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Emerging from Winter to Find Lessons under the Springtime Sun


This second blog post is emerging from me as I emerge from winter into spring in this part of the ancestral lands of the Susquehannock/so-called central Pennsylvania. People on this planet continue to learn lessons from a seemingly unending global pandemic, even if they don’t quite realize it. Over the past few months, I’ve tried to enhance my own lesson-learning by slowing down, paying attention, and letting myself “winter.” Given how I frequently struggled with winter throughout childhood and most of adulthood, especially after the holidays, I was impressed with my efforts and how it helped the months go by a little faster than usual. And this was despite some additional difficulties I was facing in several areas of my life. I can confidently say I weathered all of the literal and metaphorical storms of the last few months, and the lessons continue to reveal themselves under a warm, spring-time sun.


And life continues to feel weighty in very personal and large-scale, global ways. I’ve been reminded almost daily of the prevalence of not just gun violence but racialized violence in the United States and how it is so easily explained away by people and institutions in power. People are still getting sick and dying from COVID. Newspaper headlines contradict one another about the pandemic easing and then spiking, and I observe those who continue to not take precautions seriously, at times making fun of those of us who do or flaunting it in extremely dangerous ways. Combine this with the ways in which infection and death rates continue to be disproportionate for race and ethnicity, I grow increasingly frustrated with the lack of introspection and full-on entitlement on display. So I keep working with myself, what I can control, and the spheres in which I have influence.


Part of my wintering involved a close study of and with Joanna Macy, which helped me gain a better understanding of many things about myself and our planet. Over the course of 6 weeks spread across every other Saturday from January through March, 150 or so of us crammed into the Brady Bunch, Hollywood Squares world of Zoom to hear Joanna talk us through her decades of writing. Lydia Violet reflected on Joanna’s words, often through songs that serenaded all 150 of us and most especially Joanna. Joanna was approximately my age (in her 40s) when she began a doctoral program and started writing about Buddhism, antinuclearism, climate change, and deep ecology in the 1970s. I can’t do the body of her work justice nor the depths to which her writing and lectures touched and nurtured the most tender parts of my psyche in this one post. I’m not sure I could even write a book about it. It’s hard to condense and put into words. But, essentially, I felt seen and reminded of the tiny and collective impacts we can make when we identify our passions, talents, and worth and see those things in one another. Our planet and its people need us. It’s important to balance selflessness with care for those around us, including oneself. Which leads me to a Thomas Merton quote that grabbed me at just the right time, and one that I will continue to grapple with in both my professional and community work.


It came from the book called See No Stranger, which I highly recommend for anyone already filled or trying to be more filled with “revolutionary love.” I gulped down these words of Valarie Kaur, who shares quotes that have hit her at points in her life when she needed to hear them the most. This Thomas Merton quote shows up in her chapter titled “breathe”:


"There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork...To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful."


Particularly as a woman (though I am a white woman so I say this with more than a grain of salt), I should look for fruitful, joyful ways to do the work. That doesn’t mean giving up easily when conversations are hard or awkward or people aren’t seeing it my way. It also doesn’t mean that I should grow apathetic or cynical, though I confess I often have to work pretty hard to resist my own cynicism. But trying to do too much for too many people always ends up with me doing too little in nearly every space I’m working and trying to make change. One lesson I tried to learn this winter is that I can’t possibly do everything anyway. So it’s important to not overpromise and to find ways to take care of myself and others in ways that I am most skilled and eager. I’m still sorting through what that might look like for me in the coming months and years, through this work and all other facets of my life.


Something else to consider: when we decide that we must do everything, we are letting others check out too easily. Sometimes I need to let other people do the work, even if it’s now how I would do it, and then find ways to be supportive.


This semi disjointed post of ideas that I am weaving together too simplistically post the-most-winter-of- winters in my lifetime is simply to say, I’m paying attention to the lessons. I’m willing to keep growing and changing. Spring is a good time to remind oneself of the possibilities and various outcomes and how I might more intentionally use the gift of time I have on this planet to continue, refine, and expand my work and service - not to return to business-as-usual or the “new normal” but to living a life of meaning without apology.

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