The word ‘gathering’ is used in a range of contexts, both for describing visible actions as well as less visible states of being. Birds gather materials for their nests, their homes; and many species gather together to roost over night. Humans, being complex creatures, also have many ways of gathering.
When we feel ‘gathered’ ourselves, we feel well and whole, centered and grounded. We feel we know who we are and what we are about. We tend to feel at ease.
It can be helpful for us to know what it is we do to enable this feeling of gatheredness. What do we do to ‘gather’ ourselves?
To explore this, it can be helpful to wonder about the opposite state, to ask
“What is our experience of feeling UNgathered? ”
Often we use expressions like ‘I’m all over the shop’ or ‘I’m feeling scattered.’
Once again the birds capture this:
(Kate Knupp, Twigseeds, 2008)
Participants used words and sketches to show what feeling ungathered and gathered can be like for them. Conversing about our artworks showed that we all have experiences of these states of being.
Feeling ungathered includes feeling messy, chaotic, reactive, overwhelmed, buzzy, cluttered and cranky! Some of us are aware that we might take it out on others a little, mostly unintentionally of course! Others of us tend to withdraw and become less available to others.
When we are feeling gathered, we feel sorted, calm, spacious, more positively connected to others, more at ease, more able to respond to daily living, more able to enjoy leisure time and more able to enjoy and manage life.
We also talked about how we are often aware of the contrasting states in other people we know in work/uni/community contexts- we tend to prefer to avoid the scatty, unpredictable types and feel attracted to people who seem to have an inner calm and steadiness about them.
The capacity to regather ourselves is important to foster. We are more able to live well, relate well, feel well when we are gathered. That is, we are more able to be optimistic, hopeful, self-caring, energised and more able to be authentic and integrated in the world beyond. To be human is to experience both states and everything in between. As much as we might like to be in a perpetual state of zen-like calm, it is not how daily life plays out. We cannot actually avoid difficulties and stress – but we can have healthy ways to navigate life’s challenges and return ourselves to a place of feeling gathered.
We can learn ways to ‘pull ourselves together.’
From a centered place, we can engage positively with all that surrounds us.
So a helpful question to ask is:
What brings us back to centre/meaning/ground/rest/ease from places of distraction, overwhelm, scatteredness or fragmentation?
Mark Nepo calls regathering ‘The Practice of Return’
The Practice of Return
You can read Nepo’s thoughts about this via the above link.
We discussed our personal practices of return; the ways we have learnt to restore our own sense of wellbeing. Strategies included getting more sleep, having a change of scene, going for a walk, meditating, doing some art, writing in a journal, being in nature. We agreed that learning to catch ourselves becoming scattered was important and reminding ourselves to listen to what we needed helped us.
We also talked about further practices of return we might like to foster.
Gathering in Community
A significant aspect of our wellbeing is our sense of connection to others, our sense of belonging to community. As well as having personal practices of return, we often need each other to help us find our way through a challenge and into a place of ease. We can do some things for ourselves and yet often we need the companionship and encouragement of others along the way.
We opened up some conversation about how gathering as community can be a powerful practice of return. There’s something about the collective energy of intentional gathering which enables/fosters our capacity to ‘return’.
There is some interesting info coming out of USA about the gathering together of groups of ‘millennials’. ‘How We Gather’ is a movement focused on understanding what the millennial generation is seeking personally and communally and ways that this generation find it meaningful to gather.
In conversation, we considered the participants’ sense of what millennials seek, what they and others are searching for, and what and how they are finding it.
The following story, told by Mark Nepo, captures something noteworthy about the difference between recognising someone/having an acquaintance and knowing another more personally, vulnerably, truthfully in ways that are significant for our sense of connectedness with others.
Life Around the Fire
My neighbour and I wave to each other through the trees, though we don’t even know each other’s name. After a snowstorm, we worm our way out. I admit it’s comforting to see another in the open, leaning on his shovel, his breath clouding as he looks again to the sky. There’s something primal in knowing that we each have a fire we huddle around. I love clearing the path to our door and leaving the light on.
But if my fire should go out, would he let me in? And for how long? This is a uniquely human dilemma. We struggle with it every time we look away from the homeless. Different cultures have different ways of holding the question. The Balinese leave food on their steps for the kind stranger they’ve yet to meet. The Connecticut Yankee trains his daughter in etiquette and social registry. This is still different from the Holocaust survivor who leaves the door open for an angel he’s never seen while guarding against every noise. I lean on my shovel in the snow and my neighbour waves back. For which I am glad. And today, I don’t feel the need to know his name or story. Yet isn’t it in the steps between our friendly wave and our life around the fire that the work of real community waits?
As well as gathering ourselves and gathering in community, many people have a sense of being gathered, of their lives being held by Something or Someone larger than they, of being energised by an energy beyond themselves. Maybe we call this God; maybe we have others words or images.
When we are attune to this, our lives can have a richer quality, we can have a deeper sense of ourselves, we see the way our life and all its threads are connected and we have a sense of the meaning of things. We experience ourselves as held.
After sharing Mary Oliver’s poem ‘Praying’ (below) we talked about the ways we might pay attention and so have silence and spaciousness in our lives. We considered our personal sense of being gathered in by something/Someone beyond ourselves. We wondered together about the search for the sacred and its importance and centrality to life.
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
— Mary Oliver—