February 2022 Soul Notes
Connection by Julie Paschkis
I’ve been poring over my notebooks from the last couple of years, and found some snippets of writing from the first lockdown. It was a time when I was encouraging myself to write daily and I would sit for at least 7 minutes each day and write continuously from a prompt. I was drawn to the prompt from Day 16 of my practice which came from a poem by Maya Stein, called How We Know We’re Not Alone. It seemed particularly poignant when I reflect that by this point we had been confined to our homes for several weeks and the seriousness of what we were facing was beginning to sink in.
I wrote….we know we are not alone because….
I can hear the sing song voices of the little ones just over the fence
the birds riff in the quiet empty-filled spaces
the bee sidles up to the lavender bud full of kisses
I feel the company of authors from far and wide lying in piles on every surface
I feel the warm presence of my daughter sleeping as the day wakes
the voices of my guides ring in my ears
my ancestors whisper sweet nothings and the smell of toasted crumpets reminds me of love and hugs
In the absence of my usual daily connections, I was tuning into nature and to my inner world to find company. This was satisfying for a time – a welcome relief for my introverted self, enjoying this new experience of “aloneness”. I could both recognise the aloneness of the experience and also feel my connectedness in a magnified way. The buzz of the bee so loud that it was almost inside my head. David Whyte describes this as “aloneness” that “can measure togetherness even through a sense of distance”. We feel into all that joins us, even as we stand alone in it.
Much as I welcomed that space, there then came a time when I longed once again for real life community.
The dictionary defines “Community as a group of people who live in a particular area, who share something (beliefs, values, responsibilities, experiences, goals, interests or property), and is a word I hear a lot as we make sense of the last two years. Much has been written about how the pandemic has facilitated reconnection with our local communities; how we have a greater sense of belonging to the community in which we live. It also seems we’ve become more discerning about who we want to share ourselves with – that we have become more clear about, and want to define, our community more intentionally.
So what is it that is so important to us about community? In her book A Paradise Built In Hell, Rebecca Solnit investigates real life events across the twentieth century and illustrates how extraordinary communities arise through times of disaster. What she discovers is that the “old myths of human nature” don’t seem to apply. Instead what emerges is “something more communal, cooperative, and compassionate”. She writes that people’s stories:
“suggested how much we want lives of meaningful engagement, of membership in civil society, and how much societal effort goes into withering us away from these fullest, most powerful selves. But people return to those selves, those ways of self-organizing, as if by instinct when the situation demands it. Thus a disaster is a lot like a revolution when it comes to disruption and improvisation, to new roles and an unnerving or exhilarating sense that now anything is possible.”
So we find meaning in community. And I think what she’s also saying, is that we find other selves in ourselves in community. That we expand into more of what is possible in our lives. That this relational sense of belonging to, and with others transforms us, as much as the events themselves. This at least is my experience of community. The places and spaces where I dare to show more of myself because I know these parts are welcome, and in turn, I begin to welcome them more too. The intricate dance of relationship – show a little, feel the risk, the injunction, the shame as our internal cast of thousands enter the room to commune. For when we show up, the inner critic comes along too to make sure we “behave”. The child may be present, sensitive or histrionic ready to retreat, rescue or protest. The wild part, the creative, the sensual, the funny, the broken, the sensitive, the sad, the mad - all may make an appearance. And when we make room for all of our selves – ours and others – then we feel the fullness of the connection; we feel the space to be just as we are. This is what community means to me. A place where there is less need to hide and we can discover our truest nature. A place where I can be myself, share myself, receive others. A place where we can study and practise life together.
In Circle of Stones, Juliet Duerk asks us to meditate on the lost feminine in each of us and in our culture. She poses various questions throughout the book about how our lives might have been different if……
“How might your life have been different, if, as a young woman, there had been a place for you, a place where you could go to be with women? A place where you could be received as you strove to order your moments and your days.
A place where you could learn a quiet centredness…to help you ground yourself in daily patterns that would nurture you through their gentle rhythms…a place where, in the stillness at the ending of a task, you could feel an ancient presence flowing out to sustain you…and you learned how to receive and sustain it in return.
How might your life be different?”
When I read this, I feel stirred to both be part of, and to create such a place. Because my experience, as I’m sure is true for many of you, is that there wasn’t such a community for me as a young woman and I can imagine so many ways in which my life would be different if there had have been.
It also makes me grateful for the places that I have found since. The places where I am learning “a quiet centredness”, where I am nurtured.
So what does community mean to you? How might your life be different if there was a place for you, a place where you could go to be with others….a place where you could go to be with those who could receive all of you ….? A place where you can be alone in this together? How might your life be different?
With much love