I’ve participated in small protests before, but nothing on the magnitude of the Women’s March on Washington. Shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of thousands of people on Jan. 21, it occurred to me: this is what courage looks like.
As I stood on the National Mall breathing in the view, women, men and children with placards paraded in from every direction. A bundled senior citizen in her wheelchair held a sign, “100-year-old for women’s rights.”
Chants rippled through the crowd: this is what democracy looks like. Many women I encountered shared that this was their first march ever.
A series of providential steps brought me to this moment of advocacy for dignity, inclusivity and justice at the nation’s capitol.
Last June, I participated in a WholeHeart-sponsored retreat called the “Heart of Philanthropy,” facilitated by Tara Reynolds and John Fenner.
At the time, I was working in the busy world of nonprofit fundraising, so a two-day respite to ponder my relationship to the theme of “giving and receiving” was a welcome exercise.
I had been introduced to WholeHeart in Vermont through the work of Parker Palmer and the Center for Courage and Renewal.
Their approaches to living a more integrated life resonated deeply with me. Since I can remember, I was drawn to the concept of trusting my own wisdom and aligning inner soul with outer work.
So when I arrived at the “Heart of Philanthropy” retreat, I was eager to get down to business generating new insights and directions for myself. But the reality was – I was dog-tired, more exhausted than I ever recalled.
I napped, read, journaled and participated in the circle gatherings. I became acutely aware though that my own pattern of productivity was diminishing other aspects of my life. I was not finding time for solitude, meditation, or time in nature. My health felt compromised, sleep was difficult, and anxiety had become a new companion.
A particular quote from Parker Palmer seemed to penetrate my heart that weekend: “self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others.”
I returned home and decided to implement a self-reboot. I focused on eating many more greens and vegetables, eliminated sugar intake, took a break from drinking wine, and resumed meditating, and walking my dog in the outdoors. I committed myself to reading something of spiritual substance every day to nourish my heart in these challenging times.
I also joined the Vermont Courage Cohort, facilitated by Holly Wilkinson, David Leo-Nyquist & Carol Egan, a year-long renewal experience that provides space for participants to reconnect who they are with what they do.
There are 26 of us – a doctor, teachers, nonprofit professionals, lawyers, social workers, among others – who will meet in Burlington for four retreats in the coming year. Participants come from as far away as Boston, Rochester and Ottawa.
We explore meaningful life and vocational questions with the aim of bringing more courage and wholeness into our daily lives. The group is a mix of newcomers, like me, and some veterans who have been part of the “Courage Cohort” since its beginnings in 2001.
I’ve participated in one retreat weekend thus far, so my insights are still forming. At the same time, my priorities around how I spend my days already have begun shifting. I am creating time to safeguard soul each day, allowing my inner wisdom the space it requires to shine through.
I am feeling less driven to define myself by productivity, effectiveness, and how much I’m needed by others. Of course I still value the importance of responsible work, but I am deriving meaning and value from a deeper place of identity.
And the more I nourish soul, the easier I am finding it to access the clarity necessary to take next steps regarding several life decisions.
This may sound unremarkable, but it feels quite profound. “Courage work” has helped me widen the conduit to my inner life and access more of the real me.
My meditations made it clear that I should travel to Washington and march with others for a more compassionate America. And while protesting for what you believe in is certainly courageous, I would venture to say that soul care is courage of the highest order.
Marybeth Christie Redmond is a writer-journalist who lives in Essex, Vt. She is the co-editor of “Hear Me, See Me: Incarcerated Women Write,” a compilation of the poetry and prose of Vermont’s incarcerated women.
The next WholeHeart Courage & Renewal Circle of Trust Retreat is March 15-17, 2017: Mud Season, the Messiness & Sweetness of Transitions. See Programs for details.