Welcoming Winter by Looking Within

I haven’t always loved caves.

I remember years of summer camp when I was so afraid of entering “the bat cave” that I worried about this outing for days ahead of time and even sat out a year or two. Yet, growing up in Tennessee and spending summers in Kentucky (the land of limestone, sink holes, and caverns), I learned to love—truly enjoy, crave, and seek time visiting—caves.

Today, when I ask myself why I love caves, I realize that entering the earth feels like burrowing into myself—and in a grounded way. Metaphorically, the cave feels like a supportive hug. Literally, the cave is dark and quiet, a space that invites introspection.

Think of the long traditions of people meditating, soul-searching, and undertaking rites of passage in caves. Or of Plato constructing the “allegory of the cave,” a narrative of confronting illusion. Or of bears hibernating through winter and reawakening in the spring, a time of renewal.

Cave symbolism includes reflection and looking within, darkness and confronting shadow, winter and being inactive, the moon and embracing feminine energy.

As I seek to know and act from my best self, I look within. As I seek to befriend the feminine and see it as a source of strength, I learn from dreaming. As I seek to stand TALL and speak my truth, I find voice in silence.

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As I enter into winter (there’s already snow on the ground and temperatures well below freezing here in Wisconsin), I resolve to tune into how I’m feeling, what I’m thinking, and what I can do. I resolve to listen to my inner voice and its whispers (before my body yells through pain or other means for attention). I resolve to be truer to my truths, my commitments, and my joys. I resolve to work toward radical self-love, knowing that the more I invest in loving myself, the better I can love others, the more fully I can show up, the more forcefully I can serve.

White fragility persists because of insecurity, defensiveness, and fear of messing up. Similarly, internalized sexism relies on layers of emotions that are not only inherited but also implicitly driving thoughts and actions. Looking within—deep, ongoing, reflexive work—is needed to counter these and so many interlocking pieces of systemic oppression.

So, this winter I give myself permission to enter the cave, to embrace my bear-like desire to hibernate, and to look within toward making some BIG changes. I know that this blog is part of those changes, as it’s an active practice to let go of perfection. To speak out, I must get comfortable—really, really ok—with messing up, admitting wrong, recovering, and trying again.

Here I go with this practice!

 

Heart, Head, and Hands: Explaining the Blog’s Name

For months, I kept a list of keywords and imagined titles for this blog. For months, I ran possible names by friends and family, who responded with “nope,” “eugh,” and “huh?”

Then, casually and unsurprisingly, my friend and frequent co-author Rasha Diab said, “Beth, your blog is heart-head-hands. That’s your thing.”

I guess this exercise—this linking of feeling with thinking with acting—is “my thing.” Often in classes and workshops, I use the contemplative writing practice that this blog’s name draws on. Simply, I ask:

  • Heart: What are you feeling?
  • Head: What are you thinking?
  • Hands: What are you going to do?

Version 2

The day following Trump’s election in the United States, my students and I shared reflections: some focused on emotions (heart), others shared thoughts (head), and still others related action plans (hands). As a white woman, I shared my own embodied responses—including tight chest, aching muscles, and exhaustion—and my intended actions: “I must write, write, write! Stand tall in my truth, and speak out/up more confidently, courageously, even when afraid.”

I appreciate this exercise because it communicates the connectedness of our emotions, thoughts, and actions. It recognizes and values embodied knowledge. It helps us put into words what we implicitly know, but often have trouble talking about. And it holds us accountable to our commitments as we write and speak aloud the work we’re called to do.

Though there are many versions of this exercise (especially for K-12 contexts), I first learned of this contemplative practice from Michele Eodice, who suggested we use it in a research methods workshop. (Michele, thank you for the ways you’ve modeled for me both contemplative pedagogy and the valuing of embodied response.) The exercise has stayed with me, has become part of my teaching repertoire, and now provides the structure for this blog.

I invite you to join me by following posts that bring together embodied experience, emotional responses, and self-care (heart); ongoing research and active reflections (head); and attempts at everyday activism, which includes the writing of this blog (hands).