Sunday, February 10, 2008

Pendle Hill Update...

To my friends in the blog-o-sphere...It's just over half-way through my time at Pendle Hill, and I'm posting an update I sent out to some folks via email. I'm hoping to post more often on my blog these days -- a task made easier by finally having internet access on my hall. I've got to be careful though -- it's too easy to get lose time on the web...

Enjoy, and see you soon!

Dear Friends,

I’ve been wanting to write and say hello to you all for quite a while now; what I’ve been experiencing is that when going through an intense, challenging, and ultimately wonderful experience, it’s sometimes hard to gain enough distance to create a semi-cohesive narrative. So here I am, in term two, ready to report back to the base-station – the amazing community of folks who lovingly sent me off on my adventure at Pendle Hill.

I want to say THANK-YOU to each of you who took the time to send me your great good wishes upon my leaving CDS. Though my time at Pendle Hill has definitely affirmed that I made the right decision to move on to a new opportunity, the emails that were sent in response to my announcement made a HUGE difference as I took the leap into the unknown.

Now that my second term at Pendle Hill has settled into a routine, I’m excited to report that I could not have imagined the transformation(s) I would experience in such a relatively short period of time. I think part of it was that I was ready to jump in – though I’ve experienced some serious resistance to change (the worst patterns are both unbearable and somehow comfortable), the amazing thing is that I have the time and support to observe of what is happening – of patterns of thinking and behavior, of reactions to people and circumstances. I can’t even begin to tell you what a gift it is to have time to be mindful and then to process my observations.

Other resident students at Pendle Hill include a Methodist minister; a Unitarian minister; a former development officer (who raised 8 million dollars for her last project with the Philadelphia parks system); a 20-year old from Kenya, a shaman/healer/Quaker; an environmentalist with the email address “;” a youth advocate from Rwanda; and a Southern Belle who attempts to mother us all and teaches sacred chanting and dancing…it’s a pretty amazing group of people.

Another thing about living in community is that if someone drives you nuts, there’s no escaping him or her. So there is ample opportunity to explore the idea that what you find most frustrating in others is also what you need to work on in yourself (or at least take the time to understand why a particular behavior makes you so nutty). But for the most part, I deeply value the experience of being in community. It helps a lot with my tendency to isolate when I’m having a rough time – if I want to eat, I can only spend so much time in my dorm room without having to walk over to the dining hall. And I feel safe here, with many folks who are in similar spaces with regard to life transitions and emotional and spiritual growth.

At Pendle Hill, we have the Quaker meeting for worship every morning, meeting for business, and in the fall, our class of students collectively coined the term “meeting for napping.” There is something about deep change that is just exhausting, a kind of spiritual narcolepsy. When I first arrived, it was my goal to find a favorite place on campus where I could go and write. A few weeks into term, I realized I had three favorite napping placing, but still hadn’t picked out the right place to sit down with my computer and write. (FYI, my favorite place to write is in the art studio – generally, my favorite place to be for everything.)

I took two courses in the fall term. “Grounded in the Spirit, Acting in the World,” explored the connections between spirituality and social justice. I’m looking forward to working further with Niyonu Spann, the course instructor and former dean of Pendle Hill. Her approach to diversity work is exciting. Niyonu invited me to participate in her “Beyond Diversity 101” course this spring, and to work towards being a part of the team of trainers who deliver the program. (Here is an essay by Niyonu that explores her philosophy.)

My second course last term was called “Spirit Taking Form: Clay and Stone as Spiritual Grounding.” Let me be clear: I love working in clay. It’s muddy and messy. It’s extremely tactile. And until you fire it, it’s completely recyclable. As a way of shifting back into a creative life, it is the perfect medium – and because I’d never really experimented with clay before, my self-judgment quotient was exceptionally low.

What has emerged from several aspects of my Pendle Hill experience is a collection of work I’m calling “The Belly Project.” The short explanation of the project is that I’m making plaster casts of bellys (including my own) and then using the casts to make clay sculptures. The glazing/designs of the final products are determined in collaboration with the belly owner. I’m also interviewing folks about their bellys – I’ve found that bellys are a topic lots of people want to talk about.

I’m INCREDIBLY excited to report that my “belly” work will be on display in the main gallery of Pendle Hill from mid-April to July. It’s great to have a space and deadline for the project, and it feels good to me to further ground my identity as a “community-based, mixed media, conceptual artist” (my working title!).

So – this term I’m taking courses on the Psalms, one on different forms of prayer, and one called “In the Beginning Was the Word: Looking Again at Religious Language; Seeking a Powerful Faith,” which is confusing to explain (as the title might suggest) but taught by an excellent instructor. All of these courses, and my (almost daily) attendance at meeting for worship are deepening my faith in God. God feels present to me, less a special occasion visitor, and more like a frequent (and welcome) companion. Which is good, because I feel I’m being asked to stretch myself, and open myself, to possibilities I could not have previously imagined.

More prosaically, I’m continuing my role as a Pendle Hill hospitality queen (working at the welcome desk), which still involves a start-time of 6:30 a.m. a couple of days a week. The community ethic of shared work, viewing service as a holy act, and the environmental philosophy (most of the “waste” at Pendle Hill goes to recycling, composting, or the chickens) both enable Pendle Hill to function and provides a deeply grounding community experience – kind of a sweat-based spirituality. One of my favorite jobs is hauling and spreading woodchips (donated by a local lumber company) on the walking trail; having walked on the path many times, I know how much enjoyment is existence and tidy upkeep gives residents and visitors alike (I know this is sooo geeky, but it’s true.)

After this initial update to y’all, I plan to start updating my blog “Bipolar Girl Rules the World on a regular basis. (Speaking of which, Bipolar Girl the documentary is still in the works!) And I’ve messed around with a website to share of my photography and other creative pursuits – you can find my artist statement for “The Belly Project” here.

It’s also been wonderful to have a chance to reflect on the richness of my home community. I miss being around friends and family – and my dog Kacey, who is being cared for expertly by my sainted parents.

To sum up, I’m wildly grateful. It’s amazing when I contemplate what might happen during the remainder of my time here at Pendle Hill.

Thank you for being part of my journey!


1 comment:

Julia said...

Dear Dawn,
I came across this and was remembering sitting with you in the dining room at PH. You said something about how incredibly difficult it had been for you to get out of bed some days. And I was thinking, "Wow, I knew that happened but I never thought I would hear someone say it out loud!" I was 21 at the time and everyone I knew with mental illness was pretending they didn't have it.

So I wanted to thank you for being out there about it. I'm a social worker now, so I hear a lot of first-person accounts of mental illness, and I read clinical documents about it, but it's rare that I read a first-person account that gets the moment-by-moment feeling. My dips into depression haven't been as deep or long as yours, and if I'm going to try to help other people it helps to get as many tastes as I can for what it feels like to other people.

Thank you.