I find it helpful, in such fraught times, to consider the largest frame possible. Last week in the desert of southwestern Utah, I learned about erosion, about the effect of water and wind on rock.
From time to time erosion is sudden and dramatic: a rock calves from a cliff and crashes down.
Mostly we don’t see anything happening. The snowmelt in the crevasse, the wind whistling through a canyon, the creek wearing a groove deeper and wider. These forces go about their work of remaking the landscape, without our taking much notice.
There is much we don’t see. The news fixates on big tragedies. The commentators argue their points. The politicos fluff their feathers and brandish their big sticks. Watching, we develop a picture of humanity warped by our brain’s negativity bias and strengthened by the media’s wish to hook us hard.
We don’t see the kitchen table conversations, the neighbors organizing, the hands touching earth that might tell a different story.
It is a function of my extraordinary and undeserved privilege that I am able to go on vacation at all, let alone visit national parks and be at peace in nature. When I think of the inequity that my life is predicated on, it makes me squirm. I don’t think I’m complacent or lazy, yet I have the choice to turn it off, turn away, where others don’t. What does this say about me and my life, my work?
Specifically: Is it OK to pursue creative projects that seem to take eons, at least for me (as we speak I’ve just gotten my manuscript back from my editor and am preparing to dive in again) while social activism goes wanting?
Stephanie Smart’s Dragon Mystic stone reading recently gave me a clue to how to think about this. She uses stones as allies and sources of wisdom. For my mini-reading, I chose a blue purple jasper stone. Her interpretation, in part:
You are like the water in the river bed. You are powerful enough to change the shape of a stone. Yet, you do it in your subtle calm nature. Just as the water slowly flows along in the stream bed…
Trust your calm powerful nature. You are just as much of a change maker as the person on the stage. Yes, YOU ARE A POWERFUL CHANGE MAKER. You, who can change the shape of a stone. You may not ever see the effect of your words or actions, but trust that you are changing the world.
Here’s what I know for sure: I want to shine a light as bright as possible. Because where does the balance tip? If I feed anger and violence even in my own soul, by ripping into this one small being, I fuel the violence in the world.
In the desert I took photos of lichen, that curious symbiotic amalgam of fungi and algae. Lichen is small and unobtrusive, yet it has the power to turn stone into soil, over time. Here is a collaboration among species, quietly altering The Way Things Are.
*The title is borrowed from an old song by Meg Christian and Holly Near.