clean is a process

the end of the year is here, just like that.

my rituals tend to be in relationship to the people around me. in my little circle in detroit, we make predictions for the next year, read our predictions from the year before, and dance all night.

the one thing i do, which just feels right to me, is to clean. we clean the kitchen, the bathroom, sweep the floors, take out the compost and the garbage, dust. i have been dreadfully ill for the past few days so the cleaning is even more needed. the idea is: let’s get things in order, a new year is coming.

2011 was, for me, an incredibly messy year. i was more aware of how messy i am as a person than i have ever been before. i made messes, spilled things, broke things, double- and tripled-booked my life, hurt people, lost people, wasn’t at my best. i reached my limit, over and over again, disappointed and relieved to find that i just had no more to give.

and…it was an amazing year.

i learned SO much.

the whole world seemed to be in parallel upheavals, learning new ways of being, not avoiding the hurt or tender places, bursting like cosmic hulks out of the too-tight clothes of small thinking, seeming to fail, seeming faster and closer and more frantic. a hot mess, a dramatic crescendo.

for me, the lesson from this year (as much from watching my 3-year-old nephew and 1-year-old niece learn to clean up as from watching the whole world seek clarity about what it means to be human at this point in history) is this: clean is not a destination, it’s a process.

we clean things up so that we can take stock of what is really there, revel in the temporary and lovely order. and so that we have space to begin the next mess. the mess comes from living – playing, cooking, eating, creating, loving, fighting, dancing, drinking – learning.

perhaps some of you, like me, hold an ideal, visceral in our senses. i can feel in my bones when i am approaching it – in my space, in my emotions, in my relationships. i create some order and systems in my life to reach that personal ideal, which gives me a sense of calm and control, however mythical.

when i walk in my house and everything is in it’s place, i feel a vibrational calm that makes me more creative, more curious, more spacious in my life. when i am fully honest and present with my loved ones, i feel that same calm.

then i can get on with messing it all up.

in a couple of weeks, i will begin a journey which i expect will be equal parts cleaning up and messing up my life. my partner gifted me with a community supported sabbatical (which you can still contribute to if you like the idea of me resting, writing and rebooting – just look up adriennemaree at gmail on paypal and give).

i am going all out with it – traveling to places that feel important to go to. that includes morocco because my sister had a dream that that’s where our people are from, and because i have never touched my foot to africa and it’s past time. mexico because i want to be on mayan soil in 2012. hawaii, because i want to invite the energy of the volcano into my life right now – whatever it is that is inside boiling up and contained, i want to invite it to come forth and reshape everything.

preparing to be away is a cleaning up – tying up of loose ends, setting boundaries on my time and availability, clearing my calendar of engagements and my heart of guilt about not being here with my loved ones and my many jobs. reducing the amount of things i need to what can easily be carried without having to check bags.

cleaning up by directly facing and challenging the part of my ego that survives by feeling needed in the work i do, feeling irreplaceable. facing and listening to the part of my heart that is longing for even deeper transformational work than what i currently get to do, and not yet sure what that means about who i am now.

this trip is a cocoon. i am going all the way in and not sure what will come out on the other side. cocoons only look neat on the outside.

it’s invigorating and daunting and terrifying.

there is only one thing of which i am absolutely sure:
i have new messes to make.

beautiful present

am home from a week with the family.

my main reflection is that family, blood or chosen, is no simple endeavor. my family works hard for the love we bestow on each other…to cultivate it, hone it, give it, receive it. these things are not easy.

except if you are a child, in which case it is the first response.

my nephew is the kind of imaginative, vulnerable, aggressive, insightful human being I want to be. he feels all his feelings, and is not ashamed of his thoughts, feelings, or actions. he is quick to apologize when he is wrong, and move on. he loves to play out the favorite scenes of his life, real, imagined or from a movie, on repeat. because you repeat the good.

my niece is the kind of bold, hilarious, curious and forceful human being I want to be. she watches everything, with curiosity and wonder…what is it? can I eat it? can I deconstruct it? she will do the right, safe thing if it is explained to her and she is given agency to choose. she wants to explode her boundaries. she hasn’t yet learned to lie, so her rejections cannot be taken personally. she is simply, deeply, in touch with the present.

I spent the week creating worlds with these two, including dinosaurs, space, cowgirls, train rides, flying and making new faces. every moment was squeezed empty of its potential for living – crying, pouting, screaming to see what the lungs could do, singing, dancing, laughing, holding and being held.

there are so many ways to profess love. it heals my heart to see how love is everywhere in the words and actions of these babies, who make me see myself anew. love, without ownership, dependence, burden, obligation, jealousy, anger, or competition.

they love me because i show up.

as I ruminate on whether to do any resolutions this year (seems silly to make too many promises before i go on this life changing sabbatical – which I will write about soon), I see their faces.

I only want to love myself as thoroughly, and unabashedly, as they do.

the lights

yesterday I was laying on a couch in my baby sister’s living room while her two outstanding children crawled, walked and jumped all over me. in front of me was their Christmas tree, covered in lights and ornaments, some handmade by the children.

I had the thought, as I often do: how would I explain this to an offworlder? to another species, if I was the one who had to explain a ritual in which I participated, to someone not from here, not familiar with humans.

I have this thought in part because I want to be prepared to interact with aliens if and when the chance comes. of course.

and also because I sometimes feel so far removed from these rituals that it is hard to reroot myself in the purpose and beauty of them.

not to be misleading…I love presents, anticipation, decadent home cooked meals. but every year I also find myself disgusted by the mass produced capitalistic orgy of holidays, which seems to swallow the joyful intentions up whole. this makes me grinch out inside for a while.

but on the couch, for a moment, it was so clear. the kids were giggling, burrowing and pushing, making my body a bridge, a fort, a tightrope, a trampoline. and the moment got still and quiet.

all ritual can be sacred, if we tune in to the aspect which is about connecting.

the ritual of taking time to give to each other, to be with each other, feed each other, play with the children and reflect on what we have in our lives…this is the most common ritual. it spans belief systems.

we live in a capitalist world, so it is imperative to root down deeper into an experience than what socialized capitalism generally encourages…under the hunting/gathering flush of shopping, to the part of these rituals which is the moment of being in love.

the babies were already deeply immersed in the ritual, and if no gifts come they will still be fine, because they get it. it’s about being happy, being loved, being with. they are experts at being present and pulling others into their worlds of fantasy and laughter.

the perfection they gift to others is their whole selves, their presence.

they are at an age where they are not ashamed to be loving, to run across the house, jump up and fall down with joy to see someone they love. I want to be that free with my love.

I don’t want to be a grinch this year, though my analysis of capitalism is intact. I don’t want to be too good for rituals of love.

i know what I would tell the aliens…all of these lights, and boxes, this flurry of activity – its supposed to be about expressing love to each other. many of us have forgotten that, have only been able to hold onto the materialism.

but this is how the generations in my family have said they loved each other through the boundaries of a repressed society. when we had nothing, we created things for each other. the gifts are supposed to show we are thinking of each other, we cherish each other.

what I see with the kids is that the action of being with each other is so much more important than the things.

so my practice this holiday is simple: being present. i can leave the materialism aside, for the most part. the true gift, which the children know, is leaving work at the door and being present with each other.

and the beautiful, selfish little miracle is: presence gives in all directions.

reimagining organizing, movements and leadership (a brief report back)

this past weekend was reimagining organizing, movements and leadership in detroit. once we heard that author and thinker margaret wheatley was going to be in kalamazoo and was willing to come to detroit, we built the event as a way to immerse her in our work here in detroit, and immerse detroit in the ideas wheatley has been speaking to for the past 20 years.

wheatley’s book leadership in the new science was written 20 years ago, the same year detroit summer was founded. grace lee boggs read the work a few years ago and started incorporating some of the key ideas into her speeches and writing. hip-hop artist invincible got inspired by these speeches and began crafting a multi-media music project to connect complex science, social justice and hip-hop.

some of the key ideas uplifted were:

– how do we transition from a newtonian way of understanding the world (that things happen in a linear way, that it’s all about getting mass, getting as many people as possible to do one thing) to a quantum leap, or a complex, way of understanding things (that lots of small, seemingly disconnected actions can spark or emerge a transformation)?

– critical connections, deep trusting connections between points in a system, are more crucial to social change than critical mass. my friend gibran talks about the integrity of the connection between the nodes of a network being as important as the strength (or brilliance, or charisma) of the nodes themselves.

– thinking of change in the sense of fractals…fractals show us that the same patterns that exist on the smallest scale exist on the largest scale. in terms of the social changes we are working for, how can we try to create massive systems which we do not have an experience of at any scale? another way of thinking of this is that the pattern at the largest level can only be what it is at the smallest level. if we are chaotic within ourselves, our society will be chaotic. if we are fearful, gossiping, angry, dysfunctional, wounded at the small scale, then that is the society we will inhabit. this is a scientific impetus to transform ourselves to transform the world.

– emergence and feedback loops. for years i have raged against plans, because it feels like we spend a lot of time making plans that don’t adapt for, or account for, the constantly changing landscape. emergence felt like a balm to my brain when i learned about it – it’s the process in nature that explains the beautiful movements of flocks of birds and schools of fish.

a few days before the event, we got news that wheatley had come down with pneumonia and wasn’t going to make it. while we sent her healing energy, we had to reflect that just a month ago, we had supported another gathering that the boggs center organized, where the special guest, vandana shiva, had also gotten ill just before the gathering and was unable to come.

our local conclusion from this was that we must have all we need to have these conversations in detroit already. but luckily we had structured the events to mostly focus on detroiters getting to interact with each other.

we had an initial intimate dinner for members of various networks in detroit to come in contact with each other and see what questions they share. the questions focused on transitions of leadership, how to face urgency with integrity, how we heal – moving from fragmentation to wholeness – in the process of the doing the work, bridging the gaps (real or perceived) between new and old paradigms, and how to make organizing a “path of least resistance” the most natural thing a community can do?

yesterday we had a large public event that opened with beth james blessing the space as an indigenous and african-american professor and healer from detroit.

grace lee boggs and invincible grounded us in the ideas above before a three-part fishbowl conversation where detroit-based organizers discussed the relevance of these ideas for our work here.

then we jumped into an assessment process where folks looked at the organizations and networks they are part of, and then at their own personal lives, to see how visionary they are now, and what the next step in transformation might be.

the assessment process yielded powerful conversations in small groups and pairs – it is always beautiful to me to watch folks open up, listen deeply, come into self-awareness and see the possibility of their lives and their work.

afterwards there was a youth-only event, a collaboration with the monthly detroit future youth network. the youth event, which included an exercise where the youth got to feel what it was like to be in a flock, was a space for young people working in networks across detroit to talk about their visions for leadership. they talked about how their work in movement could be focused on building each other up, rather than tearing each other down.

finally there was a series of performances, started off with invincible’s complex movements (where i got to wear a projection dress!!). then there was an open mic with a magnificent competition between the youth and adults. one of the highlights was a young woman named talitha who did a song about how fly she was. the chorus was “duh-duh-duh-duh-duh – it’s me!!”…and it’s been in my head the whole day.

watching young people in detroit burst with love and excitement about the community they are in, watching them build confidence on the stage, seeing the incredible life in them – it is restorative in and of itself.

with all of the adaptation and emergence in creating a wholeness out of wheatley’s absence, there were definitely moments where we had to release expectations and be present to a new situation. a few times i found myself frustrated that i wasn’t able to communicate clearly enough these ideas which excite me so, and which i feel i see in practice in detroit every day.

but the beauty was how open and raw people were about the fact that we all have limitations. we kept coming back to a quote from the late jimmy boggs – “you’re nobody until you are in relationship with a bunch of somebodies.” and ultimately that’s what we were doing – modeling relational intelligence, creating safe space, and all doing our best.

it was leaderful, and it was beautiful.