Friday, June 9, 2017

Getting Lost In Pickens, SC

“ be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery. And one does not get lost but loses oneself, with the implication that it is a conscious choice, a chosen surrender...” - Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Ellen greets me first thing in front of the EKO House
Today is the second-to-last day of my stay at The Rensing Center. It is about 9 am. It is early June. The air is clean and cool. The sky is the same shade of blue it has been nearly every morning—unfussy but completely luminous. Occasionally there are shapely white clouds.

There is a rhythm to the weather here. As the day goes on, the sun will likely warm this little kingdom until we are all fanning ourselves. The air will grow thick. The blue sky will slowly pack itself with juicy rainclouds and, at the densest point, at the center of the afternoon, a hard rain will fall and it will feel like a great and powerful exhalation. I will sit in the guest house that has been my home for a month, with both doors open, and listen to it move across the land. It will smell wonderfully.

Chuck & Izzy are attentive guests at
 "Healing Conversations: Remember"
Early in my stay, I had a conversation with Ellen about the necessity for both order and chaos in anything worth having or doing. It’s a dichotomy we’ve each spent some time thinking about, and have dealt with in our respective projects. Order is useful. It can even be liberating. When things go as planned, predictable and satisfying as the ticks of a second hand, we begin to feel safe. We say to ourselves, now we can let things run themselves a little while we ruminate and dream. But this is, of course, an illusion. We know it is, even as we’re thinking it. Disruptions happen. We roll with the punches. We adapt, and in adapting to the unpredictable, we arrive at new levels of understanding. A little chaos, too, is useful. What about a lot of chaos, though?

The six months leading up to my time at The Rensing Center resembled an elaborate obstacle course for some kind of hardcore chaos boot camp. I had thought that this residency would be an escape. I could leave the mess where it was and come to this tranquil hideaway to create and enjoy some peace and quiet. The thing about solitude, though, is that it isn’t always peaceful. And the thing about creation—it requires you to confront the mess, not hide from it.

The World-Class Pickens Flea Market  
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to put my finger on just what makes The Rensing Center so special. It is difficult clearly define, and still more difficult to put into words. Solitude here is served all-you-can-take. It is by turns exactly what you need, and completely overwhelming. When the latter happens, you can walk down the hill and join Ellen, Deb, or a fellow resident in conversation or activity. There is always something to do with your hands if you, like me, need physical activity to center your mind. And the aforementioned rhythm of the days serves as a comfort and an exfoliant. Every day you shed a little more of what is dead, useless, excessive, in favor of what is living and nourishing to your spirit and process. You relearn how to be fully where you are. You notice everything. You heal.

Who can resist a good old-fashioned Meat & Three?
There is a time to write and there is a time to feed the mystery inside you that make writing possible. In the same way that gardening is not simply about harvesting pretty green lettuces, ready to eat—you pull weeds, you hoe rows, you turn compost, you plant seeds, you try to gently keep the pests away, and you wait—writing is not as simple as sitting down at a desk and harvesting pretty green poems. If I’m stressed, if I haven’t slept or eaten properly, if I haven’t been reading enough, how can I expect my writing to flourish?
Over the past month I have been solitary in places that challenge me and make me feel wonder. I have spent time with strangers, whose stories awaken my imagination and empathy, whose differences are a reminder that the world is wide and that people are basically good.

When I leave here in two days, I will return to that chaos boot camp. Major changes are afoot in my life, and in the lives of those close to me. Some are exciting changes; some are tragic; some are just mysterious; all will cast me into unknown depths. Thankfully, I am balanced and ready. I will take Rensing with me.

-Chelsea Whitton

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