Taking Up Space

Dancing at Village Harmony Camp in Vermont, 2014

Dancing at Village Harmony Camp in Vermont, 2014

Today has been one big reflection on the past year. For me, this brings nostalgia and some regrets too. It started with me looking through my photo files on my computer, which I was only doing because I found a was running out of space on my phone, due to the 400 photos I was storing on it! When I finally have time to myself, one thing always leads to another and before I knew it, I was feeling tearful about all that has occurred in my life during the past, oh. . . say. . . 35 years!

In August of 2014 I was in Quebec, Canada with someone I hardly knew, meeting new French-speaking friends at a week-long singing class (in French! I don’t speak French). We continued on to Vermont, to meet up with friends I had made earlier that summer at a singing camp in Oregon. Singing is what we had in common and it was this that brought us all freedom. In Quebec, our small class took instruction from Frank Kane, vocal teacher extraordinaire.

During the week in Quebec, I learned a surprising amount, despite my lack of French and probably because I am surprisingly good at reading body language. I found that by watching, I could pick up the main idea of what was going on. All of us sang in the Georgian language, which was unfamiliar to us all, and which is easy to pronounce because it is phonetic. Frank Kane worked with all of us as individuals and as small groups. He gently encouraged us to participate in the various activities–some of which required quite a bit of bravery for this introvert! We sang with heads next to others’ heads to feel vibrations, to sing with one leg in the air behind us and one arm stretched out in front to create asymmetry.

At one point, late in the week, I sang with a group of two others: the three of us creating close harmony and feeling the sound waves vibrating between us as we stood in the center of the circle. Frank’s comment to me was this: “Jaqui, your voice is lovely. People would come to hear it–they might pay to hear it even. But I’m wondering when we might hear the other 85% of your energy come through.” I remember this striking an immediate cord with me because it is exactly how I had come to view the way of living I’d been participating in for the past 15 years.

Before taking this class with Frank Kane, I’d decided I was only taking up a very small corner of the dance floor of my life; I was determined to change that. And this is what took me to Quebec with someone I hardly knew, in order to take a class in a language I didn’t know before traveling on to Vermont to reunite with new friends. Frank’s observation seemed like an further epiphany to me and an apt metaphor for how I wanted to spend the rest of my life: using up all 100% of my energy to express what I think and feel to those around me.

What I’m learning is that when one expresses oneself in this way (100%), one is going to have to learn to deal with conflict, which is not something this introvert, Mennonite-raised girl knows much about because I’ve become good at skirting around conflict for most of my life. So regrets? Yes, quite a few. Nostalgia? Yes for those times when I felt free and welcome even to be myself. I’m not sure I’m taking up any more space on the dance floor, but I think so. How’s that for starters?

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Gather In the Silent Spaces

As a second language teacher, I am constantly learning about the nuances of interpersonal communication and have come to conclusions about our universal needs as people when it comes to understanding each other and being understood. In order to communicate, we need to be open to speak up about those things that bother us as they arise in daily life; we also need to be open to hear how our actions affect others.

I have always been acutely aware of my own weaknesses–much more so than my own strengths–which sometimes makes communication challenging because I am apt to blame myself for communication errors, even when other factors might need to be considered. This is perceived as a weakness (and it is indeed a weakness when no personal strengths are remembered). Through my conversations with others from around the world, I have learned that I am not alone in this dilemma. Speaking up about my personal needs is a challenge due to these tendencies. I am learning how to be vigilant about; an exhausting but worthy challenge.

As a “feeling” person according to the Myers-Briggs personality test, I am usually hyper-aware of what others are feeling, or might be feeling and I often have to stop myself from guessing or predicting their needs and desires before they are spoken. This can be a strength because I am usually in tune with others and this causes them to feel welcomed in whatever setting we happen to be. The above dilemma–that of hesitating to speak up about my own feelings–stems, at least in part, from the fact that I read others’ feelings automatically; a part of me, I think, expects others to read mine just as easily.

Due to my hyper-awareness of others’ possible feelings and my sensitivity to my own weaknesses, I find that sometimes those who care about me are hesitant to tell me what they really think–as if I am too fragile to take in the truth or accept any responsibility. In truth, I am the opposite of fragile or weak. Life has brought me through so many unusual challenges that I have developed a deep resiliency that I know will carry me through the rest of my life, whatever it brings.

Though I know my own strength, I still struggle to proclaim it and though I know I am strong and resilient, I still am described by some as weak and fragile. My own personality acts as a barrier against open communication between myself and those I care most about, so I am working to change both the way I listen to others’ verbal communication and the way I communicate with them

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Clearing the Path

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Today I am thinking about this time in my life, right now. I am currently experiencing tremendous personal growth and it’s taking a lot of work. It’s exhausting in fact. It would be so much easier to just stay by myself and not struggle with learning about others’ needs and habits. Last night a friend used the word ‘fragile’ to describe me again. My immediate reaction was anger and frustration because this word goes against everything I’ve been striving against for the past few years. As a matter of fact, I know myself to be the opposite of fragile and here is one who has known me for a short time recognizing something in me that I don’t want to recognize.

It’s true, I am sensitive. I am a ‘feeling’ on the Myers-Briggs scale and this has always meant that I have to catch myself as I begin to analyze what others might be thinking or feeling, since I can’t really know that for sure. And I am vulnerable. Becoming more vulnerable over the past few years has improved my life because I know myself to be more authentic as a human being and I like myself this way. I don’t have to cover my tracks or pretend to be anything other than what I am. This has helped me remove obstacles from my path that, in the past, built up walls between myself and others. Little things began turning into big things since I tried to hide the fact that they bothered me even a little bit.

Now I am trying to live in such a way that I address those things as they come up and let my feelings be known in a more gentle but direct way. I am trying to let the river of kindness between myself and others to flow freely instead of being stopped or dammed by the small stones that collectively prevent that river from flowing.

Green Again

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In order to be green again, sometimes aggressive pruning of a plant is required. I know this from my days of working on landscapes with my husband. In various flowerbeds, we worked to prune away the dead stalks and limbs of flowers and native shrubs. Lavender continues to be one of my favorite plants to harvest and prune because with one sweep of the scythe, I can both cut the perfectly regular flower stems and prune it for easy growth the next season. If I do this carefully and time things right, I can sometimes gather two batches of lavender each season. The plant loves sun and as soon as I cut the first batch, it begins its slow reach toward new light.

In the winter, the bare branches of the cut lavender stalks sit–brown and dry. The plant appears dead.

But it’s not! As soon as the sun heats our part of the world again, green shoots reach out–searching for light.

This is the way of our lives. Having undergone an intense pruning, I’m eager to reach toward the incandescence of the sun again.

 

Green Again

j. eicher 2015

Long wisps of tendrils stretch toward the sun,

Reaching for that which every living thing requires:

Undying, persistent incandescence.

Reaching, they search for a more complete contact

with the source of all that lives and grows

and hopes to be green again.

Graffiti

Today in a discussion about the definition of graffiti and whether it is ever justified, I learned that I think of tattoos as graffiti. And furthermore, that I think tattoos (as graffiti) are justified when they convey a positive message which everyone can understand.

I have two tattoos: one that I never see and one (which remains unfinished) that I see every day. I’ve spent many  hours trying to analyze why I went to the trouble and distress of getting them and have finally reached a conclusion–I needed to convey an outward message to the world about what was going on inside of me.

My first tattoo–a dragonfly between my shoulder blades–signifies flight, an open book (this is one name for a type of dragonfly whose wings look so much like an open book, it’s name is Libella, Latin for ‘pages’), and a crucifix. I survived the tattoo process by myself, surprised a few people (including myself) and then forgot about the whole thing. This tattoo marks the beginning of a long, painful process of surviving the loss of love. My husband of 15 years and I were growing apart and I didn’t know what to do about it. Nothing I tried seemed to work. The dragonfly symbolized the most sacred aspects of myself; how I wanted to live my life.

My second tattoo–a fern frond unfurling as it grows across the top of my foot–signifies growth. It’s ironic that the tattoo remains unfinished (no one told me how incredibly painful it is to experience tiny needle points on your foot where there is no flesh, only skin and bone) because my growth is also unfinished. Some days, my friend and I say we are taking a sabbatical from personal growth, but that’s a joke of course–that would be impossible! The pain of getting this tattoo matches the extreme pain of personal growth sometimes. This one marks my decision to live a more authentic life that honors what I hold most sacred and gives it ample space in my life; a life that was being overcrowded with external values and demands.

This graffiti on my body acts as a message to me: remember who you are Jaqui, because you are valuable and, in fact, sacred. Hopefully the tattoos are a positive message that can be conveyed to others, especially when people around me ask about them. I am always happy to talk about them, even though they remind me of challenging times in my life.