The Truth About Ease

I’ve been both attracted and repelled by an idea that’s gained traction in our culture: that whatever we are supposed to do should feel easy, as in ease-filled. There should be an ease about our choices, and if something is hard, it might not be the right thing for us.

I’ve always thought: What about the Civil Rights movement, and all the hard stuff people did to gain voting rights, to take their rightful place as full citizens? What about every social movement involving people making choices that revealed the truth and pressed for change? What if they’d espoused this philosophy of “ease”—where would our planet be now?

On the other hand, I love the idea of ease! I love the idea that our choices can fit us so thoroughly that our actions and expressions just flow.

Maybe that’s because it’s taken me so long to get over the notion that whatever’s easy for me must not be worth doing. Must not be a gift at all.

Earlier this year a much-admired community organizer stunned me by cluing me in to my impact. Apparently all the stuff I do that comes naturally—reading, thinking deeply, caring, listening, offering insight and concern, connecting people—has helped his organization in ways I couldn’t even imagine.

Here I thought I was just sitting there being thinky/feely, not really “doing” anything.

It’s so easy to discount our native gifts and think we should do more or be different. As Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz counseled a young writer asking how to find her audience: Do You.

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Photo by Walt Stoneburner, via Flickr Creative Commons

So I am learning to follow ease in that regard, and not think that I must work against the grain to offer something of value. After all, the very things that come easy for me might be the hardest things for someone else. Why not play to our strengths?

However, I don’t believe that nothing we attempt should ever be difficult, or that we’re “doing it wrong” if we run into difficulties. I know that writing a book is hard. I know that showing up and being vulnerable is hard. I know that holding people accountable is really damn hard.

Some of these things, at various times and for various people, might be the exact next right thing, no matter how hard. We can tell if they are by keying into a sense of rightness deep in the marrow of our bones.

My new barometer is less about ease and more about alignment. So if something seems hard but still feels right? That’s the direction I need to go.

Integrity

Integrity: noun

1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.
2. the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished: to preserve the integrity of the empire.
3. a sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition: the integrity of a ship’s hull.

In the documentary* Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh, a health worker talks about the integrity of traditional people who inhabit the high Himalayan desert. The villagers, she says, take care of the land and water. They know not to throw rubbish in their waterways. In fact, there is no such thing as rubbish, because everything they gather is used to the fullest.

“See how good the villagers are?” she says, contrasting their lives with the decline of values (along with air and water quality) after this remote region of India was developed.

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Ladakhi woman, photo via Pixabay, Creative Commons license

The film shows how the Ladakhis’ quality of life deteriorated after roads linked pristine “Little Tibet,” as the region is called, with the Indian plains. Ladakh had been a cooperative, sustainable society, based on traditional Buddhist values and the principles of interdependence. But once subsidized products, Western ideas/images, and tourism hit the region? It all changed rapidly.

Small farmers struggled to compete with lower-priced items trucked in from elsewhere. Villages dwindled as young people left their ancestral lands for paid employment. People began competing for scarce resources, where before there had been plenty for all, even with a brief four-month growing season and precious little rainfall.

With competition came enmity for “the other,” as insecurity became the new normal. Ethnic tensions, crime, and poverty, which had never before been an issue, began to taint the larger culture.

Then there were those waterways, which all became polluted around the cities and towns (where more and more people lived in housing developments completely disconnected from water sources.)

You could say it became harder to have integrity, both in terms of ethics and in terms of wholeness/soundness. And this is the state of much of the world, wherever global consumer culture has taken over.

What struck me about the film—even more than the clear contrast of Before and After documented by the venerable Helena Norberg-Hodge—was its demonstration of what human nature really is.

Were the villagers “good”—as in “better than” westernized society with its throwaway mentality and penchant for soiling everything worth protecting? Thinking this way puts such behavior on a pedestal.

But integrity is not some snooty, hard-to-reach thing involving self-sacrifice and personal pain. It is about wholeness, about choosing to act in ways that are aligned with our highest path and purpose.

Looking at footage of Ladakhi villagers laughing and singing as they help their neighbors harvest grain, you don’t get the sense that they are having hard time adhering to lofty principles. They’re simply acting in a way that makes total sense, that preserves life.

In other words, they live in a culture that nurtures alignment with true human nature, which wants to express itself through collaboration and interdependence—with other human beings and with the entire natural world.

Our culture is skewed to greed and self-interest, but this is not “human nature.” How hard is it to approach wholeness in a fractured culture? Really damn hard. You have to be willing to swim upstream, to pay attention, to make countercultural choices.

We have been taught to think that humans are inherently selfish. But voices like Norberg-Hodge challenge that notion, and tell us that we’re looking at humans in an artificially warped setting. Take away the subsidies, the dehumanizing images, the denigration of simple life with its wholesome collaboration, and something else might have a chance to emerge. Something based on a sense of belonging.

Until that day, we have to nurture a consciousness shift within ourselves and each other, toward alignment with our truest integrity.

*Note: See my earlier post about Norberg-Hodge and the need for relocalization.

A New Framework

Over the last number of years, I’ve noticed that my usual driven way of attacking my life has not worked well for me. If I were a car, I would have had my engine set to rev even at idle.

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Photo by proby458 (Paul), via Flickr Commons

At some point I realized that the goal-oriented way I was socialized—that all of us in the Western world have been socialized—actually made things harder. As someone with many projects/passions/interests, I got a rush from setting goals and planning out steps. I loved putting target dates on my calendar and making out lists. (Still do!)

But when it came right down to it, being fueled by adrenaline was not good for my health.

Then there were all the times I fell short and beat myself up, or ended up needing to move all my targets around because I missed one.

That old system started to seem incredibly wasteful, as I got in touch with its cost, and looked at the results. Could I get to the same place with greater efficiency, ease, and joy?

I couldn’t figure out exactly what to do differently, but I knew the word “goal” had become tainted for me. Even “setting intentions” seemed dicey. I started to lean toward words like “commitment” or “pledge” to define what I had decided to do. And yes, I still wanted take action in service of a commitment to myself or others. (I still have many many things I want to put out into the world.)

What to do? I didn’t have a new framework in place that worked.

Penney Peirce’s book Leap of Perception has given me fresh perspective and an alternative path to explore. Willpower, she says (the heavy foot on the gas pedal) is old school, because it assumes that we are outside of All That Is, outside of what we want to bring into our lives. She calls intention “attention with willpower added,” and declares the addition unnecessary, a defunct habit.

But if we experience ourselves enfolded in with everything, part of a holographic universe, creation is a matter of soft attention. Our next right action emerges based on moment-to-moment nudges that invite a resource/experience/project/etc. to form. It happens not through force, but through connection.

Others have talked about this, including Martha Beck—how aligning with what wants to be born allows it to emerge in effortless partnership with you. But I never quite got it till now: How resting in the present moment, paying attention, holding a vision gently, taking inspired action—all come together in bringing something into form.

In my recent Full Attentional Living series, we did an experiment to feel the physical difference between applying force and universal love. As Martha Beck demonstrates in this video, the latter is monumentally stronger.

 

It may seem like Jedi-level stuff—connect to Flow and melt your “opponent’s” resistance!—but anyone can experience it by tapping into a sense of unconditional love, perhaps for an animal companion.

And knowing that, why would I think I need to continue exercising my willpower to power through my tasks?

More Kinds of Beauty

I’m happy being a little bit behind-the-times when it comes to pop culture. OK, I’m really really out of it. There are times when friends’ Facebook posts completely mystify me. Most current films, shows, games, musical groups etc. are not really on my radar. I don’t have cable, or Netflix, or Spotify. I rarely go to the movies.

For entertainment we get DVDs from the library, and we watch our favorite PBS shows on the membership passport website thingy. With subtitles. I might be a little bit old in that regard, though I like to think I’m a woman in my prime.

I guess I sort of live under a rock? A rock made of writing and yoga, home life and books, plus a certain fringy kind of work that totally charges my battery. Weird kid rides again.

But now Pink. Pink is on my radar. Pink, I know and love.

Come to think of it, I know none of her latest stuff. No matter. Here she is talking (to her daughter and all of us) about courage, and art, and opening people’s eyes to more kinds of beauty. A sister Weird Kid. Have a listen if you’ve ever felt like you’re swimming upstream.

 

Localizing: A Systemic Solutions Multiplier

A few weeks ago I attended an Economics of Happiness conference in which one of the speakers, localization pioneer Helena Norberg-Hodge, laid out the case for breaking free from the corporatized global economy. She pointed out that many social ills today are symptoms of an economic system based on greed and top-down control.

Localizing our economy, she said, offers a “systemic solutions multiplier.”

What do we mean by localizing? It involves bringing small businesses back into communities to produce what’s needed closer to home. It means investing in Main Street instead of Wall Street. By preserving customs and cultures through locally produced goods, we all can live better, says Norberg-Hodge.

rome (1024x768)I purchased a DVD of her documentary, Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh, about the arrival of “development” and subsequent breakdown of culture and environment in a traditional community of the Western Himalayas. I also bought The Economics of Happiness, a followup film on reversing the trend. I’ll watch them and write more.

But in the meantime, here’s an eye-opener for you. Did you know that a Swedish energy company is suing Germany for $6 billion because the country decided to phase out nuclear power after Fukushima? And that this suit is allowed under our current trade treaties that prevent governments from inhibiting the profit-making effort of a corporation?

Chilling.

But what does a “de facto world government made up of multinationals” have to do with sexual violence or racism—or the scapegoating of trans people/immigrants/Muslims—or the disrespecting of our earth home? By looking at the broad outlines of structures set up to consolidate power, Norberg-Hodge connects the dots between a global epidemic of depression, a neofascist voting trend, terrorism, domestic violence, disregard of the sacred, and so on.

Insecurity in the workplace, a sense of helplessness and alienation, and skyrocketing costs of living are the direct results of this system, in which multinational corporations wrest control from local communities (often by force).

“When you rob men of their ability to provide for their families, take away their self-respect and livelihoods, you have a recipe for violence,” Norberg-Hodge says. She fingers globalization as the main root cause behind fundamentalism and “othering.” As communities break down, isolation leads to fear, which leads to more separation and suspicion, which sometimes erupts in violence.

The economic system mirrors the cultural story we’ve all been sold. It’s a story that says “reality is physical only” and discounts any wisdom that comes from intuition, heart, spirit. Such a story can make corporations into “people” and people into interchangeable parts of a big machine whose purpose is to turn the natural world into money-making widgets as fast as possible, to make the most money for the privileged few.

Norberg-Hodge points out that the media itself is corporatized and duly invested in keeping people from seeing examples of relocalized power.

Interestingly an energy worker named Lee Harris spoke to a similar phenomenon today. He said the media and power elite don’t want us to focus on grandeur and beauty, on things that would uplift us. They benefit from keeping people depressed, despairing, and impoverished in spirit.

I suggest that it is up to us to maintain our inner sense of agency, in the face of these forces.

Consider Victor Frankl, who survived the Holocaust. He wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning:

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread… Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way… Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom…”

Let us not submit!

From “Me too” to “We All”

Last week a flood of “Me too” posts dominated Facebook as women (and a few men) declared ourselves among the recipients of sexual violence.

If some were surprised at the numbers, I’m betting they were men. My guess is that few women have never been sexually harassed, and if we haven’t ourselves been sexually assaulted, someone dear to us has.

One of the heartening and difficult things of this time in our history is the unveiling of the ugly sickness at the core of western industrial society. What’s revealed is the shadow side of the masculine principle—so far out of balance that it assumes ownership of women’s bodies.

We women know what it’s like to feel unsafe just because we walk around in these bodies. At any moment we could be humiliated, coerced, split open.

I wanted to write about a time in my life when this was not the case. The first time I went to a women’s music festival in the woods of western Michigan, where men were not allowed to enter, I walked at night alone for the first time feeling absolutely safe. The sense of freedom and relief overwhelmed me and contrasted sharply with the way I had lived my life up to that day.

Constantly warned by my mother to watch my back—even on the short walk from garage to house. Constantly aware that I could be interfered with on the street. Monitoring where I put my eyes, how I moved my body. Making myself small so as not to be noticed, or faking badassery so as not to be targeted.

Is this how we want our daughters to grow up?

What is the psychic toll?

And, can we white women translate our experience into empathy for people of color? who also by dint of their bodies move through the world imperiled, subject to daily humiliations and threat of violence?

(The leader of a local African-American grassroots group, questioned by security while waiting for his wife outside a public restroom. The young black man who told me he and his friends hear car locks ka-chunking when they walk past a white-driven car. The teenager at the park who left his bike in the bushes because he had no bike lock, prompting white passersby to report him for suspicious activity. The rampant police brutality, and continuing lack of justice in a stacked-deck system.)

My big question is: Can we take our painful experiences and use them as a way to feel into the lives of others we might think of as different from ourselves—the Muslim immigrant, the transgender person, the poor family?

What if we could also feel into the lives of the terrorist, the abuser, the white supremacist, the greedy corporate titan? Is this a bridge too far? I think of Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh writing of his anger, many decades ago, on hearing how pirates victimized Vietnamese refugees escaping their country by flimsy boat. The pirates had raped a young girl and brutalized entire families.

Sitting with his anger, Thich Nhat Hanh eventually imagined his way into the life of a boy growing up in a country with no opportunity. He imagined the circumstances that might lead up to the teenager joining a pirate band where for the first time he felt a sense of belonging. And so on…until through his imaginings, Thich Nhat Hanh felt his heart open again.

Of course, this is a Buddhist monk we’re talking about, but I wonder how we regular mortals could broaden our sense of compassion to include more than we ever thought possible.

Compassion might be like a muscle that gets worked, gradually getting stronger.

It might be like a tree that grows where such a thing seems impossible.

20170928_095742 (768x1024)I believe that there is no separation between us. That I am you and you are me. That everything in me mirrors you and everything in you reflects me.

And as more of the darkness is revealed, it’s just more opportunity to heal.

A Challenge

My heart is heavy. Here in America we have people dying before their time: from fires in Santa Rosa, flooding in Puerto Rico. Bullets in Las Vegas.

(Fires exacerbated by drought linked to climate change. Floods from an extreme weather event that’s part of a pattern linked to climate destabilization. All the while, political corruption keeps the fossil fuels flowing. And political apathy, it seems, keeps Puerto Rico’s plight off the priority list. As far as the bullets…I’m just tired.)

Meanwhile we have whole swathes of our population subject to brutal treatment because of their race. And then being told that they are anti-American for their peaceful, silent form of protest. Never mind that nothing else has moved the needle on police brutality. The ugly face of white supremacy has taken off its mask, emboldened by our bully-in-chief.

I don’t know where to begin to unravel the intertwined injustices and exploitation and alienation that grip our society.

But I don’t want to go numb. Let me not go numb.

I confess I’m not well-read in these arenas, perhaps in part because I myself have not had up-close-and-personal experience with a superstorm (yet?), or a mass shooting (yet?), or racial violence. But I experience myself as part of the collective, and I am affected. I feel increasingly uncomfortable swimming along in my tidy, sheltered life in the face of monumental suffering.

In my last post I wrote about erosion as metaphor for social change. I acknowledged my unearned good fortune. I spoke of my role as a changemaker on a quiet scale.

All true. Yet something about that combination seems too easy, a bridge to complacency. For someone as privileged as myself—born by sheer accident to middle class white Americans with preferential opportunity/credit/housing over black Americans—the cop-outs come a little too quickly.

(The nest egg my parents nurtured through this preferential treatment, they passed on to me in the form of higher education and help buying my first home. Just one example of societal inequity in action, aka The Water We Swim.)

At a recent civic conversation on the historical implications of slavery,* we white folks were challenged to use our power, access, and money to address systemic racism.

I am trying to figure out what that looks like. I feel like a child still learning. So I’ve turned to other voices to school me.

Here’s Layla Saad, speaking to spiritual white women about white supremacy:

Without meaning to, a lot of times nice, well-meaning white women can contribute in a big way to the problems we see because they don’t speak up, or they want to keep things polite, or they think the best thing they can do is just focus on being a loving person rather than ‘getting involved in politics’. This white silence, white privilege and white shame leads to a lot of white complicity in white supremacy…

As a white person, you have the privilege of being able to say, ‘high vibes only’ and ‘I don’t follow the news because it’s too political’ and ‘I just want to focus on love and light’.

I don’t follow the news. I do want to focus on love and light. Which leads me to keep silent on many issues, believing naively, lazily, that emanating love/peace/care is enough.

The cognitive dissonance is rising. I say I care about justice. What does that look like? Bottom line: I need to figure out how to use my platform (such as it is) to talk about injustice much less obliquely.

Here’s Andrae Ranae (who offers a marvelous coaching-as-activism program) on the limits of the self-help industry and why those of us identifying as do-gooders need to bring social justice into our healing work:

Your work could bring massive sustainable change to many lives, families, and communities, but it won’t if you don’t critically look at the social context that you’re working within….

Your isolated happiness and success does not serve anyone, including you. We are not meant to thrive in isolation. We need each other to do well. If there are people down the street from you that are not well, you’re not well. If there are people across the world that aren’t well, you’re not well. If our Earth is not well, we are not well.

Challenge accepted. I want to continue learning and self-reflecting and imperfectly stretching toward wherever this leads.

My current feeling is this: Since any one of us could die at any moment, we’d better get to living now. It’s always been true, but seems even more so these days, in an age of crisis. Far from bringing me down, remembering this gives me courage.

That, and the basic fact I am Light. And so are You.

* Public Conversation on Race, happening the second Sunday of every month (except November). See https://www.racedialogues.org/