About Jennifer Woodill

I am passionate about volunteer and community engagement and how volunteers and community members are involved and empowered within the non-profit sector. I have over 10 years working in volunteer management and community development. Currently I am the Program Manager for the Social Service Worker and Community Development Worker programs at Centennial College in Toronto. Before that, I supported the efforts of over 30,000 volunteers raising funds and awareness at the Heart and Stroke Foundation, coordinated volunteer and community engagement efforts at St. Christopher House, was the national volunteer coordinator at Amnesty International, and helped refugees at Romero House. I have presented at various volunteer development conferences, facilitated workshops on volunteer management and community development, and published a paper entitled “Questioning Volunteer Management”, proposing an alternative approach - from the traditional human resource management model to one rooted in community engagement.

Birds in Scarborough

I noticed the birds this morning on Markham

My drive to work, passing strip malls, concrete sidewalks and several Tim Hortons

My eyes wide, perspective shifted and the sky opened up to my

Seeing

The seagulls flying overhead

The hundreds of small birds clinging to the telephone wires, lined up across the intersection

The majestic bird with a wide wingspan and a peaceful spirit (is it a hawk, or an eagle?) soaring over all of us in our hustle and bustle

Did these birds arrive this morning, awakening Scarborough with their presence?

Or have they always been here, in their beauty and grace, but I have failed to notice?

All I do know if that my heart is a little more open this morning

Thankful for the birds.

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Seeing, Hearing, Feeling Nature

“To understand love, we understand life. To be able to love, as subjects with feeling bodies, we must be able to be alive. To be allowed to be fully alive is to be loved. To allow oneself to be fully enlivened is to love oneself- and at the same time, to love the creative world, which is principally and profoundly alive.” – By Andreas Weber, in book Matter & Desire (p. 5)
Riverphoto
I’ve been spending a lot more time in nature, because when I am in nature, I feel utterly alive and connected to this living world. Of course, I am alive all the time (and so are you) and we are all connected, to each other and to our living world (our reciprocal breathing with trees is but one example). But I forget. In the hustle and bustle of my to-do lists, I forget how alive I am and the miracle of this. Nature helps me to remember.

With my full life of juggling parenting two kids and a busy job, I don’t have often have the luxury of time to find nature outside of the city. Of course, being in wild nature is awe-inspiring, and I have loved my opportunities for canoe trips or even snorkeling in the ocean with sea turtles. But I have discovered that nature is everywhere, when I step outside and pay attention. I now look/listen/feel for nature everywhere I go and every chance that I can be outside. And when I find nature, I stop, breathe and look/listen/feel and acknowledge our aliveness together. Nature smiles at me when I walk by a tree and the leaves dance playfully in the wind. Nature smiles at me when I look up at the sky (oh, how many years I have spent forgetting the sky!) and the clouds lazily drift by. Nature smiles at me when the birds sing from the bushes (now that I’m listening, there are birds everywhere singing so many songs!). I am learning to tune into my senses (seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting) that I feel have been turned off (or way down low) for years.

I have discovered amazing nature at both of the college campuses where I work. At one campus, there is a magnificent ravine waterway with so much wildlife living there. I go there as often as I can, taking my shoes off to walk in the water, feeling the cold flow of the water through my toes and the soft slippery moss under my feet. I watch the ducks swimming, the heron fishing in the river, and even the occasional deer who shyly appears and then quickly retreats back into the forest. At the other campus, there is a small forest, with lots of wildlife living amongst the tall trees. I walk quietly and slowly in this forest, so as not to miss the beauty of life surrounding me. I try to embody Thich Nhat Hanh’s instructions for walking meditation: “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”

One interesting tool that I have discovered helps me to really tune in with my senses, is my iPhone. I love capturing the moments of life in front of me through taking video on my iPhone. While there are so many things to say about how our phones distract us from being present, I have found that using my phone to take videos of nature has helped me to be still and present, to watch and listen. I also thoroughly enjoy watching the videos after the moment is over, to remember and reflect on that moment of life.

Here are two videos from my walks in the forest:
White Butterflies playing together – https://youtu.be/bVCQWue2BCo
Birds chirping through the sunlight – https://youtu.be/qBcG1FLO168

So, the next time you’re outdoors, I encourage you to stop, breathe and look/listen/feel. What nature do you see? What nature do you hear? What nature do you feel? And if you don’t feel nature, what nature do you want to feel? Lie down on the grass in front of your house, or lean against an old oak tree trunk. Give yourself permission to run in the rain or take your shoes off and feel the ground (or river) under your feet. Remember and celebrate that you are alive and living in a profoundly alive world.

A Sunday Morning in June

Oh, how I love the morning!
The sun, filtering through the leaves
The leaves whispering hallelujah, as they dance with the soft breeze
Breeze of wind, holiness embodied in air that I cannot grasp but coolness that tickles my skin
And the birds, oh the birds
Singing their songs, so many sounds, high melody mixed with rhythmic chatter and single-note chirps
A symphony in my yard that wakes me to this new day

Anxiety

I don’t know how to answer the questions he asks
His big green eyes filling with tears, his 6-year old small hands ripping apart a napkin across the table
‘What if the planet dies? What if there is too much pollution and no more trees and we run out of oxygen? What if you die? I don’t want to be alone.’
I don’t have any answers
I can’t say don’t worry, everything will be fine, when I don’t know that to be true
What I try to say:
Let’s love fiercely, my child
Intertwine our lives together like the roots of two Redwood trees, sustaining strength in each other
Let’s go deeply into our moments together, allowing ourselves to open and bloom like the flowers that you love so much
We are connected, to each other and to all life, and you my son, will never be alone

Looking at Flowers

I am taking the challenge to live now.
Not as I have been –
Scuttling on ragged claws,
eyes blinded by the search for
newer, better and brighter
circumstances
eyes looking so hard for a paradise of story books,
eyes that feel so heavy under the weight of expectation.

I am choosing to be alive now.
And life is found only when eyes
are open to notice fragile moments,
only when my body is alert
only through a waltz that is easily unnoticed,
when we take notice of the fairy dance in rings of tangled flowers.
Life begins when
I am quiet enough to see.

Gaia Roars

Part 1

Gaia roars,
Rumbling from her belly,
Her love growing from the depth of her anger,
She is bigger and
older
than all of us.
And I witness her rage,
Grass growing through the
paved highways,
Her assertion of taking up space.
Gaia roars.

Part 2 – Can’t You Hear Her?

“The blue sky is her mind, the green leaves pulse with her blood, the wind is her breath, the rain, her water of life. She is Gaia, the Earth Mother, but also subtler than that.” – Ram Dass

You told me (tucking your body in tightly, looking at the ground)
that you couldn’t dance
anymore,
knowing of her ongoing rape,
by skidders
and corporate judgements.
You looked past me, because I was too small to love,
And you had boxed yourself too tightly into rage,
Screaming into your pillow at night,
Rocking back and forth is sobs.
You told me that you were afraid of
going crazy,
like every woman who breaks my
silence late at night,
falling into the insanity of rage,
warranting straight jackets
and solitude
in a cold, white room.
You told me that you were too
dark to love.

But no.
I love you, because you are the darkness of Gaia’s corners,
the wilderness of hurricanes and
ocean storms.
And yet, you and I, we are also
both maple keys,
burying ourselves into the soil,
imagining our future as two
entwining trees, grounded but spreading,
dancing wildly,
celebrating our rebirth.

Trees

Metaphor of Job as Relationship

I must admit that I put so much time and effort into my work that it feels less like a ‘job’ and more like a primary relationship in my life. I have always been like that with all of my jobs, never one to just show up 9 to 5, work and then leave. My work has always been a defining and dynamic part of my life, and like relationships, I have related to different jobs in different ways, each job presenting unique challenges and opportunities. The work relationship feels like a mutual dance, sometimes of trust and passion, sometimes filled with anger and deep sadness, and sometimes a complex mix of it all.

I have played around with this metaphor of ‘job as relationship’ in my life, identifying the kind of job relationships that I have had. Here are some of the relationship metaphors that connect to my jobs in my career:

-Boyfriend who your parents/friends think is awesome but you don’t feel the spark – my job sounded like a perfect fit and in practical ways really was, but for some reason, there just wasn’t the spark of passion that I needed

-Abusive lover – the job where I was learning so much, had all the passion in the world (fell head over heels in love with John Mcknight and Community Development) but I literally had sewage leaking through the ceiling and dripping behind my head (as well as other horrible health concerns). Should I leave, should I stay? Should I leave, should I stay? When I left, I felt very sad but it was definitely the right decision.

-Best friend and long-term partner, but not ready to settle down – The job where I could completely be myself, my values completely aligned with mission and work, I was supported and loved and learned so much. But after 5 years, I needed more, in terms of leadership challenge and new excitement. I felt too young to settle down. I wanted new experiences from other jobs. But I cried every day for weeks after I submitted my resignation.

-Parisian ‘out of my league’ love affair – my fancy job, where I learned to wear heels and power suits to fit in, to ‘corporate’ speak and act. At first, I was enamored with the confidence and speed of it, by the flashy power points and fancy lunches. The energy was invigorating, with fast-paced meetings and daily targets to meet and concrete goals to achieve. But I quickly fell out of love, when I realized that my values didn’t match, when my opinion (and the option of others) didn’t matter, when I couldn’t bear to play the ego games anymore and my feet hurt from the heels. This was the only job that I felt completely peaceful and happy when I resigned.

And my job now? Happily married. Amazing, joyful, soul-filling marriage. It took me 40 years to find my true love, but I am so thankful that I have found it. My relationship (now 5 years) is a marriage – I give 100% because I care deeply about my work and the overall vision and mission. But I am also learning that because I’m in for the long haul, I need valuable me-time, to rest and restore and bring my best self to this relationship. I am thankful, challenged and inspired each and every day. Of course, there are both good and difficult moments and times when I feel frustrated, but like any good marriage, we communicate and work out the challenges and learn from these moments. I don’t fear future boredom, because my work is dynamic and constantly changing, and there is so much for me to learn. I feel blessed.

This metaphor of ‘job as relationship’ resonates with me, because it shifts my thinking about work from being narrowly about the job or the people, but to being more broadly about relationship to organizational culture and dynamics. The metaphor also helps me to recognize that we are all at different places at different times in our lives. For example, I have wondered if my ‘awesome boyfriend without a spark’ job would feel different now, when I am older and don’t need the same kind of spark as 18 years ago. But I will never know – we can only be exactly where we are. The organizational culture and dynamics go beyond any one person in an organization – ‘vibe’ seems to seep through the walls of a building, a feeling that we feel inherently within ourselves, while we may not be able to put our finger directly on it. Do I fit in here? Can my whole self be authentic here? Can I joyfully learn and grow here? Can I trust others, so that I can innovate and take risks? My suggestion: when you can say yes to these questions, then count your blessings and put a ring on it.