able to function in the world at large.

Despite my need for solitude, and stillness, I also thrive on the energy created by other people around me.  I could not be happy if I were not a part of community.  In my need for solitude, I am not a loner.  I am a "people person," yet, I cannot always be surrounded by people.   Ironically, while I re-energize and heal through solitude and stillness, I find that I am also building community through the reading and writing that I do in that solitude.

This morning, I had a Bible study to attend.  That meant that I needed to up no later than 7:30.  I planned on getting up at 7:00.  My husband also needed to get up early, so he had set an alarm for 7:00.  I had a rough night.  Late in the day yesterday, my gallbladder had acted up. In the middle of the night, I was awakened by nausea.  I heard the alarm at 7:00, but I ignored it.  At 7:20, my husband came into the bedroom to gently wake me.  I appreciated his nudge.  I then asked if it had snowed as was predicted.  "Yes, but there are no school closures yet," he said.  So, I pulled myself out of bed and made my way to the shower as my husband checked the church website and the church school website to see if anything was posted saying that the school was closed due to the snow.  If this had been true, our Bible study would have been cancelled.

I know it is the third day of April, but we had snow today, lots of it.  After my shower, I walked into the kitchen to get my coffee that my sweet husband had already made for me and looked out of my kitchen window.  This was my view:

My decision for my day was made as soon as I put together a few factors:  it had snowed quite a bit; I still was feeling quite nauseous; I had not slept well; and, I am having surgery tomorrow.  Tomorrow, after a year of quite a few gallbladder attacks, and more testing than one would ever imagine, I am finally having gallbladder surgery. I decided today was a day to stay home.  

"I need to just be still today,"  I told my husband.  "I need to take the time to rest up and prepare for tomorrow."  My husband fully agreed with my decision to take the day to rest.

And so, today, instead of building community with the lovely ladies in my Bible study, and instead of being able to spend some time with one of my best friends, I chose to take the time to do some reading and some writing.  I chose to connect with the community that I find in books.  I chose to connect with the community that I find through blogging.  

Today, I chose Mary Pipher's book, Writing to Change the World, for my reflective text.  This book was on my bedside table because I had recently retrieved it from a bookshelf downstairs to use in preparing for a writing prompt for the monthly writing time I have with my writing partner, Iris.  From my notes in the margin of the book, I learned I had first purchased this book in July of 2007.  Mary Pipher, a favorite non-fiction writer of mine, and author The Middle of Everywhere:  Helping Refugees Enter the American Community, had through her excellent book on how to be a cultural broker provided me with one of the great texts I had used when I was teaching in the area of linguistically and culturally diverse education at Colorado State University-Pueblo.  Just after I retired, I found the book she had written in 2006 on writing and decided it could become a great text for my retirement years which I hoped would be filled with time for writing.  The inspiration I used in writing today's blog post, came from a portion of a chapter title in Writing to Change the World: "Seeking Stillness/Inspiring Action."

I've been mostly retired for nearly seven years now.  At times, I can't believe it has been that long.  I truly did hope to spend a large portion of my retirement days writing.  I thought I would be able to sustain the discipline of having a schedule similar to that which while I had while working when I began retirement.  Knowing my personality, this was really a very preposterous idea, but I did have hope that I would do so.

Today's Reflection:  Creating Community through Reading, Writing, and Blogging

Reading has always been one of my favorite pastimes.  One enlarges and enhances one's world by reading.  One creates an community of character's in one's mind through reading.  One visits other countries, centuries, and cultures through reading.  Reading, just for reading's sake, has never been the driving force in my reading life.  I read to connect to the author, and to the characters in the story.  I think much of my life is about building connection; therefore, I read to build connection to myself and others.  

Blogging, when was the first time you heard that term?  For me, I have a very distinct memory of when I had first heard the terms blog and blogging.  I must admit that I had no idea what either word meant.  I was meeting with the English Department Chair at CSU-Pueblo when he spoke of blogging.  I would imagine that the year was 2005.  As a program coordinator in the Education Department, I was hired to write the curriculum and develop the program where teachers and pre-service teachers could take the classes necessary to add an endorsement to their teaching certificates that would enable them to teach  linguistically diverse (ESL) students.  The process of writing the curriculum and creating the endorsement involved, among other things, building a strong relationship with other departments.  During my meeting with him, Dr. S, almost as a side note, mentioned how he was quite fascinated by blogs and was thinking about how to build them into the English curriculum.  I smiled, tried to act as if I knew what he was talking about, wrote the word "blog" in my notes, and said, "Yes, that is an interesting idea."  When I got back to my office, I did a Google search of the word, read a bit about blogging, decided it made no sense to me, and filed the idea away in the back of my mind.  I had no intention of building blogging into the curriculum I was writing.

In 2007, I read more about blogs in Pipher's book Writing to Change the World.  Chapter Fourteen, "Blogs - A Revolutionary New Tool,"  gives the reader a short summary of the history of blogging and includes a brief assessment of blogging and how people all over the world were using blogs to give voice to all sorts of social and political concerns.  She also speaks of blog  "building communities, sometimes international ones, of people who do similar work."  (p. 221)

It is interesting to note that in the margin of the book next to a paragraph about how blogs provide instant self-publication opportunities that seem to "emphasize self-reflection and social commentary," I drew a * in the margin and re-wrote the words:  self-reflection and social commentary."  (A * in the margin has always served as an indicator to me that this is an important point to remember from my reading.)  At this point in my life, blogging was purely textbook knowledge.  I saw its value as a way to connect to the world.  I even saw its value as a writing tool, but I had not made it a part of my life.

As I initially intended when I began my day today,  I have spent time in my sanctuary where I came seeking stillness.  I have rested, and I have read.  In my stillness, my inner being has been been at work.  My thoughts have given way to expression through writing.  This is the natural process for me.  It is one I have followed for many years.  But now, I write not only for me in my journal, I also write on my blog.

I first began blogging in response to becoming a part of our family blog in June of 2008. This private, family only, blog was created my daughter Keicha, who now writes her own blog at O-townramblings.  Our family blog was an active, happy part of our lives through much of 2008.  Soon, our exchanges on Blogger were replaced by exchanges on Facebook.  I miss our family blog.  I wish we would resurrect it and use it again.   Like many other things in the life of our family, our family blog died a quiet death after the death of our daughter and sister Julie in 2010.  The header of our family blog contained this quote:  "AMONG THOSE WHOM I LIKE OR ADMIRE, I CAN FIND NO COMMON DENOMINATOR, BUT AMONG THOSE WHOM I LOVE, I CAN: ALL OF THEM MAKE ME LAUGH." W.H. AUDEN  Perhaps, after Julie's death we just could not find ourselves able to tell each other our funny stories.  I don't know when we began to have funny stories again.  Did we ever have them again?  There was just too much sadness, heartbreak, and unfortunately, we soon found ourselves isolated from each other when we needed each other the most.

I began my own blog on June 28, 2008 in response to a class assignment when I was taking a semester long class through the Southern Colorado Writing Project.  I did not post another entry until November 4, 2008.  (Click to read that post.)  It is clear from my writing, that my target audience was my family.

Today, April 3, 2014, I am writing my 299th blog post.  Today marks a milestone of sorts.

I have not only spent my day seeking stillness through reading, I am sharing my day via my blog.  Through blogging, I have welcomed others into my inner and outer world.  I did this quite by accident.  I could not have created this special community to which I belong through any sort of design of my own.  In some miraculous, serendipitous way, I have found myself a participatory member of the larger community.  When I seek stillness, or healing, or laughter, or support, or new insight, or friendship, I do so by sitting in the corner of my sanctuary at my desk.  Here, I connect to myself and to others across several continents by writing and by joining in the blogging community conversation.  How would I ever imagined all of this when I first heard the word blog?

And, so, as I prepare myself mentally for tomorrow's gallbladder surgery, and for the recovery time that I will have after the surgery, I find it interesting that I not only feel it necessary to tell my closest friends about the procedure, but I also find it important to share this information with my blogging community.  I hope to be back reading and writing soon.  In the meantime, know that your friendships have sustained me and enriched my life more than any of you could ever imagine.