Don’t Be Afraid of Silence

Don't Be Afraid
Photo Credit: Flickr User thamimzy (Creative Commons)

There are not many times where silence is completely accepted in our society. We are people conditioned for constant movement and busy-work, for fast-paced progressions forward. While in certain situations this work is needed and vital, we also need to rest in the contemplative silence of reflection. This is not something many people tend to like, however.

Parents fear quiet car rides with their children, teachers dislike a silent lack of participation in their classrooms, and dinner hosts work to prevent the uncomfortable absence of conversation among their party guests.

Unsurprisingly, I think, I don’t mind silence. It is in this state that I choose to spend much of my time through a combination of still-lingering shyness and always-present, college-induced sleepiness. I like to settle into new spaces and new people and observe without impacting those things with my input until I have familiarized my words with the life of the place or the relationship.

As such, I suppose it makes sense that I love this time of the year, the week in-between festivities, when the hype of celebrating has, to a certain extent, died down. It is the comfortable silence after a meal shared in love, when everyone is too filled with food and happiness to be concerned with conversation.

It is the reflective space in which we remember what we care about and what matters in the busy times, where we can see the reality of what we find important.

It is here that I see the love of my family more clearly, the love that I sometimes cannot see as fully due to the cloudy nature of the daily immediacy of life.

It is here that I let myself feel the full reality of missing loved ones. In the busyness of celebrating, we may push aside the emotions that spring up during the holidays, the moments that remind us of the people we love that are not there anymore. We must embrace these memories, no matter how heart-breaking, that let us feel love beyond time-constraints.

It is here, the morning after a daily filled with hugs and love and well-wishing texts from friends far away that I can let the emotions behind those acts sink in further.

I am blessed–even, dare I say it, #blessed.

In this silence we can come to the full reality of who and what we care about and who cares about us.

The silence of the present is worth so much more than the stress and busyness off the Next Great Thing to Be Worried About. Embrace it.

On List-Making and Study Abroad

HELLO

When I was 12, I made two important lists. The first was a list of possible subjects I could major in in college. While it included a great array of subjects, including such majors as Criminology, Whatever-Could-Get-Me-A-Job-With-The-FBI, and Art History, English was always at the top.

(This just serves to further prove the point that I have changed relatively little since middle school.)

The second was a list of places I wanted to travel to in my lifetime. It was written in pencil on wide-ruled loose leaf and took up both the front and the back of four separate sheets. I remember looking at the world map that hung on my wall and tracing my finger along the surface, charting possible road trips and flight routes, finding cities and towns on coasts and inlands with names I had to double check to spell correctly. I constructed this list thoughtfully and methodically, starting in the United States and extending southward, then beyond.

I found cities I’d never heard of before and cities I’d heard of extensively. My little knowledge of the world and its resources drew me to a world that existed only stories I’d read, stories I loved but couldn’t enter fully. On this map I located cities I’d read about in the novels of my middle school years. I dreamed of Oaxaca celebrating La Noche de Rábanos like in Esperanza Rising, of Athens, of the England that was hiding Camelot somewhere. I dreamed of Baghdad and her House of Wisdom before I knew the impact of the bombings. I collected countries like some collect book series or baseball cards, working my way around the world in a stationary search for meaning and answers.

As the study abroad experience that I’ve spent years dreaming of draws closer, I feel drawn to make another list of the places I want to visit whilst abroad. (Mostly because I really like making lists, especially on Post-It Notes). I’m trying quite hard to stop myself, however.

A few weeks ago, I read an article about being a traveler, not a tourist. In it, author Lauren Barth discussed the idea of being true to your own interests and intentions when traveling, which involves not traveling with a checklist of places to go and things to see. It means listening deeply to the sounds of the person wrapped up in your skin and letting your travels emerge from what you understand within.

In recent months, I’ve tended to prefer the Snapchat story version of life – the version that welcomes us into the life of a city or the intimate moments of a celebration, introducing us to people we will likely never come to meet. I’m biased towards good things, towards friendship and tender moments wrapped in laughter. These stories come to me in a language I understand, though my brain is not yet trained to hear meaning in the words themselves.

These are the stories that I am looking for during my travels abroad, but are not a checklist in and of themselves. Beyond this, I aim to keep my heart and weekends adaptable, fluid and changeable, open to experiences as they present themselves before me. By doing this, I hope to find the poetry of life in friends and companionship, wherever they may be found.

Why We Need to Challenge Ourselves to Plan Less

I like to challenge myself.

This means that I tend to be fairly critical of myself, for “challenge” inherently implies a lack of something and a consequential desire for improvement. I like pushing myself to do more and be more.

I like filled-up planners, back-to-back commitments, and late night coffee runs. I like feeling that I am doing something and that hopefully that “something” is important and worthwhile. I like looking back on the week and thinking about crossed-off “To Do” lists, plans established and put into motion, and activities attended.

I work to quell the loneliness that I feel sometimes, the loneliness that comes from growing up and out of yourself. I work to secure a future that I cannot quite grasp yet.

As a result, I sometimes cut the people and things that I love out of my life. I cut out writing until my fingertips cannot remember the sound of my soul whispering to them in the nighttime.  I let friends drift away, caught up in the minute of living and working. I no longer can fall asleep before 2 a.m., as my body has adjusted to a kind of sleep that is giving in to exhaustion at the last possible moment. I forget how to have interests outside of working and preparing for the end of the semester.

Because of this, I forget that the best parts of life happen when we are not planning for them. They exist outside the realm of schedules and list-making, in the spaces where life becomes incandescent with possibilities.

They are new laughs with old friends.

They are the conversations that build new friendships that we don’t anticipate.

They are spontaneous trips home.

They are the meditative solitude needed to reconnect ourselves to the way the world spins when we spend too much time consumed by our own minds.

They are the books we read for ourselves when we need something to believe in again.

They are the times we spend becoming informed about what matters to others and to ourselves and staying awake in the midst of them, for being informed is a basic form of caring.

These instances require that we put down our phones if we can, take a moment to collect ourselves, breathe and readjust to a world worth loving with intention.

They allow us to remove the barriers that we put between ourselves and what surrounds us—barriers of fear and insecurities, past worries and future anxieties, indifference and ignorance.

These moments remind me of what a sister at the convent I work at told me over the summer: that the most important thing we can give people is our attention. She said this with a smile in the busy half hour before dinner started, showing me that the miracles that touch your heart will sneak up and beg you to reflect in the midst of the busy immediacy of other tasks.

I think about these words almost every day. They require that I simply exist more often in the little, unplanned moments. They show me that the best thing I can do for you, dear world, is to keep my eyes open and my heart adaptable.

What are you not planning for?

With love,

Jenna

A New Kind of Gratitude

When I was seven, my mom decided that I would start a Gratitude Journal. Each day, I would make an entry in the journal of at least three things that I was thankful for that day.

Before you get too carried away with what a wonderfully kind person I was at the tender age of seven, let me clarify something: I hated writing in this journal. I felt that I never had anything new to write about, as each day I was thankful for similar things.

I am thankful for…

  1. My family
  2. My friends
  3. Books or having enough to eat or that I didn’t get in trouble or that Lizzie McGuire was on

    IMG_0251
    Ahh, past self. You were so original and insightful.

This, I think, defeats the purpose of a Gratitude Journal.

While I certainly should be—and am—grateful for all of these people and things and early 2000s Disney Channel television programs, it shows a gratitude that is stuck in the repetition of the everyday.

As time has gone on, I have come to a new understanding of what it means to show gratitude and be intrinsically thankful for the wondrous gift of living and loving and being loved. Thankfulness is about acknowledging the goodness in your life, as well as the healing or helpful benefits of the badness. It means seeing beyond the everydayness and connecting day-to-day events and people to some greater or more meaningful purpose.

True gratitude requires that we let our love for the people and things that mean the most to us seep into our lives. It should push us to see beyond routine, connecting the small daily moments that matter to the greater story our lives will tell.

This idea brings me to a conversation that I had with a friend of mine a week ago. We were talking about the need to find adventures in our lives, to see more out of life and living than we sometimes do.

From this, I had the idea for a new kind of gratitude journal: my Daily Adventures Challenge, originally titled “Life’s An Adventure with Its Title Still Pending” Challenge. In this challenge, I aim to commit to finding, and sharing, an adventure that I have every day. This kind of gratitude will, I hope, bring me to a greater awareness of the beauty of each day and of the lives we are compelled to live in deepest gratitude, and help me to live out a bit of that Thanksgiving spirit throughout the year.

Jenna's
Dragonfly graphic by Maggie Atkinson with The Noun Project

I’ll be sharing the adventure that I’m grateful for each day on my Twitter account, so follow me there for all of the updates and shenanigans.

Do you want to join me? What adventures are you thankful for?

Jenna

Prayers for Paris

Prayers for Paris

Recent events in Paris have shaken us all.

We live in a world that is filled with almost constant misunderstanding, violence and tragedy. Our news is heart-breaking and filled with turmoil. It may seem so easy to turn our eyes away from Paris, or to see this as only the latest in a trend of cruelty that humans can inflict on each other.

We must remember, first, to let our hearts feel as hearts should feel. We must not become immune to violence and injustice, regardless of how often they may occur or how removed from our lives they may seem at the moment. It is a privilege to be able to look away from violence and to stand unaffected, and one that we should not take advantage of.

As we respond to tragedy, it can be easy to give in to anger and hatred and fear. While we must certainly mourn the loss of these, our innocent sisters and brothers who have been killed in the attacks, we must not give in to that same spirit of misunderstanding, ignorance, and fear that instigated them.

We must first remember the victims and their families. We must pray to God however we see God, and in this way we can send love and kindness into a world so in need of healing. We must then shift our own thinking to identify more with those with whom we share this earth than with the labels we build like prison walls between ourselves. We must speak up in the face of injustice, violence, and fear-mongering. In doing so, we acknowledge that our words can only be used to heal or hurt, and our silence in these critical moments does nothing but propagate that hurt.

We cannot control the actions of others, but we can choose how to respond to circumstances as we see them. We must choose the path of love and peace, the path that draws us closer together in our shared humanness, in the midst of a world that sometimes seems set on the path of violence and fear. We are more than violence and fear.

We are love and togetherness. We are more than the walls between us. We are peace made manifest, and we will not be silenced.

My thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by these attacks—those harmed and those doing the hurting. May we find the courage to both mourn as we must and forgive as we must.

Here’s to keeping our eyes open,

Jenna

Why I Prefer to Be Called Naive

Over time, I have come to realize a great many things about myself.

I have realized that, despite my over-sensitivity to caffeine, I will still drink more coffee than I should.

I have realized that, if I like a song, I will listen to it so many times in a row that I will ruin it for myself in a day or two, and probably never listen to it willingly again.

I have realized that I like making lists more than I like completing them.

I have realized that my favorite way to spend an evening is in whole-hearted conversation with myself or someone else.

I have realized that I hide behind my schedule and commitments as a way to keep my inherent self protected from the subtle ways reality picks apart a soul.

I have realized that I tend towards reactionary actions instead of revolutionary ones.

I have realized that I’m not so great at technology, and may very well forget to check my phone or text you back.

Of late, however, I have also become especially aware of the way I sometimes appear slightly gullible to others.

I have a tendency to err towards naiveté and active avoidance of reality. My parents sometimes tell me that they worry about me, that I am too over-trusting, that I could get hurt. I let smiles and corny jokes convince others that I am unaware of the specifics of a situation. I have less of the street sense I have not been made to develop. My desire to see the good in people sets me up for disappointment and the potential for hurt.

Recently, I have come to terms with this particular trait of mine. It is something that I am strongly in tune with, and don’t intend upon letting go of any time soon.

And here’s why: the alternative is not an option.

I refuse to let my heart grow cold and cynical in the passage of time. I will not let myself become jaded in the face of a life worth living.

The opposite of over-trusting is constant skepticism, a general push to not accept things as they have been presented to me. While I am a big believer in the concept of asking questions and coming to terms with reality for oneself, I am also incredibly interested in the lives we can lead while wrapped in the warmth of trust and companionship.

I always want to believe that there is more goodness in the world than cruelty, more laughter than sadness, more love and compassion than ignorance and hate.

This does not mean that I will be taken advantage of or that I will be easily swayed. My quiet trust is a promise and a responsibility that I impart upon you, and that I urge you to coincide with.

In the process of living life this way, I have come to many more realizations.

I have realized that life is more magical when we spend it laughing.

I have realized that the things that divide us say more about our own unwillingness to see the good in others than about them or the difference itself.

I have realized is that we are much more similar than we pretend to be. While our uniqueness and inherent diversity is something to be celebrated and embraced with the love that it deserves, the ways we connect to people show the depth of our humanity, the constant desire to form relationships, to love deeply, and be loved for our inherent selves.

If this is naïve of me, feel free to think so. I’ll continue reflecting on our inherent goodness and trusting too much.

Image source.

A Moment of Crossroads: Our Important Choice

2015-10-06 00.23.08
The Standish Library at Siena College. Image mine.

Earlier today, I was sitting on the second floor of the library while doing some homework. As per usual, I was not as focused on my reading as I ideally should have been. The difference today was that something specific caught my attention, and I could not help but muse over the metaphorical resonances of the situation at hand. (Suffice to say, I put the “pro” in procrastination.)

I noticed that the entire front of the second floor of the Standish Library at Siena is a succession of windows. If you sit at a table near those windows, you are able to view the whole of the quad while likely dreaming of less commitments and the ability to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors.

Today, however, the blinds were pulled down over the windows, barring the gorgeous autumn afternoon sun from sharing in my momentary academic suffering, forcing the fluorescent lights of the inner library to guide my quest for knowledge.

Unable to use the glimmer of an outside freedom to help me with my preferred procrastination, I turned inwards, towards the inner life of the library, towards the wall that runs parallel to the windows. This wall is the location of the Yates Art Gallery, which features a different artist’s work at several points throughout the year. The paintings there now are all intricate landscapes in oil paint, featuring a selection of the many lovely scenes of nature that this world contains.

It could be, and probably is, the influence of the Religion and the Environment course that I’m currently taking, but I could not help but notice the very obvious juxtaposition of this situation. I sat between these two extremes: a beautiful outdoors I have closed my heart from experiencing fully, and a charming but insufficient artistic alternative.

My life, it seems, is spent more in folly and indoors. I close myself off from taking part in the world that is me, that I am a part of and that I want to adore more fully. I spend my days wrapping my heart and body in blankets pieced and sewn by hands I’ve never met. I keep myself separate, fashioning myself into an individual worthy of uniqueness in social media profiles and to casual passers-by. I join clubs, get jobs and meet the necessary people to set me apart from the crowd, to grow more specialized, to make my resume pop. I value life as either Mine or That Which Is Not Mine And Therefore Not My Concern. I huddle into suburban corners, separate cars, and unspoken agreements of assigned classroom seating.

I forget the communities that I love, that I identify with, that I help to make up and that help to make up me. I falsely believe that my life and my identity is something that I have control over. I even more falsely believe that my existence is something that happens in a proverbial bubble, and forget that the experiences of those I have never and may never meet are intrinsically tied to my own humanness, and mine to theirs. I argue that the natural world is not me, that I am separate, distinct, above and transcendent to the world from which I hide myself and my homework.

I am, and you are, and every tree and microorganism and sheet of paper and house pet and tiger shark is, connected in a real way that transcends species boundaries and political, geographical and religious divisions. We interact in an intrinsically codependent way that speaks to the very essence of not only what it means to be human, but what it means to exist on this earth, in this universe, at this exact moment in time.  

As it so often seems, we are living in a moment of crossroads. We can choose between the stoically beautiful scene of nature as separate and indifferent to us, or we can choose to become more aware of our connection to the greater workings of a world we are a part of, a world that makes us who we are. We can turn inwards to a false reality that cannot sustain us, or outwards to a life that connects us with the spinning of creation.

Which will you choose?