A guest blog post by Rhonda Urquidi
Serena was introduced to me as a fellow new teacher, joining me in my new career at Hillside Junior High in Boise. We were fast friends, and I noticed this wonderful picture of a lighthouse on the Oregon coast hanging in her home. She’d taken it herself, and I loved it. Walking to a spot and squatting down, she got the view she wanted and snapped a great shot. Serena explained, “People were everywhere, like ants.” She’d cropped out the ants, and kept the focus and the view. Inspired by her, I took a similar shot on a trip to the Oregon coast about 22 years ago when my husband and I visited the furthermost western point of the continental United States, Cape Blanco.
In Newport at the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse this spring, I did it again.
We find the view we want.
We can do this for each other in our educational settings. How do we consider the ways to see the truth, and also focus on the view we want? In Onward, Elena Aguilar invites teachers on a monthly reflection toward resilience and each small step is carving out the view.
In 2020, we hoped to find our way to the well where we needed to drink the Water of Resilience, and what I also learned, and have come to rely on, is the reservoir that feeds my well. A reserve to draw upon for the unexpected need. In early December, I lost my father-in-law, my daughter lost her mother-in-law, and in early January, 2021, we lost our grandmother. It felt like waves, of coping and moving; of grieving and holding joy at once during a season of love and gratitude …. a careful, listening friend pointed out to me that I was treading water in my lake; I’d built a reservoir over the last few months and now I was needing it and floating.
In her book, Onward, Elena Aguilar describes the underground water holes formed millions of years ago by the collapse of limestone: cenotes.
These natural springs, filled by underground rivers and rainwater, have been a resource for people for thousands of years….cenote means ‘sacred well.’ The cenote offers a beautiful metaphor for resilience. Within you and outside you is a wellspring of life-giving energy that you can access and cultivate.The cenote provinces relief on a scorching day. It already exists. Our task is to find our way back to it, understand what it offers, care for it and then float. (Aguilar, 2018)
She was right. In the summer and fall of 2020 I had gatherings of love: scenic camping, hikes, moments and small acts that built my sense of belonging, gratitude and fulfillment. As everyone struggled with gathering in the pandemic, I found that we stressfully and joyfully gathered, safely, on a large scale, for my daughter’s wedding. We cut the lists, changed the venue for the reception, ordered masks and hand sanitizer, declared rules for serving food and seating, and gathered. We learned to hold both fear and joy at once. This careful tension in paradox would continue to fortify us; we were practicing for hard things, and I was filling the reservoir at my well.
“Celebrations can open the floodgates for awe, wonder, and gratitude; they can cultivate trust and hope and optimism; and they can make visible the webs of connection in our communities. Celebrations … open up underground rivers of resilience that fill our individual reservoirs and those of our community.” ~Elena Aguilar
I could reflect and look at pictures and consider the support and love from friends and family, and that opened up “underground rivers of resilience” filling my heart and connecting us. However, there was more. What I actually found was that the small steps I took in reflection, in breathing exercises, running with my dog, witnessing love and tenderness in failing health … these things were building my pools; strengthening me and sustaining me to keep going through winter into spring. I kept a hashtag throughout, #itsthelittlethings, that helped me stay in gratitude in the small moments.
We find the view we want.
Winter semester, I co-facilitated a course on resilience. I read reflections on struggles in reflective notebooks from the participants that seemed crushing. I also read about resilience-building goals made and developed because of our careful and purposeful work. Teachers stepped outside, created poetry and artwork; they designed monsters and superheroes to represent fears and bravery. They developed pools of hope in small steps, each day, each week and at the same time I began considering what it means to be truly resilient.
Many leaders are fond of saying “They were resilient,” when what is meant is “They made it; they muscled through … They survived.” Resilience is building up a reserve with small steps to create the space and cultivate the thinking that can reframe thinking and help find persistence to move, to change, to try …. time and purposeful support and reflection are needed.
Celebrating everyone’s “resilience ” to “make it” without giving time or credit to what’s needed to practice resilience is a mistake. “Students are resilient.” That’s just praising them for surviving unless there wasn’t also support to build resilience. Support looks like creating time to: play, create, reflect, consider self and others. It means learning about emotion and words for emotions, and how to close the emotional cycle.
Individuals can cultivate their own resilience, and they do! When self care is practiced, it can lead to individuals learning to draw boundaries and building compassion as they become more resilient. If practices in reflection, creativity, time aren’t carved into work-place settings, then employers or leaders are simply hoping that individuals practice self care that builds their own resilience. Companies and organizations must lead the systems that allow their work families to develop. In our schools this looks like students and teachers alike reflecting on their learning and their lives in creative ways that allow growth and thought. It shows creative processes, and action in exercise as well as listening to problems and solutions.
Reflect, reframe, revise, respond. Allow the time to find the view and then show up and be who we choose to be. We build resilience in small daily rituals, in careful consideration and love. Not because we’re just tougher or ignoring what’s wrong, but we find a focus, we pull it forward and enhance it. We can reframe the picture to allow our view to withstand the difficult distractions. We can find the lighthouse among the people.
We find the view we want, and possibly need.