What is a Sabbath?

Memorial Day is an American holiday started in 1865 by freed slaves to honor the military dead of the Civil War. It features parades and military connections, and can be a meaningful moment for touching grief and remembering the costs of our history. And like many secular holidays, the weekend has morphed in meaning. It is now largely considered the “official beginning of summer”—not by the Solstice calendar, but by planting tomatoes, attending weddings and graduations, and hyped up car sales and whatever else might be touted on TV (I’m not inside, not watching.) We’ve had a long, rainy winter in this region (nearly 10 inches above usual rainfall for the year) and three days of sunshine is a miracle long in coming.

The island where I live feels literally weighted down with visitors and traffic—folks determined to get out of the city and into the view and beaches. Mostly very white-legged people are strolling through Langley, the village by the sea, filling up the coffee and ice cream shops, shopping for souvenirs. They are on holiday mode—we are on “Sabbath.”

Having declared this day a Sabbath, we are staying home, away from crowds. We began with breakfast and tea on the patio—still cool enough to require fleece—then into the garden to weed, plant bush beans and squash, admire the strawberries, encourage the peonies. A gorgeous low tide drew us to the beach for a long ramble

Low tide, facing west.

and to support Gracie in gull chasing and swimming. We held a morning council in the sand, backs braced against a drift log: one speaking for 10 minutes, the listener then offering reflection and dialogue, and then the other speaking.

Mid-afternoon we are sitting in shade in the backyard, each working on bits of writing that give us pleasure. Our neighbor’s wind chimes provide musical background, and we are quiet enough to watch the life of our yard’s small birds. The lanky rhododendron bushes that hug the base of our largest Doug fir are drooping and every now and then a blossom drifts lazily down to the duff.

There is much on my heart. I don’t have to list it; you know what I mean. And you have your own list—societal and personal sorrows and outrage. Today, we have declared a Sabbath, and this means a sabbatical from reciting this list, from signing petitions for every worthy cause that clogs my inbox, from being lured onto the Internet to rabbit-hole into obsession with the state of the world. Not today. Today is rest. Today is breathing easy. Today is typing while shadows from the birch leaves play across my screen.

In the race and pace of the modern world, no one gives us a day like this: we have to declare it, design it, decide to “not do” as much as “to do.” We have to maintain the rhythm of it when the mind gets jumpy with undone tasks, or jerks into habituated distraction—Shush, come back to calm, it’s Sabbath. Let go of every litany but gratitude. Type with fingernails dirty from gardening. Comb sand out of the dog’s fur. Notice Nature’s abiding stillness and find an inner stillness to join it. Attach to heart.

Ann just wrote a blog about her “Sit Spot,” I realize I’m writing about my “Sit Day.”  What a relief—to be stilled and grateful for one whole day. Sabbath, indeed, and my offering into the week upcoming.

Seventy-the bridge to somewhere

sunset

sunset

It’s heartwarming to be welcomed home; to have people notice that Ann and I are more in residence in our community than we were a year ago. However, when well-meaning people inquire, “does this mean you’re retired?” something weird happens inside me that I have been sorting for months.

It may be my own outdated stereotypes of the word that are getting stirred up, but my unabridged Random House Dictionary of the English Language informs me of the following definitions: “retire; 1. To withdraw, to go away or apart from; to remove from active life,” or “retired; no longer occupied with one’s business or profession;” or “retirement, …2. Removal or withdrawal from service.”

This sure doesn’t fit what goes on around here where the work of sustaining island life is hugely augmented by volunteering and vibrant 60-70-80-year-olds—and my still volunteering and vibrant 96-year-old father!

Okay, I am 70 years old. We have publically and proudly announced passing our circle facilitation trainings to TheCircleWay.net. BUT— I am still teaching my memoir class, The Self as the Source of the Story, two times a year, along with selective mentoring with other writers. Ann Linnea, Deb Greene-Jacobi, and I are still leading our annual Cascadia wilderness quest. PeerSpirit, Inc. is still a half-time job.

writing w/ tea

writing w/ tea

Alongside remaining work commitments are family commitments, community service, gardening—writing—singing in the community choir, helping friends and neighbors in even bigger transitions than we are, and occasionally even relaxing over coffee/tea or dinner with folks we haven’t seen in way too long a time! The days do not feel “retired”—unless all this busyness IS retirement. If so, we need another word.

Boomers are trying to make a new word. “Refirement,” “rebooting,” “ruppies” (retired urban professionals)—cute, but not satisfying. I saw a man in the grocery store wearing a tee-shirt that proclaimed, “I’m retired, but I still work part-time as a pain-in-the-ass”— sort of funny, but also not the definition I’m seeking.

I feel myself on a bridge crossing from one stage of life to the next. It feels important. Not only to me, but to others in the generation of Boomers. We have been both championed and chastised for changing expectations about our lives at every stage of aging, from puberty on. The 70s decade is our last big chance to discern what remains for us to do.

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In my unwillingness to “withdraw from active life…to remove myself from service,” I am not yet certain what I expect of myself, or what the world hopes I will step into for another ten years.

When I was 21 and a junior in college, the head of the English department plucked me out of his advanced Shakespeare course and told me he thought I’d make a good English professor. I was flattered, but stunned—academia had never occurred to me. I blurted out at him (this was 1967), “I can’t do that, there’s a war on! I am more likely to be in prison by age 25 than in graduate school.”

It was a defining moment in my life: I chose the path of the outsider rather than the insider. I did not go to prison, though some of the men in my class went for draft resistance while others went into the draft. Before I was 25, I moved to California and worked for the American Friends Service Committee. I went to Europe and worked for the British Friends Service Council. I went to Gaza and Israel and worked with Quaker-based child and youth programs. I came back to the US and began figuring out how to be an activist writer. My mantra for all my work has been, “Inform-Inspire-Activate.”

I am still asking, what is my remaining life mission? I see the vibrant years of elderhood, (however long we have the health and energy to remain engaged) as an invitation to radical attention and thoughtful action.

Now, instead of getting ready to leave college for my work years as I was in 1967, it is suddenly 2016, and I am leaving my work years for my “X” years—a redefined involvement that goes deep, perhaps goes smaller in scale, and hopefully harvests my years of experience.

On this bridge to somewhere the world’s needs press around me as I contemplate my choices and I bow to the incredible privilege to have a life that supports choice. I want to stay more local, to support the next generation, to tend to the final years of our beloved parents, and the childhood years of our beloved grandchildren. I also do not feel done making contributions to the world outside my friends/family.

I am looking for what gestures I can make into the world’s need that will be most effective and impactful. I watch the events at Standing Rock, see things go by in social media, and I want to serve as a catalyst and supporter of catalysts as we go through this agonizing process of “changing our minds” about what we will tolerate and what we will save.

I vow to stay awake. I vow to listen to the pleas for justice. I will place my actions where I dare. I will use my elderhood as an opportunity for taking risk.

Join me?

Anyway you want.

Let me know your thoughts.

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Shredding & Honoring

This blog entry is dedicated to our magnificent office manager and colleague, Debbie Dix, who has been the third peer spirit in our office for 16 years, fully occupying her leadership chair.IMG_4406

 Ann Linnea and I arrived on Whidbey Island in March 1994, with two book manuscripts in progress, her two children, my first corgi, a small amount of savings and child support, and the idea that this circle process we were experimenting with was a gift we wanted to refine and offer the world. A mission actually, a sense that we had come together to deliver this gift, to make space in the world for circle. Ann rented a house for herself and her children, I house-sat up the road. I wrote the first version of Calling the Circle and tried to find a publisher interested in buying it.

A few months later, Ann’s book, Deep Water Passage, sold and the money helped us stabilize a way forward. That fall she bought a house with a little shed in back and rehabbed it into office space: 10 x 20 feet, two rooms: a back room for book storage and a mailing station, papers, files, and the growing accumulation of equipment for this work—from markers and flipchart paper to camping gear for wilderness experiences, boxes of collage materials, and three computers for our technological interface with the world.

In March 2000, Debbie Dix showed up seeking flexible work while raising her (then) toddler son and supporting her (then) high school math teacher husband. We hired her in 20 minutes and have thanked our lucky stars over and over and over. We could truthfully say, “We are a small, local educational company with global outreach.” There is a more detailed version of this progression in the preface to the book.

Twenty-two years have gone whizzing by. And now, having spent the past three years transitioning our circle training and consulting into the capable hands of dozens of colleagues and onto the new website www.thecircleway.net, we are taking the PeerSpirit office apart. (We will continue teaching writing and leading quests.)

Two four-drawer filing cabinets, six plastic storage bins of archived files, teaching scripts, remaining booklets inventory (as they are now transferred to e-booklets available on The Circle Way site and Amazon), and 20 hula-hoops used to demonstrate personal space at the rim of the circle. We are recycling all the office supplies we can. We are giving away the circle accessories we’ve accumulated on the journey. We are shredding the file contents that need to be safely discarded.

Sorting and shredding is actually quite an emotional process.

Shredding raises questions about what it means to carry a body of work that is basically invisible (the synergy of the space between people), and to let go of the documentation of that journey. There is no university archive waiting for “the circle papers.” We have little empirical evidence, just change of heart evidence.

Shredding requires that Ann, Debbie, and I handle every file, and in the midst of sentimental recollections, let it go. “Oh look, here is where we met Sarah, David, Holger, Linette…” or “Remember St. Pat’s church, 2003? The speech we gave at Brescia University?” Hundreds of consulting jobs, Circle Practica, phone notes from negotiations that seemed promising and stalled out, surprise connections: a life-time of work.

We three carry the experience and story of what it took to bring the circle into the world as we did. And as the boxes pile up, we witness that story, recite bits of it to one another, and let it go. Nobody wants all these details. Nobody but us could decode them into sense-making.

There is a moment when I wonder if we should be making a list of this history—but for whom? And why? Everyone engaged in teaching and practicing The Circle Way is accumulating their own experience and story. Circle is about interaction, not archiving.

The impact of circle will speak for itself in how lives shift. This is the great magic. We are sitting in the round. The circle pattern is called into place. A talking piece starts hand-to-hand. People speak heartfully. There is an energetic opening, often felt as a tiny “ping” in someone’s awareness. A bell rings. The group breathes, moves on. But that ping is morphing inside someone’s mind and heart. Checking out, s/he says, “I don’t know what it is about this circle stuff, but I’m going back to my office to interact differently to my staff. I going home to ask my family a meaningful question and see what happens at the dinner table.”

That’s the circle’s archive. That’s the proof.

A few weeks ago Ann took 10+ boxes to Island Recycle and put the contents through an industrial chomping machine.

 

 

 

A little love goes a long way

My friend Harriet is 86 the end of this month. She’s a member of a group of women friends who support one another’s spiritual journeys, stay in various levels of connection during busy schedules, and meet once a year for a week of council, informal conversation, great eating, hiking, and late night videos. We are women at camp in a large shared house, reflecting on where we’ve been and setting intention for the coming months.

That’s where I am this week, tucked into Willow Pond Lodge with this sisterhood. The first day is always consumed with hours of checking-in… one by one choosing what to say about how we are. As what is said in circle is confidential, I have Harriet’s permission to share this moment and her story and thoughts.

One woman had finished and self-published a novel, another had completed a first draft of her memoir; some women were busy at work, busy traveling, busy mothering and grandmothering. Harriet checked-in near the end of the round. “I don’t work anymore,” she said with a tone of contrition, “I don’t know what good I’m doing. I go down to Coffee Talk every day and just try to be friendly, make sure everyone gets a welcome as they come in the door.

“There was this young mother with a crying baby, came in for coffee. I could see she was at her wit’s end. We have a rocking chair by the fire and after a bit I convinced her it was safe to hand over the fussing child and she could just sit down and sip. Little Henry and I rocked and rocked and soon he was asleep in my arms. … She still comes in, bringing Henry, finding community.

“You know, people just need to be seen. Just need someone to look up and say hi; glad you walked into the room. Mother Teresa said the greatest disease in the world is loneliness, that if she could heal anything about being human, it would be to cure loneliness with love. I try to be like that, to bring a little love into the space around me. But I feel old. I don’t have the hearing, the energy, or the big ideas I used to. That’s all I got to say.” She passed the talking piece; we rang a chime to signify a space in the speaking.

Harriet is white-haired, vigorous, and humble. She was raised on a farm in Minnesota, worked for 3M in its early years, did graphic design and rode the wave from the drafting table to the computer, had a successful real estate career. She is the gentle matriarch to 3 children, 10 grandchildren, and 5 great-grandchildren, including a 3 year-old spitfire girl named Harriet junior. The deepest formation of Harriet senior’s character and the source of her stories, values, and wisdom remains her childhood grounding on the earth and how it helped her tap into spirituality. She carries a personal blend of Lutheranism, Catholicism, practicality and mysticism leading to the motherhood of God. And here she sat at the edge of the circle looking disappointed in herself, seemingly unsure how to take her place among other, mostly younger women, whom she assumed were doing more than she to earn their space in the scheme of things.

I asked permission to comment on her check-in and she nodded. “Harriet, you are doing exactly what the elder in the village is supposed to do! You are tending what’s right in front of you. This is the fulfillment of your days—the capacity to slow down, to see what needs to happen next, right here, right now—with the young mother, with the baby, with the barrista, with the regulars from town, with us in the circle.”

Christina and Harriet

Christina and Harriet

“Through these gestures of kindly attention offered into your daily surroundings you are a messenger of your deepest values. Every one of us who is moving faster, who is busy beyond managing, who is hooked into the necessities of technology, is counting on you being here amongst us moving at the pace of guidance and paying attention in the ways that you do.” We rang the chimes again—sat in the reverberating stillness.

In this moment Harriet saw her elder place validated and took it into her heart, and I saw my own elder place being prepared for me by Harriet and took it into my heart. Gift and magic. Sweetness among friends.