by Circle of Trust Facilitator Paul Michalec
When planning a
Circle of Trust ® retreat for teachers, leaders, clergy, or healthcare
professionals, I rely on two organizing principles: a theme or paradox
that is common to the work life of professionals, and connections to the
natural world. For instance, a productive summer theme is honoring
work projects that have to come to fruition after much hard labor, in
much the same way that flowers or trees come into the fullness of their
being after the dormancy of winter and the frenzied growth of spring.
Another important element of the retreat experience is inviting participants to consider the ways that a carefully selected poem, story, or musical selection (what we call a “third thing” in our work) can open new understandings into the heart of the theme we are exploring. One poem I find particularly helpful for a summer retreat is Marge Piercy’s “Seven of Pentacles.” The following line seems particularly rich with images linking the working life of a professional to harvesting the rewards of hard but fulfilling tasks: “for every gardener knows that after the digging, after the planting, after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.”
I hear in this selection an
acknowledgement (evident even more in the full poem) of the need for
professionals to consciously "tend" to the work, in part because that is
what professionals do. And I also hear Piercy’s reminder of the
importance of taking time to gather in the rewards and benefits of work
well done. I encourage you to read the poem and ask yourself the following
- What are you hoping to harvest this summer from the long year of your work?
- What kind of garden do you like to plant, tend, and grow in your professional life?
- Is the excess production from your labor a blessing because it enriches the lives of others, or is it a curse because giving it away becomes one more task to accomplish and a distraction from relaxing into summer’s gift of rest?
Let me offer an example of a recent summer experience that contains the seeds for a story about the gifts of summer and that suggests for me new ways for appreciating the seasons of my personal and professional journey.
Last week I took the bus to the airport and as we approached the terminal the bus driver pointed out a recently installed, 26 foot tall, 7 ton statue of the Egyptian god Anubis, an advertisement for an upcoming King Tut exhibit. I was taken up by the visual paradox of Anubis (the god of death) facing the airport terminal (a portal to fun, sun, and vacations), metaphorical images of winter and summer in obvious tension. I found the statue of Anubis very compelling, standing with grace and power, staff in hand, patiently waiting for the earth to tilt away from the sun and the eventual return of winter, his season of death. To me, Anubis was less a threatening presence ready to overturn the natural order of things (such as a well-deserved summer vacation), than an affirmation of the precious, but transient qualities of summer. Anubis was my attentive advisor, reminding me to fully live the gifts of summer.
I invite you to think about the winters in your personal and professional life, as a gateway to naming and attending to the elements of summer you are most attracted to. For me, Anubis was quite busy in my recent professional winter as I’ve experienced significant changes in the nature and quality of my work. But now that summer is here I’m finding great pleasure in paying close attention to the qualities and characteristics of the fruits of my labor, elements I’ll want to recreate in future projects. Summer provides me the opportunity to let go of old projects, breathe deeply, take note of my successes, and begin living into the next phase of my professional journey.
I’m confident that if I use the gift of summer rejuvenation effectively, I will move in professional directions that are consistent with the gifts of my inner teacher. I also know that if I get too complacent in the drowsy, fulfilling nature of summer and forget to take stock of my learnings, I can always drive to the airport where Anubis will surely remind me of the importance of gleaning all of my summer harvest… because as Mary Oliver writes in her poem “The Summer Day,” “Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
What are you planning on doing with your one wild and precious summer?