Come to me. There is no darkness in which I cannot see you.
Come to me. My green heart holds your ancestors. They are waiting to hear your dreams.
Speak to them. They know your name. Do not imagine you are alone. Do not imagine they have left you. They are listening, Waiting for your voice.
Come home. All of us are waiting. Every bird remembers you. The lion, in his pride, still knows your name. The gazelle, the snake, the silver heron Lifting at the shore— all these and more— Your family.
Come back to me. You do not need to grind your bones to dust, Rusting your heart.
in campaign-based organizing, we tend to think of engaging people hierarchically: the goal is to move people up the ladder, progressively increasing their levels of engagement. transplanting this to network organizing can give people a sense of “the network does all the things for network members,” where a few network facilitators become responsible for creating all engagement activities.
these practices shouldn’t be applied to networks. why? network members often experience shifts in capacity to engage in a way that is non-hierarchical. because network participation often happens outside of the context of a job: we devote less time to it – more sporadically and perhaps with varying levels of commitment. we should embrace these factors as part of how networks work, rather than trying to mash organizational thinking into network structures.
so, i’m starting to understand the idea of self-organizing as a decentralized, non-hierarchical version of engagement and leadership. we need to “unlock” this decentralization and move away from centralized “levels” of engagement. i say unlock because i think it involves unlearning: doing things differently, and practicing new ways of being with each other.
what gets in the way of self-organizing?
not feeling autonomy – having experienced generations of marginalization, disinvestment, and maybe never having seen someone like them in positions of power
a narrow definition of leadership that privileges only a very specific type of person and way of interacting to be able to arrive to a position of power
a relationship to leadership that trains us to do what we’re told rather than to initiate
resource dams and gatekeeping: only certain people have easy access to resources and/or resources are accessible but only after jumping through flaming hoops
lacking a sense of belonging to the network: why should i contribute? what’s in it for me?
culture – how we understand all of these things (autonomy, leadership, resources) is artificially narrow – we’ve become trained to understand them in certain ways and may have difficulty imagining that they could be different
how do we unlock decentralized engagement?
popular education: training and capacity building from within marginalized groups
less gatekeeping of funds: innovation funds, shared gifting is a start. decolonial commons and cooperatives are closer to real, community control of resources. (also reparations!)
communities of practice to unlearn some ways of being and practice new ones – creating new cultures of interacting: specifically anti-racist, feminist, and otherwise undoing hierarchies while also being caring and supportive
protocols and practices that break down how to do things – the steps to take to form a project – as an activity that regularly happens in a network
measuring and creating intentional interventions around demographic shifts for who is in positions of power in a network
collecting, sharing, and visualizing data that gives us a real-time picture of where we are in this shift
using network weaving to help people find the “right” person/people to start a project with
attributes of a network that support self-organizing:
widespread desire and openness to collaborate: it feels easy to meet people who are interested in talking, sharing learning, open to new ideas
self-authorization: you don’t feel like you have to ask for permission
accessible resources (including funds, spaces for discussion, whatever else)
liberatory culture: all network members practice undoing oppressions; working across privileges
space to learn in: you can see what others are doing, you feel like you can ask questions and get answers; you can see what others are learning
culture of seeing “failures” as rich learning opportunities
understanding of how efforts connect to network goals/values/principles
ease of finding the right people to collaborate with and learn from
how can we understand engagement as an ecosystem rather than a hierarchy?
appreciate richness and diversity of engagement, instead of focusing on “how high up” someone gets
should be activities at all levels all the time!
think about *indicators* of engagement like the attributes above – how to create a healthy environment that supports engagement?
culture shift (see “feelings” above)
what activities contribute to self-organizing? / what does a healthy self-organizing ecosystem look like?
i’ve written about flexible formations for networks – in how we can create spaces/containers within networks that allow for variations in size and frequency.
perhaps a different way to look at it would be to map out “outcomes” of these containers:
lots of network members meeting people that aren’t the right fit
some network members meeting people that are the right fit
most people know what’s going on in the network (reading a newsletter, reading activity feeds)
many “failed” experiments from which learnings are harvested
projects “fail” and that’s not hidden but rather seen as opportunity
people learn from other projects
harvesting learning is a part of running a project
many projects at all phases: seed, sprout, plant, fruit, compost
understanding and measuring how projects contribute to systems impact/change and/or contribute to building new/alternative systems
As in any ecosystem, there are many kinds of activity happening at the same time:
small acts (ex. reaching out to people, connecting people, listening, skills exchanges,
self-organizing to co-design and implement network structures through circles (ex. innovation fund, equity funds, communities of practice),
self-organizing on the networks focal area (ex. food systems, water rights, economic justice),
processes such as reflection, sensemaking, and learning,
training and capacity building (ex. weaving, knowledge harvesting)
We can start to track these activities and show them back to the network to answer the question: what’s going on in the network?
so…the goal shifts from getting to the top of a leadership/engagement ladder to participating in an active ecosystem of autonomous self-organizing, resource flows, and learning exchanges.
i just got off a call with two people who are starting up a program for strategic planning for non-profits. they had heard about my work on The Light Ahead podcast and wanted to chat with me about next economies and NGO networks.
on the call, one of them used the metaphor of “blowing things up” a few times. in that they had created a plan for their work, but blew it up last week (which was both frustrating and good). or that non-profit sector employees are in a different place than many board members and funders, and those relationships need to change (or “blow up”) for real transformation to be possible.
i wondered, asking that if we’re trying to get from here to there (or if we’re just trying to get out of the “here” we identify as undesirable), what is that process like?
what do we call it? change? transformation? culture shift?
what metaphors do we use for it?
and are these metaphors violent? scary? doom-and-gloomy? apocalyptic?
do we perceive this as a painful, difficult experience? (does your body even react viscerally because of this question, because it can already imagine the answer?)
do we assume there will be some kind of revolution? and, given our limited understandings of revolution, do we imagine it as hard, bloody, with much sacrifice and death?
it’s important to consider the metaphors we use in how we understand and talk about what’s next.
it’s also important to be clear about whether we are in the camp that is a) making incremental shifts so that there is less harm done within current systems, or b) working from a totally different set of assumptions, values, and ways of being. (or c) some mix of the two.)
to be explicit, i’m pretty sure i’m in B. i tried camp A for a while but the kind of energy required to say “NO” so strongly and so repeatedly always turned into a kind of self-incendiary anger that my body just couldn’t sustain. (check out block, build, be as a framework for figuring out where you might be if you’re not sure – their model supports being in multiple categories.)
in my very non-scientific way (sorry, entomologists), i’ve been using the metaphor of a butterfly chrysalis to describe the process, as such:
an intact caterpillar decides one day to create a cocoon for itself. then, magically, they break down into liquid form while maintaining the imaginal discs they had been carrying since birth. (tangent: imaginal discs are actually magic, by the way, and they are the genetic codes that create new body parts: caterpillars go around carrying the seeds for wings before they know they’ll be able to fly. (this is real.)) then, somehow they reconfigure themselves and emerge as a being capable of flight, light enough to float on air and to travel with millions of their peers to other worlds thousands of miles away.
(brief pause for the several questions i have for these beings that i’m just going to leave here: does this hurt? what happens in how you understand the world and your surroundings? as a butterfly, do you remember what being a caterpillar was like?)
on the other hand, the metaphors i have been given from mainstream media are more in the direction of fear-based, apocalyptic, individualistic, and escapist. this is evidenced by the fact that it’s way easier for me to imagine the gritty details of specific apocalyptic scenarios: zombies, natural disasters, wars, escapist so-called “cottagecore,” nuclear bunker canned food storage, etc. there are so many movies about this and the mainstream/corporate news broadcasts every night look very similar to this. my social media feed has so many millennials glamorizing the process of redoing old vans and then living in national parks with their cats who have been trained to walk on leashes so as to not get eaten by bears. (ok, maybe that’s because i often share these stories because they’re so ridiculous, but hey, don’t judge me by my algorithm.)
there are other metaphors, other ways of understanding what is possible. a lot of “what if…” questions come to mind:
what if the shift was easy, or at least easeful?
what if it was like how Tricia Hersey imagines it in her work with The Nap Ministry? (or the #softlife trend that’s emerging as the antithesis to #grindculture?)
what if, instead of it being punitive, returning to community felt like a warm embrace? (see: the book we will not cancel us, circle practice, transformative justice)
what if relinquishing stolen land and resources made us feel whole instead of empty? and helped us start to repair relationships with land and communities? (see: the land back movement, though not everyone is non-violent, and with good reason.)
or look at all these amazing “what if” questions created by intelligent mischief, asking us to consider:
i asked before about going from here to there, or at least just getting out of the “here.” i don’t know that we have to know where we’re going. i think it’s ok that we don’t, and maybe even good. (though certainly some of us know more details about the next place(s) than others.)
In the book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott wrote: “E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.‘ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you.”
the other thing is, is that if we’re still deeply in the “here,” (or even just in the mentality of the “here”), our ideas about the “there” will be really similar to what we can currently understand, embody, feel, or imagine. so in the meantime, i propose that we focus more on the breaking down, on the cocooning and going back to imaginal discs (one of which is definitely about justice and reparations, and we have ideas about others), and, importantly, becoming less attached to the “there” as the goal. for now the outcome is the process: the process of slowing down, and as norma wong says, the process of creating the conditions to become aware of what else is emerging.
additionally, if we’re so caught up in an anxiety about where we’re going, we won’t be able to be present with the process (and, therefore less likely to be able to support others in it), and we won’t know how we got to the next place either. this anxiety limits our possibilities, too.
so…how do you imagine the work of our time, the work to move ourselves outside of extractive, imperialistic, racist capitalism? is it a violent, rough, scary thing? or is it an easeful return into the embrace of true community and wholeness?
i’m finally understanding the creative block i’ve been feeling since visiting my parents in arizona last month. it’s related to the tension between, on the one hand: the ongoing and active deprivation of hope from where you expect it and, on the other hand: a very steady certainty that there is so much good happening in the world right now.
the mainstream news outlets’ lights and cameras are narrowed to a point, highlighting so much going on, but it all just looks so hopeless. the new supreme court justice being treated with such disrespect. the contrast of growing wildfires with bumper stickers on massive pick-up trucks: “trump 2024, save america.” this media spotlight reinforces a complete lack of vision for the future, let alone suggesting movement toward anything else than what we already know. and then there are the random distractions like will smith punching chris rock. (and then all the memes on social media, and then all of the people giving their opinions about it, and then news outlets pitting them against each other!)
the tension between all of this garbage and the absolute knowing i have that there are SO many amazing leaders, projects, groups doing such great work. “work,” though, is too narrow of a word to describe what i mean: it’s not sitting at a desk, it’s not something you clock into. it has to do with opening up worldviews, creating and repairing cultures, seeing each other in fuller ways. and i can feel it. i’m remembering this shortened version of a quote used as the motto of the US Social Forum by Arundhati Roy: “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” the longer quote has to do with imperialism and capitalism:
“Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe.
The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling – their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability.
Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them.
Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
― Arundhati Roy, War Talk (2003)
but what does she say after that?? (adding reading that book to my library’s waitlist right now!)
so what i feel compelled to do is write into each of these things that are happening. to show them as an interconnected movement, a thriving ecosystem complete with several kinds of functioning parts – composers, pollinators, whatever other parts there are (ha!)
not to overwhelm us even more, but to let people know what is happening. not just to give us hope, but also to showcase the variety of what we could get more involved in. maybe for each section that could be a little part: how to get involved locally – what it takes, what you need. (and maybe those could connect later to parts of the personal work, thinking specifically about decolonial projects.)
like i want to inspire and excite people by sharing this sense of knowing i have – of how much is happening! so we can stop looking at where the lights and cameras are pointed and see all of what else there is. we get to be ecologists, to look into all of the parts that are happening, get our hands dirty in the soil, smell fresh air. but like… economically.
really when was the last time you felt invigorated economically? i mean something similar to those feelings you get in a healthy forest: filling your lungs up with the dense humidity of a lush, damp forest; taking in the honey-like notes of pine sap; the slight decomposing sense of mushrooms’ presence; hearing bird chirps far up in the canopy; your movement silenced by pine needles underfoot.
i can say for sure that i have a visceral feeling when i pay my taxes. maybe that would be akin to the choking smell of coming across a dead animal in the forest. but i mean, when was the last time i felt something good in my body because of my relationship to economics?
i used to have that feeling, the slight tingling feeling: “yes, i’m saving the world,” kind of thing happen at farmers markets, or purchasing at my community food co-op (of which i was a member). i remember that feeling when seeing visionary art (favianna rodriguez comes to mind) that invites my true self into economics (not just an outstretched hand with dollar bills). hearing gopal from movement generation speak about their visions for the future. i definitely felt a lot while i was organizing for occupy on my university campus (not as an undergrad, i’m not that young!). and i felt new sensations like a folding of time from past to future while i was supporting the sogorea te’ land trust in “oakland” “california:” that the way these leaders were thinking was connecting their 5,000+ year old traditions through colonial rupture to a future that continues and preserves what is sacred.
how can we imagine more into this? (one way is to listen to this short episode of the light ahead) what feelings can we hope for, economically? what do we already know in our bodies (not necessarily just the physical ones, but also ancestral, spiritual, etc) that can guide us?
so i guess my creative block is letting up – i’ve got a list and a diagram of the ecological parts of next economies drawn up and am excited to start writing about each of them, sharing examples and ways we can support and/or participate in them. i imagine navigating this landscape like butterflies in migration – moving from the death and decay of capitalism, through decomposition (smelling the mushrooms!), through healing together, to creating next economies that support our “soft animal bodies” (as mary oliver might say).
in the meantime, if you liked the content of this post, you might be interested in this session, happening next week:
The essay Iwrotethatwaspublished 2 months ago turned into something dense and serious in tone, and since writing it, I find myself wanting to go back, zooming in to certain parts, expanding and magnifying them. The first part that comes to mind is two words: “turning toward.” If I had to distill the whole essay into just two words, those would likely be them.
What they mean to me is a compacted version of a shift in how we relate: from avoiding to embracing. We can do this on so many levels – with parts of ourselves, other people, whole peoples, and probably life itself.
Today I rather serendipitously attended two very different events but both ended up being about this turning toward-ness, so I figured I should write about it.
The first event I attended today was called Clearing Creative Blocks facilitated by Veronica Amarelle. She led about 300 of us through a guided meditation to turn toward whatever creative block we’re facing at the moment. What came up for me in the session was the idea of “trying to write the right thing” as getting in the way of my flow. Overthinking, tending toward perfectionism patterns, efforting in ways that don’t serve the work like trying to write as if I am an authority – these things have been actively getting in the way of my progress and process lately. However, sitting with this block while being guided through a meditation, I was invited to ask the block about what it wants for me. What I came up with was remembering to tap into a big and deep knowing. That it’s not so much about me “getting it right,” but more about connecting to something much bigger than myself – maybe something like a muse or collective consciousness or something else we don’t have a good word for yet.
We were invited to turn what we learned from the experience into an affirmation. In the session I also shifted my relationship to affirmations, which I came to understand as a potential for visualizing and remembering when I’ve felt this way in the past. Rather than imagining a scenario in the future where I feel the affirmation to be true, I can look into my past for examples where it already has been true. When have I felt tapped into a deeper knowing? Most of the examples were when I was with loved ones in vast natural spaces.
The second event was part of the Buddhism and Ecology Summit, an Zoom event called The Alchemy of Despair facilitated by Willa Blythe Baker. She offered a guided meditation where we were invited to bring whatever feelings we were having into the session, rather than trying to leave them at the door (which might be how we normally treat feelings in a meditation session). In the chat after, she shared how, by moving toward despair, particularly in relationship to climate change, we can understand it as a “symptom of our tenderness:” our ability to care about what’s happening in the world. Despair is a symptom of our compassion, our care, our love.
The practice of turning toward emotions we perceive as difficult or as blocks is the practice of self-compassion. The more we learn and practice not to reject, learning to open to, the more receptive and flexible we can be when difficult situations arise.
From this turning point in human history, I spend a lot of time wondering about what we can do to support our flexibility, our collective capacities to flow with what comes next, and to grieve what we’re leaving behind. Avoiding, ignoring, polarizing, separating do not seem to be energies that support that. On the other hand, turning toward, cultivating curiosity, and compassion do seem to be integral (and foundational) to supporting ourselves in this next phase.
A few practices of turning toward that you might find helpful – where to start:
Leave the dishes. Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor. Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster. Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup. Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins. Don’t even sew on a button. Let the wind have its way, then the earth that invades as dust and then the dead foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch. Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome. Don’t keep all the pieces of the puzzles or the doll’s tiny shoes in pairs, don’t worry who uses whose toothbrush or if anything matches, at all. Except one word to another. Or a thought. Pursue the authentic-decide first what is authentic, then go after it with all your heart. Your heart, that place you don’t even think of cleaning out. That closet stuffed with savage mementos. Don’t sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth or worry if we’re all eating cereal for dinner again. Don’t answer the telephone, ever, or weep over anything at all that breaks. Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life and talk to the dead who drift in through the screened windows, who collect patiently on the tops of food jars and books. Recycle the mail, don’t read it, don’t read anything except what destroys the insulation between yourself and your experience or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters this ruse you call necessity.
Spiders tighten and loosen specific parts of their webs to become more attuned to vibrations, and they can tell the difference between, say, a fly moving around or the wind or other creatures buzzing. This makes sense, as arachnids have been evolving these webs for who knows how many millions of years.
Seeing the spider and web as one and inseparable challenges the ideas we’ve learned about separateness: that there is a spider that is separate from their web. But without a web, the spider couldn’t survive. The spider can’t exist as a disconnected individual.
While this is magical in and of itself, it is also a metaphor for something I’ve been wondering about in networks for a while: how do we embed sensitivity in networks? Rather than thinking about it in a more narrow and mainstream idea of “communications,” how can we think about our activities in networks as sensing? This would have to go hand-in-hand with our work to distribute and decentralize networks – we don’t want to repeat the hierarchical structures of organizations, where only the hubs “hear” about what’s going on – we want to increase access to this hearing/sensing.
We could metaphorically peer into one thread within the network, listen in on what’s happening there. Then put one of our eight arms on another thread and see what’s going on over there. Doing so we are better informed and able to act more strategically – in alignment and harmony – with what is happening elsewhere in the network.
I saw this post yesterday on instagram, and then a friend sent me this article, that basically says that Arctic foxes build gardens over the span of many generations, creating nutrient-dense spaces in the harsh climates they inhabit.
Also, did you know that bees build bridges with their bodies and a kind of glue they secrete? It’s called festooning and looks like this:
For me one of the ways in which is relate to nature is through awe. Or I could say it this way: being outside or otherwise in contact with the natural world has the potential to fill me with awe, to get me into a state of being bigger than the bounds of my own body – to see and feel and know things I don’t normally consider. In nature we can sense possibilities, sense more for ourselves, than we can from within our human systems.