returning to life: combining activism and spirituality to heal

I have felt dead inside for several months. Depression, grief, anger, fear. So many emotions coming up while processing and healing from violent sexual assault.

But in the last weeks I have felt reborn. A combination of circumstances, the dawning of springtime, the support of my loved ones, and hard personal work has landed me in a much better place. I can’t predict the future, or know that it will all be alright, but I am able to see a warmth returning to my present moment. A hopeful, reassuring warmth that maybe healing is possible. 

I find myself incredibly grateful that I am alive. I find myself noticing movement in my body that feels good and refreshing, not only the pain. I am suddenly able to experience joy, and really feel it. After months of feeling either numb or miserable, joy is delicious.

I know this isn’t the end of the struggle. Perhaps it will be a short break. But I also know that there were times during the winter that the hopelessness felt endless. I didn’t know if it would transform. And yet, like everything, indeed it has.

As a survivor who chose to tell the story of my assault to the public, and who knows that this process was (for me–every individual is different) a very crucial part of my healing, I would like to share a quote from a friend and incredibly inspirational hero, Wagatwe Wanjuki, from an interview on MSNBC“I really hope that survivors of all identities of color, queer, low-income, with disabilities, trans, gender nonconforming, from community college, in relationships, etc. – will find it easier have their stories heard.” – Wagatwe Wanjuki.

I stand humbled by my privilege and committed to working towards a world where this hope articulated by Wagatwe becomes increasingly possible.

In addition to the activism work I did in speaking out (again, something that is a choice some survivors make, but not something to be pushed on any survivor–healing is all about choice) I also have had to step away from the public, and even from other people, in order to heal. It can be lonely, but this inward time has also felt very necessary for me. Having a spiritual life has always been extremely important to me, and though I am exploring my Jewish roots, a politically painful, challenging, but also rewarding task, I also do not feel grounded in a specific religion, but rather, pulled to words, rituals, and practices that move my spirit.

Recently I have discovered a beautiful song by Sikh musician Snatam Kaur called “Servant of Peace” that includes a beautiful recitation of the Saint Francis of Assisi Prayer “Make Me An Instrument.” The words sung in her heavenly voice have been guiding and consoling.

“Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

-St. Francis of Assisi, 13th Century

It is with deep gratitude for the activists, artists, and seekers who have come before me that I feel able to connect with the universe in a new and rejuvenated life.

© 2015 Lena Sclove

Advertisements

healing in deep snow

I took a long walk this afternoon and trudged through deep snow, snow up to my knees, and I didn’t realize just how out of shape I was and how challenged I was by the exercise until I made it back to shoveled-territory and felt the easy of walking without sinking.

Sometimes we don’t realize how bad it is until we aren’t in it quite so deep anymore. Which makes the deepness feel all the more endless.

There are times I can write myself out of the deep. There are other times I choose not to write. When healing is happening in my body, and my mind isn’t able to catch up, writing feels like a disservice to my healing. If my body could write the traumatic energy that is being released without my mind passing judgements, perhaps I would write out of the deep snow.

For now, I follow what is moving.

back on the guitar train

My guitar teacher Diane Sanabria and I have both been unwell. Yesterday after nearly two months we had our reunion lesson. We both felt rusty. I for one know that I was nervous. After many weeks not teaching, I watched as she re-inhabited her body and her incredible gifted self as an educator and music guide.

I was thrilled to see her, but worried my weeks of not practicing (full disclosure: did not even take my guitar out of her case even once in the last couple of months) would set me back completely. However, in the course of our time together I found my hands remembered more than my brain did. The body remembers in horrific ways, but the body also remembers the healing arts we teach it. I was rusty, but the music, the finger picking, the lyrics…they were still in me. I just had to turn my brain off and let the music flow.

My worries continued (full disclosure: I’m a worrier.) The lesson was amazing, but I dreaded the crippling fear of returning home and having to do the un-doable: take my guitar out of her case. All alone. Without Diane. Music is powerful. Diane tells me how healing it is, but also how emotional and painful it can be. It taps into places we aren’t always prepared to go.

I couldn’t do it last night. But this afternoon I took a walk in the frigid air as the sun was setting over the pond, and when I returned home I was determined. I unzipped the case. I tuned her. I opened my music binder.

I do not care if it sounded terrible. I do not care if it sounded wonderful. It is the pride of feeling back on the train after missing the last several trains that have gone by. I hopped onto the train. It still might be bumpy. But I’m going somewhere. All aboard!

y1pOWOFB6zIHYYAZ9Dp8NkPrDdvd1OhvM7gZCoC6WfMLEx3poMlewMZAa1aUJ8932zDsoi9Y7bO8iw

i want to check out all the books in the library

I want to go to the library and check out all the books. I know I won’t read all the books. But I never read all the books I check out, even when it’s a more reasonable number than “all the books.” Which isn’t even a number, really.

I want to check out all the books in the library and lie them out on the floor of my apartment (in stacks, because my room is very small) and I want to make intentional piles. Books I wish I had time to read. Books I really will make time for. Books I wish I myself had written. Books I wish had never been written at all. Books that look like they might cause me to experience an enlightened spiritual state and stay in it for the rest of my life. Books that genuinely look like they might end white supremacy and homophobia and genocide and depression and sexism and racism and environmental destruction. Books that were written only to make money.

These are just a few of the many categories I will make if I ever get around to checking out all the books in the library.

library-10

writing while she walks

Mary Oliver takes a notebook outside and walks in the woods every morning and jots down what she sees. Then she goes back home and looks at what she jotted and turns the jots into a poem.

I would like to try this method, but I wonder, does she write as she walks? Or does she stop every once and a while to reflect? Does she write standing up or does she find a boulder or a dead tree branch or a dry patch of pine needles and plop down?

What about the winter? Does she have special gloves that her pen doesn’t slip through? Or does she write with a pencil?

I shouldn’t assume that Mary Oliver writes with a pen.

poem for the february sun

It is 4pm in Western Massachusetts in February and

the sun is shining

and it is 33 degrees outside.

Let me repeat that.

It is 33 degrees outside.

IMG_4172

Let me clarify in case you are confused.

I am used to relief

at over-zero.

IMG_4084

Don’t get me wrong.

There is still a lot of snow.

IMG_4168

But after so many

blizzards

and below-zero days

and grey skies

relief flows like water

pulled by gravity.

IMG_4173

I have not been able to motivate myself

to walk out my door

into the cold

and yet

when I pushed myself

to do so today

I felt I was breathing for the first time.

Oh what a joy

to watch my feet disappear

in the snow

to hear icicles dripping

and to think maybe there are green buds in me

about to burst through

just as there are in the earth

unseen but present and ready.

IMG_4174

inspired by the art garden

Last night I was able to attend a glorious event called Paradise [not yet] Lost at The Art Garden, a community arts space in Shelburne Falls, MA. The invitation to the event read: “You are invited to participate in Paradise [not yet] Lost, a community exhibit about environmental issues, climate change, and the places we love and want to take care of.”

The exhibit included stunning works of visual work including paintings, collages, ceramic work, and mixed-media pieces. At 7pm performances began, and these included storytelling, recitations of poetry, musical sing-a-long, and an incredible interactive piece involved levitating ping-pong balls (with the use of hair-driers and many helping hands) that each said positive qualities such as “balance”, “intention,” and “love.”

I was inspired beyond belief, and the feeling still lingers twenty-four hours later. All the visual and performance work touched on the beauty of the natural world, the activism people are doing to care for the world, the love and belonging people feel to the places they live, and the investment in building community around these issues.

Everyone was invited to write an intention for engaging with nature and in a creative, social, and preserving way. We wrote our intentions on leaves and taped the leaves onto a card-board tree that was built in a corner of the room.

IMG_4152

Especially amidst the isolation, loneliness, and quiet of winter, I could not have asked for a more wonderful way to spend an evening with humans, feeling grateful for humans and for the beautiful world we live in, despite the challenges we face. So much gratitude to Jane Beatrice Wegscheider, artist director of The Art Garden, the many staff there, and all the artists who participated last night. My creative juices are flowing. My appreciation for nature has been rekindled. Thank you!

purpose: “the dirty life” by kristin kimball, reflections part 2 of 3

“I was in love with the work, too, despite its overabundance. The world had always seemed disturbingly chaotic to me, my choices too bewildering. I was fundamentally happier, I found, with my focus on the ground. For the first time, I could clearly see the connection between my actions and their consequences. I knew why I was doing what I was doing and I believed in it. I felt the gap between who I thought I was and how I behaved begin to close, growing closer to authentic,” (Kimball 158). 

Ah, the power of who we think we are. When this gets called into question it can be very uncomfortable. I  love this concept of a gap closing, and outer actions beginning to reflect inner reality. I think this is applicable to many of us, farmers or not, as is the concept of focusing on the ground. There is the physical ground, and then there is the inner grounding, the feeling of centeredness that gives us clarity and purpose. Farming isn’t for everyone but I would like to believe that there is something for every one of us that brings us “closer to authentic.”

In the case of Kristin Kimball, she was somewhat thrown into it by luck and circumstance. A part of me thinks that is unusual, and that most of us have to look for and work for it. But maybe we are all thrown into it, and it’s just a matter of realizing what is going on–that our opportunity to merge our inner and outer lives has arrived, and we can either take it or risk letting it pass. Kimball could have walked away from the man the was in love with and the farm she was starting to build so many times. She thinks about it many times throughout the book. But she doesn’t. She sticks with it even when it is hard. I admire this. I await the closing of the gap. I hope I will know it when I see it.

consumerism: “the dirty life” by kristin kimball, reflections part 1 of 3

I just finished reading The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball and as is the case when I finish a good book, I have so many thoughts and I am bursting to share them. I certainly recommend the book, and if you would like to read summaries and reviews, there are many. However, I feel more in the mood to reflect than review.

Adjusting to a sudden change in lifestyle, from city life to farm life, Kristin Kimball writes, “The last old habit to fall away was shopping. I could feel the need to shop building up in me during the week, like an itch. I’m not talking about shopping for clothes, or shoes, or any of the other recreational kinds of shopping people generally do. I mean only the oddly comforting experience of flowing past shiny new merchandise, the everyday exchange of money for goods. In the city, most of the landscape is made up of objects for sale, and it’s nearly impossible to leave your apartment without buying something–a newspaper, a cup of coffee, a bright bunch of Korean market flowers. When I went for days without buying anything, without setting eyes on commerce, without even starting the car to burn up some gas, I felt an achy withdrawal.” (Kimball 156).

When I read this passage my first thought was that Kimball was so honest to share this longing to shop. To me, it isn’t the most appealing quality, and it is just one of so many strikingly honest confessions that she makes in the book. But my second thought was realizing how I completely have this too. And since reading the passage I’ve been conscious of it more than ever. Specifically because I am having a challenging time right now, there is a constant capitalist rhetoric repeating in my mind that if I just buy the right thing I will start to feel better. This is made much worse by the fact that I work in a bookstore. Sometimes when I am cleaning and organizing the self-help, religion, spirituality, and poetry sections I begin to observe the inner conversation in my brain:

“Maybe if I buy that book and read it I will break through my depression.”

“Get it from the library.”

“But what if I want to write notes in the margins or underline my favorite passages or dog-ear a life-changing page.”

“Get it from the library first, if you even end up reading it at all and really do love it so much, you can always go back and buy it.”

“But I want the copy that gives me such a life-changing transcendental experience to be the copy that is mine, that I own.”

“Just get it from the goddam library.”

Or something like that. We have been told so many times, over and over again, that money and material goods will make us happy. I can know in my heart and soul that this is not true, and yet I still wrestle with the constant message that we just don’t have enough, and that if we did have enough, we would be enough. This is one of the core tenants of consumerism and capitalism, connecting our quality of life with the things we purchase. I know it’s not real, and yet every time I work at the bookstore I usually find a book that I fixate on for most of the shift. Leaving work and not buying the book feels unsatisfying and disappointing and an emptiness is certainly there, but halfway through my walk home I usually forget all about it. Wanting to heal is real. Buying things to make it happen isn’t.

Taking stock of all the changes my life has abruptly undergone in the last year and a half, I can certainly relate to Kimball’s “old habits that fall away.” Some of them needed to leave. Some of them I want back, and I need back, and I am working to get back. But the big thing for me is noticing. The fact that I have been observing my desire to fix my problems by buying books, and that I have not been buying them, has been challenging but also made me aware that I am not my thoughts, nor problems. I don’t know what I am, but I know I am glad not to be my “achy withdrawal.”