I love this name, the space it brings with it. It feels ready for me to fill it with whatever I need to.
Sometimes, that’s all we need – a space, and time to fill that space and maybe just the silence that comes within and is held there. It feels nourishing and it also enlivens those moments when a creeping dissatisfaction occurs as to how one is doing in this heavy, wide, and unruly war-torn world that we belong in. Memories also slide out when we are in this place of reverie.
Rooms are never on their own. They connect. They lead into perhaps a corridor, or a hallway, another room or a stairway. This means that they have a way of connecting as their doors open into another space. They are also covered spaces with walls and ceilings. I like this sense of linking into, onto further doorways, places or the entrance and exit to what is ‘outside’. It makes me think about the rooms inside my head. How I connect one place to another in this seamless, extraordinary niche called the mind. Yet the mind is everywhere and in one place. it seems so confusing. That sense of connection can feel so strong when one sees or hears a soul on one’s wavelength. I imagine it like an unconscious electric current, travelling with hope towards another, yet with no surety that this jolt will be reciprocated. It feels bold to hold onto this feeling of uncertainty, unknowing and anticipation. With that comes also a sense of excitement. Who knows if it will lead to wonder or disappointment, but it feels worth the risk. In this way, rooms do connect us to each other – they are external and internal portals, structured in the sense of the dwelling they provide yet also luring us onto more through their enticing gateways.
There are also rooms which imprison – be it in the mind or the actual physicality of the space: within these settings a cascading effort is needed to hold onto hope, retain one’s dignity and not lose compassion. In such circumstances, what the mind/room focusses on may well be the force that can ultimately save or destroy.
Around 20 years ago I felt a strong need to take a sabbatical. At the time, I was working in a private school teaching English. Apart from the teaching, I had developed a pastoral role looking after the welfare of students who were from abroad – Korea, Thailand, Spain, Hongkong and China. The room I had created for these students amounted to a free zone where they could talk in their own language: gossip, laugh, moan, cry, flirt, or play; and sometimes, just come and sit beside me where a quiet space enabled time for any individual to feel a sense of belonging with another human being. And where they felt free to talk. It was in these places and spaces that many secrets and upsetting incidents were revealed. This gave opportunity to explore, discuss, listen, and support in either a group or individually. Sometimes, this needed a more intimate one to one space. We gave it the time and the space. In essence, everyone could actually feel free to be themselves. Confidentiality, kindness, and trust was what lined our room. Essentials like biscuits and soft drinks were always available too. Every week this Room was on offer- a space for those who chose to come. It quickly became a room of their own where I was silent but available whenever needed. It was a treasured time. No notes or photos were ever made or taken so the images are free to rise for us all. I am still in touch with many who send me updates of where they are in their lives now. And this is how connections live on.
Maybe this is a glimpse of how a ROOM took on a life of its own and held a space that still extends into the hearts of those who once took sanctuary there.
It feels like ROOM, your online journal, is a form of sanctuary for those who place their ideas, hopes, thoughts and feelings into differing narratives that all shine with their individual messages and spirit.
Later, I took that sabbatical, leaving my job to travel to Asia for 5 months.
That was when I became involved in doing voluntary work in Cambodia and this has continued whilst my friendships and understanding of the country, together with my work there, has widened and deepened.
I was born in Indonesia and brought up in Southeast Asia, so I guess it’s not surprising that there has always been a lure towards that part of the world. At age 10, still very much unformed, I was packed off to have the next block of my education in a strict catholic convent. It didn’t work in the way my father had hoped, as the narrowness and sadness that was wrapped up in those years drove me far from religion. England was not my home. I had no friends there and didn’t know my grandparents (who themselves had migrated from the Argentine) or my grandmother who lived in the outskirts of London. I didn’t see my parents again for 3 years. This gave me a feeling of never quite belonging anywhere except on the periphery of things. I’ve accepted that. It somehow feels right. When I read the book, Unrooted Childhoods, it was the first time I found in print accounts of similar feelings to mine at such an early age. This is where I belong, I realized with a sigh that also signified I had found some sense within those paperback pages of a me within them joining those other lonely lost young souls. It feels sad and traumatic when I think about it, but I am no different to many who have equally had to cope with loss, despair, and separation in often far harsher situations.
What do we do in times when we feel alone, or we feel we don’t belong or are far from what means ‘home’ to us. Who can we turn to, what is available and what can keep us motivated to keep trying to ‘connect’. We search for love in our aloneness and so often it eludes us. I believe it is through reaching out to elements of the arts (and I mean all of them – music, literature, writing, painting, poetry, dance) that this can be transformative for us all. Equally, the art of cooking and creating meals together to gift to others is uplifting and embracing. So is the intricacy of needlework, knitting, and even darning a sock as it holds us in our task both separately and together within those threads of silk and wool.
If we lose a sense of ourselves, or we lose one of our own senses, be it hearing loss or vision, we naturally turn to another form in our need to connect and communicate. In that yearning for ‘another’ we are also searching for a space where we can be heard and understood. However we get there, it is to be celebrated.
Creativity is not a reaction to a repressed emotion but a flowering of that emotion which has often been unable to be expressed via the usual routes. I see this most clearly when I look at the extraordinary development of our son who has Down’s and who is profoundly deaf. These are just some of the aspects he has to deal with and yet his perseverance to be understood and understand, and be a part of this world, has enabled him to find a colourful and meaningful medium through which he can shine and connect to others.
I realise that not everyone has this chance, but I believe we all have the capability to create some-thing. We just need to find the room!
March 22, 2023
Jenny Shepherd, BSc(Hons)Psych., is a practicing psychotherapist in East Sussex, UK. For the last 16 years her work has also carried her to Cambodia where she has worked with Psychologists Without Borders and most specifically with a medical NGO where she has introduced and established the creation of a mental health team which is now able to sensitively offer counselling skills into the Khmer culture. This has now extended to working with perpetrators and survivors of domestic abuse through training workshops.
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