Monthly Archive for September, 2013

the good people

ah, the tender vast space between myself and the good people.

i generally don’t use the terms good, bad, right or wrong with any seriousness. this is an exception. i’m going to use ‘good’ in the simplest sense here, shamelessly, because i was just really good for like 4 days and am thus a bit exhausted. proceed at risk of gross simplification.

i just spent a few days with one of my sisters and her husband. they are ‘good’ people. friendly, brilliant, hardworking, and nice to others because they genuinely want to be.

i, on the other hand, am more of a visitor to the experience of being a ‘good’ person. when it happens i feel like a different self, a self that aligns with what i imagine actually-good people feel like most of the time.

i used to strive for good with virgo zeal. a pedestal-worthy good – selfless and kind and working for justice and honest and hardworking and knowing-how-to-do-things.

in addition to my sister and her husband, i happen to know lots of people who are good in this way most of the time, and still let me come around, so i have reference points and observational wisdom to bear. (my best friend is good!) i sometimes feel like i live in a forest of people on well-earned pedestals who all manage to still be interesting.

i want to document this because i suspect the tipping point of whether humans deserve to continue our existence on this planet is somehow linked to the ways in which we are good. not just good out of some obligation to others, but the good that grows wild because it feels natural and right.

it feels like this:

a) without thinking about it, hours pass in which i make decisions where my concerns are not centered, not even necessarily present.
b) there is something that needs to be done, i do it.
c) if i don’t know how, i figure it out.
d) if there is a best way to do it, i aim for that, even if no one else will know.
e) when the task is done, i don’t sit around feeling proud of it…i look for the next task that must be done.

i can do this for hours, even days.

but so far i can only really do this when i am in auntie mode or, occasionally, in love. with my sister autumn’s family, this good self comes out easily.

i notice it, usually in retrospect, because it’s not how i am usually wired. i find myself having just done a lot of helpful things and just feeling alive and present and happy.

my norm – which fortunately also feels alive and present – involves shamelessly thinking of myself a lot of the time. i don’t know if it is even possible to be good in the way i mean and have a blog. i think deeply about my comfort, my joy, my pleasure, my learning.

i think about what is a fair contribution from me relative to others in terms of effort towards whatever tasks may be at hand. i get bored, my mind wanders. i start writing blogs on being helpful instead of being helpful. even when it comes to chores around my own house i have to turn it into a musical costumed event with wine (‘presenting and i daresay toasting adrienne as domestic goddess’) or i just can’t really apply myself to the task.

when people ask me for help, there is still an inner voice like, ‘do i have to?’ i would rather not be asked to do something good…just let me do it on my own. i like my good acts to be inspired, not obligated (more on this later).

but i also rarely initiate goodness.

and then, when i am good, i usually want thanks or praise for it – see how good i am? is anyone watching me be good here? cause otherwise i would rather be watching louis or archer.

i accept and love who i am. i share an astrological sign with mother teresa, so this acceptance has been a journey. but i would love to be a more generally good person. so i am really interested in what has pierced my self-orientation here in my mid-30s.

(i’m dramatizing, i am. i hope.)

but when i land in rural minnesota for my monthly visit and move into the rhythms of that two-full-time-job-three-kid having household, my good self emerges. my source of joy shifts outside myself. being helpful, doing what’s needed, being present with the babies, all of this suddenly becomes enough for a life. janelle monae starts singing ‘to be victorious, you must find glory in the little things,’ and it feels like it could sustain me indefinitely.

what i know as clearly as i know the ‘good’ feeling is that part of how i can be so good this one week of each month is that i leave. i don’t have the capacity yet to be that good all the time. i visit good, then go home and go about my life being…not bad, but more just thoughtfully middling.

as i mentioned earlier, i don’t really do anything out of obligation. i tried being good out of obligation for much of my 20s and it was a mess – everyone within silent-resentment range of me could feel me suffering the sacrifices.

but the good i get to visit now is magnificent in part because when i am in it, i am doing the only thing i could even imagine wanting to do in that moment. it feels like an appropriate use of the miracle of my life.

i am in a real exploration of how to bring this passionate goodness into the rest of my life, with people over the age of 5 and not related to me, in places that don’t look and smell like rural fairy forest heaven.

because it feels like life force in my body, and why humans are here – to be living embodiments of love. to be good.

i would love to hear experiences others have with being good – when does it happen, who inspires it, where and why, and how is it sustained?

it is a simple thing, but it might just be everything.

when it rains, be the ocean

i am just landing home after two weeks in mexico with friends, learning what off-season looks like. i booked the trip thinking of my birthday, sun, writing, mexico, beach, reading, writing, pina coladas and writing some more. it felt extravagant and celebratory – and there is a huge amount to celebrate in my life right now.

i was reminded on my sabbatical last year that the ocean has a deeply healing and restorative impact on my spirit. i made a commitment upon returning home to get to the ocean each year as much as possible, to get in the ocean, to let my skin be in the sun.

and doing that around my birthday felt brilliant.

right?

so i learned this year that my birthday coincides with rainy season in mexico. apparently this is true and common knowledge to other people.

and it’s true every year.

the first week, on isla de mujeres, was mostly sunny. as part of my fellowship i received a strategic planning workbook to help me develop my writing career long-term (!!!), and was able to complete most of it on the beach between ocean meditations, deep conversations, and pina coladas.

the second week was in tulum, further south on the yucatan peninsula. it was raining when we arrived at the cabana and raining harder when we left. and it rained most of the time in between. beautiful full throttle storms and torrential downpours, followed by soft slow sunsets where the sky seemed to be taking a breather, leaning her lavender grey weight into the ocean, letting patches of blue sky through.

i generally range from naively positive to fiercely optimistic, and it took a while to mitigate my expectations in the face of this heavy and completely justified rain.

(mitigation interlude:
like…ok a day of rain, that’s no big deal.
three days? cool, cool. ah, nature getting hydrated.
oh this isn’t just a few days of rain?
it’s a season of jungle rain.
huh.
every day, tho?
that sort of smoky late afternoon sun is the most we can do here?
more rain?
ah, another day in the cabana, looking at the rain.

it is lovely.)

right.

the upside – besides that i was in mexico, walking the beach in dry moments, reading, dancing topless in the water every time the sun peeked out (yes, i would run out into the waves praising the smoky sun), writing, conversating, and reflecting – was that i learned a new metaphorical paradigm for my life right now.

it is my rainy season.

while i was gone it was announced that i was one of over 50 winners of the detroit knight arts challenge. this grant resources me to host a series of sci fi writing workshops for detroiters to elicit visions and ideas about what is possible in this city, growing the collective imagination. this, along with the kresge literary arts fellowship, means i have two affirmations from the world to pursue this growing passion for science/speculative fiction, particularly in and of detroit.

this is after a successful crowdsourcing effort to self-publish ‘octavia’s brood: science fiction from social justice movements’ with walidah imarisha – we doubled our goal.

my dad is out of the defense industry for the first time in my whole life. my parents love each other and me. my sisters are safe and loved and happy.

overall my family and friends are healthy, healing, loved, loving, learning. the babies are the perfection that they are, two of them now in school.

my health is improving daily. my relationship to my whole self, including my spirit, my food and exercise, my body, finally feels aligned with love. both what it means to be actively loving myself, and the daunting delicious work of letting others love me.

and then ridiculous over the top things also keep happening.

i got to see beyonce in concert this summer and for a moment she sang while staring into my eyes like it was just the two of us virgos sparkling in the night.

and, with no effort or investment of my own, i now have daily access to a hot tub. i, as a person who has a spa section on this very blog, can scarcely express what a long-held and seemingly unattainable dream this has been.

i just completed my third somatics teacher training weekend and am really beginning to see the ways that, in time, i am going to be able to bring this tangible healing work to detroit, to the women leaders i coach and support, and to basically everyone i meet.

and there’s so much more, amazing facilitation opportunities, major breakthroughs in how i communicate, new stories pouring out of me…

so…good, good, good, good!! but i have been feeling overwhelmed, kind of flooded by my life. how can i deserve all of this? how can i account for it? how can i stand it up next to the realities of trayvon and syria and detroit’s bankruptcy and the world of 2013?

here is where ocean as metaphor is returning into my life at exactly the right moment.

for context, in the somatics work, i have learned that when i feel i don’t have capacity for something in my life, it helps to source myself from nature. the foundation of octavia butler’s earthseed theology – ‘god is change’ – makes deep sense to me, and nature is the expression of that change i can resonate with most clearly. to really contemplate the earth, the sky, this natural world which holds every kind of contradiction and question, gives me a massive humbling sense of scale.

one of our somatics teachers showed us a history of life on earth that she learned from a guide in the grand canyon. she used her arm, starting from the shoulder. she showed the first known life, the development of single celled organisms, showing life coming onto shore, the whole process of evolution. that took her arm all the way to the wrist. the levels and layers of life growing, changing, adapting, the dinosaurs and ice age and all took her palm, her fingers knuckle by knuckle. and finally, after so much growth, came humans. and we are merely a shaving on the furthest fingernail.

we are so brand new, with all of our suffering and celebrations.

this is what nature reminds me of: there is room, and there is time. i am a beginner, it is my work to not know, and to be curious. this sourcing from that which is so overtly greater than myself, a greater mess of dirt and stardust and sunshine and miracle, let’s me breath more deeply when i come up against questions of fairness, justice, balance.

so back to mexico and the ocean as metaphor…being in the rain this past week i observed this again and again: the roads between the jungle and the ocean would flood and become impassable. it would take days for the water to soak into the earth somehow, or evaporate back into the air. and in the meantime it kept raining. the water was seeking the ocean, but it was stuck in these roads, on pavement, flooding paths. on foot we took off our shoes and waded through the warm brown swamp water. cars stopped, businesses were challenged at what to do with all the water.

but the ocean? she just received, and received, and received. she didn’t even seem to swell, just kept coming in to the shore and back out, sometimes in crashing explosive waves and sometimes almost dainty, frills and sweetness at the ankle.

what was coming to her was just hers. it didn’t care whether she could receive it or not, it was coming to her.

to try to line up my life with some sense that i, as opposed to any of the other amazing humans walking the earth and creating and wanting to do what they love and survive and sit in a hot tub sometimes, deserve all this stuff – it makes an impassable road of my heart.

same with trying to line this up with what else is happening in the world. my writing is my liberation work, it’s the space where i am exploring and reflecting and processing 15 years of political work. maybe it is enough, maybe it isn’t. and of course i am terrified about the sci-fi/speculative fiction writing itself…maybe i am gifted at it, and can produce what i dream in a way that makes others feel the futures i feel as manifest-able…and maybe i will find i am not capable. thinking too much on that is another flooded path.

my life is coming to me. it is just mine.

the rain is returning to the ocean, it is all a cycle.

last year in my grief and healing, i cried in the ocean and i tried to stand still in it, i got tossed around and thought about how destructive she is. the salt so good on my skin also meant i could die of thirst in all that water, as i felt i might drown in my hurt. that was my life too. what i could see then was in, out, in, out, just keep going.

now i see this abundance – just keep opening.

the ocean is abundant as a default. no matter what is taken from her there is more. and no matter what comes in, she has room.

i believe that humans are abundant too, regardless of how our resources appear in this materialist reality. if we can learn to receive, there is so much.

while in tulum i pulled a card from my osho deck where i am learning the tarot practice, it was for receptivity. it connected the art of receiving to the feminine, and that too made sense to me as the energy i am cultivating, bringing a balance of receptivity and listening to my work and life.

ocean is my teacher. at this moment when all i have worked for, dreamt of, conjured and longed for is arriving all at once, in ways i could not have imagined or foreseen, with new challenges and horizons embedded in the gifts, i am undulating, i am opening, i am letting it all come through me.

i am trusting that as a human, i have the capacity for abundance. trusting that what is coming is mine to receive, whether or not i understand it, just as the things that have been taken from me were mine to release.

and i don’t have to be flooded. i can be vast.

towards the whole

i spent my 35th birthday in the third week of my first year of teacher training with generative somatics. it was wonderful.

the work is about figuring out what we long for, what makes us feel most alive, and moving towards it. this means learning to feel alive after trauma, after socialization, in relationship with others, in conflict, in love, in vulnerability. part of it is understanding that how we show up is based in what we practice, what we do over and over. and if we can become aware of what we are practicing, we can begin to have choice over what we practice and thus how we are in our lives.

what are we practicing? in our movements, are we practicing the things we want to evolve beyond? how do we change the world if we don’t change what we practice?

what am i practicing? i ask this question several times a day, when i get triggered, when i feel moved, when i eat, when i move.

i like it because it isn’t magic. it embraces that which is mysterious in the world, but it isn’t about just having some mysterious inaccessible magical skill set. part of the idea is that feeling is our human condition, and we get socialized to believe that we are just our thinking selves. reclaiming the full realm of feeling can return to us our whole selves.

as someone who has, at many points in my life, not wanted to feel what was happening, i am blown away by the connection between being able to feel and then being able to make powerful decisions.

and i am so grateful i can feel this moment, when things i have hoped and worked and dreamed for are coming to me.

it was an easy way to spend my birthday, it has been a gift to me. i invite you to support this work, to help it grow so that as many leaders as possible in social justice and other work can grow this wholeness, this feeling self, and bring that into our work.

whole people grow whole movements.

birthday reflection: the joy precipice

‘It’s warm, and the sun is out
It’s like my heart’s restored…
And I’m thankful for seeing
Another spring…’
Nina Simone

actually it’s dark, the stars are out, the milky way is massive over me and there are shooting stars. it’s the end of summer and I’m 35.

And thankful.

I get reflective around my birthday, and this year my thoughts are all about how unbelievable my current life is, how I couldn’t have imagined or believed it a decade ago, or two decades ago.

I’m not looking back with longing for any younger time. And I’m not looking into the future to see something good out ahead of me.

I have faith.

I’m standing on a precipice, leaning out and trusting the wind. and everything I can feel and sense is vast, true, impersonal and miraculous.

it occurs to me from my doula work that the most shared experience on the planet is miracle. it’s how we come here.

on a daily basis I am experiencing the fire of the miraculous, fed with my attention. it feels like love, connection, inspiration, choice, health, beauty, and a sense of being alive and awake in the present.

I write, a lot…words that feel familiar to me, words that terrify me, words that come through me looking for release and home. words inspired by the people who surround me, the dreamers and organizers and believers.

I love a lot of people who are emotionally rigorous and unafraid of my love, and babies who teach me how to love while being myself, friends who see my whole messy beauty and come closer, family who watch each other grow with wonder and patience and tenderness on their faces.

my family is healthy, everyone starting new phases of life, grateful to still be here in this journey with each other, to have four generations on the planet together, special and normal and tuning in to the sweet cycles of birth, death, celebration and the blessing of having love through it all, from the mundane daily rhythms to the thrilling transformations.

I have teachers. for this I am so grateful – I am not alone in the world trying to find my way. there is wisdom all around me, and my life gets easier as I realize how little I know, how much I love to learn, and the kind of teachers I need – those who live in vulnerability and honesty and beginner’s mind.

I’m loving myself openly, as a life force…not a genius or a perfection or an observation. I’m loving my own aliveness, my breath, my body, my resilience, my naivete and my lessons.

and now, in this summer of joy, in this miraculous convergence, I can look at the milky way and remember how fleeting it all is, how many things actually don’t matter, how life is on a long arc, but our time here so far is short, a minutia of love and evolution.

in that insignificance, I’m on a precipice of joy, cognizant of the suffering that created this moment. I’m aware of the cycles that teach me resilience, the guarantee of pain, and the gift of feeling anything, and feeling so much.

I’m feeling so much.

And it’s all imbued with gratitude.

Thank you.

the labor of letting in the good

happy labor day!

i am thinking today of the majority of people i know, who work 60-80+ hour weeks, struggle with taking weekends off, or scheduling vacations. i worked that way for a long time. i remember the sense of working constantly on never ending work, everything feeling like work because it has to happen on the outskirts of overwork.

and yet unions earned these basic boundaries on work, to improve the quality of all our lives. they labored for this, for us. so what happened?

i suspect it’s a matter of practice. we didn’t consistently practice holding the boundaries on work, maybe we never learned how. we let life quality fall to the side of the accumulation of resources. in a historical context of slavery, capitalism, caste systems – we are deeply entrenched in the traumatic practice of working for our right to live and be loved. we forgot that our existence is enough to earn us life and love.

so much easier said than done, but if we want to have the higher quality lives that were implied in the work of those unions, we have to keep learning how to live higher quality lives. particularly outside the context of financial and material accumulation; i work across class lines, and the overwork doesn’t seem to ebb as people earn more money, or status.

i have recently heard that it takes 10,000 hours of labor – of practicing something – before you achieve mastery in it. and 3-5000 repetitions of a movement in the body for it to become a muscle memory. i liked when i heard these numbers, this mathematics of mastery and muscle. it made my shoulders drop, a pacing intervention in my work and thinking.

i have rarely wanted something that could be achieved quickly, even when i was young and more naive and everything felt almost within reach, a function of collective will. i cut my teeth in spaces where the work felt urgent and as if a victory was just around the corner.

but, but…but. not quite. not even close.

at first i thought the clear reason we worked so hard and things still took so very long was because of all the opposition – in a binary paradigm there was always someone pushing back in the other direction of a dream. it was satisfying for a while, to look at someone or some people and ask why they didn’t want justicekindnessliberationhealthpeacelongevityetc. it grew less satisfying as i became more self-aware. i started to notice the tendency within myself to act from fear and scarcity against all those beautiful things.

that fear led to overwork.

that scarcity led to constant seeking for something outside myself, some sign of impact.

when my practice, my labor, includes casting the burden onto opposition, then my skill set is blaming, deconstructing and redirecting. constantly moving without growing, constantly reaffirming the right and wrong, with little space for the mystery, the real, or the iterative. 20+ years of that and i can’t just let it go, this all-the-time looking for who it is creating my suffering.

even a small weight of good, or of power, a drop in the palm, can be impossible to hold. i have noticed how much i have to develop my capacity to hold justice, gifts, health, love, the present moment. i think a lot about how we develop that capacity at a larger scale than the individual.

i can attest, as a writer, that it’s not enough to be able to speak the language of my longing, to articulate a vision. i say a lot of things that i would love to live up to, i am actively writing myself a better future. and…i can’t write my body to health, write to make the babies in my life feel my love, i can never write enough to thank my parents for their unconditionality, i can’t write abundant food distribution for detroiters, i can’t write guns out of a world full of loved ones, i can’t write off the way my big brown body is targeted, exoticized or dismissed.

i can be healthy, love, be with, grow, love this body in ways that transform how it can be seen.

i am convinced now that ideas must be paired with practice if they are to become matter, force, tangible, viable, in and of the universe. like, not just the idea of a weekend, but the practice of laying in bed until the body wants to move, cooking and chasing babies and laughing and wearing next to nothing, reading and lovemaking and pampering and restoring.

we are what we practice being, ultimately what we are as individuals and as communities and as a species is what we practice being.

so…what do we practice? where do we want our labor to go?

for me, so far, it’s balance and abundance. this is emergent – i started three years ago with two practices – sun salutations, and protecting my weekends (or the equivalent, two days a week that belonged to me).

abundance was the first thing i noticed as my practice grew…it was all around me when i looked for it. then balance…after years of a palpable instability in my days, i noticed balance was inside me when i stopped looking outwards.

these two practices have already liberated me into a life i couldn’t have imagined. but i am still just beginning the work, i am setting myself into longer arcs of change. and while the iterations pile up ahead of me, horizons on a turning world, i am also finding instant results. every time i practice being powerful, i feel the learning, the realigning in my system.

i am practicing letting my work follow my attention – what matters to me, outside of reacting? outside of hoarding? outside of fear?

i am practicing being a mindful eater. preparing or purchasing and eating three meals a day that are good for my body, it will take me at least ten years of practice to master mindful eating. it will be a muscle memory in three to five years. my labor is in the choices, and learning to be patient. i have been in a long practice of eating emotionally, indulgently, irresponsibly, in ways that cause pain and suffering in my body. each mindful eating experience is in itself a gift, a healing, a strengthening, an hour of feeling more alive in the present moment, making choices.

i am also applying my labor to being a good daughter, sister, aunt, lover and friend. to living an active life in my body. to generating an orientation towards vision and solutions with the communities i support through facilitation. to resolving conflict in new ways in every aspect of my life. to listening for my purpose in this world and stepping into it. to giving and receiving love that, as thich nhat hanh teaches, feels like freedom.

to letting in the good.

it’s all within my power.

sometimes i feel the foreshadowing of mastery, of the practice unfolding before me for years. i taste liberation in those moments.

it doesn’t even feel like work.