Where you sit shows where you stand

My grandmother used to encourage us to always sit at the knee of the “elders” when given a chance to gain some wisdom.

The concept of sitting at the knee must be understood as both a privilege and a responsibility. It is a rare privilege to be in the space of an “elder” who has granted access to her wisdom. It’s also a responsibility—once there—to fully embrace, absorb, and carry forward the wisdom granted.

Apart from being a privilege and a responsibility, the particular knee at which you sit also demonstrates where you stand.

The knowledge that you seek, gain and apply demonstrates more than anything you may say about where you stand.

I’m using a bit of the time that’s been gifted back to me due to curtailed travel in the face of COVID-19 to sit at the knee of select elders and increase my bank of knowledge and to seed the accrual of new wisdom.

This week alone I participated in online discussions with Kimberlé Crenshaw on Intersectionality Matters and a joint conversation with Angela Davis and Nikki Giovanni on radical self-care amidst a pandemic.

These conversations allowed me to sit at the knee of these revered elders and to reflect on prior knowledge, renew understandings of critical concepts such as intersectionality and self-valuation, and gain new insights altogether.

The reality of invited time and treasured space “at the knee” is that you gain some insights that you can share immediately, whereas some of the wisdoms need time to marinate before they emerge or which may be uniquely for you and never intended for public consumption.

Some of the immediate wisdoms that I gained at the knee of these generous elders are clear reflections of where I “stand” in the world in regards to my values, goals and visions. One of these was related to the need for and the power of community.

Angela Davis gave a powerful reminder and call to action in her statement that “we generate courage, strength, and power by coming together…you must cultivate community”.

In a completely separate conversation but reflective of where I stand and how the universe will give you repetitive messages that confirm your purpose and commitments, Kimberlé Crenshaw also engaged the importance of community. She also highlighted another principle that is completely reflective of the platform on which I stand in her exhortation that even moments of crisis and uncertainty can provide key moments for powerful reflection and growth.

While this is a mere glimpse into where I’ve been sitting this week, I not only pay attention to whether where I sit is reflective of where I declare that I stand, but I also ask how those who mentor and lead demonstrate where they stand based on where they sit.

I ask this question related to whether they sit and listen to voices that stretch them, that enrich their accrued knowledge in meaningful ways, that ultimately “call them higher”. To be called higher can be to actively seek new knowledge that pushes an individual in pursuit of expressed commitments, through sitting with those that not only affirm them individually, but who hold strengths, actions and ways of being in the world to which they aspire.

Sitting at the knee of the elders is actually a high calling. It requires that we be fully prepared to listen, reflect, learn, and apply new knowledge.

Indeed, it is a position to which we should actively seek to be called so that our work can reach its highest potential.

How do you find and embrace opportunities to “sit at the knee”?

I’d love to hear more about it. Find me as always on Twitter—@BerondaM.

Rhyme and rhythm

I’ve said before that writing is as essential as breath to the writer.

So, finding ways to write means that I’m no longer holding my breath.

My father was a poet—although I’m not sure he knew it.

He loved rhyme and alliteration—the creativity and rhythm of it all.

Everyone he loved, he gave a rhyme-based nickname. Mine shall remain a closely guarded secret here. Yet, so many family and friends sat with reticent smiles remembering their lovingly bestowed monikers as we memorialized him late last year.

It may have been his influence that led me first to the belief that my writing gift was as a poet. Although, I later embraced that I am firmly drawn to prose. I am a writer who writes as celebration, as therapy, as offering, and more.

One of the challenges that I’m finding about the current coronavirus-induced moment is that it has completely disrupted my rhythm. The rhythm of my life largely drove the rhythm of my writing—something which I didn’t fully understand until that rhythm was abruptly disrupted.

I write daily—even now although some days it’s utter nonsense.

Some days I write a single phrase or sentence, other days I write for hours.

My general writing patterns before this were legendary.

I wrote in the morning.

I wrote in pockets and crannies between meetings.

I am even one of those people who gets in a deep writing groove on planes.

I’ve also been known to pull over mid drive to capture a thought or two.

I wrote in my work office.

I wrote in coffee shops.

I wrote in the library.

I wrote in botanical gardens and quiet corners of museums.

So, although I know logically that this moment of a global pandemic is nothing I’ve encountered and, thus, I should not be surprised that it would impact my ‘normal’ routines and rituals. I truly thought the transition to writing from home would be smoother for me.

I can quite literally write almost anywhere, so surely I can write here I presumed.

What I have found, however, is that the monotony of writing in the same place, same space—day in and day out—has completely thrown my rhythm into chaos.

So, I’m finding a new rhythm—one that is not driven by the external demands of a life on the move and in which I’m frequently on the go. The novelty of a new space or new view, or the comfort that comes from sliding into a familiar booth of a favorite coffee shop or nook of a commonly visited garden can no longer be the cues that stimulate creativity and word flow.

Now, I’m having to draw on the internal compass that drives the deposition of words from my inner voice to the page.

I’ve said before that writing is as essential as breath to the writer.

So, finding ways to write means that I’m no longer holding my breath.

Breathing is now the new rhythm…breathing oxygen in and expelling carbon dioxide out to sustain my life.

Now I’m also writing to the new rhythm of ‘breathing’ as composition—taking reflection in and expelling out words to make sense of the world through writing which is indeed as essential to me as my lifelong form of breathing—and certainly is sustaining me in this uncertain moment.

What are you learning new about yourself in this atypical moment? I’d love to hear more about it. As always find me on Twitter—@BerondaM.

The meaning of “meaning”

Whatever things bring you a sense of meaning….Whatever things that help you find meaning in meaning…whatever things require your attention and care…may you pursue them fully and in all their glory.

As many of us stay “safe” at home in the face of a persistent COVID-19 pandemic, I’m intentionally reflecting on the meaning of meaning and how that “sits” relative to the daily decisions that need be made about how we spend our time.

We have to make these decisions daily, even when things are more “normal” than in a pandemic. Yet in specific times like these where we are staying safe at home with other responsibilities—childcare and homeschooling, eldercare or coordinating such care from a distance, care of pets, additional chores that are intensified with increased time at home, and lack of access to some self-care options such as visiting the gym or leisure time and energy for reading—the range of flexibility that we have in making choices can be diminished.

With many of these “at home” responsibilities being things that can’t wait or be easily compartmentalized, options of “keeping up” with scholarly or professional demands can rapidly dissipate or the realities of what can be accomplished can be significantly less than anticipated. This is particularly true when also weighing the physical and mental costs for some of moving much of their work—teaching that has received much attention, but also other forms of work and meetings—to online platforms and formats.

While I consistently try to prioritize my own definition of success, impact, and what it means to have “meaning” in my work and purpose, changes in our environment are best met with a time of reflection about “meaning” in a particular time, space, and context.

The prevailing messages in many academic circles—and associated frameworks of support—are focused on the premise that we simply physically move our bodies from one work location to another and accordingly move our focus to our homes and the goal of keeping going. Across the nation, these messages of resilience are branded as keep “learning”, keep “teaching”, keep “researching” perspectives. Yet, the likelihood of these being spoken into reality is limited for many.

Many of us desperately need someone to “keep supporting” and “keep listening” to us explain what our true priorities must be in this time like none we have ever seen before. What is needed most in this time is grace and understanding.

Grace extended from each of us to ourselves, but also grace extended in what may be expected of us.

Also needed is understanding that each of us seeks peace and well-being in such moments in ways that resonate with our values, our own processes of making meaning, and through strategies that feed our motivations and sense of self.

What I am finding in this time is that something as BIG—as unprecedented—as this global pandemic is sending me on a search for and deep reflection about the “meaning” of “meaning”. Whereas for me writing can be a panacea, a celebration, a mourning, a respite, and so much more, in these times I find myself thinking deeply about the meaning of my writing.

Because each moment can seem weightier than the last during a global pandemic of this magnitude, I find it hard to focus on writing about topics that are only measured in terms of whether I’m being “productive”—quantity of words produced, words for the sake of words but not linked to improving someone’s possibility for advancing a “worthy” goal, words linked in some way to pursuit of status in an academy that may emerge from this crisis understanding its worth differently [or perhaps so I hope in regards to this latter point].

Yet, I know, as much as I know the seriousness of this current moment, that I process the world through words. Thus, writing will remain critically important to me in this moment.

So, as I reflect on meaning, I ask myself which topics can I engage, which words can I juxtapose, which phrases can I turn, that may bring meaning to the meaning of this time. I draw on all the sages, word-masters, and lyrical philosophers whom I can conjure to find a guidepost.

I know that I’ll write through the crisis, but I’ll follow the wisdom of Queen Mother Toni Morrison and I will be “writing for life”.

There's a difference between writing for a living and writing for life. If you write for a living, you make enormous compromises.... If you write for ...

My writing in this time will not in the least be about productivity.

As writing is so frequently for me, it will be my way of processing the world, my way of finding meaning in the face of senselessness, my way of hoping that I can sit at the feet of whatever teacher I find in the universe and demonstrate my learning in writing.

Whatever things bring you a sense of meaning….Whatever things that help you find meaning in meaning…whatever things require your attention and care…may you pursue them fully and in all their glory.

May they bring meaning…and comfort…to you now and far beyond.

As always, if you have thought or feedback on this post, find me @BerondaM.