community

Connected

<Feb. 19/12.>

Once upon a time, I had a tiny perfect life, one I unconsciously assumed would last forever. We would go on with our tiny perfect life, & all would be well, & we would live happily ever after.

Oops. Oops, oops, oops. This, of course, did NOT come to pass.

Things got messy – very, very messy – because after all, life is messy, isn’t it???

Gone are the days of the nice, well-kept house & me as tiny, perfect wife & mother (of course I was never actually tiny or perfect) with my tiny, perfect, predictable life. (This was all the merest illusion, of course, but of course I didn’t know that then.)

Life got messy. Divorce happened, & a joint custody arrangement – 2 things that have forever irrevocably altered my relationships with my children. No getting around that

Off down a wildly unpredicted (& unpredictable) path went I, with much tripping & falling & flying over & sometimes into abysses – accompanied by considerable joy & spirit-soaring & triumph, even (but let’s be honest – lots of loneliness, too) – with all along the way, many, many, many lotus flowers growing out of the plentiful, plentiful mud.

New friendships, adventure galore, relationships – JOY!! The locating of a tribe to which I now happily belong – the tribe of activists – people who are active, people who CARE, are open to change & growth, who dedicate their time & energy & lives to making the world a better, safer, saner place.

***

You know that “Zen poem,” the one that goes like this?

“A man travelling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself over the edge.

The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.

Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man then saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other.

How sweet it tasted.”

“Tigers above, tigers below,” as Pema Chödrön puts it.

We live, we all live, we are all poised, with tigers above, tigers below.

We must seize joy – our precious moments of pleasure & exaltation – from the jaws of the tiger.

I do this. I even do it rather well, I think.

Sometimes, though, I fall down on the job. Sometimes, I focus too much on the Tiger.

The Tiger looms before me. Nuclear disasters/accidents/pollution/waste … evil??

Peak oil / the coming crash(es).

APATHY. The apathy & indifference of so many people in the face of the Tiger. They infuriate me, this apathy & indifference (or just make me tired, very very very tired. Depends on my energy level, I guess).

And then I connect again with the members of my tribe. Who always help hold me up. They send cheerful email messages. And inspire me. Energize me. Give me hope when no reasonable or possible expectation (or hope) of hope really exists.

Today, in the face of this wandering Despair that afflicts me from time to time, a dear new friend sent me this link to an article called ‘Toward Hope in a Too-late World,’ at the top of which it reads “Only connect. This is how we make meaning. This is how we learn to think as Nature thinks.” (Gregory Bateson, anthropologist.)

“Only connect.”

This quotation – & the essay that follows it – somehow mysteriously buoyed me up.

I am connected. (I am well-connected, you might say...)

Thankfully, thankfully, thankfully, thankfully, thankfully…

Janet

p.s. the friend who sent me that link sent me this one, too. Good stuff if you want a concise, thorough take on where our species now finds itself.

Anarchy, Fairy Tales & Freedom

<March 16/10>

I actually wanted to call this essay “Communism, Fairy Tales, Anarchy & Freedom,” but I know how afraid of communism most people are, so I left out that word.

I became interested in communism in my late teens, after a privileged & pretty mixed-up childhood. Money held no fascination for me whatsoever – but the idea of communities & sharing needs & abilities definitely did.

But then I got caught up in what I now look back on as the fairy tale phase of my life, & my interest in communism (politics of any kind, really) just kind of fell away.

At first during that “happily ever after” phase, I had a job in which I told myself I was “helping” people (& who knows, maybe I did even somehow sort of help one or two individuals), but the prince & princess living “happily ever after,” for me, consisted mostly of marriage & family life – which, admittedly, was pretty darn wonderful for quite a few years there. My prince & I “made one another happy” for quite a while – just not “ever after,” alas…

15 or so years into the fairy tale, a passion for environmental work overtook me (to my own great surprise) & this has led to a great many unintended consequences (a phrase I now just love; it covers such a lot of territory, doesn’t it?).

So here I sit, today, writing this on a sun-warmed rock in a lovely outcropping on a pretty hillside in southern Ontario, where I’m living for a while in this current nomadic phase of my life. No set “home” – a “foot in three camps” as I like to joke (‘though I still have only two legs!) – not knowing what may come next, nor where I am likely to land.

The marriage ultimately didn’t work out (though 20 years & two great kids are certainly nothing to sneeze at), & relationships since don’t seem to have, either. Given my own personal life/childhood history, the 5000-year run of patriarchy & its far-reaching & not necessarily well-understood impacts, women & men’s current confusions over relationships & who we are & what we want – & the state of the world in general – this is not so surprising, really.

The solitary streak in me has grown very wide. Years of living alone have made me…ever more solitary. A bit anxious when around other people’s company & routines for long stretches of time. (For some reason too, I have a positive horror of being “in the way” – some weird holdover from that … difficult childhood, I reckon. I’ll do almost anything to avoid feeling I am in the way…)

I live on a teeny-tiny income no one else I know could begin to survive on (or even want to get by on), and since money & things don’t interest me much, I don’t “have” to “work” right now. This seems to really rattle some people. (I wonder, do they resent/envy my freedom? My choices?)

I adore my current freedom – but it has & does come at some cost. Everything always does, doesn’t it? Biologist Barry Commoner(1) articulated “4 Laws of Ecology: Everything is connected to everything else. Everything must go somewhere. Nature knows best. There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

Note that last one, hmm? No free lunch. We do always pay for what we get. I pay for my freedom in several ways, trust me. (We all pay for our choices, hmmm?)

Well, for the past few years I’ve begun thinking of myself as a bit of an anarchist. Like communist, the word “anarchist” seems to frighten people. (Imagine grown-ups being afraid of mere words & concepts; a bit silly, isn’t it?)

The Collins dictionary available to me here defines an anarchist as 1. A person who advocates the abolition of government and a social system based on voluntary cooperation. 2. A person who causes disorder or upheaval. Kurt Vonnegut has a character in his novel Jailbird say “Anarchists are people who believe with all their hearts that governments are enemies of their own people.”(2)

Works for me!

Anarchism-Abbey

All I know is, things on Planet Earth don’t seem to be working too very well. Ya think? Our air is foul, our waters polluted, & much of our Earth now toxic. As the planet sickens, so do we. (Know anyone with cancer? I rest my case.)

A clever quotation I’ve run across goes “There isn’t a problem with the system. The system is the problem.”

Capitalism & “democracy” don’t quite seem to be doing the trick, do they? (Like Christianity, real democracy remains mostly un-tried. (3))

I keep meaning to write an essay called “What is Missing?” & maybe I will finally get to it.

What is missing, in my view, are 2 things:

  1. Deep, deep gratitude for this unbelievably awesome, generous wondrous Earth we’ve been given;
  2. Community. Tribe. Belonging

If we all begin working on these two big pieces of the puzzle that you might call Earth Falling Apart in 2010, I think a lot of pretty cool stuff would start happening. (Of course, lots of cool stuff is already happening!! There are tons of people working away on this stuff as we speak.(4))

Of course, I do not possess a crystal ball. Seems to me this whole shebang could “blow” at any time. Of course, that’s an excellent argument for practicing gratitude, living fully in the present moment, & building community. We might as well keep our focus on what really matters in life, since there are no guarantees about what will happen around the next bend. I have a suspicion that the less we focus now on what really matters, the nastier it’s liable to be.

So sayeth I, your friendly local anarchist. One who is trying hard to bring us all back to the really, really simple things: gratitude, community and circles.

Janet

p.s. There are many essays about gratitude on this blog. Only because it’s the primo, most important & perhaps most left-out thing going on Planet Earth. And because it’s free & wonderfully rewarding & liable to lead, when practiced faithfully, to much happier lives & communities & families – & even a healthier planet… No kidding!!

‘Quote of the day’  with this post: “…as the Buddha told his cousin Ananda, the whole of the holy life is good friends. Our relationships – and our love – are ultimately what give depth and meaning to our lives.” – Joan Halifax in Being with Dying – Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death.

My first idea for ‘Quote of the Day: “The aesthetic indictment of industrialism is perhaps the least serious. A much more serious feature is the way in which it forces men, women and children to live a life against instinct, unnatural, unspontaneous, artificial. Where industry is thoroughly developed, men are deprived of the sight of green fields and the smell of earth after rain; they are cooped together in irksome proximity, surrounded by noise and dirt, compelled to spend many hours a day performing some utterly uninteresting and monotonous mechanical task. Women are, for the most part obliged to work in factories, and to leave to others the care of their children. The children themselves, if they are preserved from work in the factories, are kept at work in school, with an intensity that is especially damaging to the best brains. The result of this life against instinct is that industrial populations tend to be listless and trivial, in constant search of excitement, delighted by a murder, and still more delighted by a war.” [Ouch!] Bertrand Russell – June 1921 issue of The Atlantic Monthly.


(1) From the Center for Biological Systems & author of Making Peace with the Planet

(2) Jailbird, by Kurt Vonnegut, Dell, 1979. Page 216.

(3) If you think Canada is a democracy, then I think you are not really paying attention! And if you think dumping Harper – the best prime minister oil money can buy – for Ignatieff would make a whole lot of difference, you are REALLY not paying attention… ***** Lots of great quotes about politics & democracy here.

(4) Paul Hawken’s wonderful book Blessed Unrest is very eloquent & inspiring on this score.

A-B-C's: Re-learning time!

<written July 2008>

Now, I am a major word person. Words & quotations & writing & book recommendations & ideas flow through my mind absolutely endlessly; it’s like a river that never seems to dry up. And it’s come to me that what we human beings need – really need – to feel contented & fulfilled & full & capable of living up to our (absolutely awesome) potential – can be boiled right down to the first three letters of the alphabet.

A…B…C.

I’m going to start with B, because it’s really the whole darn karmic enchilada right there, if you ask me. The other two flow from there…

Belonging is, I’m utterly convinced, the whole freakin’ deal. When we feel – when we know deeply – that we belong – to a tribe, essentially, everything else pretty much falls into place. The other things that we really need also just kind of happen

But this is a big “if,” because I think huge numbers of people don’t really feel in their bones that they do belong – & the crimes & misdemeanours caused by those who are this kind of adrift are staggering & deadly, & very, very numerous, & they have come very close to devastating the planet that is our only home (it may even be that the ruin they have caused is now beyond repair; since I don’t have a universe/planetary crystal ball, I cannot say for sure).

As I say, this Belonging business is a big-ticket item. Worth giving some thought to, I’d say. Mull it over for yourself & see what you think…

A is for acceptance & approval & affirmation & appreciation; we all need to feel/experience these – preferably pretty routinely, I’d say – & when we don’t, once again the crimes & misdemeanours flow. Not to mention the shrivelling up of our spirits & our souls…

C is for community. Of course, community flows out of the belonging piece – as do acceptance & approval & affirmation.

There are other things we human beings need, of course – food & shelter & love, primarily, I’d say. But these also flow from belonging & community (as does being needed. We all need to be needed…).

Belonging was once our birthright, I’m convinced. We were born into tribes, & all of our needs were met. I don’t mean that all tribes in all circumstances conducted themselves in some kind of pretty little Walt Disney fashion. Clearly, this was not the case.

But I’m also pretty sure the world wasn’t the mixed-up scene it’s become, either, with poisoned air & water & earth & broken & starving spirits all around, & a very tiny minority of human beings dominating & lording it over & raping the rest of the Earth’s resources & land & people.

A long-time slogan of environmentalism is, “Think globally, act locally.” The fact is, things have come to such an un-pretty pass now that the wisdom of this aphorism packs even more punch than ever.

There is precious little any of us can do about anything on the grand, planetary scale. The momentum of destruction is now such that stopping it is pretty much outside the realm of anyone’s imagination.

All we can realistically do (I suppose, all we ever could realistically do) is to “Think globally, act locally.” (1)

As the proverbial excrement continues to hit the fan – as the pace of its hitting picks up & magnifies & multiplies, we really are being thrown back upon ourselves, aren’t we? The “global economy” doesn’t give a tinker’s dam about our puny little local Main Street, or our puny little individual selves.

We need to learn – re-learn – how to look after ourselves.

We need to get back to the fundamentals. (2)  To the A-B-C’s. We need to start back where human beings began – by recognizing & affirming our deep need for the simplest, most basic things.

Our need for this Earth, & for each other!

Janet

p.s. The blog post 'Sin is that which separates' may also be of interest.

(1) I’m pretty sure it was Wendell Berry who said never mind, even, about the “globally” part. Just “Think locally, act locally.” If we were all to do that, the “global” piece would in time be sorted out as well. Wendell Berry is a much bigger thinker than I am, so I expect he’s right.

(2) Food is pretty fundamental! Growing our own. Community gardens, food co-ops, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA’s), etc. etc.