Monthnotes — 27.05.2022
This month has been bumpy.
I have struggled with the sense that I need to be ‘making the most’ of this time — and not always been sure what that looks like. I’ve been trapped, perhaps in a mindset about productivity, and a pressure to have something to ‘show’ for this time (not entirely self-inflicted either, I have a sense of responsibility to my employer, even if I’m not being paid right now, to find some treasure on this quest to take back). I have also been struggling with the question of what my unique contribution to the climate emergency is. I see around me other people (academics, engineers, entrepreneurs, ecologists) doing deeply focused work on their part of it and not knowing quite how I fit with my wide and intersecting interests, and my lack of a ‘profession’. Meanwhile the anger and the fear has been rising; news from the outside world is unremittingly terrible, and exacerbated by the knowledge that in this country we are governed by life-destroying liars (even here there are points of light; the new constitution for Chile, for example).
I have read lots — finding myself mostly drawn to work that explores our interdependence in nature. And the interdependence of our current crises. I’ve attended some thought-provoking events (for example in the Transition Summit especially the Art of Invitation workshop). I’ve listened to some great podcasts too: Frontiers of Commoning, for example. And I have been building and gardening; I’ve (nearly) built a new ‘studio’ space for creative materials and work in the house (almost all out of reclaimed wood and scrap materials), and the first strawberries are appearing (some compensation for the slug-destroyed beans and squashes).
But in the middle of this week I hit a low. And somehow, out of it, came a new awareness. Seeing me struggle, a friend asked what inspires me. I jumped to the examples of people making stuff happen, making it real in the world: ZERO in Guildford, for example, or the fabulous Onion Collective. I felt so inadequate in the face of their practical achievements. I have every privilege imaginable: time, money, love, security — so if I can’t create similarly powerful change it must just be because I’m not committed enough, right? (Even if I’ve read enough Brene Brown to know that ‘enough’ is a dangerous word). What could I possibly lack that could be holding me back? But then, something clicked. Underlying all these ‘achievements’ are deep-rooted connections (see ‘how friendship leads to agency leads to social change’). And one of the reasons I felt like I needed this time was because I felt like I was spending too much time connecting with a small number of people on a screen, and not enough building the deep connections that support personal and collective resilience in my own community.
So what if … I saw the purpose of this time as this: how might I use this time to deepen my connections with this place? With the community of beings — human and non-human who inhabit it? What practices and habits would flow from that?
My practice for June will be to inhabit this question. I think it might mean less structured writing (although maybe more note taking, sketching, scrap-booking); I don’t want to spend any more time than I have to in front of a screen (and when I didn’t quite know how to ‘be’ in this time I found myself defaulting to the old ways of being, to the strange comfort of spending time on the screen — not scrolling but reading articles, for example— in a thin veneer of engagement).
In addition or alongside I have been starting to work through the episodes of the long time academy. Diane Schenandoah’s remarks in part one really resonated with me: what if we focused more of our attention on what we can give and what we can contribute, as we work our way towards how we need to be? Sometimes this is problematic — the activist / Christian-heritage voice in my head can push me to do too much of this — leading to over-committing and failure to pay attention to what’s working for me. But as part of an enquiry it feels valuable, particularly as a way of exercising curiosity about people and place. What if the thing I can give right now — to the earth, to our plants, to my daughter, to the person in front of me — is my attention (as Simone Weil put it, the “rarest and purest form of generosity”)?
What has this meant so far? Some immediate and simple things. I’ve been thinking about how I map my connections (nothing like this, but I’m intrigued by this tool from the Onion Collective). And taking more time to listen. When a neighbour stopped for a chat the other night I didn’t say “I need to go and cook the dinner” (although I did) — I stayed and listened while she talked through the work issue on her mind. I stayed for longer at the PTA cafe, and listened to what it’s like to be stuck in tower-block where the windows don’t open properly in a heatwave, and shared what it’s like to lose a sibling. I’m trying to not try to always provide answers any more (my default work setting), and seeing how that feels. I still haven’t done all the things I wish I had — the card I want to put through the letterboxes to thank a neighbour with beautiful wildflowers for example — but it doesn’t all have to happen now.
The friend who listened when I was struggling pointed me back to my own annotated copy of Emergent Strategy (which although I’d read, maybe I’d not really taken on board). Here is a thought to guide me:
“If love were the central practice of a new generation of organizers and spiritual leaders […] we would organize with the perspective that there is wisdom and experience and amazing stories in the communities we love, and instead of starting up new ideas / organizations all the time, we would want to listen, support, collaborate, merge, and grow through fusion, not competition.
We would understand that the strength of our movement is in the strength of our relationships, which could only be measured by their depth. Scaling up would mean going deeper, being more vulnerable and more empathetic.
What does depth require from us, from me? In my longing for depth I have been re-rooting in the earth, in myself and my creativity, in my community, in my spiritual practices, honing in on work that is not only meaningful but feels joyful, listening with less and less judgement to the ideas and efforts of others, having visions that are long term.” (Emergent Strategy, p.10)
I’m going out.