The events in Charlottesville, VA in August broke me open in a way I never expected. I’ve always seen my life as a journey of learning. Every challenge I’ve encountered has prompted reflection and learning. I like to think that all these learning experiences allow me to continuously grow into a more balanced and emotionally stable person. Most spiritual practices describe some sort of “goal” for the practice whether it be enlightenment, or attaining the kingdom of heaven or something else. I liked to think that while I may still be miles away from whatever that destination may be, I felt that I was on the road there. I was certainly getting closer. Sure, I take detours from time to time, I fall down, I lose my way, but I get back up, reflect on it, learn something and keep moving forward.
I felt similarly about social justice issues. Sure, we take detours like electing Trump and there are still massive issues globally and in the US that I could spend days writing about: the prison-industrial complex, global inequality, the very short life expectancy of trans people, etc. But, there have also been several great steps forward in my lifetime: LGBT marriage equality, legal protections against discrimination on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, increasing awareness of the preposterousness of unlimited growth. I was inspired by the quote attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr. that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” It felt true. It aligns well with a Darwinian idea of evolution. As I become “fitter”, likewise we as a species are evolving to the “fittest”. Yes, we are hitting lots of bumps on the way, but overall, we are bending towards justice.
Charlottesville finally made me question this optimism. What if I actually don’t have a clue where we are headed? What if all my self improvement and spiritual practices have just made me an isolated hermit who likes to move her body into funny positions and to sit on the ground a lot? What if all our awareness raising and activism on social justice issues is creating more separation, more divisiveness and less understanding? What if we as a species will never really understand how to get along and we continue to put our own individual ego needs before the needs of the whole and we will argue with each other all the way to species extinction? Is our self-hatred really so deeply entrenched that we will choose separation until it kills us?
I really don’t know. My big learning in all of that is that I don’t have a clue. In the big picture, I don’t know what the actual impact of any of our actions are, and even if I was sure that they are having a “positive” impact, I have no idea what that means. I don’t know that my spiritual practice and self improvement practices have really done anything to bring me any closer to this “Destination: Enlightenment” and I don’t know that the arc of the moral universe is bending towards justice. What would enlightenment look like anyway? And, if the arc of the moral universe is actually bending towards justice, what is justice? Sure I have assumptions and ideas, but its so different from anything I have ever experienced, I can’t begin to describe what it would be. Certainly I have experienced isolated incidents that felt like movement towards justice, but what does that tell me about “Destination: Justice”? Very little.
So, should I get out of the car if I don’t know what destination it is heading for, nor what destination I want to direct it towards? That’s been my big existential question for the last few months.
For now, I continue with my self improvement and spiritual practices. Not because I think some day I’ll reach a destination of perfection. Not because some day I hope I will be so compassionate that I’ll be crowned a saint. But just because it feels like what needs to happen today. But every day I curiously check in with that and see if its still true. My spiritual practices have actually changed quite a bit over the last few months, as I respond to this feeling of not having a destination. Its been very freeing. As I let go of the destination, I let go of the path and allow myself to be more freely guided by what wants to be explored in this moment.
Likewise, social justice education and activism still feel like they need to happen. I currently question a lot of the generally accepted givens in the social justice world, but I don’t feel ready to just sit down and say, “Eh, shit happens. People are basically evil.” But I do think its important to ask myself daily why I’m doing what I’m doing. Asking if I have some idea of a destination in mind. Asking if I have some idea that if I do Action X, it should move us to result Y. Removing the idea of the destination is again freeing. I have no idea what “Destination: Justice” looks like, but I can spontaneously do in every moment what feels like justice now. And now. And let go of the big picture which I can’t possibly see anyway.
I’m realizing that my need to know where I’m going and how I’m getting there and what it will look like when I get there, is all part of my conditioning in the imperialist, white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Its that illusion of being in control. “If I do X, then Y will happen.” If I can learn to let go of my need to know the destination, I begin deconstructing the system which reinforces the oppression. My need to “do” something about the oppression and my discomfort with my “imperfections” are also part of that colonization. As I let go of the need to control what the impact of my actions will be, it frees up so many more possibilities for actions that I can take now. I’m owning that I can have the best intentions with my actions, but the outcomes will be what they are, regardless of my intentions. So, with curiosity and openness I explore what feels like what needs to happen now, and let go of what result I believe it will create in the future.
Meanwhile on the farm…
Burning to clear organic matter was really getting under my skin. Every time I saw a fire on the farm I said to myself, “Some day that will all end. Some day, some day…” My understanding is that burning organic matter is bad for the soil in that it kills essential microorganisms in the soil as well as losing nutrients to the air that could be put back in the soil if it were composted instead. Increased organic matter in the soil also stores more carbon dioxide, so composting is also carbon sequestration! All these thoughts would go through my head every time I saw a fire and I felt very unsettled. “At least its not happening where we are managing the farming, and some day the other people farming here will learn and will stop burning as well.”
One day, I saw that the people working for us had burned the grass they had cleared from an area where they were getting ready to plant our peanuts. I was LIVID!!! I told Cláudio about it and begged him to again explain to them that we don’t burn on our farm anymore!!! He discussed it with them. They explained that they burn because a pile of grass would attract mice, and the mice would eat the peanuts. It would also attract snakes which would be dangerous for the humans. The workers also use the ash as fertilizer. I felt in a corner. The burning made my blood boil, but I couldn’t argue with those reasons to burn the grass.
To address my boiling blood, Cláudio and I came up with a plan. We would continue farming on the majority of the farm using methods familiar to our workers. I will work on a section of the farm which I have dubbed, “The Organic Research Centre”. In the Organic Research Centre, I will use the energy from my boiling blood to figure out ways of composting all the grass (when you leave this land alone for a minute, grass starts growing quickly, so we have unlimited amounts of grass available for composting), while not attracting mice or snakes. I’ve got free reign in the Organic Research Centre to use all the theories of composting, planting, working with the land, etc that I have read online and learned at permaculture school, but not yet put into practice. If/when I have some tangible, workable methods, we will begin exploring ways of rolling it out to other parts of the farm.
Secondly, there is a also a lot of non-compostable litter on the farm. Every time I see some litter which I consider to be non-compostable and non-reusable lying around, again, my blood boils and I pick it up and throw it in “the hole”. The hole is the place where those things go. They should not be just thrown about willy-nilly! But I’m not particularly excited about the hole either. In my perfect world, we would not have non-compostable, non-reusable items on the farm at all. We would find a way to reuse everything. One day, Cláudio told me that he saw some kids collecting empty plastic packets. Apparently they use them to make toy cars and all sorts of other toys. I lit up. Maybe I have no idea what is a “reusable” item! May the creativity of children allow us to never ever need to throw anything in “the hole” again!
These experiences are helping me to break down my fixed ideas of where we are going with the farm and even how we are going to get there. I came into this project thinking that I was fairly open-minded and flexible about what we are creating on the farm, but I’m now learning just how strong my own ideas were about what it should look like and how we should get there. Maybe widespread composting will never be a part of the farm? And maybe non-compostable items, and things that I see as non-reusable items will forever litter the farm, and maybe, I’ll learn to be okay with all of that. I really have no idea what the end destination should look like. I’m learning to trust the process and release the destination. For now, I experiment with composting, because that feels like what needs to happen today, not because I’m clinging to some perfect image of how we will compost in the future.
Meanwhile in my coaching practice…
There have been several self improvement and spiritual practices that have made a huge difference in my life. I absolutely love the power of coaching and reflection for supporting people to identify their blocks and manifest in reality what their heart has been manifesting in their dreams. Yet, my social justice work recognizes that our blocks are not all of our own making and that its very simplistic to tell people to simply visualize the life they would like to create and it will manifest. The imperialist, white supremacist capitalist patriarchy is real and can’t be spiritualized away. Also, a significant impact of the imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy is that we have lost connection with our own bodies. So, for me my social justice work, my mindfulness practices, my movement practices and my coaching practice are not separate parts of me at all. They are all one integrated, inseparable whole. But unfortunately, in mainstream culture today, they are often treated separately. I have attended many workshops/courses that focused mainly on one of these and neglected the others. I always felt the void of the missing elements and longed to bring them all together.
A few months ago I had one of those epiphany moments! Yes! I am going to bring them together! I’m going to create a course of my own where they are all there: social justice, mindfulness, movement, coaching, community, dialogues, singing, dancing, laughing… I didn’t know what format this was going to take: a retreat, online course, course that meets in person regularly or some other format. However, I couldn’t really picture it all fitting into the space of a course. A retreat was really the only space that could hold all of it. So I started talking about “my retreat”. I started working on the design and structure. I started reading books that would strengthen my knowledge in areas where I had less experience. My retreat gave me a place to focus my energy. I gave it a name! “Decolonizing the mind, Reclaiming the body”. The first part being a nod to my previous job, the last part a recognition of the need to get out of the head and connect with our bodies before we do anything else.
But as I dove deeper and deeper, I went through a very personal process of exploring what all of this means to me, and questioning how much of my deeply personal process would be of use to others. How much of this qualifies me or prepares me to teach others any of it? Am I authorized to offer as useful to others that which has shown up for me in a very personal way? Do others simply need to do this work themselves and come to their own answers? Is it really for me to offer to others what works for me, under the possibly very naive assumption that it will be useful to people with very different lived experiences than mine?
I found the energy I originally had going into the retreat idea fading. As the energy for the retreat faded, there was nothing to take its place. Again, this left me in that scary liminal place of not knowing. So if I’m not creating a retreat, what am I creating? Once more, I needed to let go of a preconceived idea of a destination. I don’t know. I’m trusting. I’m reading what I’m drawn to. I’m coaching. I’m moving. I’m meditating. I’m writing. And I don’t know the point. But I do what I’m guided to do right now. And trust that at some point, it will become clear where this is going. Or it won’t? Maybe I will just continue with the practices that feel authentic for me in this moment and there will be no more epiphanies. No coalescing into a unified package which can be marketed and sold as my offering in this world.
I am realizing that underlying all of this is an unconscious assumption of an ideal perfect destination. Anyone who has watched me fold laundry knows well that I am far from a conventional perfectionist. But I have subconscious ideas of right/wrong and where we should be heading. I’m beginning the process of letting go of this form of perfectionism, this assumption of a perfect world to work towards. Even just beginning to let go of the one perfect destination is giving me a feeling of so much freedom: in my personal spiritual practices, my coaching practice, my social justice activism, farming and clearly in every aspect of life. Letting go of the perfectionism is a lengthy process. And ironically, I now also need to let go of the idea of a destination where I will state, “I finished the process. I am free of my perfectionism now.”