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.
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?
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.
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.
You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting – over and over announcing your place in the family of things.
Is that Eric Garner worked for some time for the Parks and Rec. Horticultural Department, which means, perhaps, that with his very large hands, perhaps, in all likelihood, he put gently into the earth some plants which, most likely, some of them, in all likelihood, continue to grow, continue to do what such plants do, like house and feed small and necessary creatures, like being pleasant to touch and smell, like converting sunlight into food, like making it easier for us to breathe.
A few days ago, I posted an idea on Facebook that I’ve been toying with. I felt it was a bold statement that spoke about power in a way that isn’t often talked about and about a word I hear frequently. Here’s the post:
The post garnered more traction than most of the thoughts, photos, videos, and shares I usually put up.
Two people asked a question kinda like this: if this isn’t the right word, what is something like this that we can do to achieve a similar purpose?
I hear that. There’s an underlying theme in inclusivity that I can get behind in the context of histories of marginalization: making sure more people are being heard. Recognizing this is based on: 1) an acknowledgement that the people in the room don’t represent the broader group and 2) a determination that this should be the case. Not only are two heads better than one, but more difference at the table can bring about different relationships to problems, solutions, and systems.
On the other hand, inclusivity presupposes that the existing set-up is completely fine and the only issue is that certain people either aren’t aware of the metaphorical table, aren’t educated enough about it, or for some other reason can’t make it. This assumption erases oppression and power.
By framing the question as [ why aren’t certain people here? ] rather than [ is there something about our underlying structure/dynamic/agenda/leadership that turns certain people off? ] locates the problem and thus the solution in totally different places.
The following 2 women of color have also blogged about the word in ways I’ve found useful in developing my thinking around it. I’ve culled some of the key quotes.
“Inclusivity” and “exclusivity” are politically meaningless without context and divert attention away from specific power dynamics. In common use, they are assigned inherently positive and negative values without specifying who is being included or excluded.
So why do so many people seeking racial justice, female empowerment, and queer liberation still choose to advocate for “diversity” and “inclusion”? They appeal to liberalism. They prevent oppression from being named. They prevent us from speaking truth to power. They make progress sound friendly to those in power.
The only way to prevent that is to name oppression for what it is; to speak truth to power. If a group is dominated by whites, men, and other privileged classes, don’t let that be reduced to a diversity issue.
When we talk about diversity and inclusion, we necessarily position marginalized groups as naturally needing to assimilate into dominant ones, rather than to undermine said structures of domination.
As a web developer / techie / nerd myself, I’ve frequently found myself in spaces dominated by nerdy, white, cis-, straight men. Possibly because of this, becoming acutely aware of who is in the room, who is taking up space, and who isn’t is something I do by default. In response to Kyra’s point of not “reducing it to a diversity issue,” there are very well known and documentedreasons that women aren’t equally represented in technology. To say that the conference organizer (for example) just didn’t know enough women, or the women were busy, etc, fails to recognize systemic ways in which women have been excluded from tech, forced out of it, harassed while persevering in it. (Perhaps that’s why more women are freelancing.)
Next, let’s hear from Virgie Tovar, MA is an author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. Here’s what she says on her blog about inclusion:
The word “inclusion” is a buzzword in political organizing that typically indicates some vague understanding that something just isn’t right here. The idea of inclusion is typically thought of as an innocuous way of discussing the perceived lack of meaningful engagement by people who are experiencing the greatest impact of the political issue at hand. But I don’t think it’s an innocuous idea. I think there’s a lot embedded in that word, and so I wanted to give you three reasons to rethink the idea of inclusion.
Here are snippets of Virgie’s reasons:
“First, embedded within the idea of “inclusion” is a kind of white supremacist/heteropatriarchal/thincentric/ableist framework or epistemology – the presumption that thin people need to create space for fat people […]”
“Second, any movement that engages heavily with reinscribing dominant aesthetics – or respectability politics – is not going to be of interest to marginalized folks who see that dominant aesthetic as problematic and violent.”
“Finally, and – in my opinion – most importantly, is that the word “inclusion” presumes the maintenance of that movement’s current leadership with the understanding that these “included” people will become absorbed into that movement without any radical rehaul of its current hierarchy.”
At the end of her post, she poses 2 amazing questions for people who see inclusion as a need:
1. What do the people who see inclusion need or want from the inclusion of people who are not well-represented? I think this is an incredibly important question for organizers to ask themselves. We all kind of know that a lack of poc or big bodies or trans folks is an indication of a failure, but do organizers desire their inclusion simply as evidence that they are not failing or is there some greater desire to be in service to people who are experiencing the greatest impacts of marginalization? 2. Is the individual or group who is seeking “inclusion” ready to change up the agenda, the political tools they use, or the hierarchy of leadership?
So. What do you think – is inclusion a word you use frequently and a process you undertake? Or do you think it reeks of a liberalism that seeks to maintain existing power structures?