Two nights ago, I laid in my bed, tossing and turning, listless and flooded with panic. My partner brought up the election right as we were trying to go to bed, and just the suggestion of the possibility of a Trump victory on Tuesday left me reeling. I could feel the anxiety coursing through my body: It came in waves, starting as a clenching in my stomach, then a burning in my face and tightness in my shoulders.
I felt utterly anguished, like something very real and very terrible was happening to me in that moment. I used my practice of mindfulness to investigate the emotion and discovered that, in fact, there was not something terrible about to attack me and that, while a Trump Presidency is reasonably scary, there was simply nothing I could do about it at 1:30 AM on Sunday morning.
As my anxiety began to subside, something new started to emerge. My mind started to trace over the day. I thought about the flood of celebrity concerts and videos encouraging people to vote and supporting Hillary. I thought about the creative and witty jingles touting civic engagement. I thought about the scores of photos I have seen of my friends out campaigning and phone banking and getting out the vote. I know this happens every year, but something about this feels a little different.
There is something beautiful happening, and I hope, amidst all the fear, we do not miss it.
This year, we are genuinely confronted with white supremacy, sexism, violence and xenophobia. We are genuinely looking fascism in the face, and that is something I never thought I would say. And, for some Americans, this is just what they have been waiting for. Ever since Obama’s inauguration, since the passage of Affordable Health Care, Syrian refugee resettlement, since a national discourse about sexual assault and transgendered rights, since gay marriage and the Black Lives Matter movement, this is exactly what they have been waiting for. And, in 2015, they got him.
For those Americans, they have delighted in reverent hatred. For other Americans, they have kept their head down and avoided the whole thing.
But for many of us, we are bravely stood up to defy hatred and bigotry and violence and watching that is beautiful. We have proudly taken a stand against this existing in our nation. I think back on the scores of brilliant people of color who have spoke out on national televisions shows arguing compellingly and effectively against Trump supporters and surrogates. I think about the rally protesters, who have withstood violence to stand as a force against it. I think about late night talk show hosts who have cleverly and wittily cut through all of this, who have heartened us and made us see the absurd humor in it all.
There is something terrible and terrifying happening in our country, but there is something beautiful too, and I hope that we do not miss the splendor of that.
Make no mistake: Trump has done terrible things for our nation. He has empowered and emboldened vitriolic hatred and bigotry and has mobilized violence.
But, at the same time, he has done us two favors. He has exposed very real and latent hatred, and has given those of us who are sane the opportunity to be everyday sheros and heros and stand for love and justice. While he has codified violence, he has also empowered a narrative of hope, beauty and love. Where else would “Love Trumps Hate” be an acceptable campaign slogan? Or when else would you see women, and men, claiming their power by reclaiming the phrase “nasty woman”, or banding together under the rallying cry of “pussy grabs back”?
In classical mythology, the heroine always has to descend into the underworld, has to move into the belly of the beast and confront their darkest demons before she can return to truly serve her people. I think, or hope, that that is what America is doing now, journeying through the underworld, through the absolutely worst of ourselves to come out better on the other end.
I see this happening. I see, beneath the rubble, a vibrant, creative, heartfelt movement of falling back in love with civic engagement and standing up for what we believe in.
I see millions and millions of Americans working tirelessly, performing acts of merit on behalf of all of us– for me, for the children alive today, for the future generations. In Buddhism, we talk about Bodhisattvas– beings who are able to achieve Enlightenment but delay doing so out of compassion, so that they may remain on this Earth and continue liberating other beings. But, as Buddhist thought evolved, scholars realized that a Bodhisattva was really anyone performing acts of merit on behalf of others. With this interpretation, I see millions and millions of Bodhisattvas across our nation tonight, canvassing and phone banking and tomorrow driving shuttles to polling places and passing out fliers in service to us all.
From where I stand, yes, I see something heart breaking and scary, but I also see something beautiful. I hope, in all the fear and chaos, we do not miss it. And, I hope we truly revel in it. Because, God knows, no matter what happens tomorrow, no matter who is the winner, we are going to need this beauty to carry us as we try to mend our country.
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Please, America, I am on bended knee, humbled at your feet, begging you, do not make a liar out of me.
Back in February, when I was still working in the Watsonville school system,and when the Republican primary race was still a terrifying multi-person circus show, I comforted a little girl at school. She was about 7-years old, Latina, with Mexican parents. I found her on the playground, hiding under a tree, face buried in dirt. She was sobbing uncontrollably, doing that heaving thing where your lungs are spasming and you suck in throatfuls of air at once, hard and heavy. She could not get out a single word.
Finally, I turned to her friends: What is she upset about? One little girl, looking down and kicking her foot in the dirt, sheepishly spoke up.
Another little girl, Emily, told her that Donald Trump is going to become President and deport all of their families and they would have to stay here alone.
My heart sank. I felt that dropping feeling in my gut. This is what I had been fearing all along, that Trump’s hateful and dangerous rhetoric would eventually make it’s way back to many Latino children I loved in Watsonville.
But, this was back in March, when Trump’s wins were scant and still inconsequential, when even the most schooled Republican pundits where just waiting for him to implode any minute now, when I was sure there was simply no way. I was confident in my country, sure that soon voters would give him the boot.
I assumed that authority grown-ups feel when they assure children there is no monster under their bed and that watermelons will not grow in their stomachs. The world just does not work that way. I explained to the little girl about the primaries, that Donald Trump was not even running for president yet, that first he would have to be chosen by a group of people, and that he was not even going to be chosen for that. He surely was not going to ever be president, and, most importantly, he was not going to deport anybodies family.
Then, I watched in horror as all contenders dropped out, and then again when Trump was irrevocably conferred as the nominee this summer. I felt this terrible feeling in my stomach. I assured that girl that he would never even get nominated, and he did. I lied to her. And since then, he has gotten far too close to the White House for many of our tastes.
So please, America, do not make me a liar again. Please, I am begging you, vote on Tuesday, and vote for Hillary Clinton. I do not want to just elect Hillary, I want to humiliate Trump, send him on his way shamefully with his tail between his legs.
Vote for Hillary because you love her and believe in her. Vote for her because you are a feminist and believe it is high time we get a woman in the White House. Vote for her because you think she will do great things for our country.
Or, vote for her because you are ambivalent about her but terrified of Donald Trump with any more power than he has already assumed. I recently saw a photo of a friend campaigning for Hillary in Nevada. I know my friend to be critical of Hillary. Nonetheless, there she was, gathered with a group of woman around a Hillary sign. The photo was captioned #IguessI’mwithher. I’ll take it.
Vote for her because you love Obama and want more of that. I understand the criticism of Hillary, but I just cannot embrace this “lesser of two evils” business. She is not perfect, but no politician is and that is the system we live in and we should certainly work on changing that. But, as someone who has run a very on the ground program, directly serving the children of farmworkers, I know that our President’s domestic policy has a profound and very real difference to millions of the most vulnerable people in our country. Because of funding for school-based health programs that the Obama administration opened up, I was able to be a part of a program that distributed over 2,100 pounds of fresh produce to children every week. For some of those kids, that food was the difference between dinner or not. Based on her track record, Hillary will continue programs like this and I think that is a good thing.
Or, vote for Hillary because she is the lesser of two evils. There is nothing wrong with that. Just remember that the other evil is an avowed sexist, committer of sexual assault, was enthusiastically endorsed by the KKK and wants to impose authoritarian rule with no regard for the Constitution.
Or, vote for Hillary because your favorite celebrity told you to. Like Beyonce, or Pharrel, or Le Bron or Amy Poehler or Samantha Bee or Louis CK or Amy Schumer or any of the nightime talk show hosts.
Vote for Hillary because, like me, you love a good pant suit and if she wins on Tuesday, you will be purchasing your first.
Or, vote for Hillary on behalf of the millions of American in this country who would be negatively, and disastrously impacted by a Trump presidency. By my estimations, this is any woman, any person of color, any immigrant, any disable person, any young person, or, given his views on climate change, any person who breaths air. It is all of us. And it is most certainly that little girl who was crying on the playground. If you have no other reason than that, vote for Hillary on behalf of that little girl and her family. I can only imagine what she is feeling right now.
So, please America, do not make me a liar once again. If you have not done it already, do your sacred duty and vote. Vote for Hillary Clinton.
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“I walked into the room, and was just utterly speechless. I had absolutely nothing to say to anyone”, said the dharma teacher. After an entire lifetime of leading Buddhist meditation and teaching, she was so completely perplexed and disheartened by the mess of the elections that she simply had nothing to say about it.
That is exactly how I have felt about what is happening at Standing Rock. I just do not know what to say. I am completely speechless because, on the one hand, it feels so completely obvious to me– obvious to me that the people are justified in their occupation, obvious that the state needs to stop their violence and obvious that the pipeline should be halted– and at the same time, I am speechless because I am so in awe of what is happening. It’s like that feeling of looking at something amazing, like the Grand Canyon or a redwood tree, where you are completely overcome by wonder and rendered speechless.
What feels obvious to me is this: Of course. Of course the people of Standing Rock are justified in being there, of course they deserve the right to not just protest but hold the land and of course the government should call the whole thing off.
The pattern seems obvious to me. To settle this country, early colonizers systematically removed native peoples from this land, a pattern that continued through westward expansion, and today, as tribes are relegated to small, remote reservations. And Morton County law enforcement officials replicated that pattern last Thursday when police, armed, wearing riot gear and with tanks were deployed to move the people from their ancestral lands, guaranteed to them by the Fort Laramie Treaty.
The motives of our government, and the values they are protecting, are laid bare: the protection of a harmful fossil fuel industry, corporate profits and the disregard of Indigenous rights. The recent acquittal of Ammon Bundy and company, the ranchers who armed themselves and occupied a Federal building in the Malhuer National Wildlife Refuge, on the same day that Native protesters and allies were removed from their lands highlights a clear racial and ancestral hierarchy, where white people who formed an armed militia on federal property get off scotch free, while Indigenous occupiers are forcedly removed.
When I watch videos of private police releasing dogs, or state police wrestling protesters, I cannot help but think of the photos we have from the Civil Rights movement, where our government responded the same way. We look back at the Civil Right movement now, knowing that we are a better country for it. So when will governments and corporations stop reproducing violence in the face of change, and only decades later realizing the gift of that change?
The events at Standing Rock are heartbreaking and outraging. They are the Great Unravelling, the violent gnashing of corporate capitalism as it clings vehemently to its entrenched ideals.
And, at the same time, I am speechless because it is absolutely miraculous. Like the Black Lives Matter movement, it feels like an historical moment of our time, where we are literally watching as brave souls band together to change the course of our world. Those at Standing Rock are performing acts of merit on all of our behalves.
In every interview I have seen with Indigenous leaders, when asked why they are doing this, they say they are doing it to ensure clean water for all. They are not just doing this form themselves; they are acting on behalf of all present and future generations. They understand that they are not simply individual, autonomous beings, or beings simply connected through our existence on the planet at the same time. We are beings that are interwoven in a deep and inseparable web of life– life of different species, life alive yesterday, and life that will be alive in the future.
Those at Standing Rock are seeing themselves in a bigger and radically different way, moving from seeing themselves as individuals, separate from others and the rest of the world, to understanding themselves as a “we”.
The protest is also momentous because it is a global convergence of Indigenous leaders. Right now, we need our Indigenous leaders more than ever. I recently heard Indigenous leader Patricia St. Ogne say that Indigenous leaders hold the seed of survival. These leaders come from lineages that have seen destruction of the world as they know it, and survived. Right now, when we are facing the collapse of our natural systems, we need the voices of those who know destruction and resistance more than ever.
I feel gobsmacked, completely overwhelmed by the deep feeling of reverence and gratitude for those at Standing Rock. I stand in awe of them. They are working on my behalf. They are working on behalf of the children I do not even have yet. They are working on all of our behalf, and not just in the fight for clean water, but in the fight for a decolonized and life sustaining world.
This is the Great Turning. The global shift in perspective, the understanding of and moving from a place of deep interconnection, the appearance of some public sense of sacredness and reverence, the empowerment and solidarity of those who never lost that.
And, no surprise, it is happening in direct parallel of the Great Unravelling, the corporate clamp down on private property and a reliance on state violence, instituationalized racism and state supported greed.
We still do not know how this will turn out. Will the water keepers prevail, or will they be overtaken by state violence? Will the Dakota Access Pipeline be halted, and the land returned to those to whom it was promised? There is no way of knowing, but I am grateful to bare witness to this movement, and even more grateful that I can contribute, however small or great, to the outcome.
There are many ways to help out. For those who cannot drop what we are doing and drive out there, you can donate. Follow this link: Donate here. I just did. I hope you will too.
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As an adolescent, every Sunday morning of my life unfolded in the same orchestrated dance: my mom and three sisters would be piled into our 1994 emerald green Town and Country minivan, my father would be pacing back and forth impatiently by the front door of our house, and I would be racing around the back of the house, scrambling to get ready for church.
My constant tardiness was both calculated– an intentional thorn in the side of my parent’s mandate of compulsory anything– and happenstance– I still, to this day, struggle to be on time. But, despite my rebellion, there was something I secretly loved, just a little bit about church: I loved the community, I loved the philosophy of kindness and compassion, and the opportunity, every week, to pan out and see how our lives extend beyond what we know.
Now an avowed Buddhist, I do not go to Church any more. But, I still have that same need for connection and perspective and community. And, for this, I go to Bioneers.
Bioneers is an annual conference in San Rafeal, CA that brings together activists, artists, scientists, educators and business leaders into one solutions-focused, inspiring weekend. They highlight people on the front lines working for positive change, the movers and shakers who are reshaping our world, those fighting for justice, health and the environment, those who live and breathe this world in this time of great heartbreak and rebirthing.
This is my church. This is where I go, year after year, to get filled up.
This year was nothing short of that. Here is a report-back with the greatest gems of wisdom I am taking away from the weekend:
- Reside in my heart. Right now, I am in a world of academia, a world that loves to dissect and deconstruct and problematize and critique. We love to pick things apart and find everything that is wrong and disavow anything we cannot see and measure. This is Descartes world of reason and rationality, where our thinking minds are our only source of knowledge and the only viable way of being.
We are more than just our minds. Long-time Black Panther leader, educator and activist Erica Huggins stood on stage in front of hundreds of people, and invited us all to move back into our heart and our bodies. I took deep breaths, felt my feet on the ground and remembered: I am a living, breathing body, circulating air that has been breathed by eons of microscopic fungi and prehistoric crustaceans and the earliest glimmers of humans. I have a beating heart that has it’s own rhythm and longings, its own wisdom and knowledge.
When I live with that remembrance, my experience of the world is radically different, slower and more connected. I am a different person– more perceptive, joyful, generous, wise. The actions I take are that too– more informed, joyful, generous, and wise.
2. The value of deep, old friendships. When I listened to several presenters, I didn’t just listen to what they said, but also the stories they told and how they told them. A common thread in these stories was old, long time friendships, the kind that run deep and wear grooves in ridges of your soul. Many of them referred to a fellow speaker or panelist, saying “We’ve been friends for 20 years”, or “I first met so-and-so back in 1975”.
Hearing this awoke a thirst in me. These are the kinds of friendships I want, friendships that will carry me through the milestones of life, friendships that will turn into aunties and uncles for the children I do not yet have, who will comfort me once my parents have gone to the grave, who will go on road trips with me when I am an empty-nester. I want friends that will wear groves in the ridges of my souls.
3. And lastly, the absolutely exhilarating splendor of being alive today. These are amazing times, unreplicated in all of human, and planetary, history. We are alive at a time when the existence of complex lifeforms is threatened. We are living through a mass extinction, something that has never happened when there was consciousness to comprehend it. Never before has there been so much dying, and someone there to bear witness to it, to love it and miss it and grieve it.
This is a double edged sword, both joyful and terrible. This is the kind of grief that, if you let yourself feel it–really feel it– could destroy you. And at the same time, there is so much blessing in it, blessing in the fact that we are alive right now, blessing in the fact that we have the opportunity to act, blessing for resistance. As Joanna Macy says, if you knew the lives of your sisters and brothers were threatened, wouldn’t you want to be there defend them?
Of course you would. And we are here, alive right now, with the gift of doing just that.
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Many months ago, when the Republican primary was still a multi-person circus show and the Democratic side was markedly civic but still a juicy race, I was working in Watsonville, a 30 minute commute from my home in Santa Cruz. Each day, I would load into my Honda Fit and drive down the coast.
And everyday, to accompany my drive, was NPR. Thirty minutes each way, at least an hour a day, was devoted to radio journalism in it’s many forms: Stocks and bonds, science, news, commentary, storytelling. And of course, politics.
With this daily dose of politics, and my fierce commitment to justice, I was absolutely hooked. I was obsessive about every twist and turn of each campaign, watching closely as Trump took the nomination, and Clinton claimed hers, and the two pivoted to face each other. I carried around my indignation, my frustration, my stubborn sense of hope like a badge of honor.
Then something shifted for me personally. My summer work took me into the deep wilderness, into the Sierras, the Inyo National Forest, Sequoia, John Muir Wilderness, the Carson National Forest. I unplugged. I got away from the noise and the mess of politics, took a deep breath of high, thin mountain air and forgot about the disaster our nation was facing.
And it was fantastic.
When I returned, I was not eager to turn my phone back on, open my email, check Facebook or read the news paper. For a few precious days, I clung to my serenity and openness, terrified of what the world would look like when I burst my insular bubble.
Of course it finally burst, and I found that, without surprise, the world was as messy, terrifying and wonderful as I had remembered it.
There were two extremes– being hooked and obsessive, or blissfully withdrawn– that I vascillated between, and I cannot imagine I am the only one doing this. With a political climate so rife with fear and hatred, it is easy to either entrench ourselves and become obsessive, continuously shocked at the newest unbelievably outrageous thing Trump said (although he always says something else even more outrageous) that will surely sink him (although it never does), or, feeling overwhelmed and frustrated, retreate into our own hopelessness, making our lives small and separate from the greater world.
Unfortunately, neither of these reactions are particularly helpful. If we simply ignore what is going on in the world, we surrender what power we do have and resign ourselves to the future we are wanting to avoid. Or, if we become emotionally entangled, we are simply reacting to the world’s events, instead of acting effectively to build something new.
So what do we do? I am not sure I have a complete answer, but I am trying to edge out a middle path for myself, somewhere between engagement but attachment, a place where I can claim my agency but not let it overtake me, a place between awake and aware but still balanced. It is a place of deep care for the world, of wanting it to thrive and believing in justice and knowing that we all, everyday, have the opportunity to strive for that. It is a place of claiming our agency, our profound power, and our brilliance. But, it is also a place where I remember that the world always has been and probably, at least for my life time, always will be deeply flawed. There is always strife and pain and heartbreak, and if I carry that around everyday, it will destroy me.
Balance is an operative world in all of this, a word so delicately embodied by the Buddha, who walked the razor-thin Middle Path between skin-and-bones astheticism and the grip of the material world. I am far from the Buddha’s enlightenment, but I can follow his example, and shoot for the moving target between two extremes.
For me, the Middle Path in a crazy political world is watching the debate, but also taking time to watch the stars emerge within the dark blanket of sky, or listening to political commentary but also listening heartfully to a friend’s new burgeoning love story. It is fully feeling the rage and fear I feel when I take stock of the world, but also putting down that rage and fear, recognizing that, most of the time, the world is pretty benign, recognizing that to cling to my suffering is going to create more suffering in the world. It is claiming and acting on my agency, working towards what I believe in, fully engaging with Democracy– phone banking and registering voters and writing op-eds– but knowing that, at the end of the day, I can no more control the results of the election than I can control my cancelled flight or Bay Area rush hour traffic.
I am not perfect at this. I, like many of us, vascillate wildly between these two extremes, always reaching for the moving middle ground.
I think about it like this: You know when you are on a flight, and the screen shows a map of the flight, illustrated with an image of the plane and a straight, solid line to represent the plane’s intended path? Underneath that solid, straight line, is another line, wavering and jagged, showing the actual path that the plane has taken. It is never intentional, but it always happens, that the plane tacks left and right, constantly correcting and overcorrecting and recalibrating based on air currents and flight trajectory and fuel consumption. This is how we travel, this is how we can reach for sanity in this crazy world, moving back and forth over the narrow ground of the Middle Path, always aiming for the center, moving over it and constantly touching it, but only for an instant.
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“So, what is the Great Turning?” This is a question I am asked frequently. And, honestly, most of the time, I want to look right back at people and say, “Good damn question.”
I do not have an elevator speech at the ready, and, despite how essential the concept is to my entire relationship to the world, I do not have an answer I can quickly rattle off to for the question.
When I think about that question, more and more, I think about storytelling. The Great Turning has a lot to do with storytelling, and specifically, the idea that we are all story tellers of the world, constantly telling ourselves and others stories about how the world works. We do this through what events and facts we highlight in conversation, and how to interpret the events of the world.
To me, the Great Turning is about making an active choice in that storytelling, a choice that both acknowledges the hardship, the grief, the breakdown, the deteriment of society that we are living through. It acknowledges the profound inequity and climate crisis we are.
But, it also acknowledges the radical and beautiful positive change we are living it. In acknowledges the profound reweaving of once severed threads of connection, the threads that bind us deeply to ourselves, to the more-than-human world, and to community both local and global, an interwoven tapestry of ourselves and the world and the multitude of beings, of sisters and brothers and elements that make that up.
I see evidence of this everywhere. In Bernie Sanders recent campaign for presidential nomination, both so deeply hopeful and terribly botched, and in North Carolina’s “bathroom bill”, which is a regressive and hateful limiting of our sense of humanity, but one that was forged as a reaction to a local municipality passing a law that did the opposite, and in the beautiful poetic justice that they are now being sued by Attorney General Loretta Lynch, a black woman from North Carolina.
And largely, I see it in what is happening in Charlotte and Tulsa, in the death we have seen happening all over the country. These deaths are terrifying, they are racially based and are a part of a long time national legacy of state-sanctioned killings of people of color, and particularly black men.
We also know that these killings are nothing new, that black men have been the victims of police brutality since the inception of this country, and that, what has changed, is that people are starting to wake up to this fact. We are starting to talk about it. And we have social media and documentation tools that let people get the word out. White people are finally, bit by bit, starting to wake up and see their deep interconnectedness with the black community, the way that their humanity is linked to everyone else’s to and understand themselves in these issues. A broader community is starting to grapple with these issues, and, amidst the hatred and violence, the state sanctioned repression and ongoing violence, people are beginning to demand something new. The justice department is stepping in. Police are wearing body cameras. Athletes and actors, famous people who have our national attention and the money to back their views, are speaking out.
And perhaps the most inspiring to me, is the way that, out of these ashes, there is a rising and growing groups of on the ground heros, normal people performing small and decentralized acts to show solidarity, courage and make a bold statement for the possibility of change.
And I se
At about three o’clock yesterday morning, I woke up suddenly from a panicky dream. I was on the stage of a massive lecture halls, the kind with long rows of tiered stadium seating. It was the first day of my position as a Teaching Assistant and I huddled anxiously at the podium. I had forgotten that it was the first day of class, and had not prepared anything. To my horror, the students began to trickle in, one by one, and I looked at the clock, wondering how I could possibly kill the next 50 minutes.
When I woke up, grateful to find myself safe in my bed, I felt curious about what spurred the dream. I am usually very adaptive in new situations, but (as I mentioned in my last blog post, My whirlwind month) I am in a massive transition right now. I have left my job, my community and my home, and the stress of beginning an ambitious graduate program at a big research institution is starting to set in. My life has changed dramatically and it is completely disorienting and that is a hard feeling to be with.
And really, is that not our world right now? Things are changing, and rapidly. We are more connected then ever been, but every year brings a new iPhone, a new operating system to learn, a new watch and a further creeping infringement of technology into our lives. We are living through the sixth mass extinction and our climate is changing at a rate never experienced by humans before. It is easy to feel destabilized and confused and overwhelmed.
A lot of things are changing right now, and even a little bit of change can be absolutely terrifying. And for good reason: Our brains were designed to perceive any change in our environment as a potential threat to our survival. For our ancestors, who lived much closer to eminent dangers such as big predators or starvation, this adaptation was nothing short of vital. But, luckily, for most people, most of the time, our lives are not actually threatened.
Nevertheless, that feeling of something being threatened is very real, and can create all kinds of maladies in the world. It seems to me like the Trump campaign is really just a nation-wide reaction to change.
Even for those not involved in that train wreck, we still have developed a whole suite of clever ways over, around, away from or in defiance of change. We cling to the past, we distract ourselves, we overeat and overwork, medicate ourselves and spend hours on phones and computers and TVs. We shop like crazy and overschedule our lives and, in order to avoid the biggest reminder of change, which is death, we worship youth, banish our elders to care facilities and continue to invest in multi-billion dollar medical system that keeps people alive longer and longer, just so we can put off having to say goodbye.When it comes to change, we want to go any way but through it.
But feeling hard things is really the only way through this mess. Feeling the heartbreak, the grief, the confusion, the terror, feeling it all, with an open heart. It is an act of courage, one that brings insight and blessings.
That is where I have found myself lately, literally sitting in my room, snuggled into a red framed wooden chair, and being with the hardship of my transition. Sitting with the grief of leaving my home, the sadness of missing people I love, the confusion of city streets and buildings whose geography I do not understand.
I think that is what the world is asking of all of us right now: To be with the rage of injustice at another black body lost in the streets to violence, the grief of species being lost to disappearing habitats and the terror of not knowing what the world will look like for future generations. See how rage illuminates our sense of morality, how grief points to what we love, and how terror shows us what we need to work for. As fully as possible, with the hardship and the joy.
And then, from that place of groundedness, from that place of deep connection to our own truths, with greater clarity and insight, we can leap into action.
I think about it like this: I once heard a story about Zen monks who would spend hours studying one piece of grass. They would come to perfectly know it’s curves and movements, how the strations perfectly followed the angle of the blade, how its green faded to brown at the bottom or where it was tattered at the top. Then, after hours of still study, after coming to know that blade of grass so fully, they would, with only a few efficient, well planned flicks of their wrist, paint the blade of grass, cutting right to the heart of it’s essence.
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Hello beloved readers! I am going to do something I have not done really on this blog. I am going to write about my life. Not my life in a bigger context, or an antidote about my life that helps illustrate an idea, but just my life.
I have not written for a while– over a month! I was blessed to spend most of August amidst wild places, in the Eastern Sierras and Carson National Forest of New Mexico, and had an unrealistic idea that I would be able to write in between my comings and goings. As you all know, I did not. Woops. Here is an account of the last month for me:
“Yea, well, you’re naive”, said my co-worker as we were weeding a patch of cauliflower. The comment came several years ago in response to my analysis that, although the world is undeniably filled with terrible things, there is great suffering and disaster and corruption, I still felt hopeful.
My co-worker’s response left a bad taste in my mouth, one that I carried home and ruminated on for a while. I thought about the definition of the word, naive, having a lack of experience or knowledge, and about the course of my then short 25 year life: I have lived with AIDS orphans and looked into their liquid hungry eyes. I have sat with people who have no running water or electricity and couldn’t live. I have slipped extra food into the bag of a child I knew was living on the streets with her 4 brothers and sisters, and have comforted a young girl who was picked on for being the only black girl at her school.
I am not naive. There is certainly plenty that I do not know about the world, but I am not unaware of the horrors of the world and how they play out on the tenderest of lives in it.
But, I do choose to orient myself towards hope, which, for those who choose cynicism, is perceived as naivety.
As I thought about my co-worker’s comment, and my own life, I started to wonder: Why am I so hopeful? Where did my hopefulness come from? Why do I choose that over cynicism?
There are a lot of answers to that question, but one that shines through, one that is connected to both my understanding of suffering in the world as well as my great experience of joy and hope.
Ever since I was young, when I was a kid myself, I have spent a great deal of time with people younger than me. I have baby sat, taken care of younger siblings and cousins, taught summer camp, tutored, run youth programs, lead backpacking groups and taught afterschool. My life is and always has been dedicated to connecting with, supporting, loving on and empowering youth. I think their voices are so vital in our world as guiding voices and unique prospectives.
And, how can you not be hopeful if you spend time with youth? Their boundless optimism, their unending energy and ideas and thirst for life is a profoundly hopeful and enlivening force in the world and in my life.
So, when it seems like our nation needs hope the most, and as I am embarking on exploring the topic through writing, it seems right to turn to a constituency from whence it flows naturally: Youth. Babies, kids, adolescents, 1-year-old’s taking their first steps and toddlers stringing together their first sentences and teenagers emerging into their own understanding of themselves.
This is my deepest expression of gratitude to the hundreds and thousands of youth who have touched my life, who have written me cards and drawn me pictures and made me earrings, who have inspired joy and celebration and humor and who, through their eyes, I have seen the glimmer of hope, the notion that while I am a part of a generation now who is working to make things better for the younger generations, when my generation gone, I there will be this younger generation, the youth of today, will be working to make the world better for the next generation, the ceaseless cycle of progress, ever-renewed by the vigor of youth.
And, one last thing, I especially have youth on the mind right now, as tomorrow I leave to lead a backpacking trip with a group of amazing high school girls from the San Francisco Bay Area. We will be backpacking in the Eastern Sierras for 11 days and summitting Mt. Langley, which stands at just over 14,000 ft tall. It is incredibly beautiful lead this trip annually with GirlVentures, an organization which teaches leadership, personal empowerment and social justice to girls through outdoor adventure. These kinds of experiences, where youth are wildly out of their element and challenged and supported and held in a tight container, are absolutely vital to healthy development, and a healthy world. We need to support our youth, and give them opportunities to grow. It will surely be an exciting and inspiring adventure, one which I will be excited to share with you all when I return.
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The fuzzy image, captured on a cellphone, of a black man slumped over in his seat, after being shot while reaching for his wallet. The voice of his girlfriend, which remains flat and the obvious panic in the voice of the officer. The scrolling of names and images of the 49 killed in Orlando. The picture of a casket draped in a flag, with a teary eyed child slumped over it, mourning the death of his father, a former police officer in Dallas. The fiery voice of a Presidential candidate booming Orwellian ideas about banning Muslims and building a wall on our Southern border.
Those are the sights and sounds of 2016 so far and they are horrific. They are all things I never thought I would see or hear in my life time, things that continue to baffle and haunt me.
It is undeniable: 2016 has been a terrible year. But is that all that is going on?
I like to take the long view in life, to pan out and look at the big picture. When I do that, I see a larger story playing out.
My life, and this blog, is dedicated to the Great Turning, the idea that humans are currently in a time of transition, a massive, global shift from a life-defeating society, one that breeds division and disconnection, one that gives credence to financial gains above all else, one where black lives or poor lives or Latino lives do not seem to matter, to one that is life sustaining, where we move beyond our ideas of divisions and separation and see our deep, implicit connection and interdependence upon all of life.
There is evidence for the Great Turning everywhere: There are more people then ever engaged in positive change, more people dedicated to service on behalf of their idea of the greater good then ever before. Countries around the world have signed onto a Declaration of the Rights of Nature. And, believe it or not, violent crime has been dropping since the early ’90’s.
The thing about the Great Turning is it is happening with the Great Unraveling, which is the collapse of the life-defeating society. It is the way that things are falling apart and they are all going to hell. It is the absolute, heartbreaking mess of 2016.
These two forces– of the Great Turning and the Great Unraveling–are bound to happen in conjunction with each other. They are the age-old cycle of death and birth, the dynamic and tense forces of collapse and rebuild, chaos and re-ordering, destruction and construction. They are the expansion and necessary contraction of the flapping wings that enables a bird to fly.
Things will fall apart. They are falling apart. And as they fall apart, we will find new ways. And as we find new ways, there will be backlash and reaction and they will fall apart more. And again, from the rubble, we will find new ways.
This is the mess of 2016. It is a reaction to real and legitimate change. North Carolina’s regressive “bathroom bill” is a reaction to it’s largest city Charlotte passing a law that would ensure dignity and safety for transgender folks. Donald Trump is a reaction to President Obama, who, although not perfect, represents a real shift in power dynamics in our country.
Change is happening, and when that happens, everybody has a different reaction. Some embrace it. Some ignore it. Some try to control it. Some try to guide it. And some, sensing the terrifying reality that their relationship to the world is changing, are gripped by fear and dig their heels in deeper. To some, change will always be terrifying, equality will always feel like oppression and the way things were will always be better than an unknown possibility.
It is vital to remember that we always have a choice about how we respond to change. We get to choose our framework. We get to choose whether we see things getting better or falling to shit. There is evidence for both of these scenarios, the Great Turning or the Great Unraveling, and we get to decide on the story we live in.
My biggest fear in that many of us will forget that, that we will comply with the story our mainstream media obviously chooses and live only in the story of Great Unraveling, and that it will feel too big and overwhelming for us to grapple with and we will throw in the towel. I know that, this summer, I have felt myself wanting to do so.
It is always important to orient towards hope. It is even more important to orient towards hope when times feel bleak. In response to this concern, I have decided to write a series of articles on hope. things I find hope in. Practices to cultivate hope and how t0 translate it into action. How to take heart in when all feels hopeless. This article is the beginning of that.
I want to end on that note of hope by sharing one of the ways I orient myself towards hope: I look for evidence of the Great Turning. Amidst disaster, I look for the ways humans are starting to reweave the tatter threads of our connection. Like how, while some police departments are clamping down tighter, some are finally having a conversation about the brutality that has been happening all along. Or how I finally see elected officials talk about healing and more white folks finally acknowledging their privilege. Or, in the face of tragedy, although a small portion use it to drive division, the majority of us reach for connection, unity and love.
Help spread the hope! If you enjoyed this, please pass it along via email or sharing it on Facebook. And leave me a comment: how do you stay hopeful?