“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
“Isolation and fear reinforce each other…The mystery at the core of our existence is that simple: we are held in a web of mutual belonging.”
—Joanna Macy, Buddhist activist and teacher
Joanna Macy talks about three dimensions of “The Great Turning”—the cultural shift happening all around us, taking us into a future built on justice, equity, and respect for our earth home. She divides this most important work of our time into three overarching action areas:
- We can hold the line, protecting what’s at risk.
- We can reinvent, building new structures that supplant the crumbling outdated ones.
- We can reimagine, nurturing a consciousness shift to transform the world from the inside out.
In recent years I’ve been drawn to the third of these. A little bit to the second. Not so much the first, though I care deeply about what happens to women, marginalized groups, the poor, and our planet.
I care, but I’m not much of an activist in the traditional sense of the word. Constitutionally I am more primed for shining light on beauty than beating back ugly.
So I admit I was at first hesitant to go to my local rally in support of Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington. Protests are important and needed, as are phone calls and watchdog alerts and bodily interruptions of heinous activities like mass deportations.
I’m more of re-envisioner by nature. And I don’t like crowds. I guard my energy carefully.
But my intuition told me that going to the sister march in Indianapolis would not drain me. And I knew it was important to show up and be counted as an Indiana resident in favor of ethical leadership and fairness and, well, humanity’s future on the planet.
What I didn’t realize that riding the bus downtown, joining the jubilant women and men assembled there, would fuel me. That being part of this fantastically big (worldwide!) event would renew my hope and feed my desire to remake the world.
I saw a very young boy with a rainbow scarf and a small sign that said “Make America Kind Again.” A man with a Steelers jacket and an incongruous (or not!) pink ribbon around his arm.
I saw fathers being tender with their daughters and sons, a woman in a wheelchair with oxygen tubing in her nose and a Planned Parenthood sign across her lap, and many beautiful people of all ages, body sizes, genders, and races.
The day left me with a sense of unity that feels part and parcel of both reinvention and reimagining. I could see it in the creativity and passion expressed through signs, clothing, song, speech, movement.
When I got home and started to see reports of other cities’ marches all over the world, I felt an incredible lift. I thought, The world has my back.
This healed my broken heart, or began to heal it.
I know that the impact of a one-day march, no matter how colossal in size, is limited if we all go back to our regularly scheduled lives. But something tells me that this is just the beginning. If we hold to our hearts, staying awake AND kind, we can’t be far from the new world we seek.
“A mystic is someone who has the suspicion that the brokenness, discord & discontinuities of everyday life conceal a hidden unity.”
~Rabbi Lawrence Kushner
What do you do when you have no roadmap to follow as you’re puzzling?
Friends posted this photo on Facebook, showing how far they’d gotten on a puzzle created from a map of the old homeplace. The box had no picture to guide their efforts.
At the same time, Judy and I were working on this “jigsaw puzzle mystery” that came with a story and a mystery to solve. We didn’t realize until we began that the photograph on the box didn’t match the puzzle itself.
At first the mismatch was disorienting, then frustrating, then a good challenge. Looking at shapes and colors and piecing the thing together was a great exercise for my sometimes-too-wordy brain.
In Finding Your Way in a Wild New World, Martha Beck reframes problem-solving as “puzzle-cracking.” Conceiving of something as a serious problem immediately brings up rigidity and judgement—which shut down the imaginative flow needed to arrive at creative solutions.
Whether we’re looking at big societal problems (er, puzzles!) or humble homey ones, it’s the same: Play, not work, is key to the process, she says.
Also, a sense of the bigger picture that we may not see, but that we know we can add to, piece by piece, by aligning ourselves with what wants to be born into the world.
In a world of brokenness and discord, how do we map our way home before we can see “the big picture?” I think it comes down to trust that a picture will emerge.
I got to meet local farmer Patty Langeland when I interviewed her for a Farm Indiana piece. She is the fifth generation on Langeland Farms in southeast Indiana, growing certified organic popcorn, beans, and grains. Her business extends to regional popcorn and grains production, and she also maintains a small cow-calf herd, selling grassfed beef.
Here she is five years ago (on right) at Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis, after delivering Langeland Farms beef to be used in “Homegrown Chili.”
Patty has such deep roots in the community. You could say that she herself is a homegrown farmer. So many of us move far from home to find work, and change our housing repeatedly. Here’s a woman who lives in the house where she grew up (built by her grandpa over 100 years ago) and works the land where she used to play.
What I found most fascinating about Patty was the trajectory of her life from farm girl to farmer, and the detours in between.
She never expected to be a farmer, though she knew she loved the land. Like many of us, she can look back and trace the threads of learning that connect to what she does now.
She actually majored in fashion retail at Purdue for a time, and her business sense and creative flair flourished there. But when it sank in that such a career would require her to live in a city, she knew it wasn’t going to work out.
All along, she had been taking classes in the agriculture department, building on the knowledge she’d absorbed without even meaning to as a child on the farm. (A Daddy’s girl, she used to follow her father around and ask every question under the sun.) Eventually, just because she was fascinated by the agricultural arena—with no intent of ever turning it into a career—she ended up specializing in animal science when she graduated from the communications department.
Her life took a traumatic turn when her husband left her, their four boys, and the farm business abruptly. That’s when she ended up being the sole proprietor of the farm (though her beloved dad still owns the land).
It was quite moving to hear her speak of the support her local farming community gave her during this cataclysmic shift, and how her success hinged on a drought year. You can read more about all this in the story if you like.
Recently I asked a group of people: “What or how do you want to transform in 2017?” Their answers, so heartfelt and true, got me thinking of my own answer. What emerged as my “thing” was this: A pattern of having “too much to do,” of constantly slipping toward feeling overwhelmed by life.
I thought it might be useful to share how I am beginning to transform that old habit into my chosen reality: a sense of ease and joy with the smorgasbord of life.
Let me attempt to reconstruct some of that inner work. Below is an approximation—I find it hard to exactly translate this type of exploration unless I’m taking notes every step of the way.
I began by examining my feelings. I realized they stem from old programming, dating back to childhood, when I overidentified with school achievements to make myself OK. It makes sense that that would come up now, because I’m working with a business shaman/coach who gives weekly assignments. Homework! I’m a good student; I do my homework.
Even though the program is grounded in ease and bodily wisdom, as we began to set business objectives for the coming year, I found all my old mental gears revving up. Must prove myself, must pile on more and more, create loads of stress just to show I’m really worth something! (“I have a talent for making things difficult,” I told my coach yesterday.)
Of course I ended up crashing. My body rebelled against an overambitious schedule. My mind grew muzzy and obsessive. My emotional state plummeted too. It was hard to imagine finding joy or ease in any of my goals (which had previously seemed so exciting).
I found, when I sat with my overwhelmed-and-down self and asked for guidance, that there is a surfer within me. She artfully rides the waves, finetuning balance in each moment. Balance is not a once-and-done thing, the guidance suggested. Life can be approached with playful skill.
I might just have to let go a tiny bit and find a way to dance with the rolling waves.
I asked to be released from the need to prove myself. That felt huge.
I also realized that I had willfully constructed a reality in which I was not in charge of my to-do list—subliminally I blamed others for what I had to do. I still felt like that child working for a good grade, though no one grades me now.
Curiously, I found that I held onto the payoff of this dynamic—a wiggly sense of not being fully responsible for my choices, because I could always say that these assignments came from an external place. This resonance with “I am powerless” allowed me to stay safely in my comfort zone.
I found, digging deeper, a fear of people disliking me if I didn’t perform at a high level. Beneath that, a fear of disliking myself if I slacked off: because clearly I am not enough if I don’t at least try to “do it all!”
I worked with myself as I would a client, loving these old programs, asking for their release, inviting the newly created space to be filled with light and love.
Then it was time for what ThetaHealing practitioners call “downloads,” which basically means asking for Divine perspective and understanding through specific statements or affirmations. These are some of the things I pulled into my field while resting in an expanded state:
Show me what it feels like to take full conscious responsibility for my choices.
Show me what it feels like to live in joy and ease.
Show me how to ride the waves creating balance moment to moment.
I forget what else I downloaded, because I was in a theta brainwave state where words and images are ephemeral. It’s a bit like trying to remember dream fragments. But you get the idea.
Now I can set business goals with less baggage—and I can align more easily with my mission of holding space for personal and planetary transformation.
A friend tells me that the biggest thing she learned in 2016 was that through any turmoil and pain, “I meet myself.”
The year rocked many of us, that’s for sure. Collective decisions like Brexit and Trump’s election shook foundational values we thought we could count on. We’ve been forced to look straight into the ugly face of racism, misogyny and xenophobia. We feel a worldtilting sense of shock, anger, and sadness, a literal and physical vertigo. And looking ahead, we fear what “we” have chosen for our future and the world’s future.
My Facebook feed is rife with “eff you, 2016” sentiments. People have declared 2016 to be exceptionally sucky, with an inordinate number of celebrity deaths. Not to mention the election, and its accompanying decline of civil discourse.
There’s much that feels out of our control. People die, pundits yammer, a president-elect tweets vitriol (and intent to expand nuclear weaponry) …
We grieve, we vent, we obsess or step away from the 24-hour news cycle as our constitutions dictate. We might sign petitions, write letters, make plans to march. (Or none of the above. Maybe we go numb, maybe we carry on as before.)
Still, we only meet ourselves. Who are we in this moment? Are we awake? Are we alive? Are we triggered, reactive, stuck in fight-flight-freeze mode?
For myself, I can say that paying close attention to my inner landscape is the only way that I can regain my footing these days. When I find myself in free fall, as soon as I remember to, I breathe into the moment and see if I can tend to the triggered place within me. Then I can move into speech or action (or no-action, as needed) with my energy clear.
I think 2016 was the year that shook us out of our slumber. We have yet to see the full unleashing of a wide-awake (so rudely awakened!) populace. But if the sacred activism at Standing Rock is any indication, spiritually grounded action is a powerful antidote to the corporate greed that runs America.
Most of us won’t take part in grand protests, myself included (most likely). But our actions hold power nonetheless. I was reminded recently to show up in my “home frequency” with authenticity, and let go of outcome.
I think of that fantastically well-written TV show from a few years back, Friday Night Lights. “Clear eyes, full hearts: Can’t lose!” was the mantra of Coach and his high school football players.
How shall we meet ourselves?
Do we go into 2017 embittered, feeling victimized or triggered? Or do we clear our eyes, fill our hearts, and walk into the New Year unfettered?
Such a deep, dark time of year. It’s hard to believe that the days (since Thursday) have already begun lengthening ever so slightly, a minute or so each day.
From the seasons’ turning, we know that an extended darkness doesn’t spell the end of everything. It’s just a cycle. And we ourselves have the agency to find and nurture the light.
On Wednesday night a Solstice fire gave us a chance to turn within. The flames reduced our scribbled papers and sage sprigs to ash as we released ourselves from the weight of the previous year.
Tonight my Jewish friends light the Menorah for the first day of Hanukkah. Meanwhile many Christian folks will go to church for a traditional Christmas Eve candlelight service.
Tomorrow, Christmas Day, we ourselves will celebrate with turkey and dressing shared around our table, and some modest gift-giving afterwards. The lights in our front windows will stay on all day and into the evening, a symbol of welcome.
These traditions call on our highest selves to be kind, to be intentional, to be generous, to be grateful.
Light of the World, Shine on Me, the song says.
I suggest a small change. Shine IN Me. After all, we all carry the seed of Divinity within.
Consider this Facebook post from Jul Bystrova, founder of Era of Care, who just returned home from supporting the water protectors at Standing Rock Indian Reservation:
I find myself often comparing this time to the Lord of the Rings. The darkness grows, destroys and seems impossible to stop. But we do well to remember that we were returned to the light by simple hobbits with tremendous courage. We are those simple hobbits.
Whatever your spiritual tradition: shine on, my friends.