Ellen Gurzinsky posted this on facebook this week (in honor of International Women’s Day).? Rather than adding my own words, I thought I’d pass it along here — a beautiful piece by Maya Angelou.? In the spirit of Melinda’s recent posts of wonderful poetry, here’s another gem. Really – what more is there to say?
A very interesting thing has been going on in the Development Community. They’re getting it wrong. And while the norm is to hide failures away out of fear and embarrassment – and concern about funding being affected, they’re doing something different. A group of people working in development have just started a new website, called “Admitting Failure” – sharing their failures and trying to build transparency, collaboration and innovation into the development sector. They’re building a shared resource, saying that “the only ‘bad’ failure is one that’s repeated.” Take a look!
This is our last week in the Cambridge office – as of Monday, we’ll have moved to South Boston, in the Seaport area. Most of the IISC staff have been driving to work over the years we’ve been in Cambridge (with a few taking the bus or riding bikes). Once we’re in our new office, we’ll be switching to most of us on public transportation or on bikes. It’s good news for the planet! I’m looking forward to shrinking my carbon footprint. Thought you might enjoy this video!
This is a re-post of a post from last summer, just as I returned from a sabbatical – seemed appropriate in the beginning of the lazy days of August… in hopes that we will all have some Lazy Days …
About ten years ago, I spent three weeks at Plum Village, a Buddhist monastery in Southern France. The time there was primarily spent in silence – with long periods of sitting meditation, walking meditation, and even working meditation. (No surprise, I struggled with over-working during working meditation!) One of the practices at Plum Village is that each week, everyone takes a “Lazy Day”.
- Be passion-driven and work-focused
- Think “community-development” not “governance structure”
- Use leading tools
- Integrate reflection, learning and flexibility
I wanted to share this link to a short discussion by Pema Chödrön about the importance of staying with the hard stuff – not the story we create about a situation, but the underlying feeling itself – to create change. This follows along with previous posts I’ve made about the importance of “staying” – with conflict, in situations of privilege. The message being the same – the importance of learning to stay! And so I wonder how this applies to organizations and movements. I hear it this way – rather than trying to fix a situation too quickly, stay with it, learn about it, learn to live with the tension while we look for ways to create change. What do you think?
A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog post about the constructive engagement of conflict – called Stay! Stay! Stay! It was some thinking sparked by reading the beginning of Bernie Mayer‘s new book “Staying with Conflict“. I’ve been reading more of that book this week – and thinking as well about the work IISC is doing to become an anti-racist, anti-oppression, pro-liberation organization. (And yes, we do know that’s a mouthful!)
Based on the recent conversation we’ve been having here, I thought I’d re-post from last April.
For a while, I’ve been fairly unsuccessfully trying to create a space in my apartment that works both for my heart and for my head. My meditation cushion is there as well as my altar and poetry and spiritual books. It also has my desk, computer and bookshelves overstuffed with books and journals about power, white privilege, race, class, genocide, conflict and social issues. If I’m honest, it’s the most chaotic room in my apartment.
This is the fourth in a series of postings about power and group facilitation processes, based on research from a few years ago.? Today’s post is about how power is built into group narrative.
As I was doing research, I came across a batch of work about narrative theory by Sara Cobb and Janet Rifkin (cited below).? Cobb and Rifkin researched how a narrative is constructed and what impact it has on the ultimate outcome of mediation sessions.? They found that the first story told tends to be privileged and “colonize” later stories told.? By framing the discussion to come, this initial story tends to narrow and define the direction of the ensuing conversation.? Later versions are generally tied to the initial story and thus are unable to be fully developed.? And the outcome of mediation is generally tied to the initial story. Read the rest of this entry »
More about power and group processes. There have been a mountain of books written about the “bases of power” and the “types of power”. I’ve done some work to try to boil it down – and find thinking about this very useful in moving forward the conversation about how to address power issues in group processes.
One of the first questions you might ask when thinking about looking at power dynamics in group facilitation is what IS power anyway? This seemingly simple question, of course, is not really all so simple after all. What do you think? How would you describe power?
When I first started trying to answer this question for myself, I found that I was overwhelmed with material -? literally hundreds and hundreds of books about what power is, where it comes from, how it operates, etc.? For many, a definition of power has to do with the ability to force something to do something they wouldn’t have done otherwise – a coercive definition of power.? Feminist psychologist Jean Baker Miller described power as “the capacity to produce a change.” Others (and in fact, our common terminology) talks about power as a “thing” that can be divided, shared, owned, and transferred. Read the rest of this entry »
A few years ago, I researched and wrote a masters’ thesis on addressing power dynamics in collaborative process design and facilitation.? I was doing the study based on great questions raised over the years by Cyndi Suarez (Co-Director of Northeast Action) – and with the belief that if power dynamics are not well understood and addressed, group process facilitators are likely to unknowingly reinforce the status quo – a scary thought for those of us working on social justice and social change!
At the 2008 White Privilege Conference, I went to a workshop on Critical Liberation Theory, led by Barbara Love, Keri DeJong, Christopher Hughbanks, Joanna Kent Katz and Teeomm Williams.? I was re-reading the piece they gave out at that workshop, talking about the ways that we can each take daily actions toward liberation.? This, they suggested, requires first clearly articulating our own theory of liberation, through which we can then build a praxis of liberation – daily work that brings us in the direction of liberation itself.? They talked of the need to know fully where you’re coming from (understanding oppression), but to look forward toward liberation. Otherwise, they described it as if one were leaving on a car trip from Massachusetts to drive to California while looking out the back window instead of looking at the road ahead.
I just had the great fortune of spending seven days in Dakar, Senegal (and traveling back and forth to it). An amazing trip – and the two twenty hour travel days gave me time to really dig into the book “Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives” by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler.? I read it within the context of doing work in Senegal on a project that’s global in scope – and also thinking back to many of the other initiatives I’ve worked on.
I’ve been really enjoying reading the book Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age by Juana Bordas. It’s a great read, in which she describes leadership based on African American, Latino and Native American leadership models in the US, while making a global connection. Bordas calls us to broaden beyond a single view of leadership and work toward
“an inclusive and adaptable style that cultivates the ability to bring out the best in our diverse workforce and to fashion a sense of community with people from many parts of the globe. This inclusive form of leadership is in sync with many cultures, enabling a wide spectrum of people to engage, contribute and tap their potential.”
I’ve recently seen a few videos that have made me think about whether collaboration is a “natural” thing. (I tend to run from this kind of thinking – usually finding discussions of what is “natural” or what is “human nature” ways of making room for all kinds of human constructs.) My brother recently shared this video of Bottlenose Dolphins working together in what’s called “mud ring” feeding:
I recently read an interesting New York Times article by Nancy Ancowitz that a friend sent me about the ways that extroverts are privileged in meeting processes and work environments. It’s something we talk about at IISC as well. What are the ways that we can design and facilitate meetings so as not to privilege extroverts over introverts – or people with different learning styles – or people with different abilities or aptitudes?
There’s a lot known. And there’s a lot still to discover. Much of generic group process (if not attending to these kinds of things) favors those who freely express ideas in groups. Day-long or multi-day meetings can be great for extroverts, who get energy being in groups – and challenging for introverts, who need alone time to recharge and process internally. Introverts will participate more fully if given time to consider material ahead of time. Extroverts tend to be exactly the opposite – or can quickly scan something in the room and go. Brainstorming is a natural thing for extroverts (who are comfortable putting forth ideas without necessarily knowing how fully “cooked” they are), but not so much for introverts (who tend to want to spend internal time thinking through an idea before putting it out).
I’ve spent a fair amount of time these last few days exploring the book Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds. It’s an amazing book – and he spends quite a bit of time teaching about how to avoid “Death by PowerPoint.” I’m totally intrigued – and want to rethink (and perhaps more importantly, re-imagine and mess around with) some of the many ways we get information across in presentations – and in the written recordings we make of meetings.
Reynolds rightfully shows that what we do in PowerPoint is often driven by the software itself, rather than by thinking through the most important aspect of the idea we’re trying to get across. We follow the template and create slide after slide of bulleted lists of text that say what we’re already saying. But here’s the question: what is the most important thing we are trying to say? And how can we work with images to bring our words to life? Read the rest of this entry »
In the wee hours of the morning, I came across an amazing new project Seth Godin‘s been working on.? He pulled together 60 thinkers from around the world to answer the question “What Matters Now?” and created an e-book with their responses. Each person took a single word (sleep, re-capitalism, enrichment, nobody, meaning, ease, etc.) and used it to frame a short piece describing what they’re thinking about and working on for the coming year. And he’s hoping it will spread far and wide.
I thought I’d pass along a few short excerpts from this amazing piece.
One thing Elizabeth Gilbert describes in writing on the topic of ease:
“My radical suggestion? Cease participation, if only for one day this year – if only to make sure that we don’t lose forever the rare and vanishing human talent of appreciating ease.”
Fred Hampton, a charismatic African American activist and leader in the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party, was killed in his sleep 40 years ago December 4th by the combined forces of the FBI, Chicago Police Department and Cook County, IL State’s Attorney’s Office. There have been some great articles written about him over the past week in Racewire and the Huffington Post.
In the days before he was killed, my dad met with Hampton and others from the Party to talk about the Free Breakfast Program the Black Panther Party had started to feed children going to school with empty stomachs. My dad was hoping to connect the food company he worked for with the Chicago program to get donations of breakfast cereal for the program. I was with my dad on the anniversary of Hampton’s death this year – and asked him to retell the story, hoping Alzheimer’s hadn’t taken this memory, though I’ve heard the story many times. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve recently been reading Bernie Mayer‘s new and game-changing book, Staying With Conflict.? A frequent leader in the world of conflict engagement, Bernie Mayer has spent many years working on large scale collaborative change and conflict processes, many of them in the environmental field. He is also a strong proponent of the need to be clear and transparent about the assumptions behind practice. With John Paul Lederach and Leah Wing, Bernie Mayer is one of my favorite practitioners and thought leaders in the “conflict resolution” world.? A couple of years ago, Bernie came out with a book called Beyond Neutrality that loudly and strongly asked for those in the conflict engagement field and those facilitating collaborative processes to cease and desist with the concept that we practice as “third party neutrals.”? In this new book, Bernie is pushing forward, changing the basic understanding of “conflict resolution.” He calls us to understand that, in fact, much of what is needed is not resolution, is not decision-making, agreement-building to overcome deep seated conflicts, but rather approaches that help people build the adaptive capacity and platforms from which to act – to stay with the tensions and conflicts that are an essential part of the human experience, to engage in a way that brings human dignity and that allows us to really stay in the difference. Read the rest of this entry »
Earlier this week, I had the great fortune of hearing Rinku Sen (Applied Research Center), Ellen Gurzinsky (Funders for LGBTQ Issues) and Lori Villarosa (Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity) present on “Catalyzing Change and Deepening Racial Justice Impacts” at the Neighborhood Funders Group Annual Conference in New Orleans. It was an exciting session in which they talked about the current racial context in the US and ideas about how grantmaking can be done with a racial justice lens – including real stories about work some specific foundations and groups of foundations are doing. I’ll likely be sharing more over my next few blog posts about grantmaking with a racial justice lens, but wanted to start with some reflections about group processes that came up for me based on their presentation.
As a non-funder, I was listening with an ear toward things that might be applicable to group process as well. Rinku talked about the difference between using a diversity approach and using a racial equity approach to grantmaking, which started me thinking about the difference between these two approaches in stakeholder analyses of multi-stakeholder processes. A diversity approach, as she described it, would be one in which what matters is what the group of people assembled “looks” like – if there are representatives from all the groups affected, etc. – while a racial equity approach might lead one to assemble an entirely different group.
Recently at the Web of Change Conference at Hollyhock in British Columbia, there was a session on “Organizational Transformation,” facilitated in large part by Sam Dorman and Jason Mogus (with some thoughts thrown in by Gibran Rivera and myself). In large part, the session was discussing the ways in which organizations are wanting to incorporate technology and social media into their operations and need to shift structures and cultures to do so. Sam and Jason described that many organizations have traditionally been organized so that these functions were siloed into either a technology/IT function or a communications function – and often brought in after direction was set and strategy was developed as the way to spread the word. What has become clear is that this approach not only doesn’t work, but REALLY REALLY doesn’t work. It’s critical for the folks creating the technology strategy to be integrally involved in development of direction and strategy – not just the add-ons that come later.
One of the big questions at Web of Change was how do you do this? It’s a question about how you actually change the culture of an organization, once you’ve identified the direction you want the culture to head. We talked about the model of a collaborative organization – changing from traditional hierarchical organizations to a collaborative model (one of the things IISC works with organizations regularly to do). Gibran then started talking about how, in actuality, much of what’s being done technologically needs to be replicated in person – dispersed leadership, emergent thinking and self-organized, network approaches rather than centralized, hierarchical decision-making. So the question is: what would it take to really unleash the potential of individuals to create and implement projects that bring about real change – and what organizational structure would support this? Read the rest of this entry »
An amazing video about what’s possible from the Global Oneness Project.? So what would it look like if oneness were to manifest?
There have been constant questions in the press over the last few weeks about whether much of what’s happening in the US these days is about race.
- Here’s a recent article from the New York Times in which Bob Herbert calls it.
- And another from Newsweek by Raina Kelley.
- And a great blog by Damali Ayo
And so I’ve been reflecting on some of the things I read in graduate school by people like Ervin Staub about the critical role that can be played in situations of impending violence (and even genocide) by those who see clearly what’s going, stand up, call it by name and loudly and persistently demand that it must stop – the critical role played by what Staub calls “active bystanders.”
Not that this hasn’t been needed for generations, but the situation is incredibly urgent these days. The rampant and violent racism in the US calls for all of us to stand up and insist that it stop. Many of us see it clearly – and we need to be calling our Congresspeople, contacting the media (old and new) and talking to everyone we know to call things as they are and say, “Stop!”
OK, to be totally honest, I wasn’t reflecting on this while I was on the scooter, but that’s often where I am reflecting…
I had an incredible conversation with Susan Shaer, the Executive Director of WAND (Women’s Action for New Directions), the other day.? We were talking about creating a longer term vision and strategy given all that’s happened recently for those working on peace, security and foreign policy issues. We were reflecting on the amazing changes that have happened – and then Susan started talking about changes in what she was calling “new media” – and how that affects organizing strategies. At one point she said, “if we had known ten years ago how much time we would now spend reading and responding to email, think about how differently we would have organized ourselves.” And so I’ve been thinking about that ever since.
How should we be organizing for the new technologies that are ahead of us (instead of what is)? What are the new strategies for engaging people in our issues — not thinking just about what’s available now, but what’s coming? How will these changes affect how we work? Any ideas?
A few months ago, I wrote a post called “Over-Working“, in which I was questioning the ways that I (and many of us) over-work. I am just now returning from a five and a half week sabbatical, thanks to the generosity and forethought of the staff and board of IISC and clearly, given what is happening to so many people right now, a great deal of privilege at having the kind of work environment I have.
It has been an amazing span of time, opening me in many ways and creating quite a space to build the life I’ve long been wanting. And so, in this returning to work (and, for some, school) time of year, I thought I’d reflect a little on what taking a break has meant.
About ten years ago, I spent three weeks at Plum Village, a Buddhist monastery in Southern France. The time there was primarily spent in silence – with long periods of sitting meditation, walking meditation, and even working meditation. (No surprise, I struggled with over-working during working meditation!) One of the practices at Plum Village is that each week, everyone takes a “Lazy Day”. Read the rest of this entry »
Tomorrow is the 18th anniversary of my friend Scott Lago’s death.? Scott was as much a brother to me as a friend and we worked together bringing the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt around the country in the late 1980s, setting up and managing displays of the quilt, a memorial for those who’ve died of AIDS. He affected my life in many ways, many of them very funny – but the one I’m remembering today is that when we’d be working with a group of people on setting up a display of the quilt, if someone started getting into what seemed like endless details about things he felt were unnecessary, preventing the group from moving forward, you’d notice Scott quietly tapping his watch face with his index finger. He was saying to those of us who knew him, “Can’t we get on with it? We don’t have a lot of time here.” While Scott knew on a cellular level that he didn’t have a lot of time here, I find myself sometimes looking around to see whether anyone else might be tapping their watch face.
And so it is this fine balance we seek to find in social change work – between not wasting what is, truly, precious time with endless details and at the same time, “going slow to go fast” – making sure we build solid agreements and cover enough to set things up for success. Might we sometimes spend a little too much time planning? None of us really have a lot of time here – the world is waiting!
And wherever Scott is, he’s watching what’s happening in the world and quietly tapping the face of his watch.
At IISC, we’ve talked a lot about how huge leaps are made in thinking when you spend time at the intersections between different fields. A recent book, the Medici Effect, Puts this out in the popular literature. That it is, in fact, living at the intersections that allows for different views into the world. And at this very moment in time, when the old approaches are falling behind and the world is so in need of new ways of looking at things, it seems a very good time to be spending time on the corners.
I’ve had some direct experience – as when Katy Payne and I discovered that humpback whales use rhymes in their songs. We were studying humpback whale songs, reading poetry and reading about oral transmission of folk literature. Suddenly, we had an “aha moment,” realizing that the patterns in humpback whale songs resembled human rhymes – that they sang the same grouping of sounds at the end of each section – and wondered if humpback whales, as well as humans, may use these repeating patterns as mnemonic devices. We’ll never know for sure – but spending time at the intersection between those fields is what brought the moment forth.
Had a fun conversation today with Jessica Lipnack and Jeff Stamps about some ideas about how we might improve meetings. (20)
Jessica asked me, “what if, in meetings, everyone had to keep comments to 20 words – a la Twitter’s 140 characters?”
I laugh tonight, thinking of our Irish colleagues’ comments about American verbosity, how they’d love it if we did this. (20)
Would English be the standard? Or Spanish? Something else? Would we need the same number of words in every language? (20)
I’m not sure I’ll be able to just talk in a meeting again. I’ll probably count out the words first. (20)
What would happen if we did this (even for an hour)? I’m ready to try. Thanks again, Jessica and Jeff! (20)
Two weeks ago, some of us at IISC had the great fortune of participating in a WTC training called Leading From Spirit. During the training, we had some great conversations about busyness – the ways in which we, as social change activists, process designers and facilitators, find ourselves sometimes being overly busy, taking on too many responsibilities and running from one thing to the next. Some of us mentioned noticing that our ability to do things well sometimes seems impaired by this overly busy approach. (I would add that this is not something confined to those of us working for social justice and social change – but has a special twist when it’s combined with this work, which so requires us to bring forth our best selves.)
Yesterday was my birthday – and I’ve established a ritual I love on my birthday. Every year for MANY years, I’ve spent the day in a spirit of curiosity. I don’t plan it ahead, but spend the day noticing things that I’ve never done and trying at least one. It’s a way of spending the day being open to possibility. And I usually wonder, at the end of the day, why I don’t live every day that way. It has uncovered for me the magic of yoga, of bleacher seats at Fenway Park, of a manicure and pedicure, of many kinds of food and many other things.
So today, I started thinking about my little birthday ritual in a new way. I started wondering about all the things I do (and we do) because I know them. And started wondering what would happen if I spent more time in this curious unknown place. What if I didn’t spend as much time keeping ground under my feet? What if design and facilitation didn’t fall on the old tried and true quite so much? What if the stories I tell myself about why people (or groups) do the things they do weren’t true – or were only one version of what’s true? What if I spent the day noticing situations and what I normally do – and playing around with something else? What might emerge then?
I’m not advocating throwing the baby out with the bathwater. But merely wondering what would happen if every day was a little more fresh – and grew out of a spirit of curiosity? I think, as well, about the post Marianne made recently, in which she talked about our need to approach the current situation with new thinking, with a paradigm shift. In that spirit, I’m wondering what habitual ways of thinking and acting I have as an individual – and also what habitual ways of thinking and acting that we have as organizations and as a community working toward social justice and social change. What would happen if we paid attention, noticed what we usually do – and strategically tried something different?
by Linda Guinee
This week over the Twittersphere people started posting “The Unforgettable Commencement Address by Paul Hawken” (from which the title to this blog post is taken).? It is an amazing call, clear and concise, to the graduating class of 2009 from the University of Portland to dig in and work for the earth – but it is much more than that. It is a call to each of us to wake up, take hold and celebrate the mystery of life. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can find it here, I highly recommend taking a look!
A while ago, IISC also called us, through our viral video, to tend the planet.
So, in celebration of this fabulous spring – and new lives about to come into it – I wanted to pass along these calls to all of us. I’m hearing them loud and clear today. And as Paul Hawken says, “Nature beacons you to be on her side. You couldn’t ask for a better boss.”
At the 2008 White Privilege Conference, I went to a workshop on Critical Liberation Theory, led by Barbara Love, Keri DeJong, Christopher Hughbanks, Joanna Kent Katz and Teeomm Williams. I was recently re-reading the piece they gave out at that workshop. Their workshop talked about the ways that we can each take daily actions toward liberation. This, they suggested, requires first clearly articulating our own theory of liberation, through which we can then build a praxis of liberation – daily work that brings us in the direction of liberation itself. I was remembering that during their workshop, they talked of the need to know fully where you’re coming from (understanding oppression), but to look forward toward liberation. Otherwise, they described it as if one were leaving on a car trip from Massachusetts to drive to California while looking out the back window instead of looking at the road ahead.
Rereading this, I started trying to think about how to actually articulate a theory of liberation. What would be in it? And I began to see that while I know what I don’t want, the vision of liberation is a little more challenging for me. This, I’m sure, is the legacy of internalized oppression, internalized supremacy and white privilege. The system has put limits on my ability to fully see what liberation looks like, and I’ve internalized these limitations. I know bits and pieces, but a clear articulation seems a bit of a challenge. So I’m making the commitment to start really attending to this in my life, to a clear articulation of my theory of liberation so that I can start taking daily actions toward its realization.
At the same time, I began thinking of Damali Ayo’s piece on five things white people can do and five things people of color can do to end racism. At her workshops on racism, she was constantly getting requests from people wanting to know what they could do. So she sent a request to her mailing list asking people to send in five things white people and/or people of color can do to end racism. About 2000 people responded and she condensed it into a guide (the Fix It Guide).
So I started wondering what would happen if we did a similar thing here – put it out there and ask you: what would be included in your theory of liberation?
Here are some random thoughts from a long plane trip I took yesterday – please add!
- relationships and society would be demonstrations of fairness and equity
- sustainability would be demonstrated in all our actions
- love and compassion would be at the root of our thinking and our actions – and would help guide our creativity
- all people would be able to fully participate in and have voice about decisions which affect their lives (directly or indirectly)
- all people would be able to express their full humanity and potential
- community would be fundamental
What would you add (or subtract or change)?
Sitting in the Atlanta Airport with some random thoughts. Marianne and I worked with a pretty amazing group of LGBT Funders this past Sunday, talking about systems thinking and how it can be used to create strategies to move the community forward in these economic times. It was a wonderful and very inspiring session, in large part because of the amazing people in the room and their willingness to grab hold and go deep right away.
I then went and spent a couple of days with old friends in Birmingham, Alabama – a wonderful time both because Dorothy and Cindy are such amazing humans, because we’ve now known each other for 20 years (we met in 1989 when I was helping bring the NAMES Project Quilt around the country), and because being someplace else often brings new things to light.
One of those was that we went Monday and tried to visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (which is, unfortunately for me, closed on Mondays), and instead walked through the Kelly Ingram Park across the street, the former staging area for large civil rights demonstrations where fire hoses and police dogs were set on the demonstrators, most of whom were children. The park is now full of amazing statues of the demonstrators and has been dedicated as “A Place of Revolution and Reconciliation,” words which are read throughout the park and at every entrance. The park is across from the Civil Rights Institute, kitty corner from the 16th Street Baptist Church and around the corner from the motel where King and others stayed in Birmingham. This is important history to me, and I’ve spent much time over the years reading these stories, learning about the people and events. To my friends, on the other hand, these were people they knew – or know now. The father of one of the girls who was killed in the bombing is a photographer they know well. Dorothy’s uncle was one of Rosa Parks’ attorneys – and almost every name and every picture is someone she knew or knows. The stories and people are alive and contextualized as she talks about them. It is not history from a book or a documentary, but a part of her life.
As, when the movie Milk was playing last year, many of the “characters” are people I know. Real people who were involved in making change.
So again and again and again, it is people’s stories that light my imagination, that show that change is possible, and prove that resilience is all around us. I’m grateful for the generosity that allows people to share their stories. And am walking through the airport in a different way right now – wondering what stories these thousands of people, heading someplace or another, carry.
For a while, I’ve been fairly unsuccessfully trying to create a space in my apartment that works both for my heart and for my head. My meditation cushion is there – as well as my altar and poetry and spiritual books. It also has my desk, computer and two bookshelves overstuffed with books and journals about power, white privilege, race, class, genocide, conflict and social issues. If I’m really honest about it, it’s the most chaotic room in my apartment.
I’ve been intentionally trying to create this space because I’m trying to bring these two parts of my life together. In part because I’ve been noticing what seems like a split in progressive groups. For some of us, talking about the ways society is structured to benefit some groups and deny those benefits to others rolls off our tongue and is a framework that holds great resonance. Others are more comfortable talking about the ways we’re all connected – oneness and love are foundational ways we understand the world. There are a few wonderful examples I know (or know about) of people who fully integrate both. But I don’t know that many. Most people seem to lean in one direction or the other.
So for those of us who lean toward one or the other, talk of structure without spirit – or of spirit without structure – seems incomplete. As if the speaker is missing a huge part of our experience and belief. They may even seem to deny what we think of as reality. We tend to then move more vehemently to our “side.”
From a Buddhist perspective, reality can be described as being made up of two truths in which we live simultaneously – the relative (or historic) truth and the ultimate truth. The relative truth describes the world in which there are deep separations – it is the truth that describes a world with oppression, racism, sexism, homophobia and many other divisions. The ultimate truth describes the world in which there is no separation, in which we are one. The understanding is that both these truths co-exist – though we may only be aware of one.
The question I’ve been having (and don’t yet have many answers to) is this: How do we become aware of both, in our work toward social justice and social change, so that we build an authentic bridge between the two – so that anyone, no matter their leaning, can walk with us as we talk about structure or spirit? So that no one feels their truth is left behind. I’m wondering where others are in thinking about building that bridge – or would advise about setting up that room.