Over the past couple of months I have brought the poem below into a few different gatherings. Amidst flux, uncertainty, volatility, and pending collapse, it can be difficult to figure out how to orient, what to hold onto. So leave it to the poets to throw us a life line. Or in this case a thread.
William Stafford is a source of consistent solace and sanity to me, and “The Way It Is” I have found particularly grounding …
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change. People wonder about what you are pursuing. You have to explain about the thread. But it is hard for others to see. While you hold it you can’t get lost. Tragedies happen; people get hurt or die; and you suffer and get old. Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding. You don’t ever let go of the thread.
Colleagues and I have used this as an opening check-in with various groups and then invited people to name their thread. Here is some of what has come up:
People, those that I care for and who care or me.
The moral arc that bends towards justice.
Courage to hold on to what is possible.
The fire of passion.
Love, love and love.
What is the thread you hold that guides and grounds you in these times?
“I just wanted to tell all of you that I feel truly honored to have played even a small part in what transpired today. In fact, I would go so far as to say you are the best, most fun, most highly evolved group of humans I have ever worked with.”
This is not the kind of email you get everyday. It comes from one of the participants in the process design group of a state-wide food system building effort with which I have been involved for the past year and for which I am the lead designer and facilitator. To be clear, the purpose of this post is not to blow my own horn. It would be outrageous for me to take credit for something the size and complexity of which goes well beyond my individual talents and contributions. Rather, I am very eager to explore what stands behind this comment, as it reflects a commonly held feeling that something special has been going on with this initiative and group since it was initiated and led up to the launch of a Food Policy Council last week.
The first person I met when I went to Dewey Square was a mom, about my age, who came down to see what her son was involved with. I have sons in this age range myself. Occupy Boston has me thinking a lot about what kind of elders we need and what kind of elder I hope to be.
In my college days, I had the privilege of knowing Bob Moses, of Freedom Movement reknown. He mostly spoke to us about issues of the day, always in a way that challenged our thinking and pressed us to think about what was calling our generation forward. He had taken a page from Ella Jo Baker’s book, focusing on building our capacity and confidence to shape our own agenda. We rarely talked about his Movement experiences and I was a little intimidated about asking a living legend about those days.
Early attempts to link Occupy Boston and community efforts focused on related issues have me thinking how best to share lessons and wisdom without squashing the enthusiasm of the younger folk. Younger folk—what kind of elders do you need? And older folk—what kind of elders do you want to be?
Fundamental –noun: a basic and necessary component of something, especially an underlying rule or principle
Last week, Gibran and I led the workshop, Fundamentals of Facilitation for Racial Justice Work. The workshop builds on IISC’s work over the years to apply the best of what we know about collaboration and group process to the specific work of advancing racial justice. We pushed ourselves to distinguish what was truly fundamental from all of many powerful concepts and skills we could have included. We settled on exploring three questions:
“Shhh! What was that?!” I barely heard my wife over my concentrated efforts to keep my marshmallow from falling into the fire. “Curtis! Did you hear that? Something’s out there!” I looked in Em’s silhouetted direction and saw that she, my daughter Annabel, and my mother-in-law were all peering into the darkness and at the bushes on the edge of the pond. “What is it, Daddy?” Annabel asked. I got to my feet, grabbed a flashlight and slowly walked towards the now clearly audible rustling, my daughter right behind me. “There it is!” I heard someone say. I saw it too. I gradually moved the light onto the shadow moving across our line of view, and had the glint of two beady eyes return the beam. Annabel’s hands clenched my calf. “A porcupine!” A very big slow moving porcupine. After a few seconds’ stare-down, the creature turned and went lumbering into the woods and out of view. “That was cool!” cried Annabel, still clutching my leg.
Cool indeed. An adrenaline rush, a mystery uncovered, a dramatic stand-off. Everything any child, or adult, might want on an excursion to the woods. Our weekend in Vermont was filled with moments of exciting encounter like that, from having tussling and territorial woodpeckers dart over our heads, to finding crayfish under rocks, to hearing and deciphering the distant whistle of a black bear; much of this done in bare feet (or sandals), with dirt under our fingernails. I find our forays into the wilderness to be liberating and invigorating, and as much about wildness as wilderness. In the North Country I feel certain veils drop, inhibitions lift, and an inner aliveness bubble up. I see this palpably in my daughter, and it makes me long for more of this in my life overall.
Wildness is something that often seems to get cast as chaotic and “uncultured”. And yet I know from experience that it can be a gateway to something wonderful and powerful. I think about those times when, as a trainer or speaker, I have been unleashed, more uncontrolled and less measured, when unbridled passion took hold. I think about the impact that this has had on me and those around me. As scary as it can be to let go, these moments have given me a glimpse of something profound and true that may be overlooked in a more buttoned up existence. And so I’ve been thinking about bringing more Vermont to Cambridge.
What would it mean to be wild in the work we do? What would this look like and what might it achieve? For a humorous peek at a possible answer, check out professor and nature writer David Gessner’s “transformative” performance . . .