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A Room of One's Own

Dear All,

Virginia Woolf's extended essay "A Room of One's Own, in which she argues that women need to be able to have their own space, unhindered by interruptions, so as to have the intellectual freedom to write, is considered a landmark of 20th century feminist thought. Here we are almost 100 years later and women are still desperate to have the space, both actual and emotional, to be their most creative, impassioned, calm and authentic selves. Particularly during Covid, women are struggling to fine the time to be alone to contemplate, reflect and create. Anne Morrow Lindberg also wrote of this need for solitude in her seminal work, Gift From the Sea. "Every person, especially every woman, should be alone sometime during the year, some part of each week, and each day...Actually these are among the most important times in one's life- when one is alone. The artist knows he must be alone to create; the writer, to work out his thoughts; the musician, to compose; the saint, to pray. But women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves: that firm strand which will be the indispensable center of a whole web of human relationships. A beautiful image to hold in one's mind is to be the still axis within the revolving wheel of relationships, obligations and activities." I found an equally compelling argument for that kind of individual space from an unlikely literary source- of my favorite children’s books! The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf is the story of a little bull who was so unusually calm and peaceful that no-one could quite understand him. Rather than running and jumping and butting heads with all the other little bulls, Ferdinand chose to sit quietly and smell the flowers under his favorite cork tree. I recall reading the book to my younger brothers and then decades later, to my kids, marveling at how gentle and loving the bull was. I wondered what was so wonderful about sitting alone under that tree. I didn't yet know the value of that alone time. The truth is I didn't even know how to sit quietly and smell the flowers! The instinctual need for solitude and calm didn’t come easily to me. For me, meditation has been instrumental in my journey to cultivate that appreciation for solitude and accompanying ability to be calm and centered. One day I was doing some research and came across something which I imagine was known by the author of The Story of Ferdinand.

Apparently, in bullfighting, a bull often finds a spot in the ring where he can pause, feel safe and regain his strength and power. This place is called a querencia. When the bull is enraged, the matador is in charge, but when he finds his querencia and calms down, he is at his most powerful.

Whether we have a room of our own or a spot in the bull ring, it is the experience of finding our calm, our place of peace, where we can connect with ourself, and regain our strength and power that is critical.

For me there is nothing like a long walk on the beach.

It is where I get that sense of peace, that inner calm and from where I am able to garner my strength, my resolve, my power for the day.

The Gift from the Sea is set at the seashore and as the sea tosses up its gifts of sells so the mind brings up its own treasures. The author continues “I want first of all... to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. I want, in fact--to borrow from the language of the saints--to live "in grace" as much of the time as possible. I am not using this term in a strictly theological sense. By grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony. I am seeking perhaps what Socrates asked for in the prayer from the Phaedrus when he said, "May the outward and inward man be one." I would like to achieve that state of inner spiritual grace.

It is our challenge to find a place, both physical and figurative, where we can journey inward, find our calm and garner our strength.

Joseph Campbell also spoke of the importance of having a sacred space—a place without human contact, a place where you can simply be with yourself and be with who you are and who you might want to be. He viewed this place as one of creative incubation, saying that even though creativity might not happen right away when you’re in this special space, just having it tends to ignite the muse in each of us. He went on to say that the modern-day “sacred space” is what the plains were for hunters. Do you have a place where you can be uninterrupted? A space where you always feel welcome and at home? Where you can write and reflect? Cry? Is it time to create one? Having our own sacred space is vital to emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being, but there are times when it is impossible to have one’s own actual place so we need to create space in our own minds to find that calm, that security, that freedom.

Victor Frankl, the author and Holocaust survivor suggests that the space between stimulus and response is that peaceful pause, the psychological version of a querencia. “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Pausing before talking, writing, texting or emailing creates that inner space. Think about a time this week when you reacted to something that you heard or read or saw without pausing. What might have been different had you taken a breath and paused before reacting? As a mother of four, I can think of a myriad of moments when a longer breath would have allowed me to reflect more before reacting! A helpful reminder is to repeat the word slowing on the inhalation and down on the exhalation. Slowing down encourages more careful and thoughtful responses! Let that be our mantra! SLOWING DOWN.... Focus on creating a space for yourself, whether in an open field, a tiny closet or a bathtub. Allow yourself to sink into silence and see what happens. In the words of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor, A.D. 161, "It is in your power to withdraw yourself whenever you desire. Perfect tranquility within consists of the good ordering of the mind, the realm of your own." It's not easy to find the time or the place for that solitude. But you can always find it when you go inside and breathe. My mission is to create a space for women to come together in an environment of love, support and safety, where we can have meaningful discussions, connect within and listen to our own and collective wisdom. Would love to have you at The Gathering, a virtual "querencia" where we get together and find calm, clarity and connection. Join us on Sundays at 4 PT/ 7 ET!

With love and light,

Nora Plesent

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