Scholars…monks…leaders…seekers…creators…poets and artists! Tucked away on Lake Lily in Maitland, a group of faculty, staff and community members joined together on Friday, February 15 and Saturday, February 16, 2013 for a workshop to continue conversations about peace and justice.
This annual event, coordinated by the Peace and Justice Initiative (PJI), was led by Elaine Sullivan, nationally acclaimed facilitator and speaker from the Center for Renewal and Wholeness in Higher Education. Elaine has consistently supported and provided guidance from the beginnings of Valencia’s Peace and Justice Initiative. Her spirit and skill was genuine, profound, and moving.
Intensive and intentional dialogue and reflection was based on Parker Palmer’s newest book titled, “Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit.” Each participant entered this experience with differing expectations and left with deeply personal insights and resolve. I can only share some of my “take aways.”
This was my first PJI workshop and I own the fact that I am, “in my old age,” in a reflective time and contemplating the next phase of my life. As I have entered my senior years, I have given a great deal of thought to how I will shape this time around my life meaning and mission. This retreat provided a forum in which I could find expression and feedback while listening deeply to the thoughts and spirit of my colleagues.
Among the many meaningful writings on which we reflected was the pivotal Five Habits of the Heart (Parker Palmer, 2010). With each of these habits, I choose to share a personal reflection for this time in my life.
- An understanding that we are all in this together: for me, a continuing sense of purpose. While we are alone in some sense, this diminishes the loneliness that might otherwise result from retirement, change in function, and other transitions.
- An appreciation of the value of “otherness”: deeply listening to those who are both peripheral and intimate in my life…what can I learn, how can I reach in, how can I expand my understanding of others, how can I grow my world beyond my own view?
- An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways: life is fraught with contradictions, frustrations, challenges, and hurt. Will I consistently choose to hold these in a heart-opening way that may take me toward something new? Will I find ways to “re-invent myself” and discover meaning and inner congruence in the face of everything life may throw my way?
- A sense of personal voice and agency: speaking my truth while remaining very aware that it is my truth and it cannot be imposed on or used to discount the truth of others. I profoundly believe that each of us has a story worth sharing. My story can serve as an instrument of positive influence – and it will continue to be written as I move through my next developmental phase of life.
- A capacity to create community: our individualism and “doing it our way” has great merit, but only to a point. In its extreme, we have created a society in which we are often very separated by our lack of intentional community building. We are disconnected and people are left alone to face the challenges of life. I have always been a helper and a resource and I see the years ahead as an opportunity to strengthen that commitment.
In summary, our retreat yielded new friends, new thoughts and deep insights, and new commitment to the principles that speak to how we treat each other. I also discovered an author whose poetic expression resonated with me on so many levels. From Judy Brown in “The Art and Spirit of Leadership,” I borrow these words to frame my conclusion:
“…The story that is ours
to live completely
is a mystery to us—because we’re busy telling ourselves stories
that no longer fit—
until we wake one day
and see life with our newly opened eyes
full of surprise.”
Carol Millenson is the manager of health continuing education. She has been with the college since 1998.