“Every woman was said to have her own Juno; seek its council, and live up to its sacred destiny.”

Dear Sisters,

IMG_3898

I arrive at Omega for a JUNO Retreat Residency. While I have the courage to apply, there was a part of me that didn’t believe I deserve it. Once on campus, I am greeted by Lys and am thrilled to also see Sarah, Michelle, and Jill. They welcome me home and my sense of not belonging begins to dissipate. By the end of dinner with Lys, I begin to remember why I’m here. When Lys asks me about my future, with calm and certainty, I explain that I no longer pretend to know. Instead, I tell her about the journey I’ve been on this year and how I’m focused on integration and process. I’m allowing myself to be fully immersed in my graduate studies. I tear up explaining to her how much it means to me to come home to Omega–a place I once came when I didn’t feel like going to my family’s home was an option. Omega–a community that held me when I needed to be still. Omega–a place where I found a springboard made up of women who I would look to for inspiration in the years to come. This place means so much to me, and each visit, I am amazed by the magical encounters and wisdom it cultivates. I came searching for some time to focus on myself. Instead, I have found so much more.

IMG_3924

A highlight of the residency is the connection to the residents who came before me. There is a journal that a resident named Brenda left behind for women to leave their reflections before leaving the retreat: “To help weave together our stories and experiences in a tapestry of hope, reciprocity, resilience, rest, gratitude.” Reading their reflections at the start of my weekend feels like I’m painting a beautiful foundation for what’s about to come. I see Nina’s note, and I imagine her sitting on the JUNO cottage porch, just a few days before I arrive. I feel so honored. The beautiful cottage is almost as empowering as the words these women left behind. Part of the JUNO experience is leaving behind questions for the next resident. I feel like I know the woman who stayed before me–her questions, so deeply personal and compelling, help shape the rest of my time at Omega. They make me feel wise just reading them. My curiosity and hunger for truth is endless, how will I pick only 3 to leave behind?

IMG_3920 IMG_3930

Although I had spent a season volunteering at Omega prior to the Women’s Leadership Intensive in 2013, my experience returning to campus always reminds me of our week together. At the lake, I think about our water ceremony, and I feel connected to each of you, as I remember our collective blessings to the Earth. At the Pavilion, I remember tracing our bodies onto maps, sharing our visions. I remember our laughter. As I’m dancing before lunch with the Journey Dance teacher, I am not surprised at all when she asks if I know Tara, who she dances with regularly in Rhode Island. Goddesses attract. I feel your energy in the room! I remember dancing together and feeling a sense of protection and belonging that I had never experienced, while simultaneously feeling the power of my independence and power. Because I am so inspired by the way each of you “Do Power Differently,” I want to focus my masters thesis on women’s leadership and our relationship to power. I’m thrilled to spend the next year focusing on our stories of overcoming adversity and stepping into power. Stay tuned….

Lastly,  I let go of memories, experiences, and attachments to people that no longer serve me. I invite myself to stretch as I dance and release. I identify areas and skills I wish to develop. I celebrate the young girls I see on campus, I eat lunch with them, watch them play at the beach, and dance with them. As I marvel at their authenticity, fearlessness, and playfulness, I honor the little girl in me who sometimes still yearns to be seen and to feel loved. I discover I am not afraid of my power, my sexuality, my desires. I am learning to love ALL of me. I am learning to give myself permission to be selfish.

Thank You for continuing to remind me that I deserve and am worthy of the JUNO namesake: prosperity; a whole, integral, empowered woman, whose influence was called on in politics, money, management, business, marriage, and motherhood.

May we continue to ask Juno to help us lead with a fair and protective spirit, and to make creative, bold, and wise decisions. May we use Juno’s benevolent authority to empower and protect others. May we examine our leadership nature and where we may want to grow and change. May we ask difficult questions, and be gentle and kind to ourselves and others as we find the answers. We are the one’s we’ve been waiting for. 

IMG_3934

How Spending a Week Training with Police Officers Changed Me

My Reflection On the Need to Unite the Police Departments and Communities in Preventing Further Tragedies Throughout the Country

774e038bb1a7ad50d042ea68c538bf2a

Over the past 9 months, I volunteered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness Criminal Justice Diversion Project (CJDP). The focus is on preventing the unnecessary arrest, detention and incarceration of persons living with mental illness. This project aims to develop a statewide strategy to make high quality training on mental illness accessible to police departments in all 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts. The ultimate goal is to put in place a sustainable approach to diverting individuals with mental illness from the criminal justice system. Below is my reflection on the April 2015 Community Intervention Teams (CIT) training spearheaded by CJDP.
These were my highlights:
  •  Renewed hope in officers who took part in the training, the skills they gained, and their commitment to learning in order to better serve communities.
  • An opportunity to learn about the limitations, frustrations, and culture of police departments.
  • A sense of what policies must change for greater safety for officers and communities alike
  • An understanding of the unmet and significant mental health needs within police departments
    • i.e There’s a risk of losing their jobs if an officer reveals his/her own mental health struggles.
  • Uniting people with mental illness in the community with officers for an honest and open dialogue centered on our shared humanity

As a White woman with considerable privilege and absolutely no real danger, I began the week feeling truly unsafe in a room with armed male officers (there were 3-4 female-bodied officers present). Feeling tremendous despair about the recent deaths of individuals, as well as officers, I feared what I might discover at the training. Instead, I developed compassion and hope for the incredibly difficult work of police officers. I recognize that the sampling size might influence my positive impressions, but perhaps, this reflection will expand your perspective and help us find an end to the tragedies happening across our country.

Nothing will change until police officers and communities come together and listen to each other’s experiences, frustrations, and shared hopes for a world free from violence. For instance, at the training, one officer expressed frustrations that after she helps a person with mental illness get to the hospital, she she’s the same person on the street a few days later. The social worker at the training respond to this officer’s point of exasperation by providing context for the limitations of mental health treatment in our country. Few people stand by the impossibly short mental health treatments that hospitals and mental heath services currently provide: this must change if we are to halt the revolving doors of hospitals and more importantly, prisons where more people with mental illness end up (Read more about failures of the “de-institutionalization” of the mentally ill after the Community Mental Health Centers Act). We live in an era where the average psychiatric stay is about five days and most people who are psychotic never get a bed at all.

May we create more spaces that bring us together for conversations to open our hearts to each other’s suffering.

One component of the CIT Training was to introduce members of the community and their families and listen to their their experiences with mental illness and experiences with police departments. In small groups, individuals joined the police officers in sharing about their recovery and lives with mental illness. After, officers thanked the presenters and much to my surprise, they responded by sharing their own experiences with family members and major mental illness, as well as addiction. One officer turned to the presenter and asked, “What would you recommend I do for a family member who is in need of help but in complete denial about the seriousness of her symptoms?” The presenter responded by telling her to be their friend and listen. Additionally, anyone can contact the NAMI helpline at 800-370-9085 during the hours of 9:00 am and 5:00 pm ET, Monday through Friday.

Read Julia Blount’s letter to her White Facebook friends. Remember, “Continue the conversation, ask questions, learn as much as you can, and choose to engage. Only by listening and engaging can we move forward.”

Watch this short documentary, Mental Illness on Trial, on the criminalization of mental illness.