For months now, I’ve experienced daily life as riddled with paradox and even dissonance. Perhaps you feel it too.
Initially, I attributed this sense to the rough, jagged clash between moments of incredible sweetness shared with my family and the pervasive challenge that had settled over the world, driving the very intensity from which many of those moments of sweetness arose. There was also the dissonance between those cherished moments and the moments in which I felt about to break with the weight of despair and fear.
While both of those experiences are real and remain vivid, I’ve come to realize a deeper dissonance bubbled beneath my experience of the pandemic from the start and has now grown to demand my attention and action.
I speak of the dissonance between what this moment asks of us – and by us I mean both individuals and the systems through which we come together as collectives, our many forms of community – and how we are currently responding. I feel this dissonance in myself and I see it all around me (with some very pertinent and powerful exceptions).
Throughout the pandemic, most of us have looked outward for a quick fix. I’ve experienced this grasping on the individual level – including within myself – and I’ve seen this on the collective, societal level – including within my community. We are looking to a cure, a treatment, a vaccine, safety guidelines, proof of negative tests….the list goes on.
What if all those things, important as they might be, won’t actually fix the root of this challenge? What if there isn’t an external fix? What if we are being asked to dive inward, rather than outward, to significantly shift our understanding of ourselves and the systems and structures of our societies? What if any quick, external fix is just that – a temporary bandaid, held in place until the next global challenge rips it away, exposing a still-open wound?
For many of us, the pandemic revealed the deep and thorough inadequacies in both our individual and collective approaches to daily life. Perhaps, like me, you were already dissatisfied with the dominant narratives and understandings, aware that they fall far short of capturing the work of being in this world, as individuals and as part of the community of living beings – human and nonhuman alike. But the pandemic has accelerated and sharpened this dissatisfaction for many, casting a bright spotlight on the chasm between how we are living and what we really value.
I hear rumblings for change. These rumblings contrast with the continuous chant of citizens’ health and safety vs. economic health and stability. That false dichotomy issues from a stale mindset, fueled by thinking from within the current system, the same one that has been exposed as so grossly inadequate.
I want to shed that system.
I speak these words daily. Sometimes they come in a whisper, as I drift to sleep in my husband’s arms. Sometimes they come in a wail, as I break down with exhaustion once the kiddos are finally in bed and I turn to the piles of dishes and laundry and reflect on how much I miss my work, my extended family, my friends, physical community.
Community. To truly achieve the healing we so desperately need, we must develop a more profound understanding of that word. We are meant for each other. Through the pandemic, we are finally beginning to appreciate the many intricate ties connecting us. Yet the structures governing our daily lives do not reflect the robust truth of our belonging. These structures prioritize individualism, not interbeing, and reward competition and exploitation rather than care and fierce respect for one another’s dignity.
I yearn for the collective dive inward to discover a new way. We are so overdue for a great shift. For years, I’ve researched, written about and sought meaningful action on climate change. The climate crisis is heating to a boiling point. We hear this repeatedly, but it’s not jargon. It’s the harsh, terrifying truth. There is so little time left to avoid catastrophe. In many regards, it may already be too late, a fact that haunts me as I brush the hair out of my daughter’s eyes and kiss her forehead, as I hold my sleeping son and feel his warm little breath against my neck. But I also know that the same deep awakening and shift that just might save us from catastrophe will also help make us stronger as we prepare for the many challenges already assured through climate change.
As the pandemic unfolds and I see us still floundering for a solution from within our current systems, I experience growing despair. If this moment isn’t waking us up, isn’t shaking us into a new, better way of being with and for each other, what will? As so many questions flood my being – “Why can’t we all cut our own hair, if we must, and send checks to our hairdressers to help them stay closed and safe?” to “Why can’t we redistribute wealth, now that we see who within our communities is actually working ‘essential’ jobs?” to “How can we better fund a prioritization of care?” to “What creative means could we find to help children not feel isolated right now?” – I long to see us rising to meet those questions with real, substantial, impactful answers.
I’m tired of feeling like a captive to the old, stale narrative. And I’m tired of waiting for a wise leader to illuminate the necessary new way. What if that work belongs to all of us? What if we came together as we can right now – across state and even national lines, joining together virtually but with full presence – and gave voice and heart to our deepest hopes and greatest ideas for how we might move forward propelled by a way of life more befitting of who we are.
Hope is still present. But only if we take up its invitation and dive into deep, transformative work.
I know we cannot gather in person. But, because we cannot gather in person, we can gather across wide geographical spaces. I’ve long wished to bring together the many wise, creative, transformative people I’ve been so fortunate to know who live scattered around the world. And now seems like a good moment, perhaps the best moment, to do so.
Here’s what I’m envisioning:
Monthly virtual meetings that dive into exploration and the creation of new narratives and systems. Essentially, work aimed at collectively unearthing possibility. We each have strengths to bring to the table. I have a lot to learn when it comes to economics, but I have a lot to share when it comes to climate solutions and educational models. Working together, I believe we could weave the story of a way of life driven by respect, care and dignity for all.
But I don’t want to simply create a lovely story. I want to collaborate on the next step, on how to realize that story in our many communities around the world.
I’ve experienced this process before, on a smaller and more focused scale. Starting in 2015, I participated in gatherings of community members who were concerned about climate change and eager to contribute to meaningful solutions in any way possible. Together, we learned, each bringing different experiences, knowledge and skills to the table. From those gatherings, A Climate to Thrive (ACTT) was born. Now, in 2020, ACTT is a model for local, grassroots action on climate change, realizing the incredible potential that lies within each of us to face the great challenges of our time and transform how we do things, opening up possibility and hope.
Would you like to join me?
Here is my plan for step one:
If you are interested in participating in a meeting of minds and hearts focused on collaborating to create a new narrative and way of living that translates the priorities of care, respect and dignity into concrete action steps for communities, let me know. I will then poll the group to identify a meeting date in August. I will also ask those interested to submit topics they’d like to explore and the top questions they are mulling over right now. From this feedback, I’ll identify a place to start the discussion and will send around the first discussion topics with a google spreadsheet of accompanying readings, which all participating will be invited to add to.
Prior to the first meeting, I will also send around a format for the meeting, crafted to develop a sense of safety and trust and to maximize our capacity to support each other in bringing forth our greatest ideas, our most pressing questions and our deepest hopes.
At the end of our first meeting, we will discuss how to proceed. I envision small working groups breaking out to focus on specific topics between the full-community meetings.
In his reflections and writings on community, the Quaker leader Parker Palmer emphasizes his belief that community is something we receive, not something we manufacture. We receive community, Palmer writes, by cultivating our capacity for connectedness. We are always profoundly connected. But we are not always conscious of those connections. When we cultivate consciousness focused on connection, we drop into a deep sense of community. From that sense of community, we can make more informed choices about how we want to move forward – together.
I look forward to receiving a profound sense of community together. I look forward to cultivating a space that deeply honors connection and in which we draw forth each other’s wisdom and resourcefulness. I look forward to collectively engaging in muscular, fierce hope and transformative action.
If you are interested in joining or have questions or ideas, send me an email or facebook message or leave a comment on this post. I will reply to get the ball rolling.