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Garden of Hope by Tina Madjanovic (TA college)

By Hayley Ramm, Mar 5 2020 04:01PM

The closing of a year holds the transformative power of taking us all on a journey of organic self-reflection. As nature withers and freezes around us and loose ends are tied in preparation of a new beginning, the slowing pace allows us, for a moment at least, to breathe, to step back – to just exist.

What naturally emerges at this point is an unexpectedly familiar view of a bigger picture – a crystallised moment of heightened insight into a grander plain of existence; here, we are free to wander and roam and float or just sit, in peaceful silence, as we absorb and process and ponder. Suddenly, we find ourselves stepping outside the slippery bounds of egocentric reflection and curiously, tentatively trying to make sense of everything else around us.

To be a human being in this wolfish, hyperactive modern day western society of ours is no walk in the park – between diverging socio-political tides pulling us apart and into treacherous pockets of extremism, the beast of consumerism perpetually feeding our most burning desires and dreaded fears, the constant, prolific distraction of technological gadgets and social media, and the impending disaster of climate change, we struggle more and more to hold on to what truly makes us humans great – the gift of compassionate, intentional connection.

My dear reader – if I could pour the experience of working at The Sheiling in a cup for you to taste, it would be a rejuvenating drink of cold alpine water, trickled drop by drop from the immortal heart of a glacier. You would hold this cup gratefully, after a long, slumberous night, and gulp greedily. It would feel like fresh oxygen in your body – a descending silvery stream.

Here’s what I would like: I would like you to join me for a mindful stroll through our grounds. By mindful I mean attentive, perceptive, open to new truth. You would probably notice the cleansing perfume of coniferous trees, the warm hint of wet soil and, if lucky enough, the inviting scent trail of hearty homemade food. The bending paths riddled with protruding rocks and thick roots would sharpen your focus, steady your step. Upon tuning in to the delicate chirping of birds, your eyes would possibly choose to wander upwards, following wrinkles carved in tree trunks, to meet the ever-changing sky in its branched picture frame.

Now, dear reader, I cannot let you dwell on these frivolities for too long – as you can see, there is more to be discovered: fairy-tale cabins and gingerbread houses are peppered around, an architectural symphony of straight and curved lines forming clusters of familial security. The lights are on, there is movement inside – what would your eyes meet if you were to step closer and sneak a peek inside?

A word of warning: don’t be fooled by the apparent limitations of our students – you will soon come to realise they often hold the keys to a far deeper, uncontaminated wisdom that will humbly, quietly belittle and overpower the most carefully curated collection of neurotypical opinions.

Let us have a look, then, at the beating heart of The Sheiling; the source of this slithering spell echoing from one side of our site to the other. I can share this one secret with you, and really, it is no secret: the nurturing alliance between students and personnel, forged in care, passion and connection, is what truly makes this place a special haven. This sense of belonging, of homely community that curls up in your belly like a languid cat, dear reader, this warmth in your chest, is the result of our constant quest for compassionate, mutual understanding and support. Impetuous rivers will be crossed and unsmiling mountains climbed, so that we can all stand side by side in a sunny valley of growth and confident independence.

Observe our students: you will find they are not dissimilar to the young trees sprouting from the ground around you. They are vulnerable in their open fragility, but nonetheless so very beautifully fierce in their honest hearted authenticity. You could compare us to attentive gardeners, then, burying our hands in the surrounding soil, joint by the same shared purpose, pouring ourselves out so that they can thrive in strength and independence against the many tests of the elements. In return, as we give and protect and nurture and encourage, we not only find ourselves filled to the brim with the many rewards of service – we are confronted with our own walls and sharp edges. Heavy curtains are finally parted to let the sunlight into our darkest corners, dust and cobwebs are swept away, and the stormiest of days will give way to clear, calm waters; to euphoric renaissance.

So come on in, dear reader. Come and join us. I know you will like it here. You will find comfort from the struggle, shelter from the storm. You will find rest from this global existential crisis that steals your sleep away in the middle of the night. You will find inspiration and strength.

The Sheiling is waiting for you.

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