I knew I was missing teaching. The whole dynamic of observing someone and offering something that might be of help is just so ingrained in me. I began teaching swimming to non-swimmers at a 4-H summer camp when I was 14 years old. And began my training as a Montessori teacher at 22. After 10 years of teaching in schools and summer camps, I went to massage school and was teaching massage for trauma by the time I graduated. So this sabbatical time of not teaching has been restful. But once all the naps were taken and I began to feel restless and longing for traveling, I just got this itch. I needed to teach something, even just a little.
We had driven to Keene, New Hampshire for Marshall to choose new glasses frames. I was sitting waiting impatiently as I so often do. I really shouldn’t be allowed to be bored. I turn into one of those kids at the back of the bus up to no good. I was watching a mother and daughter trying on new frames, asking each other how do these look. The daughter found a pair she really liked, put them on, and asked her mom- how do these look? I said, “I don’t like them. You have very beautiful eyes and the frame should surround your eye socket to frame your eyes and those frames just block us from seeing you and your beautiful eyes. Try that round pair.” They both looked at me dumbfounded. Then the mother said, “John Calvi! I’d know that voice anywhere. I’ve taken workshops with you at 3 different Quaker meetings.”
I was lost in a large supermarket looking for something I couldn’t find and not sure what I would substitute for this recipe. I was also feeling a bit lost on one of those gray days when you wake up and not sure what you are doing in your life and one seems neither as cute or smart as yesterday and what disaster might be on it’s way coming and I don’t feel well but maybe I’m just worried but not sure what about kind of days. That’s when a woman made her way up to me in my befuddleness and said, “I know this is not the place to say this but I just want to say that your work with me all those years ago saved my life and I will be ever grateful to you for your gifts in healing work.” It was a balm to my unsteadiness.
Sometimes when one is lifted out of the water, there is no sense of place or purpose. I’ve had some of that this sabbatical. I’ll be out into the day and with free time I might get to worrying what am I doing with myself and my life. Sometimes this comes in a voice of doubt and impatience, which completely ignores all I’ve been doing. It helps to remind myself of another time- I was exhausted and resting at Pendle Hill the Spring term of 1990. I had traveled to teach to 30 groups in one year and helped several friends with AIDS to die. I was really pooped. And by and by as I rested but had no work of my usual healing trauma topic to tend to, I came to wondering who I was and what was I doing and where had gravity gone now that I had stepped out of my work harness. I was feeling particularly lost one day when someone said to me in passing, “I didn’t know you wrote that wonderful song. That’s great”, she said with a big smile. “Yes”, I said trying to be casual, “I was so happy when Meg Christian recorded it.” “What?” she said, “I was talking about A Little Gracefulness by the Short Sisters. What song did Meg do of yours?” “The Ones Who Aren’t Here”, I said. Now she had big tears in her eyes and said, “You wrote that?! That is my most favorite song ever!” It was just the little boost I needed to remind me who I was amidst my drifting.
Of the many wonderful aspects of sabbatical- unscheduled time, release from duties, self-care- I find the most luxurious to be time and space within my own mind to wonder. Maybe I am waking up late or stacking firewood or driving to visit a friend. As I leave the patterns of work and over-work and choose more simple tasks, there is a softening of focus. Instead of keeping track of multiple projects and keeping a hard focus on sequence, information, and quality of mind and touch- I am doing some physical motion simple enough to allow ideas and thoughts to come and go as my mind wanders. And the longer this becomes the new practice, the better I am at noticing when something important comes along or some thought is just a delight and a lift to my being, just being. As I wonder about my life, how’d I come here to this now, what is it I know and understand, and what are the parts I haven’t a clue of and might I know more than I think I do- all safely wondered and gazed at in slow motion. And in some wonderful quiet and still moments comes news of what I now can understand of some knot that has been tied tightly for so long. It’s as though a deep breath has come at last to the thirsty lung.
Chief among the sabbatical luxuries is solitude. I have always, all my life, needed more time to myself than anyone I know. It’s difficult to explain. Often it feels as though my clearest sense what I am feeling isn’t possible until there is no one else around- as though others feelings clog my radar until what is mine is unclear. I did not consciously learn the discipline of solitude as a pragmatic professional and spiritual practice for someone of my gifts until I was in my 30’s. And then what might be possible unfolded in bright colors after years of yearning for goodness knows what. What was all this feeling and sensitivity for? Why could I feel where the trouble was in the room or in one person’s body? Why did I know the questions to help sort out confusion and pain but was too shy to speak or believe I might know something?
As sabbatical has gone on I’ve grown used to the vast luxury of time and not pushing. It feels like the rest of a lifetime, an island of calm I only dreamed of. Part of me wants to live here as a contemplative and live in the quiet. An equal part of me wants to use this immense gift of time and restoration to reenter the fray of trauma and torture work. I will have to toss the salad carefully in the future as these are not opposites within me but rather dancing partners needing each other for balance. The quiet and stillness and wonder and solitude bring all my best self, all my strength, and all my learning forward. And the work moves all the learning and readiness into a dance. The task again and again is to be graceful. Not to stay at rest nor to live solely in work but to have each refresh and inform the other in every cycle, at all levels.
How odd to understand this now when maybe half my working years are done. On the one hand my mentors gave me just what I needed all along the way. On the other hand, I spent the first 18 years surviving and didn’t begin to inventory the damage and wash the wounds until later. Like each of us, I am right on time- no matter how much in my impatience I would like it to be different.